Sunday, October 18, 2009

Breaking In The Passports

We applied for our passports on October 1st and they got to us 12 days later! How is that for fast government processing? We wanted to "break them in" so we planned a day trip to Mexico. We live in south Texas so a 2.5 hour drive gets us to the border. Off we went!

I am always on the look out for things to take pictures of. Here were my "finds" before getting to Del Rio, TX and the crossing into Acuna, Mexico.

alamo village

Somehow, I think Austin has them beat as the movie capital of Texas, but we will let Bracketville keep believing their claim to fame. Frankie and I have passed through Bracketville a few times on our way to elsewhere, but we have never gone to Alamo Village. One day we might just take a drive to go see it.

As we got closer to the border we saw a dirt road that runs parallel to the road and a 8 foot high fence.

This is for the US Border Patrol. They will drag tires behind their trucks to clear the path so they can watch for tracks of illegals in America. We only had to stop at one border patrol station coming home, but we are used to them from when we lived in Van Horn out in far west Texas.

There really was not much to see between our house and Del Rio except for cactus, mesquite trees or bushes the further we went, and livestock from the surrounding ranches. So, on to Mexico!

last turn around

As least they let you know. Once you are in are in line! We drove on past the point of no return to cross the bridge leading into Mexico where we had to pay to get on it.

I am sure they make a lot of money after 9 PM on Friday and Saturday nights off all the people who go over to drink. Which is a scary subject all by itself! In the past when we have gone into Mexico it was super easy and fast to get in. There has never been a wait, there has never been a line. Not this time.

It wasn't too bad of a wait, but note we were still not in Mexico. It was a little uncomfortable to go into Mexico. There were people stretched along that bridge trying to sell you bracelets, rosaries, food, and other items. They are fairly persistent and it was awkward for us. We are just not use to being approached like that. After 30 minutes we finally crossed into Mexico!

Now the real fun began. It is amazing to drive just over a bridge and have everything change. All the signs change from English to Spanish (although we do have many billboards in Spanish in south Texas), the stop signs now all say " ALTO" and very few people speak English.

We pulled up to the Mexican Border Patrol...not really sure what they are called...and she started speaking Spanish. We just looked at her blankly. She said something else....we looked at her blankly. She said something else, I am not even sure if she was repeating or saying something different the whole time. I think many of the Mexican people thought that I was Mexican because they would say something to me in Spanish. I would just look at them and say, "I don't understand." Then they would go, "Ahhh...ok." And that would be then end of them trying to talk to me. It isn't like that hasn't happened to me my whole life though.

Finally the agent realized that we had no clue what she was saying and just opened the back door of the car to do a quick search. I guess we seemed trustworthy, because after her quick search she said thank you in English and let us go. This made me realize why America should be protective of our borders. If it is that easy to get into Mexico then any type of person could be there just waiting to get into America to cause harm. They didn't ask for passport, they didn't even ask to see an ID card. Nothing. One quick search and we were on our way into their country.

We drove around looking for this magical main street called Hildago. Note to anyone going to Acuna...when you are done at the border turn right out of the parking area and then left onto Hildago. This will save you the time of wandering around, hoping you are not going the wrong way on a one-way. Plus, you will not try to run a stop sign or should I say alto sign, just because it is faded beyond recognition. Yeah, been there, done that saw some interestingly named streets in the process.

5de mayo street

Here we have 5 de Mayo street. Notice the banner on the right with Aguirre on it. It will come into play later. Also, notice the alto sign and green traffic light at the same corner. Talk about confusing!

16de septiembre street

And here we have 16 de Septiembre street. Mexico does have a nice feature on their stop lights. When they are about to turn yellow the green light start flashing, then it changes to yellow. It took a few flashing green lights for us to figure it out but once we did it was nice.

