Bienvenidos, Monsoon Storms

How pleasant it is to say “adios” to scorching June. As possible proof, during this June, my Rio Rico, Arizona suffered through ten consecutive days of torrid highs between 96 and 105F, according to my possibly trusty patio thermometer. This June’s sun was also so bright and hot that I spent far too much time hibernating indoors with all my blinds pulled down. But June finally has eased into July, which has become, perhaps, one of my favorite months here. Because the arrival of July means it will bring Monsoon storms.

Like the one I experienced just the other day, whose vivid lightning strokes and following thunderclap nearly scared me silly. I’d witnessed that first flash of lightning while I was foolishly standing under my metal garage door.

The beauty of San Carlos couldn't keep me from wandering through Sonora's rural towns. (Image taken by Victor Hugo de Lafuente Flores)

A meandering trip in Sonora brings back memories of my Pennsylvania boyhood

I now know why I enjoy taking trips into rural Sonora in Mexico. It’s because those sweet trips remind me of my growing up in a rural western Pennsylvania town. I love reading maps, and when I spotted Ortiz, Sonora as a small, obviously rural dot on the map of Sonora, I said aloud to myself, “Why not go there?”

But for some mystifying reason, on my way there, I rented a small house in San Carlos, Sonora. I spent a couple of days there, exploring San Carlos’s rugged shoreline watching seals, dolphins, and seabirds fooling around in pristine tidal pools. But I soon grew restless, because, in general, I dislike tourist sites, especially ones that cater to middle-class Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans, as San Carlos does. Soon realizing the big mistake I’d made, I fled San Carlos driving southeast from San Carlos to Empalme, which was – once upon a time – an important, prospering railroad town. That was definitely confirmed when I crossed a double set of railroad tracks where off to the left and right of me I saw the rusting, tilted hulks of locomotives, boxcars, and cabooses.


A tale of friendship found and lost while looking for asparagus in Nogales

NOGALES, Az. – I drove across the border from Nogales, Arizona this past April looking for the fresh-cut, thinned-stemmed asparagus spears you can only get there. Having long ago made a personal rule to spend only pesos while in Mexico, my plan was to use my Bank of America’s debit card to withdraw pesos from the ATM at my “sister” bank, Banco Santander. Banco Santander has several modern, first-class, efficient branches in Nogales, Sonora, which is also known, hereabouts, as our “sister” city. I wanted those pesos to buy a couple of pounds of fresh-cut, thinned-stemmed asparagus spears sold by an enterprising fellow up from the farming community of Imuris, Sonora, 60 miles south.

U.S.-Mexico border. (Chris Karadjov/

Humanity vs. legalism – a first encounter with ‘illegals’ on the U.S.-Mexico border

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Arizona  – As an emigrant from New England to Arizona 15 years ago, my first encounter with “illegals” occurred near sunset on November 19, 1997 as an autumn chill settled in. Two teenagers suddenly appeared around a bend of the trail I’d discovered down in the Santa Cruz River Valley below my home. I’d rested there on a root of a huge cottonwood, my two dogs lying at my feet. Shoulders slumped but heads held high, the teens swung gallon jugs half filled with murky river water along their flanks. But I saw that their gait was a slow and weary one.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio on trial

RIO RICO, Ariz. – When I was a little boy living in a small town in western Pennsylvania, it was the Italians that were disliked and discriminated against. They were the people that had darker skin, large families, spoke with accents, cooked “different” food, and were falsely accused of almost any problem our town had. Strange, isn’t it, that three prominent Italians – Justice Scalia, Secretary Napolitano, and Sheriff Arpaio – have taken such a hard stance against Hispanics, including those that are US. citizens.

A gringo’s tale of two Walmarts

I have a “gringo” friend here in Rio Rico, Arizona, a town where we both settled to live, which is virtually atop of the United States of America’s border with México. She recently emailed me, “It’s more fun having Latinos as neighbors than, well, almost anybody.”

“So true,” I emailed her back. “Especially so here, where you and I live as minorities. It is so pleasant to read that, you, like me, get such pleasure out of being immersed in a mostly Mexican culture.”

