South of the Border: Night
Back in June, when I was laying on the ground in a tent, dying of an undetermined illness two days into a four-day hike of the Inca Trail, all I could think of was South of the Border. Not actual Mexico, but the Mexican-themed roadside attraction just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina border in Dillon, South Carolina. That might seem like an odd thing to be thinking about after I just emptied my stomach and my bowels into a hole in the ground most generously referred to as a "toilet." But! I had been wanting to go to South of the Border for a while and despite the fact that I hadn't been able to find anyone willing to go with me, I vowed that I would make it there somehow before the end of 2017.
Our Peru/Colombia trip was 14 days, and was wonderful for a lot of reasons—and kind of awful for a few other reasons—but after I got back I knew that I was going to put a pause on international travel for a while and concentrate on the US destinations that I had been longing to see. South of the Border had ascended to the top of that list after I knocked off a few others—a Wigwam Motel, Lucy the Elephant, The Big Duck—and when my friend Jim went in May I was literally seething with jealousy (in a nice way, especially after he sent me the kindest souvenir package to hold me over until I could visit on my own).
Soon after returning to the states, I was having breakfast with my mom when I mentioned that wherever the rest of the year took me, I was going to make sure to get to South of the Border—even if I had to go alone. She immediately said, "I'll go with you!" followed by "What's that?" Once I explained, she was thankfully still on board and we decided to go in the beginning of October. Our road trip spanned four days—with us arriving and staying at South of the Border on the second night—and took us through nine states. We made around 30 stops and I hate to pick favorites but of course South of the Border was the standout.
We arrived after dark, and I had booked a room so that we could see it both at night, and during the day. Although both views have their charms, South of the Border really shines at night (literally) and I brought my tripod along in hopes that I would be able to capture at least a tiny bit of its neon magic. We were there in the off-season, so it was nearly deserted—just as I'd hoped. We ate dinner at the Sombrero Restaurant (confusingly not housed in the building shaped like a sombrero, which is a steakhouse) and our waitress was straight out of Central Casting (Hi Betsey!). The salad bar, however, is shaped like a sombrero, and we shared a BLT (meh) and jalapeño poppers (always a good decision).
After dinner, we went into one of the several gift shops where I very quickly spent nearly $100 on entirely essential souvenirs—floaty pens, flip flops, a t-shirt, an ashtray, a notebook, magnets, coasters, a mug, a cup and a Christmas ornament—and then ventured out with my camera. Because it was late and nearly empty, I was able to really take my time and try my best to capture the bright neons that have been beckoning motorists to pull over since 1950.