Jalcomulco, a hole in the sand.
Whitewater rafting in México.
There is no place I know better than Jalcomulco, in the state of Veracruz in México. This is the place where I got introduced to whitewater rafting, something I´ve never ever heard mentioned before or even seen on T.V.
When I finished highschool a series of unexpected events that had taken place only a few months before flushed me away from my previous plans into an opening world of new experiences. A car accident shook my whole life with the loss of two of my best friends, one of them lived with me and had been very close to me since I was in fourth grade, and because of that incident I felt extremely lonely and confused and wanted to get close to my family and go anywhere far. And so I moved from Puerto Vallarta in the Pacific coast of Jalisco, leaving behind the opportunity to study art abroad and went to live at my aunts house with my cousins and her husband in México City, a place I had left when I was only 8 years old and didn´t feel as my own. Once there I decided to take a year off to clear my mind and make a proper decision about my future. It was a simple twist of fate what made me stumble in to Rio y Montaña Expediciones, the number one adventure traveling agency in the country, where I delivered a birthday cake that my aunt had bought for and acquaintance.
As I walked in their office and scanned through the pictures on the wall I fell in wonderland and never came back.
Only a few months later I was all ready taking a profesional whitewater rafting guide course with them, which I loved but sincerely didn´t quite understand, with sixteen other adventure seekers that had a lot in common with myself and immediatly got hooked with the overwhelmingness of it all, as an insect attracted to light I went everyday for two weeks to a warehouse in the city, close to my aunts house to try and understand what it was about. Learning everything from rope handling, paddling, rivers and water movements, rescue, gear, first aid and even customer psychology, memorizing safety speeches and overcoming my timidness, watching drawings and videos I couldn´t quite figure out what I was getting into, but from baking cakes and selling them door to door to being a raft guide there was no doubt in my mind something good was about to happen.
After those two weeks the course finished and the time to become a “rookie” came, and so our group drove 6 hours from the city to Jalcomulco, the all ready growing most important community of adventure tourism in the country.
Going downhill on a winding road surrounded by sugarcane the dry land was left behind and as the air got thicker coulours began to burst as we drove into a canyon that takes you to the biggest mango plantation in Mexico. Deep green broccoli shaped trees fill the landscape as far as the eye can see; walls full of orchids, bromeliads and exoticness bend across cutting the hill in half so the so yearned for river can run freely from the “Citlaltepetl” (it´s native name meaning star mountain) also known as the “Pico de Orizaba”, which is the highest volcano in Mexico, with an altitude of 18503 ft (5699 m) towards the Gulf of México in the Atlantic Ocean. A meticulous flat land at the top of the canyon divides green from blue hues. Life exploding in all directions. Four elements converging in one single glance. Sky touching earth and water flowing through it while the fire burning the sugarcane crops dries a bit of the all ready suffocating humid hot atmosphere. Men cutting through the burnt cane in this smokey sweet smelling air painted black with ashes and swinging their “machetes” as low as the ground allows. Toucans and loud chirping “Oropendulas” flying free in this magical vision of a world unknown to me, and a million others for that matter.
The narrow road impossible to pay attention to with all the surrounding beauty finally came to an end where the folkloric picturesque image of a small pastel coloured, “teja” rooftop (roof tiles) town of Jalcomulco begins. As it´s name in Nahuatl says, Jalcomulco is literally a hole in the sand. Desolated “adoquin” (cobble) streets stretch four blocks in each direction. It looked somewhat like a ghost town as the night fell and the few lights lit as if pathetically trying to imitate the mirroring sky that shone with millions of twinkling stars laughing back at it.
Next morning we had breakfast at “Beto´s”, a local restaurant before the bridge where the town ends and you can again appreciate and immerse yourself into the contrasting view of pastel concrete and the breathtaking sight of the “Río Pescados” formerlly called “Huitzilapan” which means humming bird in nahuatl, and the mango trees carelessly planted along the canyon. My favourite dish ever since that day has been Doña Costa´s “Enfrijoladas”, made with fresh hand made corn tortillas, beans like you will never taste again and filled with either chicken, eggs or Oaxacan string cheese, a dollop of cream and crumbled fresh cheese tinted by green or red salsa that brings colour to this simple but delicious madness. Jalcomulco is also well known for it´s “langostinos” fresh water giant shrimp that can be cooked in various ways according to like.
