Chapter 1.  Texas border

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2007 All rights reserved.

Day minus 5 and counting - January 9, 2007 - Pharr, TX

(Shari) After having crossed the Mexico/USA border umpteen times, I naively expect no troubles. After all, we must have encountered all the new procedures possible. WRONG! I first became aware of a problem when Tailgunner Bob and Arleen replaced their windshield this summer and forgot to remove the 10-year vehicle hologram on the cracked windshield. Luckily they have arrived early in Pharr to deal with the issue. I am telling this story as they related it to me. They first visit the Mexican Consulate in McAllen and the clerk there tells them that the issue has to get resolved at the border but not to go to the Pharr border crossing since the officials there will not help them. So they drive to the McAllen Reynosa border crossing and are told it will not be a problem. Just return with the RV to the border and another hologram will be reissued. So they traipse back to the campground in Pharr to retrieve their motor home, unhook it from water, sewer, and electricity and move it out to the border at Reynosa. I see them leave around 3 PM. Two other couples have arrived and at our social hour we talk about the situation. But when Bob and Arleen have not returned by 6 PM, I wonder out loud if there is trouble brewing. 7 PM and still no Bob and Arleen. Finally 7:30 PM I see headlights approaching and Bob and Arleen pull in next door. They got their hologram, but have a story to tell. Unbeknown to us for years, we are required to turn in our personal visa form upon exiting from Mexico. We have never done it, don’t know where to do it and on one occasion have been told by a border official that he did not know what to do with it either. Well this year is different and in fact Arleen says a big sign at immigration states a hefty fine can be levied if the visa is not returned, but that they went to the only border official that was willing to waive the fine. Ah-oh! Bert and I decide to go to the Mexican Consulate tomorrow and get the lowdown. We have two rigs from last year accompanying us on this trip and I know they did not return their visas either.

Day minus 4 - January 10 - Pharr

(Shari) Bert and I decide to use the military principle of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” We intend to be just any average American wishing to enter Mexico. At the McAllen Mexican Consulate, we ask for the personal visa form. The clerk hands us an 8x10 sheet of paper to complete and tells us we need copies of our passport, credit card and driver’s license. We’ve not seen this form before and as I complete the form I mention to Bert that the question “Have you ever applied for a Mexican Visa in the past and where” will do us in. The consulate cannot make the copies so we return to the car and drive to an HEB grocery store. Back at the consulate we approach the desk and the official does not even open our passport, looking for a non-existent exit stamp, nor does he take note of past visa checkmark. He gives us our new visa form, asking us only our final destination and tells us the last word is still up to the border official at Pharr. Accepting our letterhead authorization paper, he even gives us 21 more blank forms for the rest of the caravan to complete. We are not through yet, but are closer.

Day minus 1 – January 13 – Pharr

(Shari) I guess I made a mountain out of a mole hill. But my philosophy is better safe than sorry. Hindsight tells me that Bob and Arleen never should have showed the Mexican official last year’s visa. We sail through the border paperwork today. The officials are very nice: most speak English and all are helpful. Beside the immigration office, I exit our car and tell all passengers to follow me and drivers to follow Bert. We go into the building and the official tells me to line the group in a single file. Since we had already filled out the application for entrance it was just a matter of rubber-stamping our passports and visas and move on to the next building for copies. We make copies, go to customs office to import our vehicles and we are done. I have one snag when the clerk asks me “Cuantasfuerte?” I have no idea what she is saying and can not understand why she wants to know how many forts I have. I repeat the words to myself and look back at her with a blank stare. She repeats “Cuantasfuertes?” Is she asking how many rigs I have with me? So I answer 12. She shakes her head in the negative. Finally someone in the line says that she wants to know how many doors my car has. Oh she said, “Cuantos puertos?” I guess I need the Mexicans to speak with a Wisconsin accent and not a Mexican one. Bert and I take Leonard along with us to negotiate a new route for Monday. The rest of the group goes back to the USA but I understand the wait time was about 2 hrs. We complete our business and are back about the same time Bob and Arleen get back. We crossed at the McAllen/Reynosa border and our wait time was only 30 minutes. Go figure.

(Bert) I always find interesting our orientation meeting for newcomers – we have three Mexico-Belize repeat travelers who we will see at tomorrow’s meeting – especially when we ask about expectations. This year’s surprise is how many of our travelers are anxious to see the Mayan ruins. Most avid birders on prior trips focus so much on the birds that they almost ignore the fascinating ruins. Although our Yucatan itinerary is the one that most concentrates on the ruin sites, this year’s schedule will include ten to twelve, some of which are very popular – El Tajín, Palenque, Caracol – and some that are rarely visited – Cerros, Oxtankah, Lubaatun. Of course, Mayan ruin sites are also great birding sites. Following my session on Birding 101, we head to the Mexico border. Processing our paperwork is probably the smoothest operation since 2000 with not a single hitch. Then Shari and I, with Leonard as a passenger eager to see his first Mexico birds, drive the streets of Reynosa in search of a better route through the congested city. After an hour we find what we are looking for and then rerun the route a second time to make sure we have the mile points accurately recorded. This will be shorter, less congested and less hazardous than the route that has been used for many years. We return by the Reynosa International Bridge with 8 lanes of traffic laboriously pouring over the border to the U.S. Our wait time is only about 40 min. and when we get back to camp we find out that Bob and Arlene only beat us by a few minutes, the wait at the Pharr border crossing being about two hours.

Day 1 – January 14 – Pharr

(Bert) Tailgunner Bob completes his vehicular inspections, we test our CB’s at noon and the second half of our orientation meeting runs this afternoon. Then everyone finishes last minute errands. Many of them come back from a visit of Wal-Mart and nearby areas with a report of the gathering flock of Green Parakeets coming to roost which Leonard counts as 150, our first taste of the tropics. Tomorrow we cross into Mexico.

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