Chapter 10.  Gulf coast of Mexico

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2005 All rights reserved.

Day 57 – March 9 – Chetumal, Quintana Roo

(Shari) Today goes by so quickly. It is one of those free days where Bert and I sleep a little later, (6:30, Ha!) and get caught up on all those things that pile up. Still we do not have time to wash the car and Van says it is disgraceful. Today really has been picking-on-Shari day. Bob B. gives me a hard time about the spreadsheet. I tell him that it is his spreadsheet for goodness sake. He says he knows the spreadsheet is great, but it is operator error he is concerned about. He goes over the columns in exaggerated detail, but does not find anything wrong. So there! I seem to be the straight man for Tom’s jokes. I can’t tell you how often he catches me. I am just so gullible you’d think I’d learn. He says some innocuous comment that is not even a question. Then I have to ask him to explain himself. Whammy, he’s got me. They are so funny at the time, but I can’t remember any of the puns to write down. Oh, here is one. He and Charlu took their bikes to the ruins today and Tom said he didn’t even sell anything. I asked, what are you selling because I didn’t remember him trying to sell anything. He said they pedaled and pedaled but did not sell anything. Get it? Ha, Ha! And that was a good one. Van on the other hand always has a kind of mischievous smile on his face. Today he was onto our car. It is really filthy but we have not had time to wash it. Van says I need to take more pride in it and that I am not doing a good job at being a role model. He wants to get up at 5 AM tomorrow to help me wash it. Yah, right! At 4 Bert and I go to the store to pick up my 11 chickens. Yesterday, I ordered in Spanish, “11, chicken, tomorrow, 4 PM” from a young lady than knew no English and I did not understand half of the words she rattled off. Today, I am concerned when I get to the counter and only see one chicken. I do not know whom I talked to so I go up to the counter and ask about “Once pollo.” Fast Spanish. I repeat “Once pollo” again. Fast Spanish with a finger pointing. I repeat “Once pollo” with my hands out motioning to give them to me. Fast Spanish with a finger pointing in another direction. I walk in that direction and sure enough someone else is weighting the chickens. I get my 11 chickens, pick up some salsa, refried beans, vegetables and flan for dinner tonight using the refund money from our no-chicken lunch in Dangriga. At 5:30 we all gather at the palapa for dinner. It is a wonderful time. Cindy has made the most delicious potatoes whose recipe just everybody wants. She and Bob also brought some Bailey’s Irish Cream to share. All the comforts of home! Just about everybody thanks me for arranging this dinner so the group must have had a good time. I know I did.

(Bert) We’ve been running such an active schedule filled with fun things to do, I’m looking forward to today to slow the pace and catch up with journal writing and bird sighting entries. Of course, Shari has added a few housekeeping “suggestions” to my list, yet it still is a relaxing day. I send out a week’s worth of journals in a day and process some of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken. The bird count as of our exit from Belize now stands at 537 species, including 321 in Belize alone. I’ve no sooner printed copies of the cumulative checklist than Cindy knocks on the door to tell me about the birds they found at Oxtankah. She and Ron watched a large flock of Black-throated (Yucatan) Bobwhites. I thought these quail resided mostly at the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula, where I’ve seen them. According to Howell’s maps, there is a disjoint population in part of Belize, but a sighting here at Chetumal seems strange. Cindy and I check Jones’s Belize book and see that his range map shows the species right up to the northern border, so he undoubtedly had newer information than Howell and today’s sighting is not as strange as it first appeared. Nonetheless, that puts the total species now at 538.

