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Places of Interest:

Texas Rio Grande Valley
Nuevo Progress, Mexico, Bentson Palm State Park, Port Mansfield, Mission

2004 Travelogue #2 Rio Grande Valley
Casa del Valle RV Park
Alamo, TX

12/31/2003 We were told about a "must see" in the area, the Don-Wes Flea Market on Business US 83 in Donna. The name is a derivative for the towns of Donna and Weslaco. While driving toward Donna, but still in Alamo; we came to another Flea Market with cars and trucks parked haphazardly in all directions; we pulled onto a dirt field and parked. This market, about 2 acres in size, was for the Mexicans, with no Anglos in sight. Table after table were piled high with clothing, household items, small appliances, toys, tools and everything imaginable, including food (packaged in Mexico) or freshly picked. When tables were unavailable, mounds of clothing were piled in the dirt to be rummaged by the shoppers. After a quick and dusty walk-through we moved down the highway to the Don-Wes market.

The Don-Wes Flea Market was in direct contrast to the one mentioned above and definitely Anglo in origin. It was housed away from the dust and wind, in a large building filled with neat, orderly booths. We sampled a dozen hot, miniature, cinnamon sugar donuts as they came from the cooker and Peg bought a pair of earrings. It was fun looking at the stuff!

1/12 Today, we ventured into Mexico with our tour guides Kim and Marilyn Esry, our next door neighbors here at the Park. It was a sunny, perfect day for our outing. Driving about 15 miles to Progresso, we parked the car for a dollar in a large parking lot, within walking distance to the International Bridge. It was now 11 am and the American foot traffic crossing the Rio Grande was heavy. We dropped 25 cents into the turnstile to cross the Rio Bravo. As we walked we noticed below the Bridge and along the banks of the river Mexican peasants, many of them children, raising plastic milk/ water containers strapped onto long sticks in search of a tossed coin.

Nuevo Progresso's main shopping area was crowded with vendors and Americans. We passed numerous small shops, pharmacies, barbershops, dental clinics, bakeries, grocery and liquor stores. Many Americans do their dental work and various medical procedures, as well as fill prescription drugs, in Mexico. The cost savings can be significant. We had our list of drugs for price checking but found that, since we had insurance, our co-pay was cheaper than Mexican prices. We did, however, find one prescription drug that Peggy uses for her skin which insurance will not cover, costing $79 a tube at Wal-Mart, for $7.20. Now, that was a savings!!

Our first stopping place was located on a side street where a vendor, in a small hut built on a moveable carriage, served tacos and launches. Launches are deep fried hard rolls, split and filled with flavored ground meat, sprinkled with a combination of shredded cabbage, tomatoes, onions and cheese. Then, pass the hot sauce! Actually, they are very good and you can't stop with just one! Peg wanted a soda, so she helped herself to a bottle of Coke from the ice chest around back where the opener hung next to it on a string. We sat on metal stools, at a narrow outside counter of the hut. We ate and enjoyed the comfortable temperature while watching the hustle and bustle of the passing people.

Finishing our launches, we threaded our way down the crowded sidewalks, as Anglo's by the hundreds weaved in out of shops under the canopies of store fronts with their hanging garments and between vendors selling cheap jewelry, watches, and pieces of art. Peering into some windows we saw Anglo's waiting, on a first come first serve basis, for dental work; and most interesting were the unisex beauty salons giving $3 haircuts to men and $4 for women. At one point, we joined a small crowd to watch a young man create artwork on a satellite dish using cans of spray paint. Another man with spray paint used his finger to both mix and paint. Using his finger and small pieces of paper to draw the fine lines, he created a miniature scene in the bowl of a teaspoon. Amazing! It was sort of like watching Ripley's Believe It or Not.

We left the main drag and walked down a side street for two blocks to a building with an interior plaza and courtyard. We rested at a table and enjoyed the music of the strolling mariachis, while sipping our soda and beer before exploring the shops around the courtyard. These shops were more upscale than those on the main street.

Returning to the main street, we passed a small elementary school dismissing class with mothers picking up their children. It was very depressing to see the rundown condition of the school, the barren dirt playground for the kids, and the poverty. In several locations we passed signs asking that money not be given to begging children, because" begging keeps them from going to school". An education is the only way they can improve their living conditions.

Finally, we reached the end of the shops, crossed the street and started the journey back toward the Bridge. The last stop was the Duty Free Shop for liquor. This process seemed complicated. We stood in line to pay for our items, then a clerk took our purchase out of the building and up to the street corner, where he tore off a receipt, and handed us our packages. We then cued up in the Customs line to pay duty on our purchases. It didn't make much sense to me, since we bought our items in a Duty Free Store, to turn around and pay a Duty Tax to bring them stateside; but what the heck, just roll with the flow.

