Friday, December 14, 2012


After our final night in the United States, we awakened early for our morning border crossing in Nogales, Arizona. The previous night found us enjoying a recommended Mexican meal in this small border town, and doing last minute shopping for groceries that are hard to find in Mazatlan. The motel manager suggested we use the truck crossing which opened at 6am, so we followed his direction. We were first in line and waited in the early morning darkness as border guards, both U.S. and Mexican, arrived for their shift change. They waved us by at the first gate which put us on the road to the immigration office that all visitors must stop at in 21 kilometers.  Still dark upon arrival at this checkpoint, we were happy to be the only ones there. It was as if the officials were more than helpful to us, just to stave off their boredom. We presented our passports, filled out papers, registered our car, and paid the necessary money for all of the above. Oh, and don’t forget the copies. I had to wake the man in the copy booth to make duplicates of all of our documents. I thought the tiny room was empty until I saw the glow of the electric heater; with a little tap on the window he got up off of his mat on the floor and graciously attended to me.

By this time the sun was up and we were able to take in the surroundings. There is nothing particularly visually outstanding about this northern part of the state of Sonora, but this bright blue welcoming sign was enough to make us feel right at home.
Feliz viaje! Happy travels!

We were so happy to be in Mexico, heading towards our destination of Mazatlan.  As with anything, it’s only natural to focus on the positives of something, someone, or someplace you haven’t seen for a while…and then reality hits. In this case, it was the huge amounts of trash along the side of highway 15. It’s such a distinct difference from the roadsides which for the most part are quite clean in the U.S. Our years of litter consciousness has instilled in all Americans (and Canadians) to take care of their garbage. And don’t forget the hefty fines for offenders. We have been well trained. But to me it seems that this concept is still in progress in Mexico. Not only are there copious amounts of trash on the roadsides, but it’s dirty and dusty trash! There are signs like this to encourage travelers, but sadly I think much of the problem is due not just from the vehicles, but from the local residents. And let’s not forget that the presence or absence of garbage cans does a lot to change this issue.  As with anything, education makes a big difference, and we see many young Mexicans who are keenly aware of environmental issues, but some of the older generation still fall into their default mode of throwing their trash on the street.
In Mazatlan we have street sweepers, which are both a help and a hindrance. These low paid workers make their daily rounds keeping our streets clean, but sometimes I wonder if the locals feel they can toss their candy wrappers, etc. because someone will be by to sweep it up.
As they say here in Mexico “poco a poco” – little by little. That’s how change happens… at least that’s how it seems in the case of garbage awareness.
We pass through two Mexican states on our drive down Highway 15: Sonora and Sinaloa. This highway passes through some large towns (Hermosillo, Los Mochis, Culiacan, and others) and the link between these towns is either via a free road (libre) or the toll road (cuota). The cuotas are clean, fast, and relatively free of distractions like speed bumps, civilization, etc. (except for gas stations), and fast. The prices range from 30 to 100 pesos for each section ($2-$8 US) and collectively we pay somewhere around $80 US for the entire trip to Mazatlan. When you pay at the toll booth, you receive a little receipt that reportedly insures you for any damage you may encounter on that stretch of the road. Needless to say, we always use the cuotas.
All the along the cuotas, there are telephone booths for emergency calls. I didn’t really pay much attention to these until we were about two hours north of Mazatlan, in the state of Sinaloa. Every kilometer there not only was a telephone station but also this trio of cans, which was such a pleasant surprise after the reality of Mexico’s garbage issue confronted me yesterday. In my view, this is fantastic progress.
You also occasionally see the green government trucks that travel along the route to help stranded vehicles (known as "green angels”). We used them once about five years ago. We were driving north on a hot April day and got a flat tire. We changed it, continued driving another 30 minutes when another went flat. It wasn’t long before the green angel came to our rescue, drove me to the closest town where I bought two new tires (at an inflated price, of course) and returned me to Tom and our vehicle. Soon we were on the road again.


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