Day 58 – March 10 – Villahermosa, Tabasco

(Shari) Sue counted 94 topes today. It sounds like so many but I do not even think that is a record number. We left Chetumal at 7 AM in two groups. Sue and Bob were to get Wagonmaster training by bringing in the second group of five rigs. About 100 mi. into the trip, Tom mentions over the CB that he has stopped due to a flat tire. Ron stays with him until Sue and Bob arrive and the rest of us find a pullout about 3 mi. down the road. We have a long lunch while they get the tire fixed. It is a tedious day with bad sections of road and many slow trucks. At the Palenque turnoff a long line of traffic waits to pass the military check. Bert sees some vendors on the road selling the cute toy horses I wanted to get on the way down. We determine that the wait will be longer than the time it will take me to negotiate a purchase. Just before the checkpoint, I hop back into R-Tent-III with a cute brown $15 hobbyhorse for my grandson. We do not arrive into camp until close to 6, missing our 5 PM margaritas. A few of us wind down with some wine and beer before retiring for supper. I still have not seen Van and Karen come into camp, after their stop at Wal-Mart. I walk the campground to see if they are parked anyplace and find them just arriving. They tell me they were robbed in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I feel violated and can just imagine what they feel. Luckily, they think the alarm went off and scared the robbers away with only camera loot. The police were called, but probably that will be the end of it. We had met the manager of this Wal-Mart on our way down. He is an American with a Mexican wife and I am sure he is very upset. He had just opened the store about 4 mo. ago and was very proud of it. Now he has this happen. I suppose the guards at the store will get a good talking to but that does not help Van and Karen or the bad impression it leaves on all of us. One incident like this colors many people’s minds about the safety of traveling in Mexico, including mine. Too bad!

(Bert) The most noteworthy event of today’s long travels is Tom and Charlu’s flat tire, complicated by the fact that the spare is mounted on a rim different from the flat tire. While Tom and Bob S. take care of remounting the tire, Ron and Charlu direct traffic around the parked truck and the rest of the caravan takes an early lunch break in the village a couple miles away. Through Campeche and part of Tabasco we leap frog with another caravan, theirs headed to Palenque on the same highway. We change leads several times because we take our breaks at different rest stops. I note a few good birds along the route, but the best sightings are mammals: a Gray Fox crossing in front of R-Tent-III and 6-8 Black Howlers in a tree beside the highway. Although it is not dark when we arrive at our campground in Villahermosa, afternoon sunlight is mostly gone. Many of us gather our lawn chairs in a circle on the lawn and unwind from a long day.

Day 59 – March 11 – Veracruz, Veracruz

(Shari) All travel days should be like this one. Stopping for lunch at a Pemex, Bob B. and I walk into the restaurant. I tease Bob about buying my lunch. I order two chicken quesadillas for Bert and myself and out come two chicken-in-cream-sauce entrées with rice and tortillas. Bob wants to pay for our lunch and I feel uncomfortable about that so we finally agree that he can pay for mine and not Bert’s. I’m cuter. Thanks, Bob. We take the toll road most of the way from Villahermosa to Veracruz and all goes well until ... “Are you sure this isn’t the turn?” I ask Bert as he barrels past an exit. Bert wanted to take the toll road all the way into Veracruz because he said he has done it many times and he said months ago, “I know it like the back of my hand.” I wanted to take the by-pass, which has a previous log and I have done numerous times. It is about 15 mi. longer, but less congested. He got his way. Now he misses the turn and I think we are in a mess. To his credit, a new interchange had been built this past year that was not there before. Anyway, we are headed toward Centro Veracruz. Over the CB, I tell the group that Bert missed the turn and that we are now winging it. Traffic is horrendous, made worse by the fact we are in Friday afternoon rush hour. Bert and I are arguing like housecats and it is hard to keep the frustration out of our voices as we give directions over the CB. We want to keep the caravan close or they will get lost for sure. Most difficult are the turns and stop signs where we can loose sight of each other. If the person in back does not see the person in front of them turn then they will have missed a turn also. Maybe one or two at a time can negotiate the first right turn before the stoplight turns red. Meanwhile those that made the turn have to keep moving or no one moves. Soon after our first right turn, it is time to make another right turn. Luckily our caravan is only 11 and not 25 because the end sees some in the front and we are not giving second right turn directions for the front when the back has not done the first right turn. After our second right turn, we see a green sign pointing towards Mocamba, our destination. What a relief! Not far after that, I see a street that is familiar to me and can relax a bit. Needless to say we made it but it was hairy. Bob said we “almost” sounded like we knew what we were doing. Bert tells me later that he recognized the route because he had taken it before when he missed the turn. WELL, WHY DIDN”T HE SAY SO WHEN WE WERE IN THE THROWS OF THE ARGUMENT? The campground is a mess when we arrive: construction machinery, torn up buildings, loose yucky dirt to walk on, and no office. I also hear those that tried to use the restroom were told to get out. Luckily we insist that our customers have their own bathroom facilities in case this happens. I just heard today that two more campgrounds closed between here and Villahermosa. Hopefully, this campground will be in much better shape next year when the reparation is complete. The view of the sea is nice and as we partake of margaritas and snacks we watch a group of people pull in a large net hoping for fish.

(Bert) The world is crisp and clean with the morning sun at our backs and spring green in front of us. In the first hour of driving we cover 50 mi., about the fastest we’ve driven since our daily average is only about 35 mph. Out of Tabasco and into Veracruz, the road deteriorates badly for a dozen miles and then resumes at a mostly satisfactory toll road, although the tolls certainly take a toll on our pocketbooks. We cross flat marshland, giving us a view for a dozen miles whenever we have just 50 ft. higher elevation on the highway. Some marshes remain, but most are drained and now are pastures with grazing cattle, cornfields, orchards, sugarcane and thousands of acres of pineapples. Palm trees dot the pastures and birdlife is good in the lower spots. I see hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a Black-collared Hawk, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Chimney Swifts and three separate Laughing Falcons. We reach our campsite on the Gulf of Mexico at Veracruz beach, after taking a serpentine city route for the last two miles when I miss the better turn. We’ve camped at this site many times before, but now everything is in flux as it undergoes renovation. A huge waterslide is in preparation, a stone retaining wall is backing up a new level for the sand beach and most of the beachside pools, palapas, bars and little restaurants are vacated and being renovated. The tall trees are still intact and I scan the branches for birds, finding a silent pygmy-owl. This one looks like a Ferruginous, but to be sure I begin hooting. An owl hoots back, but it’s not the one I’m looking at, and I recognize the call as Central American Pygmy-Owl. I retrieve my bird book and verify that the one I’m watching is Ferruginous. This is the first time I’ve had both owls at the same time. During our margarita party we watch a dozen men pull on two long ropes, slowly bringing in a large net from the sea. I join others at the beach to watch the spectacle. After much work, accompanied by flocks of Laughing Gulls camera.GIF (1399 bytes)eager to find easy pickings, the net reaches the shore and it contains hundreds of small fish, but far too small a catch to justify the labor involved. Most interesting, are two Cownose Rays in the collection of fish, so named because of the blunt heads on the gray brown, flat diamond-shaped bodies.

Day 60 – March 12 – Las Barrancas and Veracruz

(Bert) Perhaps it is the March date, or maybe it is our proximity to the Gulf, but today is a refreshing spring day with a light breeze and clear skies. Las Barrancas is a bit south of Veracruz: broad flat fields leading to abrupt sand dunes and then dropping to sea level on a sandy beach. We get to see many Grassland Yellow-Finches, a species we somehow missed near Palenque. These sparrows glow like yellow light bulbs and we can see them from a great distance. Two coveys of Northern Bobwhites are quite different from the ones I see in Texas, these being the graysoni subspecies. A White-tailed Kite puts on quite a show, hovering over its prey before diving. An Aplomado Falcon perches quietly on a fence post. At a small lake we are puzzled over what at first appears to be a Snail Kite with long legs. On further inspection we see the white speckling on the black-feathered leggings and recognize it as a Great Black Hawk wading in the marsh. We watch a woodpecker through the scope and I challenge the others in our group to identify it. Although we’ve seen this species often throughout the trip, this particular bird is unusual. It appears to be a cross between two subspecies of Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Its golden front – the spot above the bill – is consistent with aurifrons, but the long red crown and nape is subspecies dubius and that color line terminates in yellow as would be expected for aurifrons. This is a day for subspecies as we see another clearly distinguishable one. The Ochre Oriole is the fuertesi subspecies of the Orchard Oriole and we see a pair of these as well as a pair of the more typical phillipsi in a small patch of trees near the fields. We quit birding at 11:30 and head back to camp for lunch and spend a relaxing afternoon under the palms by the sea.

(Shari) As Bert walks out the door, I roll over and go back to sleep. This is luxury to me. However, the construction machinery and early morning people enjoying a Saturday at the beach soon awaken me. I finish all my caravan tasks by early afternoon and spend the rest of the day reading and chatting with people. Judy, Ken, Bob and Sue went downtown and Judy got some cute plastic sandals. She always finds something that I would have bought if I had gone too. This time she gave me another pair of sandals that she had. How nice. Thanks, Judy. At 6:30 it is time to go to the restaurant across the street. I must have done a selling job on the shrimp steak because I see over half the group order it. No one tells me they did not like it. I know mine was superb. Bert and I also share Oysters Rockefeller as do Judy and Ken. Yum!

Day 61 – March 13 – Costa Esmeralda, Veracruz

(Shari) “What?” I yell as Bert tells the group we will be at the rest stop for 45 min. I am embarrassed since he still had the CB mike keyed and everyone hears me say that. But the group knows me by now and just laughs. I have never had a group so well behaved, have few complaints and work together as a team. Everyone watches out for everyone else and as we travel we hear “Watch out for that pothole, Bill;” or “It is okay to pass, Ken;” or “Relay back to the Tailgunner, we are making a right turn now;” or “Judy R. is caught at the stoplight;” or “You can come on out now Mel, I have the lane blocked;” etc. Everyone is also catering to Judy R. since she sprained her ankle. She says it is still painful and we try to do as much for her that she will let us do, so she does not have to walk on that foot. Bob B. even drove her rig one day, so she could ride up with Cindy and put her leg up. Even with our 45 min. for birding, we arrive before noon. Bert and I and I’ll bet a few others take a nap. We then take a dip in the pool, which is cold even for Alaskan Charlu. Tonight is out last potluck and we have appetizers before eating lasagna, yummy salads, strawberry cake and peach cobbler. As we eat and overlook the pool and beach, I think life does not get much better than this.

(Bert) Another day of traveling north, this time we drive through central Veracruz, often within sight of the Gulf of Mexico. Near Cardel, we stop for nearly an hour at my favorite Pemex #5429, not only for fuel but also for birding. In 45 min. we see 25 species at the Pemex, notably Grayish Saltator, Scrub Euphonia and an odd looking red-faced Nashville Warbler, the additional color coming from the flowers the warbler is inspecting. Traveling is slow again today as we attempt to pass a succession of snail-paced double-trailered semis. Nonetheless, we arrive at out beachside campsite by lunchtime and park under the palm trees. I have time for a rare nap and a swim in the pool before our potluck dinner. Judy R. tells me she and Cindy saw a Sungrebe at a nearby river, a species we’ve not seen this far north on prior trips. With Bob, the three of them had chartered a special boat in Belize to find the Sungrebe – and they did. Now they’ve seen one for free.

Day 62 – March 14 – Tampico, Tamaulipas

(Shari) Anticipating the worst for our drive today, I schedule a 6:30 departure. Today’s route has always been the worst road in Mexico so I am pleasantly surprised at its improvement. The toll road is now complete around Poza Rica and that cuts off at least 45 min. in time. Much of the road beyond has been improved so we make good time, arriving into camp by 2:30. Judy R.’s ankle is bothering her enough that she wants to drive straight home tomorrow. Van and Karen do not want her to drive alone and need to take care of things in the states, so they intend to drive with her. That is good or I would have worried about her for days. I say my goodbyes with tears in my eyes. I had not intended to do my crying until Wednesday night at our farewell dinner. We take part of a group picture at margarita time, since two of our couples went out to eat. We will finish with another picture tomorrow or the next day, to include the rest of the group. Carl reads a cute top ten list, using our vehicle numbers as the ordering system and catching something unique about each one of us. So tonight I go to bed with a sad and happy feeling: sad that I have to say goodbye to these people; happy that I had the opportunity to meet them.

