Chapter 2. Mexico transit
(Shari) Boy, is this group raring to go! Darkness surrounds our rigs, but our bodies exude enthusiastic sunshine. Everyone’s rig is lined up and ready way before the scheduled time and all are animatedly chattering in the early morning hour. In our short travel meeting I discuss the first few pages of the road log where it states that the log is to be used as a guide and not to be considered 100% accurate. I describe the procedures in the event someone makes a wrong turn. We talk about today’s route and finally head out the gate at 7AM. All is well and everyone follows us like ducks in a row until we get to the left turn onto US 83. The first few make the left, but the majority are hung up at the stoplight. That is ok except that another caravan from a competing company is coming through the stoplight and gets mixed up with our caravan. The light changes and more of our group are able to make the left. Within a half a mile we have to turn right. Bert announces our turn and we think everyone makes it until we hear Tom tell Judy that she was not supposed to go straight. Our Tailgunner, Bob, awaits her return, and we think she recovers. By now, both caravans are intermingled as if one really big long line. The other caravan turns right and we announce that ours is to continue straight. So far, so good. Then we hear that Bob has transmission problems and is stopping. A little while later we hear that Judy made another wrong turn and is following the other caravan. Bert has the whole caravan pull off to the side awaiting Judy’s recovery. As we wait, I see Tom poking around under the hood of his Toyota pickup. Meanwhile Judy has lost CB contact and we think she is hopelessly lost. Bert and I unhook the car, and Bert takes it to track her down. Tom comes over and tells me he has an oil leak and intends to go into Reynosa to have it looked at. Now we are down 3 out of 12 rigs. Still no Judy. Bert comes back to our rig without Judy, as I am talking to a man across the double lane highway on the CB. He asks me if I have lost a member of the caravan. I confirm that I have and he tells me that he saw someone traveling alone south of Reynosa. We rehook the car, hoping to catch up with Judy. She is a very independent person and we suspect she figures to meet up with us at the campground tonight. At our lunch stop, low and behold, our wayward chick is within the folds of the other caravan. She never thought she was lost and could not understand why she did not catch up with us until we pointed out that she took a totally different route through Reynosa than we did. She actually took a better route, that is brand new this year, and maybe we should thank her for the snafu.
(Bert) Were it not of people we know, this morning’s escapades could be ripe fodder for an “I Love Lucy” comedy script. Three lefts and one right hand turn take us to the Mexico border less than an hour after sunrise, but the CB chatter tells us someone missed the last turn and is wandering about the cloverleaf trying for another reentry point. Meanwhile we all become aware of a second caravan that materialized from another direction at the turn. Our twelve rigs soon are commingled with their 20+ and the follow-the-leader folks are headed for trouble. At the head of the pack, flanked by another Number One, I notice our paths diverging just as we cross into Mexico, so I announce, “Continue straight ahead; the other caravan is turning right; don’t follow them.” Some of us continue forward, but then I hear a totally unrelated response from Bob, our Tailgunner, “My transmission broke; I can’t continue.” I creep forward, searching for a spot to pull to the side with my string of followers, but slowly so others can see where we are heading in this maelstrom of converging traffic. As we find a safe haven, Judy asks which way to go. I repeat my message, but it dissolves in CB ether and the next I hear of Judy is a waning call, suggesting she is following the other caravan into Reynosa. I call for her to stop and try coming back to the border, but her response is broken and fainter than before. We wait – five, then ten minutes – but no Judy appears in sight or sound. Shari and I decide to unhook our car and I’ll start the search for Judy. Looping back to the border I see Bob’s motor home blocking one of the border gates and stop to hear his story of transmission fluid pouring out of his engine and a puzzled look on his face as to the source of the problem. I continue my Judy search, taking the alternate road along the Rio Grande River – noting a flock of Lesser Scaup floating in the canal and a Belted Kingfisher eyeing the water from its wire perch. “Keep my eyes on the road and find Judy,” I say to myself, but my eyes still absorb the pair of starlings nearby and place them in my mental bird list, as these may be the only of that species we will see on this trip. No Judy in the first six or eight miles, so I double back, constantly calling on the CB and personal radio in hopes of hearing a response. Nearing the starting point, I see Tom and Charlu heading in the other direction. I hope that is not another search party, but back at our RV I learn now that Tom has engine trouble as well and is headed to a mechanic shop in Reynosa. We haven’t traveled one mile across the border and 25% of our caravan is lost, dead-in-the-water or limping. A mysterious angel announces on the CB that they have found a missing traveler fitting Judy’s description and that her vehicle is already on the opposite side of Reynosa. I reattach our car behind the RV and we commence the caravan with our remaining 75%. It isn’t until lunch time that we find Judy, a joyous reunion. The remainder of today’s trip pales by comparison to our misadventurous beginning and even though I intended to write about the luxurious green countryside and overflowing lakes that are rare in these parts, I’ll save that story for another time.
(Bert) We face the piercing rising sun, still too low to be blocked by my visor, as it crosses the horizon over Tampico. Traffic oozes slowly in both directions on the boulevard leading to the city. Stopping short of the worst congestion, we turn south along the perimeter. Extensive marshes border us on the right and on the CB, I tell our travelers that here is a good spot to see Altimira Yellowthroats, albeit not without searching and an impossibility with a train as long as ours. Yet, from our vehicles, we see many other birds – big, showy birds – in these wetlands: Brown Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, cormorants and herons. On the south bypass Shari and I reminisce about how bad this road was when we first reconnoitered it in 2001 and the striking contrast now with an overpass and well-maintained paved road. South of the city the landscape is green, although a darker shade than the yellow-green of the young chlorophyll-deficient grasses from recent rains farther north in Tamaulipas yesterday. Also, unusual this year is the cool temperatures – babies bundled in “snowsuits” and woolen caps - and strong winds stirring waves on the lakes. Now south of the Tropic of Cancer, the roadsides harbor birds we rarely, if ever, see in the U.S., including Red-billed Pigeons, Social Flycatchers, Tamaulipas Crows and Melodious Blackbirds. At our lunch stop I photograph a Roadside Hawk perched on the crossbar of a high utility pole. Our roads alternate between reasonably good and poorly broken. Someone asks Woody how this compares to last year and he says he doesn’t remember. I respond that I think they are better and Shari agrees, but the good and bad sections seem to change each year as repairs and reconstruction last only a short time. Nearing Poza Rica I miss a left turn by 20 ft, but the others follow my verbal instruction instead of my lead and continue properly. By the time I can make a U-turn – thanks to David blocking my rear and Shari jumping out to block oncoming – and return to the caravan, I’m Tailgunner instead of Wagonmaster. A mile through the city, I finally pass the entire caravan and again take the lead to the hotel parking lot where we will spend the next two nights. Once rigs are settled into parking spots, some of us watch birds in the surrounding trees, starting with a well hidden Clay-colored Robin centered in my spotting scope. For a non-birding day, by travel list comes to 40 species. Not bad!
(Shari) No Mexico trip is without a wrong turn. I had hoped we would complete this one with no mistake, but it was just not to be. This leg of the trip has always been the worst in terms of rough roads and tedious driving, although Bert and I both think the roads on this leg have improved a lot since our first trip down this path. We depart camp at 7:20 and reach our first break an hour later, having traveled only 31 miles. It gets easier after that until we hit construction on a toll bridge. Here traffic is stopped and only one direction at a time is allowed to pass. It seems to take forever to cross the river. Then things improve until we get behind a very slow moving truck on a congested curvy highway with no way for us to pass. Finally we reach the edge of town and I carefully hold the computer, running a GPS program, on my lap as I watch the green arrow move on the map. This green arrow denotes R-Tent-III (my pet name for our 2004 41-ft. DutchStar motor home) and its progress down the highway. The road log is a bit off because new construction forced a detour and I am madly comparing log to map. The log says to “TURN LEFT at sign for Poza Rica. YOU MUST PASS Pemex (0745) on your right.” I see the Pemex but it makes no sense to pass it up. The map too shows a sharp left turn a bit farther on. As we go straight, Bert turns his head and matter-of-factly states that he sees the bridge we are suppose to be on. Bert quickly tells the rest of the caravan to turn left while we attempt to recover. Luckily for us and also for David (our snafu would have put him in the Wagonmaster position), he follows us and makes the same returno we are. Bert thinks he can make the turn with all 60-ft. of our articulated vehicle. I hop out of R-Tent-III and stop some truck traffic and Bert unbelievably makes the U-turn with David’s help in blocking traffic from the rear. We eventually catch up and pass the caravan and lead them in without another hitch. We are pleasantly surprised to be served, by the hotel, margaritas, refried beans, salsa, guacamole and chips. I think most of us eat so much that no supper will be served at home tonight.
