Chapter 1. Rendevous in Texas
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2001 All rights reserved.
(Bert) "Belize," I respond to the question of where we are going this year. My answer is met with a blank stare. "How do you spell that?" comes back as the second question. Unless, of course, the questioner is a birder. To a birder, Belize conjures up either a special memory or a touch of envy: perhaps the thought of a tropical jungle or of brightly colored parrots. It is place that few people have visited and far fewer have reached by highway from the U.S. But Belize is only one of the stops on this winter's expedition, and, then, only for a little over a week. Before we reach our terminus, we will be visiting the eastern part of Mexico and then cutting a coastal path around the Yucatán peninsula, stopping often for birds, Mayan ruins and anything else that catches our interest.
The rigs started rolling in yesterday; more come this morning. Those already encamped greet the new faces cordially: polite, but reserved. But when someone from last year's Mexico trip arrives, the reception turns to shouts, broad smiles and enthusiastic hugs. Of the 29 people gathered by noon, 19 shared the West Mexico caravan trip one year ago, and many of the remaining 10 visited that area in prior years. All but two have tasted Mexico before and are back for more.
(Shari) Everyone in our group has arrived and they are flying high. I hear warm greetings from those that know each other and introductions from those that do not. Laughter, hugs and mile-a-minute talk surround R-TENT. (R-TENT is the name I fondly call our 36-ft. Discovery motorhome). The group arrives at the 4 o'clock meeting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Since not every one knows everyone else, I decide to play a get-acquainted game. As they enter the meeting room, I have each member take as much toilet paper as they think they will need; I give them my deadpan face when they ask what they need it for. Bert and I introduce ourselves, along with our wonderfully experienced tailgunner couple, Scotty and Glorian. Someone mentions that the tailgunner will be head-over-tails better than the ding-a-ling they had last year. Since the tailgunner last year was Bert, everyone gets a chuckle out of that. Then two groups count from 1-13 and I make sure that those who were not on last year's trip with us are in the first group. Then I pair all the number ones together, etc. Here is where the toilet paper comes in. Each person has to interview his partner and write what he learns about him/her on the amount of toilet paper they took. Poor Gwen took so much toilet paper she wrote sideways with very large print to fill it all. Lee took a whole roll. The group enjoys this activity so much that I have to hurry them along when they report back about what they learned. Two hours later, we have imparted all the information we know about procedures, rules, safety, tourist visas, road conditions, RV parks and customs checks involved with this caravan. Exhausted after the meeting, Bert and I take Ann and Jim up on their offer to accompany them at a pizza restaurant.
(Shari) St. Paul's Lutheran Church is only a hop, skip and jump from our RV park. Bert and I, along with Ed and Carlyn, arrive a bit early. Because of the large influx of winter Texans, St. Paul's holds its services in the school activity building. Pastor Kirchner talks about change and how God can work enormous changes in our lives if we let Him. Pastor must like his beer, because he mentions more than once about following God's way does not mean having to give up having a good time or forgoing alcohol. After all Jesus turned water into wine for the wedding in Canaan. When we arrive back to R-TENT, Ann is waiting with information concerning who needs a ride in Belize and who has a car available. She graciously took on that task for me. We muddle over all the possibilities, since some want a ride some of the time. We are forced to leave the decision open, since at 12:30 PM it is time to lead the group to the border to do our paperwork. We are told that we can get our tourist visas and car sticker ahead of time. Yesterday in our orientation meeting, we filled out our tourist visas as a sample exercise, but realize from our dry run trip on Friday that they will to be done all over again. We have to complete forms that have a stamp on them. I do not understand why the forms cannot be stamped after completion, but this is Mexico. We drive to the border like old hands at it and head straight for the parking lot. Backtracking a block on foot we enter the building that issues the visas; 100-year-old Alice nimbly keeps up with the rest of us. We pay our $16.50 fee, get our stamped visas and use yesterday's visa to copy the information. When the first couple is finished, I take them the block back to the building that makes photocopies. Here they charge 50 cents per page to copy passport, driver's license, visa, and vehicle registration. Then it is back to the middle building. Now we must get our vehicle sticker. We cannot get stickers for the motorhomes because the vehicles are not present in the parking lot. All goes well until Ann and Jim mention they have a trailer. Soon no stickers are issued because the trailer is not present. Ai-gavault! Because their motorhome is not present, Gene and Sandy now cannot even get a sticker for their tow car, even though eight others right ahead of them have. On top of that, Ed and Carlyn are told that they never took their motorhome out of Mexico in 1999. It does not matter that they went in and out in 2000. If they went into Mexico in 2000, they must have taken it out in 1999. But of course that is too logical. Carmen is immensely helpful, as she at least can talk to the clerk to find out why he keeps saying "no" to Ed. The short of it all is that Ed and Carlyn have to travel back tomorrow to talk to a supervisor. All this, and we still fit in a birding workshop at 4 PM. Bert does a wonderful job leading it and even I am interested in what he is going to come up with next.
(Bert) One by one, our Tailgunner, Scotty, checks out each of the vehicles that will be crossing the border. Topping off fluid levels, checking tires and batteries, adding caravan identification labels and numbers, recording spare parts we are carrying - these are the easy parts of Scotty's duties. But he also tackles a few tougher ones, like fixing the leak in Ben's hot water heater, from which a steady stream pours down the driveway of his RV site.
In early afternoon, we make a trial run to the border with our cars and trucks, leaving the RV's behind. Everything proceeds smoothly as we get our travel visas, photocopy documents and get vehicle permits for those we have with us. I'm across the street, helping attach hologram stickers, when I see Larry waving me back to the government buildings. A confusion of Spanish and English comes from a dozen travelers and officials as they try to explain the problem to me; Carmen acts as interpreter. The source of the problem is a moving target and the resolution is even more complex. Finally, after 20 min. of discussion, the issue boils down to the fact that Ed and Carlyn are being denied entry into Mexico because a computer check on their passport number reports they didn't bring back their RV from Mexico after a 1999 trip. That Ed drove the same motor home into Mexico during our 2000 trip and now has the same vehicle with us here in 2001 seems to have no bearing on the negotiation. The problem will have to wait until tomorrow when an official with higher authority can be contacted by phone.
Back at the RV park, all of the birders gather for a meeting in the Coffee Room. I start them off with a bird quiz: identifying three bird species from some abbreviated notes I took a year ago in Mexico. The exercise proves the value of taking notes while watching a difficult-to-identify bird. We hand out binders detailing the birds we expect to see at the various birding sites along our trip and go over other details, including our car-pooling arrangements in Belize.
(Shari) Bert finally goes birding. We have been here 10 days and he has yet to put binoculars to his eyes. People were beginning to wonder if he was sick. I continue to take care of last minute details; get copies made, mail bills and deposits, get groceries and gas, etc. When I get back I find that Ed and Carlyn have settled their car issue. It took all morning and an extra $30. The boss person at the municipal building in Reynosa finally gave them a slip of paper allowing the motorhome to come back into Mexico. So we are all set for the journey across the border tomorrow. Bert and I celebrate with steak cooked on the grill. Probably the last good steak we will have until our return in March.
(Bert) Last minute details are narrowing down to a short list, leaving time for many of us to go off birding at the various hotspots along the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Woody, Gwen, Lee and I head to Santa Ana NWR and see many local specialties, but nothing particularly rare. At 4 PM we have our travel meeting and Shari and I detail the procedure we will follow for tomorrow's departure. I'm anxious to leave.
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