I’m always reminded of that pleasure when I shop the Nogales, Arizona, Walmart which is filled with warmth, smiles, and laughter, as contrasted with shopping the Walmart at the mostly gated and overwhelmingly “gringo” retirement community, Green Valley, Arizona, which is an easy 20-minute drive north via Interstate 19. But what a grim and cold place that cavernous place is to me. Smiles and laughter seem to be forbidden. That’s why I prefer to head, south, on another easy 20-minute drive on Interstate-19 to shop the Nogales’ Walmart. That’s where I rarely leave without learning a new Spanish word, which comes in handy here in my Rio Rico, where 85 percent of my neighbors – most of them far more bilingual than I am – claim Spanish as their native tongue.

The canyon near Curcurpe. It's carved out by the Dolores River, which feeds into the River Sonora farther south. Both rivers are among the rare perennial rivers in Northern Sonora. (Courtesy of Jack McGarvey)

A gringo traveling in beautiful rural Sonora

In mid-March, I drove south from Rio Rico, Arizona to explore rural Sonora, something I’ve done many times. As spring approached, the pull of this beautiful place had become irresistible. That’s because I kept wondering whether the huge cottonwood trees that line Sonora’s Rio Magdalena were leafing out. The cottonwoods there, were indeed, leafing out – at least two weeks ahead of the cottonwoods that line the banks of the Santa Cruz River in the valley below my Rio Rico home. I then drove on south to Santa Ana, a crossroads city where Mexico’s Route 15 meets Mexico’s Route 2.

The Border Patrol plays sleight-of-hand with the cost of capturing immigrants

I live in Rio Rico, Arizona, which is about 16 miles north of the USA’s border with Mexico. Where, recently, on a sunny Sunday morning during a walk with my dogs in the usually tranquil Santa Cruz River Valley below my home, I heard the drone of an airplane. Irritated, I looked up to see a Border Patrol (BP) plane drop down to circle a mile or so south of a Union Pacific Railroad crossing. At once, I knew a drama would soon unfold.  Sure enough, within 15 minutes, three BP vans sped up.

The shopping cart wars

RIO RICO, Ariz. — I keep hearing complaints from some of my Rio Rico, Arizona “gringo” friends and neighbors when they drive the 15 miles south to shop the Nogales, Arizona Wal-Mart “big box” store. That’s a store that has become one of their favorite shopping places. I hear complaints like these:

(Be forewarned: I’ve inserted some possibly irreverent observations in my humble attempt to offer a solution to the shopping cart wars.)

Complaint #1: “’Those people'” (the phrase my “gringo” friends use to refer to Mexicans,) park their shopping carts smack dab in the middle of the aisles!”

(Sometimes, they do, indeed!  Sometimes, I must confess, I’ve also done that, while reaching for an item on the upper shelves.)

Complaint #2: “’Those people’ often park their carts side-by-side to chat, blocking the aisles.”

(Yes, indeed! “Those people,” – are, by nature and custom, an extremely gregarious, chatty folk.

Making ends meet in Nogales on $1 an hour

RIO RICO, Ariz. — When I returned to my Rio Rico, Arizona home from a second visit to my dentist who works twenty minutes away in Nogales, Sonora, I reflected on what a fine dentist Dr. Emilia Sáenz is. But her assistant, José, a gracious young man, is even finer. My spoken Spanish is decent, but my level of understanding sometimes lags – especially with Dr. Sáenz, an immigrant from Colombia, whose rapid Spanish confused me, which made José even more crucial as I endured another root canal. I marveled at José’s skill at anticipating Dr. Sáenz’s demanding needs and at anticipating any discomfort I might feel.

Don’t miss the fun of driving Mexico!

RIO RICO, Ariz. — A couple of years back, I headed off on a 1,200 mile November trip to Michoacán, whereupon I had a minor accident near Imuris that caused what seemed to be minor damage to my car, a normally sturdy Honda CR-V. (But, in fact, it was an accident that ultimately ruined my engine.)

Friends drove down the 60 miles from Rio Rico to rescue me and my traveling companions (my two dogs) and I left my car in the hands of an incredibly resourceful Imuris mechanic. He managed to fix my car, at least enough for him to drive it to the border at Nogales, where I met him to drive it across for more repairs at Pep Boys. About a week or so later, I headed back down to Michoacán,  and the car performed well  – no problems at all.