Friday, November 23, 2012

Mexican shopping trip

Los Algondones, Mexico is just 8 miles west of Yuma and the northernmost city in all of Mexico.  It’s known as a medical mecca for inexpensive dental care, eyeglasses and prescription drugs -- there are over 350 (really) dentists in this tiny town of about 4500 people.  We’d heard from people we’d met last winter in Tucson that you can get good, inexpensive medical care there, like a teeth cleaning for $20.  But we didn’t need glasses or dental work.  We just wanted to go to Mexico, see Los Algondones and window shop.

You cross the border from the tiny (population 59, says Wikipedia) California town of Andrade.  I didn’t see anything resembling a town as we approached Mexico.  Instead, there was a fairly nice RV park and then a huge, paved parking lot.  We parked the car, followed the crowd, and walked across the border.  No checking of IDs or of anything being brought in.  

Within seconds of crossing the border we were approached and asked if we were needed  dental care, glasses or prescriptions.  If you say yes near the border, the asker will take you to a store and demand a “finders fee” from the doctor or pharmacist. In addition to all the folks hoping for a percentage of your bill, someone was standing in front of nearly every medical place we walked by asking you to come in and get your teeth checked, to get glasses, to get a prescription filled. We must have been asked those questions 50 times. I told one man who asked me if I needed prescription drugs that I didn’t have a prescription. He said I didn't need one.

Vendors also came up to us with jewelry, leather goods, ceramic turtles, painted rocks and all sorts of doo dads.  I stopped to look a couple of times (I did see some purses I liked and wanted to get a closer look) but then someone was right next to me trying to put a wallet in my hand. 

Whenever we are somewhere the least bit “iffy,” Jim’s mantra is to look like you know where you are going and what you are doing.  That means walking with purpose and no lolly gagging taking photos or looking at maps.  When one of the street vendors put a bracelet on me, Jim said someone could have tried to steal from me while I was distracted or claim that since I was wearing the bracelet I’d stolen it.  I didn’t get that impression from the vendors.  Persistent would be a huge understatement, but most were were also polite.  But I get Jim’s point and I'm glad he looks out for us. 

Anyway ... after about forty minutes of walking around and repeatedly saying "No thank you; no gracious" I finally took a few photos.  Then we crossed the border back into the US where we had to show our passports and anything we purchased. (I bought three small bottles of vanilla, which, now that I have them back at the rig and opened one I’m pretty sure are fake -- they are too mild to be real vanilla.  Vanilla water, maybe? ).  In late afternoon or evening it can take hours to get through customs, but since we left Mexico by noon we got through in 20 minutes.  Walking to the parking lot, we heard a woman  telling another visitor that she always came to Algondones to buy tortillas and to visit her husband who had been deported. 

Years ago I took my kids on a short cruise that included a shopping stop in Ensenada, Mexico.  What I remember most was a sign in front of a store that said “We Cheat Less.”  Although I doubt that there will be a “next time” shopping trip to Los Algondones, if we ever do need anything from Mexico's molar/eyeglass capital, I'll research it so I can find a “we cheat less” type of place.

The border crossing into Algondones, Mexico near Yuma. Arizona.  We walked in to the right of the white metal grate in the photo.
An Algondones street.  
Signs for Los Algondones dentists in front of their businesses.  Some of the shops -- like the ones above -- looked run down.  Others looked modern enough to be on the Starship Enterprise.
We still had a successful shopping day because on our way back to the rig we stopped at two Yuma farm stands.  Our haul included honey, pickled beets, date nut bread and (in the aluminum foil) home made tamales. 

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