(Bert) El Tajín archeological site is only a half-hour’s drive from Poza Rica, so we arrive well before the gates open. The early morning birds in the adjacent fields entertain us for the interim. Dorothy suspects a distant bird is a goldfinch, but when I align my scope on the spot it transforms into an even better find: a euphonia. We see and hear many euphonies in the next few hours, constantly reinitiating the debate on whether they are Scrub or Yellow-throated. All of the ones I see are Scrub, but Woody, Bob and Pat also see a few Yellow-throated. Other pairs of species engage debate throughout the morning and, fortunately, we eventually see both for a good comparison: Tropical and Northern parulas, Lineated and Pale-billed woodpeckers, and Green and Olive-throated parakeets. An unusually cool day makes for a pleasant birding experience as we stroll among the ruins of an ancient civilization. Light jackets required today are a dramatic contrast to our first visit in 2001 when our bodies simmered at 105 deg. in the shade. This morning’s highlights include two Magnificent Hummingbirds worthy of their name, Black-headed Saltators more often heard than seen, and several White-crowned Parrots. The parrots prove particularly difficult to see, but fortunately continue to feed in the same dense tree, affording ample time for everyone eventually to see telltale field marks between green leaves. In mid afternoon, after most of the group has returned to Poza Rica, four us get another chance to see the parrots, still feeding in the same tree. Now there are four, spread across the crown and much easier to view. In my experience, this parrot species is much harder to find than many others, perhaps because it does not form flocks and hides more deeply in the foliage. Nearby we encounter soaring birds and I am delighted to recognize all three are Hook-billed Kites giving us great views of the intricate pattern of black and white lines, boldly barred across the tail, curving black lines over white following the contour of the wings, and a darker checkerboard in the secondaries, breast and belly. One passes low over my head and I can even see its wickedly hooked bill. All morning we have been hearing the swallowed gargle of Montezuma Oropendolas, but few in our group have glimpsed a sight of the birds. When our group has dwindled to four, I see a few oropendolas over the canopy on the distant hillsides. While we focus our binoculars on the spot, more birds take flight and within a minute the huge flock gathers and heads in our direction. Overhead I count in tens until I reach a hundred. Still more come and the total nears 150. The large and noisy birds have clown like white and yellow faces and a long pointed orange bill, contrasting dark and light wings and a prominent tail dragging behind like a long yellow flag: certainly one of the memorable sights of today’s birding and we’ve had many. At dinnertime, Bob and Pat tell me they’ve added six and five life birds, respectively, to their lists. The total tally climbs over 60 species.
(Shari) Forced to stay at home today, I sleep in. No one wanted a late morning bird trip and the whole group trucks off at 7 AM, and the earliest ones return at 1 PM. Too long for me, so I pass. I get up at 7 anyway, awakened by the happily laughing group a good distance away from R-Tent-III, but still easily heard. Bert would say, I must not have been tired. I get a lot accomplished and probably should have stayed back in any case. There is always paperwork, phone calls and e-mail arrangements to attend to. In the afternoon, Woody and Gwen are kind enough to take me to the bank to finish the payment of everyone’s tourist visa. Here it takes 45 min. as the clerk laboriously does each of the 17 tourist visas, one at a time. Why he never just multiplies 17 times the cost of 210 pesos and take the total money owed, I’ll never understand. But no, he takes 210 pesos out of the stack of money I gave him and gives a credit. Then he processes the next one. Each transaction takes at least 2 min. Finally that task is complete and we drive to the Chedraiu store and do some shopping. I am very proud of myself in that I do not buy every item that tempts me. I even pass up the Mexican bakery aisle, for heavens sake. I have plenty of food at home for now and run the risk of having anything I buy confiscated at the Belize border. I make do with a few fresh salad ingredients, fresh milk, and canned mushrooms. The whole group goes out for dinner at the hotel and it is one of the best dinners in Mexico I have ever eaten. I order the pescado con mole de ajo or fish wet with garlic. Yummy! We had placed our order last night at the cocktail party and everything was ready when we arrived. Such fine organization in Mexico I have never seen. The food all came out of the kitchen hot and delicious. Of course I had to help the waiters with names but everyone seems to have received what they ordered and they tell me it is delicious. We have an early start in the morning, but I sense that many do not want to get up to leave. They are just having too much fun.
(Shari) “Bridge,” “Tope,” “Pothole,” I think those were the words I used on Bert all day. The road today has really deteriorated since last year and the driving is tedious. It takes us two hours longer this trip than any other and the Green Angels that were to meet us at the tollbooth must have given up on us because they are not there when we arrive. So Bert and I have to wing it on finding the new campground. It actually is easy and we find it without a hitch and I think everyone is happy to arrive for the night. We are parked on the beach outside of Veracruz and I have the most beautiful view out my side window. Bert gives a talk about differentiating parrots while I sip a tonic and rum. His talk gets more interesting the more I sip. ;) I talk a little with Eulene and give her some calamine lotion. She and Cindy got themselves into a nasty bunch of baby ticks and they both are quite bit up. Both are very nice about it but I know it must itch like mad. Luckily we understand that ticks in Mexico rarely carry disease and baby ones even less so. We miss our Tailgunner Bob and hear that his transmission still has not arrived. Looks like we will be into Belize before he catches up with us. Meanwhile everyone is very helpful and Woody had been an excellent pinch hitter for Tailgunner. He helped Kent with a tire change and me with the bank issues yesterday. By the way, if anyone is wondering where Charlu and Tom are, they caught up with us the first day. Tom had his oil leak fixed in Reynosa and came in about five hours after we did. We had a very happy huggy time the next morning.
(Bert) Anticipating a short travel day, Shari announces at our 7 AM travel meeting that we expect to be in Veracruz (city) by lunchtime. We’ve traveled this part of northern Veracruz (state) once or twice each year, and last spring the roads were much improved over prior years. But not this year! From Nautla to nearly Cardel the pavement is broken and pitted. “El camino es mal,” I think to myself and then I add to my thoughts, “y los camiónes despachio” when I find myself behind a series of trucks crawling slowly for an hour. Our speed varies from 45 mph (rarely) to 20 mph (often) and by 11:30 we break for lunch since we have still more than an hour to travel. Our campsite is new this year, so I’m delighted when I see its prominent position on a sand dune overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, with the skyline of Veracruz across the bay. A balmy 70°, the light breeze is refreshing and clear skies over gentle waves rolling across a broad sandy beach inviting.
Kent is having problems with his batteries and a trailer tire, so I call Bob (Tailgunner) on the phone and Kent asks that he bring new ones from the U.S. Bob and Arlene are still stuck in Pharr with a bad transmission and the latest update is that a new one is being shipped from Detroit and has not yet arrived, so it will still be a while before they catch up with us. Meanwhile Woody has taken the last position in the caravan and he and others have been pitching in on solving minor mechanical problems in route.
At 4:30 I conduct a workshop on the parrots of Belize. We often see and hear parrots, but their fast flight and quick disappearance prevents most birders from identifying them to species. So my presentation focuses on those characteristics – flight pattern, prominent field marks, habitat, vocalizations – that we can use to differentiate them. Later we walk on the beach to study the shorebirds, Semipalmated Plovers being the best find.
(Bert) The best of the day is our lunch time wayside stop. Again an early morning start, but this time our travel is faster on the cuota (toll) roads through southern Veracruz. Twenty miles of construction, or in need of reconstruction, slows us a bit, but on the rest we travel 40-55 mph for a toll of just over US$100 (cars pay less than half that amount). No topes, straight roads, little traffic, our main concern becomes the tedium of dull driving, sparked occasionally by roadside birds in the extensive Veracruz marshland.
Our prolonged noontime stop is an excellent birding area in marshy habitat. We hear as many as three Ruddy Crakes calling at the same time, but none of us see any of these sparrow-sized rails even though some call from the marsh only 8 ft. in front of us. Common Tody-Flycatchers seem to be everywhere, especially once we recognize their piping song. Several pop out into the open, if briefly, affording nice views of the vividly yellow and black feathering. Overhead a presumed vulture doesn’t look quite right and when we see the banded tail we know we’ve got a Zone-tailed Hawk. Its aerial soaring delights us for many minutes, affording us ample time to see the two-tone wings, banding and vulture-like jizz that separates it from similar raptors. We find a Ladder-backed Woodpecker which seems out of place in this habitat, the many Groove-billed Anis and Common Yellowthroats being more fitting. A Louisiana Waterthrush is a nice find. Later when I meet others who were separated from our birding group I hear that Bob and Pat found a Barred Antshrike, Dorothy adds Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Woody reports a Peregrine Falcon. Thirty species in an hour at the least active time of day is a nice count, especially when it includes life birds for some in the group.
(Shari) I am so pleased with myself. I made a joke in Spanish and the young man I was talking to, laughed heartily so he must have understood it. As I was parking the rigs yesterday, Bert comes up to me and he has other ideas about parking procedures. My plan is different, not wrong but he is the man and I let him take over. I say to the young attendant as I point to Bert. “Me esposo. Sabe todas. Soy solamente mujer y yo no se nada.” Translation: “That is my husband. He knows everything. I am only woman, and know nothing.” Okay, okay, a cheap shot, but the young guy got a kick out of it. Later when I asked for a receipt he answers me with a very long litany in Spanish. I tell him. “Solemente la palabra yo comprendo es la nota.” Again, he laughs and laughs. Translation, “The only word I understand is receipt.” Many of you know that I am self-taught in Spanish. I bought a computer program a few years back and practice for about a month every year before the trip. My pronunciation is terrible but I find the Mexicans are very kind and I think they feel sorry for this old lady trying to communicate that they do everything they can to help me. Many start out saying that they know no English and end up speaking to me in English. I always figure that they think, “Wow is she terrible. I know English better than she knows Spanish.” They are probably right. I get a kick out of trying my best and I think they get a kick out me doing so. In any case, it works.
Today’s travel is just under 300 mi. on roads that alternate from excellent to a disgrace to be called a toll road. The day is tedious and is broken by an hour and a half birding stop, combined with lunch. We get in at 4:30 PM, just in time for our attitude readjustment margaritas. Last year on our trip we had a couple that gave each person a jar of jam or jelly. Bob and Cindy remembered that and even told the group about it today. Bob then becomes sweet himself and gives each of us some of his homemade hot sauce. Mel and Beth if you are reading this, we still thank you and are thinking of you. Take care.
(Shari) Just mention something you need and it appears at your doorstep. At this morning’s travel meeting I said that I would take a group to the market because I needed tomatoes. Lo and behold, Dorothy walks over with two beautiful plump red tomatoes. That is how it goes all the time. The group is great and has taken over many of the Tailgunner responsibilities as well. Ralph and Dorothy have brought up the rear of the caravan many times, as did Bob and Cindy and Woody and Gwen. Lee and Woody helped Kent with a tire change. We are looking out for each other already as a caring family. It is nice for us when a group gels like this. Travel days should all be like today: EASY and SHORT. We only have a little over 90 mi. to drive and arrive in Palenque by 10 AM. Luis is waiting for us at the entrance and we give him a short ride to the campground. He speaks no English but this year I understand most of what he says. He asks how long we intend to stay, how many there are of us and if we want to eat dinner. He tells me another caravan is coming on Monday with 25 rigs. The only time I have trouble is when I ask him for a receipt. He answers something but I sure do not know what it is. I assume it was that he would bring it by later. I am so tempted to go out to eat tonight at one of my favorite restaurants. They have a flaming steak to die for. But I am too tired and I need to eat up some food in R-Tent-III and dinner out sure would not be good for the diet. So we pass on the opportunity, but as Don and Bill drive by on their way to the restaurant I almost run after them to hop into their car to go along. Bert and I linger outside and chat with some others until well after 7. The time and temperature are just so pleasant now, even though I needed the air conditioner a bit this afternoon.
