Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Agua Prieta, Sonora

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Here are a few old photos from the town of Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican border town across the fence from Douglas, Arizona. This was a brief stopover on an early 1990s tour bus trip around Arizona & the California desert. Many of the other people on the bus were British, German, or Australian and doing the youth hostel thing across the US. So a side trip a few blocks into Mexico was an exotic side trip for them. Wandering around a Mexican border town with a bunch of English people was... unusual. They seemed to think I ought to be an expert about Mexico, due to being from the same hemisphere and all. Technically I'd had a year and a half of high school Spanish, and could translate signs some of the time, and I could explain the food to people who didn't know what a taco was, and some cultural bits and pieces to people who didn't know anything about fotonovelas or luchadores. I may not have been history's greatest cultural ambassador, but I'm pretty sure they were lucky to have me. They could have gone with one of the other Americans instead, like the dreadlocked trustafarian dude from Napa Valley wine country, who made sure everyone knew how rich his parents were. He seemed to think he was quite the roguish adventurer, and went off by himself in search of the town's red light district, only to discover there wasn't one. He was actually pretty upset about that, which was kind of hilarious and pathetic at the same time.

One key thing I had no clue about (this being the pre-Wikipedia era) was the history of the town we were visiting. It turns out that a century ago this little town had a significant role in the Mexican Revolution. Two battles were fought here (the second of which helped to trigger Pancho Villa's infamous raid on Columbus, NM), and in 1920 the Plan of Agua Prieta was drafted here, the spark for a rebellion that drove Mexico's first postwar president from office.

I also didn't have much of a clue at the time about key tourist sights, so I'm not sure which church is pictured here. It was somewhere near the border crossing, I think, but I wandered around the area in Google Street View and didn't see anything that looked quite like it. So it's possible we were more lost than we realized at the time. I also took a few photos around the border crossing area, I suppose because the US side of every border crossing I've been through has always creeped me out. They're designed to look all high tech and hostile and intimidating and all-powerful, but they do it in a sort of petty ham-fisted way; imagine the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, but administered by the DMV, with taser-crazed mall cops for Stormtroopers. (Note to self: I should probably delete these few sentences before the next time I travel internationally. Apparently they like to Google people at the border now, and speaking ill of border enforcers can lead to all sorts of fun complications, First Amendment or no.)

Sadly there's a US State Department travel advisory for the Agua Prieta area right now, due to the ongoing drug cartel wars. Coworkers at an office elsewhere in Mexico have explained to me that it's a manageable problem so long as one cartel "owns" your city. It's only when cartels fight over territory that things get really ugly.

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