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Tough Trip to Paradise - Huatusco, Mexico

Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Christmas and New Year’s finally over, I needed a road trip to blow the carbon out of my system. The past two years, I’ve made winter trips to Huatusco to visit Manolo and Hortensia, the president of CMA-Mexico, his wife and family. The first trip was on the bike. Last year, I cheated and took the car, along with my wife, Mary, and Sandi, a friend, and stopped by on our way to see some butterflies. Huatusco is about an 850-mile shot south down the coast of Mexico, through Tampico, Tuxpan and Poza Rica, past the Emerald Coast to Cardel, then a 40-mile climb west up into the mountains to Huatusco. The ride takes a day and a half to two days normally.

Huatusco itself is a town of about 25,000 people, the market town for the surrounding coffee-growing areas. The landscape is dominated by Mount Orizaba. At 18,490 ft,, it’s the tallest mountain in Mexico and taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states in the U.S. Most of the mountains in the area are much lower, so the views are pretty spectacular (when you can see it).

I left Corpus Christi at 6:30 on a Thursday morning, Jan 6th, for the 6-day trip. I was by myself and wanted it that way (sorry, friends, if I didn’t let you know I was going). Temperatures were in the low 40’s and I was glad I had the new riding jacket that was my big Christmas present. It was almost keeping me warm. A stop for coffee in Falfurrias helped and by the time I reached the border, 165 miles down the road, things were warming up. After I changed money, changed gloves and pulled the liner out of my jacket, it was time to renew my tourist permit and bike papers. There were a few more people than normal getting papers at the Pharr-Rio Bravo bridge where we normally cross, but that didn’t hold me up much.

By 1:00 in the afternoon, I reached Soto La Marina, 175 miles south of the border, and ate lunch at El Torito, behind the bus station. Seeing 3 or 4 burnt-out trucks beside the road north of town was rather sobering, obviously left over from some shootout. The highway is all new road from the junction to Soto, but 3 or 4 bridges and culverts were being rebuilt, probably damaged by last summer’s flooding.

Fuelled up and fed, I pushed on, finding the first ten miles of road south of Soto were torn up, being rebuilt as the road project extends itself on south from Soto. Rocinante makes no pretensions at being a dirt bike, but we made it through the packed dirt and gravel anyway. Since I was all about putting miles behind me, I didn’t take any pictures. The scenery on that part of the trip just looks like South Texas anyway, lots of brush and mesquite. Don’t worry though, there’s lots of pictures to come.

Keeping on, I made it into Tampico about 3:30 in the afternoon, just in time to hit traffic from the shift changes at the refineries. I took the coast drive to avoid most of the town traffic. The road was heavily patrolled, but I was keeping my speed down and my head down. Finally, I pulled over by the beach, pulled out the camera and took a couple pictures.

This is me with my old helmet and new jacket.
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The Tampico beach is pretty nice.
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I swung into the middle of town on Avenida Alvaro Obregon, went under the bridge, then swung around onto the approach and kept heading south. The Rio Panuco is the border between the states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz. Once I'm in Veracruz, the travelling gets slower and harder. The road is mostly two lane, lots of speed bumps, potholes and heavy traffic. I also always seem to get sick when trips take me across the Panuco. I usually stay healthy if I stay farther north.

I made another gas stop south of Tampico and when the gas station attendant learned I planned to spend the night in Ozoluama, warned me to be careful there. Several businesses in the area had been robbed and some bad people were about. When I arrived in Ozoluama about 6:00, I found the hotel where I had stayed before was closed, but I didn't feel too bad about pushing on. About 7:15 I rolled into Cerro Azul and found a decent hotel with secure parking on the highway south of town. Seemed like a good place to eat dinner and put in for the night.

Trip Report Sound Track: Proper Cup of Coffee by Trout Fishing in America
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Part II - Day II On to Huatusco

In the morning, after a breakfast of huevos motuleños, I headed out again, turning right at the junction with 127, then jogging south through Alamo to avoid Tuxpan. The section of road through Alamo is the center of the local citrus industry. I followed, then passed, a truck full of orange peels. The smell was a good wake-me-up. The little toll bridge at Alamo had really beat-up pavement, making me wonder what the 8 pesos I paid were being used for.

Beyond Alamo, in the hills, the stretch of fruit stands popped up alongside the highway. I make it a point to stop to have some fruit to bring with me for Manolo and Hortensia. Not good to show up empty-handed. I bought a sackful of tangelos for 15 pesos, then took a picture of the ladies lacing the fruit into strings to sell.

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I love these fruit stands. They're always so colorful in the winter, since that's when the citrus fruits ripen.

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Things were getting foggier as I rode. When I rejoined the highway after my detour, I backtracked up the road a bit towards Tuxpan to hit the toll road that bypasses Poza Rica and stopped a bit to get a picture of the foggy conditions.

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Once on the toll road, the fog gradually lifted. When the toll road rejoined the highway south of Poza Rica, there were probably 150 people hanging around the sides of the highway and several pickup trucks parked. A nearby police patrol car seemed to be keeping an eye on things. I asked one of the people why they were all there and he replied they were just on their way to town. I was hoping for a better story.

