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adventures in dental tourism

2003-10-12 - 2:57 p.m.

All photos � 2003 by Elaine Radford

young polar bear at play at san diego zoo

monday, oct. 6 -- luck is a roller coaster

I woke at 4 AM to catch my flight to San Diego. By a minor miracle, it was on time, and D. picked me up at the airport to drive me to his large jacuzzi suite at a casino somewhere in the southern California area. We sampled the huge "international" buffet and checked the golf course pond for birds from our patio. By this time, I was ready for a long winter's nap. But I had barely closed my eyes before D. returned from the casino floor with unfortunate news. The good folks who ran the resort were offended by his five figure win that morning, and they no longer wished to provide RFB plus airfare for a four day trip. Indeed, they said they would only spring for that one night's expenses. Spoilsports.

Anyway, I napped, jacuzzi'd, and generally rested up from my flight. D. watched all but the last 6 minutes of the Monday night football game, turning it off just in time to miss what is said to be the most dramatic comeback in all of football history. Since we were to be blissfully ignorant of this fact until the USA Today was shoved under our door the next morning, we had no trouble enjoying our huge room service feast. The cold appetizer tray featured lobster claws, crab claws, and jumbo shrimp, while the main course was a very decent filet and lobster.

tuesday, oct. 7 -- wild animal park
As we approached the entrance to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, a very nice lady offered to let me in free on her membership card. Cha-ching. I saved $26 just like that.

The park was huge and uncrowded, with many paths to wander and explore. There were hummingbirds everywhere, but most particularly in the herb garden where we were surrounded by the squeaks and chases of (mostly) Anna's Hummingbirds, though we noticed Costa's too. There seemed to be a great many immature males, but we noted some full adult male Anna's.

The elephant show was cute but the bird show was awe-inspiring. A large hornbill emerged to capture and brutalize a toy snake while a crane poked around in the background. Then a free-flying Green-Winged Macaw soared free, followed by an explosion of white doves. An African Grey and two Amazons proved their talking and singing talent, while a good-natured Emu demonstrated his total lack of any skill other than an ability to run trotting to the rattle of emu pellets.

Most dramatically, a male Harris Hawk burst from a hot air balloon to dive straight for a visitor's hand.

a hot air balloon with the harris hawk trap ready for the show

Afterward, at the Hawk Talk, we met a very pleasant Great Horned Owl and female Harris Hawk, who is also trained to dive from the balloon.

I can't resist mentioning the unscripted show put on by Common Ravens, who boldly pulled the tail of huge Kori Bustards to keep them from their food dish.

rhino close-up We caught the last train ride of the day and learned the story of the many baby animals, such as giraffes and southern white rhinoceros, that we could see in the park. Sadly, we also saw two of the last two Northern white rhinoceros. As only two are left in the world who are young enough to breed, the species is expected to be extinct within a few decades.

After our adventures in the park, we checked into an uninspiring hotel in Chula Vista and (after some searching through the zillions of chains), we found a family Mexican restaurant called La Nena, where I enjoyed the chile rellenos and a cold beer.

wednesday, oct. 8 -- the broken tooth
I found my dentist's office in Tijuana with minutes to spare. Since I've only visited the dentist once since 1982, I'm no expert on how today's U.S. dentists do it, but the Mexican dentist was fantastic. He showed me every problem in the mirror and/or the X-rays, then wrote up an estimate of the price, which turned out to be right on the money. Since I like to know all the petty details in advance, I felt very reassured by his careful explanations.

Somehow I had broken a back tooth which was more filling than tooth to begin with. It had fractures in two places, so no wonder it was hurting. He repaired that tooth and the one next to it which was also showing signs of decay, then gave me an appointment to come back the next day and get the rest of the fillings.

While my mouth was still numb, D. and I walked around the Tijuana Cultural Center. They had a visiting Rodin exhibit, and D. was thrilled that for a moment out of time, we were the only two people on earth looking at the famous "Thinker." They also had a large exhibit on Baja California history. I felt a buzz of power from an old Aztec idol that I can't easily explain.

For lunch we found a cheap buffet called Sanborn's Cafe, with three red owls on the sign. The food was abundant and adequate but there were no beans, and I felt the chile rellenos were a tad harsh.

Back on Revolution Avenue, we bought some cheap stained glass. I got a nice hummingbird but in the very next shop I saw a Yellow-Crowned Amazon. I would have bought that one instead if I had realized.

America's borders appear to be completely porous to middle-aged and older gringas bringing back their purchases from Tijuana's famed cheap pharmacies, as I didn't see anyone's bags being checked. To be on the safe side, however, it is recommended that you bring a prescription from a U.S. doctor for any medications that you wish to buy in Mexico, as they will take your U.S. doctor's script and even your U.S. health insurance, should you have any.

Note to Rush Limbaugh: You are not allowed to bring any scheduled medications of possible abuse such as Vicodin or OxyContin across the U.S. border.

