Three miles isn't very far to go in order to cross an international border by bicycle, so today was the day to venture across the frontier into Old Mexico. Thanks to Mary's consistent ability to work her magic, dog care for Tina was secured with a fellow camper here at the Poncho Villa State Park, and we were dog free and on our way to Mexico by ten o'clock this morning!
The ride to the border checkpoint was uneventful and mercifully flat, with brilliant sunlight beaming down from a partly cloudy sky. Surprisingly, when we reached Mexican customs we were ushered through without even having to stop, and within the blink of an eye we found ourselves immersed in a small and dusty Mexican border town---Palomas. Although some violence has plagued Palomas in recent times, we were reassured by many residents of Columbus that it's safe to visit their sister city, and we felt no fear during our brief stay.
Palomas is certainly not the most attractive town in Mexico. Au contraire, it is rather unassuming as Mexican towns go, and has little of the aesthetic allure of places like Tepoztlan. Still, the novelty of bicycling three miles and crossing into Mexico did much to make up for the less than charming nature of Palomas itself.
So, what do tourists do when they cross the border for a few hours? We ate lunch at the famous Pink Store, where the resident musicians sang at our table before Mary browsed for earrings and a gift for Tina's dogsitter of the day.
Next, we bicycled around town some more, visited a few pharmacies, and purchased prescription medications for a fraction of what they would cost back in the States.
In the course of our visit, we had a few sweet conversations with local children who tried unsuccessfully to sell us candy, and a less pleasant conversation with a cranky older man who was drunk and getting drunker near the bus stop beside the border.
Aside from a photo and video of the musicians (who earned a tip for their efforts), we were loathe to play tourist to the point of documenting our visit to Palomas, brandishing a digital camera and appearing to gawk at the relative poverty and quaintness of an afternoon in Mexico. So, our camera stayed in our bag and we refrained from doing what we do most anywhere else without even thinking.
Over all it was a satisfactory visit, and our plan is indeed to return later this week for the specific purpose of having low-cost dental cleanings, budget-conscious travelers that we are. And although some friends and acquaintances have had mixed results with Mexican dental work and eye surgery in recent years, dental cleanings are indeed a relatively low-risk endeavor. Still, it does feel strange to have such freedom to cross the border so easily in order to have medical and dental care that many Mexicans might only be able to dream of affording.
Being so close to the border is interesting indeed, and the people of Columbus certainly seem to take advantage of the lower cost of goods, traveling back and forth across the border with great frequency. Mexicans cross the border in New Mexico frequently as well, but they certainly undergo a much greater level of scrutiny than we privileged Americans do. In our ability to come and go as we please, we can easily lose sight of the suffering and poverty that many Mexicans endure, and one can only hope that Mexican-American relations (and the quality of life in Mexico) will improve with time.
We understand that tourism in Mexico has suffered a great deal due to the government's lack of control over the cartels and drug-related violence, and the number of American guns running through El Paso across the border has sky-rocketed. With shootings and kidnappings and all manner of unrest in the news, it's no wonder that tourists are shying away. But from our vantage point, a few brief jaunts into Palomas are a pretty sure bet in terms of our own personal safety, and we will most likely jump across that dotted line one more time before we head west to Silver City and the great state of Arizona.
So, stay tuned for more news from our excellent adventure. Buenas noches to all, and to all a good night.