Go West, Old Man!

The frequency of posts depends on the speed of available wifi. Uploading lots of photos is only bearable if there is a reasonably good signal. I have been sleeping in the camper a lot and so no posts. This means I have more or less forgotten what has happened to me by the time I get around to writing something. Sorry for cursory nature of this post. I can’t remember.

Vote Beshear

I am essentially following the route of the early European settlers. Through the Appalachian mountains, the woody hills of Kentucky into the beautiful country around the Missouri/Arkansas state line. Those settlers must have been staggered, coming from their cramped little European countries where all land had been grabbed thousands of years before. I potter along the smallest roads passing through beautiful farmland, crisscrossed with nice big rivers.

Lots of daffodils!

So much land! Help yourself guys, special offer this week. Poor Native Americans.

Dawn somewhere in Missouri. From my bed
Never been here before.
Beaver is surprised to see me
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Mr Northern Cardinal
His wife
Says it all really
Huge Beaver in Kansas
Red bellied Woodpecker. Rare
Same bird. Still rare.

I love Kansas. It is so flat, the skies are huge.

Big skies in. Kansas.
Chisholm Trail went through here.
Kansas Lunch

I end up in Medicine Lodge where there is only one motel. It has frontier style wifi.

I visit the Stockade, a reconstruction of the fort that was here in the early days.

My bedroom.
Yvonne is a rancher and also runs the museum in the stockade. She is lots of fun and very knowledgeable. Her Great grandfather took part in the land grabs in the Indian Territories, now Oklahoma. Thousands of people raced across the prairie grabbing land and putting it in supermarket trollies.

Yvonne gives me a wonderful book on the history of Medicine Lodge. It is mainly snippets from the local newspaper in the 1880s. It exudes enthusiasm, chaos, mixed with vitality and dry humor. Not so long ago. It has marked the people who are here now.

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Camaro

I make it to Charlotte NC. Well done truck! I spend time with son Ben. He is doing so well and I am very proud of him.

What’s more he has a 2000 Camaro with a 5.7 liter V8. He takes me for a drive throughout which I am absolutely terrified.

Muscle

To get to Charlotte I drive through lots of States.

Eat a peach
Populated by Scots, you know.
I feel slightly ill at ease.
Rare Red Headed Woodpecker
Northern Mockingbird
Canada goose. Very common but beautiful birds.

Before I get to Charlotte, I search in vain to find a campground around the town of Murphy Tennessee. I missed the Tennessee border line sign but I promise that I have been there. Anyway, I end up camping by a very grunge boat launch surrounded by urban tipping. At 11:00 there is a hammering on the door. I was asleep.

“Sir, you can’t camp here. No camping inside city limits.” says the young woman officer.

“Sorry, couldn’t find anywhere else.”

“Ok don’t stay more than 3 days.”

I think being an old guy with a British accent helps a lot in these situations.

Down by the river where the Police woke me up.

Again before I get to Charlotte, I am snowed in way up in the Smoky Mountains National Park. The park closes down for 2 days. There is nothing for it but to snuggle down in the camper. It is wonderful; plenty food, plenty drink and the furnace is working perfectly. So cosy!

The snow gets worse.
Cabin Fever
Good Morning

The best countryside since Mexico has been in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Beautiful wooded mountains, pasture with chocolate box farms.

Dozens of them.
5.7 liter.
Not so Common Loon
Sweet Virginia
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You Ain’t Lost, Y’all in Mississippi!

Too much has happened to describe adequately. Here are a few snatches of the drive, so far, from Corpus Christi to Charlotte. It is a completely inadequate summary.

Jogging through Texas I stop at Goliad, site of the famous massacre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliad_massacre I had never heard of it before.

Site of massacre.
Classic cowboy town

Goliad is a great place.

I don’t doubt it.

The USA is very big. We trundle along over miles and miles of open country. I do everything possible to avoid Interstates and indeed major roads.

Having breakfast and consulting my map, the young lady who served my food asks,

“What is that Sir? My papa used have those things. What do all the lines mean? Why are they different colors? That is soooo cool!”

“You have never used a map?”

“Nope, I just use my phone.”

Caitlin, for that is her name, is a medical student. She is not dumb. Neither do I think this is a purely U.S. phenomenum.

In the restaurant.
A Cardinal in Texas

I cross into Louisiana.

Thank you, I sure appreciate it

I camp by a boat launch. The guys are coming in after a day’s fishing. They all have beautiful new boats with huge outboards. They trailer them out of the water with admirable skill using huge, again seemingly brand new. trucks.

Strangely small boat compensated by reasonable sized truck.
Louisiana Graffiti

“Can I camp here?

