Friday, March 26, 2021

Crossing into Mexico at Nuevo Progreso

Sparky decided that some RVers in SE Texas might want to know about crossing into Mexico so she is devoting a blog to that. We crossed over one time previously to today to experience the visit, did not enjoy it too much and thought we probably wouldn't go back. That all changed when we met some RVing acquaintances from years ago who are living down here for the winter. We met up with them for dinner a couple of nights ago, and they shared why they like going over to Mexico a couple of times a year. Meet Barb and Butch Brooker. 
We met them more than ten years ago for about 15 minutes at that time. Barb and Sparky share a love for blogging and photography, and even have the same kind of camera. They have kept in touch by reading each other's blogs and following on Facebook. They were our tour guides for today. Barb and Butch shared the common story that RVers tell that they go to Mexico for cheap medications. The best and safest crossing people say, is at the International Bridge into Nuevo Progreso. It's about a 35 minute drive from Sunshine RV Park in Harlingen, TX.

Get this.....You can cross over the border and buy many, many medications WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION OR DOCTOR VISIT, including pain meds, at greatly reduced prices. Sparky needed some dermatological skin creams, a muscle relaxer refill, and some pain meds for her bad sciatica. Some people think of Mexico as the illicit drug capital of the world, but retirees look at Mexico as having the least drug/big Pharma regulations, and therefore can save a TON of money by purchasing their meds there and getting dental work done for a fraction of the cost by US trained dentists. How does 20.00 sound for an excellent teeth cleaning procedure? 

Here's how we did it. We drove to the International Bridge crossing station and paid 2.00 to park our car on the US side of the border. We then walked up and over the bridge a short distance. On the way there and back, you see this "begging buckets"...Kids and adults are down below the bridge, and rattle the buckets and call out when you pass by, hoping you will drop something in the buckets, like money. Some people drop Tootsie Rolls, haha, (an inside joke for Barb). 

Then we got to the Mexican side, we passed through the guard station who checked Barb's generously sized handbag for possible illegal stuff going INTO Mexico by the scan machine. Barb checked out fine. Sparky's small fanny pack was not looked at at all. And we were in the town of Nuevo Progreso, just like that. 
There are about three main blocks of touristy stuff and hawkers on every inch of both sides of the sidewalk down the main street  They sell the usual purses, handbags, cute fabric tops, sports team hats, leather belts and shoes, etc., on the left, and on the right are storefront after storefronts of pharmacies,
spas and general stores. 

As you walk down the street, vendors for each of the pharmacies and spas try to hawk their services and hand you their business cards--they speak very good English for the most part--"Mani? Pedi, milady?..." Or, they rattle off their drugs in the pharmacy for sale..."Viagra? Prilosec?" Yes, you can buy Viagra on the street for pennies compared to prices in the US. The manufacturers are the same, everything is just in Spanish on the labels. The streets were quite crowded, but most everyone was wearing masks.

There was some pretty tile work that Sparky saw while in town--the prettiest and most colorful part of town was the tile work.
The town is not pretty. It's run down. There is trash everywhere. If you are looking for a beautiful Mexican holiday visit and a chance to experience Mexican culture other than the food, it's not here. There are LOTS of street vendors selling fresh Mexican foods and snacks. Barb said that all the buildings of recent construction there are only partly finished. They will probably never complete them, because the town has to pay taxes once the buildings are finished, so they don't finish the job. This is a hotel that was started years ago, and never completed.
Barb and Butch guided us to Hector's pharmacy. It was a couple of streets over and several blocks down in a tiny, really tiny storefront in an abandoned plaza that used to host lots of stores and an active bar/restaurant. In its heyday, it was quite the noisy, busy marketplace but now was an abandoned Mexican "strip mall", we'd call it in the US. 
The only other inhabitants of this little abandoned mall was an office of some sort where someone was still conducting business and had a little watch guard.
The first time visitor would be very leery of buying anything, especially medications from a little tiny shop like this, or having dental work done in a little office with makeshift chairs and in a questionable location where most people are struggling to make a living, but thousands of US citizens visit Nuevo Progreso every year to get medications and have dental work done at a FRACTION of the prices the bloated pharmaceutical/medical industry charges in the US.
Sparky wanted to stop in here
Barb and Butch have been coming for YEARS to get medications and dental work done, and they are very comfortable with where and who gives them the services. You would need recommendations from several people for sure, to feel comfortable getting the work done here, but there are excellent dentists and trustworthy pharmacies in Nuevo Progreso. There are also a few nice stores in between the rougher parts of the town.

After we picked up our medications, we headed to a very nice restaurant called Jessica's. It appeared to be a favorite of the Americans who come over to Nuevo Progreso. Sparky had Mexican street tacos. (Sparky ALWAYS has Mexican street tacos! laughs Eldo.) Yep, and they were FANTASTIC! Eldy had a ham and cheese sandwich, and remarked it was ok.

After lunch, it was time to head back. Crossing back into the US is a little more involved. You need an enhanced driver's license (the ones with the gold star) and a second form of ID. A passport is great, of course, and even an expired one will work. You just need a backup ID. They say you can go through just with a driver's license with the enhanced features on it, and Eldy did ok with just that the last time, but Sparky was asked for a second form of ID this time. (A birth certificate works, or a regular passport, which Sparky had). You also need a quarter to pass through the turnstile as you cross from Mexico back to the US heading for the border patrol check station. There's no change machine.They ask you what you are bringing back. Sparky had one pain medication that is the lowest tier on the controlled substances list in the US, but she had two bottles. You can only have one bottle per person, said the pharmacist, so Eldo carried one in and Sparky carried the other. The guard asked what Sparky had and she answered "arthritis medication" (the pain meds) and "skin cream". You lower your mask so they can take your photo. If you wear glasses, sometimes they will ask you to remove those. If you buy booze in Mexico, you declare it and pay taxes on it once you are past the border patrol check station. The guards seem to ask the women more questions than the men, in our experience. Sparky was asked after declaring the meds, "And anything else?" Nope. Eldo was not even asked what he was bringing back in his little black grocery bag. Are you sure, hombre, you don't have anything else to declare? "Nada", says E.

And we were back in the U.S.!  Thank you Barb and Butch for guiding us through the town today and helping us find our way back to Jessica's for a nice lunch....Tomorrow, we leave for the Houston area, and Sparky is HAP-PEE to be heading towards cooler temperatures. We will miss the wonderful birding opportunities here, especially with the bird migration just starting...but hey, it's on to more adventures and sights to see, and things to do...Bye for now!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

This Blog is for the Birds! And Getting Ready to Leave....

Roseate Spoonbill
We've been to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center twice now. We love it. Some people have posted negative reviews, saying that it's too commercial with the alligator ponds, the tortoises in confined spaces, etc., but we love it. Quite a bit to see there....

There are beautiful boardwalks--3300 feet in all, that wind in and out of the Bayfront and marsh areas, five bird blinds, there's an observation tower five stories high, kids and adults can get to hold snakes (EWWWWWW! says Sparky, not for me!) and small baby gators (Sparky has done that) and get their picture taken for 10.00 plus the admission fee. Adults are 8.00, Seniors are 7.00. There is a great nature center as well, plus there are also guided birding tours that are starting to open back up every day at 8:30 AM. Spoonbills, reddish egrets, alligators, shorebirds, songbirds, you never know what you will see on a day that you visit.
Little Green Heron just watching the world go by

Golden Front Woodpecker, a frequent visitor
The Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, part of the World Birding Centers, was 15 minutes from Sunshine RV Park and Sparky walked 3miles a day there almost every day... A park filled with hummingbird feeders, lots of nature paths and trails, although short in length, you can easily walk 3 miles around and around and in and out of the trails. 

At first it was a very dreary and gray area after being hit hard by the frost. But then....spring started its wonderful greening up of the area, and the park became more and more beautiful each day. Sparky watched this Century Agave plant for weeks, as the asparagus looking bloom stalk grew and grew. It's now about 13 feet high! Sparky was hoping to see it bloom, but nope. It's not called the century agave for nothing. Not a hundred years to bloom, but about every 15-20 years it blooms, and it takes its sweet time to do it. Probably will be another month or two before it does bloom. When it does, it could have red blossoms or not, and will look like a little mini forest is perched at the top of the plant.

Buff Bellied Hummingbird
Stop to see the memory gardens people have donated, learn the names of the flowering bushes and trees that attract the birds, hummers, and butterflies, stop in the several bird blinds and bird station feeding areas in the park, and see what birds are passing through. And, it's a wonderful place to just sit and watch the birds and enjoy nature. 

Altamira Oriole duo

 The park has lots of branch debris  and piles and piles of brush, but it's a  nature park, it's not cultivated like some parks up north. Full of cactus, thorny trees and bushes, no wonder the birds love it here. Great cover! And if you look closely all around you, you might see some sleepy owls, too! The nesting boxes were empty for weeks and then all of a sudden one day, Sparky saw a little sleepy head peeking out of one of them.
Screech Owl in a Box

Many volunteers work hard to keep the park orderly, trimming bushes and trees, and watering the many memory gardens people have established in memory of their loved ones.

Black Crested Titmouse
Sparky is just sorry that full blown migration is a couple of weeks away yet (April, apparently is the peak) but she learned about many new species of birds from fellow birders, walkers and workers in the park, some birds which she had never seen before, either up north in Indiana, or down in Florida. The green jay, crested titmouse and the Altamira orioles were new to her. Her favorite was the Indigo Bunting, and she enjoyed seeing the changes in the feathering in the young ones from patchy to almost full sapphire blue coloring as the weeks went by.

We visited several World Birding sites in the area. Harlingen and the surrounding counties and nearby cities are LOADED with places to go see birds. Sparky's favorite state park was the Estero Llano Grande State Park, on of the world birding centers, about a 40 minute drive from the RV park. Here is where she learned of the Pauraque bird, a species of a bird called the nightjars. It's a bird that forages at dusk and at night for insects on the ground. It rests on the ground as well, and it one of THE most camouflaged birds in the wild. Can you see it?

The eyes are down towards the bottom left of the photo, and the tail is pointing to the upper right corner, and the face looks owlish. Here his eyes are just about shut. It took quite awhile for Sparky to pick him out of the leaf debris.

Northern Shoveler Duck-male
This particular state park has nice bird blinds, many hiking trails that you can walk or bike, a big marshy pond, lakes and other ponds nearby, and you could easily spend all day here exploring. Here is where Sparky saw a big alligator, meh...Being recently transplanted from Florida, no big deal, but the SNAKE??? Ewwww.....And that's a baby gator just in front of him.....

Sparky saw northern shoveler ducks, spoonbills, a variety of other ducks, pied-bill grebes (not a duck) and more at this park....Wait for it...Sparky was out walking the trails and here comes a BOBCAT just out for a stroll!!!!.....

It was LESS THAN 50 yards away....he looked at me and looked away. Sparky took a photo. He looked at me again and looked away. Sparky took several photos. Bobcats don't like to mess with humans, so Sparky wasn't worried. He also looked well fed on the natural wildlife found in the park, so Sparky really wasn't worried. (Hmmm, but the photos are a little blurry. Maybe Sparky was just a tad bit nervous? says E.) Nah, just excited. He was so cool! He was BIGGER than the bobcats we have seen in Florida, and had really cool patterning to his fur. 

at the marsh viewing area-blue wing teal ducks?

Ok, enough of all the birds and wildlife. We are going to leave you with a few recommendations for eating in the area. The whole time we were here, the area restaurants were extremely careful and great about spacing and sanitizing. Even with the Texas governor lifting the mask restrictions, EVERYBODY down here in southeastern Texas in Cameron county continued to wear masks indoors and out. It was pretty amazing how thoughtful and careful everybody continues to be with the virus still out there and circulating...SO---we did try a few restaurants in the area and thought these were great...By the way, there are a bazillion Mexican restaurants here in Harlingen, we happened to find a good one right off the get-go, so we stuck with that one! We are sure there are quite a few more....

Lonnie's Down Home Cooking in Harlingen--nice, basic, very reasonably priced breakfasts, great pancakes...

Russo's New York Pizzaria
in Harlingen...OMG...the best pizza ever, (says both Sparky and Eldo) fantastic free appetizer of bread/pizza crust pieces with olive oil dipping sauce while you wait....

Tejano Grill in Harlingen--AMAZING onion ring tower, fabulous Mexican street tacos, and the best melt-in-your-mouth brisket ever, says Eldy. Tejano is Spanish for a Mexican-American inhabitant who lives in southern Texas, just in case you were interested. 

We are ready to leave this VERY windy and getting hotter by the day area of Texas. Time to head north in a couple of days, back towards Houston for a few days, then on to Kentucky......Sparky's focus will shift from birds to something else--(Food, probably, laughs Eldo.) OR, maybe learning Spanish or making some more crafts, who knows? At any rate, hope you enjoyed traveling with us in the Rio Grande Valley area and seeing birds up close and personal.  Bye for now!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Visiting Estero Llano Grande State Park

Hooded oriole-J.Sparks
We are fortunate in that there are quite a few birding centers within an hour's drive or less of our RV park, Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen, TX. Today we decided to visit Estero Llano Grande State Park, a world birding center. It's a 230 acre wetlands space with endangered and unusual coastal species of birds, they say. Heck, the entire Rio Grande Valley border area might as well be designated a world birding center, there are so many beautiful birds here and places to see them!
Great Kiskadee-J.Sparks

The drive is about 29 minutes from the park, and is in the same direction as if you were going to the International Bridge to cross the border into Mexico. Take Exit 160 from I-2/US83 W and then 3.2 miles on the International Blvd. till you see the state park entrance sign on the left. This is one of the most beautiful Texas state parks we have seen so far. (Well, to be fair, we have only visited one other one so far, and it was not very pretty and all closed up...Bentsen Palms State Park.) We picked a cloudy day to go today, but we will definitely go back again another day when the weather is prettier. It actually was misting rain, the first time we have seen any precipitation for weeks!

You walk down the pathway to the visitor's center and voila....a great big observation deck overlooking a very large marshy area...There are also shallow lakes and a thorn forest, so different types of habitats.

Northern shoveler-J.Sparks
There were all kinds of ducks, blue wing teals and northern shoveler ducks, long legged stilts, egrets, spoonbills, common moorehens and more. 

A beautiful boardwalk goes all around the marsh, and there are trails like spider web lines off the main boardwalk. They are short little trails for the most part, some you can ride a bike on, and others you cannot. The main loop around the park is 1.2 miles.

two blue wing teals and a stilt-J. Sparks

They have a beautiful bird blind where you can sit and see lots of birds come to the feeders. We saw hummers, green jays, a grosbeak, and there was a sighting of a rare bird visitor to the area, a trogon, but we didn't see it.
internet photo of trogon
black crested titmouse-internet

We could have sat at the visitors' center for hours, but Sparky gets antsy and has to move around. (And she has a very short attention span, too, explains El.) So we went walking along some of the paths in a light rain. This area below doesn't look like much, but it's a bird paradise and where we saw three different hummers, a black crested titmouse, green jays, and a golden front woodpecker.

There are totem poles at the park, too. We couldn't find any information about them and saw at least two of them. That will have to be for another day of exploration. We will definitely return to this park, it is AMAZING! See you later!
Ruby throat Hummingbird-J.Sparks


Friday, March 12, 2021

Nature Walk in the Rio Grande Valley

Sparky is enjoying the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park more and more. She keeps discovering little corners and pockets of the park. 
The cactus are starting to grow again after the big three day cold spell that killed many plants and damaged others beyond repair. But Mother Nature is trying to bring things back in balance, as she always does. There are buds on most of the trees and buds on the cacti. Each one of those little buds looks like it's going to be a little paddle shaped prickly pear cactus leaf in the future.
Sparky rounded the bend on the Arroyo Trail in the park (about a 1/2 mile out and back) and saw this tremendous cactus/succulent. There are a couple of them in the same area. One looks very damaged from the frost. This one, not too badly damaged. But then.....
WHOA! Look at the flower stalk coming out of the second plant. It's gotta be about 12 feet tall! Sparky thinks this is a century plant or an agave species.
Here's a close up of it....It looks like an asparagus stalk! It's growing very fast. 
Sparky has been walking this area almost every day in the morning, and it is growing amazingly fast. It will be cool to watch the progress of it and see what it's like when it blooms.

There are other things starting to bloom in the park, too. Some bushes with pretty little purple flowers....

One thing very nice about this park is there are many MANY signs labeling the native bushes and shrubs, telling you what things are. They just don't look like much at the moment because they are trying to grow! These flowers on the left are wild growing flowers in a field of thorny leaves but beautiful blooms. I'll bet this place really comes to life after a rain. They have only had about 1.5" of rain since September, so things are extremely dry in the park.
Sparky isn't all about the birds, you know....Well, maybe yes and maybe no. There are TWO orioles on this feeder, one is the common Altamira oriole on the left, and maybe an immature male on the right?
This down below is an oriole, Sparky thinks, but she's got to get some more resources at her disposal to be sure....She likes the Cornell Lab All About Birds website, for one...she thinks a female orchard oriole or a female hooded oriole. SOMEBODY will know out there!
When you sit and wait and watch for birds, the darndest things catch your eye...(At least when you are Sparky they do, explains Eldo.) She thought this spider was very very cool, and that it might be a ghost spider (?) having lunch right in front of her....EWWWWWWW! But isn't it cool?
Sparky thinks she will call it quits for today....(Good idea, says a relieved E.) We will be here for another two weeks, and boy, will we be ready to leave Texas by then. It's getting hotter...86 today...sigh...and winds of 20-30 mph almost every day. Come back and visit with us again, soon! Thanks for reading!