Chapter 14.  Gulf Coast of Mexico

Day 56 – March 10 – Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico

(Bert) I look longingly at the countryside as we leave Belize, thinking of all the birding sites I have visited and the birds I have seen in the country, as well as the many people I’ve gotten to know and the exciting jungles I’ve explored. I’m not ready to leave.

A quick and uneventful border crossing gets us to Chetumal early enough to enjoy the beautiful campsite beside the Caribbean. I enter the most recent bird sightings and tabulate trip totals. The bird count as of our exit from Belize now stands at 536 species, including 327 in Belize alone. This compares closely to 537 and 321, respectively, for our 2005 trip following a similar route.

(Shari) I think everyone in the group is happy to leave Belize except Bert. He does love that country and its birds. The rest of us are pleased to be back in Mexico and be able to shop in a big grocery store. We get in before lunch and have the rest of the day to run errands, shop, laze around the pool and enjoy the sea breeze. Those that left early have prepared snacks for us and at 5 we sit outside facing the Caribbean and munch away.

Day 57 – March 11 – Villahermosa, Tabasco

(Shari) Every year people grumble about today’s drive. Some worry about it for weeks ahead of time. I sympathize, but no one has found a big safe place to park along the 370 mi. between Villahermosa and Chetumal. So our first pod leaves at 5:45 this morning. The road is better than other years, yet still has big sections under construction. Ten hours later we pull into the campground, tired but safe. Much to our surprise the parking area is filled with junk cars. Where oh where are we going to park? I get the manager and he explains how we are to park along the fence, connect with the poor electricity and water. This type of thing makes me appreciate a small caravan. I cannot imagine squeezing 18-24 rigs in here. At 5:30 we meet in the pool area for snacks and travel meeting before the mosquitoes drive us indoors.

(Bert) Our longest drive, we cross the Yucatan Peninsula, traveling through four states in an odd order: Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas and Tabasco again. The first half of our drive is through countryside sparsely populated. Big patches of dry forest support thirty to fifty foot trees, but much larger areas are stripped of all but a few scattered remnants and are sparsely clothed in scrubs and tall grasses. Why have the forests been reduced to wastelands? I see very little evidence of cultivated fields and the apparent usage is grazing, yet the near absence of cattle, sheep or goats and the height of the grass suggests otherwise. We pass over a hundred miles of patchily deforested land that exposes the mere inches of topsoil and the dry chalky underlying limestone base.

Into our day’s travel 121 mi., we pass three bicyclists, one pulling a trailer with a smaller child, loaded with backpacks and pumping hard in the opposite direction. Although it is a quick view, it seems likely it was the couple and two sons we met at the Texas-Mexico border crossing in Pharr. Remember the January 13 journal where we chat with the family that flew to Anchorage, Alaska, to begin their ride with the final destination the tip of South America? It has been two months and about the time for a leisurely bicycle ride across Mexico. In a day or two they should be crossing into Belize.

When we reach southwestern Campeche, landscape of the Usumacinta River drainage is greener, yet the ditches, creeks and marshes are mostly dry, especially compared to when we crossed here on February 17. I see a few of the egrets, storks and jacanas, although the big numbers of three weeks ago are absent. We reach our campground about 4 PM and find it covered with bumper-to-bumper junked cars. The camping spots are now nearer to the swimming pool and much smaller, so it takes me an hour to get everyone arranged. Fortunately, I manage to find spots so no one needs to detach tow cars or unhook trailers except me, making for an effortless departure tomorrow.

