Chapter 4. Culiacan, Sinaloa
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Shari) The group is hot to trot and in spite of the fact we have a 9 AM departure, the first ones are ready by 8:15. By 8:30 we all are ready and begin turning on the highway back toward Navajoa. The 171-mi. trip to Los Mochis takes us 4 hours. The RV Park here is cramped, dusty and hot. Right off the highway, it is also very noisy. But in affiliation with a hotel, it has a very nice swimming pool. The pool is not heated and Bert calls me a Wus for not going in. I notice he does not stay in very long. The hotel has Internet services but charges $6.70. Bert again did not get through, but John did. Since I have told Missy to worry about us if she has not heard from us in two weeks, I decide to call her. Phones here need to be used with a Latatel card. The card comes in various denominations; by sliding the card into a slot, the dial tone is activated. We then use the sequence of numbers on our calling card to get through to the U.S. We think E-mail did not work because we typed the phone number before our card number. Here in Mexico, the order is reversed.
(Bert) An hour before our 9 AM departure time, some rigs are already hitched and ready to leave Alamos. This is an anxious group, so by 8:50 we are on the road again, backtracking west to Navjoa and then continuing south on the Interstate 15 toll road. The flat desert scenery is colored dusty drab, mostly uninhabited and uninteresting. As we cross the border into the Mexican state of Sinaloa, the desert is transformed into miles of green fields, predominantly tall corn crowned with golden tassels. Utility poles and lines hold dozens of raptors: White-tailed Kites, Red-tailed, Harris's and Gray Hawks. We reach the RV park in Los Mochis in time for a late lunch. Presumably owing to the hot temperatures, our scheduled 2 PM birding trip to Rio Fuerte is postponed an hour. But most birders are out and about anyway and soon find the pond adjacent to the parking lot holds an immature Northern Jacana that displays incredibly bright yellow wings when in flight. I unfortunately arrive at the spot too late to see the huge black snake the others watched across the pond. They described it as well over 6 ft. and as thick as a man's upper arm - probably a Mexican Kingsnake. It's the first snake anyone has seen on this trip. In late afternoon Shari and I, and later Walt, decide to go swimming in the hotel pool that is part of the RV complex. The large clean outdoor pool looks inviting, but Shari sticks in one toe and judges it too cold. I'm braver, but two laps across the pool are enough for me - it must have been 70 deg, but it felt like swimming in ice cubes. Later, a gracious dinner invitation in Jerry and Shary's 5th-wheel was made even more enjoyable by a constant flow of interesting conversation.
(Shari) I am glad we are only staying at this park for one night. The highway noise is awful. But it is clean and safe and a good midway stopping spot. We get up early to be on our way by 7:30 AM. The group is really coalescing, and the banter on the CB comes fast and furious. Kaboom, kaboom, one quick one-liner after another. Talk of graveyards turns to digs. Talk of man-eating potholes turns to grass and marijuana. Described as the breadbasket of Mexico, this area sports miles and miles and miles of farmland. All morning we pass fields of tomatoes, corn, marigolds, etc. The marigolds are grown to feed the chickens to make their fat nice and yellow. Strange, but it makes for a pretty roadside. Bert and I pass the time reading signs and translating them into English. We come across a sign, "Conceda cambio de luce," that we translate into "Grant exchange of culture." It makes no sense to us, so later I ask Carmen what it means. She says, "Dim your lights". Now how did we get what we did? We arrive at Culiacan near noon and Jan and I drive ahead to determine the status of the park. This is the only park that confirmed reservations have not been given to the caravan. Jan always wonders if it is open. We arrive at the gate and find it locked but after honking our horn, a lady appears and welcomes us in. The rigs come 10 minutes later and everyone walks down to the camping area to pick out their spot among the trees. This is a very pretty park on the edges of a lake. I see many activities for families to do and surmise it is busy in the summer. Water slides, swimming pools, go-cart tracks, putting golf greens, cabanas and a restaurant grace the well-manicured lawns of the park. But today we are the only ones here. We find a spot facing the lake that has a grapefruit tree and a lime tree in our backyard.Our front yard has a nice view of the water beyond the playground and bougainvilleas in assorted colors. It is stifling hot though. The power is too low for all of us to run air-conditioning, so I put on our generator and vegetate in R-TENT until the sun starts to set. Still hot, I don my swimming suit and take a dip in the large unheated pool. It is chilly but refreshing. The group has been birding all afternoon. I have read. They still get excited about seeing these birds and gather outside of R-TENT at dusk for yet another bird count off. "Oh you saw that? Where? I will have to look tomorrow." Unbelievable. I tell Bert to pick a lime from the tree outside and he does not know where to go. He has seen the birds but has missed the fruit trees. Unbelievable!
