It's choice, not chance, that determines your destiny

This is my blog about life - travel - new experiences - growth.
Please join me in my journey.......

February 19, 2011

Back to Mexico

Since we enjoyed our first visit to Mexico we decided to do it again on Wednesday, this time taking mom and a friend from the RV park with us. (she needed an adjustment to her prior dental work).

We basically did it all again although I did pay back the supervisor at the Border and dad paid Dr Sanchez the $2.00 he owed him from his previous visit!

We ate at Crosby's and were serenaded by Buki, we shopped at El Patio but didn't buy anything. I wanted to though! We bought more pastries at the bakery, which I've already eaten! However, we did not buy any more liquor at the duty free shop!

***All the photos of the past few posts are courtesy of dad because I neglect to bring my camera! Thanks dad!

Jail Time

One of the tours we took this week that I thought was interesting was a visit to the Val Verde Correctional Facility in Del Rio. It's a privately owned, for profit, business that is owned by the Geo Group out of Florida. It started receiving prisoners ten years ago on January 15, 2001 and currently has 1407 beds, after an 576 bed expansion in 2007.

 I came across this You Tube video, filmed in 2007,  protesting inhumane treatment at this facility.

I thought the video was interesting because it sharply contrasted my own observations. I  have to get on my soapbox a bit and proclaim that these prisoners are here for a reason - they broke the law! I can't stand it when I see people protesting the inhumane treatment of prisoners. This is not a hotel. This is a place you don't ever want to go to - period. Give me a break.  

Ninety-Nine percent of the prisoners at this border town facility are Hispanic. Many are illegal aliens crossing the border for various reasons. Del Rio is one of the few facilities in the country that prosecute illegal aliens before sending them back home. This is a detention facility where prisoners are awaiting trial and most are housed from a few days to maybe 2 years. Consequently there is high turnover of prisoners. Many would be considered minimum security but there were some that were in for capital murder, some Mexican Mafia, drug cartel, smugglers (drugs and humans). They segregate these men from the minimum, low risk to the maximum, high risk. Some are monitored 24/7. Some are isolated in single cells. They have effective ways of nipping problems in the bud before they escalate. Both the warden and the deputy were quick to point out that this facility was quite minor in comparison to some of the prisons they worked at before. They liked working here.

The facility was exceptionally clean. The Warden talked to us at length and answered any questions we had. The deputies and guards seemed very well organized and everything seemed to function flawlessly. The commissary was very well stocked with whatever you could imagine. The most popular items were Chili Pepper Top Ramen Noodles and Hostess-type Cupcakes. We asked where the prisoners get the money to buy all this stuff and were told it's mostly through family members, who put it into an account for them. Prisoners are allowed to come in a couple of times a week (i think) to buy anything from calling cards to toothbrushes. They have excellent medical and dental care and each prisoner is medically checked out during the intake process.

Each cell can house two prisoners. They separate the men from the women. The guards (and one of them was a women we spoke with) think the women prisoners are a "pain in the ass" and they couldn't emphasis that enough! (we didn't get to see the women) I was told they are currently being sued by one female prisoner for $2 million because her finger was slammed in a door. The women fight amongst each other. Both sexes are housed in separate cell blocks but the men are more freely able to roam outside of their cells into the common area and the women are only allowed out once per hour and then must return to their cells. I must say there is a very small percentage of women here, the majority are men. Each cell block has a medical center, a case manager, a chapel/library, an outside exercise area - and other stuff I probably forgot about! There were many instances during the tour where we mingled amonst the prisoners - the commisary and the kitchen to name two and the prisoners were very quiet. I was told this is largely due to their culture. (the women may be a different story!)

Each block has two floors of cells, each cell housing two prisoners. There is a common area in each block, where the prisoners eat three times a day. It also has a large flat screen TV and an industrial microwave (where they can cook all those noodles). Other than the noodles and cupcakes they are fed three hot meals a day. There are two shifts that work the kitchen (which we were allowed to see). With slight differences in the menu (the prisoners diet consisted of more Mexican items like beans and rice) we ate the same menu for lunch that the prisoners ate. And I have to tell you, it was my favorite lunch out of all the lunches I had this past week. We had chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, homemade rolls, peach cobbler dessert and iced tea. If I ate three meals like that every day I'd easily weigh over 200 pounds. Someone told me that these guys consume around 4200 calories a day. I don't know if that's acurate - seems like a lot to me, but considering the meal I just had, it could be true!

The kitchen also cooks special meal for diabetic prisoners and they do not cook any pork at all because the Muslim Islamic faith prohibits it. Never mind that this facility is 99% Hispanic (and most likely Catholic) - maybe it's a federal mandate. I thought it was amazing. Don't get me back on my soapbox!

I would like to take this tour again someday. I'm sure there is much that I missed the first time around. The warden and deputy that spoke with us seemed very proud of their facility and I can see why. I was impressed as well but that doesn't mean I'd ever like to live there.....well.....maybe for the food anyway!

Ciudad Acuna

I can't believe I've been in Del Rio, TX for almost a month. Next week we plan to leave and head west. I've grown to like it here! The people are great, the RV park is great and the weather finally (FINALLY) warmed up to a balmy 75-80 degrees - you know I will never complain about that! Lots of walks with Cooper - shorts - t-shirts - grilling - rum get the idea.

This past week has probably been our busiest week since we arrived - cram every little bit in before you leave, that sort of thing! We went on a few tours last week when the weather was still cold - The Border Patrol (i have new found respect for these hard working guys) and the Customs & Border Protection which was held at the Port of Entry. Both were very informative and I enjoyed them.

Many of the Winter Texans in our park take advantage of the good dentists/low rates in Mexico. If you need any sort of dental work done you quickly find out who you need to see.  Word of mouth is that Dr. Eduardo Mandujano Sanchez is the dentist to see in Ciudad Acuna. He even has a U.S Cellular number to call for an appointment. He and his son work together and both speak fluent English. Dad and I both made appointments to be seen - Dad on Monday and me on Wednesday. I was hoping to be seen earlier, so on Monday dad and I took off for our little trip to Acuna. When you arrive at the Port of Entry you are required to pay a toll to cross the International Bridge by car into Mexico ($3.00 to go into Mexico and $2.00 to leave Mexico) We paid our money, crossed the bridge and entered into the small border town of Ciudad Acuna.

It's unfortunate that media attention of the drug cartel and the requirement of passports has caused the lack of Americans in this (and most) border villages. Del Rioans used to cross the border at will to shop and receive dental work but now most stay in Del Rio rather than obtain a passport for the whole family. It's expensive. Then stories of the drug cartel has many American tourists afraid to step foot into Mexico. Acuna has taken pains to ensure that their village is a safe one and I found it to be extremely so. Although I must say it seems eerily deserted. Many, many shops and restaurants have closed down due to lack of business. There seem to be many thriving dentists however!

Dad and I debated on whether to drive over to Mexico (there are many that won't) or to walk across the bridge. We decided to drive and we found a small parking lot adjacent to the drug store which is adjacent to the dentist's office. As is usually the case in our family, we were early. No problem. They are very laid back here and dad was seen shortly after we walked in the door. The appointment didn't take long and he was through before his actual appointed time! Since dad's appointment was a two-stage process we needed to return later in the afternoon and therefore had 5 1/2 hours to kill! We decided to walk - first around town (that didn't take long) and then back over the bridge. There is a pedestrian walkway on both sides of the bridge. We found out that it cost $.25 to cross from Mexico and $.75 to cross from the U.S. We paid our quarter and walked approximately a mile over the bridge, went through customs....nothing to do there so decided to walk back over the bridge into Mexico. We noticed a Duty Free shop on the U.S. side of the border and made a mental note to stop there to pick up some liquor before heading back to the RV Park.

Walking across the bridge back into Mexico we noticed a lot of garbage that was all the same....big bags that said "Homeland Security" on them, empty paper lunch bags, remnants of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, chips, orange peels, even some discarded clothing. We wondered what was up? We found out later. Del Rio is one of the few places that prosecutes illegal aliens instead of just sending them back over the border. After prosecuting them, they give them back their freshly laundered clothing (in the Homeland Security bags) and a sack lunch with beverage and send them back over the bridge into Mexico. That's what all the discarded garbage was. Every day or so someone comes along and sweeps it all up.

After walking back to Mexico we were understandably hungry and word of mouth said that Crosby's was the place to dine in Acuna. It was just down the street from the dentist. It's a very nice restaurant and the food was quite good. We met a woman from Oklahoma (the only other patron in the restaurant) who was dining alone and we asked her if she wanted to join us for lunch. She had also been to the dentist. Before we were served our lunch we were serenaded by Buki, a local resident who was missing quite a few teeth, but it didn't seem to inhibit his singing ability at all! Our waiter was a wonderful gentleman who didn't speak English but was quite excited when I ordered a Tecate beer!

After lunch we hit the local bakery. I love Mexican pastries, especially the empanadas, and since I don't know how to read Spanish, the filling in each empanada is a surprise to me. I pick up one of each, just to make sure! Of course, we each had eat a pastry right then - dad a lemon curd-filled cupcake and me, one of my empanadas! Apple - I think! It was a short walk back to the dentist for dad to finish up his appointment. After dad was finished the dentist was able to fit me in. Did I say they are very laid back here? My cleaning appointment, with an x-ray, cost me $40.00. By the time we were ready to head back to the states it was about 4:30pm.

We crossed customs without a problem and then headed to the Duty Free store to buy our liquor. After payment, they bagged it up and then said they would meet us at the bridge. Huh? We thought we were just going to get back in our car and head home. seems that the thing to do when you're buying Duty Free liquor is to get it BEFORE you enter Mexico, not after. So we had cross the bridge, and pay the toll, once again. Only there was a slight problem this time. We'd given all our money to the dentist and our pockets were completely empty. Nada. While we were pleading our case, hoping they were going to be lenient with us, (I've heard plenty about those Mexican jails!) a supervisor came out of the building next door and ended up giving us the $3.00 to cross. I promised I would pay him back!  We went through the toll and then promptly made a u-turn to cross back into the U.S. Had to go through customs again where we then declared the liquor we just bought. The officer proceeded to put a bright yellow tag on our windshield as a notification that we were to stop and pay the Texas tax on our liquor. Only there was that same problem of no money. I offered to run to the market down the street to obtain enough to pay the taxes ($6.00). They agreed but kept part of our stash as collateral. Off to the market, where I bought a pack of gum in order to get cash back, which the clerk didn't want to give me, (not authorized to give cash back or something to that effect) but after pleading my case I guess he felt sorry for me because I was finally able to leave with $10 in my pocket. We drove back to the booth where I paid up and got my booze in return. Live and lean, I say. That was quite the adventure!