0586 A Rugged Border Town (Mex 001—revisit)

Nogales Travel Blog

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I get on the last shuttle van heading to the border.  There’s only one other passenger, and I’m a little bit nervous that the driver might try to charge us extra, as I’m not quite sure how “official” these vans are.

The other passenger is a 20 year old girl who is going down to Nogales, Mexico to go back to her Mexican teenage boyfriend and children.  On first impression she seems like a bit of a loser with a couple of kids with various deadbeat dads. But on hearing her story of how she lost her parents when she was a kid and spent her teenage years shuffled between unwelcoming relatives, I realized that I can’t really blame her for making few wrong decisions.


Her story was a reminder that this country isn’t a paradise to everyone. 


We walked across the border together, and I was getting a bit nervous, as I know how jealous Mexican boyfriends can be.

Fortunately she grabbed a cab and headed on her way.


A brief overview of my relationship with Mexico


Now I have the chance to let it sink in where I am.   I’m back in Mexico, the country where I grew up and spent 12 years of my life.  It’s the country that I once thought would be my home forever. 


Here, in brief is my tumultuous romance with this country:


I first came here back in 1983 at the age of ten and stayed here until 1995.

  During that time I considered trying to get Mexican citizenship and settling down here permanently.  I felt this country was my home and I had a lot to offer it.


Then in 1996 I travelled abroad to finish my studies, I ended up in Morocco and immediately found myself falling in love with that country.  I stayed there until January, 1999 then decided to go back to my “first love” for a visit--  or maybe to stay.  But back in Mexico, I just didn’t feel I connected with people there anymore.  After Morocco where I encountered and interacted with dozens of cultures, languages and nationalities, Northwest Mexico just felt a bit too narrow and restrictive for me.  So I left Mexico after a couple of weeks, and headed out to discover the world once more.


Then in 2004 I came to Mexico again on an overland adventure trip to Panama.

  But this time I bypassed my hometown entirely and flew straight to Mexico City and on south from there.  It was a great experience to see some of the more culturally rich cities and enjoy Mexico as a tourist rather than as a prodigal son.


In January 2007, after an 8 year absence, I finally made it back to my hometown as a short sidetrip while on my way to my sister’s wedding farther south.  It was fun to visit old friends and neighbors and see how much their lives had changed (or in many cases, how little their lives had changed).  But it was really more of a passing through visit, I didn’t stay around long enough to see if I still connect with this place or not, and instead, after the wedding, opted to take a road trip down to Belize instead…

And now, in December of 2009, I’m finally going back for a real visit to my hometown, for the first time in 10 years.


I’m excited about this visit.

  This will be a chance to look back on the last decade of my life and compare my life and my achievements with the person I could’ve been, if I had stayed in Mexico as was my original plan.  It’s a chance to look at my life through the eyes of the people that I grew up with.  What will they see when they look at me?  Admiration?  Envy? Disdain?  I don’t know.  But I think I’m ready for whatever I’ll encounter.


Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, 10:00 PM


My adventure doesn’t start in my hometown of Navojoa, but rather in the dodgey bordertown of Nogales.

  I know things have changed in recent years and these Mexican bordertowns have become much more dangerous than they once were, scaring away all but the most hardy tourists.  It’s too late to catch a city bus to the main bus terminal… so… should I hike it, or take a taxi?


It would be a real shame for this trip to get off to a really bad start… but I opt for the adventurous version, and decide to hoof it all the way across town to the bus station. 


Nogales is sort of a one street city--  with all the commercial area all along a narrow valley between steep hills with houses randomly built along the slopes.  It starts with a very small area catering to tourist, with a whole bunch of pharmacies where Americans I guess come to get their drugs at a much reduced price--  and of course, no prescription needed…

There’s very little activity going on here… just a couple of taco stands.

  I go ahead and stop for my first order of tacos here in Mexico.  I’m a bit disappointed but that’s OK… “where area all the prostitutes?” another customer asks the taco guy.

“Oh, they’re probably all indoors because of the cold”


I head on for the long hike south. The streets getting darker and gloomier as I go along.  I eye every person that I pass for any sign of a threat.  I do pass a few more taquerias that are still open that cheer up the path, and pause to grab a soul-warming cup of champurrado… and later some helote con crema (corn with cream)… slowly all the memories of things I enjoyed here in Mexico are coming back to me.


I don’t see a single American anywhere… but nobody seems to notice me, so I keep on my way.  I’m determined not to fear this city or this country, regardless of the bad press.  This, after all, was once my home…


I notice changes… an enormous monument of an Indian spearing an bat… a freeway the cuts right into the cliff off to the side… and then, a huge hill that has just been sliced in half and turned into a flat, modern commercial area, with a Walmart and a bunch of other American franchises.

  After that dodgey hike through downtown, I suddenly feel much safer seeing that Walmart there…


Finally, a bit further on, I finally reach the bus station, where I book an overnight bus to Navojoa.


A couple of fellows there strike up a conversation in broken English.   We get to talking--  they are from Chihuahua on the other side of the mountains, which I hope to explore a bit someday, so they give me some helpful information.  When I tell them that I live in Africa (I don’t expect them to know where Morocco is), their eyes light up and they have tons of questions to ask…


Maybe I was too quick to judge before… maybe Mexicans are interested in the rest of the world…

And so I settle into my seat and fade off into the night, wondering what awaits me tomorrow…

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photo by: nathanphil