Written by Rosa Martinez | Photography by Jamie Elvidge
Five men dressed in red climb a 30-meter pole. Four of them suspend themselves with rope from a ring, while the fifth man teeters at the very tip. There he plays a flute and drum. The music directs the four “flyers,” who make a dizzying, yet rhythmic descent toward the ground. For centuries, the Totanac people have been performing the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers), which originated with other indigenous groups, to appease Xipe Totec, the rain god—and other deities—ensuring fertility and beauty to the region.
There must be something to the ritual, because Mexico’s town of Veracruz (in the state of Veracruz) offers a heavenly retreat for the water lover. Meridian 441 Sedan owner Jorge Sosa, his wife, Vanessa Aguirre, and their two young kids show off the city’s most revered sites from the bridge of their yacht.
Marking Veracruz’s coastline is an ancient fortress. Spaniards built the Castle of San Juan de Ulúa to protect the city after Conquistador Hernán Cortés founded Veracruz in the 1500s. The fort’s ramparts—constructed of brain coral—rise from an island in the town’s bustling port, the largest in Mexico. The fortress, which now hosts tours of its castle and prisons, was the last site in “New Spain” that Spain had occupied during the Mexican War of Independence.
Movie buﬀs might recognize the stronghold as a place where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner hunted for “El Corazon,” the heart-shaped emerald treasure in the box-oﬃce hit “Romancing the Stone.” In the movie, the amorous and comedic Joan and Jack actually ﬁnd the gem in a cave tucked behind a magniﬁcent waterfall. The Cascade de Texolo plunges 60 to 80 feet over a cliﬀ not far from the town of Xico, also in the state of Veracruz. However, long before Hollywood actors pretended to fend oﬀ those snapping crocodiles, Veracruz and its fortress served as the exchange site for real-life valuables. The Spanish Empire had developed a convoy system, the “Spanish Treasure Fleet,” to transport riches from the Americas to Spain in exchange for tools and other necessities.
Europeans, at the time, considered vanilla a delicacy. Papantla, a city in the northern part of the state of Veracruz, is famous for its vanilla production, and to this day, still hosts the Vanilla Festival, an event that pre-dates the Spanish Conquest. Vanilla planifolia, native to the area, twists its vine around host trees called tutors. The sought-after ﬂavor is derived from the orchid’s seedpods through a painstaking process. In the 1500s, cultivators grew rich shipping the spice, which accompanied other swag—such as precious metals, pearls, gems and silk—on the Treasure Fleet’s vessels.
Plenty of the Conquistador-era ships containing the exotic goods wrecked oﬀ Mexico’s gulf coast, making the region a proving ground for modern-day divers in search of ancient sunken riches.
The 441 Sedan is a ship in its own right. The Sosas bought their boat at Meridian’s Yacht Expo (held in Merritt Island, Florida) two years ago. They made the purchase with the aid of Veracruz dealer, Gulf Marine of Mexico. The 441 features all the creature comforts and lavish amenities needed to overnight or take weeklong adventures if, perhaps, the Sosas get the itch to cruise around the hook of the Yucatán Peninsula to enjoy Cancun’s alabaster beaches. Often, though, they simply ﬁnd a spot near Veracruz, where they can anchor and let their kids jump oﬀ the swim platform to frolic in the warm, sapphire waves.
“What most boaters usually do,” says Meridian dealer Gregorio Chedraui Bolado, who sold Jorge his boat, “is go to a little island and spend the day.” One such place is actually called, “The Island in the Middle of Nowhere,” he says, “because it’s, well, out in the middle of nowhere.” Another, Isla Verde, or “Green Island,” oﬀers smooth stretches of sand and clear waters for snorkeling. And just south of the cities of Veracruz and Boca del Rio, boaters can ﬁnd the Rio Jamapa, a river with a wide mouth and placid waters. Jorge often takes his family there to swim, as well.
When in port in Veracruz the family heads to the Paseo del Malecón, a seaside promenade that features hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Local artisans hock seashell necklaces and other tropical trinkets at souvenir stands. The ever-popular coﬀeehouses can be found here, too—most notably the iconic Gran Café de La Parroquia. Known as an institution in Veracruz, tourists and locals make it a point to get a café lechero there. The waiter traditionally pours the dark caﬀeinated brew into a glass, and the customer then clinks it with a spoon. This is known as “calling the milk.” Another server then adds the scalding-hot froth. It is said by those who have been there, “that to go to Veracruz and not go to the Gran Café de La Parroquia is to not go to Veracruz.”
High over the Malecón, the Carranza, a lighthouse named after a Mexican Revolution hero, serves as historical beacon. The architectural beauty was also the site where oﬃcials drafted the Mexican Constitution in 1917. On Monday mornings tourists can enjoy an elaborate parade courtesy of the Mexican Navy. While the lighthouse once served as a guide to ships, those who remained in port to watch over the treasure-packed vessels entering and leaving Veracruz traditionally observed from the baroque tower of the Municipal Palace. It’s the oldest government building in Mexico and marks the Plaza de las Armas, also called the Zocalo. At night, Marimba music sets the tempo for the enjoyment of dining, shopping and impromptu dancing.
The neoclassical Virgen de la Asunción, the town’s prominent cathedral, also frames the popular gathering spot. Its cross symbolizes Veracruz’s roots in Christianity, evident by the municipality’s name, which means “True Cross.” Conquistador Hernán Cortés landed at the site on Good Friday in 1519.
With Veracruz’s history steeped in all things rich: gold, silver, spices, gems and even oil—not to mention a gleaming coastline—the region has no doubt been blessed. Perhaps Xipe Totec has been pleased over the years with the performance of the bird ﬂyers dangling daringly from those 30-meter poles.