April 2nd

to mexico we go

Nogales is a city split by an international border — Arizona, USA on one side, Sonora, Mexico on the other. The cities are fraternal twins. The familiarity is there, but the differences are stark.
While both are predominantly Hispanic, impoverished, and dusty this time of year, they are also overflowing with culture, color and activity. Being on this border is like visiting a circus with a dozen acts happening at the same time. The major difference between the two is public health — which of course is a benefit of a well-funded government. In the United States, public health services are often taken for granted. However, when a city like this is split in two by an imaginary line that defines opportunity — the necessity of the basics (sewage, running water, trash service) is more than apparent.

fast food nation flashbacks

The easiest way to cross from the United States to Mexico is by foot if you are going for the day. Taking your car across can be a pain, and then you must worry about parking and security. On the American side, you can park at the McDonald’s lot for $4 — which pays for a guard.

push your way through
crossing the border on foot

Crossing into Mexico is so simple it is unbelievable. You simply walk through a turnstile and voila — Mexico is there waiting for you with a sincere embrace, a dozen warm tortillas and a sombrero full of tequila. Bienvenidos!


I visited with a potential public health project for a few hours and was able to eat with a family in their home. The generosity and kindness of Mexican families never ceases to amaze me. They are truly wonderful people.

chile rellenos

We ate refried beans, rice, chile rellenos, tamales and corn tortillas for lunch. They also served cold Coca Cola. There is nothing like Mexican Coca Cola — made with sugar cane. Served in an ice cold bottle? Heaven on earth.

busses along the border 2

Buses lined up along the border.

boys on a dusty road

Children playing on a typical dusty hill. The hills here are scattered with tiny mud homes. While there isn’t running water or pavement, most homes do have electricity and some even have Internet.

crosses on the border, cu

The border fence is lined with crosses in remembrance of those who have died trying to cross illegally. Nogales is a return point for many undocumented immigrants who are caught in the United States. They are brought back to this border town and dropped off with a sincere warning against trying to return. The result is a growing community of people who’ve traveled from all over South and Central America, in addition to those who have been deported from the United States, and are waiting for their next trip across the line. When I asked what most people do for a living in Nogales, I was told by a priest, “They work in the factories or as coyotes.” Coyotes is a slang word for those who smuggle people across the desert. Last summer more than a dozen people died in the Arizona heat trying to do just that. The factory work pays $4 per day. By simply looking at the economics, it is easy to see why so many people are crossing legally and illegally each day.

dusty hill with homes

Hillside of homes.

home below

The typical home in Nogales, Mexico.

outdoor kitchen, 2

Without running water, the kitchen is outside. While this family lives in poverty, their home was spotless. Everything was clean and in its place — no small feat when you live in a cloud of dust.

Luis Vuitton

Goods sold along the border vary from “Luis Vuitton” sunglasses, to Coach and Prada knockoffs.

leather goods

Who wants a Prado bag when you could have something like this? The craftsmanship with their leather goods is outstanding.

colorful plates

There was a bounty of beautiful pottery, silver jewelry and glassware too.

lunch menu

Plus, I’d rather save my knockoff purse money for lunch. Oooh Mexican food, how I love thee. Let me count thy ways. Margaritas. Tortillas. Salsa. Beans…

Pancho y Kelli

It was a great day trip. Nogales sits just 3.5 hours from Phoenix. I bought my vanilla, got my work done, ate a wonderful meal and made some new friends, including this little guy — Panchito.

If the opportunity presented itself, I’d return to live in Mexico in a heartbeat. I simply love the country.


Posted in
Arizona, Journal, Public Health, Travel
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21 Responses

  1. Rebecca April 2, 2007

    Did you bring me some vanilla too?

