If you’ve got a full tank of gas and don’t stop, it’s just over three hours to Yuma, Arizona from Pomona, California where we started our trip. That’s if you go by the desolate Salton Sea on the southside via Highway 86. It’s four hours if you go on the other side on Highway 111 but you do go past Oasis Date Garden…where you can get free samples of delicious dates and a date shake, and Calipatria…the lowest elevation town in the Western Hemisphere (184 feet below sea level).
There is a free breakfast buffet in the morning with eggs, sausage, bacon, breads, toaster waffles, cereals, fruit, and yogurt. From 5-7pm there’s a happy hour with food (BBQ’d burgers one night, Pizza Hut pizza the next), beer, wine, limited cocktails, popcorn, and soda.
A very nice pool and spa are the centerpiece of a comfortable and pretty courtyard and there are 4 gas grills available for guests to use.
A nice, comfortable place to stay but partiers in the courtyard kept us up a bit the first night. A call to the front desk put an immediate stop to it though.
After checking in, we have dinner at the adjacent Cracker Barrel and spend some time chatting and hanging out together at one of the many tables in the courtyard before heading in for the night.
Yuma’s a decent town and it does have its amenities and even some very interesting places to see but no one would really call it a tourist mecca. Although we will see and do some fun, tourist type things while we’re here, there’s really only one main reason we came to town…medical tourism.
With medical costs so high in the U.S. and fights with insurers for coverage are common, many people take to crossing the border for medical care that is either not covered, hard to get insurance to pay for, or expensive. Communities have sprung up across the globe to cater to this type of traveler.
Los Algodones, just across the border 7 miles from Yuma, is just such a community. Why out here…basically in the middle of an empty desert? Each winter, thousands of people from colder climates like Canada, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, pack up their RV’s, trailers, and campers and spend their winters in the warm deserts here. These “snowbirds,” often elderly retirees, will need someone to take care of their medical needs. Algodones fits the bill almost perfectly.
It's also nice that the border towns of Mexico are the most wheelchair friendly of the cities of our neighbor to the south. Plenty of curbcuts and ramps abound for wheelers but do watch for the occasional pot hole.
If you’re in Yuma, you’re going to backtrack across the Colorado River into California about 5 miles to Algodones Road. There’s a large Indian casino, the Quechan Resort, at this exit. Go south two miles. You can drive right into Mexico but we prefer to park in the large lot right next to the border run by the Quechan tribe. From the handicapped spaces, it’s less than 100 yards to walk across the border into Mexico. The cost is $5 per day, more for RVs and larger vehicles.
The lot is open 6am to 10pm (same as the border crossing hours). Your car is subject to towing if you leave it overnight.
Once across, we cross the street, make a left turn and walk about another 100 yards to Algodones Optical. Here Letty and Tim will get their eyes examined and we’ll purchase new eyeglasses. The front door of the optician is about 30 feet from the border fence across the street.
Algodones Optical is only open Monday through Friday so you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to use them. There are many other opticians in town and you can see some of them on weekends if you can’t make it during the week. We like it here because of the quality of the exams, the extensive selection of frames, and the professionalism of the staff. It also helps that prices are a fraction of what they are back home.
Letty called ahead and made appointments for her and Tim this morning. If you do that…and buy glasses…the exam is free. Otherwise it is $10. Tim is first in. The exam first measures your eyes and face, then a glaucoma test, then the normal vision test in the dark room with the lenses and eye charts. It takes about 20 minutes and if you have an appointment, you pretty much go right in.
While we wait for Letty, I help Tim try on several frames and pick a few candidates. When Letty comes out, her and the doctor go over the frames we picked and finds a good one. While Letty and her aunt browse for her, Tim and I go to find the uncles who are browsing the shops down the street.
After haggling with a local about a belt, we agree on a price when Letty and her aunt show up.
It’ll be 2 ½ hours before the glasses are ready for pickup. We end up with a pair of polycarbonate progressive lenses for Tim; another pair like that for Letty with the no-line bifocals, plus another pair for Letty that are polarized sunglasses. The entire bill is $500 for the three pairs (I got a pair last time and I have a pretty vanilla prescription so my exam, frames, and lenses were $20). That is what Letty would pay just for the sunglasses and her prescription at the optician our insurer sends us to back home.
Exams over with time to kill, we wander the streets of Los Algodones looking for food, tequila, and fun.
Stay tuned for that part of the trip coming up soon.
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
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