(Bert) We push north again today, moving another 232 mi. paralleling the Gulf Coast. This stretch of road through Veracruz used to be the worst in Mexico, a painful ride and a long day in 2001. Each year the roads have improved and this year the bypass of Poza Rica is complete to Tuxpan, reducing our distance by 6 mi. and time by more than an hour since the years we drove through the congested city. Still, even with the new toll roads, we encounter rough roads elsewhere and our average speed is 30 mph as we finish in just over 8 hr. Shortly into the trip, Ron’s camper hits a pothole, breaking a spring. Bob and Sue stay to help in the repair while the rest of us continue. Fortunately Ron has the spare part and within a few hours they catch up to the caravan. The Poza Rica bypass threads through countryside remote from villages and vendors. Van calls it some of the prettiest scenery of Mexico. I think of paintings of pastoral scenes of 17th Century Europe or 18th Century New England. Vibrant with the fullness of spring, I see the green grass hills, scattered patches of cornfields, orchards built on gentle slopes, hills topped with trees, a few grazing cattle or a herd of goats. The rough road starts when we reconnect to the old highway. Secondary roads in Mexico are built without shoulders and the absence of the support causes the outer one-third of each lane to sag about 4 in. lower than the center within a year or two of its construction. We try to straddle the centerline, but oncoming or overtaking traffic often forces us back into our lane, slowing us as we avoid the potholes and unevenness. Into the trip 176 mi. a flock of four parakeets flies across the road. I can tell by their size, tail length, color and flight mode that these are Green Parakeets, another addition to the trip list. We start to see Tamaulipas Crows, a sign that we are approaching that Mexican state. As we bypass Tampico on the south, Shari and I reminisce about the year we scouted this route because we didn’t want to drive through the city. In 2001 the bypass was horrendous and barely drivable. Now it is mostly well paved and we see they are even building an overpass at the railroad tracks that used to knock dishes from the shelves. At our Margarita Party, Carl, in David Letterman style, reads a funny definition of new words he’s learned on this trip, each word being a member of this caravan and the meaning being a unique characteristic of that person. Cindy hands out pins for the number of birds added to each birder’s life list. And we have a binocular testing session, each of us trying others binoculars. While we agree that Judy R. has the best pair, many of us are quite happy with our own, but some are now clearly in the market for a better pair.

