Chapter 3. Coastal Tamaulipas
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2001 All rights reserved.
(Shari) Going out is much easier than coming in. Glorian takes the first five out to the staging area. When the second group is lined up at the gate, I start the car and drive them to the staging area. About 15 minutes later, Bert brings the last four. We are on our way. The country road with good surface traverses land that is relatively flat, planted with mostly sugarcane. We only have 92 miles to drive and we easily make it to the outskirts of Tampico by noon. We are parked in a big field that is spacious when compared to our previous night's campground. The weather has turned bright, sunny and warm and the birders don their binoculars and head for the marsh at the end of the road. I gather everyone's money and pay the attendant. At 2 PM Bert and I reconnoiter the path we will take in the morning. We try two routes and on the second we get lost in the terrible traffic of Tampico. We decide the first route is better, even if it may be longer. It takes us three hours to do this and we arrive back to find that everyone has placed chairs around an empty circle waiting for our travel meeting. Another caravan company has also pulled in and Scotty and Bert talk to their wagon master. After learning they intend to depart the same time as we do, we push our time back 30 minutes to 6:30AM. It will be a little dark yet, but the road is pretty easy to follow. Just as I am about to reheat our chicken and grab a well-deserved glass of wine, the manager of the park knocks on our door. It seems we were not charged enough. I show him our receipt and our contract but it does not seem to make any difference. This is three for three on parks that want more money after naming a price. It is so frustrating! I do not want to go around to everyone and gather up more money. Finally after much hand motions and repeating the same words to each other that neither one of us understand, we reach a compromise: I can pay him the difference when I come back in March. I am exhausted and although it is only 7 PM, I am ready for bed.
(Bert) Travel from Ciudad Mante to Tampico is uneventful this morning. The roads are good and often 4-lane. Our campsite is a flat grassy field adjacent to a marsh, elevation 136 ft. on my GPS. In fact, it seems the city of Tampico is an island in a continuous marsh. Waterways are all along the side of the city we visit this afternoon by car. If this environment were transplanted to Florida, it would be resplendent in luxury hotels, condominiums and expensive homes, all with access to the waterways. Instead, a huge garbage dump creeps to the edge of the marsh, pushing ever forward. Close by, desperately poor people live in a ramshackle village built of discarded scrap: poverty and trash in the midst of the environmental beauty of the marsh. But poverty is also in the midst of wealth, reflected in the more luxurious homes at higher elevation and in the myriad businesses operating in the city. We turn into the bustling city and travel its congested streets, trying to find an alternate exit for tomorrow's departure. Ford, Nissan, Walmart, Sam's, Burger King line the streets along with thousands of people moving by foot, bicycle, auto and bus. After two and a half hours of congestion, we give up on the alternate route and decide to stick to the first route we explored. At a 5 PM travel meeting we announce tomorrow's plans. But before we get started, Sid, a non-birder, hands me a note about a bird he and others saw in the marsh. Teasingly, he challenges me to the same test I gave the group on our first birding workshop: to identify a species from a few field notes. With 54 eyes starring at me, I puzzle over the notes for a minute and come up with a guess. They add another field mark: the bird is about 2 ft. tall. I tell them I'll look at the notes tonight. See if you can discern the bird they found from these notes: "long bill, straight bill, long legs, long thickish neck, front rusty vert stripes, back neck - horizontal stripes, freezes, back black vertical streaks, white eye line."
(Bert) A hard day's travel lies ahead of us. We've been warned that this will be the worst road we will take with our RV's. Last night another caravan stayed at the same RV park we did and elected a 7:15 AM departure. To avoid congestion we leave earlier. At 6:30 we are still a half-hour from first dawn, so we start with headlights glowing as we drive along the bumpy bypass of Tampico. Still in the dark, we thread through a village on the outskirts of the city, bouncing on a rock bed the locals consider a street. As the sky begins to brighten and headlights become an accessory, we turn onto the well-paved Mex 180. From then on, our route alternates between newly paved smooth highways and dish-rattling, shelf-spilling, cabinet-opening perforated roadbeds. Willie, a lady with an extensive Spanish vocabulary, says she learned a new word today: "bache" translates "pothole". Along side us, we travel through sparsely populated farm and ranchland. The gently rolling countryside sharpens slightly as we enter an area of extensive orange groves, a patchwork of small fields built up against hillsides and surrounded by native growth. Occasionally, we encounter road signs depicting monument markers. Many of the brush and tree-covered hills are man-made, artifacts of the ancient Mayans. None of these ruins are uncovered, but the abrupt sombrero-like change from flatter lands to a quick rounded peak gives evidence to its artificial nature. Now the land becomes much hillier about the time we reach Poza Rica. We wind endlessly through the city; our caravan becomes separated at stoplights, but we all continue on the main road and regroup during our climb up the hillsides on the outskirts of the city. Still later we descend to coastal levels and catch a glimpse of the Gulf. Palm trees spring up everywhere, a signal that we have arrived at Costa Esmeralda, the Emerald Coast. Staging from a Pemex station, we transfer to the RV park in batches, the last group arriving at 3:30 PM, nine hours after our departure time. [The answer to yesterday's puzzle is Pinnated Bittern].
