Originally published 19 February, 2014
Nogales Border Station
We're always checking out the edges on our trips.....I mean hey.....our blog is called "Out on the dirty edge"! Today.....was one of those edge days. We're in southern Arizona.....and we decided we weren't far enough south. So we went further.....to Mexico.
I did a lot of research before we went. There are a LOT of issues crossing from the U.S. into Mexico and I am not one to go flying off into the unknown. We're also not chickenshits and are bolder than some. Of all the border crossings from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, Nogales is probably the safest. Yes there are issues, but people travel to sketchy places every day. We figured, just pay attention, don't do stupid things, and don't go sketchy places...and we'll be okay. We would have never, EVER considered doing this in someplace like Juarez, Matamoros, or Tiajuana.....but we figured we would be okay in Nogales.
Border fence, Nogales, Arizona, USA
We headed to Nogales, Arizona and parked. There are a bunch of parking lots right by the border. Most have fences and security. You don't wanna even think about taking your car into Mexico. It's complicated, and who knows what will happen. We paid two bucks, parked in a lot with a 8 foot fence with razor wire at the top and a kid watching the place. It's a bargain. We walked a few blocks to the border and started through the gates.
Border fence, Nogales, Mexico
Border fence, looking west, Nogales, AZ
You go through a one way turnstile gate. You walk up to a table and push a button. There is a street light there and if it is red, they wanna check out your bags. If it is green (like it was for us), you just head south about ten feet and you're in Mexico. It's that simple. The gate opens into the tourist area of the city.
Bill for scale, border fence in the background
As we exit the gate, we walk through a phalanx of federale tourismo policia (federal tourist police), all carrying M-16's with taped together double clips. I saw at least a dozen in the first block. There were heavily armed, body armor clad, M-16 toting cops all over the place. As we went deeper into the tourist area, there were fewer, and some were only armed with side arms...but there were still a lot of them. They were very visible and very armed. Laurie said that she had not seen a police presence like that since she was in Russia in the 1970's.
Nogales, Mexico, street upgrades
As we cleared the cops, a man stopped us. We weren't sure what he was up to, and he spoke pretty good English. As best we could figure, he wanted us to either get him across the border or get something across the border. We weren't really sure what he wanted, but knew this was a situation that we wanted no part of, so we told him no and continued on our way.
The tourist areas had a huge amount of construction ongoing. The city of Nogales, MX has a new mayor and he is intent on making the tourist areas safe and getting American tourists back into Nogales.....and it shows. They are replacing many of the old streets with concrete streets, and new curbs. Lots of stores are being remodeled.
Tourist plaza jobsite, Nogales, MX
We were watching workers in a vacant lot between two buildings and took a few pictures. One guy was very well dressed and obviously in charge, and another guy was not as nicely dressed as him but nicer than all the other workers. We started to chat and they were very friendly. The very nicely dressed guy was the architect, and the other guy was the jobsite superintendent. They were building a brand new plaza for tourists who visit Nogales. Nogales is obviously serious in their pledge to bring the tourists back.
Laurie with a good Cuban cigar
We bargained for and bought a real Cuban Cohiba cigar. Laurie likes to sit on the porch and smoke a Swisher Sweet cigar every now and then. I smoke a cigar about twice a year. I bought a Cohiba so she would understand what a real cigar was supposed to taste like and we shared it. She said it's like the difference between Glenlivet and cheap bar scotch. I told her it's more like the difference between Glenlivet and rubbing alcohol. They don't have that nasty cigar smell, they are so smooth you could almost inhale them. They are damn fine cigars....and if I had ready access to cigars that good...I'd have another bad habit to break.
Mexican Firehouse, Nogales, MX
Everyone we encountered was very friendly and helpful. The people were nice and seemed quite happy. When we didn't have pesos, they were happy to help us exchange money, even when we used a pay toilet. The people were nice and treated us well. The everyday people of Nogales are very good people, and if you visit, you'll agree with us.
