Chapter 1.  Texas border

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2006 All rights reserved.

Day minus 3 and counting - January 12, 2006 - Pharr, TX

(Bert) Heaven to birders, Belize has been the highlight of every birding caravan since our first visit in 2001. Each year we’ve lengthen our stay in paradise, until now we will dedicate our whole trip to visiting all corners of this small country, from sea level – and beneath – on the Barrier Reef to the base of the highest peaks in the Maya Mountains. Perhaps a first of a kind, certainly a first for an RV caravan, our 65-day trip will include an incredible 49 days in Belize, the rest consumed by our transit through eastern Mexico to its southern border.

By phone and e-mail we start to hear of the descent to “The Valley”, aka the Lower Rio Grande Valley for those unfamiliar with Texas lingo. Yesterday, when we arrived at our rendezvous campsite in Pharr, Don and Bill were already there to greet us, having arrived from Reno a few days ago. Later, good friends Woody and Gwen from Ontario stopped by for another round of hugs. This will be their fifth birding caravan trip with us and, in fact, most of this year’s group are people who have traveled with us on previous caravans and yearned for a longer stay in Belize. By today, rigs from Colorado, California, Ohio, Idaho, and New York are added to the list of arrivals. There’s chatter of past trips, but especially about our forthcoming adventure and the new places we will visit in Belize.

Day minus 1 – January 14 – Pharr, TX

(Bert) Expectations: 600 bird species – too high. Expectations: none – too low. We asked the question as we are about to start our first of two orientation sessions. Having so many repeat birders on this caravan, Shari and I divided our presentations into two and now we start the one for those who have not traveled with us before. We wondered if Bob and Pat would arrive in time for our 1 PM gathering, and their rig pulls in with 20 min. to spare. We have three Bob’s and two Pat’s in the group, including two Bob B.’s, so I have yet to resolve how I’ll refer to them in these journals without being too familiar. Our orientation covers the basics of caravan travel, Mexican and Belizean campgrounds, border, military and agricultural checkpoints, etc. and soon we are back at our RV’s. Lee and Pat arrive in an RV we hadn’t seen before and the friendly banter begins, Lee always on the brunt end of the stick when it comes to ribbing, most often delivered by Woody. We joke as Lee backs in his Winnebago Warrior, remembering his previous trials backing the trailer and van combination. Now his task is simpler, but he gets ribbed nonetheless. We speculate on what to call his replacement vehicle. Prior years they rode the Black Stallion; perhaps now we’ll call it the Wounded Warrior. Later, eight of us join for dinner at Bennigan’s. It’s like a joyous family reunion and the laughter flows easily. I think back at Shari’s answer: Expectations, “Have fun!”

Day 1 – January 15 – Pharr

(Shari) I have been awaiting the start of this caravan since finishing the road logs and side trip preparations in October. Finally the time has arrived and my day is filled with hugs from old friends and new. Laughter is abundant as we greet each other and catch up on all our news. Bert and I already know 17 of the 23 people on this trip. Four are traveling with us the fifth time, three the third time, three the second time and seven are brand new guests to us, but we had met four of them a few years ago. I have been anxious to see how this group “melds” together. I think it will be a very social group, partaking in lots of laughter and birding and probably very independent and hard to handle. Most all of the 23 are VERY serious birders. Those that have traveled with us previously were excused from our meetings yesterday, but were requested to attend today. We have so much information to impart at these meetings, that they always last longer than I hope. We finish with our orientation and dollar to peso exchange by noon and soon travel to the border to get a heads up on the paperwork required to enter Mexico. Every year it gets easier and this year is a snap. Only a little hiccup spoils the day when we find out the border bank closes at 2 PM (our arrival time). This means we have to pay for our tourist visas at a bank farther into Mexico. Not a big deal, just a hassle. I think I will feel like I am doing something illegal as we “sail” past the border guards tomorrow without stopping.

(Bert) Following our orientation meeting this morning, we visit the Mexico border to obtain tourist visas and vehicle importation paperwork. The rumor had started already in October that changes were in the works, but multiple attempts to contact Mexican officials by phone or e-mail produced no results. Then only a few days ago one of the other Wagonmasters got the news at the border: henceforth motor homes and trailers will be registered for 10 years – instead of one – and one individual can bring in two vehicles, provided one is a motor home. This is welcome news for caravaners. Our border paperwork procedures go smoothly, perhaps for the first time in the seven years we’ve lead trips into Mexico. With all the documentation complete and stickers attached to windshields, we will be able to zip through the border tomorrow morning without a hitch. We’ll see!

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