(Shari) Up before dawn, we want to beat the other caravan out of the gate. They are headed to the same campground we are and say it is not big enough for all of us, so I tell them I will use only half of the full hook-up spaces. Leaving at 6:30, still in the dark, we follow the route Bert and I logged yesterday to get out of town and it goes like clockwork. The by-pass is not without it's problems, however, since it takes us one hour to go 21 miles: two toll booths and some very rough road to travel. Fortunately, I set everyone's expectations that this route will be rough. When all is said and done, that first section is the roughest of the trip. The road is not good, but we do average 30 miles per hour after that and it could be traveled much faster if not in a 14-rig convoy. Our first rest stop is a big pullout along the roadside. As we travel through the village of Buenos Aires, I notice orange stands lining the road on either side with a wide shoulder to pull off. I mention this to Bert, but he does not seem to hear me, until someone behind us HEARS his wife and pulls off. This now becomes our second rest stop and we buy oranges. We eat lunch at another gravel lot across the street from a Pemex station. From here on it is smooth traveling along rolling country dotted with orange and banana orchards neatly planted in rows along the hillsides. Even uncultivated land has coconut trees growing wild. Vegetation is thick and green. The few villages on the road are small until we get to Poza Rica. That town is large and we loose the caravan until quite a few miles outside of it. We just never could find a place to pull over. The road is just too narrow with the local traffic trying to pass. A steep hill ascends and descends from the town and not until we get to flat ground does Scotty let us know he has caught up. Finally we reach the Emerald Coast, so called for its 25-mile stretch of beautiful beach. We stage at a Pemex six miles from the campground and Scotty and I go on ahead with the car. We decide to bring in five rigs at a time at 15-minute intervals and park them quickly. The park has added another 20 sites since last year so the other caravan does not need to split up and neither do we. We take the front section and park our group quickly. Unfortunately the promised pig roast does not happen since the owner of the park had no information that we wanted it. Oh, well, most of us are very tired anyway. Eleven of us find Los Maros, a restaurant down the road, and enjoy shrimp, red snapper and do you believe fried fish eggs?
(Shari) What a lovely restful day! I slept almost 13 hours and it was sinfully wonderful. Refreshed, I am ready to tackle the world. I do not know what happens to the time, but all of a sudden it is 4:30 PM and time for our staff meeting before the travel meeting. I know I did paperwork, talked to a few people, and walked a bit in the campground, but gees, I did not even get down to the water to put my hand in the ocean. Time flies when you are having fun, I guess. The campground is set among palm trees at the side of the ocean. It has a difficult left turn access and the owner was upset with how we parked. We did not want to have our people parked on the shoulder of a busy highway before they made a left turn. Once in the camp, the road makes a square around the back-in sites. Maneuvering big fifth wheels and trailers between the trees takes some skill. Once in, the sites are lovely and spacious. Mexico is full of individual entrepreneurs. Today a man comes with a beat up small car and opens the hatch back. His trunk is full of fresh bakery and the front seat has bags and bags of bollios, those wonderful tasty subway rolls of Mexico. Another man comes around with orange-tree woodcarvings of birds. Often I have seen a pick-up full of fresh fruit of the season driving around a campground. I hope these people make a good living, since the initiative deserves something alone.
(Bert) A day without scheduled activities, everyone scatters according to their own interest. But for almost everyone in this group, that interest is birding. Some head up the coast as far as Tecoluta, others go north just a few miles and still others bird around our campground. Surprisingly, some of the best birding is just across the busy highway. The birds - and birders - seem oblivious to the roar of 18-wheelers and the swish of wind they propel. Beryl and Willie find over two dozen species along a 100-ft. stretch of highway, including Yellow-throated Euphonia, Band-backed Wren and Blue-black Grassquit.
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