Not far south of there, another toll bridge at Gutierrez Zamora marks the beginning of the Costa Ezmeralda. I'm always trying to come up with a better technique of paying tolls to avoid holding up traffic behind me. The new jacket had lots of pockets, but didn't have one where I was used to keeping my money for tolls. The toll collectors don't help when they hand me a receipt each time with my change. Besides the money in my pocket, I keep accumulating these little pieces of paper, further complicating the transactions. I'm adverse enough to littering that I can't bring myself to just drop the pesky things on the ground. Though I've tried.

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Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Part III - Costa Ezmeralda to Huatusco

The trip really begins to be a grind along the Costa Esmeralda. The road is very picturesque with coconut and T-shirt stands along the highway, the beach a hundred yards to the east lined with coconut palms, vacation bungalows and cheap hotels. But all the towns compete to see who can put in the most topes (speed bumps) and traffic slows at each one. Enterprising vendors stand on the topes, selling plastic bags of juice or candy to travelers or holding signs trying to raise money for cancer treatments or dialysis treatments for family members.

By this time I'm tired. About 700 miles into the trip, it's come into town, slow down and downshift for the speed bumps, let up on the brake as I come to them to unload the front suspension. Once I'm over the bump, accelerate and upshift till the next bump, then go through the whole routine again. Some of those things are high enough that the bottom fairing of the bike scrapes as it goes over them. Most of the time, the topes are marked with signs. If I miss seeing one and hit it hard, it can rattle my teeth. After 100,000 miles, Rocinante's suspension has seen better days.

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The next toll bridge comes up at Nautla, which marks the end of the Costa Esmeralda, and finally signals I'm getting close to the end of the two-lane highway. Time for another gas stop. One of the things I've noticed on other trips, between the price of gas in Mexico and the mileage my bike gets, gas costs almost exactly one peso per mile. On the trip down, I've been doing just a bit better.

It seems the string of towns, two-lane road, and succession of topes will never end. I think the town of Alatorre is the worst. A little burg of about 5,000 people strung out over about a mile or two of road, it is blessed with about 20 speed bumps. They're beginning to reduce the number a bit, which helps. It also helps that it's near the end. Another small town or two, past the nuclear power plant, past the mountains that come down to the ocean, and I'm finally on the divided four-lane highway that goes on into Veracruz. I can kick up the speed and just have to look out for the trucks hauling sugar cane and the buses and taxis on the road.

However, I only stay on it as far as Cardel, then turn off on the divided highway to Xalapa. The turnoff I want is just a few miles up the road, but there is no exit on the northbound side. I have to go up the road to the Pemex station, do the retorno thing, then get off on the exit to Paso de Ovejas. The first time, I just thought I'd screwed up. I knew I'd gone too far when I got to where the toll road started, then turned around and came back. The next time I figured out there is no northbound exit, and I needed to U-turn at the Pemex station.

Just after exiting the Xalapa-Cardel highway is a small town called Puente Nacional with two old stone bridges across a river. The bridges are apparently several centuries old. Beyond that a bit is the turnoff for the highway to Huatusco. Finally! I had been pushing hard all day, estimating I could be in Huatusco for a late lunch. That meant I skipped my walk on the beach, more Costa Esmeralda photos and a cold drink of coconut milk. That's OK. I've been there, done that, have the T-shirt.

The highway up to Huatusco is about 40 miles long. It winds up through some dry pasture and brushland, through some little villages with their share of 2 or 3 topes for each one, climbing steadily. At one point I come around a turn and gasp as I see the top of a snow-capped mountain floating waaay up in the air. The day is hazy and most of Orizaba is hidden by the haze with just the snow cap visible above it. It's amazing how high it is floating in the air. The only problem is there is no spot to pull of the road and take a picture. I settle for some pictures a few miles down (well, up) the highway.

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That picture is cheating a bit. I used the 5X zoom in the camera. This is what it looked like without the zoom. Still impressive.

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Note the tope sign in the foreground. I always think of them as marking Dolly Parton sightings. Though I'm not sure what to make of the signs with three humps.

Through town, then the road turns, and all at once everything's green. Only now, it's not green. Everything looks a lot dryer than usual. I've always seen cold, rainy days in January in Huatusco. This is warm, clear and hazy.

I make the run through the hills, past the gas station at the intersection with the road to Jalcomulco, past hotel Cocuyos and then I'm at Huatusco. Take the back road into town, a few more blocks and I'm finally at Manolo and Hortensia's house. About a minute later, I'm getting hugged by both of them and am really glad to be there. It's a bit before 1:00, I'm tired, it's been a long, tiring ride, 830 miles, but I made it.
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Part IV - Looking for Manolo's country estate

Hortensia fixed a quick lunch for us and Manolo said he wanted to take me on a drive to show me the area west of town. We left with Manolo driving an older Dodge Caravan he was buying for a work van and went west 8 or 10 miles until the pavement ran out, taking a detour to look at a lot for sale. Manolo said land was cheap in the area and he and Hortensia would like to move out of town. They were interested in the area, said very few Christians lived out that direction and they were interested in trying to get a fellowship or church started.

