A PRIMER FOR VISITING SONORA, MEXICO
Our sister state in Mexico just south of Arizona keeps luring me back, and I've always suggested that if you are just the right kind of traveler it will appeal to you, too. Summertime, of course, is not a good time to travel in Sonora. If it is hot here, then it is Hellish down there. But now, early november, and on through the winter, Sonora's weather is perfect.
Most accessible to folks is Rocky Point, a pleasant, somewhat boring, four hour drive from Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Rocky Point used to be where you went if you were the rugged, camp- on-the-beach or fight-it-out-with-the-local-bugs-in-a-dumpy-motel type of adventurer. I remember back in the 70's staying in a long, green motel where the rooms were eight bucks a night and overpriced but the door did open up immediately onto the beach. And being a shrimping port there were fresh shrimp for sale everywhere and the shrimp and several bottles of Mexican beer and endless miles of beach with incredible sunsets made Rocky Point a special place. Except on long, three-day weekends when every college kid in Arizona invaded the place like locusts and did every thing in their power to give new meaning to the term UGLY AMERICAN.
Now Rocky Point has come into the mainstream of commercialism and has several nice, almost 5-star, motels and restaurants and may even one day have a deep water yacht harbor. The three-day-weekends are still to be avoided but local officials have tired of the nonsense. If you want to act like an UGLY AMERICAN the police will in all probability treat you like one and you WILL spend some time in the local calabozo.
Adolfo Salido, with the Sonoran Tourism Department, says, "Winter here is like it was ordered by the Gods for the very specific pleasure of our tourists from the north!" Adolfo is a big, blonde, over 300 pounds heavy, easy-going Mexican with whom I have spent many days exploring Sonora. He speaks fluent English and always his intent is to influence reporters and writers to say nice things about his state and send many yankee dollars rolling south. As much time as I've spent with him the shine has sometimes worn off the image he prefers me to see and the grit and grime has shown through from time to time, but that's true of anywhere you go. Over all, Sonora is a marvelous destination for the right person.
The right person has to remember all the time that he is in a foreign country and it is he who has to adapt. If you can't do that, don't go. Sonora and Mexico becomes more of a foreign country the farther from the border you get. As hard as it is for many Americans to grasp, they speak another language here, and if you are going to drive you should have at least a minimal working knowledge of Spanish. You can go days without meeting someone who speaks English. In small towns in the interior the odds of finding someone who speaks english are simply astronomical.
Laws in Mexico are not that much different from laws in this country. If you get in trouble in Mexico, however, you will find yourself facing an overwhelmingly cavalier attitude toward your civil rights. If you know the rules and follow them, and don't act like a jerk, you won't have a problem. If you find yourself in any confrontation with Mexican authorities, being real humble is the best posture.
Hotels and motels will range from pretty good to pretty awful. In Sonora just don't expect the same accommodations you would from a suite at a ritzy place in Phoenix and you won't be disappointed.
Be careful what you eat. There are strange little amoebas and germs wandering about that American stomachs simply can't handle, scattered indiscriminately, they say, all through Mexico by the ghost of a fellow named Montezuma in endless, endless revenge for indignities he suffered centuries ago. Be comforted somewhat by the fact that some foods in the United States makes Adolfo Salido sick. Sonora is rich in colorful places and history. So much of what Arizona is today is dominated by the influence of events and men in Sonora over the past three hundred years. Without a doubt European civilization came to this part of the world with Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit Priest and scholar who died in Magdalena in 1711. More than one historian will tell you that southwestern history might have taken other turns if not for the ministry of Father Kino.
The Kino Missions alone are worth a visit to Sonora. There are many, some crumbling down, some still massive and brightly whitewashed and visible for miles on the desert. They have names like Cocospera and Oquitoa and Pitiquito and Tubutama, names you're never sure you're pronouncing right. Some are small and humble and off the beaten path, others are large and grand and intimidating. You tippy-toe into their cool darkness and just know that GOD IS HERE and so was an endless parade of faithful over the long centuries. You pause...and time stands still for a beat...
