Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Saguaro Cactus—The Supreme Sentinel of the Saguaro National Park

Forever we have seen the Saguaro Cactus in many pictures for Arizona.  The Saguaro has seemed to be the behind the scenes “character” in many western movies.

I remember the first time I saw a Saguaro Cactus.  We were driving through Arizona for a long weekend over New Year’s about 10 years ago.  I remember squealing with excitement and begging George to pull the vehicle over for a picture.  That trip we were just driving through, so as quickly as they were in the landscape—we had moved on and they were gone.

Now that we travel full time, we are able to stop and “smell the cactus”. 

These massive cactus stand tall raising their arms to the heavens. 
In the movies it seems as if all the Saguaros are perfectly shaped—having a large, straight trunk and 2 raised arms.  
 The Saguaro Cactus has become an easily identified icon of the Southwest.
After doing a little research, these cactus became even more exciting to me.  Saquaros are the largest cacti in North America.  They will grow to 50 feet and can weigh more than seven tons! 

Saguaros are only found naturally in the Sonoran Desert—which is in southern Arizona, southeastern California and Sonora, Mexico. 

It was shocking to me how slowly the Saguaro grows—may be only six inches high after 10 years.  After 30 years, and having several growth spirts it may reach six feet.
From a plant perspective, Saguaros have a long lifespan.  They can live for more than 150 years. 

Even dead the Saguaro is a statue to see. 

Dead or alive, the Saguaro provides a home to several different bird species.  We didn’t spend time looking for the birds, but the “doors” to their cactus homes were easy to spot.

They generally grow their first arm between 75 to 100 years old.  We saw several very large plants with no arms at all.

People are the biggest threat to the Saguaro Cactus.  Cactus thieves steal plants from public lands to sell.  These modern day rustlers can sell a Saguaro for over $60 a foot.  In an effort to protect these plants, the Saguaro National Park has started inserting microchip identification tags into some of the cacti.

The Saguaro Cactus has a strong stature—almost seeming to have a protective personality.
The Sonoran Desert is a lush, full landscape.  It is complete with not only Saguaro Cactus, but many other cacti varieties, trees and shrubs.

This extraordinary giant rises from the ground as a symbol of southwest United States.
We spent much of the day driving through the 2 sections of the National Park.  Where it was appropriate, we took every opportunity to get a little closer.

I love signs across America.  This one cracked me up… as if falling on your bike is not scary… imagine falling on your bike, going downhill… in an area known for all of the cactus.  OUCH!
The Saguaro National Park is a sight that I would encourage everyone visiting the area to enjoy first hand.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Yuma, AZ... it is More than Just Desert

We were in Yuma Arizona March 2 to 23rd.  We came to the area because of the weather.  We were looking for a place to hang out in the warmth of the sun and hopefully find some fun things to do and see.  Yuma did not disappoint.

I had expected the Yuma area to have a very desolate, desert type landscape.  

There were certainly a lot of areas that were the dry desert land.  But there was a surprising amount of agriculture.  We loved watching the fields being harvesting.  In the time we were in the area, we were able to see most of the fields being harvested and cultivated for the next crop.

Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of the world.  If you eat lettuce in the winter, it was likely grown in Yuma.  We saw fields of head lettuce, romaine lettuce, green and purple leaf lettuce, onions, cauliflower and broccoli.   

All of the fields have elaborate irrigation systems.

We loved driving around the area watching the fields being harvested.  

After a field is harvested large trucks with canopies are brought in for processing.  Workers stand under the shade of the canopies cutting off the outside leaves and roots.  

The vegetables are then put in some form of plastic wrap or boxes and put on conveyor belts that move the produce onto semi-truck beds. 

Some of the workers are brought in on buses pulling a trailer.  The trailers have 2 to 3 Porta-Pots on them for the workers.  

Many of the fields also have food trucks providing food for the workers.   

At some of the fields, in addition to the buses, there were long rows of cars. The surprising thing to us about the cars was that they were all very nice cars.  There were none of the stereotype junk cars.  

