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Walk Across Juarez #4: Back Across the Great Divide

My experience at the border on Day #2.

Day #2 dawns in Juarez. I awake early at the Hampton Inn and look out the window toward El Paso…not far away.

Beautiful sunny morning in Juarez.

I am eager to get back to the streets.

Amazing I think…I have not heard gunshots or even thought about it.

A siren whines in the distance- but my mind does not go instantly to some massacre happening. Could be I suppose.

This is just a new day in Juarez and I look forward to it.

I tweet. There is a little bit of interest from some bloggers and a travel editor from the New York Post. Absolutely no contact or communication from any media outlets in El Paso, Albuquerque, Las Cruces- nowhere in the area. I have been inundated with coverage from Northern Mexico media and we were on all the local TV stations last night. But not a peep from the other side. It is just amazing how jaded and negative the US border residents are. We often get that “Do not go there…we never do!” message from people when we travel through El Paso. And especially from Latinos there- they are some of the most negative.

There was TV and press coverage in Juarez...but no North American press. Do they ever cover anything other than the killings?

I work through email and process some pics and video. Then a big breakfast of eggs and chilaquiles– some of the best I have had.

Then off to walk. I look forward to discovering more of this rich and welcoming place.

Another day in Juarez and another day of discovery!

[Three important notes:

1. Don’t be put off that I am staying in gringo sounding hotels so far- Ramada and Hampton Inn. These both are locally owned hotels and are thoroughly Mexican. At each I am welcomed with genuine local hospitality, spoken to in Spanish, and dine on excellent local food.

2. I am not being paid to do this walk. It is my idea and vision. The hotels are comping us the rooms. But all the travel here, most of the food, and other expenses are mine.

3. I do have a business in Mexico. Authentic Copper Canyon is the premier provider of small group trips on the train through Copper Canyon. So this “Walk Across Juarez” might be viewed as a publicity stunt to promote business.

Quite to the contrary. Sure I am doing all I can do to see this tour thing go forward now and times are hard- especially for my guides and hoteliers in Mexico. But I expect that if anything, for me to associate with the place that has the worst reputation of any city in the world will probably hurt my image and business flow.

My deal is that I simply have a love for Mexico and a desire to desire to connect. Associating with Juarez will probably hurt my marketing efforts. But I hope overall it will increase understanding across the border and in time raise the level of tourism to Mexico. Perhaps US folks will begin to return to this great land- and to Juarez!]

The old bull ring in Juarez- only used a few times a year now.

Back to Day #2.

We drive over to the plaza and pick up Antonio Ramas, and excellent historian and part of the local arts council. We head back up to the border.

Near the border is this memorial to the "Pep Boys" of Chihuahua.

It is Saturday morning and the city is bustling. Along the way we see some high school aged guys playing soccer in a dusty, weedy field along the border.

Saturday soccer at the border.

Under the watchful eye of the border patrol, they push the ball up and down in the dust. No guards, no precaution about violence, no hint of the Juarez we have in our minds…and it happens all the time. Yet no US paper is going to run a story about the kids playing soccer in Juarez. Wont sell.

Soccer with El Paso a few feet away...and the border patrol.

We stop at a little food vendor (I love this second breakfast routine) and right there this lady has a burro hooked to an old cart with the most wonderful bucket seats.

I love the streets of Juarez- always a quaint moment.

Speaking of burros, on the way up to the border through an amazingly impoverished area,I visit with Antonio about the history of burritos.

There are various legends- like that little kids (burritos) would take out these meat laden flour tortillas on the streets of Juarez for sale. There are other stories.

Juarez is the home of the burrito and they are excellent!

Regardless of which story is true, flour tortillas originated in Chihuahua and burritos in Juarez. This place is the home of real cowboy food- and of the cowboy for that matter- sorry you Texans! It all started south of the frontera on these vast, productive Chihuahua ranches.

We arrive at the Casa de Adobe historic site and I am transfixed.