The countryside seemed dryer, with pines and oaks growing, usually a sign of less rainfall. Everything looked dry and brown. Manolo said much of that was because of a freeze they had several weeks earlier, unusual for the area.

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We stopped when the pavement ran out. Manolo said the pavement began again a few miles further down the road. We were near the border between the states of Veracruz and Puebla and could see a small town, Chichiquila, which was in Puebla. I used the zoom on this picture. The town's farther away than it looks. The area looks like it would be wonderful to explore on a dual-purpose bike that wasn't afraid of dirt roads. There were small towns and villages all over the area.

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The corn had been harvested from this field. The stalks are doubled over before harvesting so the ear can dry on the stalk. Being upside down lets it shed rain if any happens to fall. The stalks are doubled over by hand with a machete cut halfway through the stalk. It's done the same way in Honduras.

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Manolo asked me if it reminded me of Honduras, where I lived for several years in a previous life. I said it did, but in Honduras, the houses were adobe and the roofs tile. When we went to head back into town, the van didn't want to start. Turn the key, the idiot lights and fan would come on, but the starter motor wouldn't kick in. I said now it seemed like Honduras. I've taken bus trips from the capital to my wife's hometown, about 80 miles each way, and had the bus break down both directions.

Manolo called his mechanic (his cell phone worked out there in the sticks), he said he'd get headed our way. While we waited, we decided to see if we could figure out the problem with the starter, though we had no tools with us. Manolo had a floor jack in the van, though we needed to fix that before we could use it. We got it working, jacked the front of the van up and Manolo found a wire had come off the starter solenoid. When he replaced it, the van started right up. We called the mechanic and said we had the van running, don't bother coming, and we drove back into town.
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Part IV - Friday night church

Getting back into town, I took a picture of Sandi's picture hanging on the wall in the house. Sandi gave them the picture that she had painted on their visit to Corpus Christi in October. Hortensia said she reframed it, then hung it in the place of honor.

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A baby picture was lying on their table and Manolo asked if I knew who it was. After looking at the picture, I said it had to be Manolo. Less hair, more teeth, still the same smile. I was right.

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Manolo told me to take a look at the mountain. The sun setting behind Orizaba was casting a shadow of the mountain up into the haze in the air. Quite an effect. We made a dash for the roof of their house to take some pictures. The white streak in the air above it is a contrail. As the sun set, we watched the shape of the shadow change. The back half of the roof to their house is flat with a spiral stair going up the side of the house, the idea being to make it easy to add a second story. It has a great view of Orizaba when it's clear, making it a good place for Orizaba pictures. Hopefully, the empty lots across the street from their house will continue to stay that way.

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Manolo and Hortensia attend the largest evangelical church in Huatusco, a very lively church with about 300 members. They have two services on Sundays and a Friday night service. I accompanied them to the service and got lots of hugs, seeing people I met on earlier trips to Huatusco. We were there early, but by the time the services started, the place was full.

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The music was lively, prayer was intense. Pastor Dany just got back into town from a trip, so instead of a message, we watched a movie; "Gifted Hands" with Cuba Gooding Jr. playing a neurosurgeon who had to separate two Siamese twins born with conjoined heads. Though made for TV, it's a very good movie. Good message. Pastor Dany also works as a veterinary supplies rep (I think) full-time, so he has his hands full, working and pastoring a church.

Back to the house at 10:00, a bit to eat, then to bed.
 
Joined
Aug 1, 2007
Messages
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Fort Worth
First Name
Dan
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Gill
Re: Part III - Costa Ezmeralda to Huatusco

Note the tope sign in the foreground. I always think of them as marking Dolly Parton sightings. Though I'm not sure what to make of the signs with three humps.
Dolly Parton and half a friend?

Enjoying the report. Keep 'em coming.
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Part V - Dia de los Reyes

Saturday morning I woke up early, put some coffee on, then headed to the roof again with the camera. Mornings are the best times for shots of the mountain and I've had trips when I couldn't see it at all, so I intended to make the most of the unseasonably dry, clear days. Though Orizaba is inland from the coast, its elevation means sunlight hits it before anything else in the area.

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Then I had to take a shot facing the sunrise.

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After everybody was up, Manolo and I headed downtown to visit with Felipe, an agricultural engineer who has a small cafe across the street from Hortensia's botique, Kipling. While talking with Felipe, we heard a lot of horns and sirens coming down the street and I went outside to see what the commotion was. It turned out to be a parade celebrating Dia de los Reyes, or Day of the Kings, otherwise known as Epiphany. Epiphany is January 6th, but I guess Huatusco waited until Saturday to have the parade, celebrating the arrival of the Magi after the birth of Jesus. There were several sets of Magi riding in the backs of pickups.

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Parade participants were throwing candy for the kids.

