Chapter 11.  Heading North

Day 58 – March 12 – Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

(Shari) Never in over 40 years of marriage have I heard Bert use a four letter word until this morning. About 30 mi. into our trip he says “Sh--, sh—sh—three times as the now familiar buzzer sounds inside R-Tent-III. “No, not again,” he laments. We climb out and he retrieves a bucket to catch the radiator fluid. All of a sudden Bert says it is not the radiator but the drain hole. The spigot was not tight enough and came loose, therefore allowing fluid to start emptying the reservoir. We lost about one gallon and decide to replace it with water. We are back on the road again until we cross the Barrell Boom bridge. Today is the Ruta Maya canoe race and lots of people are on the bridge to watch. Cars are parked in the right lane allowing only left lane traffic. We go the wrong way in the left lane, inching our way between cars parked on both sides. One of the RV’s scrapes a car parked on the bridge and ends up paying $35 to settle without an insurance claim. Back on the road again. Belize customs goes smoothly and we are all finished within an hour. Mexican customs has changed and most of us are boarded for inspection more than once. This year they take my bananas, cilantro, onions, spinach and popcorn. Popcorn, for goodness sake! Finally we all pass and it is on to the agricultural spray station. Each of us with the same rig configuration is charged a different amount. Go figure! We get into camp and have a nice relaxing margarita party reminiscing about various places on the trip. Chuck entertains us with a silly hat, gridlocks and all. We stay outside longer than usual, no one wanting to break up the party. Bert takes some great pictures. I just love to compare the beginning pictures with the ending ones. The ones toward the end show people wonderfully relaxed, happy and comfortable with each other. We are so lucky to have another group that gets along and seems to enjoy each other’s company.

(Bert) I say goodbye to Bearded Bob and Cindy who have decided to spend more time in Belize. I think Cindy wants to make sure her Belize life list is longer than mine. With multiple trips to the country, both of us are well over 400 species. Neither of us has stayed during spring migration, so she likely will pull ahead of me now.

As we start the drive north with our newly patched radiator, new fan, properly filled reservoirs and Tailgunner Bob’s mesh screening protecting the radiator from stones, I watch the dash gauges and wonder how far we will get without another incident. About 42 miles! I can’t believe I hear the buzzer sounding and the Low Water light illuminated. By routine now, I jump out of R-Tent-III, grab a bucket and race to the radiator fluid leak. This time it’s in a new place, at the rear edge of the radiator. In fact, to my surprise and ultimate relief the leak springs from the drainage spout and I simply turn the loose cock to stop the flow. Our adrenalin had been flowing as fast as the radiator fluid. While I’m adding a gallon of water to the radiator, Mark diverts my attention to a small kettle of raptors circling in the uplift of the foothills of the Maya Mountains. He hands me his binoculars and I recognize a Black-Hawk and another that is either a Hawk-Eagle or a Hook-billed Kite. Shari forcefully redirects my attention back to filling the reservoir. Task completed, I get a report from Mark and Joanie that the kettle included a Great Black-Hawk, a White Hawk and two Hook-billed Kites, a serendipitous find, thanks to our radiator problems.

The next 50 mi. go without further incident. At the bridge over the Belize River, traffic is stalled and one lane of the bridge is jammed with parked vehicles and a hundred people mill around the river and bridge. I lower my window and ask what’s going on, hearing that the Ruta Maya canoe race is today. Our birding guide George from Punta Gorda should be in this race too. Getting through the snarl of vehicles and people takes 15 min. and one of our larger RV’s brushes against one of the parked cars. We stop after the bridge and wait for the car owner to catch up with us. The matter is quickly settled with a $35 payment. By now our caravan is scattered throughout the northern half of Belize, with R-Tent-III somewhere near the end of the train. One by one I pass up the others as they break for lunch or stop for fuel. We reach the border first and Shari and I direct each of the others on border crossing procedures as they slowly wander in to the parking lot.

