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A season of bicycle rides. Part 1

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Each season we participate in many activities at our winter home, Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas. One of my favorites is the weekly bicycle ride. Most of our rides originate as a car trip from the park to a location where we ride for several hours and then return to our cars and travel to a unique restaurant for lunch. In the process we explore nature areas, state parks and wildlife refuges. We also visit cities in Texas and in Mexico. Tomorrow will be the last ride of the season. To give you some insight into some of our winter activities, I'll describe a few of these rides.

Rio Rico is an interesting town just across the Rio Grande River. In fact, the Rio Grande River used to be on the south side of Rio Rico. At that time it was part of the United States. Now it is in Mexico. The land was formally ceded to Mexico in the 1977. We park our cars on border at Progreso, Texas, and cross into Mexico on our bicycles. From Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, we ride East on a gravel road for about four miles to reach Rio Rico. Rio Rico is a small, poor community. There is a school and several churches. The children are out of school for a holiday and they come to visit us as we ride through town. We resolve to bring school supplies on our next visit to Rio Rico. When we return to Progreso we go to Arribas Restaurant and enjoy a Mexican meal on the patio as music plays inside.

In the small town of Los Ebanos, Texas is another border crossing into Mexico. There is no bridge here, only a small ferry that holds three automobiles. The ferry is attached to cables and is pulled across the river by hand. Pedestrians may assist in pulling the ferry but usually only the tourists do so. We can get about 20 bicycles on the ferry alongside the three cars. Across the river a two mile bicycle ride into the town of Diaz Ordiz takes about 20 minutes for our group. We ride through town seeing homes and businesses. On occasion we have stopped at a bakery for some cookies. The church on the square has been remodeled and we enjoy touring the building. The priest visits with us explaining that the vast improvements were possible with a donation of a church member. After our ride through town we arrive at a favorite restaurant. Villarta features seafood. The menu is in English for us but the waiter speaks very little English. Service is good and the prices are very reasonable. Everyone enjoys eating at Villarta. We return to the ferry for the ride back to our cars.

About an hours drive West of Edinburg, Texas is the town of Rio Grande City. We park our cars at the Lacks furniture store on a remote corner of their large parking lot. The manager is friendly and happy to give us permission to park there. We ride across the bridge on our bicycles and then four miles into the town of Carmargo, Mexico. We ride through town to a small footbridge where we cross over a stream and then stop for a rest. Those who want some refreshment can stop in the small store and purchase a Coke or a cervesa (beer). We resume the ride to a small village, Villa Nueva. It was founded after people fled Carmargo to escape a flood. After several years without more floods people moved back into Carmargo. There are large abandoned stone buildings and a scattering of small homes. We stop to visit the school. Everyone has brought school supplies to leave with the staff at the school. This has been a tradition of our bicycle rides for at least seven years. Today the children are out for recess following their lunch time. Children swarm us as we arrive. They extend their hand and say, "Good morning," even if it is the afternoon. A teacher explains that they have their English class in the morning so they know good morning. The principal and teachers visit with us and take us through the buildings. We leave them with a teachers desk piled high with paper, crayons, pencils and pens and many other resources. Lunch this day is at El Johnny, a very nice Mexican Restaurant. Here the menu is in Spanish and we all collaborate to interpret the choices. Everyone enjoys their food. We travel back through town and then over the bridge to the US. Each of these three towns are totally different than the typical tourist border town. There are no shops for tourists here and the restaurants are patronized by the local populace.

We take one tour to South Padre Island, riding from one end of the tourist area to the other. Everywhere we see the damage done by Hurricane Dolly in mid-summer 2008. Roof repair continues everywhere even though nearly five months have passed since the hurricane. We pause to watch dolphins leaping in the bow wave of a passing ship. Admission to the state park is free for bicyclists. We ride past a beach that has only a few hardy people on such a cool day. During the winter, the town is quiet and restaurants are glad to see us. We enjoy some fresh fish at Dirty Al's. Al is dirty, not the restaurant! Good food at reasonable prices.

Another trip we cycle around Port Isabel. We see the old Yacht Club now being remodeled and turned into a hotel. The owners give us a tour and talk about some of the history of the old building. A side swing drawbridge takes across the ship channel where we can see the shrimping fleet in dock. At the end of the road we can see the causeway to South Padre Island. Our leader describes the events of several years ago when a barge traveling the intercoastal waterway hit one of the bridge piers and knocked down a whole section of the bridge. Several people drove off the high bridge during the night before authorities were notified and closed the bridge. South Padre businesses were severely affected by the loss of their connection to the mainland.

These are just a few of our bicycle rides. We enjoy exploring South Texas and Mexico, meeting people and learning about the history of the area.

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