Day 63 – March 15 – Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipas

(Bert) We bird in the morning along a country road in southern Tamaulipas near the marshes and lakes that connect to Tampico. A nighthawk takes flight and since migration has begun we study it for Lesser vs. Common. I call it Lesser based on the position of the wing bar, but then we see a second nighthawk perched nearby and we check the books on how to tell them apart in this position. The sleeping bird gives us lots of time to look at field marks. From the buffy spots on the remiges we deduce this is a female Lesser Nighthawk. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Just as we are adding Eurasian Collared-Dove to our trip list, a local rancher pulls up in his truck hauling an oversized tractor tire. He is curious about our birding and invites us to his nearby ranch. We accept the offer and follow him to the field where his ranch hands immediately set to the task of changing the 6 ft. diameter tire. Meanwhile, Alfredo introduces us to his son Everett and with half English and half Spanish we decide to ride in the back of Alfredo’s pickup to a hilly section of his ranch that is still covered with native deciduous forest. The ride is bouncy, especially for the ladies, and we feel like true country Mexicans now with eight of us jammed into the pickup bed. After he drops us off and we arrange to be picked up in two hours, we walk slowly through the woods. Flocks of parakeets fly above us and finally two flocks land, the first being Green Parakeets and the second being the vicinialis subspecies of Olive-throated Parakeet, a nice comparison between similar species and both additions to our list. Earlier, while riding in the pickup Judy S. saw a trogon, so now we are on the lookout for a better look. We get our chance when three fly across the path and alight in the adjacent tree. It is quickly obvious they are either Mountain Trogons or Elegant. We differ on the choice, but I eventually deduce they must be Elegant Trogons, given our elevation and habitat. Later I ask Everett and Alfredo if they knew of the birds, but both are surprised when we point to the illustrations in our book since neither knew they occurred on the ranch. We had a few more to the list – Olive Sparrow and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher – and then drive to the little village and the dock area beside the marshes and lagoons. Here and at other locations in the Tampico marshes we’ve found at least one Altamira Yellowthroat each year since 2001, but not this year. Even the Common Yellowthroats are scarce and I only see three of them. Out of time, we head back to our RV’s, eat lunch and drive to Ciudad Mante. The drive is only a few hours, but parking in the convoluted lot behind the hotel takes almost as much time as the drive. Negotiating the tight S-curve takes all of our driving skills and particularly challenges Mel for backing his large 5th-wheel and then accepting the request to back Ken’s for him. Mel is one of the best I’ve seen at backing trailers and he makes the task look easy when it’s not. Margaritas are poolside this late afternoon, terminated by a light sprinkle. I sure hope it does not rain on our last day birding tomorrow.

(Shari) After lunch we depart for Cd. Mante. Although it is only a 68 mi. trip, it takes 2 hr. to drive and 1½ hr. to park. We have everyone pull off at the side of the road, Bert and I unhook our car and drive 2 mi. to the hotel to make sure the lot is clear of cars and the hotel knows we are arriving. I drive back to pick up the first group of three rigs. After leading them to the hotel I go back and pick up the second group of three. As we near the hotel, I hear Sue giving Bob directions on the personal radio and she sounds frustrated. At one point I hear her say, “I do not know if we can get in here.” Oh my, I think to myself, “What now?” By the time we reach the gate, Bert is waiting and tells me to wait a few minutes before I go to pick up the next and last group. Bob S. smashed his awning when entering the gate and when he backed up his rig, he hit a car. No wonder Sue sounded frustrated. I go with her to the man with the damaged car, but am really not needed. They negotiate for a while and settle on 2000 pesos for the damage. Sue does not have that much so the man settles for 1500 pesos. I do not know much about costs in the U.S., but I am sure it would have cost much more. The rest of us park without incident, but it is tough. The lot is big enough but it requires a couple of turns and some backing up. After I pay the hotel for our stay and arrange tomorrow’s dinner, I join the group for margaritas. Bert has made them tonight and they taste especially good. After we unwind, we join Bob B. and Cindy for steak at a delicious steakhouse. Cindy says her T-bone is the best she’s ever had in Mexico. We are in bed by 9 PM as usual.

Day 64 – March 16 – Gómez Farías, Tamaulipas

(Bert) It’s been several years since I visited the El Cielo Biosphere Preserve and I am anxious to be back. Our first stop is the utility poles just below Gómez Farías where we see two Bat Falcons. I suspect these two poles are where more birders have recorded their life Bat Falcons than any other in the world. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) At first only one is present, but then its mate returns with breakfast. We see a Cliff Swallow in its talons, as it is about to dismantle the prey. Morning light is just awakening and we hear and see several Elegant Trogons while Thicket Tinamous resonate in the forest. We continue uphill and pass through the village, much prettier and improved since I last saw it. Just beyond the village we find so many birds that it occupies us for a couple of hours. After studying Northern Parulas throughout the trip, we finally find our first Tropical Parula, followed by many more today. A fruiting tree is a bonanza of birds, including flocks of Yellow-winged Tanagers, Clay-colored Robins and Yellow-throated Euphonias. El Cielo was the first birding stop of the first Mexico birding trip that I lead and I remember how rough the road was to Alta Cima. In fact, we didn’t get more than a few hundred feet uphill that year and it wasn’t until 2002 that we went farther. Now after having traveled more than 30,000 mi. in Mexico, including birding thousands of miles on back roads and mountain paths, the road to Alta Cima doesn’t seem all that bad. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) There are two species I most want to see today - Military Macaw and Singing Quail – one a spectacular bird and the other a lurker that eludes my life list. We meet up with the first while we are walking along a steep section of the road, somewhat chilled by the cool temperatures this morning. I am studying the dense foliage when suddenly Cindy yells, “Macaws overhead.” A pair are winging in our direction, first following the cliff-side road and then circling and giving us another look. Unlike the Scarlet Macaws, these are mostly green and appear dark under the overcast skies. A second pair appears out of nowhere and now we see four macaws overhead, making one more pass before they disappear over the mountainside. What a marvelous show! I find a few other additions to our trip list - Bronzed-winged Woodpecker, Fan-tailed Warbler and Hooded Grosbeak – but the birds disappear so quickly that I can’t get anyone else to see them. So when I hear the noise of fluttered wings in the dense thicket beside the road and spot a quail, I’m afraid that these well hidden birds may also only be seen by me. I take a minute to locate the source and get a close view of a Singing Quail sandwiched between tight branches on all sides. I motion Judy S. and Charlu to my side and explain to Judy how to find the quail even though it is less than 20 ft. in front of us. I am relieved when she sees it too; I have at least one witness. While she gives directions to Charlu – the location is so tight that the bird can only be seen while standing in one specific spot aligned just perfectly through a hole in the brambles – I go to get the others and especially Cindy who is birding elsewhere and most wants to see Singing Quail. By the time I return with Cindy, everyone else except Tom has gotten a good look at the quail. Now Cindy sees it too and then Tom gets to see it turn and walk a few inches. Later Ron sees it move with two others. I’m delighted that everyone birding this morning sees the Singing Quail. Carl’s carload decides to head back and make a shorter day of birding, but our other two carloads continue on to Alta Cima and stop there to eat our packed lunches. Carlu is delighted to find a little boy selling his mother’s embroidery and she buys one depicting a Mountain Trogon and later Tom find three of these trogons and shows them to us all. At another stop I hear many noisy birds hidden in the brush and suspect Wedge-tailed Sabrewings. One appears nearer the edge and I confirm my suspicion. With patience we all get to see several of these loud and large hummingbirds here. We stop once more at the fruiting tree and then head back to Cd. Mante in time to get ready for our farewell dinner.

(Shari) Today is a bittersweet day. This last full day of the caravan, while the birders are out, I take care of business, giving refunds, writing reports, etc. Before Happy Hour, Bert and I go to the Soriana and buy those favorite items that we can only get in Mexico. Into the cart we pile $23 worth of lemon peanuts, canned calamari and mussels, canned mushrooms, canned salsa, canned chipotle peppers, two cooked chickens (no one does chickens as good as Mexico) and some fruit and veggies that I know U.S. customs will not take away. At 6 PM we meet for Happy Hour before going to the hotel restaurant. After taking a group photo and ordering our meal, I read the trip poem. I think we may be noisy and may bother the other people in the restaurant but I doubt we can contain ourselves. Everyone is in good form. Bill and Ilsa give a toast, Tom reads a poem, Bert summarizes the birding. We chatter and laugh all through the meal. While I read my poem, Bert snaps pictures of faces. Every year at the end of the trip, he does that, and the faces show such good emotion, relaxed and happy. It is so different than the pictures at the beginning of the trip, when people do not know what is in store for them and they kind of force a smile for the camera. Sue and Bob give a picture of each couple on a card with some See’s candy, of course. Tom has prepared 22 pun questions, involving birds. What kind of bird eats financial institutions? Give up? A Bank Swallow, of course. So the game goes. Bert’s group wins with 10 of the 22 correct. Not fair, he is the leader. Oh well, it is all in good fun. We retire after our 9 PM bedtime. Tomorrow is a long day of driving and I have to be up at 5 to give us plenty of time to wiggle out of this campground.