It is all so close- the border is just steps away and there is no fence, no barrier. Yet the isolation is so intense- no sound, no smell, nothing seems to connect the two sides except a line of dirt.

All of a sudden we are at the border and there is no divide...and the border patrol are right there- defending me from me.

And the border patrol are just a stones throw- I mean they are very close. Several trucks and they stroll about now and then but no sound.

This is the spot where Texas, New Mexico and Mexico meet. The Rio Bravo flows south here and just beyond on the other side is UTEP and the Sun Bowl.

This great distance is suddenly shrunk. My heart is in my throat and I have 1000 thoughts bouncing:

-When I left I said a sort of masked goodbye to my family…did not really know what would happen.

-I thought the hotels would be spartan and that in the evenings we would grab food before dark and huddle in our rooms.

-I figured it would be a war zone- no one on the streets, we would be hassled by federales and police, there would be very limited areas I could walk.

-I had not expected such a negative reaction from El Paso people – even hostility from gringos about my going there.

-What exactly are the migras defending me from right now…from me?

-Most of all I am amazed at how totally unaware we are of this people to whom we are so connected historically, economically, culturally…

At this spot you can walk across the border for a few feet. Here the Mexican is on the US side and the gringo on the Mex side.

Recently there was a disturbing incident here that my friend Sonia from the tourism department told me about. This site was dedicated during the 100th anniversary of the taking of Juarez during the revolution. A large crowd of Mexican dignitaries gathered at the site in May, 2011. Sonia told me – not knowing whether to laugh or cry it seemed- that as the crowd of community leaders gathered on the Mexican side, a whole fleet of border patrol vehicles lined up just across, occasionally honking their horns. It was odd she said. Offensive. Even shaming.

I walk toward the thin little line that divides, cross a few feet and beckon to the border patrol truck.I respect the work of this dedicated crew- although it is hard to understand an incident like the one above- and I tell the young officer so as he approaches.

I ask him about that day in May and he says they never know when a person may try to cross- especially when there is a crowd.

We visit for a few minutes about what they do when a Mexican gets caught crossing. I ask what he would do if I tried to cross- we laugh.

We return to the center of town and walk through the big market. Full of people on this Saturday and we grab some lunch.

I am eating and tweeting my way through the market.

The music was cranked in the market and old Sol was ready to kick it a bit.

We walk across the middle of the central area. The new/old mission is bustling with shoppers and penitents.

It is mid-afternoon. I have been tweeting, laughing, wiping tears, eating, walking all day and it is time to sit down for a bit.

We make our way down to the modern Hotel Ibis- in a totally different type of Juarez near the new US Consulate.

The modern Hotel Ibis- near the US Consulate in south Juarez.

I make contact with Thomas Cuevas and he and his wife stop by for a drink and chat. Thomas is a professor of tourism at Universidad Autonama de Ciudad Juarez. Highlights of out conversation:

-I am struck by the optimism and hope these two intellectuals have for this troubled place.

-I learn how the coming of the maquiladoras has been good for the city in some ways, but has snuffed some rich parts of Juarez culture and economy.

-Thomas lays out his vision and plan for new tourism opportunities- industrial tours, the old missions, the Camino Real heritage area. He emphasizes that the quaintness of the restaurant/vendor scene comes comes with a disconnection from the digital age and hinders tourism development.

-He underscores how my walk and other connection initiatives are so important.

-I emphasize that the greatest asset I see in Juarez is its people and the gracious hospitality of all we meet.

Thomas and Liz Cuevas.

They smile affirmatively – but are perhaps unaware of what a treasure and gift this city has in is people.

I smile as I think of unaware of this we are in the US and of how much we need this quality.

Juarez has such a treasure in its people- and we are so unaware of them.

The day ends with a glorious sunset.

I walk through a modern mall and drop into McDonalds. Much is the same except the service is slow and they have carrots- zanahorias!

What a day- I even stepped back into the US for a moment- back across the great divide.

Sunset over Juarez from the Hotel Ibis with El Paso glowing in the background.

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