After social hour Maxine asks me when we can look for Central American Pygmy-Owl. It’s 6 PM and already dark, so I say now would be a good time. I gather up my iPod, binoculars, camera, flash attachment and high-beam light. Gordon and later Charlu join us. Maxine heard an owl nearby and we try that spot first but do not see or hear it so I suggest we walk to the spot I’ve found it other years. We hear six distinct hoots at a pace slower than the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls I have been hearing lately, including the one this morning when we left Chetumal and the one I heard here two hours ago. I play hoot tag with the owl, a six-note sequence from the iPod, a long delay followed by a six-note call from the owl. We zero in on the tree where the owl must be perched and use flashlights to search the branches. I’m almost ready to give up as the owl has gone silent and we haven’t found it in a tree where the leaves are as big as the 5.8-in. owl. Then Maxine quietly says, “I’ve got it”. Illuminated by her low power flashlight, we study it carefully through binoculars and then Maxine holds my high beam light while I photograph. I need the high beam for the camera to autofocus on the bird and then my flash adds the required light to get a photo when the ambient light is nearly pitch black. A perfect shot! I take several more and then we notice the owl has a lizard in its claws and occasionally lifts it to its bill to take a bite. The photos are sharp enough for a reptile expert to identify the prey. The Central American Pygmy-Owl is the fourth pygmy-owl species we’ve seen on this trip and the tenth owl species in all.

Day 58 – March 12 – Catemaco, Veracruz

(Bert) We have four road logs coming in or exiting Acayucan and have driven the routes several times, but we do not have one that avoids the tedious libre road between Coatzacoalcos and Acayucan. We know the toll road connects but no Wagonmaster has logged the route. Being the adventurous type and having a very cooperative group, Shari decides to figure it out. She has the GPS breadcrumbs from last year’s route north from Tehuantepec and if we can take the east-west toll road until we see the breadcrumbs connect we will have found the route. It works! And we cut 1.5 hr. from today’s travel time.

Tabasco marshlands are dry and long legged waders are few. Veracruz isn’t any better. My only noteworthy birds today are a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Buff-bellied Hummingbird at the side of the highway where we park for lunch break. Afternoon travel is on a two-way highway much better paved than the first years we drove it. Yet the many hills and curves hinder us from passing the cane laden trucks crawling at 10 mph and the double trailer semis that travel at 60 mph downhill and 15 mph uphill. Parking is a hassle at the Catemaco camping spot on a hotel complex parking lot, but the margaritas and fantastic snacks filling enough for a complete dinner take the edge off any frayed nerves. I give a presentation on the behavior of mixed flocks that forage together and it blossoms into a discussion of related bird behaviors.

(Shari) “Shari, we are in trouble”, Bert tells me over the radio. I am standing in the oncoming lane of traffic trying to stop cars from advancing in order to allow the first pod to make a wide turn. Now they are parked on the hill not moving. The second pod is on the way with nowhere to go until we get this problem solved. Bert speaks very little Spanish but does understand that the hotel wants us to park on the block surrounding the hotel. That means no electricity or water. The hotel management knows we are to arrive today since I was in E-mail contact just two weeks ago. Bert and I exchange places. I go to talk to the hotel staff and he stands at the street awaiting Pod 2. At this point Jane and Ken are trying to raise Pod 2 on the CB to tell them to wait before approaching. In my discussion with Olga, I tell her the past 8 yr. we parked in the large lot and that is where I want to park. She wants to make sure she understands so uses Babelfish on the computer and has me type in English what I want to say. The web site then converts to Spanish for her and visa versa. She finally makes a phone call to her boss. I explain to her boss about the electricity problem and that only in the lot does the electricity have the three prongs needed for our plugs. Okay, we are allowed to park in the lot. My next task is to move the truck that is parked in the way. “Puede movar camion ahorra, por favor?” I ask. “Si, Si” is his reply. Bert and I again exchange places and he can begin the task of parking the group. By now Jane is on the street also helping me. Everybody is parked within an hour. A few in the group just don’t understand the mindset of the Mexicans. I know it is no comfort to them to hear how much things have improved over the years. I find these problems a challenge. Some find them frustrating. As Bert parks the group I go to the restaurant to make arrangements for dinner. Again, no one speaks any English at all. At least they understand my Spanish and arrange a group dinner for tomorrow at 6 PM. I tell the management I will be back with the count of how many want fish, chicken or beef. Meanwhile Dee is busy preparing salads and cake for us to have when we celebrate Milo’s birthday. How nice! It is a surprise to me too and now I do not have to cook supper tonight. Oh darn and I was so looking forward to doing that. NOT!

Day 59 – March 13 – Ruiz Cortinez, Veracruz

(Bert) Ruiz Cortinez is a new birding site for me, although I’ve birded many other sites in the Catemaco area. I remember Will Schaldach – the one to whom Howell & Webb’s book is dedicated – telling me about what Catemaco looked like when he first moved to the area nearly a half century ago and how the forests had been cut down since then. It was still good birding when I came here in 2001 and subsequently, but some of the birds such as Tuxtla Quail-Dove we could not find, even with Will’s help. Now, thanks to Robert Straub’s Site Guide to the Birds of Veracruz I’ve learned of Ruiz Cortinez. The village is on the edge of a cloud forest which I once tried to approach from the Miguel Hildalgo side but had to turn back because the road was too steep for the SUV’s we were driving. Now a new road reaches Ruiz Cortinez and a two-track connects the villages. We meet Braulio who will be our birding guide and when he finds out I’m not fluent in Spanish he picks up Jarely who will be our interpreter. We complement the 14-year-old young lady on her excellent English and then learn she was born in Chicago, lived and went to school there until a year ago. Since I also lived in Chicago, we compare notes on similar places we have been. To accompany us, she is taking off a day from school and has her own binoculars for birding.

We park our cars just before a wooden gate into the forest and I find my first bird immediately, a Blue-crowned Motmot, and hear two other motmots calling. While others are trying to locate the motmot I find an Emerald Toucanet feeding in the tree above us. This is only the second time I’ve seen the brilliantly green toucan in Mexico, the other being far south of here in the Pacific coastal mountains and all others being even farther south in Central American countries. We see and hear several Emerald Toucanets in this morning’s walk. In the same trees we find White-throated and Clay-colored Thrushes. Great Tinamou, Keel-billed Toucan, Barred Forest-Falcon and White-breasted Wood-Wrens are calling. Most intriguing, though, are the calling Tuxtla Quail-Doves. Braulio tries to coax one in toward us with a whistled imitation that is so real we aren’t sure when he is calling and when the dove is. He says the dove calls from a perch about eye level, but even if it is only 20 ft. into the forest we would not see it, so dense is the understory. For the first hour between other bird sightings he imitates and we listen to several doves, but never see one.

I think everyone, except me, gets a life bird when we see a Long-tailed Sabrewing feeding on nectarous flowers. Jill and a few others find a Violet Sabrewing and we see many White-bellied Emeralds. For the non-birders among our journal readers, all three of these strangely named animals are hummingbirds.

I heard a few notes from a solitaire earlier and now I hear a complete song, recognizing Slate-colored Solitaire. It is near us and we start scanning the trees for the source which I soon see on a branch overhanging the road about 40 ft. up. Although not shy when found, these solitaires are often difficult to find because they stay so still. This one is in good view. We have been seeing Common Bush-Tanagers all morning. In fact, I’ve never seen so many bush-tanagers in a day: they seem to be everywhere in the subcanopy. Some birders are beginning to ignore them and pass up some brighter birds as more of the same. I call them back when I recognize they are a small flock of Bananaquits.

Earlier I heard what I thought was a Green Shrike-Vireo and calling it to Braulio’s attention, he dismisses it as a White-breasted Wood-Wren. Now I hear the four to five note sequences again closer to me and more distinct. I’m sure it is the shrike-vireo and dial up its song on my iPod. The bird comes closer and into good view, responding to the recording. Although six of us found the shrike-vireo in Belize, now the rest of the group gets to enjoy this high canopy bird as well. Another brightly colored green and yellow bird is the Blue-crowned Chlorophonia and we get a good look at a few of these as well, again a lifer for most everyone and a species I’ve only seen previously in Honduras. Howell’s map shows it is an isolated population here in the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas.

The group also gets to see a Collared Trogon and those of us that stay later get to see a second one that is even closer. Through a small opening in the forest, most of us are watching a Black Hawk-Eagle circle. Betty and Gordon are searching for the raptor when, instead, they see a flock of American White Pelicans fly over. We are at 3000 ft. elevation in dense primary forest. What are pelicans doing here?