(Bert) Double-striped Thick-knee is our target today. Our short travel day to Palenque gives us plenty of time to settle in to our campsite, have a leisurely lunch and even a nap before beginning our afternoon birding on the road to La Libertad. In previous years I’ve marked the mileage to the first sighting of the Thick-knees and again today the odd birds are remarkably reliable and true to territory. Even though they are far away in the field, this first pair seems leery of our presence, as they begin to walk to a more remote location. The thick-knee is quite different from other birds, yet most reminds me of a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, but with a thicker neck and shorter bill, and a uniquely droopy eyelid half covering a large yellow eye. From the same field, a small flock of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures arise and circle low over the pasture. Unless birders keep out a sharp eye, these vultures are too easily dismissed as the more common Black or Turkey vultures, but along the road today I identify four times as many yellow-headeds as all blacks and turkeys combined. The undersides of the outstretched wings resemble Turkey Vultures, but the light areas are grayer on the yellow-headed. When the vultures bank I can see the lighter primaries on the yellow-headeds, much like Black Vultures, but less pronounced. We continue to find thick-knees in the fields, many much closer than the first pair. The total count reaches 18-20 birds, including some on a recently plowed field, a habitat I would not have expected to find any. Another highlight of our afternoon birding is four Aplomado Falcons, two singles and a pair. The first is resting on a fence post where the roadsides are on fire, a common burning practice here that is much easier than a machete for clearing away brush. We’ve found a Least Grebe and several Northern Jacanas, but not yet the Grassland Yellow-finch that we expect. Then Cindy announces she has one in the scope. I quickly join her and align my scope as well and everyone has a chance to see this pretty yellow bird fill the eyepiece. Looking at its stout wedge-shaped bill, it is easy to see why this yellow-finch is classified with the seedeaters and sparrows, and not the finches. We turn around and leisurely return to camp, making several more stops along the way. As the day wanes, the Black Howlers (monkeys) can be heard in the distance. They must be quite common in the more dense clusters of trees in these farmlands, as we can hear them from multiple directions. Almost at the end of the return road we stop at the ponds where Cattle Egrets come to roost. I take a few photos where the flocks stretch from end to end on my viewfinder and latter estimate the number in a single view – about 400 – suggesting the flock size is in the thousands.
(Bert) Birding outside the Palenque ruins near the gift shop and abandoned museum, we find two surprise species. The first is a parrot that conveniently perches in a close tree and gives us ample opportunity to see a red-yellow-white pattern on its head and a distinct red edge on the shoulder, corresponding to the forward wing. This combination only fits Yucatan (Yellow-lored) Parrot but, curiously, range maps in Howell & Webb do not show the species reaching this far away from the Yucatán peninsula. The second species Bill and I see while watching many swifts flying high above the gift shop parking lot. All but one have white in the throat area: most are White-collared Swifts and a few are the smaller Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts. But one small dark swift is distinctly different in that it has a prominent chestnut collar. Maps show the Chestnut-collared Swift ranges close to Palenque, but this is the first time I’ve found one here and it is not listed in references I’ve seen thus far for this location. In addition, Chestnut-collared Swift is a life bird for me, the first on the trip. The morning’s birding is not high in quantity, but it certainly is high in quality. At the start we hear a bird calling from the dense undergrowth near the road. I play the song of a Rufous-breasted Spinetail, but immediately recognize I’ve selected the wrong one. Nonetheless, we get a response from another location and soon two spinetails fly in and out of the bushes, although not offering a good view at any time. Cindy eventually selects the song to match the first lurker – a Black-faced Antthrush, but it does not offer us a view. In the wooded area surrounding the gift shop, we are thrilled by a flock of Collared Araçaris, and get brief looks at a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker and several views of a Buff-throated Saltator. Walking beside the road up the hill to the ruins, we see Brown-hooded Parrots fly overhead and Don reports their separated group found all three euphonia species at the bend. Later on the Templo Olividado trail, we add Long-billed Hermits, Collared Trogons, Plain Xenops, Long-billed Gnatwren and Golden-crowned Warbler to the list.
(Shari) I am so grateful for Pat Y. She and I left WAY after the early birders and drove up to the ruins for the express purpose of going shopping. I, and I hope she too, had a wonderful time perusing the vendor stalls. Every year I buy these cute little doves and this year is no exception. Too bad I have to tell Bert. I hear him already complaining about where to put them. We then drive to the chicken place and arrange for nine pollo asadas to be picked up at five. By the time we get back at noon, it is a bit steamy outside and I am thankful for air conditioning. I eat lunch, start to read, and get drowsy just as Bert returns. I continue with a nap and wake up when he gets a visitor. Soon it is time for me to pick up the chickens and again I gratefully thank Pat for driving along with me. We must wait about 20 min. for the ladies to cut the chickens and add the rice, beans, salsa and salad. Everyone is to meet at the picnic tables, bringing a side dish to share. For the next two hours we eat and talk. Dorothy’s pasta salad is wonderful as is Pat B’s tamales. The darkness and knowledge of tomorrow’s early departure breaks up the group.