Although we drove by regularly, we never saw anyone taking a break.  Every person in the fields were working hard.  It made me appreciate every salad I’ve eaten and the hard work it took to get me the lettuce. 

The agriculture in the area made this a green, lush place to visit.  The colors and warm sun made my "cup run over" with happy.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Itzela Beauty Salon in Los Algodones Mexico... GREAT Haircut

While we were in Los Algodones Mexico, I got one of the best haircuts I have gotten since we have been full timing. 

After getting some really bad haircuts while traveling across the US, I was a little nervous.  But hair grows.  I "scoped out" several beauty salons. I was looking for one that someone spoke enough English to understand what I wanted.  Of course, I also wanted a place that was clean and professional.  Some did not feel as clean as others.  One just felt chaotic, which I would not have liked in ANY country. 

Then I walked into Itzela Beauty Salon.  I was told a cut AND style would be $8!  The owner Itzel Iniguez speaks fluent English and was so nice and very helpful with any clarification with that was needed. 

My stylist Mayra spoke limited English, but she was so pleasant.  I showed her a picture and she nodding assuring me she could produce that hair style.  I found out she had been doing hair for over 15 years. 

She was very meticulous with the cut and the styling.  When I left my hair looked exactly like the picture I had shown her in the beginning of our appointment. 

My friend, Sandy, got a pedicure and a facial wax; she was very happy with both.  I loved the entire experience.  It is a very clean and professional salon. 
Everyone working in the salon was friendly.  The best part… I got exactly what I wanted for a fraction of the cost that I generally pay. 

I will definitely be back.  Next time I will plan enough time to get a color also.  
Itzela’s is at 2nd Street and B Avenue, phone numbers:  928-468-3022 and 928-210-9601,  email:   

Itzela’s was definitely a highlight of our Los Algodones visit.  I cannot believe I did not get a picture of the finished masterpiece.  Oh  well, trust me... it was cute hair!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

While we were in Yuma, Arizona, we visited Los Algodones Mexico twice.  The first day we just wanted to scope out the town and make a plan for our “real” shopping day.   We had been to Mexico several other times, but not to Los Algodones.  This town is different than the others we have visited.  Border towns in Mexico are definitely set up to attract and keep tourists coming. 

We parked in a parking lot on the United States side and walked across into Los Algodones.  We were able to get good parking and it was only about a block from our parking space until we were inside the border. 

We had talked to several people before going in—so we had a game plan.  Immediately when we came through the gate, people start trying to get our attention.  “Hey Lady”, “Why are you here?  Do you need a dentist?  What about glasses?  How about medicine?”   The main area of Los Algodones is about a 4 block square area—so an easy stroll.

Our second day going across the border, Sandy and Marty went in with George and me.  It was a good time being there with other people--Sandy spent much of the time protecting me from myself.  I love talking to strangers, if the conversation got too long, she grabbed my arm and "escorted" me away.

I have heard that there are more dentists and optical facilities in this 4 block area that any other area in the world… and I believe it!  There are over 350 dentists in this area.  Thousands of tourists come through this border every day.  This town depends on the tourists and so I am sure the local people want it to be a safe place for people to continue visiting. 

We were traveling with 2 other couples.  They each got their teeth cleaned and were satisfied with the job.  One person had a significant amount of work done and he was very happy with the results.  Neither George nor I had any dental work done.  No real reason, we were just focused on other things while we were there.  I would expect we will have dental work done next time we are here.  I did check prices:  most cleanings were $25-$30, complete implant was $350, and crowns were $250.  Implants, crowns and dentures seem to be a big business here, probably because they are SO expensive in the US.  We walked into several dentist offices and they all appeared to be very professional and clean.  Our understanding is that the dental work is cheaper because the overhead is so much less.  Also, dentists go to school and then pay the government back for their education by serving as a dentist for one year.  The Mexican dentists also do not have malpractice insurance which reduces their overhead.

I looked at several optical places, but did not see any glasses that I liked, so there was no reason to get my eyes checked.  I was hoping to get new glasses; I just could not find any that I liked enough to buy.  I was hoping to get contacts, but I wear daily contacts and no one in town sells daily wear contacts.

The sidewalks are packed with vendors selling purses, hats, bright colored blankets, jewelry and any kind of “Mexican trinket” you would wish for.  They are all yelling try to get your attention.  Some will just hold items up in front as you try to pass by.  One vendor even yelled “Hey Lady,  come over here and let me rip you off, let me sell you something you do not need, for someone you do not like.”  I loved that and wish she had anything I would have liked to purchase.

Here are some general information/tips about our visit:

·       Definitely park on the America side and walk across.  When we were there the parking was $5 and the lot was fenced and patrolled.  The line of vehicles going into Mexico was long and moving very slowly.  The line of vehicles leaving the country moved even slower.

·       It is very easy to get into Mexico.  Just walk in!  No identification needed. 
·       Not as easy to get out of Mexico.  Make sure to have a Passport or the Passport card—you will definitely need it.  Our second day we made the mistake of waiting until after lunch to cross back.  Seems like many people come back to the US after lunch.  Apparently liquor cannot be brought back across until after 11am.  We stood in line, with hundreds of our closest “friends” for over 2 hours to get back across.  There is a cover over the sidewalk, so we were not standing in the blaring sun; however, it was very hot and tiring.  Our first day in Mexico, we walked around a couple of hours and then were headed back across before noon… we walked right up to the border gate that day without any waiting.

·       Do your research ahead of time.  Know the name of the dentist or doctor you will be seeing.  In many cases, if you talk to the dentist ahead of time they will meet you at the gate. 

·       When you walk in have a game plan.  Have a list of what you need:  medicine, dentist, glasses or Mexican tourist treasures.

·       Know the rules about what can be taken back across the border.  Only 3 month supply of any one medication can be taken across.   Legally, you can only purchase medicine for yourself. 

·       There is a limit to the amount of alcohol that can be taken across the border.   Only 1 bottle per person can be taken over the border.

·       Most business only take cash.  In most cases, even the dentists and optical places only accept cash.

Buying medicine/prescription drugs is very easy in Mexico.  There is no prescription needed to purchase medication.  All of the medicine comes in sealed containers, with the medication name on the bottle.  We purchased antibiotics:  100 Amoxicillin for $5, Z-Pack was $4 and Acyclovir was $6. I wish I had gotten topical Amoxicillin, but forgot.  

There are men shouting out that they have any medicine you want.  Then they quickly ask if we need Viagra... Every pharmacy has a list outside their store of popular medicines.
Have a list!  I did not get any of my other medication because our insurance price is less than $5 at home; or it is pain medicine that cannot be taken across.  I was hoping to get Cambia (for migraine pain) but none of the pharmacies had it. 
Tramadol is an interesting medication in Mexico.  Tramadol is now considered a controlled substance.  It is available to purchase, but not legal to carry across the border.  Several pharmacies wanted to sell Tramadol and told me they do it all the time.  They then told me to hide it when I go across the border; and they all said they put it in a bottle with a different name on it.   I was not interested in visiting a Mexican jail or paying the very stiff fine, so we opted out of purchasing Tramadol. 

The largest pharmacies are the Purple Pharmacy… big bright purple buildings.  I made my purchases here, because they were NOT willing to sell Tramadol, they felt like a better choice.  The pharmacists all speak fluent English, and will get help if you ask a question they are not sure of.  After checking at several pharmacies, the prices seem to be about the same at all of them. 

Second only to pharmacies are the liquor stores.  Because you are limited in the number of bottles of liquor that can go back across the border, the bottles tend to be very BIG.

I would not begin to say I am willing to bring the RV and camp in Mexico.  But I also would not camp in New York City or many other areas in the United States.  I watch the news; there are many areas in Mexico that simply are not safe. There is definitely a police presence in the market areas.  The entire time we were in Algodones we felt safe. 
Each day we were there we were entertained by our surroundings.   All of the local people are so friendly and seem to be willing to go out of their way to make you happy.  We were not sure what to expect, but we were very happy with the outcome of our visits.  Although we did not spend much money, we will definitely plan another trip back.

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