Thursday, April 11, 2013

South Texas Sights & Sounds

Winter Texans (aka: Gringos) 
Just a little background for this area also known as "North Mexico".  The area beckons many “Winter Texans” that escape to this warm climate during the winter months. These retirees are notably referred to as “Gringos” in this region of predominantly Hispanic origin, and are known to spike the population upward considerably – bringing in additional revenues for the state upwards of $770 million each season.  With the huge influx of people, there are approximately 450 separate RV parks here in the valley that are available for them to call home. You hear a lot about “manana” too. It generally means “tomorrow”. It actually means “NOT today” and anyone who’s ever tried to get anything done in this part of the state will find it a little challenging. But, I guess if you’re on retirement time, it shouldn’t matter too much – and don't we call that "recess" time".

Our Welcome Mat
Lower Rio Grande Valley 
Only a few communities in south Texas are heavily populated. In between are stretches of road, ranch land, and thickets of mesquite – a tough tree if ever one lived. You’ll also see landscapes with clumps of cacti, fence posts, and, of course the mesquite. Most homes have the typical fence surrounding the house perimeter and can be either quite fancy or of the chain link variety. We’re not quite sure why this tradition fence is used (to keep people out or to keep their dogs in – or other dogs out), but there are some pretty fancy ones. This area is called the Magic Valley because of the rich soil that grows most of the US fruit& veggies that are shipped out of this area. It has been quiet the magical experience of taste for us. 
Rio Grande River 
 Beaches & Shore/Bay Fishing

South Padre Island (25 miles north of the Mexican border) – This 34 mile long stretch of white sand (ranked as one of America’s top 10 beaches) is bordered to the east by the emerald water of the Gulf of Mexico and to the west by the Laguna Madre bay.
Boca ChicaHwy 4 leads east from Brownsville in a slightly curving path 24 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.Boca Chica is the name given to the end of the road, where you are met with a STOP sign at the point where the road ends, meeting the sand.There’s the beach, period.Apparently the stop sign is meant to keep you from driving straight into the ocean, but is no longer there as the hurricanes have destroyed the sign.In its place are 4 separate signs telling arriving people that the pavement will be ending. . .big time!
Our first trip to the beach at South Padre
A fun sculpture created by construction workers.
Horseback riding on the beach if you want.
Look at all of the sand that has blown on the road.

South Padre Skyline from the jetty at Boca Chica 
Jeff having fun!
Portuguese Man-of-War (blue jellyfish)
Stingray that we decided to let go.
Just some of the many Whiting (like Walleye) that we caught.

Mexico ~ Ole’
Our trips to Mexico have been an experience.  Make sure that you have your passport and at least some quarters in your pocket as you’ll have to feed the turn style $.50 to leave the US and $.25 to leave Mexico.  After taking the walk across the bridge that goes over the Rio Grande River, you’ll be greeted by the voices and ball caps peeking through the bridge structure asking for $$ donations.  You’ll see women of all ages – and small children – trying to work the crowds that walk past.  Once you’re across and past the Mexican Police check point for cars, your challenge is to work your way through the many vendors (and families that include Mom and small children) asking you to stop and buy something.  Also the MANY merchants for dentists, pharmaceuticals and pedicures/manicures, as well as clothing, food, liquor.  . .you name it!  Although we’ve only walked down 4-5 blocks (both sides of the street) which seem safe, we were able to witness on one of our visits the Mexican Military Soldiers that come out to show a presence  - they will not tolerate the local drug dealers. I couldn’t grab the camera fast enough to get a picture of the four (4) full camo pick-up trucks (converted with 50 caliber machine guns on the roof).  Each of the soldiers in these vehicles were in full BDU, concealed faces and each armed with an AK 47 machine gun.  There were 7 soldiers per truck.  Pretty unnerving when you see it in front on your eyes, but we are still told that the crossing into Mexico at Progresso is the safest along the Rio Grande Valley, where much of their revenue is mainly from the winter Texans who stay.

Walking across the bridge to Mexico - from the US side

Streets in Mexico
Had to enjoy a "cool one" with a friend on one of our trips
Kay got a pedicure. . .ahhhhhhhhh

Birding & Butterflies
Excellent bird watching is abundant in this area as well as opportunities to view the many butterflies amid their habitat of grasses, trees and shrubs.  Here in the Valley opportunities to observe some of the over 500 species of birds (Aplamado Falcons, Green Parakeets, Snowy Plowers, Least Turns, White Tipped Doves, Gren Jays, Olive Sparrows, Whopping and Sandhill Cranes - and we did spot several Pink Flamingos too), and 300 species of butterflies that are either native to this area or that migrate through the Valley each year.  Because of its neo-tropical climate, the Rio Grande Valley is home to many tropical birds that can be seen nowhere else in the US.  It is also a major bird migration corridor with two major flyways converging here.  There are 9 World Birding Center satellites located all across the Valley, ranging from shore birds at South Padre Island to water birds that can be seen at some of the various wetlands locations.  This has truly been an experience for us through the lenses of our binoculars, but unfortunately we don’t have the camera set-up to share with you what our eyes have seen.

