I woke up yesterday looking for adventure, so I hopped into the cab feeling proud that I had determined the fare to the beach. Ciento and cincuenta sound the same? I said Playa Miramar, which meant NOTHING to the driver. Finally, I dug out the tourist map, which I found at the hotel on the first night, and showed him where I wanted to go.
The traffic is like velvet. No one uses their brakes, and there is no aggression. Everyone drives as fast as they can without stopping except for lights and for people getting into taxis. The passado continuoso is a great system. If you are on Hildago (the busy strip mall thoroughfare closest to my house), the cabs beep at people all day long to see if they need a ride. For 10 pesos you can go anywhere you want on Hildago in one of these tiny cabs, picking up people as you fly along.
I was in my own cab this time. So far I have felt no stress about being in Tampico. The people are friendly and open, it is easy to get around, and a big smile goes a long way. It was early enough that the breeze from the car provided some relief from this intense heat. Gliding through the city on the way to the beach, I saw everything from horse drawn buggies picking up scrap metal, to the the federalis police – black from their boots, to their bullet proof vests, to the masks covering their faces and their helmets—carrying long semi-automatics. They perch in white, pristine pick-up trucks, about four or five per truck. Some people are comforted by their presence, but most Mexicans wished that the drug cartel had been left alone -- why muddy the waters?
I think I saw lemurs in the mango trees – monkey-like with long tales. As we approached the beach, I got to see what really drives the city, Pemex, the petroleum company. Pemex takes up the section of the city that boarders the beach. It is enclosed in walls covered with broken glass, so all I could see were bursts of fire from the refinery towers.
Tampico is far from a beautiful city. I would describe it as one giant strip mall with a series of neighborhoods branching off of it. The signs in strip malls compete for height, and they tower over the low concrete and stucco buildings. Most buildings are white, with an occasional burst of peach, turquoise, yellow or purple.
The people are beautiful and gracious. But there is a lot of poverty. All over the streets there are women, children and elderly selling water or flowers, trinkets, or simply begging for money. Many live off tips, so there is always someone waiting for a peso. When I go to the supermarket, the baggers, who are not hired by the market, get tipped; then someone will offer to carry your groceries, for a tip; then someone will offer to put your groceries in the car, or take your cart away for you, and finally assist you in backing out your car!!! They are polite, and a simple no, gracias is fine.
The driver took me to the far end of Miramar. This drive emphasizes the state of Tampico, which used to be a hot spot to vacation or for the wealthy to live. All over the city there are abandoned buildings because have left the city in the past four years because it was so dangerous. All over the beach there is empty real estate lining the beach. All of the rich people left Tampico a few years ago when it became too dangerous to live here, or too expensive. Most business owners had to pay off the Cartel if they wanted to carry on. Things have changed and slowly people are moving back.
The beach was just like any other beach near a city. I did end up paying 100 pesos instead of fifty because I am a dumb American – live and learn. The ocean was the first time since I have been here that I have felt refreshed, but the minute I got out I was sweating again. I walked to the end of a long break water and watched the huge tankers move in and out of the port. I ate the most delicious fresh mango I have ever had, and I smiled a lot. Una Americana, una Americana.