Crossing into Mexico is another fiasco. Other years this crossing has been just a formality. Today they reroute some of the vehicles to a dead end – requiring Bob #3 to detach his tow car before he can back out of the jam – board all vehicles and take some fruits and vegetables and, for us, a jar filled with popcorn seed – followed by a military check where the armed guards open drawers and cabinets and disarrange sofas and chairs. We get through the pesticide spray station without incident, but when I lead the group toward the Pemex station I find the boulevard has been reconstructed since our visit in January and we need to make a wide U-turn at the first available break between the separated double lanes. I expect more problems when we finally reach the campground and I am delighted that parking the vehicles goes smoothly. All in all it has been a good day. We celebrate at a margarita party and I can tell that this caravan has jelled into a close group of friends when the party continues well into darkness and the stories persist about the many funny incidents that occurred in Belize, including many that didn’t seem humorous at the time. I snap candid photos of the group, catching each person with broad natural smiles.

Day 59 – March 13 – Chetumal

(Bert) We spend a brief few hours at Oxtankah viewing the Mayan ruins, Spanish church and, of course, looking for birds. Oxtankah is one of very few Mayan cities that was still occupied when the Spanish arrived and this one has the unusual distinction of having the remnants of a Spanish church mostly intact except for the roof. We hear a pygmy-owl calling and it sounds to me like a Central American. When we round the curve in the path we see two pygmy-owls in the same tree, at different heights. I point out the arrangement of spots clearly visible on one owl and the banded tail on the other, marking this pair as Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls. I wonder if these were the ones calling, so we wait patiently for them to call again and I’m surprised when the short 6-8 hoot unsteady call comes from one of them. Other good birds of the morning include the Blue-crowned Motmot that gave some their best view so far and the Crane Hawk that soared low over our heads and did even better for those near the park entrance by perching in a close tree. I leave with others, while Mark, Joanie and Leonard stay a bit longer. When they turn on to the main road, they find a sleeping Northern Potoo and tell me about it when they return to camp. Later when Shari and I go out to visit Kathe – who turns out to be absent at her property by the sea – we stop at the potoo site. This has got to be one of the most conveniently perched potoos I’ve seen: on a bare limb, in good lighting, not more than 20 ft. from the road. I take a dozen photos and later find out that most everyone else visits the same bird and gets good photos also. Back at R-Tent-III I finish entering Belize bird sightings of mine and others and update my tabulation tables. Our final count for Belize in 2007 is 391 species, plus two additional subspecies. I identified 374 of the 393 and I’m pretty sure Mark saw an even higher percentage.

(Shari) I love this place on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It has a resort atmosphere and the day has been restful. The morning is so cool with the sea breeze off the water and the air smells so fresh. I am about to have a cup of coffee outside just watching the waves when Bob says Arleen needs me to show her something on the computer. That doesn’t take long but I decide I had better make my brownies for this evening’s potluck. After lunch Bert and I try to visit our friend Kathe and have a Spanish conversation with the man that takes care of her property. He says a lot but what I get is that she went to a town starting with the letter M and sounding like Manuel that is only 40 kilometers from here. She is with friends and will be back on Thursday afternoon. I think I ask him to tell Kathe that we were here and that in the morning we were going to leave for Villahermosa. Bert and I then return to camp and go swimming. Boy, does the water feel good and I actually get cold. It reminds me of our pool in Texas when the thermometer could reach 100º but if we stayed in the water long enough and let evaporation take effect we would actually get chilled. At 3:30 Joanie and I drive to the grocery store. This is a treat too since we have not had a decent store in 48 days. Fresh produce to die for, bakery to make your mouth water and all other Mexican goodies. I load up on my favorite salsa, mushrooms, lemon peanuts, tequila and Controy before I pick up ten roasted chickens for our potluck. We get back just in time to set out the food, have a travel meeting and eat. Yum!

Day 60 – March 14 – Villahermosa, Tabasco

(Shari) Departing at 5:45 for our longest day’s drive, we make good time arriving in Villahermosa by 3:30 PM. The last group arrives closer to 5 because they stopped more, I guess, and left 30 min. later. We have another travel meeting with margaritas and I notice that the group is getting silly. We kid about short memories and Mark tells a joke about a kid with a show and tell at school. Penny finally sees a pigmy owl even if the birders hardly get up to look for it. Already a trash bird for some, I guess. The mosquitoes come out at dusk and we go in.