OTC drug products available for discount prices include low dose birth control pills and wrinkle/pimple creams Retin-A and Renova. I honestly don't believe a woman in her forties should have to pay a damn doctor to tell her how to put cream on her face, and I salute the Mexican government for its very sensible attitude toward these cosmetics which the U.S chooses to treat as drugs in order to inflate drug company profits. A year's supply of Retin-A at less than $20 beats last year's costs of $600 for dermatological consults alone, plus the additional cost of the cream itself.

Of course, in the U.S. "capitalism" means that big companies are protected from having to compete with individuals and small companies on an even footing, but in Mexico, capitalism still exists in the original sense of open competition, and the little guy can actually find and buy cheap health care products. Amazing.

In the evening, I noticed three birdwatchers from Britain -- their species identifiable from a long ways off by their costly spotting scopes -- so I approached them and got directions to the place where they'd been birding. You know there are good birding areas around when the Brits and the Germans start popping up.

thursday, oct. 9 -- tijuana estuary
We figured out how to walk from Revolution Avenue to the Plaza Rio, thus getting some exercise and avoiding the need for taxis. The dentist finished my mouth, and D. and I walked some more in the open market while waiting for the numbness to wear off. We then tried a restaurant called (I think) Ricardo's, which had chile rellenos to die for.

Back at the motel, we went swimming and did some water exercises. Near 5 PM we drove to the Tijuana "slew" as the Brits called it. There was no sign, and most people seemed to be more into the biking or jogging thing but whoa! Talk about birds. It was a great opportunity to brush up on our shorebirds. And it was easily found by taking the Palm Avenue exit off I-5 and going toward the beach, then turning right down 7th street to go to the water.

I don't know how we found room for dinner, but D. and I went to a little Mexican place on Broadway in Chula Vista called La Costa Azul with its menu in Spanish. I can do without the live music (sayeth the grinch) but the food was unbelievable. Even the salsa for the chips was something special. The seafood soup was out of this world -- very much like a first rate bouillabaisse. The camarones al chipotle was nothing to sneeze at either.

friday, oct. 10 -- fruit doves gone wild
It was still dark when we awoke at 6 AM but it gave us time to consume our abundant leftovers. We returned to the Tijuana Estuary to check the birds. The perched Osprey and female Belted Kingfisher were easily identified, and the huge American White Pelicans put on a fine show. More challenging were the Western Sandpipers, identifiable by one of my skills only because they practically ran over my shoes in their hunt for sand fleas.

We reached the San Diego Zoo at 10 AM, just in time to see the release of several free-flying macaws. The zoo is large, confusing, and imperfectly signed, but well worth the effort. Perhaps the thrill of the day was the Harpy Eagle pair, with one bird standing proud, its crest rippling in the wind, while its mate crushed a large white rat.

The zoo boasts several eagle species, an impressive collection of huge hornbill species, a dazzling array of fruit doves and other pigeons, and an equally dazzling selection of lories and lorikeets including Tahitian Blue Lory. beautiful 
fruit dove -- and modest too

Although not as colorful as the exotics, the California Towhees poking around the zoo grounds were a new life bird for me, which created its own special thrill.

A quiet zone was established around the Giant Panda area, to protect the mother of a new baby born in August. We were allowed to see this mother and baby only on closed circuit TV, but we had an upclose look at a mother gorilla with her new baby. The orangatun and siamang ape families were housed together, but the young orangatuns didn't seem to resent the fast, graceful siamangs who kept flying through the exhibit. Indeed, we saw a young orangatun and a young siamang blissfully grooming each other.

giant pandas are a very relaxed and restful species

For dinner, we ate at Bob's on the Bay. We couldn't see much in the way of boating for the thicket of parked boats at the marina. However, I enjoyed a good chilled shrimp cocktail and a nice seafood and tomato pasta, and we arrived just in time to miss the ending of one faux Hawaiian floor show and the beginning of the second one, so all was right with the world.

saturday, oct. 11 -- homeward bound
D. and I had time to drive down Silver Strand highway and enjoy the many Brown Pelicans from the car. We spotted an outdoor cafe in Coronado called the Crown Bistro, where I enjoyed a mimosa sunrise and a chile relleno omelet. Yes, chile rellenos do seem to be the theme of the trip.

For the first time ever in all of my earthly existence, I had a trip on Continental which actually involved 1) having an aircraft at each of the four legs of the journey, and 2) having all of those four aircrafts actually depart the gate on time. This is probably a one-time experience, never to be repeated, but I still stand amazed, because I was under the distinct impression that Continental Airlines had a company policy against getting anyone anywhere on time. I imagine that heads will roll at corporate over this.

As for my teeth, I am still re-learning how to chew on the right side of my mouth. I wasn't quite aware of how I was avoiding that side of my mouth until I didn't have a problem there anymore. It is blissful to be free of the pain. I'm still wondering how I broke my tooth amid all the excitement of a tree falling on my house, a car driving up my car's behind, and so on. Probably I will never know exactly when or how it happened. I'm just glad it's over.

parrot -- i wish i had a better photo of this dramatic black and red species

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