This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"...and the last shall be first"

Harlingen, TX, USA
Feb 26

(I must warn you that this is a very long post)

Yesterday we crossed the Rio Grande at Mission, TX and, although we had fun in Mexico, were very glad to be back in the U.S. of A.  Almost seven weeks in Mexico make you realize what we have in the US.  However, many people really can’t appreciate what they have to be thankful for because they have never been outside of the USA. 

When we left the Paradero San Pedro Saturday at 7:00 AM it was cloudy and cold with low hanging clouds.  The heavy rain during the night had left a lot of puddles in the parking lot and on the highway.  The temperature dropped to 38 degrees and we encountered some heavy fog as we crossed over the mountains.  The fog had caused at least one accident on the southbound side of the four-lane.  An 18-wheeler had side swiped the concrete median dividing the highway, resulting in portions of the concrete wall were blocking the left lane on our (northbound) side.  Traffic slowed to a crawl.  There was a road crew, an ambulance, the police, and a couple of tow trucks taking care of the driver, truck, and debris. 

Much of the days drive was on the cuota (toll) roads, but even the libre (free) roads were pretty good.  Of course you still had to watch for the occasional potholes and portions of broken pavement.  We paid a total of $766 pesos ($64 US) in tolls just for the motorhome.  Everyone else paid more because they were either towing a car or were driving a car or truck and towing a trailer or fifth wheel.  The tolls were determined largely by the total number of axles.  Sticking to the toll roads in order to avoid (or decrease) the chance of being stopped again by banditos in the state of Tamaulipas was a little expensive and maybe a few more miles but the good road and lack of banditos made the tolls worth it.  Even though the route was longer it probably took no more time than if we had stuck to the original route.

My son commented by email that Butch and Cathy, our Wagon Masters, made a bad business decision by taking the toll roads.  He explained that the total tolls paid by the 18 RVs was a lot more than the $2,000 pesos paid by Butch to the banditos that had stopped us on our first day in Mexico!  Butch said he didn’t really care about that.  He repeated that he didn’t want another machine gun stuck in his face.  You can’t blame him for that!

At one point I saw a police car parked on the side of the road ahead.  It was facing the highway so that we were seeing the driver’s side of the car.  As we came closer we couldn’t help but laugh.  What we had seen and slowed down for was a life-sized, 2-dimensional replica of the side of a police car!  We saw another one of these fake “police cars” a little later in the day and paid it no attention.  Closer to the border we saw a third one and smiled.  Not going to fool us again!  However, hiding behind the third one was an actual police car that could not be seen until you passed it.   It’s like Sgt. Esterhaus used to say at the end of every roll call on The Hill Street Blues TV show, “Let’s be careful out there.”

We breezed through the usual military and federal police inspections without problem and stopped for lunch at a Pemex with a Circle Kay about 60 miles south of the border.  This was also a last chance to fill our fuel tanks at Mexican prices before crossing back into the US.  Many of us had the Circle Kay special for lunch.  $2.90 pesos (about $0.25 US) for two hotdogs!  After 7 weeks of nothing but Mexican food they were so good.

Only 25 miles south of the border we heard a message on the radio saying that Harvey and Barbara’s fifth wheel had a blown tire or lost a wheel and had pulled over onto the shoulder.  Richard and Helen and Tom and Kim, the Tail Gunners, stopped to assist and the Green Angels were turning around to go back to them.  As we went by them there was a lot of blue smoke that seemed to be coming from underneath their rig.  Before the Green Angels could get back to them the problem had been diagnosed and they were back on the road again.  The blue smoke turned out to be from the truck’s exhaust and was normal.  The truck is a relatively new diesel with the latest emission control, which includes the addition of a certain amount of “diesel exhaust fluid” (DEF) for every tank of fuel.  Apparently this is injected automatically when the computer says it’s time.  When this happens it blows a huge cloud of blue smoke from the exhaust pipe and the rig following Harvey and Barbara thought something terrible had happened.  Hence the radio message.

Harvey didn’t waste any time catching back up with us.  I was last in line and saw him coming up in my rear-view mirrors.  The next thing I knew he was blowing past me to get back up to the number two position.

Being last or near last in the caravan wasn’t necessarily a bad place to be.  It sometimes meant that by the time you were able to get into an RV park that the first ones in were already sitting out with a beer or headed to the pool.  But most of the time there was lot less pressure, not having to worry about your place in the caravan.  I could just drop back, drive a fairly consistent speed, and lessen the rubber band effect.

When we arrived at the Mexican border station we parked in a long line on the highway’s shoulder in front of the station.  Butch went in to find out where we should go to turn in our vehicle permits (holograms) and tourist visas.  What he learned was that everyone in our caravan, except for me, John, and Richard and Helen were already parked beyond the gate through which we should drive.  The three of us in the rear turned into the gate and lined up at the inspection station.  We were number three behind John’s and Richard and Helen’s rigs.  Carol Ann went inside and turned in our visas while I waited to return the vehicle permit (we were not inspected).  Most of the other 15 rigs had to un-hitch their toads, back their trailers, or go through a lot of trouble to turn around.  Carol Ann got back to the motorhome just as I finished up at the inspection point.  Because John, along with Richard and Helen, still had to go inside and turn in their visas after the inspection point, Carol Ann and I were the first of the group to leave the Mexican border station and cross the Rio Grande into the US of A.  For once being last paid off!  On the radio I heard Bob (of Bob and Bettie) quote a very apropos verse from the bible (Matthew), “But many that are first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

There were 4 or 5 crowded lanes inching their way up to the US inspection station.  Signs directed buses to the right most lane, which was a little wider and should be easier to navigate through the twisting maze of concrete curbs and metal posts at the station.  But before I was allowed to drive up to the booth an agent stepped out of the booth, picked up an orange traffic cone, and placed it right in the middle of the lane.  Instead of having me drive up to the cone, the agent walked the ten yards or so to the motorhome and asked me (through the driver’s window) how many people were in the motorhome.  I told him that there were only two of us and he took our passports, walked back to the booth, and then motioned me forward until I was at the booth. 

A female agent came over and joined the other agent in the booth were they appeared to be examining our passports, writing on a clipboard, talking on a phone or radio, and discussing with each other what they were going to do with us.  The female agent took our passports and walked over to a secondary inspection area.  I was then instructed to follow her and park where she indicated.  I had to cross 2 massive topes first, then make a very sharp right turn followed immediately by a sharp left in order to drive the rig straight between two large metal posts (which probably housed some kind of scanner) which were not much wider than the motorhome. It was impossible not to run all over the curbs.

Two other agents joined her and showed me where to park.  She then came up to my window and asked if I had anything to declare, to which I replied “No” (we did not have anything near the $800 US limit in goods purchased in Mexico).  Then she said, “Are you sure?” and rattled off in rapid succession, a list of items that must be declared.  I had heard that if you hesitated they would assume that you were trying to think of a lie to tell so I quickly blurted out “watermelon (I forgot that we had already put the watermelon in the garbage), we have a watermelon!”  I then added, “and some Tequila, a liter of Tequila!”  She turned and walked back to the next in the line of 5 or 6 RV’s that they now had lined up behind us. 

We sat there for at least 10 minutes before she returned and asked if we had any pets in the coach.  I told her that we had 2 cats, immediately thinking that I’m going to have to dig out their vaccination and health certificates.  However, she didn’t ask for those, just told us to get them out of the coach because their dog was coming in.  I tried to explain that the cats were semi-feral (only socialized to me and Carol Ann) and that I would need to get their kennels from one of the storage bays, try to find them, and then get them in the kennels.  She said something like “Do it” so I got out and retrieved the kennels.  I then had to get down on my stomach, crawl behind our 2 recliners, and drag them by the scruff of their necks out from their hiding space.  We were then told to join the other caravan members in a covered area with concrete benches where we waited while the agents and the dog searched and sniffed our rigs. 

When the female US agent came out of Gunther and Candace’s coach she carried with her a frozen port chop, a bag of 4 or 5 potatoes, and a potted poinsettia.  None of which had been purchased in Mexico.  They were all bought in the US before the trip.  The agent said she was confiscating them because Gunther failed to declare them.  She then went back inside of our coach and came out a few minutes later holding a plastic container with 5 strips of bacon remaining from a package of “pre-cooked” bacon that had been purchased in the US prior to the trip.  The agent said we failed to declare the pork and was confiscating it.  She even kept the plastic container.  After a while they let Harold and Sylvia go and a few minutes later indicated that we could leave.

Our GPS was not working so after leaving the inspection area we parked on the side of the highway and waited until John came out and we followed him about 50 miles further to the RV park.  It was close to 5:00 PM when we arrived and the others began trickling in shortly after we had parked.  I think most people just sort of crashed once they had setup their rigs.

We didn’t get together again as a group until this morning when we had a continental breakfast on the street in the front of Butch and Cathy’s coach.  Loretta put it all together with homemade scones, muffins, breads, cinnamon rolls, and other baked goods.  It was a lot more than 35 people could ever eat at one time, which meant that there were enough leftovers for anyone wanting to take some home.  It was all “scrumptious”.

About half of the group is leaving today.  The ones that aren’t have plans to go out tonight for pizza.  It may be the last time together for many of us.  I hope that we will see all of them again during our travels.

Some conclusions that I have come to on the trip, based solely upon my own observations and personal experiences, are that the US agents do not smile, they are all business, they order you out of your vehicle without saying “Please”, and then they search it.  The Mexican agents smile, they are extremely polite, and they ask permission to enter your vehicle.  The inspection or “search” may be anything from standing in the door to check your visa or casually walking through your rig (you may accompany them) and opening a few cabinets.  Usually they just want to see what it looks like on the inside.

A large portion of Mexico’s population is very poor.  Mexico is a land of “the haves” and “the have nots.” Mostly “the have nots”.   The middle class is a rather small portion of the population.  We saw many people begging.  Those who weren’t begging were trying to sell you something.  The people were polite, waved to us as we passed, and seemed happy that we had come to their country.  After all, their economy is heavily dependent upon tourism and tourism has been down for the last few years.

We did experience a good (actually there was nothing good about it) example of Mexico’s reputation for police corruption.  The federal policeman who tried to tell us we could not tow vehicles behind our motorhomes was reported to the Ministry of Tourism and an acknowledgment received, which said there would be an investigation.  And there probably will be, as Mexico is trying to cleanup this blemish on their reputation.  Still, you can’t help but distrust the police instead of depending on them and you also try to avoid them as much as possible.  After all, it only takes a few rotten ones to make the whole barrel stink.

We passed through an extremely large number of toll booths during the trip.  We (the collective “we”) experienced being short-changed by the booth attendants more than a few times.  Sometimes the attendant would give you the correct change but if you checked your receipt you would find it had been made out for a lesser amount than you actually paid.  The attendant obviously pocketed the difference.  Similar rigs were also charged different amounts at the same toll booth.  Always check your change and receipt before you leave the booth.

Mexico is working hard to improve their infrastructure.  There is a tremendous amount of new road construction and resurfacing happening in Mexico.  But potable water is still a problem.  Almost everyone drinks bottled (purified) water, even the Mexicans.  There is also a very real problem with collecting and disposing of their trash and garbage.  You see a lot of it tossed or dumped beside the streets and highways.  This makes some of the towns and villages look “dirty”.  Still, several of the towns and cities we visited were very clean and tidy.  You could tell that the residents took a great deal of pride in where they lived.

We won’t know anything about our car until tomorrow (Monday).  Until then we have no idea when we will be leaving here.  This is my last “official” post as this is the very last day of the organized tour.  I will be posting more observations and experiences from the trip, once I have had a few days to rest think about it.


Anonymous said...

We have enjoyed reading your entire posts since before you arrived in PaaMul. We live here full time now, only returning to the states every few months or so. Love this way of life. We hope you enjoyed this "Land of Enchantment", which can be so many different things. Thanks for taking the time to "look behind the walls" which is so typical of Mexico. One must look inside to see it's true beauty. "Keep on Truckin"

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you're safely back on U.S. soil--and now just hope your car arrives in a timely manner. You've had quite the experiences and we enjoyed reading your blog so much. Hope to hear more--especially about your car. We have been here in Pahrump, NV since Dec. 28 and will head for home in Washington on April 1. We took a trip in the Jeep to Yuma and Florence, AZ and Laughlin, NV visiting friends and were gone 8 days. It was good to get back in our own rig. Got back on the 23rd. Take care you two and good luck on the rest of your trip. Steve and Gerry Crick