Río Pescados: the main event.
Finally the time to fit the pieces of the puzzle came and we carried the rafts to a small beach upriver, quite a long way to carry this sturdy and heavy P.V.C. blue fourteen footers (4.2 m) that I later learned was only a prank to welcome the rookies to the business. We split up in 3 teams and each took a raft and started our way down river that to me was more like a pinball game than what I had expected rafing to be. The fog moving along the trees made me think of the african Congo, that of course I had never been to, and the brightness of the sun reflecting itself on the water pointed at all these water movements I had been studying passionately studying and trying to imagine the past weeks. Somewhere in the middle of the eddies, holes and waves it struck me, everything just fell into place and as if my past had been left somewhere I could´t even remember. I understood that I belonged to this place, to this life, I belonged here.
Taking turns manouvering the raft and working hard as a team to help who ever was guiding we plunged into the waves and sometimes very frequently into rocks for two hours until the canyon opens up and gets smaller, lower and the land becomes even hotter, mango trees are more scarce and peanut, corn and a yellow type of plum extend giving way to a very different set of coulors.
Our first day of rafting was over in the town (if you can call it that) of “Aguacaliente” (hot water) were we packed our rafts on top of Rio y Montaña´s truck and drove back up on the most beautiful dirt road I had ever seen, for the extasy of it all was only growing in me. The adrenaline, the teamwork that later became friendship, the magic of the place, the pendulum nests, the sound of the flowing river that became my “sensei” (sensei is a japanese word for a martial art teacher “sen” meaning previous and “sei” meaning birth), rainbows and the smell of rotting mangoes smashed by the donkeys that collect and transport them, wet earth and mud being splashed by the truck wheels, all of it became my home a few years later, after I lived in the capital of the state “Xalapa”, city of flowers, at the foot of the Cerro de Perote while I studied 4 years of biology convinced that it was life I wanted to know everything about and protect, for I had been re-born in Jalcomulco, the town that made clear to me that happiness is what matters most, nothing else. Rafting every weekend working for Rio y Montaña Expediciones, to whom I will always be grateful, is how I got to know myself. The river taught me how to enjoy the moment, to want nothing more than freedom away from the prison of conventionalism, it taught me that it is nature that enlightens the spirit and that is where I belong.
Things to do in Jalcomulco:
There are many activities to chose from once you get there, the main issue could be to get there in the first place which will be the first part of your adventure. If you chose to fly the nearest airport would be in Veracruz Port, but from there you will still have to take a ride in one of the local buses. But the most recommended way would be to drive. Twenty years ago when I first went there were only two rafting companies that had their office in México City. Now a days there are more that fifteen companies, most of them settled right there and offer all sorts of adventures to tourists. Rafting, hiking, canyoning, horseback riding, rappel, rock climbing, canopy, gotcha and more activities are offered with a variety of choices for accomodation to suit all tastes. Cabins, luxury campsites, tents and hostels make Jalcomulco the most important place for adventure tourism in México. It also offers traditional prehispanic gastronomy made with all the love and coulour that is characteristic of our country, blending flavours of the old and the new world. Either to rest, to go for an adventure, to pander yourself with a delightful massage surrounded by nature or simply walk around and enjoy the life, culture and tastes of a typical town in México, this is the place to go.
A few of the companies that offer their service are:
- Rio y Montaña Expediciones, México Verde, Green Experience, Huitzilapan Expediciones, Pro Adventure, Ecco Sports, Desafiando, La Artesana.
No a Las Presas!
No a las Presas is the slogan we use for our fight against the damming of the Río Pescados. Jalcomulco is the head of the municipalty and all the people in it benefit from it´s activities. Sadly it is now being threatened by the construction of a damm that will damage the environment and change the lifes of all the beings that depend from the river, a river full of life, home of endemic plants and animals. People are fighting for their river and way of life, for their roots and culture, hopefully if enough eyes are focused on the matter they will be able to save it.
Take a weekend and disconnect yourself from the city, give yourself the chance to break some taboos, take a risk, get wet, get dirty, breath the fresh air, sweat it out, try yourself out and sooner or later you will see what I mean, Jalcomulco will make you feel at home.