Travels with Gertie travels previous home next
Stucco tile bg

Puerta Palomas, Mexico

April 27, 2006—This morning I stuffed my wallet into my shirt pocket and snapped it closed to discourage pickpockets. Then around ten, Kate and Terry and I headed down to Columbus, about 30 miles south of here. We parked about 100 feet from the border, walked through the US and Mexican customs buildings without being asked anything other than "Are you US citizens?", and found ourselves in a different world. Kate and Terry had crossed into Palomas before, so they knew what to expect. So did I—from hearsay—but the gritty reality was still pretty creepy.

Now, I have to emphasize that by most accounts, all the border towns are sleazy, shabby and run down. Drive a hundred miles into Mexico, say those who know, and things are very different. I'm quite willing to believe this, but I have no desire to spend that much time inside Mexico. And the disrepair of almost everything in Palomas from the cars to the buildings, plus the dirty kids reaching out their hands to beg, was definitely depressing. I didn't photograph any of this—it wasn't something I wanted to remember!

Our mission was to pick up Kate's new glasses, ordered last week, and get some low-cost prescription drugs. But first we stopped at the Pink House, a big tourist trap with endless rooms full of Mexican handicrafts. Kate said "How nice to know that all this stuff was not made in China!" Always the cynic, I replied, "Perhaps...but another way of looking at it is that wages here are even lower than in China."

Regardless of where it was made, I liked a lot of the Mexican "folk art"—the bright colors and bold designs really appealed to me. I didn't find anything to buy, but I took a few pictures. One large plate reminded me of some of Sandra Bishop's work.

Mexican plate

Then we walked across the plaza to the optician, where Kate inquired about her glasses. Normally they can examine your eyes and make your glasses in two hours, but Kate had insisted on an antireflection coating, and that had to be done in Phoenix. We were told that the lenses would be in later this afternoon, so we went off to check prices at the "Farmacia Express."

No prescriptions were offered or asked for—hard to get used to! Of my three medications, the first two (Avodart and Diovan) were more expensive than what I pay through my company-subsidized drug plan... but the Xalatan eye drops were slightly cheaper: $29.84 instead of $40. Since as the druggist pointed out, Xalatan needs to be kept cold, I made a note to return at the end of the day, and we went off to the Pink House's "Pancho Villa" restaurant to have lunch.

Pancho Villa restaurant

The restaurant was large, with walls covered in a cheerful clutter of handicrafts from the adjoining store. The only drawback was the young man sitting in one corner singing Spanish pop tunes while accompanying himself on an elaborate synthesizer keyboard. He was actually pretty good, but both he and the synth were amped so LOUDLY that conversation was all but impossible. So after ordering (quesadillas and iced tea for me) we mostly just looked around, and there was plenty to look at.

I liked the brightly painted ceramic lizards and frogs, but they were all much too large for me to consider buying.

Lizards and frogs

The prettiness of the restaurant was somewhat offset by this sign I found in the rest room:

Toilet paper sign

I knew from talking with others that it's common practice in Latin America to put soiled toilet paper in the wastebasket instead of flushing it—sewer systems down there are apparently not too robust—but I confess the idea is unappetizing. (Some RVers I know do the same thing, on the theory that toilet paper can clog their tanks and sensors. It's never happened to me, though—I use ordinary two-ply toilet paper in my rig, and flush it down.)

Fortunately, all I needed to do was pee, so I didn't have to deal with this. Later in the optician's restroom, I noticed brown stains on the plastic lid of the wastebasket. When I made a last visit at the end of the day, I saw that the bathroom had been nicely cleaned up and almost all traces of the stains wiped off. I didn't envy the woman who had to do that job!

After lunch ($18.75 for the three of us) we went back to the optician's, and I had my eyes examined. The optician used modern-looking equipment to test both my eyes and my glasses, and told me that my prescription as he measured it matched my current glasses very closely.

The only part of the exam that fell short of my hopes was when he checked for glaucoma by pressing lightly on my eyelids with his fingertips a dozen times. He told me that my intraocular pressure was "slightly high" but not anything to worry about. He suggested that I see my ophthalmologist if I wanted more precise measurements (and of course I do). I had hoped that this exam would take care of me for a year, but it looks as if I will still need to find an ophthalmologist. Still, at least I know that my glasses are fine and my vision isn't changing. Oh, and the exam cost $20.00!

After that, we sat and waited for Kate's glasses to arrive. While we waited, they made up a set of sunglasses for her on the spot, but those coated lenses were on the UPS truck en route from Phoenix, slated to arrive around five—in Columbus, where somebody would pick them up and carry them across the border. So I sat and read "The Skeptic's Dictionary" for more than three hours, sipping at my water bottle.

I had reached the entry on "psychic surgery" when Kate's lenses finally arrived a little after 6:00. While they were fitted to the frames, I walked around the corner to the pharmacy and bought my eye drops. The pharmacist insisted on giving me an ice pack and an insulated bag to keep them cold on the way home, and even threw in a bottle of orange soda at no extra charge. (No sales tax, either.)

Carved door

We walked back across the border, where a bored-looking US Customs agent asked whether we were American citizens and waved us through without further ado. (I imagine that people with armloads of shopping bags, or those in vehicles, are more likely to get closer scrutiny.) We piled into the Tracker and drove through a late-afternoon dust storm back to our campsites at Rock Hound State Park. I was glad to get back; the squalor of Palomas was getting to me.

Again, I should emphasize that my friends who know Mexico well have told me the border towns are not the "real" Mexico. I believe them, but I don't have much desire to go deeper into this country. I doubt I'd go back to a border town either, even to save a little money on drugs.

Postscript: in subsequent years I overcame my distaste for Palomas enough to venture there briefly once each winter for dental work, eyeglasses and medications.

Navigation bar
travels previous home next
Apple logoThis website was made with a Macintosh by Andy Baird.