Chapter 12.  Heading north

Day 57 – March 12 – Western Highway, Belize District

(Bert) On our trip northward today, we drive scattered – caravan terminology for driving separately or in small groups as opposed to a convoy. Shari and I leave at 7 AM, alone. We pass a location Dorothy and Pat B. told me about and I’ve marked it as a birding site and restaurant stop for next year’s schedule. Next is the road to a resort we hope to use as our camping site next year. Now comes the litany of recent birding stops: the road to Aguacaliente Swamp (Pygmy-Kingfisher and Wilson’s Snipe), the road to Blue Creek Cave (Nightingale Wren) and Rio Blanco (Paltry Tyrannulet). Miles farther on the left is another birding and lunch spot I’ve charted for next year, a location where Rufous Piha and Sungrebe are to be found. We pass the pond where we saw Ring-necked Duck and then the Mayan ruins where Cindy found Streaked Flycatcher. We stop at a fruit stand to buy bananas and then pause at the entrance to a wildlife reserve where I’ve made arrangements for next year’s trip. I think that’s the place we will find a few of the rare birds that eluded us in the Toledo District. Now the memory of past birding reels through my mind as we pass Red Bank, then Cockscomb and Mayflower Bocawina. Turning on to the Hummingbird Highway and heading west we pass two birding sites to be explored next year, then the road to Five Blues National Park. It seems like a long time ago and stretched over many days of birding as we pass Blue Hole National Park, Jaguar Creek and Guanacaste National Park. Before lunchtime we pull into our camp spot on the Western Highway, a four-hour trip northward through country that filled nearly a month of birding on the trip southward.

(Shari) “What are you looking at?” I ask Bert irritably. We are two miles into the 9-mi. gravel section and he is looking up instead of watching the road. We left two hours head of the group and are traveling alone on the lonely road. I think Bert is bird watching, not road watching. Instead, he tells me the TV is not even. Our TV is fastened above our heads in the middle of the windshield. One year, one of our Tailgunners had his TV fall on him as he was traveling. I immediately get up and sure enough the TV is creeping forward in its housing. For the next 7 mi. – read 30 min. - I stand and hold that TV in place. Luckily after reaching smooth pavement, the set does not move. We make good time and whiz past places that are now familiar to us: Cockscomb, Mama Noots, Blue Hole, Belmopan and finally Amigos where we are staying the night. We travel through some of the prettiest landscape this country has to offer. Rolling hills covered with colorful trees in bloom and hillsides full of orange orchards. It is Sunday and people are outside talking with their neighbors reminding me of my view of the deep south of the United States in the 30s or 40s. Don is soon in camp followed by Bearded Bob and Cindy. The rest dribble in during the next two hours. We have a margarita party and travel meeting before Bert and I join Bob and Pat, Ralph and Dorothy and Kent and Linda for dinner at the restaurant. I had missed the half-slab of ribs on our way down and since we were first to get here today, I put two orders in early. I must say they were as delicious as everyone said they were last month.

Day 58 – March 13 – Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

(Shari) Traveling through Belize is so familiar that I comment to Bert that it is nice to know so many people. We wave to Mr. Reyes when we drive past his place, and honk our horns as we drive by Henry’s on our way to the border. The crossing is smooth and as soon as my paperwork is complete, Cindy drives with me into the duty free zone to check on the price of diesel fuel. I radio back to Bert that it is 77 cents per liter and with a quick calculation he thinks we can do better in Mexico. I wait at the gate until he shows up with the group in tow. At the Mexico border, he is stopped, but I am waved through. The guards look into our refrigerator, but only open the right door and miss my bananas, eggs, limes, and papayas stored behind the left door. They then search our lower compartments, where one of the latches breaks and I see Bert with a screwdriver trying to fix it. Soon Bob and Pat and Lee and Pat are waved through and I decide to lead them to the agricultural spray stop. We get sprayed and I take them on to the gas station. As soon as I finish gassing up, Bob #2 calls on the radio and says he is being ripped off. I get out of the car and try to ask the clerk how many liters he pumped. Bob says he zeroed the pump late and pumped in two times and tried to collect 1100 pesos. Asking for a piece of paper and a pen, I try to ask again how many liters. The man is not budging. I ask for his boss, who comes out and says we need to pay the pump price. I think that is a deal, since that does not include the first amount pumped, which was probably nothing anyway. On to the grocery store. Here I feel like a kid in a candy store. For the past 48 days all I have gotten was fruits, veggies and a few staples at the local small markets. I find all my favorite Mexican things and return to the car with five bags full. Later when trying to make margaritas, I realize I forgot to buy one of the ingredients. And, my can of strawberry mix ends up on my kitchen floor when the blender bottom falls off. I make mango margaritas with the mango slush I still have from Belize. Not too bad! Tailgunner Bob gives me some lime slush that I try to use, but it does not taste as good. Later Bert and I walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner having stuffed fish and shrimp.

(Bert) Again I relive past birding adventures as we head north, passing Monkey Bay (Blue Seedeater), Altun Ha (Caribbean Elaenia), Crooked Tree (Southern Lapwing), New River (boat to Lamanai), Chan Chich (Rufous Mourner), Corozal airport (to Red-footed Booby), Cerros (Rose-ringed Parakeet). We make good time and reach the border by 11 AM and circle the three departure desks in swift succession. After the last desk a young man asks us to fill out a questionnaire for Belize tourists. When it comes to the question on where we visited, we check almost all the available boxes, including “Other.” The last question offers opportunity to write what we didn’t like and most of us fill in the lines with comments about our experience with Customs upon entering Belize. The agents nod their heads to our story, asking who confiscated the goods – in particular, the diet soft drinks – and nod their heads again when we describe the heavy set lady. They confirm that diet drinks, except Coke, are not sold in Belize and therefore should not have been taken from us. On this trip I’ve talked to a lot of Belizean officials and informed citizens and next year I’ll know how to avoid border crossing incidents such as the one we had. After crossing into Mexico, we become scattered at border checking stations, fumigation, Pemex stations and shopping centers, not all regrouping until hours later at our seaside campsite. The sea breeze is refreshing, and even better is a swim in the Caribbean whose waters are warm in March. I follow the salt sea swim with a dip in the fresh water swimming pool and then a shower. Five PM drinks under the palapa by the sea followed by dinner out with Shari alone, ends our first day back in Mexico.

Day 59 – March 14 – Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

(Bert) Prothonotary Warbler is a species we have seldom found in winter. We have not found it in Mexico, and in Belize we’ve seen four individuals in five years. This year, however, we found it four times in Belize and this morning on a country road I see my first in Mexico. I would vote Prothonotary as the prettiest of all warblers, and now it steals the show even in the presence of two colorful Hooded Orioles.

On our walk back I spot a pygmy-owl perched quietly in a tree. I heard a Central American Pygmy-Owl earlier and I wonder if this is the one. Separating the species from Ferruginous is fairly easy by voice, but a challenge by sight. I click off a dozen photos of the front side of the owl and then imitate both owl calls, hoping to get the bird to call. A Central American starts hooting, but it’s not this one that is calling. I slip around to the back side of the owl and take more photographs and we soon become convinced this is a Ferruginous because of the long and barred tail, and the bold scapular spots. So, we search for the hooting owl in the next tree. Someone finds it and Pat B. directs me to the perch. This one seems redder and a bit smaller – the books says 5.8 in., the size of most sparrows. It flies to another tree and now we can see its back side. The scapular spots are subdued, quit different from the Ferruginous we watched only minutes ago. What a neat comparison: both pygmy-owls in adjacent trees!

(Shari) “Do you want your green parrot to be on a white background or a gray background?” I ask Bert when he wants to know if his white T-shirt should be put in the dark wash or the white wash. You would think that after 39-1/2 years of marriage I would have taught him that. Oh well! After I hang out the second load of wash, we go off to find the property our friends Kathe and Colleen have purchased. We drive to the end of the road but do not see anything that resembles their property. I ask at the restaurant and a man answers in Spanish, but all I get is that it is down the road about 5 km and something about carretta limpia (clean road). We go about 8 km and still no property, so I ask again. I am told it is only a few meters more and again the word limpia pops up. We go another mile and still no property. I ask again at a restaurant and am told it is just about 300 meters farther, again limpia. Why do the keep saying something about a clean road. I thought it meant where the dirt road becomes blacktop but we passed that a while back. Sure enough, we find the property and it is nicely “cleaned” of brush and garbage. We also find Kathe at home and she shows us around. The 300 feet of water frontage is beautiful, especially down by the water’s edge where you can catch the sea breeze. She shows us her fresh water pool and the shower they have constructed using a raised bucket with a spigot on it. We walk the cleared paths and find oodles of Mayan pottery shards as well as obsidian used by the Mayans. Amazing! It is like finding an Indian arrowhead in the U.S. After our tour, Pat Y and Charlu join me to the grocery store to find margarita mix. That is a funny story in itself when I ask for the mix but do not know the word “mezcla” at the time. The young male clerk tries so hard to help me and we first go to the sugar and then to the fresh limes. Finally he gets someone that speaks English and I am taken back to the liquor department only to be told they do not have it and will get it tomorrow. I go to a computer store thinking surely someone there will know English. No one does but at least they can tell me where to go. Finally I find my mix and we can return to camp. Then it is time for a swim and a shower and finishing my third load of wash. Pat Y and I planned on playing Upwards, but since she never came over I figure she is as tired as I am and has decided not to play. Bert and I enjoy roasted chicken, my favorite Mexican meal, before going to bed early.