“Of course you can buddy! Y’all very welcome.”

Since leaving Corpus Christi I have had a headache, a very sore throat and maybe a fever. Oh no! Have I got Covid? I screech into the next Walmart and get me some cough syrup.

This is great stuff! I now feel much better. Phew

I cross the Mississippi River at Natchez.

Good sized river

I drive up the Natchez Trace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natchez_Trace_Parkway

It goes on like this for hundreds of miles.

It is an interesting road that gives an idea of what the country was like in 1800, er lots of trees. Frankly it gets pretty dull after a while and I swerve off into the wilds of Mississippi.

Mississippi mourns Shane Warne.

“Sorry, I am lost.” I say to the lady in the country store.

“Hell no, you ain’t lost, this is Mississippi! Ain’t nobody lost in Mississippi! You ax anybody and they will set y’all right.”

Camp food
This is where I am now.

Truck running very sweet as we roll over hundreds of mile of country. It is mainly flat and forested with plenty of evidence of a darker past. Lots of shacks beside big mansions. Most of the towns proudly note the date they were burned down by General Grant. Many, many memorials to the glories of the Confederate army. However, I have only seen one Confederate flag; apparently going out of fashion. I see more churches than any other variety of wildlife.

I love the South. Easy to mock but they have something.

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Whoop,Whoop!

The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest birds in the USA.  A few hundred migrate down from Canada to the marshes around Rockport Texas. I am here to see them. I book a trip on a Whooping Crane boat but it is 3 days away. I spend this time on the incredible beaches of Mustang Island and Padre Island.

It is still cold when I get to Mustang Island State Park but the furnace is working and I am very snug.  The sand on these beaches is beautifully clean and has the consistency of fine salt.  The beach on Padre Island is 60 miles long! The weather perks up and a wonderful time is had. There are lots of birds.

More Laughing Gulls
Osprey with catch.
It lands ver close by and starts to eat
Caspian Tern
Long billed curlew
Sanderling
Home on beach.
60 miles of this!
Blue winged teal
Pied billed grebe

I rush back to Rockport to see the crane. I eat at The Boiling Pot. The menu is variations on crab, sausage, shrimp, potatoes. These are simply boiled and then flung on the table accompanied by a big pot of melted butter.You attack with your hands. Amazing food! 

Get bowl of clams as a starter.

I get ready to leave.

“Sir, your meal has been paid for.”

“What?!”

“Yes sir, a gentleman wanted to get the tab for your food.”

“Where is he?!”

“ He left 10 minutes ago.”

What do you make of that?

We embark next morning for a 3 hour trip around the wetlands. Captain Tommy is vey knowledgeable. We see lots of cranes but they are pretty far away making photography difficult.

Whooping Cough. Huge birds, about 5 feet tall.

Great fun but nothing like Mexico birdwise.

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Lonesome Dove

Suddenly I find myself crossing over the Rio Grande into the USA. In Mexico it is hot but I can see a cold front rolling in from the North as I chat to the friendly but firm customs guy. By the time I get into Brownsville it is cold, raining and getting dark. I run for a motel.

From the motel window.

I head North to Corpus Christi, hunting the Whooping Crane. I pull into a Denny’s for breakfast and beside the restaurant is Discount Tire shop.

The truck needs tenderness. Her tires are very worn and the exhaust system is hanging on by cable ties and USB cables.

“Sir, get yourself some breakfast and coffee. We will have new tires on your truck by the time you are finished.”

I love the US! I have a great breakfast and sure enough the truck is re-shod when I stroll back to Custom Tires.

New boots

I get to Corpus Christi and track down Flanagan’s Muffler Shop. It is in a wasteland of auto-shops, scrapyards, interlaced with roads that are as wide as most motorways in the rest of the world.

Go there

Dale, who is the boss, is very, very Texan, small, wiry and unshaven. He is completely on top of his job. He runs the truck onto the ramp and informs, ” Have to change out the muffler buddy. A lot of these young boys come to replace their mufflers for something loud. I got a stack of used mufflers for your truck out back. They are stainless steel and will last longer than you will buddy. I can put on one of those for $200 or I can get y’all a replacement part from Toyota but they are mild steel. They ain’t worth shit and will cost y’all more than twice as much.”

I love this stuff

“Sorry buddy, the boys can’t do it tonight, we are kinda backed up.” It is 5:00 in the evening.

“OK, I guess I can find a hotel and come back tomorrow.”

” If y’all want, y’all can pull up the truck out back and sleep there. The boys can get right on it tomorrow morning.”

One of the stranger places I have slept.

Dalemay have lots of guns and perhaps votes Trump but he is a hell of a guy. Like Gunga Din, I feel he is a better man than I. He has my total admiration.