(Bert) Heading south from Los Mochis, we must be seeing at least a quarter million acres of vegetable fields. To our left the flat fields stretch a mile or two to the edge of the Sierra Madre Occidental, which here look like a series of cone-shaped volcanic peaks. To our right the fields continue unbroken as far as we can see, probably to the Gulf of California about 20 miles to the west. Corn, sugar cane, pineapples, tomatoes and lots of short, brightly colored green leaves that could be almost anything we find in our northern grocery stores continue unbroken for the 150 miles we drive today. We also see fields of yellowish-orange marigolds, not grown for their floral display, but as fodder to chickens to add color to egg yolks and poultry meats. In Culiacan we park at well-separated sites, surrounded by trees and at the edge of a swallow lake. Limes and oranges hang from some of the trees, green grass carpets our feet, and a humid 90 deg in the shade keeps us a bit warmer than required, making today's mid-January calendar date seem mistaken. The birds are concentrated on the shore and in the park; we spend a leisurely afternoon slowly covering only a short distance on foot, yet identifying 92 species, highlighted by a life-bird for me: the Mangrove Swallow , very much like a Violet-green but with the white patch extending around the rump and with a black face around the eye. By sunset the temperature has dropped and evening sleeping is quite comfortable.
(Shari) It was so nice sleeping last night: quiet and cool. I awake refreshed and raring to go. This is a perfect place for a morning walk. I am not the first one up by any stretch of the imagination: these are birders for heaven's sake. I attach my walking meter and my Kenny G tape and take off down the paved path. It is so cool and refreshing. Birds are singing. I pass the motor homes and walk into the cabana area. The little cottages are all empty, but the sprinkler still keeps the grass green. Two horses are tied up at the beach and seem content to munch on the grass growing there. I walk past the restaurant, all boarded up, but with a pool still clean and sparkling next to it. A beautiful porch overlooking the lake here would be great for a happy hour. By now I have walked 0.64 miles and have come to the end of the path and must circle around. I walk under palm trees laden with coconuts, orange and lime trees, and fichus and bougainvillea bushes as tall and wide as a crepe myrtle back home. I see birders at various locations bent over spotting scopes or holding binoculars to their eyes enjoying the flocks of birds on the lake. I continue walking and find yet another swimming pool, this one empty. A concession stand still has its beach stuff hanging on walls waiting the next season. At the end of the park, the landscaping gets a bit ragged. The weeds grow through the bricks, screened windows are falling apart, charcoal grills have rusted and tables sort of lean from disuse. I wonder why this happens so much in Mexico. Tons of money is spent to build these things and then it just sort of crumbles from lack of maintenance. At least most of this park is still maintained. Many workers were here yesterday: cutting, pruning, sweeping and cleaning. Early this morning they are back. Some come on bicycles, others in rattle-trap cars. It sure takes a long time for one person to sweep, rake or clean one small area however. Bert would go at it like a tornado and have the whole place finished in a day by himself. In the afternoon we drive to a little town called Costa Rica. It is a poor town with housing very substandard. Gray shacks without doors or screens on the windows line the streets into town. So many flies get into R-TENT that it drives me crazy, so I cannot imagine not having screens. The main street is lined with small shops, each selling a different class of items. We go to the supermarket for our fresh fruits and vegetables and to the bakery for some rolls, and the "deposita" for some beer; every town has many depositas. Walt and Karla go with us and it is hilarious listening to Walt converse with the cute Mexican girls. He tries to tell them we are on an RV caravan from Nogales to San Blas and will be going to the Copper Canyon. He does not know the Spanish words for Copper Canyon, nor train. He makes the sound of "choo choo" and moves his arms like a bar on train wheels. Still the girls do not understand. Karla finds a matchbook with Copper Canyon on it and shows the girls. Walt then asks, "Como se llama 'train' en Espanol?" They answer "tren", which they pronounce as our train. We all laugh at that. Later in the evening while we sit outside on our easy chairs, John comes over bearing a lime. He intends to swap it for some really good rum. I said that I didn't think so, since the limes are right there outside R-TENT for anyone to pick and that would not be a good deal. I was right. Karla did not swap and said she wanted a key lime pie instead.
