Taste of Nogales

Ninety miles down the road from Tucson is the Mexican city of Nogales. Parking is $4, the walk across the border takes five minutes. Stop at the Duty Free shop before you enter Mexico- the Don Julio is only $15 per fifth. The easiest border crossing between Arizona and the Pacific Ocean, our day trip to Nogales was smooth and mellow — like a fine mezcal. Join us.

The border crossing opens onto a busy street, lined with farmacias, shoe stores and Mexican-Chinese tourist trinkets. We had three goals, two of which involved monuments and food. After an hour of pleasant strolling through downtown, accompanied by the familiar drone of hawkers selling stuff we don’t need, we hailed a cab. For fifty pesos (about $2), he dropped us off at the Plaza de Benito Juárez.

The small plaza holds two statues: Juárez and Mono Bichi. Mono Bichi is a Yaqui phrase that means “naked man.” The sculpture depicted Mono Bichi impaling a murcielago against the ground with a spear. Tishla, who organized this part of our expedition, explained the semiotics of this 50 ft. tall bronze better than me–hopefully, she’ll add a comment.

We walked around the nearby cultural center, then caught another taxi to La Roca, a well-regarded restaurant located against the cliffs of Nogales. When we arrived, Sunday brunch was in full swing, the dining room packed to capacity. I wandered out past the Art Deco bar onto a balcony hidden behind magnolia trees above the street. Scentless geraniums added color to the five or six tables lining the skinny patio. We ordered margaritas, camarones, y totopos con salsa. Barely noon, our discrete perch soothed our nerves from the city bustle and din. La Roca wears her age with grace, a reminder in stone and wood of a slower pace, a gentler world.

Two hundred meters of walking after lunch, and we found ourselves back in the U.S. We also stopped in at a bakery, the bread still fresh and sweating in the bag. I scored the Nogales version of a snickerdoodle, while MJ and Tishla both found something sweet to their taste. Two taxis, two miles of walking, no gunplay or shots fired. True, we visited during the senior citizen hours of the day. Like Frank Rand says “Gee, it’s nothing like the Mexico they show you in the travel brochures.” That’s a good thing.

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