  2. Very nicely done. And I couldn’t cook w/out Mexican vanilla. šŸ™‚

  3. Kelli, my husband and I love to visit Nogales. We walk across just as you mentioned. When you get past the border-edge touristy stuff, you are able to interact with really lovely, gracious people–just as you said. We have traveled further into the interior and everyone has always been welcoming and friendly to two strange gringos arriving in their midst. We’ve been invited to join in family celebrations, dances, and just plain good fun because we treat the people who live there with respect. Our Spanish is quite limited but good manners and a pleasant smile have always opened doors to learning another country’s culture that we find invaluable. I also love their vanilla and leather goods.

  4. My MIL’s hometown in Reynossa, Mex. and I always ask her to bring me back vanilla, blown glasses (you know the ones with the cobalt blue rims) and the “good” tequila we use in our margaritas. Wonderful post Kelli! You did a wonderful and acuarate job of depicting the good and the bad of a typical border town.

  5. Whoa – that is wild… it’s like a subway terminal, only to another country. Crazy. All that food is making me drool – I love. it. all. and that pottery is beautiful!!

  6. As a kid, I spent every summer in Arizona with my dad. We would cross over into Mexico at least once a year, and drive down to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point). My favorite thing about crossing over the border was buying tacos from a stand outside a store in Sonoyta. Fresh meat, cabbage, and white corn tortillas. Heaven on Earth. I also love Mexican Coca-Cola in the bottle and fresh horchata. Yum yum!

    Glad you had a great time!

  7. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing, Kelli šŸ™‚

  8. Thanks for your wonderful and very interesting tour, Kelli!
    Beautiful photos as always…

  9. ~gasp~ thank you for this wonderful tour! i have never been to North or South America- but I feel I *almost* have thanks to your insightful commentary and beautiful pictures. Mexico looks like a wonderful place.

  10. Beautiful post – I heart Mexico. The culture is so rich, the people so incredibly beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  11. What beautiful photos. Unfortunately Mexico, the touristy parts at least, are on Canada’s shit list right now. There have been four tourists killed there in the last year and the Mexican police have been less than forthcoming. It looks like the non tourist areas might be a safer bet? I guess there is crime everywhere. I haven’t been to Mexico since 1988 and thought it was wonderful….ciao

  12. I too adore Mexico. Funny, as it was never on my “I want to go” list. I was all about Asia, Europe and Egypt. Then I was selected to represent Guides Australia (Girl Scouts) at a Dialogue for Peace held in Mexico in 95. That lead to me volunteering there for two 6 month periods, and a couple of touring trips. Then life happened and my last trip was 1999. We finally went back this year (8 years later), and luckily hubby hearts Mexico too, so there will be more trips.

  13. Thanks for sharing your memories Kelli! When I travel I usually collect pottery of the place, those Mexican plates are amazing! Glad you had such a great time.

  14. Thanks for sharing your trip with us Kelli! I never realised how similar Mexico and Africa were. It must be a bit like the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. On one side what seems like endless wealth, and the other side, unrelenting poverty …

  15. Great photos, Kelli. Thanks so much for sharing!

  16. what a thoughtful and lovely travelogue from your day. i love the way that your travel writing shines with a sensitivity and kindness and genuine appreciation for the place you are talking about!
    and on a much more shallow note, i’m envious of your vanilla. šŸ™‚ i have a giant bottle of haitian vanilla (also muy rico) that a friend brought me awhile back and it’s almost gone!

  17. Kelli, your positivity is beautiful. Sometimes I go to Mexico and feel depressed and yucky. But the way you put it, you’re right! The food is *amazing*, and the people do their very best with what they’ve got. Thanks! Your trip looks like it was great!

  18. Oh Kelli, I love your post…first, you are so beeeeyoooteeful šŸ˜€ And second, I agree with your feelings on Mexico, love it there, the food, the people, all of it. The friendliest people in the world, I’m convinced! šŸ˜€ What a fun ‘day trip’ LOL šŸ˜€

  19. thanks for this post…so important to see who with share land with–

  20. I know nothing about Mexican vanilla. What’s so amazing about it? Do share.

    BTW, this was a beautiful post.

  21. I hope you had a cup of elotes with everything. (drool). I love those. I miss Mex–it has been too long.