Orizaba. The name was somewhere in my memory but I hadn’t come across it until I started researching for destinations in the state of Veracruz. I was in Apizaco, in the state of Tlaxcala, and would be traveling with my dad to Veracruz for my sister’s wedding, so I figured I could definitely make a stop in Orizaba along the way—especially since the city is conveniently located pretty much right between A and V.
The trip itself was a highlight, as the highway to Orizaba leads through a very mountainous area. Mind you, the city sits at an altitude of about 1,230 meters above sea level.
I arrived shortly after noon. After dropping off my things at my rental apartment I headed to the city center. It wasn’t a particularly sunny day but it was warm. Humidity was in the air, and it was obvious that a storm was approaching—as was also announced by the ominous fog slowly descending onto the city from the mountains.
Situated by the highest mountain in Mexico, Orizaba is a city of over 120,000 inhabitants and is bisected by the river of the same name. It is also bit of an odd town: The European influence in Orizaba is more present than in other cities, which is mainly due to the industrialization pushed forth by Porfirio Díaz and the ensuing immigration of workers from the Old Continent. British immigrants introduced football into the country in Orizaba, and a Scottish entrepreneur founded the first football club in the country in 1898.
The city center was spotless, as Orizaba is one of the many Pueblos Mágicos, a government program to invest in small towns to attract tourism. However, unlike many other polished little towns that feel almost fake, Orizaba has a lot of character, which I would ascribe to the combination of Veracruzano flair and a very strong European feel. The colonial architecture of the city center gives way to newer buildings from the 19th century, most of which have been recently renovated.
Porfirio Díaz, who ruled the country for 30 years, was obsessed with Europe and had a soft spot for Orizaba, and a lot of the buildings he commissioned there were inspired and, in one case, even brought from Europe. The Palacio de Hierro, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel, is the only steel Art Nouveau building in the world. The building was brought in pieces to Mexico by boat from Belgium, and was assembled in the city center in 1894.
Due to British immigration, Orizaba was at some point known as “La Manchester Veracruzana.” In fact, British influence is prominent in this part of the country, also in the adjacent state of Hidalgo.
The fog that engulfed the city created an almost Lovecraftian atmosphere, but one of the main reasons why I wanted to go to Orizaba was seeing the mountains. However, the fog had thickened and visibility at that point was zero. Even the cable car that goes to the top of the Cerro del Borrego disappeared into the gray mass of condensation floating just above the tree line in the city center.
In those conditions, there was only one thing left to do: eat. I came across a small restaurant collective called Mercadito Orizaba. The place was basically a huge old house and each restaurant had a room. There was also a patio that served as common area. At that point I still hadn’t had any tacos and already had my heart set on them. My dad and I took a seat in Mr. Mostacho, ended up ordering way more than we could handle, and stayed there for a smoke afterward.
All in all, Orizaba was definitely worth the visit, especially since it added to the contrast that I would experience later on as the trip progressed. Mexican history is very rich and the regional differences are huge, so visiting Orizaba was ideal to gain a better understanding of the influence of Europe on the country.
Orizaba is small and we had already toured the entire city center. There were two other places left to visit in Orizaba: the local cemetery and the canyon at the edge of town. I obviously settled for the cemetery, which was a selling point when I first did my research on the city. As it turned out, my rental apartment was located but a few streets away from the cemetery, which was ideal but a total coincidence (I basically just picked the place because it had a hammock). However, I decided to rain-check the visit to the cemetery and postpone it until the following day—also in the hopes that the fog would have cleared by then.
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