We haven't been visiting Mexico during our drives around North America. There seemed to be too much hassle about acquiring special automobile insurance, just for a short excursion, the border crossings promised to be slow and irritating, there were lots of probably-exaggerated stories about murderous drug-dealing gangs that control the country, and the border towns we had visited years ago seemed depressing to us.

But when we got to Douglas, Arizona, we discovered that it was possible to just walk across the border into Agua Prieta. No problem, said the tourist bureau, and there's lots of bargains at the stores. Well, we weren't interested in bargains (as perpetual tourists, we're not much interested in things that are intended to go into houses!) but we thought a walk into Mexico would be interesting. And it was. Welcome arch

Right after breakfast we drove to downtown Douglas. It was a little difficult to find the designated parking lot for pedestrians going to Mexico, so we ended up parking on a street near the border station, which turned out fine.

Then we just walked into Mexico. Because it was early in the day there was no line, we just moseyed along through the station and didn't see anyone at first. Then we met a Mexican lady in uniform who just asked if we were bringing anything and we weren't so we kept walking into Agua Prieta, past the welcome arch and several stores and churches and houses and buildings. Well, this was easy, we thought -- just walk across the border!

Our first impression was that this was a working-class town. Not wealthy, but not unpleasant, either. We passed stores and businesses and noticed lots of people in the streets. Lots of Mexicans walked from place to place as they Downtown street started their daily routine. Only later did we realize it was an hour earlier in Agua Prieta than in Douglas.

There were lots of cars in the streets, and residences were interspersed with businesses, perhaps more than would be common in the U.S.

Repair and maintenance of streets and buildings varied widely. Here would be a clean and shining older building, there would be a hulk of something destroyed, here a bright new modern architecture, there a building that was started many years ago and then abruptly stopped, and never worked on again.

We had no plan, so we wondered which way to go. The direction of the center of town was not obvious. Elsa said go to those trees so we did and it was a park, with at least three bootblacks having set up their shops around the park. Why this competition?? Bob started to say "buenos dias" and smile. The Mexicans smiled right back.

One curb was so high Elsa didn't know how she would get down off the sidewalk to cross the street, but we worked it out. The church was closed (we would have liked to go in), we noticed some early morning food stores opening up, Park and bandstand some pharmacists and doctors which would provide cost-effective services to Americans without a good insurance plan like ours, here and there a dog running free, a nice school yard where most of the kids wore uniforms and were playing a game throw the ball and catch it in a conical orange basket held inverted in the hand. This wasn't a kids' game from the U.S., we knew.

The masonic hall was receiving some badly needed masonic repair (a trowel in evidence!). If we had been shopping for souvenirs and bargains, we would have been successful. Store windows were filled with interesting items of clothing and leather goods. People were friendly but of course we don't have much usable Spanish, so we soldiered on until we grew tired of walking. We don't really walk as much as we should. It was too early for lunch, so we walked back to the U.S. Schoolyard game

The return was almost as casual as the entry. We had our passports, but driver's licenses would have worked at this easy crossing. There was no line, and we chatted with the border agent. We had learned that the stories we had heard about border towns and border crossings just didn't apply to the laid-back cities of Douglas and Agua Prieta.

We were just familiarizing ourselves with Douglas, too, and were surprised to find a good-sized shopping mall and several nice chain restaurants for lunch. But we heard only Spanish, and then it dawned on us that there were a lot of upper-middle-class Mexicans shopping and eating in Douglas. We noticed a lot of late-model cars with Mexican license plates. Douglas was profiting from the border exchange, and we think Agua Prieta was, too.