Trip to Elbow Cay, Bahamas

I just got back from a long weekend in Elbow Cay, Bahamas and I LOVED IT! Carrie booked the trip as a surprise and I have to say it’s about the best surprise I have ever gotten.

Elbow Cay is a small island that has a number of nice Atlantic beaches, along with some on the Sea of Abaco, like the one pictured. The occupants are primarily business owners, seasonal residents and a few locals.

In order to get to Elbow Cay, we had to book flights to Marsh Harbour, take a cab to the ferry terminal (but you could rent a boat) and take one of the ferries across.


This is really my type of place. People’s dogs are free to roam around however they want, there aren’t many cars – mostly just golf carts, and nearly everyone is friendly, waves and says hello. Did I mention it’s in The Bahamas where the water and beaches are incredible?!

I want to move here.

Elbow Cay on the Bucket List

elbow-cay-aerialPhoto: I Love Hopetown

I’ve been thinking about visiting the Bahamas ever since I crossed over the Florida line. The thought of all these little islands – habited and uninhabited – that one can boat around and explore, along with friendly people and quaint island accommodations really fits my style.

Elbow Cay was recommended as a great place to visit that matches that description. If you’re not familiar with it, don’t blame yourself. I never heard of it either. Its a 6 mile long barrier island to Great Abaco, in the Abaco (surprise!) island group in the Bahamas. No cars, just golf carts and boat. And plenty of rum.

Now, when I was looking at the Elbow Cay hotels, that really cramped my style. They’re pricy. Off season is $150 per night for very basic with the average room being $250-300 per night for a decent place. That’s a bit steep for me lately. They have vacation rentals that are called “cottages” but they’re even more expensive.

So, for now Elbow Cay is on the bucket list until I find someone who’ll trade me a room on a work-exchange.

A Quick Border Crossing into Agua Prieta, Mexico

Having crossed into Algodones last year, we decided to give another border town a try during our visit to Bisbee so we crossed into Agua Prieta from Douglas, Arizona. The other option was from Naco, Arizona to Naco, Mexico.

We drove from Bisbee to Douglas first thing in the morning around 8am (who knew I’d be awake at that time, ever?!) which took about a half hour on the normal two-lane roads that are scattered through southern Arizona.

When we got to Douglas, we followed the signs for the border crossing to Agua Prieta, and hoped to find a parking lot similar to the one in Los Algodones. No such luck. First off, there is some construction and traffic re-routing going on, so it was very confusing to find the way to the border crossing. Turns out the road winds around behind the Walmart, on a dirt path that doesn’t really have any signage which I found only by following the string of cars that appeared to be Mexico bound. As we round the corner behind the Walmart it becomes obvious that there is no parking lot for this crossing like there was in Algodones, but at this point we’re between cones and being observed by border patrol in their SUV’s so turning off the path, weaving through cones to cross the dirt strip and hop the curb into the Walmart parking lot might get some unwanted attention for us, so I decide we’ll just stay on the path and find a turnaround at the border crossing. Luckily we were early and there was nearly zero wait.

When you’re driving in to Mexico here, there is a US Border Patrol station that you have to drive through first and they start asking a lot of questions, look under your car with mirrors and generally try to figure out if you’re a fugitive, gun runner or drug smuggler. I decided to go for the pre-emptive stupidity show, by rolling down the window and asking where the walk-in parking lot was, even though I now figured out there wasn’t one. They of course told me there wasn’t one, and asked me why I would want that. I told them we were looking to just walk in and see what the town was like instead of having to hassle with the vehicle, insurance, etc. which seemed to satisfy them that we were just dumb tourists (which we are) that took a wrong turn (which we did). The out of state plates and the bikes on the bicycle rack on top probably helped some too.

They opened up one of the cone-walls and let me turn around at the US-outbound checkpoint, with more than a little snicker on their face. After our almost-to-Mexico u-turn, we parked at the Walmart parking lot, walked in the store to buy a couple items, dropped them off at the truck and walked to the border crossing.

Walking in here is not quite as relaxed as it was in Algodones. I hope by revealing this, I don’t inadvertently draw attention to it too much and find out that Algodones is soon overrun by undesirables looking to get across without much scrutiny. Anyway, back in Douglas, as you walk down the sidewalk from Walmart (or any number of other stores or street parking spots one might be able to use) you walk right by the drive-in inspection station, and 2 of the ICE guys stopped us to question what we were doing. I didn’t see them do that to anyone else, so I think they just wanted to make sure that the only 2 white people crossing this morning were actually doing so on purpose. They were friendly enough, and actually much more so that anyone I have ever dealt with at DMV or customs before, and we were soon on our way.

Once you get across the border, it is really obvious that this isn’t one of those border hang-out towns and probably never was. Combined with the fact that Douglas is not worth a stop, let alone a stay at, and that most people who travel in to Mexico now seem to want to get away from the border as soon as possible, it seems Agua Prieta is a perfect sister city to Douglas. Sure, there were a few pharmacias and a scattered convenience store here and there, but the street peddlers selling cheap imitation watches, sunglasses and other items were nowhere to be found, replaced by shady looking characters roaming the streets, or armed security guards standing by bank doors.

We stopped in a few of the pharmacias looking to score cheap meds for my asthma but the one drug I needed wasn’t something they had, or even had the ability to get reasonably quickly so we walked about 5 blocks on the main street heading south, between dilapidated buildings with bars on their windows until we got near the town square which seemed much safer than the rest of the area. There were a few groups of people standing around or sitting on benches waiting for what seemed like yet another day to pass, and a couple stores across the street.

We didn’t spend much time there because it wasn’t warm out, we were unsuccessful in the medicine hunt, and the place didn’t feel very inviting at all. So we walked back to the border crossing and breezed right through. We also didn’t take more than just a couple pictures because not only was there nothing significant to take pictures of, I didn’t want to stand out.

Now back on the US side there is a “duty free” shop, although it wasn’t terribly obvious that it’s for export-only. We of course went in and bought some stuff and then found out we had to pick them up on the Mexico side. Wups. We’ll, we just had to cancel the purchase because we weren’t about to do the loop again, and I think if you go to Mexico with duty free items and then bring them right back in (in the same bag none the less) they’ll probably charge you duty on your way back. It wasn’t worth finding out.

After our failed duty-free attempt we walked back to Walmart where we got in the truck, had a perscription filled, which took for-evar! All in all it had to be somewhere about 4-5 hours, thanks to my overprotective doctor back home who made a problem out of a prescription he’d already written me! During this time we ate some of the worst food we’d eaten in our lives and the lady got her hair colored while I walked around aimlessly at Walmart, waiting and making the occasional phone call to try and get the prescription-fill-speed up to somewhere less than a half day.

Finally, it was filled, and only cost me about $300 for a month’s supply which is a total joke. It’s no wonder people cross to Mexico and order from Canada for medicine which at worst is 60% of the price and at best around 5%.

My recommendation is skip Douglas and Agua Prieta unless you are planning on just driving through, and while Walmart does allow you to overnight in most of their parking lots, I would really hesitate to do so at this one due to it’s close proximity to the border and the woods that separate the fence from the Walmart lot unless you want to either be roused by a border patrol agent asking you to move, or have some other unexpected visitors looking for a way to stow away after their mad dash across the border.

Bisbee, Arizona – Cute but COLD!

It feels so long ago that we were in Bisbee, Arizona, but in reality it has been not much more than a month. I think the fact we covered so much ground after Bisbee and have since then been in the same spot for a few weeks makes it feel much longer, like a distant memory of adventures in the past.

Back when we were in Tombstone, we decided to take a day trip to Bisbee to see if it was worth hauling our Airstream all the way there, or just taking a trip or two from Tombstone since it was only about 25 minutes away. After seeing the town for the first time, we decided that it warranted a stay for a week and booked a spot at the Queen Mine RV Park in Bisbee.

Bisbee is a really cool town of about 6200 people, situated in a little mountain valley at almost 5600 feet in elevation. Most of the residents dont’ live in old town, so it feels even smaller and considering during their mining rush in years past the population was around 35,000 it is referred to by many as a living ghost town.

And by little mountain valley, I mean little! Old town Bisbee is nested basically a crevice between the road that leads down the mountain and the mountain itself on the left side of the road. Here’s a picture looking down the main street, and one at the overlook on the side of the highway.

These winding, hilly and narrow streets add to the charm, giving the town an old world European feel, which one would not expect only a few miles from the Mexico border. The main street is lined with 2, 3 or 4 story buildings who’s walls at the property line touch each other, very much like any other storefront area, and these similar buildings are sprinkled on the adjacent streets leading away to the north for about a block, if you can call it that – the blocks are very, very short in this direction and in some cases only about 3 storefronts long. Above these storefronts, just a stone’s throw back up the mountain are houses that would give you a serial marathon runner’s legs if you walked to and from town on a daily basis. It’s no wonder everyone who looked like a local was thin. This is one place that defy’s America’s obesity epidemic fueled by Walmart since not only do they not have a Walmart, they have an environment that provides a workout when you walk to just about anything (including your mailbox) and the town streets are so narrow and filled with tourists that driving isn’t a very viable option. And then there’s the rest of Bisbee outside of the old town area which is not very exciting, so I’ll just skip it.

While we knew that finding summer was out of the question during our trip to Bisbee, we were expecting temperatures near freezing at night and in the low to mid 60’s during the day similar to Tombstone and a bit colder than Phoenix, Sedona and Tucson. At first this was pretty much what we experienced, but then the weather changed big time! The winter storm that hit the rest of the country reached us as well and one night saw a low of 4 degrees, with the high being near freezing during the day. We had a number of electric heaters on full blast all day and night, and had to go dig through our neglected snow gear in the back of the truck to get warm clothes in order to be able to walk outside. This put a pretty big damper on our time here, although we were able to enjoy a few days sitting on sidewalk cafe’s and on all but the coldest days we walked a few miles each morning down the hill from the RV park which was situated very conveniently right at the south end of old town, up the hill to a coffee shop. The dogs seemed unfazed by the cold, and maybe even rejuvenated by it as they happily tugged on their leashes all the way up and back, day after day of walks.

Having had luck crossing into Algodones, Mexico, we decided to try it again near Bisbee. The choices were between Naco, AZ into Naco, Mexico or Douglas, AZ into Agua Prieta, Mexico. We decided to
go to Douglas for the day and cross into Agua Prieta, Mexico in hopes that a larger town might have better selections at the pharmacia and more things to look at in general. I’ll update with a separate post about Agua Prieta, but I will say Douglas was the worst town we’ve been to yet.

Douglas has all of nothing going on. Neighborhoods are dilapidated and have a lot of deserted looking houses, while the main street had about 4 restaurants to pick from for lunch, none of which looked decent. We ended up picking a Mexican restaurant that looked the least offensive, thinking we’re so close to Mexico so we should at least get half way decent Mexican food. Wrong. The place was terrible, but the server was really nice which was the opposite of the cold personalities we experienced at every place in Bisbee so we didn’t want to complain and finished as much of the less than mediocre food as we could and then headed back to Bisbee after a few errands, such as picking up my perscription from Walmart at a cost of about 100 times more than it would have cost if we would have found it in Mexico, and the lady getting her hair colored to stay looking young.

Here’s a few more pictures of Bisbee:

Enduring the cold in Bisbee much longer than we really wanted to, we decided to leave town a few days early since the weather was forecast to continue being in the single digits at night and near freezing during the day. We headed back to Tucson where it was only freezing at night and low 40’s in the day time so we could let our extremities thaw.

Tombstone, Arizona: The Town too Tough to Die

Right after we got our Airstream back from the dealer in Tucson, we headed out to visit Tombstone. Our first couple nights were spent at the Tombstone RV Park which is a mile or two before you get to town on Hwy 80 from the north, and then ended up moving to Stampede RV Park which is right at the end of Allen street about 3 blocks from all the action in town.

Allen street is not the main street through Tombstone, but it’s the main street for anything to do and has been preserved and/or reconstructed to look like Tombstone was in the old days. There’s wooden sidewalks and the street is closed to traffic although the horse-drawn wagons and stagecoaches are allowed, as are anyone on horseback.

For you with short attention spans, here’s the requisite photos. Just don’t forget to read our experience which continues below.

Tombstone has been one of our favorite places to visit. I was a bit worried that we’d get bored of the touristy small town feel being there for 6 days but that wasn’t the case at all. Once we moved to the spot in town, we were able to walk to everything and left the truck hitched to the trailer the entire time.

Everyone we met in Tombstone was very friendly. There weren’t too many young locals, mostly older folks who either had been brought up around the area and stuck around, or moved out to only move back later in life. Everyone said hello when you walked by, and even the people driving by as we walked the neighborhoods would waive a hello. A far cry from the history of being a rowdy town with gunslingers for sure.

One of the folks at the Stampede RV park pulled in next to us in his pickup truck with no camper, trailer or motorhome. At first I thought he might sleep in the back in the canopy, but soon he was out there setting up his tent. I stopped by a little later on to say hello to our new neighbor for the night and asked if he wanted to borrow one of our electric heaters for the night since it was consistently around 25 degrees during the night. It’s amazing how the desert can swing 60 to 70 degrees between night and day. He politely declined and proceeded to explain to me his setup that would keep him warm, but I think he was doing it mostly to make me feel like by not forcing the heater on him that he’d freeze in the night. I don’t know how many times he’d done that before, but he was set up quite well to weather the night in the cold. Turns out his name was Bill, and he’s a writer that specializes in the Southwest and lives in Tucson. Bill had just started a fire in a pit that he’d borrowed from the park and invited me to hang out next to the fire with him. We sat for somewhere around 2 or 3 hours chit chatting by the fire pit which we agreed looked like it was made out of an old washing machine drum talking about different life experiences; Bill had lived and worked in Mexico for a while, traveled to Cuba officially via the channels available to reporters and overall had lots of interesting stuff to share.

Our routine in Tombstone saw us going for a few walks per day since it only took about 8 minutes to walk the length of Allen street starting from our spot at Stampede. I resealed the rest of the windows on the Airstream in preparation for the rain forecasted for this week and we started getting caught up with our online life now that we were back in internet range again. We acted like tourists and watched the street show of the Earps’ getting ready to chase the Cowboys gang out of town, which ended up with a gunfight at the OK Corral, where you had to pay to see the show. We skipped that part, but I have to say they did quite a good job from what we saw, and baited a lot of people to go to the show. We took a stagecoach ride pulled by mules. We pet horses we met in town.

We listened to live music a couple nights. The first night was a jam session where anybody (or maybe anybody who they knew) could bring their instruments and about 8 of them sat in a circle and played tunes, taking turns picking the song to play. The second night had one of the folks from the jam session, Doc, playing his saxophone accompanied by a 95 year old man named Gene on the keyboard. It was awesome to watch them since one would just start playing a song and then the other would join in once he recognized what song it was. They never said anything about what song it was before they played it, and usually explained some history about the song after they were done. Doc, the sax player went to school at U of O and we struck up a conversation when he saw me wearing my Oregon shirt.

On our last day there, the entire town’s power grid went down in the afternoon. I don’t know for sure, but speculated that someone probably hit a power pole on the highway, and the locals said that’s usually the case when the whole town loses power. Sounds like it happens more than occasionally. Everyone was still having a great time and instead of ringing things up on their computerized systems they were writing hand receipts and dealing in cash. No one was even complaining, and some places that were darker inside started lighting up candles. It was kind of fun for since it made it feel even more authentically old, and the power was only out for about 3 hours total.

I have to say Tombstone was nothing like I expected. I figured it would be a complete tourist trap (it still was in some ways) where the locals were there only to get your money but it doesn’t feel like that at all. The locals and tourists mingle more than any place else I have seen in my life. There didn’t seem to be local hangouts where the tourists didn’t go or where I didn’t feel welcome or even mildly out of place. Lots of the people worked in some tourism related service whether it was food, hospitality, retail shops or one of the reenactment or tour gigs but at the end of the day they went to the same places to hang out and were happy to be a part of the culture of the town. Many of them embraced the heritage of the town and dressed the part, while others dressed the part only because that’s how they’d been dressed by their parents. A few people carried guns on their belt, only a few were the old style cowboy guns and based on the dress of those people I guessed they were part of a reenactment. A couple others had semiautomatic pistols stuck in their shoulder or belt holsters and looked more like modern day cowboys. Then there were the folks who rented a wardrobe for a day and walked around all decked out like fancy 1800’s folks. All in all, it put off a cool vibe of authenticity.

One of the locals told me that the movie Tombstone (which is pretty much playing on every TV in town and immediately started again the minute it ends) really put them on the map as a tourist attraction. Before then there had been people visiting but now it’s much more and doesn’t seem to be slowing down too much other than the economic situation that has been hitting everyone.

Sadly, much of what used to be Tombstone is gone, and the majority of what tourists come for is Allen street so you don’t feel super immersed in the old town life. Apparently there were 18,000 people in Tombstone at it’s peak, and now it’s less than 1800. At least according to our stagecoach tour driver. Most of the really old buildings are gone, although there are still enough to make you feel like it’s authentic even with a number of 50’s and 60’s constructed buildings mixed in the surrounding neighborhood, so they must not have had any historic development requirements to keep new construction looking as much like the old style as possible. There’s lots of stuff for sale there, and property is quite cheap, especially for a tourist town. Not much new construction here for years, although there is some. I would guess the most of the new construction were country homes outside the town from what I saw. Except for of course the government buildings. Those always seem to be the nicest in small towns – the visitors center, the nearly brand new post office, and so on.

If you’re in the Tucson area, it’s a little over an hour’s drive to Tombstone and can easily be a day trip. I highly recommend it, although it’s better to stay for a few nights to really get the feel of it. There’s lots of lodgin options from B&B’s and Inns to RV park, a biker-run biker-hotel (the harley kind, not the hippie pedal-yourself kind) and even a Best Western that looked cool from the outside and a Holiday Inn Express although both of these are more than a little walk north of the town itself.

Visiting Jerome, Arizona

Jerome is a small little town between Prescott and Sedona and takes about 25-30 minutes to get to from downtown Sedona. The road to Prescott seems very narrow and windy on the map but we didn’t check it out so I don’t know how long that would take.

Here’s some photos of the area so you can get an idea what it’s like, but don’t skip reading more about Jerome below.

Jerome was built literally on the side of the hill 1883. That must have been a whole lot of fun to haul materials up the hillside, even by horse or mule carts. If you lived in Jerome and walked everywhere, you’d for sure stay in good shape. Combine that with the additional amount of blood that people who live in high elevations have, and you’ll soon be as strong as the Mongol warriors. I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo, but one of the local residents was an old lady that looked to be in her upper 80’s and was plodding steadily up the hill with her walker. I was seriously impressed! She wasn’t going nearly as fast as I was, but she also didn’t seem to be out of breath like I was. I blame that on the 5000+ foot elevation even though it might have something to do with my fitness level – or lack thereof.

There is a state park that goes out onto what I call a peninsula of land but unfortunately that was closed when we went so I can’t say anything about that. From a distance across the valley it looked like a large building that might have had a museum and a big viewpoint / parking area but not the land area to camp or hang out in like a lot of other state parks have. However there was a mine shaft visitors area that was open so we were able to check that out, and talk to the attendant there who explained a lot of the history of it.

If you’re going to be in the Sedona/Prescott/Flagstaff or even North Phoenix area a day trip to Jerome is worth it.

A Month in Phoenix

We are finally back on the road again after spending a whole month in Phoenix. Well, kind of on the road. We headed up to Sedona to spend a week with family that came to visit us and had a timeshare up there, so we moved about 2 hours north and then stopped for a week again.

At first I was not looking forward to going to Sedona because the weather had been cold and I’m trying to find the summer we missed back home, as soon as humanly possible. It didn’t take long to change my mind. The Sedona area is absolutely beautiful – stay tuned to check out some of the pictures of Sedona, Arizona that we’ll post very soon.

Meanwhile, back in Phoenix…. (pictures at the bottom of this post)

A month seems like a long time to sit in one spot now. It’s weird being on the road and then stopping. You feel like life is going on around you and you’re just sitting still. We picked Deserts Edge RV Park in Phoenix for our month long camp out, and it was pretty awesome as far as RV parks go. Review to follow soon. The first week it seemed really long to be in one spot since I knew that we’d be there for another 3 weeks. We arrived on the 15th of December and I think watching the hustle and bustle of everyone getting ready for their consumerist celebration of Christmas while we had a nice slow pace of life also made it seem disproportionately longer. I thought it was quite refreshing to avoid being a part of the “stuff” of Christmas and be able to spend some time with my lovely lady alone.

On Christmas eve we went out to T. Cook’s which is the restaurant at a very awesome meditteranean style hotel well known for excellent food and has been rated as the best brunch in Phoenix. Our service was apparently slow to their standards so they comp-ed us for 2 appetizers and desert. They didn’t know we are living a lifestyle of rolling island time, and had no problem with the service at all, but who’s going to say no to free awesome food? Basically all we had to pay for was a few glasses of wine.

After this we went over to our friends family’s house for food and to hang out. We sang carols, which at first I was dreading but turned out to be fun. There was a big group of family and friends and we split the 12 Days of Christmas song so each person had their own role and had to sing it every time it came around. Some people were awesome, and some people were hilarious. It was super fun and if I’m ever around a big group of people for Christmas again I’m definitely going to suggest it to the group.

We spent time hanging out with friends, cooking ribs on a smoker, playing poker, ate awesome sushi, visited a fantastic wine bar with the best deserts evar, played racquetball, chilling at friends houses, swimming at the pool and relaxing in the hot tub, visiting the Phoenix Zoo, taking the dogs on walks and to the park, and overall enjoying a relaxing pace of life. We did have some friends from back home come to the Oregon v Auburn football game and we tried to hang out with them a couple times but it didn’t work out, and they dissed us pretty hard. Oh well. Overall, it’s hard to get used to relaxing at first, but after some time it’s pretty nice and you wonder how come you didn’t do this sooner.

But if you think you can escape the troubles of life, think again. They will find you wherever you are. They might not be the same troubles, but you’ll have something to deal with. In our case, about 5 days before we were scheduled to roll out of Phoenix our 2004 Chevy Duramax started blowing smoke out the exhaust. After a bit of online research (aka self diagnosis) it seems this is a common problem with the LB7 Duramax engine in trucks from 2001-2004 where the injectors will fail. Chevy has extended it’s warranty for those injectors to 200k miles or 7 years from the original delivery date of the truck. We fell within that time period, but GM denied our warranty claim and we got stuck with a $2000 bill to fix 4 of them. And that’s a cheap price! I bought the injectors online and had them overnighted to me, then installed at Strictly Diesel in Phoenix who treated me very well. Their service was 100 times better than any Chevy dealer I have ever been to. Keep in mind, there are 8 in this truck so the other 4 could have problems at any time in the future. I called GM’s customer service which turns out to be in Malaysia and finally was able to talk to someone in Detroit but they said they could not help me and “were not at liberty to say why” which is a total joke. Don’t buy a Chevy, they don’t stand behind their products. No wonder they loose market share to companies like Toyota who recall anything and everything that’s a problem. At least they fix the issues with no hassles. Anyway, the point is that you’ll still have to pay what my friend Mike calls a “life tax” even when you’re living the dream.

Awesome Amerixican Food at San Felipe Cantina in Desert Ridge:

A day trip to Scottsdale or Snottsdale as the non-Scottsdale locals call it:

Dos Gringos in Old Town Scottsdale.

Totally worth a visit. Great deals on really good Mexican food every day of the week, plus they let you take your dog in as long as you sit in one of the perimeter booths outside. They have other locations in Arizona too.

Phoenix Dog Parks:

Phoenix has a number of official “dog parks” most of which are nothing more than a regular park that has a fenced area for dogs. Most of them have separate sections for small dogs and large dogs which is pretty stupid – cause all dog fights are small dogs versus big dogs. Ya right. Almost every park that we went to had huge signs all over the place that explained how The Man is gonna ticket you big time if you get caught with your dog off the leash at a regular park. Ironically, most parks had more people with dogs (on leash) than people or kids using the park. Well, we found a decent sized park that was just down the street (in Phoenix that means about 4 miles) from where we were staying that didn’t have signs at all. Must have been government budget cuts that stopped them from posting signs. At any rate, we figured if someone said something we’d play stupid tourist and say there were no signs and proceeded to take the dogs there about 4-5 days per week. No one ever said anything, and I think Phoenix cops have a lot more important stuff to do than ticket people playing fetch with their Golden Retrievers. Seems like there’s about 1/10th the amount of cops in Phoenix than back home anyway.

We also took the dogs to a vet called Deer Creek Animal Hospital for some things, and found that they had a doggie daycare which has 1 acre of running space behind their building, and they let the dogs in to the clinic behind the reception counter whenever they want. They loved it!

Outdoor Lifestyle Prevails:

Say what you want about Phoenix – and their intolerable heat in the summer but they do have something like 8 months of the year where you can be outside. In the super hot summers, you can still be outside at night when it’s 90 degrees and pitch black. Outdoor malls and restaurants with patios are commonplace, and also actually usable for most of the year. This one has a HUGE outdoor fireplace that no doubt burns an entire dinosaur worth of fossil fuel per day, but on those chilly December days where it barely reaches 60 the locals probably love it. Here’s a few photos of Desert Ridge which has a cool outdoor corridor that feels much nicer than any indoor mall ever has, back in the Pacific North Wet.

Phoenix Zoo Pictures

The other day one of our neighbors gave us 2 free tickets to the Phoenix Zoo, so we went and checked it out. It’s actually quite nice, and we were impressed by everything they had going on. They did miss some things that we had grown accustomed to, such as polar bears and seals and penguins for example, but it wasn’t a huge surprise. Who could expect these arctic and water creatures to do very well in the Arizona hot summer?

One big surprise to me was the Galapagos Turtles which are huge. The one that was there was about 2 feet by 3 feet and 2 feet thick. You’ll see it in one of the the pictures below, it looks almost more like a statue or a boulder on wheels. It’s truly massive for a turtle. They have a super slow metabolism and can apparantly survive desert types of conditions for weeks on end outside of water.

Crossing into Los Algodones, Mexico

I had never heard of the little border crossing town of Los Algodones, Mexico until about a month before we left on our trip. Most people, or most gringos at least just call it Algodones, and it is a bustling little town full of shopping, pharmacias, dentists and other cheaper-in-Mexico services and shops that make it a very popular place with predominantly the retiree crowd. December is shoulder season there and I hear February is crazy busy, according to the shop keepers and RV park peeps we talked to.

No signs of border-town-drug-warfare anywhere although I had hatched a perfect escape and evade plan so if it would come down to it, I was ready and on alert.

Courtyard shops by the restaurant we ate at where I got my new favorite shirt which is no longer my favorite shirt anymore because I promptly stained it and it won't bleach out. :(

Getting into Algodones is very easy, much more so than I thought it would be. If you’re just going to spend the day or a few hours there, by far the best option is to walk across the border. There’s a fenced and gated parking lot that I think is run by the US Border Patrol right at the crossing and it costs $5 for the day for cars, more for  trailers and motorhomes but they’re welcome too. When we went the lot was about 1/4 full or less.

You can drive across the border too, and it looked like there was 1 or 2 lanes going in with a checkpoint. We showed up around 2pm so the inbound traffic to Mexico was completely nonexistent. People recommended we go in at 11am because that’s when a lot of the shops – especially the pharmacias – open and you can get your stuff, have plenty of time for lunch and shopping and get back in line around 4pm to cross into the US. We felt like going that day instead of waiting for the next one, so we decided to check it out and going in at 2pm was just fine, if not better to avoid the crowds of gringos looking to get their shopping on.

So to actually cross the border, you walk out of the parking lot next to the ATM machine and turn right to walk down the cement ramp. The ramp itself is about 100 feet or so long, and you get to a place where there’s a shack building on your left and it routes you back around a couple other buildings. It feels like you’re walking in the back door of a shopping center. Then you take another 8 steps and you’re in between a few stores in this little courtyard type of thing. There was no one around when we did this, so it felt really eerie, especially the part when you take another 4 steps to be on the sidewalk and see the backs of no less than 12 Federale Police officers who are trying to entertain themselves and not be bored. Yep, there’s no booth to stop at or anything. I guess Mexico isn’t too afraid of gringos sneaking across the border. I’ll have to remember this if the US economy totally collapses and I need to make a run to get away from it all.

By car I’m sure the process will be different, but in my experience no one has been less welcoming into a country than US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents, so I doubt you’ll have any trouble if you read up and get your paperwork in order. The other thing to remember is a saying posted on one of the only signs on the way into Mexico, written in Spanish and conveniently translated to English, which said “The guns its illegal in Mexico” so leave that burner at home before you cross.

Coming back was a different story. There was a line of cars about 4 blocks long that we could see, and then the line turned the corner. Car crossing isn’t worth it unless you plan to stay a while. Walking back you’re funneled down another walkway, this one has concrete walls once you enter the funnel and there’s a bunch of last-ditch-merchants peddling their wares, many of whom are short, old, toothless ladies peddling chicklets and know only one English word; money. I only took about $100 when we went in, and that got spent almost instantly at the pharmacia where they’ll sell you almost anything over the counter except for narcotics which you need a prescription for, although I would be surprised if there wasn’t a handy Mexican doctor that spends most of his day writing prescriptions to gringos who are in so much pain they can barely walk across the border each morning. So I didn’t have anything left for the ladies who I wish I would have a few dollars for, although my wonderful lady friend on this journey did have a few, and bless her soft heart she gave them some.

When the crossing back in is busy, I expect that there would be a long line down this walkway into the ICE checkpoint, but we walked right in and had 1 person in line in front of us. We were soon called to the next available, friendly, smiling face that welcomed us back to the US with the words “One person at a time! One person at a time!” looking at us and the dude behind us who tailed us right to the counter. I told her that the lady and I were traveling together, to which she repeated “On person at a time!” to the dude behind us, then turned to us and said “what was your purpose of the trip outside America.” without so much a smile or a greeting of any kind, which made me feel right at home and I knew I was at a US border crossing. Ah! Home safe at last away from those scary Mexicans.

For those of you Homeland Security goons reading this blog post due to the fact it no doubt triggered all sorts of filters with the words like “Obama, border, Mexico, Narcotics, Guns, run away” included in it, you could at least get some friendly people to employ in the government, once in a while in positions where they deal with the public, it would be nice for a change.

We didn’t take a lot of photos while in Algodones because I was too busy planning my drug-lord-warfare-escape-plan, and I generally don’t want to look like a tourist and flashing my camera, cell phone, wad of money, wearing lots of jewelry and all that stuff (even though I SO do love jewelry) but here are a few that we did take which will no doubt be uninteresting to anyone who doesn’t know us, and even then probably less than marginally interesting to those who do.