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On a side note, at the bike rally in Tampico last May, I met a man named Baltazar Reyes. I thought the name was interesting because Baltazar is one of the names of the three kings (Reyes) that visited Jesus, according to long-held legend. I commented on that to Baltazar and he said his grandfather was born on January 6th, Dia de los Reyes, so with a family name of Reyes, they decided to name him Baltazar. The Baltazar I was speaking to was actually the third generation to have that name and he said he had a son and a grandson also named Baltazar. I thought that was great! Five generations of Baltazar Reyes.
 
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Dan
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Gill
Great report and pictures. Loving this. Some friends of mine came back to the States from Leon this year, and Barbara was lamenting that she missed Dia de los Reyes.
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2008
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422
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Corpus Christi, TX
Part VI - Saturday Morning with Felipe

Once the parade was past, Felipe, Manolo and I sat in Felipe's cafe while he told the story of Ocozaca, the coffee growers' association he helped start 6 or 7 years ago. I'm not good about taking notes, so I might not get all the numbers right, but I'll do my best. Ocozaca produces and sells some of the finest organic coffee in the area, which is known for growing good coffee. He told me of a French company so impressed with Ocozaca coffee they were sending association members to other places around the world to train people in improving their coffee-growing techniques.

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I have no idea why Manolo and Felipe look so serious. We were having a good time. Really.

The association began with 75 members, but when people found out, it was going to involve a lot of work, the numbers dropped to 17 members. The association members didn't have money to invest, so Felipe worked on teaching them the value of their time. In business classes, I learned about the time-value of money, this is the money-value of time.

To improve their income, they decided to grow organic coffee, not using commercial fertilizers or herbicides, then acquired a beneficio, where coffee is prepared for market. This means they get the price for the dried coffee, rather than just selling their beans to a beneficio. They've also planted platanos, but primarily harvest the banana leaves for use as tamale wrappers which they sell in Mexico City. Their wives have started a flower business, growing flowers for sale and making and selling flower arrangements. Our plan for the morning was to go with Felipe out to see where the association grows their coffee and to visit their beneficio.

Talking with Felipe took me back to my days in Honduras. My father lived and worked in Honduras for 25 years doing irrigation development. Many of his friends in development work were into sustainable agriculture, intensive farming methods, appropriate technology, etc. etc. I heard many of these themes reflected in Felipe's efforts and I'm impressed with the results he's seen.

This is Felipe's cafe:

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Across the street from Hortensia's botique:

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One of the things I love about Huatusco, is it is the town that chain stores have forgot. There is one supermarket in town, the rest of the shops, and there are hundreds, are virtually all mom and pop, family-owned businesses. What a nice change.

We headed southwest out of town on a road, recently paved which dropped down into a deep canyon southeast of town.

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This is a mango tree in flower:

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Joined
Aug 23, 2008
Messages
422
Location
Corpus Christi, TX
Part VII - The Barranco

At the bottom of the canyon, which they call a barranco, was a stream with a bridge across it. Manolo said the stream was fed by snow melt from Orizaba. It looks like it would make a terrific trout stream, if the water stays cold enough in the summer. He also said, several miles downstream, the water disappears into a cave in the mountainside and isn't seen again.

There is a lot of talk about developing ecotourism in the area. I guess that day, I would qualify as an ecotourist, but as a guest of Manolo and Hortensia, I wasn't doing much to bring any money into the area. Given Mexico's current reputation for violence, and the never-ending stories about shootings and killings in the news, I'm a bit skeptical about how many tourists they could attract. Maybe my trip reports can help moderate people's fears about travelling in Mexico a bit, though they have a pretty limited viewership.

Just so you know, I'm enjoying a mug of hot Ocozaca organic coffee while I'm writing this.

At the bridge, we could see debris left by the flooding after the hurricane that hit Veracruz last summer. The debris piled up under the far end of the bridge, diverting the stream to the near side in this picture.

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Several carloads of young people were enjoying their Saturday morning along the water.

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This tree had a number of weaverbird nests. They become more common in southern Mexico and Central America. I've seen their nests swinging from power lines along the road in Guatemala.

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No weaver birds, just an interesting tree:

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Climbing out of the opposite side of the barranco, we were treated to some more views of Orizaba:

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And went through several small towns on our way to the beneficio. Some houses in the area are now being built out of wood, something new for the area.

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Joined
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Part VII - The Ocozaca Beneficio

When we arrived at the Ocozaca Association's beneficio, we immediately met Felix, the current association president. Felipe said one of the association rules was that their officers changed every two years. This was to promote decision-making skills of the association members, everyone having a turn at being in charge. I said wouldn't some of them do a better job than others? Felipe's answer was they could always consult him or the others for advice, and always had the association members to answer to.

If Felix is typical of the association members, I'm impressed. He was obviously a hard worker, had achieved a lot through his hard work and was proud of his accomplishments.

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When the association was looking for a beneficio to use to process their coffee, they approached a man who had some coffee-growing land sitting idle and an idle beneficio. Coffee prices had been low and many growers in the area were in economic straits. The association didn't have the money to buy the beneficio, but they offered to clean the coffee fields of the owner to put him back in production, if he would let them use his beneficio to process their coffee (using the money-value of time). He took them up on the offer, but after one year, said they didn't have to do any more work on his land, they could continue to use the beneficio and they had first option to buy it, if they wanted to. Several years later, they bought the beneficio.

