Maria's Journey

Wednesday,December 18, 2013

At 5:15am we set out from our house with our Sienna and Maria's loaded Nissan pickup to begin her odyssey to Tamuin, Mexico to rejoin her family. Her family was very excited about having her home for Christmas. This photo was taken in the driveway of Judy Moyle in Pearl River, La when we reached there about 1:45pm local time.

We spent about 30 minutes there, unloading Christmas gifts and other things for the family.

We had swapped drivers several times on the way down to give Maria some experience in driving the pickup on the expressway. She had avoided driving on the expressways of Atlanta, and we felt more comfortable if she had some driving time on the expressway before we left her to drive on southward to Brownville.

Maria con los dos abuelitas, Judy y Brenda.

After this brief visit, we were on our way again with a long trip ahead of us. We headed west on I-12 toward Baton Rouge.

This journey was the culmination of months of effort by Maria since they had made the decision for her to return to Mexico.

In the early fall of 2013, their friend Lilly had taken Mom and her youngest son Angel to the border on their trip to Tamuien. On that occasion Lilly parked in the parking lot close to the International Bridge and they walked across the bridge to Mexico. Since Mom was not able to walk that distance, they sat her on a large rolling cooler they had and Angel pulled her across the bridge. Noe had ridden the bus up from Tamuien and they all rode the bus back together.

After that, Maria was working seven days a week and making all the arrangements for her return. In November, she left her apartment and disposed of most of the furnishings she had collected there. She came to stay with us, setting up her room in the living room and sleeping on that couch. Her immigration court appearance was not scheduled until October of 2014, but she got that moved up to February, and then remarkably to December 17, the day before she had planned to leave. So I took her to the court early on that date and she was first on the schedule, so was finished in an hour. That protected her bond and cleared the last major hurdle for her departure. She spent the day organizing her cargo. We helped her pack the entire bed of the truck with household goods plus some items to carry for other persons. She also packed the front of the king-cab pickup so that there was just room for the driver to sit.

After our visit in Pearl River we were on the road again about 2:15pm and drove across I-12 to Baton Rouge, I-10 to Houston and then 59 through Houston and down to El Campo, about 60 miles south of Houston. We settled in to the El Campo Inn about 10:15pm after 17 hours on the road and 885 miles.

We alternated with Brenda driving the Sienna and Rod driving the pickup and then Maria driving the pickup and Rod driving the Sienna. That gave Maria some experience driving on the expressway. She had driven very little on the expressways of Atlanta, but she did fine on the road. Rod drove the pickup through the cities. The most challenging driving was the passage through the center of Houston on Hwy59. At about 8pm there were about 6 lanes of packed traffic. Brenda and I stayed on the cell phones to make sure we were staying in the lanes leading to 59. With the complicated flyovers that Maria called sphagetti intersections, the high-rise buildings and the heavy traffic, we understood what had spooked Maria on the previous occasion when she had ridden down with Lilly. After going through it, we could fully understand - without all our experience of driving the expressways of Atlanta and other large cities, we would have been spooked by it as well. Having never driven through Houston, we were confused by the fact that our two gps units and Mapquest and Google all recommended different ways through Houston to get to Victoria. So we stopped at a gas station about 40 miles east of Houston and asked the folks there. Providentially, there was a lady there who had had this discussion with a lot of people and brought out a city map of Houston and showed us the alternatives. One our our sources recommended just punching through the center of Houston, branching from I-10 to 59 right in the downtown area. That was her recommendation as well, particularly at this off-peak traffic time. That turned out to be a good decision because, although a bit hair-raising at times, the route worked efficiently to punch us through Houston.

After these long hours on the road, it didn't seem safe for us to push on to Victoria, so we started looking for motels as soon as we cleared to the south of Houston. Brenda had investigated several towns as possible stopping points if we didn't make it to Victoria, and one of those was El Campo. Brenda was able to book two rooms at the El Campo Inn while we approached it by Googling for motels in El Campo and calling this one. We were totally exhausted and fell into bed, feeling blessed by being able to get Maria south of Houston.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

When we contacted Maria, we found that she had hardly slept. She heard every noise outside, and we suppose she was concerned about the unprotected cargo in the bed of the pickup. Brenda noticed that she was up, so we got up as well a little after 5am. She called about 5:30am and then came over to our room. As we had left home, I had initiated a group hug and prayer with the words "Vamos orar!" as I had Tuesday before delivering her to the International Court for her appearance there. But this time she initiated the three-way hug and prayer with "Let's pray!". We accompanied her to the gas station to fill up, said our goodbyes with hugs and tears and then we led her to 59 South to make sure she got on it heading in the right direction, then pulled off and waved.

We U-turned and headed north for Houston, finding a Cracker Barrel along the way for breakfast. As daylight had come, we had our first view of the countryside and found it to be wide-open farmland, similar to east Arkansas as I saw it.

The grain storage bins strengthened my feeling that it was like east Arkansas farmland. The wide flat 4-lane highway was a comfort to us because it would seem to pose no great challenge to Maria driving south.

The view of the roads in daylight also explained to me why I was having so much difficulty finding the turnoffs last night - it was pitch black and there were no street lights, or major lights of any kind. Also, my old eyes just do not see as well in low light.

The railroad ran right beside the highway in this flat farming area. The lighted oil rig
also reminded us that this is oil country.

After breakfast we drove on north on 59 to Houston, we reached this flyover type intersection about 11:30am. It had begun to rain, so you see the rain splatter. This is the kind of intersection that Maria called a spagetti intersection and you could see that it might make you nervous.

This morning the traffic was moderate, but last night in the dark, the entire five to six lanes were filled with high-speed traffic. The high-rise buildings are dramatic in daylight, but were much more so last night with all their lights on.

We move through the center of Houston on the multi-level expressways, staying on 59 until we reached I-10.

We merged onto I-10 east from 59 and reached the last of the major multi-level intersections about noon, so it had only taken us a little over 30 minutes to zip through the center of Houston. Much smoother than last night!

When we reached the east side of Houston, I was surprised to find a lot of open water and fairly heavy shipping equipment. I had thought of Houston as an inland city.

I was also surprised to find large refineries within 20 minutes of urban Houston.

We drove the 80 miles to Beaumont, where there were large, complex refinery locations. We visited there briefly.

Driving on another 60 miles to Lake Charles, LA, we found vast complexes of refineries - certainly greater than I had seen before. They were really dramatic when we came through last night.

In driving from Houston to Lake Charles, LA, I would guess that we went through a sizable fraction of the petroleum refineries of the entire country!

Driving on across Louisiana on I-10, we saw large scale sugarcane harvesting.

I was surprised to see them burning off the cane fields like I had seen them do in Hawaii many years ago. We also saw oil wells on this route.

As we approached Baton Rouge from the west, we went through a long stretch of swamp where I-10 was up on twin causeways for miles.

There were several rivers and bayous large enough to handle boat traffic.

This is an example of the twin causeway structure built over the swampy areas.

Shortly before reaching the Mississippi River and Baton Rouge, we entered some grazing land.

We stopped off at a visitor center just west of the Mississippi and were directed to a public park on the levee at Port Allen. We could see Baton Rouge across the river and watch the traffic on the river.

On the river north of Baton Rouge is another huge refinery complex.

I am always fascinated by the tugs and barges and how they accomplish heavy work along the Misssissippi. There is even a touch of local culture here - you can see the big pile of wood on the extreme right above as they prepare for a traditional holiday bonfire on the river.

We were at a historic Mississippi River crossing point, and were interested to see the residential area of Port Allen extending right up to the levee.

We got a view of the Louisiana Capitol building over the tug, but we didn't know what it was until we visited it the next day.

We headed up the ramps to the bridge across to Baton Rouge.

South of the bridge was what appeared to be an incredibly large grain storage facility with long belt systems for transfer of grain. We could also see the barge traffic downriver.

At this point we decided to stay the night in Baton Rouge and explore a bit more tomorrow. It was an interesting area of a type we don't see very often. It was also approaching dark and we had driven 885 miles yesterday, and another 350 miles today, so it was time for a rest.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

We had retraced our steps across Texas and Louisiana toward Jeff's home and were anxious to hear how things had gone for Maria and family, but didn't hear until Sunday when we were in Pearl River.

Maria had texted us on Dec 19 that she made it to Brownville and was awaiting instructions. Then later that she was in line to pay. But we were anxiously awaiting word of her journey south of the border. Finally on December 22 at 4:38pm she texted "Hi. Just got home.Thanks for making it happen. " Then she sent the above picture at 5:08. So we were greatly relieved that she was home in Tamuin with her family and praised the Lord for the safety of the family.

Visit to Baton Rouge

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