A friend from Houston drove down my way here in the deep deep South Texas to the border towns on the Rio Grade Valley, a hop-n-a-skip to Mexico for dental work.
Now, I have to be honest, I live in Harlingen, Texas, which is about 30 minutes away from both Matamoros and Progreso, and yet, because of the much hyped up violence on the news about drug wars, killings, kidnappings, border walls, etc...I haven't gone there sometime since the beginning of last year, in 2009.
Yet, I didn't see anyone get shot, kidnapped, or killed - although I did see for the very first time the tall fence the US installed to protect our backyard - Our own Great Wall or Protection Wall, like they one the tore down in Berlin.
And, surprising myself and my friend, upon crossing over the bridge and past the hat-holding hands sticking out of the side from people standing under the bridge, we saw streets swept clean by each and all the vendors, people ready by their brooms for cigarette butts and trash. Of course, you are greeted by english speaking hagglers with flyers and coupons for dental and pharmaceuticals, and they'll gladly escort you to their respected stores, and, I say shop around and hustle right back at them for the price you want, and if one store won't give you the price you think it's worth, know that another store will.
The first day we crossed over was a Thursday. The place was like a ghost town, few tourist staying past lunch time, but there were a few college kids and RGV locals walking around with their $1.50 cerveza in hand, shopping for sunglasses, groceries and jewelry.
Now, there are a lot of taco carts and the locals will gladly point you to their favorite one, but, my friend was more skeptical than I, so we ate at Arturo's Restaurant, one of the fancier places with tuxedo wearing servers greeting you as you enter. We ordered from the lunch menu with prices ranging from $5.00 and up. The lunch menu portions were small and matching the prices we payed for. So, if you're like my friend, 6'4 tall and hungry after 2 hours of walking and husslin with hagglers, DO NOT ORDER from the lunch menu with cute prices, because you'll get cute tacos, big enough to serve to a seven year old girls tea party, and two bites too small for an adult.
The second day we crossed, Friday. More tourist and RGV locals. Same hagglers, more active and verbal. We ate at Angel's Restaurant, on the 4th or 5th floor of a tall building, with view's overseeing the city. We were the only customers up there, and none arrived after us. The portions from their lunch menu were even smaller than Arturo's, and frankly, we weren't to excited with their food. I ordered the Fajita plate, and my fajita was sliced too thinly, and was served with only a spoon full of rice and beans as sides for it.
The third and last day we crossed over was Saturday. I guess Saturday is the day to go. There were twice the number of tourist and locals from both the past two days we went. And this time, we took a friends advice to eat at Ay, Jalisco, a very colorful, and lively restaurant, with tables full of tourists and RGV locals and regular locals as well. A band plays on a small stage while you eat a very good portion of food, fresh and sizzling from the grill, and the salsas they serve you in there are fiery hot - I loved it.
So, whether you're looking for purses, sunglasses, leather boots or medicine and dental work or just a large jar of honey for $3.50, Nuevo Progreso is safe, clean and fun. A platoon of Mexican Army with machine guns and small tanks guard the mouth of Progreso on their side of the bridge. You are only a holler away if you need help or assistance. Plus, the cultural experience of a town built and thriving for tourists is awesome. Have a beer, get your shoes polished, and buy a sombrero, all for under $10.00, you won't regret it.
The border between Texas and Mexico is marked by the fabled Rio Grande for 1,300 miles of mostly desert terrain. The Rio Grande rises in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and flows south through New Mexico before reaching the Texas/Mexican border. It flows in a generally southeasterly direction before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico between Brownsville and Matamoros, making it one of the longest rivers in North America at 1,900 milies total. Too shallow for navigation, the river is stll an important source of irrigation as well as a famous international border.
It always amazes me to pause at the Rio Grande and contemplate what a relatively small stream divides two vastly different countries and cultures. Here at Nuevo Progreso, on the U.S. side of the river there were high fences and razor wire. On the Mexican bank we saw children playing and young men fishing.
Favorite thing: When we stopped to rest on a bench along the main street of Nuevo Progresso, we were looking at the pictures we had just taken with our digital camera. This curious little girl came up, uninvited, and almost climbed into my lap to take a look. I asked her mother if I could take the daughter's picture - so here it is. We tipped the mother and daughter a couple of dollars.
The new International Bridge crosses the Rio Grande between the United States of America and the United States of Mexico. It features wide covered pedestrian walkways on each side, and lanes for vehicle traffic in the center. Many more people walk across than drive. On the American side there is a large free parking lot for those who want to leave their vehicle and walk over.
Proof of citizenship may be required. Also, there is a small toll for both pedestrians and vehicles.