We have returned safely from Mexico. Call off the border patrol.
We went with friends of ours (who did all the driving! Thanks Dan!) to Nogales, AZ. From there, we walked across the border into Nogales, Mexico. Why are both towns named the same thing? Because you can never have too many towns whose names translate into "Walnuts." (If you think I'm kidding, you look it up!)
How can I describe this little slice of Mexico? I'll try involving all of the senses. It smelled like New York City on a hot August afternoon. For those of you who haven't had that experience, that's hot asphalt + urine + rotting garbage + strange intermixing food smells + car exhaust + sweaty humans. Add a touch of burro in there, and you've got an idea. The sounds were those of Latin music (not the Gregorian chant kind, but the kind where there are lots of brass instruments and people speaking Spanish), and the persistence of salesmen. I am happy to say that everyone we encountered in Mexico considered me their friend. They all said so. "Come into my shop, my friend!" "Good afternoon, my friend!" It was just all sunshine and gumdrops!
Actually, they were very civil. True, they could have been cursing us out in Spanish as we walked away. Most of them took "no" for an answer and went on to the next person. One guy did follow us for a half a block or so, but he eventually went back to his little shop.
The sights were... well, poor. Not dirt-poor, living in a cardboard box. But poor as in "please buy my cheap crap so I can feed my burro" poor. (And that isn't a slur. One of the burro owners actually said: "But I need to feed my burro!" as we declined his offer to have our picture taken with said burro.) (If you thought I was kidding about the burros, I counted four. So there.)
As for touch... I think only one merchant touched me on the shoulder. Briefly. (He did not make the sale.) (I may have lived on Long Island for a lot of years, but I still react to being touched in true upstate NY fashion: if I'm not choking and I'm not married to you, then you have absolutely no right to be within three feet of me, and you need to back the hell away before the offending appendage is removed and consumed.) (I think the years on LI reduced the radius from 3 feet to 2.5, but the principle is the same.) (Count the parentheticals, and win a prize!)
There were some strange old women who were apparently trying to sell used Fisher Price horses and those odd wooden snake toys. And also what appeared to be individually-wrapped starburst candies. I didn't really look. There were some young women and what I assume to be their offspring begging in the streets. The kids were wearing NY Yankees caps and sport shirts, and the women were wearing brightly-colored sheet-looking things. Again, I didn't look, because I'm a cold and heartless bastard. Although, it would have been funnier if I had gone with Deb's suggestion of shouting: "I am the Chupacabra!" and running down the street. Unfortunately, my compendium of Spanish consists of what I learned from Sesame Street. So really all I could do is run down the street, counting to twenty, and occasionally saying "abierto", "cerrado", and "peligro!" True, running down the street shouting about twenty exploding Chupacabras may have turned some heads, but it was hot and I was carrying stuff, so running was out of the question. Maybe next time.
There was some cheap crap there, and there was some cheap decent stuff there. We haggled, we purchased some stuff, and all in all had an enjoyable time. There were a couple of things that I found odd, though. Like cow skulls for sale. I know full well that cow skulls are an integral part of Southwestern decorating, and have been for decades. I just find it interesting that not only are there cow skulls for sale in many stores (competitively priced, mind you), but that it's someone's job to go out and collect the cow skulls. One way or another. Maybe they're scouring the desert for authentic sun-bleached ones, or maybe they're picking through the scrap pile at the slaughterhouse. Either way, it's not my idea of a dream job. (Oh. For the curious: about $16.)
Another curious item was spotted by yours truly back on good ol' US of A soil just north of the border. (Like 50 feet north of the border.) We walked past a grocery store with a sign in the window proudly proclaiming the price per pound of "Bolognia". I didn't know that you could sell tiny European principalities by the pound, nor would I ever have guessed that it could be obtained in such a fashion in the southernmost reaches of Arizona. Live and learn, I guess.
We took an incredibly scenic route to get there, so I'll probably post some pics of that in the near future. Living in Arizona is like living in five different states as far as terrain is concerned. That's very, very cool.