Section 5: Douglas to Columbus
Zak is a long time friend of Tenny’s. Originally from Colorado, he and his wife Amanda now live in Bluff, Utah where he works as a journalist. Zak and Tenny’s parents made sure to appear and reappear in each other’s lives and Tenny insists she and Zak do the same. He’s a special person always working towards some inspiring goal and is a constant source of love in Tenny’s life. And today Zak was here with us!!
Zak was accompanied by his friend Corey, a professional photographer and videographer from Southwest Colorado. Corey did some work for the Friends of Cedar Mesa (a conservation group working to protect the cultural and natural values of southeastern Utah - check out it out!) and met Amanda (and then Zak) who works for the same organization. We were lucky to have Corey along, not only was he willing to photograph and video us but he is also a charismatic and curious person who is now hopefully a friend for life. He has a special talent for blending empathetic listening with sharing his own personal stories. He’s traveled all over the world for different photo shoots and we couldn’t get enough of his stories. (Also both his parents are thru-hikers, which makes him family!)
Zak and Corey met us at a Burger King, where we had relocated to after checking out of our hotel. By the time they arrived we were anxious to leave.
How long could we sit here?
While Claire was sitting at a table with both backpacks, a man had walked by and quickly dropped a wad of bills on the table. When she chased him down to ask why, he told her it looked like she was “in need”. It freaked us out how much this bothered us. Obviously it was a very kind gesture and part of the good that we want to highlight in the world. We have gratefully (albeit guiltily) accepted money from other people. But our identity as “productive members of society” - whatever that means - hasn’t really been challenged like this. We may look homeless but we choose to be out here, and we like to think we are operating with purpose. We realize this is problematic on many levels and we’re not proud of our embarrassment. Still it’s hard not to run from the perceived pitying glances of the customers around us.
Zak and Corey wanted to do a photo shoot for an article they were potentially putting together about us and we all piled into the car. We wasted no time and drove back to our Family Dollar from a few days before. It felt strange to unload with no intention of staying, like a transplant or an imposter only there to use the wall as a backdrop. Neither of us were comfortable in front of the camera. We clung to Corey’s every direction and tried to look at him rather than the camera. Eeek!
Tonight we were staying in the hotel in Columbus, now available after being booked for the last several days. As we deliberated over our food options (almost zero in a small town on a weeknight after 7) the hotel owner Phillip offered to drive us into Mexico to his friend’s restaurant. We were stupidly slow to take him up on this, despite it clearly being the best option. Finally someone thankfully made the decision and we hopped into the Los Milagros van. He loved his town; Columbus had chosen him 30 years ago and he had vast knowledge to share.
When he wasn't running the hotel, Philip drove a bus for the school system. He knew the owner of the restaurant we were headed to because her daughter took his bus to school. Over 800 kids from Palomas cross over every day to go to school in the States, he was careful to add they were all citizens. Palomas does not have a hospital and women who go into labor are allowed to cross the border to reach the nearest hospital 30 miles north in Deming. In case of medical emergency someone cannot be denied entry into the States. Phillip had seen the POE change a lot over the years, the most in the 1990s. The construction we saw two days ago would expand the port from five acres to twenty. And not all border crossing are designated for commercial travel (Antelope Wells, NM being one) but this port is. