Look up other accounts of Nuevo Laredo visitors and you will surely find reference to the Zona de Tolerencia, or as it is known in English: Boys’ Town. La Zona is one of Mexico’s red light districts which spot the border. Being one of the known places of Nuevo Laredo, I decided to go and see what it was all about.
In its glory days, La Zona was a place of bars, brothels, casinos, restaurants, hotels, and just about anything else you could want for a care-free night out. It is most literally a walled town within a town, complete with infrastructure for its residents and visitors. Only ten years ago, rides were readily available to take willing tourists directly from the border to La Zona. Upon arrival, visitors would be searched at a security booth at the compound’s only entrance. To the right, there was a fully functioning police station and clinic. Here is an old map of what used to be in La Zona:
Entering La Zona, one passes by a lone guard shack in the centre of a dirt road.
No one mans neither this post nor the adjacent police station which looks long abandoned with broken windows and broken furniture inside.
After checking out the former police station at the entrance, I proceeded down the road in front of me. I was attracted to the other side of the Zona by what looked like a shrine on the outside wall facing the entrance.
As I neared, I found my suspicions were correct and it was indeed a shrine prominent on La Zona’s main street.
This altar was not only prominently seen, but it looked down La Zona’s main street for all to see. Here is a view of the entrance from it:
This part of La Zona is where some of the only remaining bars and strip clubs are. If one proceeds to the left at the black building, there is a road with ruins of clubs, hotels, and brothels. There were also a few rather unsavory characters loitering down there, which is the main reason I took no pictures.
I proceeded to the right, where again my attention was drawn to another slightly bigger shrine.
La Santa Muerte is a religious figure venerated by people across Mexico. Devotion to this figure is condemned by the Catholic Church, yet many either incorporate her into their faith against the ecclesiastical magesterium or proceed to worship her completely divorced from Catholic teachings and practices.
While regular people will visit her altars and petition her in prayer, she infamously has a reputation as the patroness of the cartels, prisoners, prostitutes, and other underworld figures.
Next to this shrine was the transvestite strip club and bar. While I was walking past, one of the “girls” called out to me. “Hey you, come here!” I smiled and shook my head.
Walking onward from the Santa Muerte shrine along the perimeter road, I walked by some of the open prostitution cribs where independent working ladies live and work.
At this early hour most of the doors were closed, however there were a few enterprising women who started work early. Some women were simply engaged in cleaning their cribs, ignoring me as I walked by. Some were laying on their beds in costume, apparently hoping that a client would be lured in while they were watching television. Some of the women were a little more active: standing by their door and greeting passers by. This was rather difficult for me as I had to walk the fine line of being polite and returning greetings while trying to appear completely disinterested. I was not sure what the etiquette is in this situation, so I just returned the greetings and passed by as fast as I could.
I was not at La Zona to purchase any services and I can honestly say that none of these women could have tempted me- even if they offered their services for free. For those who are interested, I later came to learn that the more attractive and younger prostitutes were more close to the center of La Zona or worked the bars.
At that corner, there was a bar playing loud music that seemed to have attracted a share of locals. Beside that bar was another row of cribs that were all shut or having their floors scrubbed. Interestingly, amid these cribs was another altar to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the above picture you can see the front door of one of the cribs to the right and this was in the center of a row of about 7 or 8 total. Amazingly, everyone passing this altar crossed themselves before walking on. It is so odd to me to see the symbols of faith and reminders of God within the Zona, especially so prominently displayed.
Walking past the entrance again, I took the opportunity to check out some of the echos of La Zona’s glory days.
While I did climb through some of the ruins, I wanted to be a little more on guard and decided against taking pictures. The bar pictured above was pretty small and intimate with most of its space devoted to the brothel that it ran back stage. The brothel rooms were small and simple and the bed frames were often still inside of them.
I also found the building which used to house Nuevo Laredo’s infamous Donkey Show. While some bloggers have written about it I am happy to report that, as of the end of 2012, the Donkey is Dead. Of course I am sure there was more than one donkey, but I mean to say that the Donkey Show is no longer and the facility is now being used as an ordinary bar.
Other ruins and closed shops included some restaurants, a notary office, a barber shop, and some hotels. Some of the buildings show signs of squatters within. While I was exploring the center steets, there were a few men who would approach me and welcome me to Boy’s Town. They would address me in English, refuse to switch to Spanish, and offer to escort me to where the “nice girls” were. One of the men was rather persistent and while he was following me, as if on cue, rather attractive women would approach and start talking to him in Spanish. He would relay prices to me and when I kept walking, he attempted to negotiate a lower price. After a few attempts, he gave up on me and went into one of the bars.
While I was poking around near the front, I attracted the attention of two younger prostitutes. They were done with their work for the day, so they were not too interested in soliciting my business. I ended up having a conversation with them which skirted around the nature of their work.
In the end, I learned that they were going to another part of town and I offered them a ride [which I feel obligated to say had no strings attached]. I learned that these women were 24 and were from the State of Puebla about an hour or so to the south of Mexico City. They seemed intrigued that I came to Nuevo Laredo to spend a week. We had a lovely chat for about 10 minutes until I dropped them off and parted ways.
So, this is the story of my visit to La Zona / Boys’ Town. It was an interesting experience and fascinating place, even at 9:00 AM.
UPDATE: For recommendations of food and other activities in Nuevo Laredo, check out my Things to do in Nuevo Laredo post.