(Bert) Our camping area coincides with one of the most bird-packed sites I have ever experienced. In a sense it is like Bentsen Rio Grande State Park in Texas, but without the jungle-like density of trees and undergrowth. Here we have plenty of trees, but they are well separated and the underbrush has been removed. And our position along the shores of a lake attracts many additional species. Outside of the tens of thousands of blackbirds that fly past at dusk, the most common species is the hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that congregate along the shore. With their menagerie of colors, highlighted by their bright red-orange bills, the tree ducks are almost comical in appearance and their constant whistling provides a background noise as relaxing as listening to summer rain or waves breaking on a sand beach. As I did yesterday, I spend time with less experienced birders today, showing them some of the techniques I use for bird identification. I don't call off the names of the birds, but let them identify the species themselves using the clues I offer. The highlight for me today is the very large - twice the wingspan of our Chimney Swift - black swift we watch soaring above our heads. When it tilts slightly it reveals a white nape and confirms its identity as a White-naped Swift, a lifer for everyone observing. In mid-afternoon, Walt and Carla join Shari and me in the short drive to Costa Rica - the town, not the country. The bumpy gravel road changes to concrete after we cross the railroad tracks. Vendors' shops tightly border the main street. While the rest enter a small grocery store, I stand by the car and watch the parade of residents pass by - on foot, rickety bicycles, backfiring motorcycles, ancient Volkswagen Beetles, and heavily used pickup trucks. Across the street a butcher cuts thin slaps of meat in an open-air shop, while brown chickens peck food at his feet. Getting impatient, I walk into the grocery store to see what is holding up the others. The three are at the checkout counter and I notice Shari is buying a six-pack of Corona. I go back to pick up our empty Corona bottles, but the exchange of empty bottles presents a problem. Walt guesses the gist of the flurry of Spanish words coming from the young sales clerk is that the deposit on 12 empty bottles exceeds the price of 6 full ones. All is resolved when we buy another six-pack.
(Bert) At the north end of the park, near the abandoned restaurant, a banana tree grows. An unusually shaped reddish flower shows the start of a cluster of bananas. The appealing flower also attracts a Cinnamon Hummingbird and everyone who has 5-10 min. patience has a chance to see this brightly colored hummer since it repeatedly returns. I even get close enough to take a photo. At the other end of the park, one of the attractions is the harem of Common Iguanas. Most of the ones we see hiding in the tree branches are lime green and 3-5 ft. long. The older ones darken with age and the very young ones also seem darker, but are harder to find because they scurry along the ground and hide easily. The granddaddy of them all is a giant 6-footer with splashes of orange and yellow - indicating it is a male - and a much larger head and dragon-like spiny mane. Most of the time the iguanas remain motionless in the trees with their sharply clawed feet hanging over the edges of a branch. When they move, it is slowly. But when Shari and I come upon the male and surprise it, he takes a flying leap off a concrete embankment and bounds through the grass. Our three days here in Culiacan have been rewarding from a birding perspective. At today's count off, we tick off 145 species here, bringing our total trip count to 221 species. In the evening many of us gather in a clearing to watch the lunar eclipse. The event transpires slowly, so I focus Ralph's spotting scope on Jupiter and we see four of its moons. Then Ralph lines up the scope with Saturn and we get an amazingly good view of its rings. Meanwhile the eclipse has neared total and the darkened sky is filled with stars. At its darkest, the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks roosting along the beach become very agitated and raise a whistling chorus. We walked to the field in the brightness of a full moon, but return in darkness and can barely make out the path before us.
(Shari) I enjoy my morning walks here. It is so cool and the landscape is so peaceful and beautiful. I scare up a flock of guinea hens this morning, but the birders just ignore me, intent on finding the yellow feathers on the buff-bellied whatever. The day starts out at 59 but really heats up and by noon we are approaching 88. Yet, I see this man in his square boat with a canoe paddle, moving from one side of the lake to the other, pounding the water as he goes. Dressed in long tan pants, long-sleeved white shirt and straw hat, he periodically lifts a net attached to his boat, but I never see a fish. The boat must leak because ever so often he bails water out of the bottom. Once I saw him drink from that same bailing pail. Yuck! It is so hot, I cannot imagine doing that work. I cannot imagine doing that work. He does this all afternoon and, once, even late into the evening. After a wonderfully cool swim, we walk to the bird count off. Walt asks, "Didn't Shari have an interesting bird today?" I go on to explain the crew cut like haircut, the gray back and the red chin. Someone says that sounds like a Rose-throated Becard. I ask Bert if he has ever seen one and he has to admit that he has been looking, but no he has not seen one. Everyone shouts "Hurrah, Go Shari, Go Shari, Go Shari!" I really did see it too and Bert is still waiting to put it on his life list. What a hoot! Later in the evening, we go into the darkness to watch a lunar eclipse. What a marvelous thing to see the moon disappear and the stars become so bright. We also see four moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn through Ralph's telescope before we say buenos nochas to each other.
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