Jul 9, 2004, 8:06 PM
Tampico is a mid-size provincial city, located on the north-eastern Gulf coast - some 6 hours south of the US border via Route 180. It lies almost at the mouth of the Rio Panuco (at its confluence with the Rio Tamesi) and on the state line between Tamaulipas and Veracruz. With the adjoining cities of Madero and Altamira, the population is around 600,000.
Founded in 1824, Tampico has its wealth based on: oil - and oil support services such as rig construction; shipping - the Tampico docks are still active although the container ships go to the nearby ocean port of Altamira; fishing - the seafood has a well-deserved reputation. There is also an extensive industrial area to the north of the airport with many subsidiary factories of American and European concerns making raw plastics and other petrochemicals.
But what kind of place is Tampico? What of its history and culture? We catch glimpses of its past glories from such novels as Joseph Hergesheimer's 'Tampico' from the 1920's or B.Traven's 'Treasure Of The Sierra Madre' from around the same time. It was, indeed, quite a high-living place. Sadly, I would have to say, it does have a slightly flyblown air about it these days and I would characterise it as a hard-working, gritty kind of town that is not a place for the casual tourist. Apart from those senior executives posted here to their corporations in the industrial area, there are few gringo expatriates. Those few there are tend to be hardy, adventurous types.
Much of central Tampico dates back to its founding in the early 1800’s and the various influences are easy to spot. The majority of the buildings that remain today date from the 1880 to 1910 period covering the rule of Porfirio Diaz and Mexico’s great push into industrialisation. Tampico has always been an important east coast trading port and, much later, the head of the ‘Golden Triangle’ oil region.
Beyond the Downtown area, Hidalgo Avenue, the main north-south road, has an especially eclectic mix of old and new in its buildings and stores. It is easy to spot what must have been the outskirts of old Tampico. The old cemetary (now full) stands cheek-by-jowl with a shiny new 'Comercial Mexicana' supermarket, yet across the street there is an agricultural equipment dealer - bright green ploughs by John Deere displayed alongside red and chrome Massey-Ferguson tractors. Behind the cemetary, the colonias are full of grand houses with excellent views of Laguna Chairel and, in common with all such districts across the world, no mercantile activity whatsoever!
Further towards the airport, there are many new bigger developments - Sanborn's, Office Depot and their ilk....and here is fresh evidence of the continued expansion of Tampico and Altamira, driven by the industrial might of the developed world. Recently, Tampico has acquired its first McDonalds as well as a TGI Friday's restaurant. Yet there is also a rising number of small stores dealing with older-styles of arts and crafts - harkening back to a simpler time.
Next - 'The Beach'