(Bert) With a cheery “Good Morning” I greet Ralph when he knocks on our door at 6:15 AM, but his response and demeanor suggest otherwise, “Well, it’s not so good.” His rig is without electricity and he cannot even run the refrigerator on gas without current to ignite the spark. Since our caravan will depart in a half hour, we discuss the options, none of which sound promising. Then I suggest asking Bob #2 to look at it, since he has more electrical experience than the rest of us. Bob finds part of the problem – one battery is dead and not being charged – and moves some wires enough to get the refrigerator started and we can leave for Chetumal to solve the rest of the problem there.
The sun is barely over the horizon as we head out into a pretty day of blue skies, chalk dust clouds and vibrantly green countryside. I particularly like the Buttercup trees: Wizard-of-Oz type designs of spindly branches almost devoid of leaves, but generously showing giant yellow flowers at eye level from my lofty RV driver’s seat. The Usumacinta marshes are a play land for water birds including three species of white egrets, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, two Bare-throated Tiger-Herons, several Anhingas and many Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. Past the marshes and throughout the morning, the scenery remains the green of plentiful rain, quite a contrast from prior years where this part of Campeche was a bone-dry thorn forest. In the afternoon, frequent sprinkles and occasional downpours of rain wash over us. Eventually we reach highway construction, a continuance of last year, but noticeably progressing. It appears that the first step of the road expansion is massive removal of rich dark topsoil and then filling in with crushed white limestone to a depth of 6-12 ft., an enormous undertaking for this many miles. Part of the wide four-lane highway is now complete, a dramatic contrast to the confining narrow country road creeping below arched trees that was our prior experience. Shari notices that our elevation is higher than I previously thought and we peak at over 900 ft. Just below that we stop at a Pemex station and Cindy and I watch a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture soar and I’m surprised we would find one so high up and so far from water.
We reach Chetumal and part of the group splits off for refueling, others stop for groceries and I lead the remaining third to the campground on the coast. Amazingly, a few miles before our destination I see three White-necked Puffbirds lined up on a utility wire. A serendipitous find, this highly sought species has eluded many birders even after days of searching appropriate habitat. At the campground our friend Kathe is there to greet us and after we have settled down I ask her for help on Ralph’s electrical problem. She contacts the man who maintains the campground’s electrical facilities and somewhat later I hear a report from Ralph that they have located the source of the problem - a loose cable – and it is a relief that it is not the thousand-dollar converter that had been speculated earlier. We rejoice at our margarita party that we’ve now completed crossing Mexico and hear Shari describe tomorrow’s Belize border crossing procedures. Even after the party, Bob and Pat, Kent and Linda, remain in animated conversation with friends that came to meet them – fellow birders that traveled with the four of them on a prior West Mexico birding caravan.
(Shari) Not knowing if I will ever see them again, Bob and Pat and Eulene and David follow new leader Judy into the parking lot of the Chedraui store while the rest of us move on towards the campground for the night. Today’s drive should make us all appreciate our lot in life. You can forget just how poor most of the people are in Mexico by staying in campgrounds and parks, visiting tourist places and eating at restaurants. But driving through the small villages really points out the poverty. One-room cement blockhouses, with open holes for windows, thatched roofs and dirt floors dot the landscape. Women carry buckets of water to their houses and men ride old three-wheeled bicycles along the highway. Pigs and goats free roam throughout the town where the children play. I wonder what the young men in the truck ahead of us think as they look at us sitting in our fancy motor home on leather captain chairs drinking tea from a mug. Yet everyone we meet is very nice and the children all smile and wave as we drive past. We travel through one small town after another on our long tedious drive today. At least the road is relatively good and we can make 310 miles in 9 hrs. Our friend Kathe meets us when we arrive and is a big help in finding Ralph an electrician. He has had electrical problems today and it seems it might only be a broken cable. Judy successfully leads the other two rigs into camp a while later and soon we all enjoy margaritas while discussing the border procedures for tomorrow.
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