1/20 We drove to a crafts fair at Bluebonnet RV Park in Mission, TX this morning at the invitation of Kathy and Jim Vouchell. We met them last summer at Ferne Clyffe State Park in Illinois where they were the camp hosts. There are many RV parks up and down the Valley catering to the "snowbirds" and many have craft fairs.

Leaving the Vouchell's, we drove south to Bentson Palm State Park along the Rio Grande. At one time this Park had camping facilities, but now it's strictly for day use. The vegetation is dense with honey mesquite, black ebony, cactus and underbrush. While driving the loop around the interior of the Park, we stopped at a small resaca, sat on a bench, and watched the ducks and small birds. One new species for us was the Altamira oriole, a resplendent orange bird with a black face and throat, which is only seen in the Valley. Continuing our drive, we came upon a bird feeder with a variety of birds flitting in and out. Grazing beneath the feeder was a young Havalena, just as content as you please. This sighting certainly added to our nature expedition.

1/31 We were up early this morning and on the road to Port Mansfield, TX for a weekend with Ron & LaVonne Ellisor; our friends from Houston who have built a lovely home in Mansfield. LaVonne is an artist and Ron is a superb fishing guide, when he's not selling electrical components to chemical companies.

LaVonne prepared a delicious salad lunch of chicken, pasta, crab and marinated black beans. Afterwards, Ron and I headed across the street to the boathouse, and begin our afternoon of fishing. We rode for a couple of miles into the shallows of Laguna Madre, which is a large body of water separating Padre Island and the mainland. Here the water is very shallow and the fishing is done at a depth of 6 inches to 5 feet.

. Returning, we filleted our red fish, met the girls and walked up the street to a small restaurant… fillets in hand. There, they cooked our fish to order and served it with side dishes. The red fish were prepared in 3 different ways: blackened, broiled with Italian seasoning, and broiled with Pico de Gallo…ALL three methods were outstanding.

2/3 Tom Dorsey, of Dorsey Wright and Associates, wrote a piece about our travelogues in his Daily Equity Report, to the investment community. In it he mentioned, if anybody was interested they could subscribe to our distribution list. One-investment broker, asking to be added to our list was Sam Hahs, the manager of the AG Edwards office in Harlingen, TX. With the help of emails, Peggy and I met Sam and his wife Johnnie, for dinner in Weslaco at the Blue Onion. This restaurant specializes in pizzas, making their own dough, bread and pastas. We enjoyed our visit and thought how great it was to spend an evening with such delightful folks.

2/6 One of the real benefits of the Valley is the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Obst Orchard and Market was near our RV Park and we drove past their cauliflower field every day… It was time to make a visit. Their small roadside stand, just off Alamo Road and Nolana, had a wide variety of freshly picked produce. The friendly proprietors helped us choose delicious ruby red grapefruits. While selecting our fruit I heard a burro braying across the highway and mentioned it to the gentleman who was helping us. He said, "Oh, that silly old thing wants an orange" and taking one he lobbed it over the fence to the burro. She tucked her ears, picked up the orange, and started chewing. When finished, she let out yet another bray; he threw her a second orange. Then…she was satisfied. She was no dummy…Yum, fresh fruit!!

2/15 We began this Sunday by going to the 9 am service at St. John's Episcopal Church in McAllen. The music was especially uplifting and joyful. After the service, we met the talented Music Director, Arlyn Olson, and expressed to him how much his music and singing added to our worship experience.

Leaving church, we stopped at Anne's Restaurant for brunch on Business 83, east of Road-I in Alamo. Anne's is a small café serving luncheon specials each day, all below $5, and the Sunday special is always fried chicken, 2 veggies and a roll. This place is a real hit with the "Winter Texans" and us.

This afternoon we drove to Mission, turned north onto Main Street and discovered a major cross street named after Tom Landry, native of the town and former Dallas Cowboy football coach. Continuing down Business 83, we noticed two bell towers in the distance and discovered they flanked the front of an old Catholic Church, along with two large statues of saints. What really caught my attention was the marquee displaying the times of services. It read something like this, "8 am Mass in Spanish, 9 am Mass in Tex-Mex and 10:30 Mass in English". We had never seen or heard of a Tex-Mex Mass. Just then a lady happened to be leaving the church; we asked her what a Tex-Mex Mass was? She said," It's a Mass that has a mix of Tex-Mex". Which I assume she meant, a Mass spoken in English and Spanish with a few colloquial words for accent.