Somehow we finally made our way back to the border parking area and went the correct way onto Hildago street, where there are 1000 dentist and pharmacies and 2000 bars.

hildago street

Our first mission was to find something to eat. We wanted something good and authentic. The strange thing was that there were a lot of restaurants and shops closed and as you can see in the picture above it was dead. There were very few tourist and very few people out period. We found one restaurant down a side street and decided that it was the one we were going to eat at. We walked in and there were about 6 small plastic tables with plastic lawn chairs. It looked as if it was in the process of trying to open for the first time. There were two men sitting in the room watching TV. When we walked in they yelled to a person in the back. He came out and Frankie said, "Food?" The man raised his hand to tell us wait a moment and then went in the back. He came back a few moments later and said, "Huevos?" Frankie and I both understood that....eggs. All he had to offer were eggs?? We politely declined and walked out. It was the strangest thing we have ever encountered at a restaurant.

I would like to note here that when not under pressure I can speak some phrases of Spanish. I at least can say, "No hablo espanol." I know Frankie can say the word for food in Spanish, but once we got in a situation where it was needed those things flew right out of our heads. I really hope this doesn't happen in Italy when we go. I am sure it will for the first day, but maybe it will come back for the rest of the week we are there!

We continued our search for food and came to a restaurant called La Macarena.

There was no one else in the restaurant. One of the waiters spoke English so we asked him where all the people were. He said that the next day was election day and drinking alcohol was prohibited during this time. From all the banners and bumper stickers with the name Aguirre on it I have a feeling I know who the winner will be. So sadly, their tourism plummets when people can not go over to drink. Out of curiosity Frankie asked how much a beer would be and the waiter told him $1.50. I have no clue about beer prices so that is all I have for you.

We stayed and ordered. The menu was in English which means we were in a tourist restaurant, but we didn't want to try to find something else. Frankie ordered beef fajitas.

Notice the french fries...what you didn't know that fajitas were suppose to come with fries? :) Now check out the Mexican ketchup.

In case you don't know, Hill Country Fare is the store brand of a grocery store chain in Texas, called HEB. So with his fries, fajitas and ketchup from Texas Frankie ate his "authentic" Mexican food. I ordered the Tampiquena which is a cut of beef with a tomato based sauce and bell peppers on it. It came with a soft taco, rice, and the best guacamole I have ever had! I will have to say the food was good.

Our meal came to $16 plus tip. I wasn't expecting lunch to be that much when we drove over. But then again, between the two of us we had 3 cokes, 1 bottle of water, an appetizer and 2 plates. So I guess that total was ok after all.

After eating we walked around and went into some different stores. We ended up only buying some candy, but we did buy something! Last time we went into Mexico we were too scared to ask if they took American dollars and ended up buying nothing. On our walk we saw some familiar companies.

I have my doubts about the last one though, especially since those are Warner Bro. cartoons.

After 4 hours of being there we decided we had enough and it was time to go home. We found the car, and paid the guy $3 for washing total for parking was $10. $7 to park on a Saturday and $3 to get washed. Again, more than I expected. When we drove away from the parking lot we somehow managed to get lost again. We are going to print a stinking map next time and take it with us. Of course that only works if the roads are marked. But surely with a map and a few road signs we can get around better than literally driving aimlessly! We found our way and had to pay $1.80 to get back on the bridge to head to America. The traffic was very light getting out and we quickly reached the border.

To get into America we had to show our passports and the Border Patrol agent asked us many questions such as, why were you in Mexico, do you know anyone there, where are you from, what do you do there, what did you buy in Mexico, and are you US citizens. A drug dog sniffed the outside of the car. They had us roll down the window so they could look inside the vehicle. Again we must really look trustworthy because that is all they did then they let us go on through. They had other cars pulled over searching in more depth. I am sure they are taught how to read body language and we didn't act nervous because we knew he had nothing to hide.

I do have to say that I was very disappointed in our trip. We went to break in our passports and have them stamped. But the Mexicans didn't even look at them and the Americans were not going to stamp an American passport. So in my opinion it was a bust. I guess we will just have to make a short trip up to Canada soon and try to get a stamp up there. Yeah right! So hopefully the first stamp we get in our passports will come from:

Man, I want to know what is that train boxcar so bad!!!

