52 States in 8 Months

Being a total illiterate in Mexico, or the contrasts of Ciudad Juárez

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on April 19, 2009

My most important reason for going to El Paso was crossing the Rio Grande, and therefore going to the United Mexican States, or simply Mexico. In fact, just next to El Paso there is the City of Juarez in the state of Chihuahua, or in Spanish Ciudad Juárez. It can easily be confused with Ciudad Benito Juárez, another Mexican city which also got its name from Benito Juárez, a former president of Mexico.

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On the pictures above you can see that there are quite some lines at the border, but that’s of course only for the direction into the US. I did not go through any border check at all when I entered Mexico, so I don’t understand how they can complain about weapons from the US being carried over… (btw: something between 17% and 90% of all weapons seized in that area come from the US). Anyway, this is how the Rio Grande looks. I don’t know where the name comes from. It can’t be the size of the river:

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The first impressive thing I noticed in Mexico was a large message on the mountains, saying “Cd Juarez la biblia es la verdad léela.” It’s on the right-hand side picture above, but you can also see it on Google Maps. It translates to “Ciudad Juárez, the bible is the truth, read it!”.
However, there were more Christian missionaries approaching me in El Paso than in Juárez. Those Americans always wanted to invite me to their service. In Juárez instead they always wanted to sell sightseeing rides with taxis. And they tried to sell medicines (or drugs?) and girls, too, but that was not what I was looking for in Juárez. Instead I was looking for post cards! Simple postcards! But I could not find any. Finally some nice chap approached me, who luckily was quite fluent in English. In fact I was really surprised when he didn’t offer any taxi ride :-). He took me to some old market where I could choose between 8 or 10 ugly postcards, and only one of them showed the city itself (at night). Each postcards cost $0.80 (USD) or $10 (MXN), so I only bought three or four of them. My guide also took me to the local post office where I wrote the postcards and sent them to Germany. In the post office my guide finally got a small tip for a simple reason: even if I had managed to get some post cards, I would have never found this post office without his help. Just look at it:
2009-03-31_14-34-43-springbreak-7546-ulfIt looked better from the inside than it did from the outside, though. But does anyone of you know how the Mexicans can identify this as a post office? Is there anything special with the ornaments on the walls??

Anyway, after the postcards were on their way I started my discovery tour through the city. I’ll start with the things which really put a smile on my face:

  • There were quite some places in the city which looked really great. The bus station for example: I haven’t seen such a nice bus station in America so far. It was large, there was a lot of artwork and they planted trees :-).
  • The local market! It was just like being on some small market in Stuttgart-Vaihingen. They did even give the weights in kilograms, a unit which most Americans do not understand ;-).
  • And the area next to the church was also a surprise. I had visited Old Town Albuquerque and Mesilla (near Las Cruces) which both had nice plazas right across from some church. In the center of both these plazas there were little gazebos. However, since there were also a lot of parking lots, many restaurants and gift shops, I thought that these plazas in Old Town and Mesilla were both just built for tourists, to create some Latin American atmosphere.
    Well, Juárez also had such a plaza! And in contrast to what I had seen in the two American places, this one was really crowded (although you won’t see this on the pictures I took). I really enjoyed being there, there was so much “laziness” in the air ;-).

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Sounds good what I wrote so far, right? Well, I was lucky. As you probably know, there is a drug war going on in Mexico right now. The locals (well, those in El Paso, because the locals in Juárez don’t speak English) told me that since about a year there were between 10 and 15 murders each day. Mostly execution by shooting, but hangings and decapitations were also regular. And the local police is so corrupt, they won’t do anything about it. WTF??? But anyhow, I was lucky: Just one month before I came, the federal government sent the military which has now taken over control. This meant that there was a military patrol about every 5 minutes on each place. And some places the frequency was even higher. This has really helped! The public killings have stopped, at least during daytime. It’s not hard to believe that the people were really happy about having the military in town…

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Actually I was supposed not to take any pictures from the military, but I didn’t care. One of the soldiers has even tried to tell me not to take any pictures, but as most other Mexicans he just couldn’t speak any English at all. Poor chap, but yo no hablo español ;-). Finally some other pedestrian translated what the soldier said, but at that time the soldier had already given up ;-).

Earlier I wrote about “quite some nice places”. Well, then there have to be “some not so nice places”, too. And indeed, there are. The majority of my one-mile-radius-discovery tour took me through poor and devastated areas. Suddenly Mexico was really looking different from what I was used to in the US. Still, one thing was interesting: In those areas, more people could speak English! And when I told them that I was from Germany, everybody immediately named one or two German cities (sometimes Hamburg, sometimes Frankfurt, …, but never Berlin). Well, good for them! I would not have been able to name a number of Mexican cities aside from their capital.
Anyway, these are some of the photos I took. I’m not sure if they really show “poor” places, or if the people simply don’t care about how their houses look. I guess the latter might be true as well.

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Now finally some more or less funny notes on Mexico:

  • Yes, there are still many of the old VW Beatles driving around.
  • Most of the gully covers have open holes. But why?? Just to make it easier to misuse them as garbage cans?
  • Some drivers seem to have changed the wiring of their horns, so that the horn is always on unless they press the button. The driver of the green bus made an awful noise for more than two minutes. At the same time he only got about 10-20m forward.
  • Some newsstands were selling (or renting?) VHS cassettes with recordings of the latest Hollywood highlights “Conan”, “Tomb Raider” and “Josie and the Pussycats” (which is from 2001 and therefore the most recent film in this list).

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Having briefly talked about prices in the beginning of this blog post, I also noticed the price for Viagra is 145.90 Pesos for “100mgc/1”. I guess that this is the price for one tablet of Viagra 100. In the United States one pays about $16 to $23. This proves one other observation I made: The prices right behind the American border are no different than the prices in the US itself. I had a look at one clothing store. It was selling its stuff for 90 to 200 Pesos which is about $7 to $15. That’s just what I would pay in the US. After 4pm Burger King charged $80 to $150 pesos (6 to 11 USD) for their menus. The menu for 150 Peso included four papas, four refrescos and a bunch of burgers (either res or pollo). I doubt even an American could eat that on its own, so that really was a family deal (or “arma tu combo familiar” as they say, which sounds rather brutal). And yes, as you have noticed, those Mexicans also gave the time in the strange 12h system, and they also abbreviate their currency with a “$” sign.

So, that’s all I can write about Mexico at this time. At about 3pm I decided to go back to the United States, so I crossed the Río Bravo again and waited for about 30 minutes until I was back in the United states. To my very surprise there also wasn’t any real border check in this direction. I only waited for 30 minutes to show my passport, and then I was back in the US.

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Damn, why didn’t I smuggle some weapons into Mexico and some drugs back to the US?

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One Response

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  1. Sergie said, on May 6, 2014 at 8:33 am

    My dear friend!
    It’s a shame you only visit the “tourist” places which not reflects the real economical boom of Juarez, you should visit the Pronaf Area, or the Gomez Morin Av, there you will have where the locals do.
    It’s important mention that the downtown area it’s not part of our proud, we still working on develop a beuty place for visitors, however as you said “here we have a very corrupt politicians.” any way, I hope you come again, you visit the areas I mentioned to you.


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