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Expatriate in Mexico

One day while we were visiting our friends in Yuma we all crossed the border into Los Algodones (the cotton plants), Mexico, so the Captain and I could buy new spectacles.  Why?  Because they (as well as prescription drugs and dentistry) cost about one-third what they do in the U.S., which is a puzzle and a pity.

Do you know how easy it is to get into Mexico?  You walk in.  Some people drive, but we parked on the American side in an immense parking lot, and simply walked in without being stopped or queried by anyone, and without having to show a shred of identification.

Let me back up a bit to tell you that the area around this part of the border with Mexico is one trailer park after another.  I never knew there were so many RV’s in the world, especially since I thought most of them were already planted around Phoenix.  Wrong.  The number of trailers in the south is uncountable – green-camperit’s infinite, they’re probably multiplying as you read.  It’s hard for the Captain and me to imagine the pleasure anyone would take from living in a metal box in the desert, but there must be a lot to it we don’t understand, as many seem happy to be doing it.  Most of the license plates were from cold northern climes, and perhaps that is all the explanation that’s required.  It was interesting to see that quite a few of these mobile homes are now generating their own power with solar panels and small windmills mounted on the roofs.

los-algodones-street1The streets of Los Algodones are nothing but shops for the aforementioned services.  This is the street we entered just after crossing the border.  How to choose which oculist to visit?  We opted for one that was a little deeper in the town, seemed very clean and professional, and didn’t have someone outside exhorting us to come in.  It looked to us like the best choice… is it coincidence that it is called Best Optical?

Dr. Manuel Robles and his staff amazed us with their professiolos-algodones-ls-test-2-27-2009-19-35-19nal manner.  We each received a very thorough eye exam, including the test for glaucoma.  Several space-age looking machines stared deeply into our eyes and provided the rough corrections we each needed.  Then we were ushered into a different room where our prescriptions were fine-tuned.  Dr. Robles spent a very long time with the Captain who required two different kinds of glasses – one pair for regular life, and another with different focal lengths for working at the computer.

After the exams and the not-so-difficult chore of picking frames (“which ones are least expensive?”) we were shooed away and told to return in two hours.  This gave us a fine opportunity to visit some of the highlights of Los Algodones:

los-algodones-our-food2-2-27-2009-21-00-19The restaurant where we sat on a second-floor balcony and ate some of the best nachos that have ever been constructed.  Yes!  That’s pulled beef under the guacamole and sour cream – yum!

los-algodones-strawberry-man2-2-27-2009-21-20-30This man, seen from our luncheon eyrie, was selling fresh strawberries.  We bought some, forgetting that we probably couldn’t carry them back across the border. We later gave them to a passer-by.

los-algodones-louis-in-big-hat-2-27-2009-20-08-351You can’t visit Mexico without trying on a great big hat…

los-algodones-curios-shop-2-27-2009-21-51-321We didn’t buy anything from Elvis, but it’s kind of reassuring to know that the King still lives… in Los Algodones…

los-algodones-louis-and-flute-man-2-27-2009-22-03-11No, we didn’t buy a whistle, either, though it was extremely tempting.

Local fauna.  The first was considering either a purchase or a leg-lift; the second was hiding behind some furniture that was for sale.  We were told if we bought the furniture the kitten could come too – now how would we get her across the border?



The two hours was up and, having amused ourselves pretty well, we went back to Best Optical and picked up three pairs of beautiful new glasses.  All three were bifocals, and mine get darker as the light gets brighter.  For the three pairs of glasses and the eye exams we payed the princely sum of $125 American.  And that is why so many people cross into Mexico every day.

Then it was time to join the loooong line to re-enter the U.S.


Eventually we arrived within sight of the customs shed (where one is not allowed to take pictures – when I asked the customs official said, “Don’t photograph anything having to do with this border.  If you do someone will yell at you and take away your camera.”  Evidently he mistook me for a toddler.)  Along the end of the route there were three Indian women with children who were begging, and from our observation doing rather well – it’s impossible not to put something in the cup of a woman who looks so sad.

los-algodones-line-for-us-beggars-2-28-2009-00-04-47Because there were only three beggars and because, sad expressions aside, they looked reasonably healthy, we assumed that it was some kind of controlled concession.  But we still couldn’t walk by and do nothing… could you?

After scolding me, the Customs Officer instructed me to take off my dark glasses, riffled my passport and asked a lot of questions about why I had crossed and what I had done whilst in Mexico.  He was cranky.  He was probably tired and sick of cheapskate Americans.

At last we were released back into the United States.  It’s hard to imagine how hard it must be to go anywhere without a passport; it’s something we take for granted, but it bestows great advantages to us.

The drive back took us past several common Yuma-area sights:

date-palms3There are many date farms in the area, specializing in Medjool dates.  We stopped at the Imperial Date Farm where Raul prepared their famous date shake for those of us who like that kind of thing (I don’t):

raul-pours-a-date-shakeThen it was back past the miles of lettuce farms.  I bet half the lettuce eaten in the US comes from this part of the world.  Our friends from Tennessee say they eat the lettuce shipped by these growers.  Here is what a really BIG red and green lettuce garden looks like:

lettuce-red-and-greenWe were pretty tired out after our day’s exertions.  After a delicious dinner with our friends we crossed one last seamless border, and tumbled into bed in the Cocopah Indian Nation – at the Cocopah Casino and Hotel.


It was an interesting trip in many ways – and it raised more questions than it answered, about immigration, agri-business, but especially about health care in the U.S. (yes, I count eyes and teeth as part of the equation). Why does a pair of new glasses cost around $200 in one place, and only $30 a few miles away? What kind of sense does that make?