Hermosillo - Nogales

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To me it's the place that gave us tacos, burritos and guacamole, but to Jonathan Winkler it's so much more. Having headed south of the border on a number of occasions, he is well placed to provide an introduction to the roads of Mexico.

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Benjamín Hill, a wide spot on the Mex. 15 toll expressway between Hermosillo and Santa Ana, owes its strangely English-sounding name to one of the four Sonoran generals (two of whom later became President of Mexico) who formulated the "Plan de Agua Prieta" of 1920 which culminated in the removal of Venustiano Carranza from office as Mexican president. Carranza is best remembered in the USA for having had to deal with the so-called "Punitive Expedition" the US sent into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa, following the latter's 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico. This campaign amounted to an invasion of Mexico but was finessed as a police action since Carranza did not wish to open a front against the USA while dealing with his own political enemies. The lorry shown in the background of this picture is hauling a double trailer full of Tecate beer.

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Mex. 15 and Mex. 2 intersect in the town of Imuris, population 10,000, which interrupts high-speed travel on Mex. 15 in much the same way that Breezewood interrupts I-70 in Pennsylvania. The white transverse stripes on the northbound carriageway in this photo have exactly the same function as the yellow transverse lines that are sometimes applied to British dual carriageways--they are meant to encourage traffic to slow down for an upcoming junction.

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Generally, USA-bound drivers at this point will be in the frontier zone, have already returned their vehicle permits, and thus be compelled to exit at one of the three border crossings in Nogales and its immediate vicinity. Two are in the built-up area of Nogales proper while the third, shown as "Nogales III" on the left but called "Mariposa" on the American side after the nearby suburb, is off some distance to the west in a semirural area.

Arizona and Sonora have developed their Nogales III/Mariposa ports of entry to specialize in commercial traffic (as indicated by the black-on-yellow "EXPORTACIONES" sign on left) since they straddle a system of roads which form a convenient lorry bypass of urban Nogales. The Nogales III port of entry has a very unusual layout since its immigration and customs facilities are so far from the actual physical border. Northbound traffic, bound for the US, passes them on the right and then enters a sealed corredor fiscal (fiscal corridor) consisting of a four-lane highway with unusually tall chain-link fences on either side designed to limit unauthorized incursions onto the right-of-way. The corredor fiscal is about 10 km in length, has no intermediate interchanges, and terminates at the entrance to the Mariposa POE on the American side.

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It is late afternoon with the US border and the entrance to Mariposa POE just 500 m away. However, when I took this picture, traffic was backed up for miles and moving very, very slowly. The Arizona Daily Star (the local newspaper for Tucson, the large American city closest to Nogales) later reported that the waiting time to enter the USA had risen above eight hours. Since Mariposa, unlike the other Nogales border crossings, is not a 24-hour POE, drivers who had not joined the queue early enough to clear US immigration and customs before closing time had to turn around, clear Mexican immigration and customs at the other end of the corredor fiscal, and then take a different branch of Mex. 15 into Nogales to look for lodging. Many elected simply to remain in the queue and sleep in their cars. I faced the same fate but had a piece of bad luck which proved to be serendipitous. I had stayed in my car, running the fan while I read and occasionally let the car roll forward a few yards in neutral to hold my place in the queue.

After about three hours of this kind of waiting, the battery ran out of reserve capacity and died. I realized I had a bona fide emergency, so I let Rosie roll down the hill almost to the tire shredders right at the boundary line, and left her a few feet into Mexico while I walked across the border with my passport and went into the immigration office to explain my problem.

The immigration officers loaned me a battery charger to start my car again but, since it was US Government property and could not leave the USA, I had to push Rosie across the boundary line. The gradient was no longer favorable but I had help from several Mexican trinket sellers who had gotten into the corredor fiscal to hawk lacquered images of the Virgin Mary, machine-made ironwood carvings, etc. despite the chain link fencing and other measures designed to keep them out. They disappeared before I had a chance to thank them properly.