Notes From Algodones

Day One

There is always confusion surrounding international travel, and this is no less true even for a simple border crossing into Mexico. For the case of Sandy and my crossing into Algodones, the first confusion was over time. The night before our crossing the U.S. transitioned out of daylight savings time into standard time. I completely forgot that Arizona is on Mountain time but does not observe daylight savings. Amtrak had called to say that my train would arrive one hour later in Yuma, but gave no reason. I never thought about the time change.

This would have been no big deal except that one must cross the border into Algodones before 10:00 P.M. Arriving at 8:25 Yuma time makes this a little worrisome.

Trying to plan our trip, I got a recommendation for a taxi driver from the Yuma Para-transit, a lady who used to drive for them. In a conversation by phone, she indicated a willingness to take us across the border to our hotel which seemed ideal. However, on the Sunday of our arrival, her cell phone only rang and went to voicemail, and after about 6:00 P.M. went immediately to Voicemail.

When the train got to Yuma, it was indeed 7:25 Pacific Standard Time, but 8:25 Mountain time. Not only that, there is no station in Yuma and no Amtrak staff. Fortunately, my conductor found a Union Pacific police guard who agreed to assist me in getting a taxi after dealing with a freight train that was also passing through at the same time. Sandy had warned me about the lack of a station and went to a cafe nearby, The Mad Chef. This cafe used to be the Happy Chef but was renamed after the chef’s divorce.

When a cab arrived at the train stop, I got in and we proceeded by The Mad Chef and picked up Sandy. The driver indicated that no U.S. taxi can cross the border, but he would take us to the border and get assistance for us. The border turned out to be about a 15-minute drive, mostly by freeway, to the place where our border meets that of Mexico. He stood and verbally directed us from Yuma, cost $20. The driver was good to his word and was able to walk us right across a paved area and to a rail that we could follow down about 200 feet to a

building where a Mexican customs officer met us. Border crossings by foot always seem eerily silent to me, and a little bit strange. This one was no exception.

In turn, the Mexican customs officer was very helpful in getting us a cab who took us to our hotel, hacienda Algodones. This second driver agreed also to assist in finding food should we need to do so.

The hotel was less than 5 minutes drive from the border and we were met by a very gracious proprietress. She found our reservation and took payment immediately, $120 cash for three nights, and suggested we do the paperwork after returning from dinner.

Things got a little dicey here because we wanted a proper dinner with perhaps some Merlot or beer, and good food. But, the driver explained that this was impossible because it was too late, that restaurants in Algodones close by 7:30 or even 7:00 o’clock. We had some trouble with this conversation, so I called Marvelena on my cell phone, explained the situation to her, and then she spoke with the driver. The resolution turned out to be that he would take us to a taco restaurant and then get us beer or wine, whatever he could find and bring it back to us at the restaurant.

While “taco restaurant” was a bit of a misnomer, taco stand would have been more accurate, this is by no means a complaint. The stand we visited was the second stand in from the edge of a park with outside seating, and taco meat being cooked over a charcoal fire. Salsas, pico de gallo, guacamole, and peppers were available in abundance. The flavor of the meat was spectacular, and the corn and flour tortillas were both excellent. They were a little different than U.S. tortillas with more flavor, greater elasticity, and somewhat smaller. Each taco was $1 and I wasted no time in eating 3 of them. Alongside them was a plate of cucumber slices lightly salted and chilied, limes, and a mixture of chili, onion, and I’m not sure what else. Sandy had already eaten but was happy to have a couple of beers and try the vegetables. I hope to go back before we go home!

Upon returning to the hotel, we were shown our room. When reserving, you have to specify one bed or two, and we did indeed get two beds. However, we didn’t get any sort of closet or place to hang anything. We were promised some hangers to put over the entry-way door, but none were forthcoming for at least the first evening. Two tables in the room are made from a soft, unfinished wood (boxwood maybe) with lots of design work on the front. However, the inside of the drawers are unfinished, unlined, and not particularly well made and so far I have hesitated to use them to avoid getting splinters in my clothes or in me.

On the flipside, the mattresses are extremely modern and comfortable. The bed linen is very unusual, and if there are sheets, they have the texture of loosely woven blankets more than of cotton sheets. The bath towels, on the other hand, are the equal of an upscale Marriott Hotel, but don’t count on hand towels or washcloths. The room and bathroom have adequate outlets though we had one power outage which nobody seemed to mind particularly and I got the impression they might be fairly common.

A number of other guests sat in outside areas, visiting and talking about various dental procedures they were having. One lady who is head of an African-American and Hispanic Health network is here on her 4th visit and was great at introducing people to one another and getting us into a friendly interactive frame of mind. Five or six partied well into the night, but we decided to turn in around 11:00 P.M. to be in reasonable shape for Sandy’s 9:00 A.M. meeting with dental destiny.

Algodones: Day Two

We started getting our act together at 7:00 A.M. sharp, figuring out where to put things, how to get the shower to work, and where to go for breakfast. This turned out to be an informal affair in another outdoor area of the hacienda.