They had a map painted on the wall showing the location of the beneficio and of the association members. Huatusco is at the top of the map. The wavy line is the road across the barranco. The beneficio is the location in color at right-center. Going home, we took the long way round.

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I'll try to take you through the steps of processing coffee, (If you're interested. If not, just skip the next couple posts.) but for a better summary, the National Coffee Association has a good summary of the process.

Coffee, when ready to be picked, is a bright-red fruit and is known as a cherry, for obvious reasons.

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The outer, fleshy layer is removed mechanically by this machine. The association members are doing some maintenance as the coffee picking is getting ready to start in earnest.

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The outer husks are composted and used to build up the soil on their coffee plots.

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Small worms live in the compost, turning the coffee husks into dirt.

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This composting work is not typical for the area, but something the association does to keep their lands productive.

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Little birds hang around (stage-right) cadging a free meal of worms. The association knows it important to promote birdlife and wildlife in the area, so they actually keep cover around to encourage the birds to stay.

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After the outer hull of the coffee is removed, the next is a soft, sugary layer. If you've ever sampled a raw coffee bean, they taste sweet. This layer is why. It can be removed chemically, but the association does it through fermentation. The beans just sit and ferment for a day or so after the outer husk is removed. The fermentation takes care of the sugar, preventing spoilage.

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All of this was explained to me by Felipe. He went into more detail than I could remember, so I'm just trying to hit the high points. There are other, larger, more modern beneficios in the area, but they all typically use the same processes.

On to the drying.
 
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Part VIII - Wrapping up the benificio tour

Once the outer layer and sugary layer is removed from the coffee bean, it needs to be dried. I think the drying process takes the bean to about 12% moisture content. I have no idea what the initial moisture content is. They have a big dryer which works on the same principle as a clothes dryer, a big rotating drum with hot air blowing through it.

When they have some beans to dry, but not enough to fire up the big dryer, they are air dried. These beans are drying in what is supposed to be visitors' parking, according to the sign on the wall.

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The beneficio when the association started using it, didn't have a dryer. They found one at a beneficio that wasn't used, took it apart, and installed it at theirs.

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After the beans are dry, a final, inner, papery layer needs to be removed. This, again, is done mechanically. I didn't see the machine they had to do this because it was in a locked room and nobody on site had a key. I did see the pile of husks that came off the beans.

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Originally, the dryer was fired with propane. Felipe said fuel costs using propane were about 40,000 pesos per year, about $5,000 US at current exchange rates. They installed an oven that burned the inner husks from the coffee, using it to heat the dryer. Something many beneficios in the area are doing. They spent about 80,000 pesos on the new oven and fuel-feed equipment for a simple 2-year payback. Pretty good economics.

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A hopper feeds the husks into a thingamajig that feeds the oven, mixing it with air to keep the proper proportion between fuel and air. The association members had learned how to weld by then and had done much of the fabrication themselves.

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Ever the engineer, I asked how the temperature of the dryer was controlled and Felipe said manually. Someone watched the dryer and oven whenever it was in operation. How did they know when the beans were at the right moisture content? According to Felipe, you can tell by the color of the beans. They get lighter in color as they dry.

Another area of the beneficio had some equipment they had dismantled and hauled in for future expansion. These guys are all about growing their business.

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We reluctantly wrapped up the beneficio tour and headed up the road to see Felix's house and his flower-growing operation.
 
Joined
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Part IX - Sra. Felix' flower business

From the beneficio we drove a few miles to Felix' house to see his wife's floral business. I'm not sure if this was part of association's business, a cooperative among the association wives or something that his wife was doing on her own, but that have quite a bit going on.

One of the things that the association does, is sell plantano (plantain) leaves in Mexico city for use as tamale wrappers. In southern Mexico and Central America, they make a different type of tamale than the ones wrapped in corn husks we are used to seeing (and eating) in South Texas and Northern Mexico. They are larger and are stuffed with vegetables and meat, then steamed. If you want to see the process, you can see pictures of some Nacatamales my wife and mother-in-law made for Christmas several years ago on Picasa.

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Sorry, I digress. It's getting on towards lunch, and I'm getting hungry just thinking about those tamales. This is before being cooked.

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This is one unwrapped, ready to eat:

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On to the flowers. Mrs. Felix grew flowers for sale in Mexico City that were not native to the area, and others that were native that were used to make floral arrangements they sold locally.

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These are the non-natives they sell in Mexico City.

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Many of the flowers they grew behind the house were relatives of the Bird of Paradise. We have some growing at our house, but not these big ones.

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I realize coffee processing, tamales and flower-growing are not typical subjects for a biker forum, but I'm writing this and you're not, so unless you can get Tourmeister to delete the thread, you have to live with it.
 
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Thanks for the fine report and about the coffee process. I didn't have a clue how it was processed but do drink lots of it. LOL!
 