Guaymas and San Carlos are bustling seaport cities and headquarters for many American deep-sea fishermen. Farther to the north is Bahia de Kino, a small fishing village and a holiday getaway spot for Mexicans who live in Hermosillo, about 50 miles away. There is a small American community there, also. Fishing and laying on the beach and living life in the slow lane seems to occupy much of everybody's time.
Magdalena is a farming community far inland from the sea and is where Father Kino is buried. If you're into this sort of thing, his bones are on display, right where they were found, in a display in the town's central plaza.
Hermosillo, about 170 miles south of Nogales, is the capital of Sonora. It is a clean city, wide, tree-lined boulevards, but it is an industrial city. Traffic is heavy, it is smoggy at times and there's not much to attract a tourist.
About 500 miles south of the border is one of the quaintest and most charming Mexican villages I've ever visited, Alamos. If you like old world charm in an almost tropical, lazy setting, Alamos is a delightful experience. Founded originally in 1540 as a camp for Coronado's (the first European in North America, the turning point between pre and recorded history in the southwest) expedition, Alamos became the world's richest source of silver in the 18th century. The mines are played out now, but the town is a national monument to forever protect this marvelous example of old world colonial antiquity.
Phoenix businessman Kendall Dawe bought an old, old hacienda on the outskirts of Alamos. Almost palatial in size and indestructible in construction, the same house and grounds in Phoenix would cost maybe a million. He bought it for considerably less and flies down frequently to get away from Phoenix...
"I don't know, it's just a feeling you get when you're here." Kendall Dawe is sitting on a shaded veranda that runs down the length of two sides of the house, 20 feet wide and perhaps 100 feet long. "The pressures are not here that we have up in the states. we have clear skies all the time. It's hard to describe. You ask me what do I do and I can't really answer. It's just a real contented inner feeling."
Whenever I visit Alamos I always have to get my "fix" of music from the Cuarteto Tesoros de Alamos. In so many ways the very soul of Mexico is in its music, especially in those important affairs of life, the affairs of love. The quartet in Alamos sing and play a style of music that is not Mariachi and is not the heavy-handed NORTENA (sort of a Mexican version of our country and western), and is not the endless, involved stories of life and strife and revolution and heroism called CORRIDAS. Rather they sing smooth and romantic, sometimes upbeat, sometimes sad, songs of love and romance and all the things that can go wrong, or right, in affairs of the heart.
The cuarteto sings La Paloma Blanca and Malaguena and Mi Gema and Serenata Hawaiana so tenderly and so forlorn and lilting that it can just rip your heart out and throw it on the ground and stomp all over it. When he is in serious trouble with his wife, it is groups like this Adolfo Salido will take home to serenade her...
"I get in a fight with my wife, she's mad at me. I been gone from home and I come back about one in the morning with a trio or a cuarteto. NOT with a mariachi...oh, no! If I come back with a mariachi she thinks I've been out enjoying myself and getting drunk too much. But if I bring music with a trio,or a cuarteto, I tell her how much I love her...how sorry I am..."
Ah, such music for lovers, drifting on the night breeze, tinkering with your heartstrings.
"Our music...is romance."
Change comes very slowly to Mexico. But then, that is part of its charm. There is the difficult task of balancing the laid-back atmosphere that is Mexico's attraction to so many people with that of doing things to make American tourists perceive it as a safe and fun place to travel. Nothing can beat an ocean sunset on the Sea of Cortez and no music on earth can trigger more emotion than Mexican music. Charlie Salem, who is a teacher in the Phoenix area and spends weekends at his home on the beach at Rocky Point says, "I guess it's the opposites. I guess we like the opposites in life. In the states we all have our order but in Mexico the people have a different culture and I appreciate their culture and their laid- back attitude about things which we have a lot to learn from."
Do come here to this place, this Sonora. But don't come here expecting bright lights and world class entertainment. You will be disappointed. Come here only if you want to relax and explore another culture at a slower pace. A quiet, easy beat of simple life that takes a special kind of personality to enjoy. It is the way here, and it won't change.