The weather was excellent and eating outside was really a pleasure. Coffee was abundant, and breakfast could be scrambled eggs, omelets, and so forth. I had ham and scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, and a few other things thrown in that were great even though I couldn’t identify them. This came with wheat toast, cost $8 which included Sandy’s coffee.

Throughout breakfast, the proprietress visited with us and we had a lovely time getting better acquainted. We found out that she and her husband had converted their home into this hotel, and that she herself is a practicing dentist in Algodones.

Now, it was time to call our taxi and get over to the dentist. But as with Day One, there was a small issue with time. It turns out that Algodones is on California time and we did not know if our dentist abided by Yuma time or California time. Our landlady said she ran her office on Yuma time and that most others did as well. This turned out to be the case, much to our relief.

The office is pretty typical of what one might expect with waiting room, receptionist, and a back area where patients go. It has a clean disinfectant aroma, friendly people, and the standard type of forms and paperwork to be completed. Sandy was in the chair for a little over 2.5 hours. The dentist instructed him to spend the day resting and that is primarily what we did.

Sandy slept a fair amount while I struggled to get on the internet, followed by a nice light dinner, Sandy’s first meal of the day. He managed a bowl of chicken noodle soup with two soft boiled eggs added to it, not bad for a person with four new implants, and I had a similar soup but with lots of vegetables and a quesadilla: $20.

The weather became chillier and we turned in early.

Algodones: Day: Day Three

We spent a restful night, maybe the first time I’ve gotten 8 hours of sleep in the past month. After a breakfast of coffee and ¾ cup -cooked oatmeal, it was back to the dentist: Sandy for a checkup and adjustments; me for a deep cleaning.

I’ve been putting off this procedure for at least two years, primarily because of money and, I admit it, because I can hardly bear the thought of any dental procedure. About cost: Two San Francisco dentists quoted me $800 per quadrant, $3,200 total. For me, that was simply out of the question. So, I went and bought a Delta Dental plan for around $50 a month. After 12 or 18 months (I can’t remember) the cost would be reduced to $200 per quadrant, $800 total. When Sandy began investigating for his situation, I did my own fact-finding and discovered that his dentist here in Algodones would charge $200 to do all 4 quadrants, and better yet, she agreed to do them all at once. As big a sissy as I am in the dentist chair, that’s definitely the way to go! Both San Francisco dentists refused to do more than one quadrant at a sitting.

The numbing part is always the worst part of a procedure, and this was no exception. Once done though, everything else went fine. Of course, the dentist found several things I should consider doing, but the cleaning was a good success so far. It took less than 90 minutes including a waiting time for the Novocain to take effect and another waiting period between the cleaning and the polishing. Two hours later, all effects had worn off and my mouth was just slightly sensitive, no more. The dentist insists that I take 750 MG of amoxicillin twice a day for 8 days which I will do, even though I’m never wild about taking antibiotics. She said she went very deep and caused quite a bit of bleeding and that this was the only safe way to proceed. So, that’s what I did.

Now, it was Sandy’s turn again. Luckily for him, he mostly had an exam to be sure everything was all right and a bit of adjusting. Within hap an hour, he was done.

After all this, it developed that our cab driver was in another town, San Luis, and it later developed that it seemed he intended to stay there the rest of the day but might send a comrade driver who didn’t seem to be showing up. So, our dentist’s husband/financial manager for the office took us back to our hotel. There seemed to be a lot of informality such as this in Algodones, and it was very nice to experience.

From there, we went on to the dentist office owned by the manager of our hotel. She had offered to provide me with a consultation in addition to the one already received, and it seemed like a reasonable idea to do this. Sure enough, she and a fellow dentist had a different approach to suggest. Some caps the first dentist was concerned about they felt were no problem. They also said that the first dentist had mistaken the resin used to secure them as underlying decay. They took x-rays to be sure about this and indicated that the x-rays confirmed their belief. Further, they pointed out that to remove the metal/mercury fillings that I want to do will be difficult because most of them are so large that in replacing them, the teeth could be compromised. Finally, they explained that the new fillings will last only five years. Bottom line: They recommend many more caps and a five-day stay to get the work done properly. Their cost for a porcelain cap is $140 per tooth. The first dentist’s cost is $180. Clearly, more research and consulting with my regular dentist will be in order.

In the meantime, we left Sandy off at a hearing center to investigate hearing aids. He got a unit for one ear over five years ago which is no longer working. The thought of spending another $3,750 for just one ear is pretty irritating to him, so why not see what can be had in Algodones. He discovered that for a similar hearing aid, he will have to pay only $1,200. And yes, it’s digital, and it’s made in the United States. That’s the claim anyway. For my money, even if it’s made in China, if it’s comparable it’s surely far more affordable.

After the obligatory trip to the pharmacy where my antibiotic prescription was fill, but ended up missing two days worth, and a stop to pick some wine from Baja California, we returned to Hacienda Algodones and it was already late afternoon. Dinner featured a delicious meatball and vegetable soup, albogondas, and I had one more quesadilla. All in all, it was a very productive and informative day!