Day 60 – March 15 – Villahermosa, Tabasco

(Bert) How do you measure the success of a birding trip? Of course, the answer varies with the individual. In my mathematical mind, the most obvious relates to numbers - number of lifers, number of bird species on the trip, number in a day. Yet the more lasting impressions are particular experiences and the more valuable might be the skills acquired.

Life birds: only a few, but memorable, particularly the Tody Motmot that took hours to find and see at a known haunt and the pair of Western Slaty-Antshrikes that allowed dozens of close-up photos near their nest site.

Experiences: watching a pair of Scarlet Macaws mating on the branch of a distant tree; seeing a Lovely Cotinga reflect brilliant light; marveling at Red-footed Boobies incubating eggs at an island rookery, almost at hand’s reach; seeing a pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets flocking with parrots, a spectacular sight not diminished by the fact they undoubtedly are escaped birds.

Discoveries: finding a Gray-headed Kite on a barrier island, not previously reported away from the mainland; and just the reverse, finding a Caribbean Elaenia on the mainland, not an island.

Skills: learning from Cindy to use the white tertiary bars – like epaulets on the shoulders of naval officers - as an id mark for Great Crested Flycatcher; studying dove calls long enough to finally identify 8 species in one morning, all without seeing the birds, and only one of which occurs in the U.S.; confidently learning dozens of bird songs and calls, including ones I’d previously often ignored such as parrots, hummingbirds and tropical flycatchers.

And now the numbers. In Belize, from 24 January to 13 March we identified 380 species and subspecies. To add substance to that number, it needs to be associated with the number of possibilities. The number of species in Belize is not exactly known, although using Lee Jones’s book and his seasonal reports in North American Birds, we can get pretty close to a total. There are about 582 possible species (including unconfirmed records and vagrants seen only 1-3 times), plus 4 clearly recognizable subspecies, for a total of 586. So, in one sense we identified 65% of the total list. If I consider only those species expected in the timeframe of our visit that regularly occur in Belize and are not at elevations >2500 ft. (not reachable in a day trip), the possibilities reduce to about 438 species and subspecies. Of these we identified 366, or 84%.

Day 61 – March 16 – Veracruz, Veracruz

(Bert) A pleasant, mostly uneventful day, we drive through Tabasco and Veracruz on cuota roads most of the way, and except for a few bad spots, the highways are in good condition and easy driving. Everyone quickly finds a favorite camping location on a sandy cliff overlooking the Gulf of Mexico where the sea breeze maintains a pleasing coolness. They gather for my presentation on the results of our Belize birding, which quickly turns to them telling their favorite memories of the birds they’ve seen. Charlu relates her discovery of finding a Central American Pygmy-Owl sleeping in a tree. Tom talks about filming a Rufous-breasted Spinetail scurrying like a mouse through the thick grass. Woody relates his excitement of seeing a pair of Scarlet Macaws fly through is binocular view as he was watching another bird and then being able to get good photos of the macaws. Don mentions his new-found interest in photographing birds and that with the good digital cameras now available we can expect more camera-toting birders on future trips. Gwen’s favorite was the Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet she sought so long and then, yesterday, seeing a Jabiru while driving through the Usumacinta marshes near Palenque. Dorothy learned many bird songs and felt particularly good about recognizing Stub-tailed Spadebill, Bright-rumped Attila and many doves. Others remember the Lovely Cotinga we watched for so long. We talked about learning the wavering winnowing call of the Little Tinamou and how common that species was once we recognized it. And, of course, there were the Red-footed Boobies and the Rose-ringed Parakeets and the Western Slaty-Antshrikes and the Harpy Eagle and the …

Day 62 – March 17 – Las Barrancas, Veracruz

(Bert) A day’s break in our travel schedule, some sleep in, some do errands and some bird in the morning. Las Barrancas is grasslands, wet when the rains come, dry when they stop. We meet Robert Straub who works for Pronatura Veracruz as Tourism for Conservation Coordinator. Robert says this area was the farthest south that mammoth ranged. Now we find Double-striped Thick-knees and Grassland Yellow-Finches, species we saw early in our trip near Palenque. We add new species to our trip list: Savannah and Grasshopper sparrows, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Cliff Swallow, one of the five species of swallows we see. Robert says they did a swallow migration count one spring and tallied a million swallows passing along this coastal area. Of course, Veracruz is mostly known for its fall migration count of about 5 million raptors. We see six hawk species. The best is a Northern Harrier that scares up a Pinnated Bittern and we get just enough of a view of the bittern to see that it is not the similar Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. A specialty of this area is the Ochre Oriole, the fuertesi subspecies of Orchard Oriole. Robert locates one of these where the chestnut coloring is replaced by ochre. Judy takes particular interest in the bird when I tell her they may someday separate it as a species itself. She plans on engraving her bird life list on her tombstone and will include the subspecies so that future generations can update her count even after she is gone.

(Shari) “Isn’t this fun,” I say enthusiastically while shopping at the Costco in Veracruz. I was kidded that this was the highlight of my trip. The store has all sorts of my favorite American products plus some special Mexican ones as well and I end up spending $84. Linda, Pat Y, Gwen, and the only male in the group, Tom, go with me into the store and then on to Wal-Mart as well. When we get home, it is already time for our travel meeting and social. As I sit by my window after dark, I admire the twinkling lights of Veracruz across the bay. The temperature is just perfect and it has been a good day.

Day 63 – March 18 – Costa Esmeralda, Veracruz

(Bert) The first couple of years I didn’t keep track of the birds we saw at Pemex #5429, but I have since 2004. This time in one hour Lee and I find 32 species, including Grayish Saltator and Band-backed Wren. A bit earlier Tom and Charlu saw three Northern Bobwhite and after we left Bob and Pat added Crested Caracara. Our 3-year total is now at 52 species. Not bad for a gas station! In earlier years Shari was always anxious for us to be on the road and our visit was only a half hour or so. Then she discovered the good restaurant for breakfast. So when I suggest staying for an hour this year, she ups the time to an hour and a half. And, most of the group forsakes birding and joins Shari instead. When Lee and I finish birding, the group is still eating breakfast and our stay is extended to two hours instead. No problem, our travel distance today is short and we still arrive at the seaside campsite before noon. In the afternoon I give another demonstration of the birding software I use, for those that didn’t fit in R-Tent-III yesterday. Then we all gather on the beach between two palm trees and I set up my tripod for a delayed timing photograph of our group with the sea as background. All smiles, I like the results.

(Shari) “Bert gave me a disgusted look when I told him that I was going to eat breakfast with Shari and not bird,” says Judy as all but Lee join me at the Pemex/breakfast/birding/rest stop this morning. I like traveling in Mexico because it challenges me. This morning I was trying to decipher the menu and figured out some of the items and got help from the manager who knew about as much English as I know Spanish. I think we all got what we thought we ordered. We arrive before lunch at the campground, again on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. Bert and I drive about 4 mi. up the road to check on another campground. Our current one is always hard to get into and today is full of campers from Mexico. Camping in Mexico is now becoming popular and I saw huge tents for sale in Costco yesterday and I see them here on the beach today. It reminds me of the U.S. in the 50s when I went camping with my parents. No big 40-ft. motor homes were in sight then. For the past four days I have not been able to reach my dad by the telephone. I was told yesterday that his cat scan showed that he had had a stroke. It must have been a minor one since he got all dressed in green on March 16th getting ready for St Patrick’s Day. I am concerned that I cannot talk with him. The doctor has decreased his Parkinson medicine and I suppose he just cannot get his feet to move to the phone. I usually am able to call him at 6 PM and know I should not disturb him at 6:30 during his favorite TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I am assured that if he were not all right, the assisted living place would call or e-mail and as they say no news is good news. Still, I worry though. We have a group picture before another travel meeting and last margarita party.

