We’ve been coming to Mexico, on and off, for 18 years, and every year for the past six or seven. So crossing the border feels a bit like coming home, but always with a dash of culture shock. Before dawn this morning, I stood outside the Aduana office—customs—beside a fourlane highway crowded with transport trucks, and listened to roosters crow. In less than a week I’ll be listening to them crow outside our Guanajuato house. For a few days, they’ll wake me at 4:00 a.m., but then they’ll just become part of the background noise of a Mexico morning.
By the time we finished with customs and immigration, got our tourist cards and registered the car, the sun was up and we headed south. The morning was cold enough to see you breath, but by noon the sun was hot.
This is the route along the western edge of Mexico—close to the Pacific, though we haven’t seen it yet. Tomorrow. It’s also the route we avoided two years ago because we understood it was less safe than the eastern routes. If you knew about Mexico only from reading the newspapers, you might expect cars travelling south along this route to be dodging bullets and subject to random holdups. We drove without incident, stopping for gas and bathroom breaks, and saw no one who wasn’t friendly and helpful. In other words, just like the Mexico we already know. Of course, there’s no denying this country has serious drug and violence problem—abetted by the American gun problem. (The sign entering Mexico from the U.S.: a gun with a line through it: no firearms allowed.) We took the recommended precautions, driving only in daylight, avoiding the border cities, etc. But I don’t think we’d hesitate to drive this way again.
The landscape was perhaps the dullest we’ve seen since leaving the American Midwest. But maybe it’s just that I’m all landscaped-out. Hard to beat what we’ve been seeing. Today, we drove through more desert, mountains in the distance, some fertile farm land (probably irrigated). We’re close enough to the ocean tonight to feel some moist breezes.
Vendors everywhere, along the roadside, set up in the median strip on the four-lane highway, approaching the car with newspapers, snacks, birds in cages, offers of car washes. Often within site of Walmart, Home Depot, Staples, Sam’s, Costco—you name it.
Livestock grazing along the roadside and in the median—horses, cows, even a few chickens pecking at the gravel on the side of the toll road.
The rich and the poor—huge estates enclosed in bougainvillea-draped walls beside clusters of tiny adobe shacks with mangy dogs running loose. How to respond to the poverty—it’s always a niggling question. Without a doubt, the poverty level is much greater here than at home, and the safety nets much weaker. It’s also more visible—this being a country where the minimal requirements for housing reflect the warmer climate. Many of our poor hide behind solid-enough looking walls. Some Canadians and Americans prefer not to come here because they don’t want to see the poverty. But not coming won’t make the poverty less. What is making it less is an economy that’s growing much more rapidly than most, bumping thousands more up into the middle class every year.
Enough amateur social analysis. We’re settled for the night in Navojoa in the state of Sonora. Tomorrow, on to Mazatlan.