Until then, ciao!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Walk Through My South Texas Jungle

It is officially autumn in the northern hemisphere. The temperatures in south Texas can vary from the 90's to the 70's during this time and so it doesn't always feel like summer is gone, but it has. I did see one sign that autumn is at least trying to get here. I am not sure what type of plant it is. It was on the ground, but its leaves were red, so it counts. At least in my book anyways.

One Sign of Fall

It had been drought-dry all summer so there had been little plant life to photograph, plus it was in the 100's almost everyday. A walk to the car was almost unbearable so going out to take pictures didn't happen. Autumn came and so did the rains. We have wildflowers again and even more than we had in spring! I recently took a walk outside with my camera to see what I could find.

I took a picture of some tiny white flowers, but when I came inside to look through the photos, I noticed something much more interesting in the photo. It doesn't look good for the grasshopper in the bottom left corner...

poor grasshopper

As I continued my trek in our "jungle" (It needs to be mowed.) I came across another insect. It was vivid blue damselfly. It was very pretty and I don't think the picture really does it justice.

blue damselfly

I wanted to know the common names of the plants that are native to south Texas and growing around the house. So after taking the pictures I brought them inside and started researching. I found almost all of them and I think I found the right names to go with the right plants. If you see something that is not right by all means let me know. (A special thanks to Fred S. and Katie D.'s dad for help in the identification process!)


Buffalobur is EVERYWHERE on our land. It thrived in the driest hottest conditions God could give it this summer. It is mean, has thorns on just about every part of it, and they hurt!

Dirt, dirt and more dirt

This was in March and it looked this way for several months. Then the buffalobur started growing and then we actually got some rain. Here is the the same shot in October.

Yes, it may look pretty, but it is basically a huge thorn patch!

Most of those trees in the front of the house are mesquite trees. There are some others, but I haven't identified them yet. I had plans all summer to go pick mesquite beans and make some jelly out of it. I hear it taste like honey, so I was very excited to make my own. Time kept passing and I had all the intentions to go pick some, but when I finally went out in October all the beans had fallen off.

Mesquite tree no beans

So next year it is! I know that I can used the dried beans and grind them up to make flour. It is supposedly good for you. I didn't want to use the ones on the ground though, too many bugs! This is something I might try next year along with the jelly. If I do either you know there will be a blog about it!

The tree below was the one I had the most trouble identifying. I posted the picture on Facebook and two people told me the same thing so I am going with that. It is a hackberry tree. The berries are supposed to be safe for human consumption. They stay around all winter and the birds do eat them. I have not tried a berry yet and a little scared to, but I will do some more research on them and get back to you on that.

Now for the flowers:

Purple Bindweed and of course Buffalobur.

Scarlet Musk and the ever present Buffalobur.

Prairie Verbena
Prairie Verbena. Hey look no Buffalobur!

This is one of the flowers I am not sure if I have the name right. Anyone know for sure?

Now for the greatest find of the day in my opinion....

I saw this vine:

Which lead to this...

I picked up several of the melons to examine up close.

The ripe ones were about the size of a small lemon and the unripe ones looked like mini watermelons. They had a strange smell. I didn't find it unpleasant but my husband acted like it was the worse thing he had EVER smelled in his life. It had a spicy, earthy smell. I had never smelled anything quite like it.

After some research online I believe they are dudaim melons. I got conflicting information on whether they are edible or not so they are not going in my mouth!

They sure make a pretty centerpiece when cleaned up, but my husband didn't like the smell so I tossed them outside.

I love that we live on a piece of land that produces so many varied plants. It is interesting to see them all and I love to photograph them. Soon the trees will lose their leaves and it will look so barren, but it is the way God intended so can't complain. We all need periods of rest for rejuvenation. Even the plants. :)

I hope you remember to enjoy the greens, reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn!