If you're tired of the Food Network, let's take a break and flip to the Travel Channel!
Since I'm so close to the Mexican border, I thought I'd take a trip across for an afternoon. The only town that looks close enough for me to hit on my trip without making a multi-day excursion is Ciudad Juarez*. It's a border town, so only kinda the Mexican experience, but it still counts as crossing the border, so here we go!
I drove down to El Paso, wandered around until I found a parking space close to the border, removed everything but some cash and my ID from my person, and headed towards the crossing.
For some reason, you have to paf $0.25 to cross the border, each way. Weird.
I got across to what was a pretty impoverished part of town. Lots of street vendors, lots of run-down shops. Oddly, lots and lots of dentists and eye doctors. Very strange.
I wandered around a bit, then found a small mall to get a mediocre (but cheap!) haircut in. Not having anywhere else particular to go, I wandered around a bit more until I found a cathedral that looked interesting to go into.
Outside the cathedral was what looked like some sort of revival thing going on with a couple of preachers trading off while a crowd watched. Of course, I had no idea what they were saying, so that's just a supposition.
I decided it was food time, so I pulled up the Internet to see if anything in the town was recommended. I hadn't seen anything in my wandering that I'd actually trust to eat- too many weird parts of animals stored and cooked in weird ways.
I found a Mexican restaurant an hour's walk away recommended on a travel site, so I decided to head that way. It was already a bit late to be eating, much less walking an hour on no food, so I picked up a Frosty from Wendy's.
I came to find Juarez has many of the staple brands we know and love from America, like Wendy's, Subway, Applebees, etc. This particular Wendys serves broken Oreo cookies on the Frosties. Not the crumbs McDonalds uses in their McFlurries, but actual whole Oreos that have been smashed. It was pretty nice!
Also, interestingly, right next to the ketchup was a bucket of jalapenos to go with whatever you got to eat. I have no idea what I'd pair them with, but for Mexico, it seemed fitting.
Thus began the walking. I got clear out of the impoverished border area, into a slummy, but not outright poor, area, and over towards the hotel district where the restaurant was.
This guy was juggling stuff at the red light for tips
So, I went to Mexico and I ate at a Mexican Mexican restaurant. Yay! I got what I always get at Mexican restaurants- cheese enchiladas.
The food was nice enough. They didn't melt the cheese inside the enchiladas, which I thought was a bit odd. The salsa was fair, and the chips were unusually think, but tasty. Since this was in the hotel district, I'm not assuming it was very authentic, but that's fine with me.
I wandered into the neighboring Wal-Mart, just to see what it was like. It's much less polished inside- it doesn't have the gleaming, 21st-century look the American Wal-Marts do now. Also, we don't usually have fully-riot-armed cops milling about. And the fact that pesos are represented by the dollar sign ($) makes reading prices very interesting.
That brought me up to late afternoon, and an hour's walk back to the border crossing. I headed back the way I came, and was just about to cross after exchanging my pesos for dollars when someone offered to shine my shoes. They sure needed it after all the New Mexican dust, so I gladly accepted.
The guy sure knew his stuff- he broke out chemicals and tools I've never seen used for shoe shines before, and was very careful, and obviously practiced.
He was telling me how he used to live in America with his dad, but was eventually deported. He gave me some sap story about needing to buy medicine for his dad. No idea if it was true, but he broke it out again when he asked me how much I wanted to pay :)
Paid my $0.25 again, walked across the border, got out of a third country with a passport labeled "Brain", and headed home. Whee, Mexico!
Someone was selling churros on the bridge across the border. Yay, sugary snacks!
- I'd heard Juarez was a dangerous place to go, but I'd also heard that the danger was mostly to locals, and that it had subsided in the last couple of years, so I chalked my safety up to one part "don't look like a stupid tourist", one part "don't act like a stupid tourist", and one part "this is probably more hype than reality". The shoe shiner made it very clear to me how dangerous it had been (no, not hype), though most of the time I didn't feel like I was in any danger at all.