Los Algodones Mexico

With one last check for the reassuring feel of my passport in my pocket, we stepped through the iron gate that guards the border and into the town of Los Algodones Mexico. Our early morning arrival meant the town was still  stretching and yawning... getting ready for another busy day of mining cash from the stream of visitors from the north.

About a 15 minute drive from downtown Yuma, Algodones is located in the corner formed by the States of California, Arizona, and Baja, Mexico. The Colorado River runs through town, but I'll bet there are more annual shoppers than acre-feet of water flowing into Mexico via this meager stream. We left our car on the U.S. side, in a huge asphalt parking lot owned by the Quechan Indians... which, especially after having experienced Algodones, is the right thing to do. Algodones is small and anything a visitor is looking for can be found within an easy stroll from the border.

The town itself claims a population of about 4,000 people and, on a map, appears to be no more than a mile square. The main commercial district hugs the border and, in our observation, is no larger than 10 or 12 small city blocks. But they pack a lot into those few blocks.

And what are all those visitors shopping for? Number one on the list appears to be dental work. One source I found said there are more than 350 dentists doing business here, and we saw nothing to suggest that's an exaggeration. Another source said it's the highest concentration of dentists anywhere in the world. Again, a believable probability. Wherever you look are little dental offices crammed into small spaces with nervous people sitting in cramped waiting rooms. It's simply amazing. I'm told that it's possible to save 70% compared to the price of dental work in the U.S. I can't vouch for the prices and comparisons... but something is keeping these dental offices busy.

If I had to guess, the second most sought item is prescription and non-prescription medication. Drug stores, too, are everywhere. Pretty much whatever you'd want is available without a prescription. We did hear that they're starting to tighten easy access to some things, but we had no problem buying amoxacillin, an antibiotic.

Besides dental work and medications, the other big items are eye glasses and booze, followed by more traditional Mexican crafts... leather goods, blankets, hats, clothing, jewelry, pottery, and such. In the little town square area were a few artists who will paint anything on anything, with spray paints and unusual techniques developed through the years.

While getting into Mexico is as easy as stumbling through a gate, getting back into the U.S. was another story. The lines are always long, I'm told, sometimes as long as two hours. We left mid-day, and waited 40 minutes to get to a U.S. Customs Officer... who scanned our passports, asked two or three questions, looked over what we had, and waved us through. There are restrictions of what you can bring back into the U.S., but our little purchases were well under the radar screen.

We finished the day of exploration with a stop at Lutes Casino in the Old Town area of Yuma -- one of the oldest bars and gambling halls in Arizona. Despite the name, there's no gambling going on here today. It's an eclectic restaurant that seems to be on everyone's "must-see" list. Our beer and a burger lunch hit the spot after a day of international travel and intrigue.

When I have some bandwidth, I'll add a quick video of our day. So check back if you get a chance.

T

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