Day 64 – March 19 – Tampico, Veracruz

(Bert) I doubt anyone looks forward to this travel day. I certainly don’t. This section of Veracruz is always the roughest road with the worst travel and even today, Sunday, the traffic is congested with semi’s pulling double trailers. All in all, it seems to go smoothly though, so I am quite surprised when I pull into the parking lot where we camp tonight and look down at the trailer hitch. Half of it is lying on the ground and the other half is hanging by a single bolt. It must have fallen apart just as I stopped, as there is little evidence of dragging. Where the hitch is bolted to the RV chassis one bolt has sheared and the nuts have come off on two others and the screws holding on the stone guard are ripped off on three-fourths of the support bar. I had checked my hitch at the last rest stop, but not looked under the chassis at where it attaches to the mainframe, so I don’t know when the bolt sheared. Woody has trouble with the step on his 5th-wheel, so when he and Tailgunner Bob go to a place to get it welded, Woody buys four replacement bolts for me and Bob reattaches the hitch. He removes the stone guard, but at least we can tow our car for the last travel day tomorrow.

Tonight it’s hamburgers and chips on us and we gather under the palapa for a celebration. After we’ve eaten, Shari reads the poem she has written – almost daily throughout the trip – about our adventures and the people we’ve traveled with. I snap photos of the many smiles around the group as they intently listen to Shari’s story.

(Shari) One at a time we get in line to leave this morning. I expect to arrive at our campsite north of Tampico at 3 PM, an eight-hour day. Traffic is heavy for a Sunday and I did not expect so many slow trucks on the road. Don’t they know they should rest today? This leg is always tedious but we make better time this year than any other year. The roads have improved over the years, but if you were driving them for the first time, you would wonder how much worse it could be. Many roads have been rebuilt since 2001 and now are just terrible. There may not be any potholes, but the pavement is not level and we bounce around a lot forcing us to slow down. As soon as we get into the parking lot, Bert notices that something is wrong with our hitch. I guess so! It is dragging on the ground and we can only think that it must have broken just this minute. It would have been terrible to break on the road while traveling at high speed. Woody has a welding problem and Tailgunner Bob goes off with him to find a welder. Meanwhile he brings us back four bolts and nuts and he puts the hitch back in place. As I am going out our door, it too breaks and the handle falls off. Things are falling apart. Tonight Bert and I are sponsoring a hamburger cookout with beans and chips and cookies. I found great hamburger patties at Costco the other day. After we finish our meal, I read the poem I have been writing during the trip. I think everyone enjoyed it and I know I had fun writing it. I also give everyone a framed group picture – the one Bert took yesterday - that I printed last night at 1 AM when I could not sleep. After we clean up, Bert and I go in the new swimming pool and get refreshed before we tackle the dishes.

Day 65 – March 20 – Pharr, Texas

(Bert) Six years we’ve brought a caravan back into the U.S. and six times the procedure has changed. Leaving Mexico we must return our vehicle importation stickers and get a validated receipt or else we will never be allowed to return to the country again. Mexico’s border rules do not allow us to remove the windshield stickers ourselves and each year we must try to find a place to park and get an official to come to our RV’s. However, the parking scene changes each year, there are no signs to tell us what to do, and the only official in sight is a policeman anxious to ticket us for illegal parking. Two years ago we blocked one lane of traffic for an hour while I argued with the military police and Shari tried to get the attention of a border official. Last year they forced us to pass through the toll gates, park in front of the bridge and eventually Shari got someone to meet us. This year the traffic lanes have been reduced from two to one, so the only choice left is the parking spots before the bridge. That’s where I head, paying the toll and maneuvering around two trucks already parked there and a wrecker trying to remove a car. While Shari is at the border office, a policeman shows up, intent on telling us to move, but with no advice on where to park. Meanwhile Shari radios back to me that the border office says we have to return to the Mexico side of the toll gates. I tell her there are a hundred cars lined up in that direction and the traffic extends half-way along the 4-mile bridge. Horns are honking as a car from our side tries to cut in line and the mayhem continues until the police arrive and force the car to return to the U.S. and get in the back of the line. I tell Shari we cannot make the U-turn and, besides, what would we do on the Mexico side of the traffic jam. Eventually, Shari returns with a relenting border official and he argues with the cop about our illegal parking. It’s a stand off and they are wasting time arguing, so I push the issue and just tell them to take the stickers and we will leave. It takes only minutes for the stickers to be removed and our RV’ers leave while I wait for Shari to get receipts for the whole group. A half hour later she returns with the receipts and I get into the line to the U.S. border and customs. Over the CB I can still hear our group and I can see them in line half-way across the International Bridge. We inch along very slowly and, in fact, so slowly that a car stalls or runs out of gas and blocks one of the two lanes we are using. From the CB I hear that Tailgunner Bob has blocked the commercial truck lane so that others can circle around the stalled car. The wait in line seems to go on forever, the only entertainment the constant chatter on the CB about the situation. Now I can see our group has passed the border and are awaiting inspection by customs. When the last of them passes customs, I’m still in line for the border and by the time I get to customs the officials have left the area. I park where I’m told and we wait and we wait and we wait. Finally a customs officer comes, takes a mango and says we can leave. Border crossing took two hours and twenty minutes, a third to get our Mexico stickers removed and two-thirds waiting at the U.S. border.

Finally, back on U.S. soil, we park in a U.S. campground with 50-amp power – read TWO air conditioners running – easily accessible fresh water that doesn’t need chlorine added, a convenient dump that flows downhill without backing up and a solid flat parking spot that supports jacks without shoring up one side. Showered and refreshed, we head to Olive Garden for a final farewell dinner. And what a celebration it is! We devour the fresh salad as if we’ve never had one so good and we savor the familiar food and converse with restaurant staff without struggling with the language. And, best of all, we delight in each other’s company, retelling the stories of a great adventure trip just completed.

(Shari) A firm believer in American efficiency, I always thought that put us ahead of the rest of the world. If today is any indication, we are loosing the battle. I wonder when a border crossing will go smoothly. At our arrival at customs in Mexico, we follow a procedure we have used for the past six years. Bert drops me off and waits while I get a custom official to check our vehicle tags and cancel our permits giving us a receipt. The first question out of my mouth is “Habla Espanol?” The answer is “No.” Oh great, I have to carry on this conversation in my pigeon Spanish! I tell the clerk that I have a caravan of eight rigs and that we need our permits cancelled. She informs me that I have to park in the lot. I tell her we cannot do that and show her where we are parked. She says take two at a time. I radio Bert and apprise him of the situation and he says, “Can’t be done.” I try again repeating everything. She tells me the same thing, this time adding that we can make a returno on the road. She has no idea how much turning radius we need. Bert says that if we do that, we will have a traffic jam of a million cars. I have no idea how to convey that thought in Spanish. The clerk asks a customer if she speaks English, she does and translates for us. We repeat the whole scenario again. Another man who used to work at the station helps and when I ask why an official can’t walk the two blocks to the rigs, check the VIN numbers and walk back with me, he agrees. He tells the clerk. No help. I ask to speak to the boss. She says she is the boss. Oh grand! The man butts in again and talks in Spanish and finally the clerk/boss tells me to wait. Fifteen minutes later she comes back and tells another clerk to go with me. Hurrah, we could have saved 30 min. if she had done that in the first place. As we walk the two blocks in the blistering heat, the clerk asks me questions in English. Now this is the man that said he knew no English. Meanwhile Bert has his own problems stalling the officials from giving him a ticket and/or towing him away. He holds his ground and looks like he is the one giving the orders. “Just do it,” he barks and sure enough the official moves. It takes him about 3 min. to accomplish his task and as soon as one vehicle is verified, it is free to drive on to the border. Bert stays back waiting for me as I now walk the two blocks back. At a small booth another official cancels our permits and gives me the receipts for the whole caravan. I am told that in the future no official will come out to us. We must go through the correct route. He shows me what the route is, but I understand by next year it will be changed. My goodness, it was changed just since January! Finally I gather all the receipts, thank the young clerk and walk the two blocks back. The first thing I do is drink 12 ounces of water while Bert drives the distance to U.S. customs. Here I see a lineup of cars so thick I cannot even see the border. I have never seen it like this. It takes forever to pass through customs, only to have to wait for an official to come out of a building to check our rig for contraband. We wait. We wait some more. Bert gets out and asks if we are in the right place. We wait. I think there must be some shift change because men are leaving the building and unbuttoning their shirts as they walk to a parking lot. I see no one entering the building. We wait. We wait some more. Bert goes out to ask again. We wait. We wait some more. Finally someone comes out, opens our refrigerator, takes a mango and leaves. We are done at last.

The fun starts at 7 when we gather at the Olive Garden for a farewell farewell. The talk is furious and animated. Pat Y reads a hilarious poem depicting the idiosyncrasies of each of us, never mentioning a name but we all know who each is. As soon as she has the first line of each verse out of her mouth, heads move in the direction of the person. Some are so funny that she has to either laugh herself or pause until our laughter dies down so that she might continue. All too soon the evening is over, we have to say goodbye and end our journey. It has been a good one. It is hours past our bedtime by the time we get home and we fall immediately to sleep at 10 PM.

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