Laughing gulls down the road from the muffler shop.
Stainless! $200 parts, labor and camping.

Both the tires and muffler replacements were so, er, life enhancing. The truck is as fit as a weasel. Watch out Whooping Cranes!

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Ciel! Mon Mari!

I head off to find the Biosfera El Cielo, https://biosferaelcielo.com which is somewhere in North East Mexico. It is reputed to be a good place for birdies.

Mexico is big.

I drive for 2 days from Fresnillo over flat desert plains. It is a dull trip made worse by a ghastly 2 hours trying to find my way out of St Luis Potosi. However even the grimmest road journey in Mexico is made bright by the rows of stalls that line the road on the way into and out of anywhere. Tacos, birria, burritos, carnitas, fruit of every sort, cold fruit juice, coconuts, roasted maize, steak and kidney pie, etc, etc.

Second from left is Coconut milk, of which I take a liter.
Steak tacos, I immediately order 2 more, and a liter of coconut milk. The whole lot is $3.
He parks his huge truck in the middle of the road and picks up a few tacos. No one seems to mind. They just drive around the truck.

I finally get to the tiny town of Gomez Farias, outside of which there is a Centro Interpretivo. I mime that I would like to find a birdwatching guide. 10 minutes later Mario shows. He is fantastic and seemingly very excited that I am there. He is determined to show me the Altamira Yellowthroat, which is only found within a few miles radius of Gomez Farias. When I say found, it is a simplification. We spend hours snuffling around drainage ditches and after much diligence Mario finds a couple. They move very fast in amongst the reeds. This is birdwatching at its most obsessive!

Altamira Yellowthroat. This photo is a miracle.
A Roadrunner, having a rest, watches Mario and I hunting the Yellowthroat.

I am exhausted but Mario has the bit between his teeth and off we go into the now night to search for owls.

Northern Pootoo.
Mottled Owl

Next day at 07:00, we are off again now accompanied by Esteban who is to be my guide over the next couple of days.

Mario, I, Esteban at 07:00

The first target is the amazing Great Currasow that wander out of the forest to feed early in the morning.

A male. They are turkey sized.
The female of the species.
Montezuma Oropendola. Big

Esteban and I head into the mountains up a very, very rough road. We spend 3 days hammering up and down tiny mountain roads, all in terrible condition.

Well done truck.

We make our way up to the tiny village of Alta Cima, Esteban’s home town.

Esteban’s house, at the back, in Alta Cima.
Main St , Alta Cima

A bird you have never seen before is called a ‘Lifer’ in birdwatching vernacular. I do not think there is a term for birds that you have not even heard of. During the 3 day trip I only see 2 species that I have previously met, the other 50 or so I have not only not met but indeed never heard of. It is truly amazing birding!

Elegant Hawk Eagle. Wow!
Elegant Trogon
Acorn Woodpeckers, one of the 2 species I have seen before.
Hepatic Tanager
Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl. Super rare.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Spot the difference. This sort have stripy heads
Painted Bunting.
Squirrel Cuckoo. Huge.
Wedged Tailed Sabrewing. Never heard of it.
Mr and Mrs Crimson Collared Grosbeak

Anyway, I could go on like this for a very long time but you get the picture. Esteban and I spend 3 exhilarating and exhausting days in the mountains. He is a genius. I camp in his garden and his very funny wife cooks me breakfast; beans, eggs and tortillas, every morning. It is a very simple mud house.

Thank you Esteban. Thank you Mario. Thank you truck. What an adventure!

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Mountain Road

After a couple of weeks in the fleshpots of San Blas, the time has come to move on. I have to start moving northeast. My next major destination is the La Reserva de la Biosfera del Cielo, which is over there somewhere.

I like to take small roads and set off up on a tiny one over the mountains towards the city of Fresnillo.

Follow the yellow dirt road.

We go from sea level to 3,000 meters on a very, very steep and very broken road. I am in first gear coming out of the hundreds of hairpins that lead us to the top.

The prospects are breathtaking for a hundred miles!

This not a good photo. Most of the route is much more spectacular.

The road has been tarmac covered at some date but now is in very bad condition. We swerve and slalom around the 50 cm deep potholes that judder the truck painfully if hit. There is no one on this road. Not quite true as there is quite a lot of horsey traffic.

Heigh ho Silver away!
Gas stop
The firewood must get through.

At one point, three police/military trucks come by. Each has a heavy caliber machine gun and carries six horribly be-weaponed young men. I waved and to my surprise they waved back!

Occasionally, a collection of wooden huts shows up. The inhabitants are Indian and dressed in bright colors. It is getting dark and I do not know where I am. Wonderful thing about the 4wheel camper is that you can peel off into the woods and set up camp at will. This I do.

Very liberating

After a peaceful night, I gently weave my way out of the mountains and end up in the city of Fresnillo.

From my, very scruffy hotel. 500 pesos.

Fresnillo is a nothing sort of place but has lots of interesting small shops.

How many belts do you buy? They last for ages!
Specialization is the way of the future.

The recent, let’s say the last 200 years, history of Mexico is complex. This is another way of saying I know very little about the recent history of Mexico. A guy in a bar told me that at one point of time the government made Christianity illegal.

Notice gunshot wounds

I stumble into a non descript restaurant that is full of men with weathered faces, all wearing white cowboy hats, and women wearing highly colored skirts and shawls. They only serve variations on mutton stew. I get a rack of lamb chops for 150 pesos. So good!

Makes a change from oysters.

So, I am in the middle of Mexico with no very clear idea of where I am going. It will become clearer with time.

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More Bliss

Sorry folks, more birds and food. A recent commentator on this blog pointed out that it is only about birds, food and sailing. I had not spoken this person for 30 years or so. “Is this what your so promising life has become?” he asks.

Well yes, I suppose so but I feel no guilt.

I spend some days in the grounds of the glorious Hotel Paraiso el Miramar near San Blas. There are masses of birds and 4 fish restaurants on the beach about 5 minutes walk away.

Here we go again.
Lovely women sell me hot cake.
Russet Bellied Chacalac, inspiration for this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6_4K9YT3DY
I eat mango followed by shrimp omelet for breakfast each day.
Parce que je le mérite. Getting ready for breakfast.

I return to San Blas for a boat trip into the mangroves.

Yellow crowned night heron
Mr and Mrs Wood Stork
Family group
Very rare Common Black Hawk
Just to break bird monotony, here is a man with a fish.
A Limpkin.
Juvenile Snail Hawk
Tiger Heron
Skulking Purple Gallinule
Immature White Ibis
Another short break from bird tedium
More familiar Great Blue Heron.

There are so many birds. This is definitely one of the great birdwatching excursions. Do it.

I go back to San Blas to eat carnitas tacos.

Out on the street.

What a wonderful time I have had in San Blas but St Valentine’s Day is approaching so I have to get out of town.

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San Bliss

San Blas is my principal Mexican destination and is about as far South as I will go. So many reasons to come here, sea , sun, food, people but I am here for birds.

I meet up with old compadre Jose Antonio.

We meet at 6:30 and go after esoteric species. The first day, our prey is birds that are impossible to see in wetlands.

Sora, impossible to see.
Spotted Rail. Last spotted, hoho, in 1934.
Laughing Falcon. Cry is giggling noise.

Birdwatching with someone who knows what they are doing, rather than my own aimless stumbling around, is a joy. Antonio is very good and we see so many birds, few of which I managed to photograph well.

Cinnamon Hummingbird
Streak backed Oriole
Orchard Oriole

Next day we head up in to the mountains to ferret around in the abandoned coffee plantations.

Tiger Heron
Don’t know what this is. It is the size of a turkey.
Citroline Trogon

Great fun to spend a couple of days with Cathy and Santiago. She skippers her own Annapolis 41!

Lots of fresh fruit.

This is what I like to do: watch birds and eat fish.

Carnitas is, I think, the name for this. Deep fried pork for breakfast – delicious.
Must eat more fish
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Gallop

Now cured, the truck is frisky, she paws the ground, she wants a good gallop.

A two day drive to the coast. So beautiful; mountains, plains, huge distances, no traffic. The truck revels in her health. She swoops and glides down to Durango. At a roadblock, I give a heavily armed FBI agent, his words, $150 because I do not have a vehicle importation paper. Fair cop. I hope he buys his señorita a pretty dress.

The road from Durango to the coast is a classic. It cuts through mountains and deep gorges by means of probably hundreds of tunnels and extravagant viaducts. One of the great drives. Sorry, I didn’t take any photos.

I camp at Caimanero beach. Of course, there is a fish restaurant just a couple of minutes walk away.

That’s what I like
Palm thatched roof, dirt floor, plastic fork, incredible food.

Grey whales frolic just off the beach. Dolphins play games with the breaking waves.

Its beak can hold more than its bellycan
Nice
Dawn from my bed.

I start on the short hop down to San Blas but am much delayed by the wildlife beside the road.

Roseate spoonbill
Neotropic, I believe.
Grey Hawk
Not sure what this is.
Great White Egret and Wood Stork
Not a bird
What is the plural of Black Necked Stilt?

I have reached San Blas! It was give or take for a couple of days but the truck is running better than ever. A glorious future awaits!

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