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South of the Border
I-95 at US 301/501
South Carolina, 29547

Our one major stop of Day 5 of the 2008 trip was at a glorified truck stop with a quasi-Mexican theme called South of the Border, which proved to be equal parts amusing and horrifying. The rambling facility included fireworks stores, gift shops, a concrete statuary store, rides, a campground, miniature golf, and so much more.

Why it was there eluded us until we left and discovered that it was feet from the border of North Carolina, where of course fireworks are illegal. So we theorized that nearby locals would cut across state lines to load up on colorful explosives and that’s how it all started, but we were wrong – at least according to Wikipedia. Here’s what they have to say about the place:

South of the Border was developed by Al Schafer (1914-2001), who founded a beer stand at the location in 1950 and steadily expanded it with Mexican trinkets and numerous kitsch items. He had a great deal of success because of his location, which was immediately across the border from a dry North Carolina county, and grew his small business into what was, by local standards, an economic empire. South of the Border grew to over a square mile, required its own infrastructure, and had its own fire and police departments. Schafer became reclusive, building a large compound of interconnected houses outside the Dillon city limits. At South of the Border, he kept secret apartments hidden in the backs of restaurants and shops.

We were agog at all of; the dinosaur in a sombrero (pictured), the gorilla in a t shirt (pictured), the fireworks store that sold mortar rounds (ditto), and the complete lack of Mexican food (see picture of large concrete weiner dog). But hey, at least the Mexican serapes were actually made in Mexico, so there’s that. We just kept staring at it, unable to quite take it all in, unable to choose between the aforementioned amused and horrified. Look at the pictures and decide for yourself.

Welcome to South of the Border. Fireworks on your right, rides on your left, cultural insensitivity straight ahead.

It's an observation tower. Perhaps they can observe how culturally insensitive this is from up there.

Artillery Shells and Mortars!?? Is this for 4th of July or are we start another war while we were on vacation?

Gorilla. We don't know why.

Gorilla in a t-shirt. Ohhhhhh... that makes more sense.

We've run out of jokes.

Nope... we got nothing.

Oh, we have lots to say about this but won't. We're a little afraid.

It's the kicky sombrero that really sells this one.

At first we thought this was a happy alligator. Then we realized it's holding fireworks and the expression took on a different tone.

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