(Bert) Our longest travel day in miles, fortunately the roads are good and the traffic light. Much of the road has been rebuilt and widened since the years when we first came to Mexico. For lunch, we stop at a Pemex station where I often find Painted Buntings, and again, Mark and I find two males and more than a dozen other species in 15 min. Birding is again good when we travel through the Usumacinta marshes of Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. A huge gathering of Wood Storks grabs my attention, but I need to watch the road too. Later I hear from Mark and Joanie that the flock included three Jabirus. During our late afternoon social, a Central American Pygmy-Owl hoots above us. This time we can find the owl and all of us get a good look at this tiny 5-3/4 in. owl and see its differences from the more often found Ferruginous.

Day 61 – March 15 – Veracruz

(Shari) I yell to Leonard that I want him behind us when we depart this morning so that I can keep an eye on him and that he doesn’t go off birding someplace. He says he doesn’t like the part about not going birding. I retort that he should write it on the evaluation form since I am not going to hand his in anyway. I am in good spirits considering it is only 6:30 in the morning. We leave the campground in three groups each 10 min. apart for another long day of driving. I have been timing the length of time it takes for us to drive each leg and find that by traveling in small groups, we shaved two hours off of last year’s time for yesterday’s travel and an hour off for today’s travel. We took mostly toll road today but want some of our money back since the road was horrible for about 40 mi. Poor Bert could hardly take his eye from the road or he would hit a pothole. Even when the potholes are patched, the road is extremely rough and I continually have to push our TV back into the cabinet to keep it from making crackling noises. When we can look at the scenery it is beautiful. Spring has sprung and I see yellow flowers on trees, orange flowers on other trees and a whole section of pink flowers on trees near Veracruz. Varying shades of green indicating new growth denotes that it is definitely springtime. We arrive early and have plenty of time to walk the beach, get e-mail or do chores before Bert’s talk on computerizing bird sightings and then our margarita party. At dusk we return to our rigs, open the windows and listen to the waves pound the shoreline. What a life!

(Bert) The most memorable part of today’s travels is $101 I paid in tolls to take a bad road. Tailgunner Bob says he held out his hand at the last toll booth and asked the attendant to pay him for suffering through the potholed highway. Many miles of new, smooth highway were toll road also, but it is the bad sections that stick in my memory. I remark to Shari that the open countryside along the Veracruz toll road would make a pretty place to own a large ranch. A cotton candy and lollipop landscape of rolling hills, broad rivers, whistling-duck marshes and springtime green grass are enlightened by hundreds of big rounded Cassia trees, completely covered with pink blossoms, still devoid of leaves, and smaller and fewer Buttercup trees with large yellow flowers. We reach our campsite in the sand dunes of the Caribbean, just south of Veracruz, in early afternoon, leaving enough time to beach walk. Glenn finds a Hawksbill Sea Turtle dead on the beach and retrieves two metal clips from its flippers. Apparently it was banded here in Veracruz and Glenn will take the bands to the nearby aquarium. Leonard finds a gull he thinks is a Great Black-backed because of its large bill. I think it is a first-year American Herring. I send my photo to a gull expert I know and within hours he responds by e-mail. I win.

Day 62 – March 16 – Las Barrancas, Veracruz

(Bert) A break from driving today, we enjoy our sea view, some visit Veracruz and others bird Las Barrancas. The road to Las Barrancas runs through pastures, passes a small lagoon and two small villages and ends up at the Caribbean. The variety of habitats produces a diversity of birds, from Grassland Yellow-Finches and Double-striped Thick-knees to Ruddy Ducks and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and ending with Herring Gulls and Willets. I’ve kept a list of species we’ve found prior years and we add 11 to the list, including Band-backed Wren and Black-headed Saltator. Yet again we see Cedar Waxwing, this time a single bird forlornly calling from various perches searching for the rest of the flock that apparently went north already. The best spot is an abandoned lot on the edge of a village where we stop first to see the Lesser Goldfinches. The longer we stay the more we find in this lot. We head to the sea, but return to the lot again, adding more species. After about two hours the list for the one lot reaches 48 species and when we leave at the end of the morning the day list has climbed to 99, an impressive number for a seemingly ordinary country road.

(Shari) This morning I do all sorts of errands, housework and even bake a cake for Glenn and Iris’s 39th wedding anniversary. At 1:00, I take a group to Costco to pick up the fixings for our hamburger cookout in two days. Costco in Veracruz is wonderful and a very upscale store. It has all my favorite things with some Mexican twist. I pick up Ranch dressing with cilantro and ponder over the Bailey’s Irish Cream chocolate. We sample various cheeses and I wish I could take some across the border along with smoked salmon. I do pick up some avocados to pit and freeze, a cooked chicken and $24 worth of sushi that only cost me $8. I also picked up the items I came for, namely hamburgers, buns and chips. Judy gets money at the bank and we return home in time for travel meeting and cake. The day has been very cool and I put on long pants for the first time in two months. Later, eight of us drive to town for dinner and enjoy a mixed seafood plate for $7.50.

Day 63 – March 17 – Costa Esmeralda, Veracruz

(Shari) “Su heffe es no amable,” (Your boss is not nice) I tell the gas station attendant. His boss will not let us park in his lot to visit the restaurant associated with the Pemex station. He says we have to park in back over the rough dirt road and under the low tree limbs and between the tree trunks. No way! I try to explain that we can’t back up. Why can’t we park over there on the big empty cement. Oh no! We say we just will not eat breakfast there. He does not care. Bert is in his stubborn mood. It is one of those ridiculous things that doesn’t make sense and he will not let it lie. I tell him to just leave. He says no. Instead, he asks the attendant to stop traffic so he can make a U-turn in the boulevard and come back around to squeeze between two trucks. The small rigs park in regular parking places and the other five big rigs get squeezed onto a gravel area after a truck is told to move. All this takes 45 min. of frustration. Darnell has a theory that the owner of the gas station has a wife. This wife ran off with the owner of the restaurant and now he is mad and won’t let restaurant patrons park in his lot. Well, we finally get settled and the birders go off to look in their binoculars and the rest of us order breakfast. The food is worth the wait and we really enjoy it. We arrive at our next stop before lunch. However, it is a new campground for us. I think I saw it on our way down but am not sure so we stage our little group of three others and go on ahead of them to forge the path. Bert pulls in a place called Hotel de Alba and it dead ends. A man comes out and tells Bert that we are in the wrong place and that we had passed up Trailer Park de Alba. My directions have it 0.2 mile from a known location but there is nothing there. He tells us it is right next door to where we camped last year. Well, of course, we know where that is. So Bert unhooks the car while I wait with the radio to catch our group as they come in. He has to back R-Tent-III into the busy street and turn around. The hotel man blocks traffic in one direction and I block in the other. It is like stopping traffic on all lanes of an interstate: not an easy thing to do. I use this big stick that has streamers on it and wave it frantically in front of me while standing in the middle of two lanes. The first truck coming towards me slows down, thank goodness, and Bert guns the engine to back up. He quickly turns around (he is so good at driving) and heads back down the road. Soon Glenn and Iris arrive and tell me the two small rigs made a U-turn and followed Bert into the lot, as did group two. I lead Glenn to the next Pemex and we turn around to go back. Soon we see Bert and Darnell standing on the side of the road waving a flag. We found our home for the night. We finish the day with Piña Coladas and a travel meeting. Bert goes swimming while I make dinner.

(Bert) The Veracruz bypass has improved since we drove this way in January. Double lane, newly repaved with a couple of new overpasses avoiding small villages makes travel easy. We stop at my favorite Pemex station, designated so because of the birding and the good breakfasts they serve at the adjacent restaurant. This time, however, the owner of the Pemex has a bee in his bonnet about where we park our long RV’s. A slight change in the color of the pavement marks what is Pemex parking and what is restaurant parking. The restaurant parking spot, although ample, is crisscrossed with four vacated semis, thus confiscating almost all of the available space. I park parallel to one of them, but the owner objects. Not being able to back my rig without detaching our tow, I get Shari and a station attendant to block the highway so I can make a U-turn. For the next half hour we shuffle RV’s around, get drivers to reposition their semis and eventually all crowd together in the restaurant lot, leaving a half football field sized vacant lot for the Pemex to the warped satisfaction of the Pemex owner who pocketed money for the hundreds of gallons of fuels we bought. At least the birding is good and breakfast delicious. My cumulative list for the Pemex is now 61 species after adding a high-soaring Hook-billed Kite, Crane Hawk, Lineated Woodpecker and five others.