Gray Heron at the beach
At the Butterfly Center
Cormorants (similar to our Loons)
Migrating Black Birds - literally thousands of them at one time
Black Bellied Whistling Ducks
Landscape (Flowers, Cactus, Crops)
 Being able to witness the many flowering shrubs in this area – in a multitude of colors that we are not use to seeing in the Midwest- as well as the interesting multitude of cacti – has in itself taken our breath away.  It is not uncommon for you to see many brilliant flowering shrubs called “bougainvillea” growing about anywhere and in the most desolate of some areas.  By this, I mean in a very poor-looking home/yard, to their next door neighbor who has quite the beautiful home.  No ordinances are enforced, but almost everyone has a fence and a gate entrance to their home for some reason.
Sugar cane is probably the #1 product/crop in this area.  When the sugar field is ready for harvesting they come into the field and drive around the perimeter of the field with giant flame throwers and ignite the field, from all sides.  A 40 acre field can be totally burned in about 20 minutes (avg).  This is just burning off the excess leaves.  (They call the ash “black snow”.  The next day (after everything has cooled down) giant processors go out and chop the 8-10ft. stalks into 1 ft. pieces, which are then taken to the refinery for processing.  If the cane fields are close to the RV parks, the black rain blows into the pool areas making it a little frustrating for water activities.
Yucca Plants at the Wildlife Refuge

Flowing Aloe
Pink Evening Primrose
Sugar Cane Field

Entertainment (professional & area students

Music definitely plays an important part of this area.  We were able to enjoy a day at the Rio Grande Valley Music Festival held in February that included traditional country, western, bluegrass and gospel music.  Some of the performers were here for the first time as well as some favorites donating their time, with all net proceeds supporting music education for Valley students.  We were able to attend several concerts for traditional Mariachi & Folkloric dancing by students of the local high schools and South Texas College.  The Mariachi signing/music is awesome to witness.
Dobro Guitar
Other Spectacular Stuff

Sightseeing was definitely on the agenda.  Check the pics below for just some of the pretty awesome sights around and in the Valley.
Basilica of the National Shrine of Out Lady of San Juan
Face of the Shrine is made of individual ceramic tiles
Popular Drive-In Stores (limited items)

Kite Festival at South Padre Island

Don-Wes Flea Market

Coast Guard Exercises at South Padre Island

Some of the large ships at the Port of Brownsville

Foods That You Wouldn't Believe!
All kinds of food for all kinds of people . . . the selections are mind boggling. You could really put on the tonnage. Not too impressed with the local Mexican food prep as we understand that most of their food is processed in “lard”. You’ll have to ask Jeff about his “gut-wrenching”experience with the foods that he’s had here so far. Anyway, plentiful is what you’ll find for bakeries, hair salons/barbers, tire fixing shops, car dealers, the many road vendors selling fruit, Walmart and HEB stores. Yikes!!!  Citrus is King!!!!
Can you believe the size of this pineapple & cauliflower?
Quite the hamburger that we both shared - WOW!

Citrus is King so you have to have the freshly squeezed juices.


HUGE Baked Potato With BBQ Brisket
·      Texas, which covers 268,581 square miles (land & water), is as large as the following 10 states combined:  Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina.

·      Texas extends 801 straight-line miles from north to south and 773 miles from east to west.

·      The state’s longest river, the Rio Grande, forms the international boundary between Texas and Mexico.  The second longest, the Red River, forms the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma.

·      Texas’ highest point is Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet.  Its lowest point is at sea level where Texas meets the Gulf of Mexico.

·      The state has 22 million acres of forest and woodlands.  12 million acres comprises four national forests and five state forests.

·      Texas - second only to Alaska in inland water acreage – has more than 4,959 square miles of lakes and streams.  The largest body of water wholly within the state is Sam Rayburn Reservoir, with a normal surface area of 114,540 acres.

 State’s Symbols: 
Flower?                 Bluebonnet
Nickname?              Lone Star State
Motto?                   Friendship
Bird?                     Mockingbird
Tree?                     Pecan
Insect?                   Monarch Butterfly
Song?                    “Texas Our Texas”
Fruit?                    Texas Red Grapefruit
Large Mammal?       Texas Longhorn
Small Mammal?       Armadillo
Pepper?                  Jalapeno
Sport?                   Rodeo
Dinosaur?               Brachiosaur Sauropod
Footwear?              Cowboy/Cowgirl Boots
P.S.  Now, for the journey home to get the house back on the market so that we can really be full-time RVers.   We are planning on traveling through the Hill Country and take 2-3 weeks, making sure that there is no "COLD" back home.  Jeff, says that he does not want to winterize the RV, and for me, I don't want to wear any winter clothes!  Hope you liked our "first trip" Texas story - there is so much to see and do in this state; we will definitely be back to do more in the very near future.  Heck, we haven't even touched the mountains yet!!!!!
Hugs to all!
Kay & Jeff