My work has taken me to Mexico before (close to Guatemala and Mexico City), but I have never walked across the border into Nogales, Sonora. It is amazingly close to Tucson. I have had no excuse.
Today, I hopped on Superman and headed to the DeConcini Port of Entry. I parked on the US side near the thirty foot steel fence that bisects the town of Nogales. Here is a short video of me approaching the steel wall:
I walked fifty yards down a pedestrian hall where an occasional sign warns you that bringing $10,000.00 in currency back into the US is illegal. A few other signs warn you that guns are illegal in Mexico. There is no security. There are no government officials in uniforms. There is one camera, and I suspect it is one of those fake ones you buy to scare off burglars.
At the end of the hall, a woman in a pseudo-uniform read a checklist at a table. I assumed that she was there to ask me the purpose of my visit. Without looking up, she waved me through–I was dismissed.
A few more yards, and I emerged into a small open air shopping plaza. Several men shouted to me: “Taxi?”
As I walked down the shopping plaza, there were pharmacias with handwritten signs proclaiming “Viagra – 50% Off”! Skinny men who looked like meth addicts sidled up to me and asked me what I wanted: “Need painkillers?” “Hookers?” “Pharmacy?”
The answer to ALL of these questions was, of course, “no thanks”. I walked toward a restaurant recommended by Yelp.
Making my way through the streets, I noticed three young guys following me. I ducked into a bodega and bought a soda. As I leaned on the counter, I watched the young men walk past. The one in the lead met my gaze and looked away. I turned back to the shopkeeper and noticed an old man with a Tecate behind me. I paid for both and told her to keep the change. I shook the old man’s hand and wished him a “feliz anos nuevo”. I walked in the opposite direction of the young men.
I passed by a wide open electrical meter with the 220V mains COMPLETELY exposed to anybody who might bump into the hot leads under the meter.
Puddles of water were under it. I suspected that it was part of the Nogales Power Company’s best practices.
After wandering near several restaurants, I was greeted by staff who were busy cleaning out the doors and the sidewalks. The smell of rotten food curbed my appetite.
I walked back to the port of entry. I waited a full hour in a line to return home. The line extended into a gauntlet of elderly men without teeth who begged for change. I handed out money and watched small children eagerly sell handmade scarves to the tourists in front of me.
There is an informal custom where Mexican nationals will allow elderly people to walk past them in line. I enjoyed watching the respect they showed each other. The family in front of me offered me heavily spiced chicharron (pork rinds). I declined. I rubbed my stomach and said, “Sorry, I have a weak gringo belly.” We laughed. The line moved slowly forward into a steel hall with heavy bars on all sides.
A man from Green Valley behind me answered his cell phone and began loudly explaining that he was going to be late, because he suspected that he had been anally raped while getting dental treatment. I wanted to punch him in his rude face, but I did not want to end up in the Nogales Municipal Jail.
Eventually, I approached the entry point, placed my electronic passport in a scanner and was quickly waved into the USA.
I looked back over my shoulder to the commercial truck lane. The drug dogs were barking constantly. The tall steel wall climbed the hills around the facility.
As I walked slowly back to Superman, I felt a sadness. I knew that I had seen better parts of Mexico, but this place, so close to the border, would be forever twisted into a bazaar that catered to the worst impulses. I will go back, but I am going deeper next time. I will find the quiet places in the mountains. I will visit a friend’s ranch. I will ride down the Baja Pennisula. I will return to the steel wall, and I will be ready next time.
Until then, I remain at Casa de Portell.
Peace & Love,