It is noon by the time we get back to the cars and most of us head to the restaurant owned by Braulio’s father, with his mother and wife the cooks. Jarely acts as waitress and takes our orders after explaining the choices. We take her recommendation and are pleased with the meal. Meeting Braulio and his family and Jarely (not related) has been a real pleasure for us and a view into the life of a remote Mexican village.

(Shari) After paying the bill for camping and the motel room, I meet Marlene and Larry at the restaurant overlooking beautiful Lake Catemaco. We have breakfast and as we eat we notice the scene changes. At first the lake is gray and calm, then ripples slowly appear across the water. We see a tour boat now and again and some fishing boats, yet no pleasure boats. Looking at this scene relaxes my soul and pleases my eye. After eating, we head into town to do errands. Larry and Marlene drop off their laundry, Marlene gets a haircut, and I buy limes for margaritas in Veracruz and a cake for tonight’s dinner dessert. Surprisingly, we can find no place to buy tequila - looks like we will need to drive to the next town for that tomorrow. We also check out a new RV park we heard about. It is not on the lake but looks nice. However, we have to close our windows or too many little itty bugs would get into the car. I wonder if that is like that all the time. Bert catches me taking a nap when he comes back from birding. We have a social before we all go down to the restaurant for a group meal. I arranged this all in Spanish, have not eaten here under this new management so am a little worried if the food will be good and that it will be timely. I need not have worried. A big table is already set when we arrive and a waitress wheels a cart full of beverages for us to choose. Soon after everyone has gotten their drink the food arrives. It is hot and good. Some things work and I am thankful.

Day 60 – March 14 – UNAM and Lake Catemaco, Veracruz

(Bert) Ken, who certainly could be counted among the most improved birders in the group, points out a Boat-billed Flycatcher atop a tall and distant tree. Two months ago he probably would have thought Boat-billed had something to do with watercraft; now he is separating the flycatcher species by bill size. The grumpy howlers of UNAM are growling at dawn’s awakening. I don’t know if they are louder than the Yucatan Black, although seemingly so, but I point out that these are Mantled Howlers and when we see them climbing through distant trees you can almost make out the brown back packs on black shoulders.

Two raptors are circling very high above the UNAM forest, quite white under wings with noticeable black tips on the primaries, broad and paddle-shaped wings and a multi-banded tail. I’ve only seen the species once before, so I open Howell and Webb to Plate 8, number 6, and it seems similar. Later when I check Plate 12 I’m sure I saw the white form, a perfect match for Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. The road to Laguna Escondida is a great place to watch soaring raptors. Before morning becomes noon, we tally White-tailed Kite, White Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Crested Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Bat Falcon, mixed with dozens of Black and Turkey Vultures and Magnificent Frigatebirds.

Montezuma Oropendolas are nest building, carrying grass stems and weaving them into oriole-style nests that drape 4-5 ft. down from a stout gumbo limbo limb. A dozen nests hang side-by-side to form a colony. Above the nests a few of the colorful birds are performing somersaults: starting with a loud gargling call emitted while perched erectly, they continue the call as they bend forward in a somersault that ends with the birds hanging by their claws. To those standing next to me, I tell the intertwined story of how oropendola colonies are parasitized by Giant Cowbirds, attacked by other animals, protected by wasps, infected by mites and have evolved to a delicate balance in nature that is a compromise easily disrupted if man interferes with any of the many players. That gets us birders looking for black birds and within minutes we find one lurking among the oropendolas. “Look at color of the eyes”, I say. They are deep red, confirming Giant Cowbird.

The four of us who stay longer – Tom, Charlu, Gordon and I – eat our lunch sitting on a steep hillside overlooking Laguna Escondida. Dozens of Magnificent Frigatebirds soar effortlessly in the uplift, descend to the caldera-filled lagoon and skim across the surface, dipping slightly to scoop fresh water. Laden with the heat and humidity of the day we bird very slowly under a shaded canopy surrounded by vacant land. Although I would have expected a lull in birdlife, we see dozens of White-collared Seedeaters, Blue-black and Yellow-faced Grassquits, a half dozen warbler species and a Yellow-throated Vireo actively feeding. We decide to head back to Catemaco and I am glad Tom can stay awake to drive because I think the rest of us all dozed during the 45-min. ride.

I get back to R-Pup-Tent to find Shari taking a nap, so I go back out to bird around the resort. At the waterfront I find Jane alternate between reading a book and watching a 10-ft. American Crocodile in the water with its toothed snout aimed at a showy Snowy Egret standing on the rocks. Paul is taking photos of a Blue-gray Tanager and Ken is firmly fixed in a lawn chair, making a list of how many birds he can identify without getting up from his seat. Milo and Dee are so absorbed in the books they are reading that they do not see the Snail Kite that perches a few feet from them. Thinking I had reached 97 species for the day when an Amazon Kingfisher flies low over the water, I am torn between reaching a three-digit goal, wanting to go for a swim in the pool and refilling the water tank in R-Pup-Tent, so I do the work first, swim second and think I missed my bird goal. As it turns out, I ended with 103 species for the day.

Day 61 – March 15 – Veracruz, Veracruz

(Bert) Every time we pass through the Alvarado area I wish we could stop for a day or two. A view to the blue sea, separated by white sand dune hills, extensive watery marshes laden with egrets, ibises and jacanas, a high bridge over the connection between an inland lake and the Gulf of Mexico and overlooking a picturesque city of colorful houses, tall cathedrals and a waterfront street adorned by antique spherical streetlamps, it all invites closer inspection. Instead, we keep on truckin’ to our own place on the beach, just south of the lights of Veracruz City. After parking, I wash R-Pup-Tent because Shari wants to use one of the white wall panels as a projection screen for tonight’s slide show. I am interrupted mid task to help Pod 3 come in and looking at the back of the RV see it is now half white and half dark gray with road soot. After I’ve finished washing the car also, I find out that the slide show has been shifted to the palapa and will use a taunt sheet instead. Bob shows us pictures of the trip he and Jill took last winter through Central America and Shari and I recognize many of the scenes since we RV’d there at the same time. Shari follows with her show of photos she has taken up until now on this trip. It seems so long ago since we were in San Roberto, San Miguel, San Cristóbal and San Ignacio, yet the photos tug at heart strings.

Day 62 – March 16 – Veracruz, Veracruz

(Bert) Instead of traveling a long distance to the original birding spot I had planned, we are staying near the campground at the beach. Birding is across the street in scrub land covering tall sand dunes, a mixture of prickly pear cactus, palms and viciously thorn-infested brush. Birds are sparser than the last time I visited this spot, but we slowly pick up a list of about two dozen species. I find my target species, Rufous-naped Wren. This wren is prolific on the Pacific Coast, but can only be found on the Atlantic Slope in this small section of central Veracruz. Isolated by hundreds of miles, the subspecies is rufinucha according to Howell. I see it hidden on the back side of a cactus and a few others see it when it flies into the brush. It pops out in response to my iPod and then takes a high perch in open view so all can see. We find several others, all inquisitive and loud.

After two hours, we quit the thorn forest except for Tom and Charlu who stay longer and find several flocks of birds to add to the morning list. I change hiking shoes for worn SAS shoes and walk the beach. Plovers are diverse, including Black-bellied, Wilson’s, Snowy and Semipalmated. Herring Gull is new to the list. Best along the beach is a Peregrine Falcon perched in the tall branches of an Australian Pine. When I approach too closely for photos, it shifts to another pine and this one is in better lighting for more photos. From the photos I see it is the tundra variety.

At noon we have a favorite meal among caravaners but unknown to most others: omelets in a bag. The filling meal deserves a nap, followed by a swim in the ocean where the water is so warm I can walk right in. The swelling surf is deliciously refreshing. Our day of leisure continues with wine tasting at 4 PM. Janice and John have prepared an excellent program with four selections of wine they purchased in Mexico, two each of white and red, followed by two mystery selections from Larry and Marlene. With hidden labels we do not know what we are sipping and are to choose between A and B for Sauvignon Blanc and between C and D for Malbec. I prefer A over B and C over D. Upon the revealing I find out I chose Concha y Toro Reservado 2008 from Chile and Septima Mendoza 2007 from Argentina. The wine tasting is followed by pollo asada – 11 whole chickens -Shari bought in Veracruz and assorted side dishes contributed by others. This has been the most relaxing day of the trip.

(Shari) I bet Paul did not anticipate just how much work he had when he volunteered to chop ingredients for our baggie omelets today. He has chopped his heart out; green peppers, onions, red peppers, orange peppers and pineapple are all neatly put in their respective bowls along with mushrooms that I chopped and chorizo, bacon and ham that Marlene chopped. At 10:30 I set the water pots to bowl, write names on bags and start cracking eggs into baggies. At 11:30 I explain how the process works and by 12:10 we are all seated and eating a delicious brunch. The day is not over and now that I have the omelets ingredients out of my frig I can fill it with the barbeque fixings we will have in a few days. Dee accompanies me to Costco and Sorianna to purchase hamburgers, buns, chips, etc. for the cookout as well as 11 chickens for dinner tonight. When we return the bird count is over and Bert has just about finished the travel meeting. He asks the group how he did and of course what are they to say? We will see how many get lost tomorrow. Janice and John have purchased four bottles of wine and Marlene and Larry have two surprise bottles for a wine tasting party. Janice has tables all arranged with papers and circles drawn on them. The bottles are covered in paper and Heather pours a little into each glass. We taste and compare writing our comments on color, clarity, bouquet and impressions on a supplied form. We then rate the wines: 1 and 2 for the Sauvingnon Blanc, and 1 and 2 for the Malbec and 1 and 2 for the surprise. It is a fun experience and just the right activity to proceed our pollo asada potluck. Each rig gets a chicken and we dive into the side dishes supplied.

Day 63 – March 17 – Costa Esmeralda, Veracruz

(Bert) The number one gas station in Mexico for finding birds is Pemex #5429 in Cardel. Today again does not disappoint and we end our brief 30-min. visit – followed by Mexican breakfast at the adjacent restaurant - with 32 species highlighted by an entertaining hawk show. It starts with a juvenile black-hawk that I cannot immediately identify. I note the throat marking and the wings that are longer than the tail, remembering these are key marks and later when I check the field guide I know it is a Common Black-Hawk. The hawk moves five times to more distant perches as I attempt to get closer photos. Finally in the last tree our attention is diverted from the black-hawk to a Crested Caracara carrying a large animal. It returns empty clawed and is relentlessly pursued by two Aplomado Falcons while the black-hawk looks on from its perch. I have a dozen photos attesting to the aerodynamic gymnastics of the falcons and the more labored attempt by the caracara to escape its attackers. My checklist of birds we have found at the Pemex through the years now comes to 71 species.

Day 64 – March 18 – Tampico, Tamaulipas

(Shari) I have figured out this group: if I paint a bleak picture, they are pleasantly surprised and don’t grumble about conditions. I told them that today’s drive historically has been the worst of the trip and that the camp tonight is just a hotel parking lot. The road is better this year than any and we make good time, peeling off 60 min. from past years. As soon as we arrive I start adding to the coleslaw, heating beans and warming the burgers in their juice. Larry and Marlene cooked them while waiting for the shoppers to finish in Veracruz. By 5 we have our final travel meeting, say a few words about the caravan and eat our final meal. Bert takes pictures and they are great. Every picture shows a happy relaxed person, so different from the pictures on the first day.

(Bert) Once the worst leg of our itinerary, the Poza Rica to Tampico route no longer claims that ignoble distinction. Roads have been patched, rebuilt and widened. Bypasses have been added. I still dislike the Tampico bypass with numerous topes, very slow trucks, no place to pass and an awful bumpy unmarked U-turn to gain access.

While moving at snail’s pace across topes, with a semitrailer in front of me, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers in front of our windshield and inspects the pink-backed vehicle importation sticker attached to the glass. Finding no nectar, it zips to the truck and checks out a pink-colored license plate mounted near the top of the trailer back. Overall, it’s a good day for birding while driving and at rest stops and I end the day with 59 sightings, including the addition to our trip list of a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

At our campsite for the night – a graveled truck stop behind a hotel, but adorned with expansive grass, ornamental plantings and architecturally attractive stone and metal shelters – I help Shari prepare for a special meal and presentation to the group. During a break I check out the gardens and against the stone perimeter fence I find a 6-ft. Tropical Ratsnake, a beautifully patterned yellow and black harmless snake. It’s the only the second snake I recall seeing on this trip.

Before we all dig into the hamburgers and side dishes Shari, Marlene and Larry have prepared, Shari tells us the eleven reasons this trip was special. In turn, she highlights each couple and Valerie, reciting the specialness of each person and the ways they added to the enjoyment of all. Then Jim does something similar, but constructed as a limerick commemorating special personalities, traits and happenings. Smiles abound.

Day 65 – March 19 – USA

(Bert) Eurasian Collared-Doves have been steadily increasing in numbers between Tampico and Sota La Marina since I first found one in January 2004. Today I see over 100 doves in the 100-mi. stretch, especially on high wires near rural villages and habitations. North of Sota La Marina, until Pemex 5965 at mile 164, I cannot find a single collared-dove, perhaps because there are no towns and no utility wires. I’ve also been searching for Greater Roadrunner and am not surprised when Janice announces on the CB that she and John saw one. As is typical, they are the only observers of this fast-moving bird. I do see a flock of Northern Bobwhites, though, and they are the last addition to the trip list. This time Milo, in the next vehicle, gets to see the quail also. And farther along the highway Shari finds one too. A curious sighting is a Collared Peccary rooting through weeds at the edge of the highway.

The best highways of the trip, we sail at 50-55 mph and cover the 294 mi. to the border by an hour after our lunch break. Lining up to have vehicle importation stickers removed goes about as fast as can be expected, perhaps an hour or so, but then we find ourselves in the midst of five lanes of bumper-to-bumper automobiles all waiting to enter the U.S. The five lanes split up into 13 and I find myself in lane 5 from the left. I’ve lost track of the time spent, but we must been in lines for 1-2 hours before we reach the customs officers. The steel posts are so closely set together that Shari has to pull in one of our side mirrors and then guide my through the separation with only an inch or two to spare. Seeing the line of RV’s, a customs officer comes toward the rest of the group and redirects most of them to the far left lane. I ask the officer how we were to know the proper lane without appropriate signs and he has no answer. I pass through the first gate and now have to wait while a border official removes one of their vehicles because I and the four RV’s behind me cannot make the turn. Then I make a wide U-turn to come through the X-ray machine in reverse direction. We exit R-Pup-Tent during the X-ray and after that we are free to go.

Most of us meet up again this evening at Olive Garden for our first U.S. meal in 65 days and we delight in the fresh salads and tasty entrees. It’s a celebration evening of laughter and story telling, a mixture of wishing it were not over yet and anxiousness to move on to other adventures.

(Shari) Our last day! We arrive at the border about 2:30 and as I carry all the passports to get exit stamps, Bert has the group follow him to have their vehicle stickers removed. I finish my task and am surprised that only two of our twelve have gone through the line for sticker removal. It looks like the process is going to be tedious. Bert shows each rig which lane to exit since it is important that a big rig does not follow the little rig in front or it will get stuck in a tight turn. I remind and impress the importance of following Bert’s directions as I reassure and remind each rig to have patience and yes indeed this is the procedure. Bert and I, Charlu and Tom, are the only ones who realize just how much easier it is this year from past ones. After waiting awhile for Dee to get proof that she and Milo have their hologram and lost the paper backing to it, we are on our way to the U.S. The line is long and we wait about an hour before we enter customs. We are X-rayed, but not even searched this year. Amazing!

As we drive to our camp tonight I call the Olive Garden giving them a heads up that I am bringing 20 people for dinner tonight. That must be a record number for our final meal out. I told you this was a social group. I love the Olive Garden at the end of the trip. We can eat our fill of crisp lettuce salad and drink water from the glass without fear of getting sick. I eat so much salad that I take most of my meal home in a doggie bag. So another caravan ends. Thank yous are said and goodbyes made with promises to “keep in touch”. Bert and I have just made some more good friends.

Epilogue  Table of Contents