in the United States has heard the horror stories about Mexico,
especially the border region, but the idea that our southern
border is an open, unchecked
thoroughfare for illegal activities is patently absurd.Driving along the US-Mexico border from California to
never went more than a few minutes without seeing the United States
Border Patrol doing what they do best, patrolling. There are checkpoints,
lookouts, fences, trucks, Jeeps, electronic surveillance setups,
airplanes, helicopters, boats and no doubt many other invisible
resources — all working vigilantly to secure the frontier. It’s
a dusty, dangerous, dirty job with few accolades. Each time we were
pulled over our brave men in uniform were always thorough, efficient
said, I wasn’t keen on the idea of actually driving down into
our neighbor to the south. Veronica was a little more willing
to take the plunge. Perhaps it fell under her fear conquering
people do it everyday… mantra — or her Southern
California upbringing — but I needed more information before
running for the border.
We chose Gringo
Pass, Arizona to take a peek across the border — mainly because
Gringo Pass is a really funny name. After parking at a gas station,
I took a little stroll to check out the tiny outpost. I found
myself wishing I had spurs on ’cause the chinking sound would
have accompanied the dust I was kicking up perfectly. In lieu
of said spurs, I shook my keys as each footfall landed and imagined
myself in the wild west.
Less than a block down the only side street, I attracted an SUV
driving border guard. After the usual where were you born
and what are you doing here questions I chatted him
up a bit. He understood my border crossing apprehension.
explained how most of our fears were unfounded — at least
at this crossing –because the media tends to play up the
bad stuff. I suppose Border Patrol Does Fine Job Protecting
America doesn’t make for an attention grabbing
headline. Our new border patrol buddy explained that there are certainly
parts of the border that better judgment would call for avoiding,
especially the big cities like Tijuana and Juarez, but Gringo Pass
wasn’t one of them.
He went on
to fill us in about a beautiful seaside oasis just an hour south
of the border, Rocky Point — Puerto Peñasco in the native
tongue. He literally said, Go — it’s great down there.
We had no reason to think he was trying to send us off to meet
our maker so we decided to head on down.
for the excursion were minimal since, in a concerted effort to
attract tourists, the Mexican government has declared about half
of the state of Sonora, including Puerto Peñasco, a Hassle
Free Zone. It’s a bit of a strange name, perhaps a translation
twist, but it means that vehicle permits are not required within
the zone and, for visits up to three days, a tourist card need
not be acquired. Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!
We did purchase
Mexican insurance for our vehicle since American policies are
not recognized south of the border. Coverage only cost a few dollars
a day so there was no reason to take chances. In chatting with
the incredibly helpful agent, Sandy Rogers, at the Why Not Travel
Store in Why, Arizona we learned that all traffic incidents are
treated as a crime in Mexico and, as such, our vehicle could be
impounded and we could find our butts in a Mexican pokey. Sandy
further recommended the Legal Aid addition to our policy. It was
a peace-of-mind expense to assure that a lawyer would spring us
from jail should something go terribly awry.
hand and passports (not necessary for entering Mexico but extremely
important for getting BACK in to the good old U.S.A.) in our pockets,
we headed into Sonoyta, Sonora. The typical bordertown begins
the barren sixty mile run across The Sonoran Desert down to Rocky
Point. This piece of highway –which, by the way, is in much better
shape on the Mexican side of the border — is straight out of
an old western movie. The harsh landscape is strewn with classic
Saguaro cacti standing arms-up as if some bandito got the jump
on them. It made us feel like we might be seeing The Duke or Clint
riding by any time.
hype on Puerto Peñasco was not overblown. This little
fishing village on The Gulf of California is one rockin’ Rocky
Point. In an odd quirk, the English version of the name, Rocky
Point, was actually the original form, given by the British
William Hale Hardy while sailing the area back in 1826. Over a century
later Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas renamed it
Puerto Punta Peñasco, or Port Rocky Point. Through the years
the Punta got dropped, hopefully not on anybody’s toes.
entering the city, we followed the main road until we hit
water — always our general approach when entering an unfamiliar
waterside town. At the waterfront we found a public parking
lot and proceeded on as pedestrians.
The original section of the town is bunched up on a few square blocks
of crowded narrow streets by the harbor — better explored on foot.
Along the packed little main drag is an array of touristy shops
mingled with bars, restaurants and fresh seafood shops. The fishmongers
brandished gigantic raw shrimp — fresh from the gulf — in our
faces about every twenty paces. Mixed in with the barkers from every
crap shop and cafe, the street is a gigantic jumble of Spanglish
with a mariachi soundtrack. It’s beautiful, quintessential Mexico.
Shrimp is what Puerto Peñasco is all about. They are everywhere,
on every menu and in every shop, either fresh or as souvenirs.
Hats, shirts, stickers, mugs and glasses all sporting clever
crustacean catch-phrases designed to remove the pesos from
the pockets of passersby.
Vendors along the streets and beaches
have coolers filled to the
brim with the fresh caught buggers and offer up bags to every possible
the end of Malecón Avenue is a plaza with a tribute
to the local seafarers. A statue of a fisherman riding a giant
shrimp (an oxymoron if there ever was one) dominates the square.A tribute to all of the adjoining states and their governors,
both Mexican and American, proudly lines the yellow seawall.
The plaza is a popular meeting place for locals and a great
place to watch the shrimping fleet as they line up waiting
their turn to drop off the day’s catch
or head back out for another boatload.
the waterfront stretch there are a bunch of great spots for
a relaxing sunset libation overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
Over the span of our stay we tried several of them but our favorite
had to be The Point. It juts clear out over the water — at least
when the tide is in — for an up close look at the dolphins that
came by every afternoon.
of our visit was The Tequila Factory in the newer part of town.
Not actually a factory, it serves as a storefront for La Cava
de los Compadres tequila brewers. After a brief but highly informative
program about the history and process of making tequila we sat
at a little bar and tried about a dozen varieties of the agave
juice in a procedure very much like a wine tasting. Luckily the
samples were just a small taste so we didn’t do any “drunk
bicycling” on our way back that afternoon.
A fifth of
the golden liquid aging in the lobby was purchased as a gift for
my dad, a tequila connoisseur. An empty bottle was filled from
the barrel, corked, scotch taped shut and wrapped up in newspaper
for safe keeping. Good thing we didn’t get stopped by customs
because it easily could have passed for moonshine. I can’t imagine
that being good scenario.
of moonshine, a full moon graced our stay — adding magic
to the Mexican nights and creating some amazing tide fluctuations.
Huge stretches of beach, a hundred yards or more, would appear
and disappear during the course of the day. It made for some great
seashell and tide pool exploration as outcrops of volcanic rocks,
usually part of the seafloor, became exposed. We had quite
examining the critters left behind by the receding water.
were poking around on the beach, wandering the dusty streets or
sipping a mariachi-serenaded ice-cold Pacifico at sundown, it’s
hard to imagine how a getaway so close could have felt any farther