The road narrows back to two-way traffic ensnarled with overloaded semis. The worst is a pair of oversized carnival trucks, obviously too wide by U.S. legal limits and nearly impossible to pass except by small cars. I am directly behind the second carnival truck and remain so for more than one hour until a Federal Police officer forces them off the road so the miles of backed up traffic can get by. My fellow caravaners joke that I was birding from my RV for hours as I watched the giant wire and cloth pelican bounce atop the carnival creation. In spite of traffic snarls, we arrive at our seaside RV park at Costa Esmeralda in early afternoon, allowing enough time for some of us to go birding at an inland lagoon. Birding is good, considering the time of day. Many Montezuma Oropendolas fly by constantly and then in the distance we see a tall tree strung with their long nests. Deep in the underbrush surrounding a stagnant creek, Mark hears a Limpkin cluck and with patience we get to see it feeding in the shadows. We return in time for Piña Coladas and then I take a short swim in the pool, the night air feeling chilly when I exit. It should be cool sleeping tonight.

Day 64 – March 18 – Tampico, Veracruz

(Shari) The road has not improved in the last two months. One can only hope. This section has always been the worst as far as road conditions and today’s drive does not surprise me. Bumps, potholes, horrible road surface, slow trucks all make for a tedious 8-hr. drive. Arriving north of Tampico I immediately start to prepare for our final hamburger cookout complete with freshly made cookies. The hamburgers taste wonderful after not having any for two months. (Costco in Veracruz sells really good patties). We have a wonderful time talking about the trip and characterizing the group. After clean up, Bert and I take a cold but refreshing swim in the pool before heading for bed.

(Bert) At our lunch break, 25 mi. south of Tampico, I walk about the Pemex station while Shari prepares lunch. I hear and then see a Montezuma Oropendola. This is the farthest north I’ve found the species and quite a bit farther north then Howell’s range maps. My least favorite section of road to travel, I’m glad when we reach our destination north of Tampico. I set up the tables and grill for Shari’s hamburger cookout for the group and at 5 we enjoy the food and company. It’s another good opportunity for candid photos of a jovial group. I’d prepared bird lists for the Mexico portion of our trip and an hour later it is already out of date. I saw a migrant Swainson’s Hawk pass overhead and Mark, Joanie and Leonard report they found a Greater Roadrunner while birding for a couple hours after we arrived. There are a couple of other species we could still add during tomorrow’s drive to the U.S. border.

Day 65 – March 19 – Pharr, Texas

(Shari) Reader, sit back with a cup of coffee or a beer. I have another story to tell about another border crossing. At first light we are all ready to depart. Twenty miles into the trip I happen to be getting Bert a coke from the refrigerator and hear a high-pitched noise emanating from the rear of R-Tent-III. At first I think it is outside but realize it is coming from the center back of the coach. The noise is not consistent and I hear it maybe 30 sec., then off for 25 sec., then on for 20, etc. At our first rest break, Bert checks all the fluids and guns the engine, but I can hear no noise. We continue on. At lunch Tailgunner Bob catches up and crawls under the rig. He thought maybe we had a hole in the intake hose but he cannot find anything. He says maybe it is a bearing. Meanwhile I prepare lunch while Bert gathers everyone’s passport. The plan is for me to take all the passports to get them stamped for exit while Bert circles the group around customs to get the holograms removed from the vehicles. We take the last 45 mi. as a group and arrive at the border at 2:30 PM. I hop out of R-Tent-III and hurry to immigration. The attendant there speaks English and makes short work of the 19 passports that I bring him.

(Bert) The Mexican border official aims the handheld barcode scanner at the top center of the windshield. He moves it around, he holds it for a minute, he reaches higher, he moves to better light, he repeats it all again. To no avail, he cannot get the scanner to read the code on the vehicle importation emblem. The last day of our trip could have been recorded as uneventful, but it is not to be. Last January I carefully studied the way we would bring our RV’s to the border, the U-turn we would make, and the temporary hut where they would remove our importation stickers and give us our receipts. Now, when I repeat that procedure the big RV’s are directed to another street and the small ones are told to park in the lot, only to be asked to move again later. The line behind the hut is filled with other vehicles returning from Mexico. When that line finishes, the official starts with Chuck and Penny. Just then the scanner fails and it is only through much arguing that the attendant is willing to give them a hand written note stating that he could not give them an official receipt.

