Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A New Day, New Mexico, Tombstone and Tucson, AZ

The sky is blue and the air is sparkling clean as day dawns in El Paso, TX, which we made a stop on our journey in honor of a series we are totally addicted to called The Bridge. I understand it has been cancelled, but it’s premise was that there was a lot of horrible crime in Juarez because law enforcement authorities on both sides had given incentives to keep the ugliest crimes on the Mexican side of The Bridge, and US drug enforcement personnel at the highest levels protected drug flow into our country through tunnels and trucking. Fascinating, although in truth, sometimes AdventureMan and I looked at each other and asked “What just happened?”

We have a short driving day today, but a stop at Tombstone, the site of the shoot-out at the OK Corral. Well, not really the OK Corral but the alley next to it. We read Mary Doria Russel’s book Doc, about Doc Holliday, and then Epitaph, her book about Wyatt Earp, and they made it so real, we wanted to visit just to pay tribute to Mary Doria Russel’s research and wonderfully readable books, which take legendary characters and makes them fully human.

Up early, to catch the sunrise reflecting off the windows of El Paso:

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We feel so safe, the parking lot is full of Homeland Security personnel vehicles. Although it is a Sunday morning, many are eating breakfast and heading out to guard the border:
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It is a totally different day from the rainy mess we drove through all day from San Antonio to El Paso. The sky is so blue and the air is so clear and we are thoroughly enjoying this day:

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As we leave Texas, AdventureMan points out that the underside of the overpasses are painted in Southwestern colors, and there are graphic designs on the pillars. The Highways are beautiful! Someone put a little extra thought into making them memorable.

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There is a cross gleaming high on a bare mountain, and I am trying to imagine how they got it up there, and how they engineered it so it would be stable and stay there:

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Welcome to New Mexico!

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As we are paralleling the border, there is another security stop:

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We really wanted to buy something at this shop, but the baskets were all made in Pakistan! We have Pakistani baskets! I finally left with just a CD of new-age sort of Indian mystical music, soulful flutes, shaking bones, you know the kind, to put us in the Southwest frame of mind. It’s one of the few things we bought for ourselves on the trip.

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April 17, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Geography / Maps, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Spiritual, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blue Onion in McAllen, TX: A Great Surprise

Sometimes you get a great surprise when you least expect it. We needed to get on the road, but we also needed lunch, so we just needed “a place” somewhere, anywhere we could find something decent, something acceptable. We weren’t going for great.

We got great.

The Blue Onion looked kind of new, it still had that new smell. It’s walls were a froggy green. It’s floor was a froggy green. Never-mind, we just need to eat and run.

But the staff was warm and welcoming and chatty-in-a-good-way, and the menu was intriguing. We saw one man order Bouillabaisse. In McAllen, TX. I ordered a Pizza Putanesca, and AdventureMan ordered some kind of barbecue wrap.

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Even the ice tea was delicious. When my pizza came, it was divine, memorable, maybe one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. AdventureMan was chowing down on his wrap, making sounds of joy, little moans of pleasure as he ate. His side salad of black beans was also very good, very fresh tasty with lime and cilantro combined with some spices in a delicious way.

Our just-a-quick-stop-before-we-hit-the-road stop turned out to be a meal highlight of our trip. 🙂

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cooking, Eating Out, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Merlin

Many moons ago, I had given AdventureMan a plasticized raptor identifier, all the raptors in North America, so when we spotted this little guy, who we didn’t recognize, AdventureMan reached in the glove compartment, took a quick glance and said “It’s a Merlin!”

He was very sweet about sitting still long enough for me to take a photo:

00Merlin

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, Environment, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | , , , | Leave a comment

The National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

AdventureMan was chuffed. Here we are at the National Butterfly Center! There were already visitors there, early in the morning, but, for the most part, he achieved his goal. He had all the time he needed with the Butterfly Garden gardener, and the two of them talked plants that attract, plants that nourish and plants for the pupa and caterpillar stages. This was sheer luxury for AdventureMan, all the time in the world to talk shop with someone who cares about the same things he does – attracting and breeding butterflies!

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They have a huge list of all the butterfly sightings and when they were sighted. The Center is right in the path for many butterfly migrations. They have a huge Butterfly Center Celebration at the end of October, early November during the height of the migration. Over 150 North American species of butterfly have been spotted at the NBC. If you click on the blue hypertext, you can see when this year’s festival will be.

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These are just a few of the gardens used to propagate plants to attract, feed and nurture the butterfly reproduction:

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Here is how to get there:

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National Butterfly Center
3333 Butterfly Park Drive
Mission, TX 78572
956-583-5400
GPS Coordinates:
26.180243 -98.364973

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Environment, Family Issues, Gardens, Geography / Maps, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Beaumont and Refugio, TX en route to Mission, TX

This is an exciting day; this is a day we travel new roads, roads we’ve never travelled before. New roads make our blood race.

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First, we have to get through Houston. It’s early in the morning, so Houston friends, I didn’t call. I know you’ll appreciate it 🙂

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One of the best parts of this trip was crossing rivers. We crossed lots of rivers. These are some of the rivers we crossed:

Brazos River
Colorado River (we crossed the Colorado many times on our journey)
Lavaca River
Arenosa River
Garzitas Creek
Guadalupe River
San Antonio River
Aransas River

Texas can be a very dry state, but after this winter and spring, southern Texas is as green as Alaska, and the rivers are flowing. We learned that a swale is the same as an arroyo; we know them better as wadis – places where rivers or creeks may sometimes run, but which may also dry up. In a country like Tunisia, when we lived there, there were not a lot of public facilities available, so a bridge over a wadi always was a welcome sight.

