Chapter 11. North to the Border
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Shari) Luckily most of the travel between Las Glorias and Guaymas is double-lane traffic on the toll road, but it's still a long day of driving: over 8 hours. We pass scenery we'd seen two months ago that looks different today, greener and less dusty. Many of the crops that were just peaking out of the ground on our way down are ready for harvest and hundreds of people are picking the fields. We are boarded at the fruit inspection crossing Sonora, and all but one of our lemons is confiscated. I wonder why one lemon was left behind? Also the woman inspector was not interested in my bananas. A few hours later we are waved through another inspection. Here military men are looking in, under and on top of trucks. I assume they are looking for drugs. Walking on top corn stalks jammed in a truck, they poke long sticks down feeling for a false bottom. Another young soldier looks inside each crate sitting side by side on a semi. Finally we arrive at our destination: a beautiful RV park behind a wonderful historic hotel on the oceanfront. Gwen, Woody, Ralph, Virginia, Ann and Jim join us for a complete Mexican seafood dinner at the restaurant here.
(Bert) We continue our return northward, retracing our path along Mexico 15. The scenery is familiar, but the dusty brown of January is now colored yellow-green with the glow of new buds on the desert brush. We pass a military inspection point, backed up with a long line of trucks. While we are waved on slowly, the truck drivers wait patiently for the green uniformed soldiers to search for drugs. One soldier stands atop a big load of corn-on-the-cob, probing through the cargo with a long rod. From underground pits, others check the undercarriage. Lee and Pat's van, affectionately known as the Black Stallion, is also searched from below. Soldiers with Uzi's stand by; others play basketball during their break. Our drive from Las Glorias finishes at 289 miles when we reach Guaymas and the RV park poised on a beautiful blue bay surrounded by scalloped rock peaks. Ralph and I head to the Internet Cafe in San Carlos, the neighboring town where we were in early January. This Internet site is the best I've found in Mexico. I download 134 messages, an indication of how long it's been since I've sent and received email.
(Bert) After two months, this group is still early to rise for another morning of birding. Gene and Sandy charter a small boat to take them to a spot where they can get a close-up view of the blue feet on Blue-footed Boobies. I lead a group to some coastal brushlands in San Carlos where we add still more species to the list. With the advent of spring, bird life has changed dramatically since we were here in early January. New additions include many sparrow species: Rufous-crowned, Black-chinned and Five-striped Sparrows. By the end of the day, the trip total finishes at 386 species, plus two additional forms (Audubon's Warbler and Mangrove Warbler). In addition we recorded 20 mammal species, only one snake - Mexican Kingsnake, seen twice - plus Common Iguana and American Crocodile. Our farewell party is a tearful affair, combined with great food, lots of laughter, a birthday party for four and an emotional poem authored by Pat and read by Lee and her. I find it incredible that two months have passed. On the one hand it seems like only a few weeks ago that we started this adventure, and on the other hand, it seems like I've known this great group of friends for a lifetime.
(Shari) Taking the car, Pat and I drive to the local Ley's store. Guaymas is almost an American town. We pass a Pizza Hut and a McDonalds on our way to the Ley's Plaza. Signs are in English. I am told this is considered Arizona's beach and many of those residents can drive here in one day. Fancy homes line the streets near the shore. I suppose US citizens own most of them. This is definitely not the Mexico we have been seeing these past 60 days: too clean, too sparkling, 1000% too fancy and rich. Pat and I meander the aisles of the store just looking at things. We both find cute little dresses for our granddaughters. I find some buttons and she buys a cheese grater. We buy lots of produce on the acceptable list to take back with us because it is so fresh and cheap. Later at home, I cook some chicken that I had in the freezer. Chicken from Mexico is a no no when crossing the border, as is pork in any form. So my chorizo goes into a pizza dip for the party tonight. We are having a last fling bash plus birthday party for Carmen, Dusty, Gene and Jerry. Gathering at 5 PM we set out our food. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the tummies. Jerry acts as MC and introduces Sandy who does a RV'in song set to Country Western music. Pat and Lee then read the poem they wrote for the group. The first four stanzas follow.
We joined Adventure Caravans, we admit, with some hesitation
Lee wanted birding by the hour, Pat wanted a winter vacation.
How could we do this Mexico trip, this birding caravan -
Honey, let's try it - Sixty one days - we'll do it in our van!
You've seen how we lack the comforts of home, how our site's like a gypsy camp
No screens for mosquitoes or handy showers, and our towels were often damp.
But we've stuck it out and made it through, though some banos were a mess
We had to prove we could do it, but sometimes we had to face stress.
