Two hours from Borrego Springs and just a 15 minute drive from Yuma there’s a border crossing at Andrade, CA. The US side is Quechan (Kwatsáan) reservation land. There’s a big casino at the freeway exit and the tribe operates the secure parking on the US side of the border. On the Mexican side is a very small town, Los Algodones, that now has some 400 dentists, earning it the moniker “Molar City”. Other services are available too: optical, dermatology, pharmacy, plastics (cosmetic surgery), massage, haircuts, pedicures, and so on. We began making trips to Los Algodones last year because Jonathan had lots of dental work that needed to be done. I don’t need to tell anyone that dentistry is very expensive in the US. In Mexico one can obtain excellent dental care at a fraction of the cost. Jonathan went back this January to continue the treatment plan that was started last year. We make the two hour drive from Borrego Springs to Andrade, park the car on the US side, walk across the border, get the work done and then walk back to the car and drive home. In the past, crossing the border has involved anywhere from a ten minute to, at most, an hour wait. It’s a long day but generally pleasant.
I’ve enjoyed going along to visit and see what there is to see. I enjoy chatting with the merchants and exploring the town while Jonathan is in the dental chair. There’s a pretty extensive market place with everything from cheap toys to beautiful jewelry, wood carving, paintings, metal and ceramic folk art.
I have an opinion about Mexico which is based on my travel experience over the past forty years. I like the country and I like the people–friendly, resourceful, smart, quick-witted, and good natured. Respect is an important cultural value and I cringe when our government treats the Mexican government and its people disrespectfully. There are criminals on both sides of the border. I always feel safe when I’m there.
Our first visit this year was in January. Jonathan had dental work, our friend, Layne, an initial evaluation. Most often evaluation and initial work are done on the same day. In Layne’s case she needed a procedure that would require anesthesia so they required that she return the day before her procedure for labs, and then have someone there, with car, at the dental clinic to drive her home.
This gave us the opportunity to experience another way of visiting. Our friends, Russ and Renée, also needed some work done and so they joined us. We drove to the border the day before the appointments, crossed into Mexico by car, drove to a really nice hotel. We parked the car and spent the night in a brand-new condo suite. The hotel is called Hotel California-and we did get to leave the place. There was a bit of a problem at first because our reservation had been lost when they had a computer crash. The motel was full, true to Mexican hospitality standards they were able to provide us with lodging in their brand new condo suite. I think we were the first guests to stay there.
I loved seeing what happens to the town after the tourists go home. The border is only open between 6 AM and 10 PM. After about 4:30 in the afternoon the vendors disappear, offices begin to close, and small-town Algodones emerges. We had a delicious dinner and a restful night.
While I was walking around I met a fellow who was preparing and selling nopales. Nopales are prickly pear cactus paddles. He was sitting on the corner scraping the thorns off with a sharp knife, then placing each paddle in a stack. The nopales that I’ve seen and eaten at home come from a can. I haven’t liked them that much because they can have a gelatinous, slimy, character. But I’ve always wondered how one might get from a prickly pear pad to something edible, so I stopped to talk. Once the salesman knew I was interested, he kindly showed me how to scrape off the thorns and then brought me to another woman who was selling various stews that contained the cooked nopales. It was very interesting and I bought a bag of fresh paddles for $3. When I got home I googled nopales and learned that the key to slime-free preparation is to cook the nopales prior to adding them to whatever dish you have in mind. The nopale has a lovely, mildly citrusy flavor. My favorite so far was grilling on the BBQ. You just brush it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill it for a few minutes on each side.
Spurred by our new park’s impressive bocce court, Jonathan has taken an interest in playing bocce. He’s played it before with James and his neighbor, Jim. He invested in a set when we made our foray to La Quinta for groceries and other supplies. He decided that before he played at the public court he’d better be working on his game and so he has set up a court in the desert behind our trailer. This means that there are some obstacles on the course: rocks, cactus, and definitely irregular terrain. In fact there’s a cable box right in the middle of the field. Pretty soon it became a regular thing and to make a long story short he hasn’t made it to the park court yet. Every afternoon is bocce time and there’s a pretty regular group of players that show up. It’s quite lively.
Thanks to Sue MacDonnell for her excellent bocce photos and to Julia Sommer for her skillful editing advice. And thanks to all for reading and being such good sports. More about Mexico in my next post–Chacala yoga retreat. Stay warm and enjoy the winter y’all. It’s not exactly warm here but when I complain about cold and wind I don’t get much sympathy from the folks at home.