If it weren’t for the snowbirds or for those traveling to Los Algodones, Mexico for more affordable dental work or eyeglasses, Yuma might just be a tiny dot on the map. Except this is also where winter lettuce and cauliflower are grown—thousands of acres, with rotating schedules of planting and harvesting so that something is always being picked, packed, and shipped.
Dates (as in the food) and cattle feedlots are also huge businesses in this part of the country. The traffic and shopping centers might fool one into believing it’s a little city, but the same local newscast is on three major stations (ABC, CBS, and NBC), and the grocery stores might not have everything one can usually find in a larger metropolitan area.
Southwestern Arizona, right across the border from California and Mexico. Yuma is a big town catering to Canadian and northern U.S. snowbirds. In fact, most of the neighborhoods or subdivisions are some type of RV park/resort for 55+ retirees. There are some single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and apartments. But there are many locations for all types of RV living, whether it be year-round or winter-only.
Yuma was quiet this year, though. With the northern border closed due to the pandemic, most Canadians have not been able to migrate south this winter.
At first, we boondocked a few nights on the outskirts of town, overlooking lettuce fields and the Gila Canal. We had a few neighbors we met while gathering around a bonfire each night. One couple was from Minnesota and comes to this same boondocking spot every year. Another couple from Massachusetts has been RV traveling for 22 years, and started coming to this area over the past few years. They were at this particular spot for about a week or two then were moving to the Hot Springs area of California, just about an hour or so away. We met a great girl from Texas, same age as our daughter Madeline, who travels alone in her van. She is an avid biker and hiker, having three different bicycles in her van (road, mountain, and a hybrid?). She is a software engineer working out of her van full time, and is planning a hiking/biking trip through the Grand Canyon this Spring. There were a couple of others, all fascinating people with interesting stories.
Then we moved to Capris RV Resort in Yuma for two weeks. It was nice to have hookups and be near a laundry room, but over half of the resort was empty and eerily quiet. My bike was stolen while we were venturing around town one day—totally our fault for not locking it up (they got the lock as well because it was in my bike’s basket!), but on the whole the area didn’t look or feel dangerous. The few people we talked to were friendly, but no activities were planned because of covid, making it hard to meet others.
While here, we went to Los Algodones, Mexico three times. It was about a 20-minute drive to the border crossing, then we paid $6.00 (each time) to park on the U.S. side and walk right into Mexico. We did not need to show passports or go through any border checks as we walked in. Immediately, we were confronted with everything Los Algodones—pharmacies, optical centers, sidewalk vendors, dental offices, and “runners” for all of them. There are over 400 dentists in a four-block area, many who hire “runners” who come up to people asking what we need or are looking for. We stopped and talked with a few, and they were very nice and helpful. The sidewalks are set up in a way that not only were we walking past all the dental offices and shops, but we were also walking through sidewalk vendors selling jewelry, belts, wallets, purses, hats, t-shirts, etc. Many times, we would just walk on the street to avoid them.
The first time we went to Los Algodones was just to get a feel for the town. We picked the first restaurant we passed to have lunch and a margarita. I think we were feeling a little overwhelmed because we didn’t really know what to expect when we crossed into town. A musician was playing and singing while we ate, and we were approached by a couple of vendors selling jewelry. I bought a pair of earrings. Then, while walking by the sidewalk vendors, I ended up purchasing a warm poncho-type wrap. We were practicing our negotiating skills, I guess. It is warm though; it’s like wearing a blanket. Carl also bought a little hand-painted armadillo from someone who approached us on the street.
Because of Carl’s research, we knew the pedestrian border closed by 3pm, so we found the waiting line to get back to the U.S. This first day we waited for about 30 minutes. We needed to show our passports to the border agents, and they asked us what we were bringing back. Very painless and relatively quick.
The second time we visited Los Algodones was to see a dentist and visit a pharmacy. How does one pick a dentist out of over 400? We went to one that was referred to us by one of the couples boondocking near us. They have seen the same dentist for the past few years. We had to ask a runner how to find his office, and we waited 10 minutes before the dentist could see us. However, we were both able to get a cleaning with no appointment. The office was SMALL, comprised of a tiny lobby, one room full of modern dental equipment in which our cleanings were done (by the dentist), a small bathroom, and another room that served as their administrative office. Our receipt was from generic office supply store receipt book (we paid cash), and we were not asked for any personal information. Our cleanings were on the higher side of the range (some in Los Algodones do cleanings for $20) at $50 each—still less than half of what we would pay in the states. And, with a conversation and no x-rays, the dentist recommended three crowns at $250 each for Carl.
We were able to get a year’s supply of one of Carl’s medications for just $18, about half of what he would pay ordering it online in the U.S. A prescription wasn’t needed.
Based on information from a couple of runners, the dentist’s recommendation for crowns, and some things Carl read online, we determined that root canals and crowns are the big money makers in Los Algodones. Carl has been experiencing some sensitivity in a couple of molars for the past year, waiting for our trip to Los Algodones, but he wasn’t going to “bite” so quickly on this first recommendation. He really just wanted to get the fillings replaced. As we left, after waiting in line for over an hour (the line was long!), we talked with someone who has been coming to another dentist in Los Algodones for the past few years—one he was referred to by a retired dentist friend. We thought that if a retired dentist was coming to Los Algodones to a particular one, maybe she would be one to see!
Our third visit to Los Algodones was on a cold, rainy day. Many of the street vendors were closed, and there was no pedestrian line back to the states. Carl had made an appointment with his second referral (Smile Design Studio). He was asked to fill out some paperwork—just one sheet asking for basic information. The dentist took one x-ray ($10) of the offending molars and called me back to explain to both of us her recommendations. She recommended the filling be replaced in one tooth ($50), and, for the other tooth, a buildup/post ($150), a crown ($250 or $450, depending on material), and possibly a root canal ($300) if it was absolutely needed. Although the pricing is just a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S. and we both felt comfortable with her, Carl has decided to manage his discomfort for now.
We managed to see a few sights and take an excruciatingly-strenuous uphill hike while in Yuma, but, frankly, I was ready to leave Yuma once Carl made his dental decision. For me, the only reason to go back to Yuma would be to go to Los Algodones. My favorite part of our two weeks in this area was meeting some new friends at our boondocking location, and I would stay there again.
We aren’t quite done with our wintry visit to Arizona. We’ve moved east, first stopping in Ajo, AZ, then moving to Benson, AZ (not far from Tombstone). Mesa and Cottonwood will see us again before we head into California sometime in March. Stay tuned!