And you know we could never have made it, we humble ourselves today
To say to you dear caravan members, that we could never repay.
For all the rides you gave us, things you lent, and storage space
The comradeship shared, the ways you all cared, as we birded from place to place.
Our memory banks are now filled to the brim with Mexico's sights and pungent odors
Cobblestone streets, fertile crops, bright flowers, piles of trash, skinny dogs - noted by the Yoders
Dusty courtyards, washing on fences, burros and cattle fill our log of miles
Men with machetes, families on bicycles, and those waving children's' smiles.
The poem goes on to talk about each and every one of the rest of us and smiles and tears accompany the reading. Each of the birthday celebrants read a special poem that Pat has written for them as her gift. Carmen, speaking for the group, tells us how much everyone has enjoyed the trip and presents us with an extremely generous gift. I have tears in my eyes as she hands the envelope to Bert. These wonderful people are so special. Usually we are tired after our gatherings and head inside. Tonight we cannot part and stay outside talking well into the evening. Saying goodbye, hugging, laughing and reminiscing we cannot tear ourselves away from the group. Even after we go inside, people knock on our door to say more personal good-byes.
(Shari) Needing our headlights in the 6 AM darkness, we are the first ones to pull out of our spot this morning. Soon others follow and by 6:25 we are moving down the road, a good five minutes early. The trip is smooth; the road improves every mile northward. The desert looks different than it did coming down. Trees have budded and the landscape has a yellowish green cast to it. I see how the Palo Verde tree got its name. It is green from trunk to stem to leaf as if a painter spilled gallons of green paint on it. At our rest stop we say goodbye. At our lunch stop we say more good-byes and give each other more hugs. The mountains ahead beckon us forward as we start climbing to Nogales. We stay as a group at the Mexican border check. Here we take off our vehicle stickers, affix them back to the form they came from and give them to the official waiting at the crossing. A few miles later we go through American customs. Here we negotiate a bit of a traffic snarl, and, because we want to go through as a group, are not kind to other motorists trying to cut between us. Soon some of us are in the US and some of us are still in Mexico. As we are in the rear and still on Mexican soil, others tell us jokingly not to have an accident yet. After about 45 minutes of inching forward we reach customs. Here no one asks us how much liquor we are bringing back or the dollar amount of our purchases. But, a customs agent does board R-TENT and look into the refrigerator. He asks Bert if we have any chicken and he confiscates our lemon/lime that the Mexican border guard in Sonora did not want. Our limes and lemons are ok, however. Five rigs are staying at Mi Casa in Nogales. Others are heading north or east. The first thing I do is refill my prescription at Walgreens. I tried to get my medication in Mexico, but the pills I take must be unusual, since no Mexican pharmacia that I tried had it. Next we shop at Safeway. What a store! I had forgotten how nice we Americans have it. The variety and display of goods is a treat to my eyes. Before I know it, we have over $100 worth of groceries in our basket. I guess we have been starved for certain items. At 7, we are having a movie night. Four couples pile into R-TENT and we watch Henry V, as we munch on popcorn and drink margaritas. We are still unable to let each other go.
(Bert) Our last day's drive in Mexico, I pay little attention to the scenery, but instead, reflect on the past months. Passing through Hermosilo, my attention is again drawn to the roadside. It's Sunday morning at 8:30 and a large group of people is gathered outside. First we think it's a festival, then suspect a train station. Finally, we recognize we are driving by a prison. Family and friends are visiting inmates and bringing them food, since Mexican prisons give their residents nothing but a place to sleep. As we reach the border, the exiting procedures begin. First, we reach Mexico customs and to my surprise, they do not search our vehicles, nor ask any questions. An officer simply takes our Mexico vehicle sticker and waves us on. A dozen miles further, we reach the U.S. customs and a long line of backed up traffic. Finally, when Jim reaches the customs agent, the entire caravan is allowed to move to a parking lot for inspection. Again, to my surprise, the only question asked is our citizenship. Then they search our refrigerator for banned meats and fruits. The agent takes one hybrid lemon I picked in San Blas and we are free to go. We had said our farewells to the group at an earlier rest stop, since the border offers no opportunity. Now we cross into Nogales and go our separate ways. I return to the campground where we started this adventure. Four other vehicles from our group camp there also, and not wanting the party to end, we get together in the evening in R-TENT for popcorn and the movie, Henry V, from Sandy and Gene. By movie's end the temperature has dropped into the low 40s and there is a forecast for snow. I started this day in shorts and a T-shirt. Seems like we should have stayed in Mexico a few weeks more.
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