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Monday, January 19, 2015

MEDICAL TOURISM: Yuma, Arizona - 2010




In part 1 of this trip, we introduced you to the little Mexican border town of Los Algodones, a very popular destination for medical tourism.



We came for the eyeglasses but there are many other medical options in town, especially dentists who seem to operate an office every twenty feet or so. Touts will sit out in front of practically every business but instead of offering strippers and other unsavory fare, they will be trying to get you in for a low-price dental or optical exam. Many pharmacies also line the streets selling brand name drugs for less than their U.S. counterparts. Other medical services abound here from normal general practitioners to plastic surgeons but opticians, dentists, and pharmacies pretty much rule the roost here.
Watch the video for this trip!

It’s 2 ½ hours until we need to go back to Algodones Optical to pick up our new glasses.  Another thing we like about Mexico is the abundance of really premium tequilas at low prices.  Although there are many liquor stores here in town, we end up at twin purple stores of the Liqui’s empire.

On the east side of the street, the largest of the two stores offers a literal supermarket of booze attached to its pharmacy.  Across the street, a smaller version of the purple monster offers a slightly more relaxed version along with its own pharmacy and furniture outlet.

Tasting bars are set up in each store and the staff is more than happy to pour out a few drops of any tequila in the store to taste so you can know if you like it before you buy it.

The uncles, Heliodoro and Hector, are two of the finest tequila aficionados I know.  I’m getting there, beyond a novice, but not quite there yet.  Tim’s just starting out.

Before you think too judgmentally about me, know that a fine tequila is as tasty, smooth, and delicious as a fine cognac.  It is not to be guzzled in quick shots down your throat before the gag reflex sets in for a quick buzz.  If it is really good, it is best enjoyed by itself…no lime or salt…sipped slowly for the smooth warmth of its taste.  Try a shot of Cuervo Gold followed by a shot of Hornitos Reposado…both similarly priced mid-range tequilas…to see what I’m talking about sometime.

We taste a few samples, some good, some not so good, and a couple of outstanding examples.  Since each adult can bring back a liter of alcohol duty free, we buy six bottles of various platas, reposados, and añejos (see our Cocktail Hour for October 17th…Tequila Tasting with the Tios…to see how they turned out).  Since the bottles are 750ml and we’re allowed a liter, we fill in the gap with 100 and 200ml bottles of various brands. 

An example of how much you save is the Clase Azul reposado I bought.  This is the unanimous pick for the best tequila we tasted today.  At Beverages and More, a 750ml bottle is $90.  I got two 375ml bottles for $30 each, or $60 for 750ml…2/3 the price of BevMo.

After our tequila shopping, we continue on for a few blocks because Letty wants to buy a galvanized bucket at the local hardware store.  Nearby is a nice, little town park with a few taco carts along the perimeter.  We take a seat at a nearby table and the cook comes over to take our order.  Some fresh cooked-on-the-spit al pastor, quesadillas, and the delicious Mexican Coke take the edge off of our appetite.

On the way back to the downtown area, we make one more stop at Liqui’s so we can pick up a supply of various prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs at deep discounts (if your prescription is not a controlled substance or easily abused, it’s not a big deal to bring back a few months worth of drugs – otherwise you’ll need an ironclad prescription from your local doctor.  Check the U.S. Customs web site for more information).

With that, it’s time to go back to pick up our glasses.  Once we’ve got them adjusted properly, we head back across the border.  Luckily, it’s the off-season for the snowbirds (who should be starting to arrive as you read this) so there is no line at the border.  One time we came here right after Thanksgiving and the walk-across line was over 4 hours.  The line for cars went way beyond our vision.

Today, there’s no wait and the border guards are friendly (that is not always the case).  A quick glance at our passports (mandatory now), tequila, medicine , and we’re waved through.

At the exit of the checkpoint, a hundred feet or so north, is an old canal.  It’s worth noting that 105 years ago the levee on the side gave way and it flooded for two years.  The waters settled 70 miles away and created the Salton Sea which, of course, is still with us today.

The uncles want to do a little gambling, so we make a stop at the Quechan Resort back up the road.

It’s a big casino, mainly slots and poker.  I take the time to go have a cup of coffee in their café while the rest of the group feeds the slots and plays a few hands.  Gradually, one by one, we gravitate to a nice little sports bar, watching baseball playoffs while waiting for the others to finish. 

It’s a nice little casino and an even better looking hotel.  I’m not much of a gambler so the games don’t leave too much of an impression on me.

After the casino break, we run to the border.  Crossing over the Colorado River, we head to Yuma’s big historical site, the old territorial prison. 

In use in the era before Arizona became a state in 1912, the prison was the facility for many of the West’s outlaws.  If you remember the move 3:10 to Yuma , this is where they were heading.
A Picture in the Museum Shows What it used to Look Like

It’s $5 to get in and, no, there is no discount for the disabled.  Seniors, military, students and kids do.

Once inside, there are great views of the Colorado River back across to California, a nice little park, a guard tower (inaccessible to wheelchairs), and a time line of the prison leading up to the old Sally Port.
What we look like now...


The museum inside has many displays about prison life, how they were processed, punishments, prison crafts, and so on.  One display explains how when prisoners were processed, they had their mug shots taken in front of a special mirror so that both a front view and a profile of the prisoner could be captured in one shot.  There is a mirror on display that visitors can use to make their own mug shots…

...and what it would have looked like back then.

Outside of the museum is the actual remains of the prison.  Heavy iron doors are mounted on 4 foot thick walls made of either iron reinforced adobe or rock.  One cell is unlocked so visitors can go inside.  Although the path along the cell block is accessible, wheelchairs cannot get inside of this cell.

Down the path to the end of the cell block is the dark cell.  Here, prisoners served discipline time when being punished in this interior, windowless cell.  With a little effort, wheelchairs can get inside here.  It is very dark and the remains of an old iron cage are on the floor…watch where you roll or step!

At the end of this building, a low passageway leads to the exercise yard and some newer cells.  We noticed iron rings in each cell that prisoners could be chained to.

Outside on a rocky hillside are piles of rocks marking the graves of prisoners who are buried here in the cemetery.

After our prison tour, we head back to the hotel and hang out in the patio having hotel pizza and beer, along with tasting a few samples of our newly acquired tequila (see the video of that here).

One more night of rest and it’s back on the road back home, stopping for date shakes in Mecca.

Our sight restored, medicines and liquor well stocked, and our bodies rested up, we end our trip early in the afternoon when we arrive back home.



Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved


Friday, January 16, 2015

MEDICAL TOURISM: Los Algodones, Mexico - 2010





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).



Watch the Video for this trip!


The only real highlight on the southern highway is the Red Earth Casino and travel center, which makes a real handy rest stop.


Date Shakes at Oasis Date Gardens
We’ve got a full van today as two uncles and an aunt are traveling with us. Our hotel is the La Fuente Inn and Suites, just off Interstate 10 at 16th Street. We have two junior suites, one for us and another for the aunt and uncles.




Our suite is designated “handicapped,” which means there’s enough room in the couch area to turn around and a path to the bathroom that can be (barely) managed by a wheelchair. The bathroom has a large tub (roll-ins are not available here) with a shower chair. The toilet is slightly raised and there are grab bars throughout the bathroom. The roll-under sink is outside next to the doorless closet. It is the closest room to the lobby on the ground level. There is also cable TV, microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator, ironing board, and an iron.

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.



Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's the Valley of the Sun - Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona...


Papago Park - Fully Accessible. Great wheelchair-friendly hiking with giant, scenic rock outcroppings. Avoid when hot.


Phoenix Zoo - Fully Accessibe. Use the lift-equipped accessible tram which allows you to get on and off as much as you want to fully explore the facility.


Old Scottsdale - Mostly Accessible. Boutique shops mix with burger stands and cowboy stores.  The Sugar Bowl not only has great ice cream, it was comic stip artist Bill Keane's favorite place.

Castles 'n Coaster - Mostly Inaccessible. Cramped quarters mean you won't even be able to roll around the state's only thrill ride park.

Rawhide - Partially Accessible. A western theme park known as much for it's great cowboy barbecue as it is for the entertainment.


Taliesin West - Partially Accessible. Frank Lloyd Wright's western outpost is much easier to visit in a wheelchair than his Chicago neighborhood of Oak Park.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 12, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP: Prescott, Arizona - 2002



The stereotypical image of Arizona is deserts, heat, cowboys, sagebrush, dusty, etc. Indeed, a trip to the dry heat of the Valley of the Sun can be very pleasurable...as long as there's a tall cool drink and a swimming pool nearby.

Not all of Arizona is such a hot, dry place. In fact, large portions of the state are covered with forests. Right on the dividing line of desert and forest lies the mile high town of Prescott, a two-hour drive northwest of Phoenix.


The western side of the city lies in one of the largest forests of Ponderosa Pine in the world while the eastern side leads into the desert. In the middle lies the historical core where the likes of Doc Holliday and the Earps once strolled.


Wintertime can be cold and snowy while the summertime is warm and dry.

There are many hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts here. We have stayed at the Pleasant Street Inn B&B (not wheelchair accessible with rooms upstairs and one downstairs) just south of the town center and the Springhill Suites which are 3 blocks west. The Springhill Suites have some really good accessible rooms, some with roll-in showers, wheelchair level spy holes in the doors, and delayed key readers at the door for those of us who are a little slow in opening the door. There is also an indoor pool & spa and a free continental breakfast. An adjacent shopping center has all the supplies you would ever need.


Right on the town plaza is the century old Hotel St. Michael, which purports to have handicapped accessible rooms (we didn't get a chance to see them) starting at $59.


After a pleasant, three hour drive over from Las Vegas, we check into the Springhill Suites. Our room is large enough and has a king size bed with a full-size sleeper sofa. A quick walk next door to the supermarket nets us some wine, cheese, and fresh fruit for later.


It's only a three block walk to the town square from here but it's a bit uphill. Prescott is know for the one block stretch of Montezuma Street downtown that also goes by the moniker Whiskey Row. In the old west days, this block was wall to wall saloons. There are still several here although they now share the space with gift shops, clothing stores, and restaurants.


Whiskey Row burned to the ground several times in those olden days, some say fueled by all that alcohol. At the turn of the twentieth century, they finally got smart and rebuilt using bricks instead of wood. Those century old masonry buildings are what still stand there today.

Tim and I walk over to the entrance of the courthouse where a time line painted on the sidewalk takes you through Prescott history. Off on the south side of the plaza is the ice cream shop where Tom Laughlin kicked butt in Billy Jack ending in him smashing the bad guys head against the fountain across the street. On the north side is the Palace where Steve McQueen hung out in the film Junior Bonner.  



We decide to have dinner at the Palace. Inside the swinging wooden doors...yeah it's a real hoot barging your way through just like in the movies...is the original Palace bar.


When Whiskey Row was burning to the ground, bar patrons saved the most necessary thing...the Palace bar...by lifting it up and moving it across the street to the park. The Palace burned to the ground but when it was replaced with bricks, the old bar was put back in its place where it still serves thirsty customers to this day.


Behind the bar is the restaurant which this night served some good steaks and burgers but overcooked my wife's salmon.

Being a Saturday night, Whiskey Row lives up to its name with many college aged souls looking for drinks and good times as live music poured out of each saloon. On the other side of the plaza, theater goers pack an old church for a quieter evening watching a play. In between, the Prescott Brewery serves cold ones for those who are not so thrilled with the hard core drinking on one side but want something more than the theater on the other.


All in all, it's quite a lively place on a Saturday night.


Sunday morning finds us having a nice, quiet breakfast in the Depot #2 (don't know where #1 is) where Mexican dishes are served at reasonable prices in the heart of Whiskey Row.


After eating, we spend the morning shopping around the square where my wife picks up some jewelry making supplies at Bead It (a bead store), some candles, and some cosmetics at another store. An old-fashioned shoe store gives up some tennis shoes for her before we call it a day here.


A day trip to nearby Jerome is next on our to do list. This old mining town, turned ghost town, turned hippie town, which matured into an artist's colony, was slowly sliding down the mountainside before the ground was stabilized enough to stop it. As a consequence, access here is very spotty being on a steep hillside and all.


Still, a historic walking tour with the helpful advice of the Chamber of Commerce folks can be done in a wheelchair. After the tour, we stop in the many shops of the local artisans topped off with a stop at the saloon where a patio out back offers hundred mile views.


Back on the windy road to Prescott, we pass a fishing lake on the edge of town before being greeted by the city's two Indian casino's where you gamers will find lots of action. Us? We get a pizza before watching a movie with our wine and cheese back in the room.


-Darryl
Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Memphis, Tennessee


Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's Memphis, Tennessee...



Trolleys - Fully Accessible. We enjoyed Memphis a bit more than Nashville and the old trolleys are accessible, making it very easy to get around.



Sun Studios - Partially Accessible. Wheelchairs can't go up to the upstairs displays but as a consolation, you get to wait without the crowds in the tiny recording studio that launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many more. This was our favorite attraction of our entire Tennessee trip.



Graceland - Partially Accessible. You'll see most of the house but you'll have to skip the basement rec room and the Jungle Room. The planes on display at the ticketing center are also not accessible.



Civil Rights Museum - Fully Accessible. This must see and moving museum complex at the motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated is very friendly to wheelchair users, including a purpose built ramp up to the balcony of room 304.



Peabody Hotel - Fully Accessible. Not for the rooms but make sure you come here at 5:00pm to see the March of the Ducks. Wheelchair users are escorted to the front of the crowd for the best seats in the house.



Beale Street - Mostly Accessible. The clubs here are great for live music. Do not miss.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Year in Review...2014


2013 was not a good year for us, another year of declining wages, sickness, and death of loved ones took its toll. 2014 was better but we still lost a couple of people but it wasn't nearly as bad as the year before.



The year started with the culmination of our music cities tour, a great trip to Memphis and Nashville where three sick travelers soldiered on to bring you great sites of musical interest along with meeting musicians Darren Jay, Vince Gill, Ranger Doug Green, Billy Thomas, Sundy Best, Amy Grant, Kenny Sears, and many more.



We wrapped up our series on The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley with a visit to historic Santa Anita Racetrack and the 626 Night Market, a stateside version of the night markets of Asia right here in the good 'ole USA.



A few night at the McDowell Mountains Marriott Resort in Scottsdale was just what the doctor ordered to get us over our holiday sickness. Who knew we'd also get up close and personal with a very large wolf on our hike in Papago Park?



After literally hundreds of trips to Newport Beach in my lifetime, who would've thought there'd be a new pocket of the bay I'd never seen? Yet, there it was on Lido Isle.




It's been years since we've been to San Francisco but this year broke the streak as we went to The City and also got Tim his 23rd MLB Stadium as we watched the powerful Oakland A's beat the Tigers just before Billy Beane destroyed the team with his Cespedis-for-Lester trade at the end of July.



It wasn't far from there that we found out that Amador County is the cure for whatever ails us as we spent a few days in the rolling hills of Sierra Foothill wine country and the fabulous Shenandoah Inn in Plymouth, California. This was the trip that I finally tracked down the underground winemaker of the county in our encounter with Fate.



It was back to our favorite off the radar...way off the radar...trip destination, Bakersfield, as we met up with Rockwell and his historic honky tonk as well as making new animal friends at the California Living Museum.



Our farthest trip took us back to the Caribbean and the island of Irie, Jamaica. Great fun, even though the hotel was a little disappointing, but we also got to make new friends and bring Tim up to speed with the same number of countries we've been to.



The fight between the city of Irwindale, California and the Sriracha hot sauce factory gave us a great opportunity as owner David Tran opened up the doors to all comers to see exactly how the tasty, spicy condiment is made.  It's Southern California's hottest new attraction.



The Festival in San Pedro brought us in close contact with brewers from all over the world in November.



Looming retirement had us on the road to Northern Nevada and Reno before we hung up our traveling shoes for the year.

If we were to pick our favorite highlights, Amador County would be at the top of my list, followed by the music cities of Tennessee, then Jamaica. We'll start the new year soon by following in the path of one of the most infamous tragedies of early California before going to an undiscovered gem in Mexico's Baja peninsula.

For now, thanks for your support and following and Happy New Year from The World on Wheels!

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.