The NYTimes travel section today has a front page story by Paul Theroux, no less, (who I saw read from his book on Britain back in 1982 or so in Boston) on Nogales, Mexico – which has me thinking maybe my dad and I should give it another try when I go to Tucson next week. (But I’m guessing it won’t be on the top of my dad’s list.)
My previous trips to Nogales have been, let’s say, memorable. The first time I went was with my London friend M. Midday through lunch, M. suddenly realized she’d lost her wallet complete with her passport. We made it to the police station – to report the missing wallet – at exactly the time a motley crew of men were stumbling out of the dark station (and I’m guessing lockup), nearly blinded by the sudden sunlight. The good news – and there was good news – is that when we returned to our car parked over the border in Nogales, Arizona, there was M’s wallet and passport, on the floor in the front seat. Phew!
The second time we went to Nogales, we took our two kids when they were in grade school, I think, and had a pleasant if overpriced lunch at La Roca, bought some cheap sunglasses on crowded streets, my dad looked into buying some cheap prescription drugs and we left soon after. We didn’t make much of an effort to get to know the place but it was a struggling grim and gritty border town and, as such, a bit of an eye opener for our kids.
It seemed a bad sign with this NYTimes story that there’s no “Things to do” or “If You Go” box. It turned out to be more of a travel essay bordering on a news feature than a traditional travel story with suggestions of things to do and see; more a story for adventure travelers than tourists. I did find a some to-do-and-see suggestions, some of which I know already but others that came as a surprise (and aren’t a draw):
– Dinner at La Roca. This is where I had lunch with my family years ago. “Pleasurable” is the tepid word Theroux uses to describe it. “Pleasant” is the tepid word I’d come up with. Paul had the shrimp.
– A margarita at Salon Reis. Tacos and mochomos (dried shredded beef…which sounds like carne asada to me) at Leos or Zapatas.
– He stayed at Hotel Fray Marcos which he says was “excellent” despite the mixed reviews he’d gotten beforehand. (Nor further details offered except that a suite cost $80 and the streets of downtown Nogales are empty in the evening, suggesting not many overnight visitors.)
– Buying cowboy books, pots or folk art.
– Dental work. Oddly, this was a major to-do for Theroux , who had a “full limpieza y blanquiamento” ((which I’m guessing has to do something with teeth whitening.) I’ll stick with my dentist in Des Moines….aAlthough I apparently could have gotten a dental implant in Nogales for a third of what it cost me in Iowa. Apparently Nogales has become a popular spot for Americans to get lower priced dental care and even dermatological services and spa treatments including Aztec-inspired “ancient rituals” (whatever those are.) The spa is run by the wife of a dentist whose business is called Laser Tech, on Obregon Street.
– I also was glad to read that the murder rate in Nogales has dropped to 83 in 2011 from 210 the year before – and the murders are mostly drug-related. But that this even must be mentioned gives you an idea of Nogales’ sorry reputation….And the story ends on a sad note, with Theroux visiting a shelter full of “lost souls” – many who have returned from working illegally in the states and are now “hopeless.”