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Part X - Felix' House

Before we left, Felix wanted to show me his additions to his kitchen stove. In many parts of Mexico and Central America, people cook over wood stoves, usually made out of adobe or concrete block with a flat plate for cooking. The stoves had no chimneys and the kitchens were always smoke-filled. The smoke would filter out through holes left in the tops of the kitchen walls. I noticed on bus trips that most of the people smelled like wood smoke.

Some 30 years ago, the idea of the Lorena Stove, or Estufa Lorena, began to spread. It is the same old wood stove, but with a stovepipe attached. The chimney can go through the wall of the house to reduce the amount of heat in the kitchen. This made life better for lots of people. Felix has an Estufa Lorena. In the spirit of sustainability, he burns wood from coffee bushes as they are cut down and replaced.

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Felix went the idea one better. He took me outside again to show me the water tank he had installed with the chimney going through it to supply the kitchen with hot water when the family was cooking.

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I didn't mention it then, but the next step is to install a hot water tank to give him some hot water storage capacity. It could be piped with a thermosiphon setup so the water would circulate through the heater to the tank without needing a pump. Told you I was up on this appropriate technology stuff.

This is Felix' mother and aunt in the kitchen. They were wonderful ladies and reminded me of my mother-in-law.

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And a picture of Felix' house.

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They had another building on the property that was a kitchen/dining hall (if I remember right) built for the use of the people who came to cut coffee. It was built with some government grant money and would be accompanied by some dormitories and showers. Pretty progressive stuff for the area. Usually the coffee cutters have some pretty miserable living conditions when they're in the fields working during harvest.

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Back outside, Felix' wife retrieved some pictures of floral arrangements they had made for celebrations at some of the local churches. These are pictures of pictures.

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Those are real flowers in the pictures. Not plastic ones. And they grew them.

Manolo was getting restive. The afternoon was passing and he had made some reservations for dinner at a seafood restaurant in Jalcomulco, 25 miles the other side of Huatusco. If we were to get there, we needed to get going. I said goodbye to Felix and his family and we headed off. This time taking the road back through Coscomatepec.
 
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Part XI - Dinner in Jalcomulco and Coscomatepec

Back in Huatusco, we got ready to head for dinner. I told Manolo I'd prefer to go on the bike instead of riding in the car with them. I get queasy real easily riding on mountain roads when I'm not the person driving. Manolo understood. Hortensia said she tends to feel queasy, also. It doesn't bother their girls. They often ride in the back, texting their friends as they go. It was also a factor that the road was a nice, curvy mountain road that probably drops 2,000 in the 25 miles to Jalcomulco, though the road is chewed up in a number of places from water running over it. The road has inadequate ditches, and when it rains, the water runs over the road instead of staying in the ditches. Makes for a bumpy ride in some places.

The restaurant is easy to spot; cross the river at the bottom and it's the one with all the cars parked in front of it. The place gets busy on a Saturday afternoon.

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This is Manolo and Hortensia and their daughters, Sarai (at the end) and Andrea (closest to the camera).

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Sarai enjoyed her shrimp a lot, but did share a couple with me.

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After dinner, we headed back up the mountain to Huatusco.

I noticed my left footpeg was loose on the bike during the ride, so Sunday, I made sure I was up early enough before church to have time to tighten it and adjust the chain. But I started with a couple more sunrise pictures first.

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I haven't figured out yet how to get good pictures with my camera in low light.

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Just for comparison, this is a picture of Orizaba taken two years ago about the same time of year. See how much more snow there is on it. I love this picture. It's one of my top 5 in Mexico so far.

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And Hortensia's tree was already flowering. That's why I go to Huatusco in January.

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After sorting out the bike, we headed off to church. The church has two services on Sundays, 10:00 to 12:00 and 12:30 to 2:30 and Manolo and his wife were going to be there for both of them. I attended the first service, then left. Manolo sent Javier to accompany me for a walk around downtown. Javier is the president of the local CMA chapter in Huatusco. I'd met him on earlier trips and enjoy his company. We got a bite to eat and spent some time talking about CMA and our chapters in Huatusco and Corpus Christi. After wandering around downtown, we went back to the house.

Manolo and Hortensia showed up after the services and this time, they wanted to treat me to dinner at a restaurant in Coscomatepec, 15 miles the other direction. I took the bike again.

Sunday my stomach was letting me know it was unhappy with the world and was making its presence known. Told you I always get sick when I cross the Panuco. I hadn't said anything to Manolo and Hortensia because I knew they would feel bad for me, and then the lamb stew I ordered for lunch didn't help things either.

Manolo and Hortensia ordered a big combination plate:

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While waiting to order, the girls passed the time showing me their guns. They'd been trying to get in shape apparently.

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I think I could take them arm-wrestling, though.

Back in Huatusco, I let Manolo and Hortensia know I wasn't feeling well and said I was going to go by a pharmacy to get some stomach medicine. Manolo insisted on taking me to see a doctor, though it was late Sunday afternoon. We wound up at Dr. Jesus' house. He is a friend of theirs and attends the same church. Dr. Jesus gave me a pretty thorough checkup, said I had an intestinal infection, wrote a prescription for some antibiotics and medicine for cramps, then wouldn't take any money for the visit. Manolo insisted on paying for the medicine. I felt like a freeloader.

Then it was back to the house, back to bed, up in the morning for the two-day ride home to Corpus Christi.
 
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Part XII - The Ride Home

I got up Monday morning still feeling pretty wiped out from the previous day's diarrhea, but still had the 830-mile ride ahead of me to get home. Heading home, I typically try to make it as far as Soto la Marina to spend the night, that's 480 miles, leaving 250 for the next day, if my math is right.

Packed up, I said my goodbyes to Manolo and Hortensia and headed out about 7:30. Right away, I noticed the bike was running pretty rough. Maybe all the bouncing had knocked a spark plug wire loose. I decided to check it at my first gas stop, about 100 miles down the road, along the Costa Ezmeralda. So it was back down the mountain, across the National Bridge, hit the Jalapa - Veracruz Highway, exit north onto the coast highway, up it till the divided road ends, past the mountains, past the nuclear power plant, then start the tope drill all over again.

At the gas stop, I pulled the tank off the bike and checked the ignition wiring over. Everything was OK. Guess I'd have to ride it home running on three cylinders. Rocinante has some rust in her gas tank and I have to get the carburetors cleaned out periodically. It was one of those times. One of the windshield washer boys was hanging over my shoulder the whole time, handing me parts as I needed them, telling me about his aspirations. When I left, I gave him some change and one of our Spanish biker bibles.

Manolo told me not to take the Alamo bypass going home, but go through Tuxpan instead. The bypass has too much traffic and the road is in poor shape. OK. Coming into Tuxpan, at the toll gate, I notice a loud vibration coming from the front of the bike, and it didn't sound good. At the first good place to pull over, downtown Tuxpan, I checked things over and found the bolt that holds the front fairing mount to the steering head had come loose. Rats. And I didn't seem to have a wrench that would fit it. It was one of those big 6-pointed star heads. I tightened it up as much as I could with pliers. That took care of the rattle. I ate a sandwich Hortensia had packed for me and went on my way. Altogether too much time stopping and fixing things. The day was slipping away.

Near Ozoluama, the tank ran out of gas (my mileage was off because of the motor not running right) and when I switched over to reserve, the knob just spun on the shaft. Rats. I thought I'd fixed that problem a month ago. I coasted to a place to pull off, dug the tools out again. took enough plastic loose to get the knob off, switched the tank over manually and reassembled everything. Gassing up, the bike took 30 more pesos than it should've to fill it up. I thought I'd been taken by the gas station attendant, but the bike was getting poor gas mileage and gas prices had just increased a day or two before. Back on the road again.

In Tampico, I decided to go through the center of town instead of taking the beach route as I did coming in. As usual, I missed a turn and had to navigate through town on dead reckoning. That didn't cost too much time. I did get stopped and searched at the Army checkpoint that is on the south side of town. Fifty miles north of Tampico is the turnoff to go through Aldama and Soto la Marina and I had to make an extra gas stop before arriving because of the poor mileage the bike was getting.

I ran the last 45 minutes or so in the dark, following a truck through the stretch of road under construction, then put in about 6:30 at the hotel in Soto where I've stayed in the past. I was one of three guests that night. Watched a bit of the BCS championship game on TV, but decided to wait and watch the game when I got home. I had it set up to be recorded.

In the morning, the wind had changed and the weather was cooling down. I put on my long john bottoms and then getting some gas and coffee at the gas station on the north side of town, decided to put the liner back in the jacket. I was soon glad I did. Temperatures kept dropping and conditions were drizzley.

I stopped to take a couple pictures of the burned out trucks alongside the road.

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Searching the internet reveals that a gubernatorial candidate for Tamaulipas was killed outside of Soto la Marina in June, but they say he was on his way to Victoria when it happened. The road north out of Soto isn't the road to Victoria, unless you want to take the long way. Who knows?

Nearing Reynosa, my luggage was searched by soldiers again at the aduana checkpoint, but they did it without any fuss. I took the turnoff for the new bypass, even though the sign said the road was closed.

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I hit the border shortly before noon, quickly cleared immigration, got my usual sub sandwich, turned on the phone and called my wife. Mary was glad to hear I was OK and back in the states. I'd emailed her from Huatusco on my arrival, so she knew I'd made it down without any problems. I also took time to put on the top half of my long johns. The day was still getting colder. And the danged rattle on the front of the bike had come back. A stop for gas and a stop at a parts store to get the 6-point bit I needed and I had the bolt tightened down and was on my way.

Temperatures for the last 150 miles of the ride were probably in the low 40's. I just kept my head down and rolled on down the highway. The high point of that stretch was watching the same Cadillac sedan get pulled over twice by police in 40 miles. Poor guy.

Just after 3:00, I pulled back into my driveway and shut down Rocinante. Total distance for the trip, 1746 miles, six days, four days of that riding.

It was a tough trip to Paradise, but I was glad I went. Saw some old friends, made some new ones, learned a bit about coffee growing and saw some of the area around Huatusco. And brought home some coffee. I've realized that this ride report doesn't contain one picture of a motorcycle. We'll just have to live with that.

Hopefully, next January, I'll get to do it all again. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

I don't want to end the post with a picture of a couple burned out trucks, so here's a repeat of one of Orizaba.

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Ocozaca Café Orgánico - Shameless Plug

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Ocozaca Café Orgánico De Clase Mundial
Cafés de Altura U.P.M. OCOZACA

Beneficio: ZACAMITLA, IXHUATLÁN DEL CAFÉ, VER.
OFICINA: Av. 2 Pte. No. 829 HUATUSCO, VER.
Tel/Fax 01 273 734 5356 email: ocozaca@hotmail.com
 
R

Red Brown

Thanks for sharing the trip...I learned a good deal about the coffee making process too!

Mexico does look enticing....

RB
 
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Felipe's Story

I just realized writing the trip up, I forgot to include Felipe's story.

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We were returning from our visit to the beneficio and Felix' house through Coscomatepec, when I asked Felipe what the cooperative paid him for all his help and work in organizing and mentoring the cooperative and its members.

He said, "Nothing. My son is alive."

Felipe went on to explain he has two children, a son and a daughter. The son was born with a ventricle in his heart that didn't develop. Oxygen-poor blood returning from his body mixes with oxygenated blood coming from his lungs, making oxygen levels in the blood supplied to his body very low.

Felipe told God about eight years ago, that if his son lived, he would work to see other people's lives improved. His son lived and Felipe went to work to form the cooperative. Felipe is one of the associates in the cooperative and is paid accordingly, but doesn't receive any extra money for his role in starting it.

Felipe said he makes his living doing agricultural projects for other landowners. Felipe's work is making a big difference in the lives of the other cooperative members. Looks like he's holding up his end of his bargain with God. I believe his son is in high school now.
 
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Man, this is a great report. Makes me want to go to Mexico again. I would love to meet these folks. Thanks for posting.
 
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This was a beautiful geographical and cultural glimpse into a very close, but vastly different region. When I was young, I was graced with an extended visit to the Guatemalan Highlands in support of missionaries living and working with the Quiché people.

Anytime I read articles like yours, I'm returned to those days in the mountains.

Thank you for sharing.
 

cdc

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Very nice, interesting and educational report.
Thanks.
 
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Andy,

Great trip and report. It was good to see pictures of my good friends, the Amecas. You are a good story teller, much better than I would expect from a two time, 3rd Best Liar in the State of Texas.
Your math was off, your numbers only add up to 730 miles, but what is a 100 miles between friends?

Dale
 
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My daughter went to Honduras in December with a mission team. She absolutely loved it, and raved about the food and the coffee. She stayed on a coffee plantation while there, so that's the connection with your ride report. She's going back in July, and I think my oldest son will also go. He went twice when he was in high school. A ministry supported by our church (Bread for a Hungry World) runs a children's home there, and does other work in Honduras.
 
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Nice report!

Are there any DS roads going up that mountain?
Thanks, everybody, for all the thanks. I appreciate that.

I imagine there's lots of DS roads in the area.

These are a few pictures a friend from Veracruz sent me in January last year. The photos aren't very big, but they give you an idea of the area:

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If anybody is interested in a guided tour of the area, that can be easily arranged.
 
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I really liked the thread. Good job. But those last photos.:clap: You really didn't need to post those. Jiminy. That's some nice stuff.
 
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Wish i had go with you Andy...Sign me up for the next one . great RR really enjoyed reading it.
 

voyagerrider

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Great ride report Andy!! Glad you made it home safely.

If I understood you correctly Manolo is President of CMA Mexico. I thought he looked familar, I believe I have seen him at One of the Changing of the Colors Rallies on Iron Mountain at CMA headquarters. Also we meet Johan & Charmaine when they came though at the Colors Rally a couple of years ago.

What chapter are you in? I am a Area Rep up here in North Texas.
It is awesome to see that CMA Mexico is doing well.
 

equipment junkie

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Andy, This was a great read. Good job! Makes me want to head down to Mexico (but only with someone that knows the area and the language!)
 
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What chapter are you in? I am a Area Rep up here in North Texas.
It is awesome to see that CMA Mexico is doing well.
I'm in the Corpus Christi chapter. There's half a dozen of us who have made trips to Mexico over the past three years. This forum is littered with our ride reports if you're interested in reading more. Our previous trip was to Monclova in November. Rutas en el Desierto - Monclova, Mexico Bike Rally

We've known Manolo and family several years now. Wonderful folks. Some people have a gift for, ten minutes after meeting them, you feel like you've known them your whole life. That's Manolo and Hortensia.


Andy, This was a great read. Good job! Makes me want to head down to Mexico (but only with someone that knows the area and the language!)
You're in luck, ejunkie, we're planning to go to Motohermandad in Tampico over Memorial Day weekend. We'll probably leave Corpus Thursday afternoon, returning Sunday evening. We've been the past two years and had a ball. Well, Dale (Goldfish) didn't enjoy the last trip too much. Motohermandad 2010, Tampico, Mexico Grumpy goes to Tampico

If you'd like to go, let me know. (That even rhymes.)
 
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