Day 65 – March 17 – Pharr, Texas

(Bert) Tamaulipas roads have always been some of the best in Mexico, but today they are even better. At the start, our drive follows the edge of the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, now smoothly foliated in spring green trees. The pattern of rolling hills folds through dips and peaks, but the sea of green is uninterrupted by rocks, fields, buildings or people. Beyond Cd. Victoria we travel through the flat Tamaulipas brushlands that were dusty brown and arid in January, but now verdant with the change in seasons and plenty of rainfall. When we make the turn toward Reynosa, Shari and I anticipate a narrow road without a shoulder, but are pleasantly surprised to see a new highway, twice as wide as last year. Nearing the city, all of us with diesel engines stop to refuel. I use up all of my pesos to buy diesel at the equivalent of US$1.70/gal., versus $2.19 in Texas. The border is congested and our line of RV’s causes a traffic jam. But there is nowhere else for us to park than one of the lanes of the road. I’m sure Shari will write about the confusion of crossing the border, so I’ll let that story to her.

(Shari) Still dark, Bob S. and I are pointing at obstacles with our flashlights as Bert backs up R-Tent-III, missing the building, the trees, the garbage cans and the wall. We have to do this one rig at a time and by 6:15 AM we have backed out or pulled forward five rigs. We have our travel meeting and get out the remaining rigs. We are on our way by 6:50. Making better time than I anticipate, we arrive at the border at 3 PM. Here we are snagged for the next two hours. For the past four years we have always parked on the street while I walked to the banjercito to get hold of an inspector. He then would come to the street, remove our holograms and give us receipts. It worked so fast last year since the inspector came with a little scanner that spit our receipts right on the spot. NOT THIS YEAR! I ask the first gentleman I see and he tells me to go to the banjercito. When arriving there I notice I am fourteenth in line. I hope to speed things up by knocking on the door and telling the clerk the situation. He says that someone will be with me shortly. After waiting another 15 minutes, I am still fourteenth in line. I do not want to aggravate the situation by knocking on the door again, but I am getting frustrated. The line just is not moving. After 45 min., I am now 7th in line and meanwhile Bert has talked to another caravan, who takes their holograms off themselves and gets a receipt. He decides to do that and as he is walking to the banjercito I hear Bob B. say that a policeman wants to ticket the caravan because they are blocking traffic. I decide it is time to pound on the door again. I explain the situation to another clerk and this one decides to accompany me to the street. He says we should not take the holograms off ourselves and that he wants to verify VIN numbers. The rules changed in just 45 min. from one caravan to another. He talks to the policeman and we decide he can confirm the VIN numbers and as each one is confirmed the rig can move through the toll and park on the other side in the no parking zone. Sue and I then return to the banjercito and await our receipts. The VIN number is typed into a very slow computer. The clerk types something else into the computer, probably telling it that the vehicle is returned and then a receipt is printed. The clerk has to walk across the room to the printer for every receipt. After obtaining the receipt, the clerk types again into the computer, staples two pieces of paper together, signs the receipt and hands it back to me. This goes on for 14 separate vehicles. I am not mentioning the times one clerk’s shift ended and a new clerk started or the times they stopped to chat with each other. Time is of no concern in Mexico and it is interminably long for me who can hardly wait to see that American flag. Finally, we have the receipts and make our way to U.S. customs. We are home and does it feel good. It is always nice to go to Mexico, but 65 days is a long time to “rough” it. It is nice to enjoy the simple pleasures of electricity that will run a microwave and lights at the same time, water that does not have to be treated, toilets that flush, and nice crisp lettuce. At 7, ten of us meet at the Olive Garden and get our fill of their nice crisp lettuce and “American/Italian” food.

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