After far too long, here is the final blog entry about my trip to Texas!

On Sunday, Beth and I planned to do the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else: go to MEXICO!! I have to admit that I am a bit of a collector when it comes to travel, and yes, I know that’s not a good thing, because it will rob me of genuine experiences that travelers should have in favor of culturally enriching things, etc. But anyways, I have never been to Mexico, and I’ve wanted to add it to the map of countries where I’ve been.

Brownsville is right on the Mexican border, but the Mexican city next door, Matamoros, isn’t the nicest place. Beth took me to Nuevo Progreso, instead, which is 40 minutes away and across the border from Progreso, Texas. Nuevo Progreso is touristy and features great shopping. There’s also a parking lot on the U.S. side, so you can park and walk over and not have to worry about leaving your car in Mexico.

Beth poses with a giant rooster as we get ready to cross the border. This picture is so her.

My mother has a similar, slightly smaller wooden rooster in her kitchen. My sister named it Ugly.

It costs $0.25 to cross the border and $0.30 to return to the U.S. Once you cross the Rio Grande, Nuevo Progreso springs out of nowhere (it’s pretty rural on the U.S. side). According to signs, most Mexicans are dentists and can offer you discount treatments. There are also stores where you can buy SO much cheap stuff — ceramics, crafts, fake designer bags, bootleg movies, jewelry, and cheap liquor (everything is in U.S. dollars, and a bottle of Bacardi costs around $8.00).

Beth and I walked around, and I bought some birthday presents for my mom and sister. Since I’ve already given them, I can say that I got three ceramic dragonflies for my mom (she loves dragonflies) and a fake Prada bag for my sister. They both loved them. I also got a fake Prada bag for myself.

Then Beth insisted I try some fruit with chile. She loves it. All these people sell pieces of canteloupe, pineapple and watermelon topped with this chile mixture and fresh lime juice. I figured I’d love it.

I kind of hated it, but wanted to finish it. And I did. I’m not sure why. It was okay — I had a TON of chile on mine, and while I love spicy food and unusual food, this just didn’t sit well with me. Maybe I felt guilty throwing away uneaten food when there are so many children around who don’t have enough to eat….

Another view of Nuevo Progreso, the view when you first enter, though it’s taken from the exit side.

Quince dresses! These are some of the more extravagant dresses for Quinceaneras, the birthday celebrations for fifteen-year-old girls. You buy everything matching: the dresses, nosegays, fabric-covered albums, favors, everything matching the dress perfectly. I absolutely LOVE these dresses. Most of you know my weakness for fancy gowns and costumes.

Soooooo, in addition to the Mexican shops, the bootleg DVDs, the fake designer ware and the questionable food, a big business in Nuevo Progreso is getting your hair cornrowed. It was only $10.00, so I definitely wanted to get it done! I’ve never been to the Caribbean or anything, so I’ve never gotten it done. (My family does not believe in lie-on-the-beach vacations. It’s either camping or packing as much culture into as little time as possible.)

I love this Mexican lady! There was also a REALLY weird lady who was getting her hair done. She was in her fifties with short blonde hair that was cut off at the top, like she grabbed a fistful and chopped it with scissors. I figured she was mentally unstable, which was confirmed when she mentioned that she was here because burned all her hair off again.

I call a few friends at the border. “GUESS WHERE I AM — I’M IN MEXICO!! NOW I’M IN AMERICA!! NOW I’M IN MEXICO….”

The Rio Grande, separating the two nations.

Mormons on bicycles again!! You can barely see, but the guy is to the left of the top rung.

Beth drove me around Brownsville for a while, showing me the town center and the historical parts, including beautiful Palm Street. We then went grocery shopping, since I had decided to make dinner for Beth, Tricia and Andrea, to thank them for their wonderful hospitality. And let me tell you, it’s SO different shopping in a region of the country that doesn’t have a large Italian population! You wouldn’t believe how hard we had to look to find marinated artichoke hearts, and there was NO basil, so I had to scrap my insalata caprese. (Beth: “You can just make it without basil.” Me: “THERE’S NO POINT WITHOUT BASIL!!” Grazie, Firenze.)

We went back and made dinner. I made chicken verdicchio, one of my best dishes, which is chicken with artichoke hearts and lemons over pasta. It’s Sicilian, and it’s my favorite food that my mom makes. I also made my signature prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, which is a personal creation of mine that I love sharing with people. Beth made a salad and an angel food cake stuffed and covered with cool whip and strawberries — the four of us TORE through that!

I really love cooking for my friends, and I love to hear what they think — Andrea told me that she doesn’t usually like asparagus, but she loved the way I made it. (Me: “I KNOW!!! You have to ROAST IT!! That’s the secret! People have it all wrong with boiling it!!”)

It was such a nice dinner — and it, along with so much of the weekend, made me realize how much I miss having such close female friends. Most of my good friends are guys these days, and I don’t see my best girlfriends very often….it was so nice. The girls are very lucky to have each other.

I can’t believe I never mentioned this little guy! This is Bandit, Tricia’s dog. He is ADORABLE — a chihuahua and Jack Russell Terrier mix. What’s strange is that he never barked at me ONCE. Dogs don’t usually like me (and the feeling’s mutual), but he loved me right away, and was cuddling up to me the whole time I was there. And the strangest part of all is that he was abused by his last owner, so he has his guard up really high. But he loved me unconditionally. Can you believe that? I love this little puppy!

The awesome and SO hospitable girls — Andrea, Tricia and Beth, with Bandit! I love these girls so much. You truly rock. And I can’t wait to see you again — perhaps another Valley visit will be in the future for this fall, with a possible Austin visit this summer? Who knows? 🙂

My flights back went as planned, albeit a bit turbulent. And it was cool flying over Oak Island in Revere, where my mother grew up, and flying over Revere Beach, where I spent so much time when I was little, and seeing Nahant and East Boston from that angle. But upon landing, I was so upset! It was SO COLD in Massachusetts, and I missed the heat and humidity terribly!

My mom picked me up at Logan, and on the way back, I gushed about everything and told her about my revelation: “I’m so tired of the winters here. I want to move to Texas.”

“I knew you were going to say that when you got back,” she replied.

I’m probably just in the honeymoon phase of loving Texas, but it’s nice to know that the option is there.