Colorful street art, Nogales, MX
I had read about a restaurant in Nogales before we went. It was not cheap, and is probably the most expensive restaurant in Nogales. Entree costs were between 15 and 20 bucks.....not out of the norm for the U.S., but pretty pricey for Mexico. We asked a young girl on the corner for directions and she told us how to get to it. You had to walk across the train tracks. As we got over the train tracks, we were picked up by a guy who said "you are going to La Roca". I said that we were and he said "follow me".
La Roca Restaurant, Nogales, MX
While I was wary and very much on guard, I've been to Mexico before. There are guys that will steer tourists into certain businesses and they get a commission from the business. That's what this situation was. I wasn't really being steered....we were going there anyway. He walked us right in, and I gave him a buck for escorting us as it would have been tough to find the place without his help. The waiters were all in tuxedos. The restaurant sat at the face of a cliff, thus the name....and the food was excellent. It was a great lunch.
Panaderia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Bakery for you gringos.)
After lunch, we wandered more.....and with my keen sense of direction....I found a panaderia! (Bakery) We went in, chose a few pastries which were the Cohiba cigars of baked goods. Mexican pastries are just fantastic. We continued our wanderings and went by a school where kids were playing. I've watched kids in Europe, in Iceland, in Mexico, in Belize.....and all kids are the same. They don't seem to be that different from each other until they become adults.
Drive thru Coca Cola sales!
We checked out the border fence on the Mexican side.....the Mexicans don't have a fence. The fence belongs to the U.S. We wandered a few more shops, bargained with a storekeeper for two dinner plates Laurie liked and a half liter of vanilla extract, which should last us to retirement. We then headed back to the border to cross back into the U.S.
Border Crossing from Nogales, MX to USA
There was a long line to enter the U.S. when we went into Mexico this morning. When we returned about 4 PM, there was none. We walked right into U.S. customs, gave them our passports, and the Customs guy asked us a few questions. (Be sure to see our quotes of the day for a recap of the conversation). He then told us about some of the cartel shootings, and some guy that got beheaded one time and they dumped the body right by their border station as they watched. They were dumping him on the Mexican side and these guys were on the U.S. side...they couldn't do anything about it. He also told us that Nogales was the tunnel capital of Mexico. I told him I had read about them shutting down several tunnels just this week. He told us where there were holes patched in the pavement where the tunnels would leak dirt and leave holes on the surface.
Kids being kids
We bid the border guy a good day and wandered the U.S. side of the fence, wanting to get pictures. There are people at the fence talking to friends and family on the other side....holding hands through the fence......socializing and just seeing family. It's very quiet on the U.S. side of the border, with few people and little going on....while the sound of music, singing, and people laughing drifts over from the Mexican side. Their culture is different, and they do seem to have a happy life. No fence can ever hide that.
Mexican payphones work.......USA....don't.
We take our pictures and head back to the parking lot. We drive the hour and 20 minutes back to the RV park up near Tucson. Mexico affects us both, the times we have visited. We talked about it a lot. With all it's problems, and all it's issues, it's still an intriguing and happy place. And we feel like we brought a bit of that happiness back across the border with us.
Quotes of the day. There are bunch. Someplace this colorful cannot be confined to just one.
"I'm the perfect person to bring to a place like this. I have excellent situational awareness and I'm paranoid as hell." - Bill to Laurie
U.S. Customs agent: "What was the purpose for your visit to Nogales?" Bill: "Just hanging out." Laurie- "Yeah, just checking it out". U.S. Customs agent: "Jesus. Don't you people read the news?"
Shop keeper to Laurie: "We have many nice things.....something you'll need!" Laurie: "No thank you." Shop keeper: You never know................. ( you had to be there).
Bill to shopkeeper: "How much for the Cohibas?" Shopkeeper: "For you my friend.....22 dollars." Bill: "Demasiado" (Too much). Shop keeper: "How much will you give me?" Bill: "seis". (six) Shop keeper slams shut cigar case looking insulted. Waits a minute, and says "twelve". Bill: "ten". Shopkeeper quite happily: "Okay my friend! Do you need a lighter?"
Song of the day- (This took no thought at all) Mexico- James Taylor
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.
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