Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Ah, Mexico

October is beach time. Just about every year for the past 20 we've packed up the car for the long haul down south. Two days, roughly 11 hours and 762 miles. But it's always worth it if only to bob in the ocean and watch for those interesting little tidbits that make getting out on the road interesting.

Day One from Albuquerque to Tucson usually doesn't offer too much to get excited about. On this trip it was mostly about giant grasshoppers sitting idly on the pavement waiting to be run over. I suppose they might be better known as "locusts" as in Biblical plague locusts because they are really large, probably two or more times bigger than the cousins that eat my Zinnias. They sit there daring the traffic to run them over and I will admit that I try to avoid them as much as I can for no reason other than I hate uselessly killing things. I wonder how many meet their end under my wheels? 

Not so lucky and harder to dodge are the migrating butterflies. Thousands of little yellow and white ones that simply end up dead on my windshield and radiator. You could see them by the hordes flitting across the road on their way to whatever plant they favor and you could see the unlucky ones obscuring my vision as the sun began to fall below my visor. A big field of glowing bug innards making it harder and harder to see. It really became bad when we turned right at Deming and headed straight into the sun. Early into Arizona we picked up two state troopers cruising the the passing lane, a half car length apart, chatting on their cell phones. At precisely the speed limit. I fell in behind them and drove merrily along for a good ways, passing everyone too scared to chance a speeding ticket. At Benson, one exited and I went on with the other. Climbing the big hill out of the San Pedro valley I was glad to have a pilot car because I was nearly blind from the bug bodies. I drove by the only things I could see, the back of his SUV and the center line, and hoped that nothing untoward was going to happen because my reaction time would have been inadequate. We suffered along like that until the sun finally dipped below the mountains west of Tucson.

We started the Day Two with our grocery stop in Green Valley, my favorite Safeway in the world because of its dedicated gold cart parking. It's a funny place to shop, being a big retirement community everyone is very old and very slow and the employees are doubly considerate and happy. A glimpse into our futures I imagine. We left hundred or so dollars lighter with 4 iced coffees and food to last for a few days. 

There was no obvious sign of the government shutdown in Nogales at the border crossing, we were slowed down by four agents looking in cars. For some reason they were not very stern and almost friendly this time, unlike just about every crossing we've made in the past. No mad dog stares, no waving of automatic weapons and no warnings that it's illegal to import chicken pieces. We just crossed came around the bend and aimed towards the road to Hermosillo, nicely timing our exit behind a semi that obligingly crushed an orange traffic cone that was partially blocking my egress.

The drive into Mexico is both timeless and irritatingly always in flux. Rules change, toll booths move, stoppages evolve. We got through the first toll booth with no hassle, a decent cambio for the dollars I paid with and a cheery toll collector. We started our visit to the immigration office with a persistent guy in the parking lot who really wanted to deglaze my headlight covers so that I could see better. Dispensing with him we went inside and handed over our passports to a gal who was clearly a trainee. She initiated an international incident protocol when she found last February's visa still present in mine. This required a visit from the desk supervisor who lectured me on the requirement to return the visa each time we leave the country, something I've never been told. He didn't care to hear that. Apparently they're trying to put an end to the scam we've been running - lying about how long we're going to stay. We learned this a few visits ago - greater than 7 days means you pay (which I don't mind) at the bank which requires standing in line for who knows how long (which I do mind) behind other Americans asking all kinds of stupid questions (which I really, really mind.) So we always say "7 days," which is free, and go our merry way knowing that we'll just plead stupidity if we ever get caught. Now though, the specter of having to return it raises all kinds of problems like having to pay when it's discovered that we overstayed. Not to mention having to cut across traffic to find away back into the immigration office. We politely absorbed the lecture (including "This is the only time I will do this for you.") and went on. We'll see what happens next time we try to cross having not returned it. In the past we never followed the rules about turning in car permits because the whole system was based on carbon paper. Now they have computers which makes me long for the good old days of sitting in the office and watching the agent print the form by hand, an unlit cigarette hanging from his lip, the fan turning slowly overhead and flies beating the last of their lives against the window screens, the whole time waiting for, no craving the moment when he would decisively drag his seal across the ink pad and stamp the form with authority.

Now I'm thinking I'll just get indignant and claim that I did indeed return it. What's the worst that could happen?

The rest of the haul was little different than the drive through New Mexico - more locusts, less butterflies, ever increasing temperature, a new light on the Hermosillo bypass, signs worth translating and a lot of road work. Something they did to the new pavement in spots formed a weird harmonic with the Suburban, causing it to rhythmically bounce down the road. Not pleasant nor interesting, it was one of those things that felt good when it stopped.

Arriving early for a change, my unpacking was blocked  by some dumb American, from New Mexico no less, who parked his goofy camper-bus in the traffic circle in a way that not only prevented me from going around but forced me to drag our stuff up and across the lawn instead of wheeling it up the ramp. I'll admit I considered vandalizing the inside of his wide-open vehicle in some unsanitary way but my morals got the better of me. I worked grumbling instead.

The one thing we talk about, the thing that drives us on the closer we get, is our first dinner. Tradition holds that it's at Rosa's Cantina and that it's carne machaca, that wonderful Sonoran concoction of shredded beef, onions, peppers, potatoes and grease, served with a big pile of steaming tortillas. It's the number one thing that makes that 762 mile drive worth every boring minute. Sometimes if we're stuffed from eating our gourmet car-lunch, we'll have tortilla soup instead. The best in San Carlos and maybe the best anywhere. Either of those with a cold Negro Modelo makes even enduring a lecture from an officious immigration guy tolerable. So we tore into town marveling at the hundreds of Lesser Nighthawks dining al fresco on insects by the (suddenly working again) street lamps and looked down the road for the first glimpse of the neon out in front of our favorite place.

I knew we were in trouble the moment we passed our second favorite restaurant. The road up ahead was dark and that beacon to culinary bliss was unlit. As we drove by reality sunk in - Rosa's was closed. I made a u-turn when the opportunity was presented and went back down the frontage road pulling to a stop in front. A cheerful banner announced the situation - "Open on October 12th," in other words, the day we arrive back home. We glumly circled the block and went back to our second choice, and enjoyed a nice dinner of giant margaritas, fish grilled in garlic and in my case a fillet stuffed with crab and shrimp and covered in "Chihuahua Cheese." Quite good, but not carne machaca

 Our typical first day task after a walk and a swim involves heading into town to buy the things that have been stolen from the condo or those that we forgot. Today's main targets were a shower cap for MLW and a tub to wash dishes in. And kitchen matches because for some reason the auto lighter on the stove has died in the interim. The shower cap is always fun because it's one of those things that don't translate really well. One version, gorro de baƱo can be confused with a swimming cap. Another way of saying it gorro de la ducha doesn't sound really nice. We usually go with the former and have the latter held in reserve if our first choice doesn't work. But today it did, even spawning an opportunity to have a little Spanish lesson in the proper way to say it. 

The dish washing tub is another story altogether. Like China, it's not a common product due to local dish washing practices. When I was over there I had to improvise because the Chinese simply do not use a tub to soak or wash dishes. They block the sink and use this oddball dish drying rack that slides into the kitchen cabinets. Apparently their trans-Pacific cousins the Mexicans don't use them either because while plastic drying racks are available, the normally associated tub is not. Last time we ended up with a repurposed storage bin that for some unknown reason disappeared since our visit in February. Perhaps we sparked an epiphany and one of the maids said "What a great way to wash dishes" because our perfect solution was replaced with what seemed to be the ice cube tray from someone's cooler. We searched high and low but couldn't find what we wanted, almost settling for an insect gut green wheeled toy storage bin decorated with the characters from Toy Story. I couldn't bring myself to spend $10 on it so I insisted we check down the road at the other supermarket.

At this point I will admit that we were shopping at Walmart de Mexico. Only under the most exigent circumstances do we patronize them at home, but their store here is such an improvement over the other choices that we parked our aversion in the lot out front and started shopping there a couple of trips ago. Where else can one find a jar of pesto in Guaymas? Besides, given the recent revelations of their extensive use of bribery as a business tool, they seem worthy of our disdain as we ply their aisles, shopping under moral superiority while trying to help the local economy. Today though they let us down. 

Our last item on the list - matches - proved more challenging. I asked a couple of women working in the kitchen aisle almost reverting to Chinexican with a conflation that came out "Fosphoros zai na li" before catching myself. I finally got my brain in order and spoke only in Spanish. She thought about it and told me that they were on the other side of the store with the dry goods, which made decent inventory sense. So off we went hopeful yet with that nagging feeling that we'd been had by that old 3rd World ruse of just telling the foreigner something in order to get rid of them. Sure enough, our instincts were right and the matches were nowhere to be found. Not even with the Virgin de Guadalupe votive candles. We milled around for a few minutes before deciding to chuck it in when a young man went by pushing a dolly and dragging a broom. I decided to try once more, this time acing the question. He thought for a moment and nodded and sped off towards the food aisles. In a miracle of dutiful working and parallel processing, he continued to sweep the floor in front of us as he hurried me along. I was cross processing, trying to guess where we'd end up in and I'll admit I was surprised when we took a sharp right into the candy section. There they were, on the bottom shelf just below the Hershey's Kisses. But of course. 

The old standby supermercado, Leys, has improved no doubt due to the competition with Walmart. It was cleaner, it was brighter and the announcements were no longer in some dialect of Spanish that was totally indecipherable. In short, the new Leys made me think that they might be worthy of a second chance. We found a perfect dish washing tub in the laundry section (again, of course), a big bottle of Bacardi Anejo on sale, cheese flavored Ruffles potato chips and a nice green broom to replace the crappy one in our condo. It was a good detour made better by the old guy in the parking lot who directed my backing up with arm flourishes worthy of someone parking jet at an international airport.


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