Day 31, November 10, 1997: Eagle Pass to Brownsville, TX

The weather that was threatening last night was still threatening when I got up this morning. If anything the wind was worse. The banana trees at the pool side looked as thought they might be shredded before it was over. Throughout the day I drove into pockets that I was certain would break out into full-scale storms but nothing beyond a wind-driven mist ever materialized. The road never showed any signs of moisture until I got into Brownsville and went looking for someplace to eat.

The motel here in Brownsville turned out to be quite a surprise. I checked into the Comfort Inn and upon getting to the offered room found it to be unsatisfactory - there was a distinct odor to the room. I went to the front desk and complained and the clerk moved me into a different room. Man, is this ever a different room! Suite actually. I am sitting typing this at the executive-size desk surrounded by expansive bookshelves (stocked with a new set of Encyclopedia Britannica and other books), video entertainment center, and wet bar. The bar isn't stocked but I can't have everything I guess. The suite has a bathroom larger than some motel rooms I have had on this trip. There is a bedroom with king bed and another TV. There are also three telephones. I'm starting to think that I should complain more often.

The drive down was boring but I'm getting used to that. One would-be attraction proved not to be. I drove along what, on the computerized map anyway, was a huge lake but never saw anything. I figured that it was just out of view and got eager to see it. Upon getting into the town of Zapata which advertised itself as "The Home of Falcon Lake" I sought out a road leading to it and set off. Hmmm... Still nothing visible. Drive some more. Still nothing visible. The GPS now shows that I am driving a quarter mile into the lake and there is nothing but dust and brush nearly ten feet tall and the road is getting worse. Looking down the road it is still bone dry as far as I can see. These Texans have clearly been hitting the Lone Star a bit too hard and have started to hallucinate. Mass hallucinations at that. If there is actually a Falcon Lake out there it must be one of the best-hidden bodies of water in the world.

There can be no question that the whole trip down was in a virtual Mexico. The towns along the way often have no English signs in them at all. The radio stations are 95% Mexican no matter which side of the border they might be on. They play everything from popular Tejano to Mexican rap. The architecture, when it was distinguishable at all, was Mexican. Clues that would suggest I was driving on the US side rather than the Mexican were there, of course, but without a reminder every now and then I wouldn't have known.

Speaking of Texas oddities. Perhaps somebody can help me figure this one out. It seems to be the usual practice in most of this state to drive off onto the shoulder of the road when anybody appears in your rear-view mirror. Given that they have huge stretches of road with plenty of passing zones, why they risk their and my life by doing this is beyond me. No matter how they do it it is unsafe. At the best they are apt to veer back onto the road while another vehicle is beside them if the shoulder narrows or is obstructed. At worse the wind up peppering others with debris and bits of shredded roadkill. If any of you have a clue as to why this practice exists, please let me know. It is so widespread that one generation of Texas drivers must teach it to the next to keep it going.

The expected citrus groves never did appear. I did see a scattering of trees at the very end of the trip but there never did seem to be any sort of sales operation. Oh well, I guess I can go to a "supermercado" and buy some if I really want them.

The picture of the day was the one piece of water I did finally locate. This is the Rio Grande at a tiny town of Los Ebanos. The odd thing about this place is the ferry that operates here. It is actually pulled back and forth by manual labor. A gang of four of five workers heave on a rope and the ferry moves. This appears to be the only instance of this in the USA. The fare for a foot passenger (or to simply get down there to take a picture) is $0.25. I didn't inquire about the fare for a car because I don't have a Mexican insurance card, but it is probably only a dollar or two. I have seen this sort of thing on a larger scale on the Indus River in Pakistan where a boat of at least 50-feet runs between the shore and an island park left over from the days of British rule. There, the workers manipulate the angle of the boat to utilize the force of the rushing water for propulsion in the desired direction. On the Rio Grande at this spot there probably isn't enough flow to manage that trick but labor is dirt cheap in any case.

I should finally get a major change of scene tomorrow as I drive from Brownsville to the Gulf and start north again. Who knows, I might still find those fresh oranges as the 13,000 mile solo journey around the edges of the USA continues.


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