Daydreaming of Mexico’s border towns

By Grant McGee

A Robert Earl Keen CD was in the hi-fi, the song “Gringo Honeymoon” was playing. It’s about a couple going to Mexico, crossing into the country via a romantic rowboat ride. There are the people and things they see, then they go home.

That’s one of the things I miss about living on this side of New Mexico near the Great Plains: Mexican border towns.

Each Mexican border town I’ve been in has its own character. The bigger ones, including Nuevo Laredo, Cuidad Juarez and Nogales, are like large cities north of the border.

To me, it’s the small towns that stand out.

New Mexico’s only neighboring border town is Las Palomas, Chihuahua, just south of the town of Columbus. It seemed to be a haven for 30-something women from El Paso (maybe Las Cruces, Silver City or Deming) to come and party.

That’s how I explained the well-dressed, obviously intoxicated women all over the town. Maybe they were having a convention that day, I don’t know.

Then there was the dust. None of Las Palomas’ streets were paved.

I heard music coming from a cantina. I went in. There was a guy playing an accordion and another playing guitar, both singing. It was a good moment in time.

I’ve been to Ojinaga, Chihuahua, across the Rio Grande from Presidio, Texas, and Agua Prieta, Sonora, across from Douglas, Ariz. Both were non-descript towns in a sun-blasted landscape.

My favorite border town is Naco, Sonora. Things I remember about that town include the supermercado with its produce from the interior including unroasted coffee beans, the paved main boulevard of the town (the folks of Las Palomas might be envious), the relaxing town square (I think most Mexican towns have a good central square), Lupita, the liquor store pet javelina that came when called, and the friends I made.

I liked to go to fiestas in Naco. One time, sitting at a table with friends the mariachis came by. I was hoping they’d sing “Cielito Lindo.” I asked how much. Now my Spanish has always been a little rough so the proper phrase “cuanto cuesta” came out as “canto queso.”

The lead mariachi gave me a quizzical look.
“Canto queso?”

The only other guy who knew some Spanish down at the other end of the table started laughing. “Dude, you just asked him to ‘sing cheese.’”

We got it straightened out and the mariachis gave us a rousing rendition of “Cielito Lindo.”

Walking back into the U.S. from one Naco trip I was asked to empty my pockets and patted down. By the time I got home I was kind of perturbed by the unusual search so I called the customs office to ask about it.

“Sir,” came the terse reply, “at the United States border we have the authority to strip search you if we choose. Have a nice day.”

Sometime I’ll tell you about the visit to the Mexican dentist in Naco.

One day I’ll go back to Mexico. I want to go to places in the interior, such as La Barranca del Cobre in Chihuahua, Aguascalientes or Oaxaca.

I remember what a friend said about the Mexican interior: “Deep in Mexico you experience the absence of the terror of time.”

In the meantime, I’ll be a gringo daydreaming of Mexico now and then.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: