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Del Rio to Padre Island Feb 11-12, '08.(Travel trailers, flea markets, old Mexico and senior snowbirds under the palms.)
(SAMPLE PHOTOS. Scroll down for complete photo set for this page.)Dear Maggie,
It's 4AM and I'm on a sand beach the ocean side of the coastal waterway by the Gulf in Texas. I just turned on the ignition for a moment to run the wipers (the safety lights come on) and I can see the surf is breaking just a few yards away. It's too dark to look around and too early to get breakfast. I took my last aspirin. Time to write a letter.
I filled up on the way out of town ($2.77/gal., 50 cents cheaper than home) and breakfast at the place by Mexico and the flea market. It was early, there were 4 cop cars in front and I had menudo, a tough breakfast, but I wanted the experience. Chopped onions, chile verde, flour tortillas, yummy. The lady was friendly and her husband greeted me as well (handshake). More of their family came in and I struck up a conversation on the language they use for greeting. In PR it's "Buenas" but I didn't hear that here. The girl said "Hola!" "Com'esta?" OK. I got mostly just a simple male nod, or a lady broad smile. The cops spoke English they learned at school, a lot of guy talk about big fishing and the gear for it, with a tinny Texas accent I never heard before.
Heading South on the highway roughly parallelling the Rio Grande, it's low desert brush in the open. At buildups, front yards scraggly and overgrown, broken fence, crude signs half-heartedly offering some service or other. Pecan groves. Lots of weekend excitement at the roadside flea market in Eagles Pass. Cars were pouring in from all over to find a place as I drove by, and I joined in, switching to 4-wheel when I saw the guy ahead spin out in the sand on a grade. Loud music from a Mexican radio station with very high energy commercial announcements, a Spanish thing I've heard before. There was food, families together at oilcloth covered tables on benches under cover. A festival mood as the morning developed. Pleased at a rug I got, $12. No traje hombres.
I stopped to look at travel trailers along the way. Some wonderful thing would pop out at me while driving by. It was Sunday or I would have knocked on some doors. I visited a few RV trailer parks, too. Asked if anything for sale. That was Teresa's idea (DelTex RV, Del Rio) after we both realized that she'd never find what I was looking for. Something like Scotty at camp just 7 x 12 feet $600 on the back road by Harkness, too old and too cheap to make it to a dealer's lot. I'm still playing with the idea of a small trailer, though, fixed up my way, for a kitchen in bad weather. I'll tell you later, about all the small places I've built. Like the camps but starting much earlier than that.
The Black Thing is, of course, the latest example, planned for three travel situations.
1) Backcountry (primitive) camping. Computer setup by the dash, like a cop car, and two battery banks to choose from so I was always on. The crashpad from Walmart for sleeping in comfort. No camper foam or plastic blowup here, this gem is 4 inches thick of good mattress stuffing. Sleeping bag as needed. A new 12-volt fridge worked fine with not too much battery drain for eggs, butter, soju and wine. I'd set the kitchen out on a picnic table, 2-burner coleman propane stove, pots, pans, dishes, dishpans from camp and a big foldup water jug. Packed a folding table, too, in case. Dining alfresco. OK. One snag. What to do when 6AM or 9PM it's just too cold or too windy to cook a meal? Approached this problem by eating light in the Black Thing, just tea and tortillas with honey or sweet cake, or eating out (not good for the budget, but often fun, occasionally inconvenient).
2) Snooze-cruising on the road. Perfect. The driver's seat folds almost flat. George comfy and well fed. Computer and phone at hand. What more?
3) Motel 6 stops. Perfect. Computer setup moves easily. Fridge on board. Small microwave for cooking or just reheating if the motel doesn't have one. Great pet-friendly overnight with shower, too. I carry their latest directory, a fat little book, up front whenever I travel.
At several places I became aware that people camping in their vehicles (not RV's) are the lowest social order here on the road. They're called "transients." Fred, the host at Amistad, let me know about this and said the rangers enforce the 14-day rule for this kind of undesirable. He meant me. At Padre Island Dan found me asleep on the beach, suggested I tell the ranger my tent blew down and I was fixing to put it up again as soon as the wind died down. "Tent camping only." I'm thrilled really to think of myself as a bum without social status. You say I always liked coming on like that, though I'm not aware of it. What, then, about my first class inclinations? Prince Charles, your Mom used to call me. I want to learn more about the homeless in Burlington you work with, their stories, how they manage, their state of health, what they experience. I imagine it's a day by day, minute to minute experience, like I'm having now. Real zen. Am I romanticizing?
At 2PM in Laredo, my next camping idea too far down the road, I found a Motel 6 for cleanup and dual computer work (my old database doesn't work with XP) to catch up with bookings (cash flow, you know). The two computer setup is too much for the Black Thing work table. Did not have to eat Domino pizza or tacky chinese. Brought in the microwave, a small one, a real walmart gem. Leftover mandu kuk, kalbi and kimchi with soju made two tasty meals. Total change of clothes. Good movie. The ritz.
Monday morning early, found the State Park in Falcon where I was headed. At the end of a long dirt road in open brush. Looked desolate. The ranger lady wasn't smiley. Flush toilets with sinks (hot water). OK. The guy in the crapper next to me was friendly enough, struck up a conversation about cars. He was hauling a bass boat with a cajun sticker. But I found the full hookup sites ($12), wall to wall giant RV's. And folks at the cheap ($4) camping circle had tarp screens hung off the shelter roofs, like a shanty town. I stopped to ask directions from a guy camping out of a beat up horse trailer, scary.
I remembered nearby Roma had some history. An 1840's suburb of Miers, Mexico, no one had a clue where the anglo name came from. Looking for the old neighborhood I nearly drove into the next town--in Mexico--it's that close. The guy in the pawn shop made a map for me. Four blocks was all that was left of it on a bluff overlooking the Rio. There's been some effort recently to preserve the 19th C. buildings along the Rio on both sides and I snapped a lot of neat structures some in near ruin. Stores, some pretty homes, a bar-hotel. Church buildings are restored, some still active. Bingo weekly at the antique convent. Two girls in an amatuer community museum liked George and gave him water. I snapped some of the informational displays about Spanish settlement, small land parcels deeded to Mexican workers, early mud-stick buildings, the raucous 20's (women and sin), a theater, later a movie house, now a center for a primitive evangelical church. I tried to find a book in the town office. The guide wasn't there today. He gives tours on this side and in Mexico. Through all this only the girls and pawn shop guy spoke English. I'm intruiged by the Mexicans who still live out their lives on the land of their ancestors. CLICK HERE for short Wikopedia Mexican history and CLICK HERE for Texas history.
It's a great pleasure on travel days like this to leave a good deal to chance. I had looked ahead how to get out North to Padre, but I wanted the Rio Grande Valley for maybe one more adventure and some Mexican food. I stayed off the interstate. An hour or so along this side road out of Roma, I simultaneously (literally) spotted two good signs, "Bentsen-Rio Grande" and "Taqueria Ramirez." The first was a State of Texas sort of bird refuge on the Rio I had heard about and the second was lunch. Tacos fajitas, four teeny very tasty things with frijoles rancheros on the side ($4). I had the wine in my jacket pocket. "Una taza de papel solo, p.f."
Bentsen is an upscale "Winter Texan" neighborhood with palm trees. No vehicles inside the nature preserve. Next tram ride in 20 minutes ($5). I left George in the car, got on with a lot of serious-looking senior birdwatchers ($$ equipment), got off at a trail with a hawk tower somewhere ahead. I never made it. Took a few nature snaps and, arm for a pillow, a nice long nap in the sun. Got interrupted once ("Are you ok?") but I didn't dare go into the bush for privacy like I would have at home. Not afraid of rattlesnakes in the open, but a misstep is always possible in the dense growth there. A great spot. Thank you, Texas. Never saw a bird.
Found a 4-lane North. Dark by the time I got even with Corpus Christi. I worry a lot about interstates and other limited access roads, especially at night. One wrong turn is all it takes. Signboard for Jap sushi ahead at Greenwood. Took a chance and got off. Nice. A buffet! Tako, ika, ikura plus all the rest, a maki roll made to order, the best beer in Japan (Asahi) which you can't get back home (Sapporo and Kirin get all the distributors), $26, beer, tip and tax included. Find that at home! The downside was I spent the next hour (laundromat no English, McDonald's no help) with concrete highways converging and moving away over my head, trying to get back on Route 22 to Padre. Midnight. Place closed down. Big empty parking lot. No campground I could see. Ended up on a sand beach at the end in 4-wheel with waves licking at the path I was on. Saw some RV's and pulled over myself headlights into the waves, back to the dunes. Walked George. Moon was out. A pretty sight. Good night.
Much more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Mexico
The history of Texas (as part of the United States) began in 1845, but settlement of the region dates back to the end of the Upper Paleolithic Period, around 10,000 BC. Its history has been shaped by being part of six independent countries: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. Starting in the 1820s, American and European immigrants began arriving in the area; joined by Hispanic Tejanos they revolted against Mexico in 1836 and defeated an invasion army. After a decade as an independent country, Texas joined the Union (the United States) in 1845. The western frontier state was characterized by large-scale cattle ranching and cotton farming. In the 20th century, it grew rapidly, becoming the second largest state in population 1994, and became economically highly diversified, with a growing base in high technology. The state has been shaped by the interactions of Southern, Tejano, Native American, African American, and German Texan cultures.
More about Texas including French Texas, Mexican Texas, and Republic of Texas at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_History
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