Veracruz, Mexico – A History of Traveler’s Mind

Tlacotalpan portales
photo by Porfirio Castro Cruz

Martha Gies & Daniel Rergis
Danzón photo by Rosario Hall

Volador, Papantla, Veracruz

Carmen de la Jara, Cádiz Singer

Parroquial Mayor, Cuba's oldest church, Sancti Spíritus, photo by Mark Lammers

Museum of the Revolution, León, Nicaragua, Photo: Martha Gies

We began Traveler's Mind in the state of Veracruz, where tropical coastal lowlands curve around the Gulf of Mexico and rise quickly to jungled forests of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The city of Veracruz, halfway down the gulf, is Mexico's most important working port, a city with a proud legacy of having repelled invaders from Spain, France and the United States.

Veracruz is famous for its unique variety of musical traditions, including the witty jarocho songs played on jarana, requinto and harp; the romantic boleros of Augustin Lara, a Veracruz native who became Mexico's most famous popular composer; and several tropical dances of Afro-Caribbean origin, such as the sensuous danzón, danced nightly in the plazas of the port.

Traveler's Mind has taken students to the colorful, raucous and historic port; to the lazy river town of Tlacotalpan, with its brightly painted houses and Arabic-style arcades; and to the Colonial capital of Xalapa, set in a mountainous coffee-growing region near Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest peak.

After traveling to India for a workshop in Fort Cochin, Kerala, we returned to Veracruz for two years, with Day of the Dead and Fiesta de Guadalupe workshops in the vanilla-growing center of Papantla, where Totonac culture flourishes in language, ritual and art.

We have since ranged beyond the borders of Mexico: in 2010, we traveled to the old Colonial capital of Sucre, Bolivia; the next year to Valparaíso, on Chile's central coast; in 2012 to Granada, Spain, where we traced the life of Federico García Lorca; the following year to Jodhpur, in desert Rajasthan; and in 2014 to Cádiz, the luminous white city that sits off Spain’s southwest coast.

In 2015 we braved the bureaucratic barricades created by half a century of U.S. animosity and traveled to Cuba, where we wrote tucked away in the charming and untouristed provincial capital of Sancti Spíritus; and in 2016 we spent New Year’s in León, Nicaragua, the incubator of the Sandinista revolution that finally prevailed in 1979 over Somoza tyranny. The following year we worked in the Colombian Andes, both in picturesque Villa de Leyva and in La Candelaria, where Colonial Bogotá began.

Kerala fishing nets
photo by Carmel Bentley

Bolivia's Los Masis,
restoring Andean cultural heritage

La Sebastiana,
Pablo Neruda's Valparaíso home
Granada, El Albaicín
night fort
Mehrangarh Fort above Jodhpur, photo by Micky Ryan

night fort
Observation towers rise from many Cádiz rooftops.

Villa de Leyva has the largest plaza in Colombia.
Photo Credit: Novoaparra

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