It's always easy, as an outsider, to describe somewhere as "odd." But wandering into Badiraguato, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre in Sinaloa, one cannot help get the sense that something is indeed odd about the place.
The first thing that strikes you is the light. It's bright up there. Boiling hot, too, but a bit cooler than Culiacan, which gets the coastal humidity.
The streets of Badiraguato are nearly bereft of people. It's because they like their privacy, officials say. But you can't help wondering whether it's actually because of the narco-presence.
The streets are well-paved. The church is in good shape, having recently been refurbished. The mayor's house is a nice two-storey villa, reminiscent of some of the homes one sees in Santa Barbara, California. The town looks surprisingly well-off – not wealthy, but definitely not the sort of place you'd expect in one of the 200 poorest counties in Mexico.
The narcos rule in Badiraguato and its environs. There are roughly 35,000 people in the county – the county where Chapo Guzman and many other capos were born – but there are only about 1,000 legitimate jobs in Badiraguato itself. So people work in the drug trade.
On one visit to the town, I was sitting in the square chatting to an old man when four SUV's with tinted windows circled the square. They circled four times. The old man told me to leave, immediately. I did.
On another occasion, I met a man named Carlos, who had studied and got a diploma in education. But there was no work, so he turned to Chapo for a job. He told me quite bluntly: "Chapo's the law."
When I last went, I met with the mayor. He invited me for a nice lunch on Independence Day, in the conference room of his offices. It was interesting to look at the faces of the previous mayors, through the ages, on portraits hung around the room.
If you've seen Ley de Herodes, then you'll understand the type of person who tends to govern in Badiraguato. Decent people but perhaps not the brightest in the barrel, who for their own good turn a blind eye to the narcos and their business. There's not much real governing in the county – the last mayor went to La Tuna (the hamlet where Chapo was born) once while campaigning and never went again.
But a big change has recently taken place in Badiraguato. For the first time in history, the PRI is no longer in power. There's a new mayor in town, and it will be interesting to see whether he can change things for the better, improve infrastructure, create employment, connect the pueblos to the city, and avoid corruption.
Or will he end up just another forlorn face on the wall of the palacio municipal?