(Shari) Meanwhile I hear Bert tell the group over the radio that he is to wait on the side street and a custom’s official will come out to remove the holograms. So far so good. I return all the passports to their owners and join Bert at the head of the line. We wait. And we wait. We walk over to the little customs hut and wait some more. Soon the small rigs are told to come around and park in front of the hut to have their holograms removed. Chuck and Penny are first in line. Would you believe, the portable hologram reader will not read the hologram? Chuck is told to come back tomorrow or drive to Reynosa to get his receipt. No way, Jose! We argue a bit and finally the attendant writes a receipt using some paper from a notebook that I carry in my purse and using my pen. He had none. Leonard is next and the reader won’t read his hologram either. Now the attendant is suspecting something is wrong with the reader. He tells Leonard to move under the tree. Maybe the sun is reflecting onto the windshield and interfering with the reader. Still, no dice. He tries the next one in line. No luck there either. He only speaks Spanish so I have to listen closely and translate the suggestion again to come back tomorrow or go to Reynosa. Meanwhile he goes to the main building and comes back with another man who starts to cut a wire and splice it to the main cable. I ask how long this will take and he does not answer. Que hora o que minutos? (An hour or minutes, I ask) He says maybe minutes, maybe hours. Great! Now do we wait, go to Reynosa, go to Indio or come back tomorrow? I quiz the man about the crossing in Reynosa. I had heard it is not for big rigs. “No problema,” he says. It was just redone in January.

(Bert) When Leonard’s turn comes, the official unsuccessfully tries the scanner again. He has no backup unit and, apparently, they are unable or unwilling to go back to the manual system they used last year. Despite our many alternative suggestions, he tells us to come back tomorrow or to drive to Matamoros or Reynosa. Matamoros would be a 3-4 hour roundtrip and we have been told that Reynosa cannot handle large RV’s. They try stringing a new cable from the office to the hut, but it doesn’t work. After an hour of standing around with no alternative solution developing, Shari gets some small assurances that Reynosa has been rebuilt since January and that we could pass through customs there with big rigs. I lead the caravan to the other border. The new facility is an open area the size of a parking lot of a major sports stadium in the U.S. However, the customs hut is blocked from southern approach by a series of tall concrete curbs. Shari jumps out of R-Tent-III to find a Mexican official and ask how we can get to the hut.

(Shari) So 20 min. later we are at the Reynosa border. I tell Bert to stop well in front of the bridge while I hop out and walk to the banjercito. I ask about the hologram removal and am told to talk to the man on the motorcycle about two blocks up. I walk up to him and he tells me to talk to a man about one block back. I walk back to him and he tells me to have the rigs travel 3 blocks up and make a U-turn to come back to the banjercito. I want him to show me exactly where to turn not just a wave and an “over there.” We walk the three blocks up and I think the rigs can make it if they stay in the third lane, traffic is blocked, we move the orange cones and swing wide. I radio Bert to come on up but to stay in the third lane. “Which is the third lane?” he asks. There is a lane with a curb on either side and that is lane number one, then two more lanes with pink things dividing them with another lane. “Stay in the lane with the pink things to your right,” I tell him. I can see him but he cannot see me. He tells me to wave. I wave but he does not see me. Leonard sees me and waves back. So now they know where to turn. The small rigs have no problem, but some of them do back up once to negotiate the turn.

(Bert) Twenty minutes later she calls on the radio for me and the others to come to the bridge toll booths, stay in the right lane and make a U-turn in front of the booths. When I reach that point, I stop and get out and examine the turn, much to the anger of the Mexican who is trying to direct me. I begin to remove a tall traffic cone that is in front of the booths, further angering the Mexican. He hollers at me to stop moving the cone, so I go back inside R-Tent-III. As if to teach me a lesson he lets me sit there, along with the other RV’s in line. Eventually, he directs me to proceed with the U-turn. I drive right up to the cone and stop, blocking three lines of traffic trying to cross the border. The Mexican now sees the problem and reluctantly moves the cones himself. I complete the “J” part of the “U” but now am stuck a few inches before a concrete curb. Ray removes a long metal pole lying on the pavement and I make more of my turn with the front bumper extended over the curb and the wheels reaching within an inch of the barrier. Slowly, very slowly, I proceed under Ray’s guidance and complete the U-turn with an inch on either side of R-Tent-III. Now it’s a straight shot to the customs hut on the other side of the huge empty parking lot.

(Shari) Upon arriving, Bert parks and gets out of the rig to look at the situation. This annoys an attendant who waves at him to get back in and just make the turn. Bert says he cannot make the turn without moving the orange cones. I had started to do that until the attendant frantically waved at me to stop. Now the attendant is mad at Bert and me and I am sure he makes Bert wait longer before he decides to stop traffic so that Bert can cut in front of the cars to make the turn. Bert cuts it wide but is about to hit the orange cones. See! The attendant finally sees the problem and waves to me to remove the cones. “Well I told you,” I think to myself. Meanwhile Ray is helping Bert and watching that he does not hit the curb on either side of the single lane. Bert inches around. Ray has to lift a big heavy metal pipe in order to give Bert another 6 in. of clearance. Bert inches along. Our bumper clears the curb with only an inch to spare but we make it. If we can make it, all the others can too if they are careful. Bert continues back the three blocks while Ray and I help the others make the turn. The holograms are removed. We are told to go up the hill and back down the hill. Make a left and then another U-turn around some barrels. That will put us exactly back to where we started.

(Bert) Stickers removed, receipts received, the next procedure is another U-turn, with a sharp right turn between concrete barriers, a severe uphill hump and a more severe downhill turn that threatens to scrape front or back bumpers when my long vehicle navigates the dihedral. I make the downhill turn only to reach a U-turn blocked by blue and white barrels. Shari talks to an attendant about moving the barrels but finds out they are filled with water and cannot be moved. While blocking one lane of traffic, I detach our tow car. Then Shari and the attendant block four lanes of traffic and I make part of the U-turn, stopping when my front bumper reaches the street vendor who selected this unfortunate spot to set up his cart. I back up and come forward again to complete the U-turn. After parking R-Tent-III Shari and I help the other RV’s repeat the same maneuvers.

(Shari) We go up the hill. Gees, it is steep! We go down the hill. Bert thinks we are scraping our hitch but we continue. We take the left turn at an angle so it is not as steep. When we come to the U-turn, I don’t think we can make it and want to unhook the car just in case Bert has to back up. Luckily we did, since Bert has to back to make the turn. We radio the others to unhook too. Bob and Juanita make the turn. Glenn and Iris make the turn. The little rigs are long gone. Nancy is next and she misses the turn up the hill and Bert and Ray help her back up. Ray goes up the hill and back down but then misses the U-turn. We holler on the radio for him to stop. Bert helps him back up and turn around. Ray and Nancy must be pretty flustered by now. Bob and Arleen make the turn. We are headed home.

(Bert) Unfortunately, we are not standing at the right place when Ray’s turn comes for the second U-turn and he overshoots the spot. I come to his assistance and to the chorus of a half-dozen honking horns, we manage to get him backed up and complete the U-turn. As a group, we now proceed to the bridge toll booths, pay tolls and get in line at the U.S. side. Somehow we get the word that we need to be in the far left lane or else we will not be able to turn after we reach the customs gates. I reach the gates and am told I need to drive to the X-ray machine, an impossible circuit of U-turns. It’s easier to explain the problem now in English and the U.S. customs official quickly removes a series of barriers so that I can drive straight into the back end of the X-ray machine. An hour or so later, all of the RV’s have been X-rayed, the canine patrol has sniffed outside and inside the rigs for drugs (including walking across our bed and furniture), the tax has been paid on alcohol, the agricultural officials have removed unacceptable fruits and vegetables and the customs officials have examined the rigs and asked us a series of questions. Four hours after reaching the border, at 6:19 PM we are free to leave and by 7 PM we are at our campground in Pharr. Half our group gathers again at Olive Garden, now with one more story to add to our collection of traveling adventures.

(Shari) U.S. customs is a breeze and soon we are ready to reattach the tow vehicles and get to the campground. It is now 6:20. At the campground, we immediately park, shower and head for our last dinner at the Olive Garden. We are ready to let down our hair, laugh, eat lettuce and more lettuce and laugh some more. You know readers, next year the procedure will be different again since I saw all sorts of construction with new buildings going up at the Pharr border. We can only hope it will be easier. As far as the noise in the back of R-Tent-III, it is still there. No better, no worse. That is tomorrow’s problem. If we start writing again in May when we take our Manitoba and Churchill RV trip you will know we got it solved.

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