Driving Business 83 through Mission reminded me of a boyhood memory from the early 50's. While on a family vacation, we traveled this same 4-lane highway, which was the major thoroughfare connecting the small towns in the Valley. It was the July 4th weekend, we had a new 1950, 4-door, green Dodge with felt seats and no air conditioning, and were on our way to Corpus Christi from Laredo. I remember these same palm trees lining the highway. I had never seen a palm tree and, as a 9-year-old kid, that impression never left me.

Leaving Mission we came to the McAllen Nature Center. This Park was established many years ago as one of the first birding centers in the Valley; sadly to say, it's been neglected. Trails wind through the thorny small trees and Prickly Pear cactus and the underbrush is so dense with foreign weeds and grasses, that it's hard to see the ground. Even so, it was a beautiful afternoon and we did enjoy the walk. We found an open area and caught a glimpse of Green Jays, Chachalacas, and small Wrens.

At one time, a variety of native trees were planted with name plaques, in the center of the park. One particular tree caught our attention with its twisted vertical bark; woodpecker holes up, down and around, and bearing a small green fruit. The plaque read, cordial borsseri, or wild olive.

2/18 We were up early this morning and off to the Weslaco Hospital for Peggy's 7:30 X-ray appointment. By 8:30 we were on our way to Nuevo Progresso, to shop. We found a Pharmacia, bought several drugs and by 10 o'clock, we headed back to the International Bridge. Dropping our quarters into the Mexican turnstiles, we proceeded to cross the Rio Grande. Entering the United States a Customs Agent stopped Peggy because the Agent's detector alarm went off. The officer asked if she had recent X-rays and her immediate response was "no", thinking she meant X-rays while in Mexico. Then she remembered she had X-rays that morning at the hospital, as well as swallowed a radioactive isotope yesterday. She immediately changed her answer to " yes" and gave a brief explanation. Gratefully, the officer passed us through. That alarm surprised us both.

Leaving Progresso, we decided to take the less traveled US 281 back to Alamo, rather than the Expressway. On the way we passed fields planted in a variety of vegetables. At one particular field there was activity; we stopped on the dirt shoulder where other cars, belonging to the field workers were parked. Two men stood on platforms connected to the side of a large bobtail truck; receiving 5 gallon buckets of carrots from the workers, then, dumping them into the cargo area. These carrots were huge, maybe 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter at the stem. Part of this hand harvesting and pulling process was to cut off the green tops before putting each carrot into the bucket. The work was done rapidly and the two loaders had a steady stream of buckets coming at them. I talked briefly to an older Mexican man on his way to his car with his bucket. We spoke in broken Tex-Mex but I gathered that his knees were hurting too much to continue picking. I assumed these large carrots would be going into soups or some other commercial product rather than showing up at the grocery store. But, not so; the next day Peggy found them at the grocery in Alamo and our next-door neighbor said they were tender, juicy and delicious.

2/19 Today was a big day at the doctor's office. We arrived for our 10 am appointment and shortly thereafter, we were both in the examining rooming awaiting the results of Peggy's X-rays and sonogram. It was good news, he said, "There is no tumor in your thyroid gland, just a goiter" and he told her there was nothing to worry about but to monitor it yearly.

2/23 Today was the Craft Fair, at our Park. Tables were arranged in the Activities Hall and vendors came from all over The Valley. Peggy and I toured the various booths, and one particularly booth caught our interest… ladies handbags. We visited with the merchant and found that his manufacturing facility was in Henrietta, Texas. He also has a small factory in Marshfield, MO, that makes walnut handles for the handbags; and coincidentally, it's not far from where our relatives live. We closed out the Craft Fair with our favorite thing, eating… bratwurst on a bun, baked beans and chips.

2/25 It's time to box up and get out of here. We needed one last trip to Obst Orchard to pick our own grapefruit. We were given a couple of 5 gallon buckets, a long handled picker, and told to drive a ¼ mile down the highway to the orchard. We picked a few but the wind was kicking up lots of dust. So, we decided it was easier and healthier to return to the market and choose some of their freshly picked Ruby Reds. These are the best grapefruits we have ever eaten.

2/26. We've decided, after being in The Valley 2 ½ months and not having the really cold part of winter, that we miss the seasonal changes. We're somewhat like a plant; needing a period of cold, a time of dormancy; then, when spring does come, it's ready to bloom.

The Valley was an interesting experience and we met wonderful new friends. We spent a season with all the "Wintering Texans". Now, it's time to head north, like the birds. So, we will leave Alamo this morning for Thousand Trails at Lake Medina, west of San Antonio.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


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