This post is prompted by a comment sent in by one of our readers. He is coming to Mexicali on business, and wonders if he will be safe.
That’s a very fair question. My short answer is “yes.”
Jim and I could only afford to move to a border town. The trip deeper into Mexico was well beyond our means. Mexicali, where we live, is a border town, and our house is just 176 feet south of the big steel fence which divides Mexico from the U.S.
Before moving to Mexicali, we checked out some other towns, either on the border, or nearby. Going from east to west, these included Agua Prieta, Naco, Nogales, Sonoita, Mexicali, and Rosarito Beach.
In Agua Prieta, near Douglas, Arizona, we did not see any suitable places to live. We stayed in the Hacienda Motel. As soon as night fell, large black SUVs filled up the parking lot. There was a lot of noisy coming and going, with the headlights flashing into our room, and voices talking in Spanish. At one point Jim actually stepped out (in his boxer shorts) to take a look. When he came back into the room, he said, “Great rims on those SUVs, yup.” Later, around midnight we heard gunshots and sirens – went on for some time. By dawn, everything stopped – the SUVs were gone, and you wouldn’t notice anything strange about the Hacienda Motel – except that everyone there avoided eye contact.
To the east of Agua Prieta, Naco and Sonoita had only very small towns across the border in the U.S.
The Pacific coast towns, such as Rosarito Beach, have beautiful Southern California weather in the summer, and are bit milder than Mexicali in the winter. Rosarito Beach was a bit congested and touristy. In addition, a motorcycle cop stopped us, saying we went through a stop sign – which we didn’t. We had to settle up with an eighty buck bribe with that guy.
THEN, on the way back to San Diego, going through Tijuana, the police had sealed off the ramp that leads up to the U.S. border checkpoint. We had to circle all through Tijuana to get back to the ramp again, and it was still sealed off with yellow tape. Jim pulled over to ask the police what was going on. Immediately, the policeman said, “No seat belt – that’s a fine – you will have to follow me to the police station.” Jim said that he had taken off the seat belt only after we came to a full stop.
The officer repeated, “Follow me to the station.”
At this point, Jim, by now an old pro at bribery, said, “OK, Sir, what’ll it take to pay the fine now?”
“One hundred dollars.”
“OK,” said Jim, and for that, can you remove the tape so I can go up the ramp and get back to the States?”
Jim took two fifties from his wallet and handed them to the officer, who, without saying a word, walked over to the ramp and removed the tape. We were back on our way to the States, and Jim didn’t start cussing until we were in San Diego.
For us, Mexicali turned out to be the best. Across the border is Calexico, a small town, but with all the shopping, and support (such as flu shots) that you could want. The downside to Mexicali is the weather. It is blistering hot in summer and a little cool in the winter.
From what we understand, there is a turf war between drug cartels going on in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, and even down to Ensenada. We understand the turf war was caused by the arrest of some leading members of the Arellano Felix gang who controlled the area. Now, another gang is attempting to move into the vacuum, and take over the territory. Jim and I would not feel safe in Rosarito Beach or Tijuana.
Tijuana has a very long border fence, which is probably a help for illegal crossings into the U.S.
Mexicali, on the other hand, has a short border fence – only a couple of miles long – and easy to monitor.
On the other side of the border fence from us, there is constant patrolling by the U.S. Border Patrol cars, helicopters (we hear them everyday), and aircraft. Things are very calm in Mexicali, and we feel completely safe. I don’t think we look worth kidnapping.
We lived for a while in Phoenix, Arizona, which now has the distinction of being the kidnapping capital of the U.S., with one kidnapping reported every day – and how many go unreported?
The main center of the drug trade is not at the border, as some might think, but in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, where “El Chapo” rules. The beauty queen, Miss Sinaloa 2008, Laura Zuniga 23, and her boyfriend were arrested on Dec. 23rd at a checkpoint outside of Guadalajara. Miss Sinaloa was riding in one of two trucks, where soldiers found a large stash of weapons, including two AR-15 assault rifles, 38 specials, 9mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges and $53,300 in U.S. currency.
Allegedly, Miss Sinaloa claimed that the cash was for her shopping. Small change for the drug cartels, which bring in a total of $53 billion a year, and who can afford to pay top Mexican Government officials $500,000 a month for information.
The Sinaloa Cartel is the one of the largest drug trafficking cartels in Mexico. The cartel’s leader, “El Chapo” is one of Mexico’s most wanted criminals. The U.S. has a $5 million reward for his capture – but no one is interested. Many of El Chapo’s “soldiers” were trained in advance weaponry by the U.S. Army – in an attempt to beef up the Mexican army. Why stay in the Mexican army, when you can work for El Chapo? The pay is a lot better – some say ten times better.
Many Mexicans, however, idolize the drug lords. There are songs written about them, and colorful names, such as The Queen of the Pacific, The Empress, and, of course, El Chapo (shorty).
Sinaloa has a beautiful coastline, and Mazatlan, which is in Sinaloa, is a favored spot where American retirees live and play golf. Jim and I would never set foot in Mazatlan or Sinaloa.
Mexicali is peaceful place, with a lot of police trucks patrolling around. Many of the cars have California license plates, and you can pay in dollars as well as in pesos.
So long as Jim and I stay out of the turf wars, we are going to be A-OK in Mexicali.