We trust in Google, but sometimes we don’t thoroughly understand the instructions. On this route, when we got to Victoria, they told us to take the Southern business route, so we exited and tried to find it, but discovered (it was only about ten minutes) that the road we had been on was the southern business route around Victoria.

Some of the worst roads we travelled were in Texas. At one point, we gassed up and it was my leg for driving. It wasn’t an interstate, but it was a highway with two lanes going both ways, a 90 degree entrance to the highway, and fast trucks barreling down the road. I am not a person who likes screeching tires, but I had to screech my tires to get on that road, and I still feel resonances of the adrenaline jolt.

Along this long long route 77, we got hungry, and there aren’t a lot of likely stops – it’s a long, lonely road. When we saw the signs for Refugio, our tummies were rumbling and we knew we needed to take a chance.

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Sometimes, luck is just with you. As Highway 77 went straight through Refugio, we saw, on the left, a place called Gumbo Seafood, and the parking lot was packed with big trucks, farm vehicles, cars; we’re not even sure we can find a place, and just as we start to turn into one, a big huge lawn-service kind of double truck takes it and we are forced to go to the back, where we find a spot. Inside, it is packed with customers, and loud, and food is going to the tables and it looks . . . Mexican!

We are shown to a table in a quieter area, where we order. When my meal comes, I am delighted – grilled shrimp, with sauteed onions and green peppers, a very hot pepper of some kind, and about half an avocado sliced. It was magnificent. In this hopping roadside stop, I had one of the best meals of my trip. AdventureMan’s tacos were stuffed to the brim, so much meat he couldn’t eat half of it, and he said it was not tasty, so he would rate this place lower than I would. Sometimes, it’s all in what you order, and there is no telling what you’re going to get. I loved this meal!

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For some reason, we assumed all the seafood was frozen, and wondered how an interior town would specialize in seafood. Once we saw the larger map, however, we saw they weren’t all that far from the Gulf, and we had evidence that at least the oysters were very fresh:

00GumboSeafoodCart

A lot of times, we run across fun places to stop along secondary and back roads, but we didn’t find any fun places this time, like for home made goodies. It was all rural and agrarian, and a lot of it looked like it had seen better days, until we got to Mission, TX.

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Nomadic Life: Our Journey to the American SouthWest

We still get restless. AdventureMan still gets calls asking him to come check something out, even goes back to Doha now and then, and I visit family. But we get so restless. We need the stimulation and challenge of other ways of seeing things, other ways of thinking, new sights, new smells, new adventures. There are so many places I have never seen!

Some people are just wired that way. I can remember, even as a young girl, being at the Juneau Airport, smelling that aviation fuel smell, and wishing I were going somewhere. It’s just the way I’m wired. I still love the smell of aviation fuel.

I am so lucky to be married to a man who indulges me. AdventureMan isn’t wired precisely the same; he is better at growing roots than I am, but he still likes to shake things up a little when it’s all same same same, day after day.

We’ve both had to adjust. I grew up in a family where when we were going, say from Germany to Italy for a vacation, we got up early and went, as AdventureMan so colorfully puts it, “balls to the walls” driving 12, 13 hours until we dropped from exhaustion. We were just intent on getting there. AdventureMan’s family traveled in shorter segments. It’s taken us about 40 years to find a happy medium. He has adjusted to sharing the driving with me. I’m a good driver, and I love driving. He goes to sleep, and I can drive for hours, it’s sort of a zen thing.

So off we went. We put over 6,500 on my two year old car, more than doubling the total mileage. It was a wondrous and joyful journey, full of surprises, full of delights, and with a couple days of truly awful driving.

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We packed too much. When you are going someplace every couple days, you really don’t need a lot of clothing. I worked out of a large duffel; I would put what I needed for the next day or couple of days in a smaller bag to carry into the hotels.

At our church, we collect toiletries for the homeless population in Pensacola and the recovery population. I came back with a lot of toiletries 🙂

Our first day was to Beaumont, TX. No particular reason to stop in Beaumont, it was just a good place to stop en route to where we were going, which was The National Butterfly Center and the National Birding Center, both of which happen to be in Mission, TX. Mission is right on the border, on the Rio Grande, and I have never seen the Rio Grande before and wanted to see it.

When lunchtime came, we were just passing Baton Rouge, where one of our very favorite restaurants, Al Basha, serves mouthwatering Arabic food. It’s just off I-10, we can see it from the road and what a great way to start our journey. But as we enter, every table is filled!

No worries, the waiter hurries over and leads us to a table way in the back, against the wall, which happens to be my favorite place. They have stuffed vegetables on the menu, which AdventureMan orders in a heartbeat, and of course, too much food comes.

We first became acquainted with stuffed vegetables long ago, living in Amman, Jordan, where it was a very common dish, served to family and to guests alike. Later, living in Kuwait, my friends knew how much AdventureMan loved stuffed vegetables and would make extra for him when they were preparing food for family or gatherings. What great memories this lunch brought back!

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Louisiana is a quirky state, a state we like a lot. At a gas station near Lafayette, we saw three restaurants and an antique shop, including one with Lebanese food.

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By the time we got to Beaumont, it was nearly dinner time. Beaumont is an oil refining town, and the hotel was full of men working in the refineries or about to be hired to work in the refineries. It was a very male populated environment. I went to the pool, but there was a large group of men sitting out on the patio by the pool, and I didn’t stay long, I wasn’t comfortable. It reminded me of the Middle East. I don’t like being oogled.

We were still so full from our Al Basha lunch that we found a local supermarket and got salads for dinner. It was a great first day on the road.

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Alaska, Cultural, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments