Friday, April 18, 2014

The Trip Down

Some of the adventure of living part-time in Banámichi includes traveling there from Tucson. The trip  has become somewhat routine with time, but there are still enough surprises each time to keep it interesting.  And it is definitely an experience of Mexican culture. The atmosphere immediately changes when we cross that imaginary line in the desert called "la frontera"...the border.

Heading for the border
We generally cross at the Mariposa truck crossing in Nogales, Arizona. Abruptly, signs are in Spanish and the required lane changes are chaotic and confusing. We soon encounter a customs station where you might or might not get a green light. Getting a red light means an encounter with a very polite young customs officer who mostly just does a cursory inspection and waves us on our way with the words "Que les vayan bien!" (May you travel well.) At milemarker 21 kilometer, there is a second station for obtaining visas and car permits. Since Banámichi is not in the so-called "free zone," every 6 months we have to stop and get new car papers and leave a $400 deposit for our vehicle. The process is complicated, and on a busy day, time consuming.

Nothing to Declare  Lane? This guy got a red light!
First you stand in line to fill out the visa form, then you head to the bank and wait in line to pay for the visa. Then you go back and stand in line to get the visa stamped. Then its on to the copy booth for copies of all the paperwork you have in your possession, and then back to the bank line for the car importation and payment. There never seem to be enough clerks for the bank, and the wait under the tin roof is hot and long. The clerks patiently type in all the numbers of your license, registration and other information on the computer. Then more copies are printed out, and after about an hour, you walk away with a sticker to be placed on the windshield. Then there is yet another customs inspection. They are concerned about what you are bringing in, how much of it, and whether you have paid duty on it. Hopefully you get a second green light in the "Nothing to Declare" lane, and off you go.

Riparian area
The countryside opens up and there begin to be ranches and enormous greenhouses that grow tomatoes and cucumbers to be sold in the states. There is a beautiful green riparian area, and numerous roadside shrines. You go through a few small towns which each have topes...speed bumps to slow down the traffic. These vary in their lethality.  Some hardly qualify for slowing down, and others are bone-rattling nightmares that shake loose anything that is not packed well in the back of the car. One of the nastier ones threw our friend Tom off his motorcyle last fall.
Roadside shrines

Since anyone with any sense slows down for these topes, they are prime opportunities for vendors to sell you things. At some of them, there are stands selling watermelons and coconuts, and the Mexican Red-Cross is generally out on weekends standing in the middle of the road waving coin collection cans at passing motorists. The collectors are enthusiastic young people who are polite and grateful for any small amount they collect. We make it a point to donate a few coins each time. This is a good organization. There are clinics in the small towns that serve anyone pretty much without cost. We spent quite a bit of time in one in Kino Bay once when a friend walked into the ocean and within 30 seconds got badly nailed by a sting ray. The doctors were well trained, intelligent, friendly and helpful. Who knows when and where we might need them again?

Passing a doble semi remolque
We are on the main 4-lane transport highway---Mexican Route 15 - for produce traveling north to the states and goods going south from the states to Mexico. Doble-semi remolques...enormous tractor trucks hauling two trailers behind them rip along the road swinging and swaying, and rumor has it that the drivers are all strung out on speed. What is true for sure is that they are scary to pass...I tend to feel we are being sucked into their slip stream and I let out a sigh of relief every time we successfully pass one.

Our favorite tacos in Imuris
Heading further south, we come to the town of
Ímuris which might also be known as Tacoville. Along the main street, there is one taco stand after another, all wafting the scent of charcoal broiled beef, and all selling virtually identical carne asada tacos with grilled green onions. So far as we can tell, there are no distinguishing features, however, when we do stop we have gotten into the habit of going to Taqueria El Indio. If carne asada tacos are your thing, they are really good here and two people can eat for under $10. The tacos come with a compartmented plate of cucumbers, radishes, pickled red onions, and limes and two different bottles of an incendiary habañero concoction and the other a cooling avocado cream. Yum!

 Almost out of Imuris now, there are more topes with vendors selling fresh cheese, quesadillas, fresh pressed orange juice, shrimp and sometimes even colorful caged birds from further south. (Boo, hiss!) By the side of the road are carts selling various chiles and home canned fruit. There are several artisan shops, one selling beautiful copper pots from the town of Santa Clara del Cobre in central Mexico. There are also two fields selling multi-level carved stone fountains, pillars, huge stone balls and busts of various Mexican heros.

Homemade goodies for sale
Copper pots and other stuff for sale

Now we come to the tollbooth where the vendors of pirated music CD's hang out and soon thereafter is the unmarked turn-off to the road across the mountains to the Rio Sonora and Banámichi. Our hotel friends lobbied unsuccessfully for years to get signage at the turn-off, and finally put a nice sign up themselves. It was promptly torn down by unknown vandals, so the turn-off is still secret to all but those in the know.

Secret turnoff to Banamichi
After the turn-off the road is two lanes with no shoulders, and enters the back of beyond...ranching country and mountains.There are some landmarks I always watch of them being Rancho La Lámina ...the sheet metal ranch...with an odd corrugated sheet metal roof.

This is the road where the most of the travel surprises might whip around a bend and see a farm truck full of cattle coming towards you in your lane! Once we drove along this road and kept seeing dazed looking cows walking along the road towards us. Finally we came around a bend, and there was a huge overturned cattle truck. Eeek! Another time we narrowly avoided a gigantic bull grazing at the side of the road with its butt sticking out in the travel lane. Sometimes deer dart across the road, or swarms of turkey vultures sit in the road picking at road kill. They wait until absolutely the last minute to heft their weight and fly away as the car approaches. This can be hard on the nerves...there are many times I have involuntarily ducked and cringed, sure they were about to come through the windshield.

Boulder in the road!
After the town of Cucurpe and the Mercedes mine, the road deteriorates. It becomes an unending, unavoidable progression of bone-jarring potholes. In one canyon, a Volkswagon sized rock fell from the cliff a few years ago, seriously damaging the road. Now there is a Volkswagon - sized crater in that canyon that is generally filled with rocks, rubble and spring water. If you know it is coming you can slow down and it is not a big deal, but imagine if one came across that little surprise at speed or at night.

Bogus de Anza memorial
Further along there is shiny new historical marker which claims that on this spot on a certain day in the 1700's, Apaches attacked the explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, who is buried in the church in Arizpe. Recently the de Anza Society visited and the memorial was proudly shown off. Apparently one of this very knowledgeable group remarked, "Well that is strange, because on that day, DeAnza was several hundred miles north of  here!" Apparently the memorial marks someone's fictional account rather than history.One can only wonder about the politics involved in this one...

Church at Sinoquipe

Finally, we descend from the mountains to the village of Sinoqipe and the turnoff to the south for Banámichi. It is only another 10 miles, and I generally feel I can relax when I see the cliffs on the far side of the Rio Sonora, the white church spire and the Tecate beer distributor---every village in the Rio Sonora valley has one.

The road runs along the river for a ways. There is usually not much water in it since it is sucked dry by farms and ranches upstream. Sometimes, though, there is a little water and then there is often a white heron standing in it. Cattle graze on the green vegetation near the water.  Pecan trees stand in neat rows on the farms. The peace of the valley beckons.

Soon we cross the bridge over the river bed and approach the welcoming arch to Banámichi. There is a pillar with the black seal of the town on it.  Dan thinks the seal looks rather like a road-kill beaver, but we don't say much about that in town because a friend's father designed it. We pass the new Pemex station, hang a right at the local Tecate distributor, and we are home sweet home in Banámichi!

The great seal of Banamichi (road-kill beaver?)


  1. Hey June. Levonne here. Trying an anonymous signing this time from kindle fire.

  2. Alright. That worked. Great post. I loved taking the journey with you. Your descriptions made me feel as though I was there with you. And one day I will be. Looking forward to it. We are without cell phones at present. But can catch up with you soon. Both of us sick with colds of late but on the mend. Any idea about August yet?