Chapter 1. Rendevous in Texas
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2003 All rights reserved.
(Bert) I've seen West, I've seen East, but not Central Mexico. What is it like to travel and to bird through the broad mile-high central plateau stretching from Monterrey in the north to the volcanoes around Mexico City and beyond to the coastal mountains near the Pacific Ocean? I'm sure that question, among dozens of others, is on the minds of many of my fellow travelers today as we gather in The Sunshine Room for our rendezvous orientation meeting. Again our target this year is Belize, the magnet of nature lovers and birders, but our 4000-mile route is different. What new adventures await us? What problems will we encounter? What solutions are yet to be resolved? What sights will we add to our memory banks of world travels? What new birds will we see? What new friends will travel with us? All is the allure of yet another venture into a place we haven't seen before, and we eagerly anticipate our departure.
(Shari) It boggles my mind how all this preparation should take so long and even though this is the fifth time I have done this, I still expect to have some free time to socialize. It does not happen and I get bogged down on the details. But I know this will abate and soon we will be on our way. Today everyone has arrived, stickers are on the vehicles and we have our first marathon orientation meeting. There is so much to communicate that I often wonder how much sinks in. Bert and I go through an 11-page outline of things to discuss ranging from driving in Mexico and what to expect at the border to eating out and staying healthy. It takes so long today (probably because people had so much fun doing the get-acquainted mixer) that after two and a half hours I decide to push the travel meeting to tomorrow. Of the 31 people on the trip, we already know 18. They have either traveled with us to Mexico or Alaska on previous trips. Two couples are on their fourth trip with us! I often kid them that they have to keep repeating it until they get it right. It makes memorizing names easy though. On a personal note to our friends in Reno, "We will miss you."
(Bert) A taste of things to come, we explore a couple of north-of-the-border sites that harbor a few south-of-the-border specialties. At the University of Texas - Pan American campus we meet Tim Brush and Dwayne Hodges already at the ficus tree known to be the winter home for a rare Golden-crowned Warbler. Tim found the bird on November 1 and he and Dwayne have been documenting its presence ever since. It is only the species 15th occurrence in the state and a special treat for our birders who have come from all over the U.S. and Canada. From the campus we head to a private residence in McAllen to see Texas's second record of a Blue Mockingbird, a bird far from its native home in Mexico. While waiting for the mockingbird, a boisterous flock of Red-crowned Parrots fly over and stop to rest in the crown of tall oaks. We aren't in Mexico yet, but you can tell we are close to the border. In the afternoon I give a couple of talks, one on beginning birding that winds into a report of a hummingbird we saw on last year's trip, now reported in a birding journal as a probable first occurrence of the species in Belize. Then I give a second talk on Biogeographical Mexico. Using a country map as a prop, I explain the geography of Mexico, the diversity of birding habitats we will be visiting, ending with a list of the 700+ species that we could potentially see along our route during our months of travel. In our 4000-mile trek we pass through 15 of the 32 Mexican states, plus 5 Belize districts. It will include 11 of 27 biogeographic regions described in Howell & Webb's book, including both Atlantic and Pacific slope birds. It is a late night before we turn off the lights for bed, working to the last minute with insurance corrections, faxing, mailing and our last opportunity for easy e-mail access.
(Shari) I can feel the excitement building and the birders go out this morning for a little taste of what is to come. They return happy, spend the remaining part of the day exchanging dollars to pesos, doing the last of the wash, purchasing favorite American food products and attending another meeting. Discussing Birding 101 and then Birding 606, Bert does an excellent job communicating his expectations to the group. With our route drawn in purple on a map of Mexico and pushpins designating each of our stops, he explains the different geographical areas we will encounter as the days of our trip progress. I take over the meeting and discuss border crossing, parking, visa completion and vehicle permit procedures. We are ready. Well not quite. I still have to purchase a ball to fit on our hitch (ours looks ready to break), an air filter (ours is dirty), a fuel filter (to be safe), distilled water for the battery. Don't ask why I am doing this 12 hours before departure. We do not want to go there. After making copies of the forms needed to send in, I stop at Wal-Mart to purchase chicken for dinner. I am exhausted and no way feel like cooking dinner. It is 8:30 PM before we finish eating. Poor Dan has been working hard all day with vehicle inspections and still wants to do some computer work for May before he can go to bed. After getting e-mail at the office, Bert returns at 11 PM and says everyone has their lights out. Soon ours follow suit.
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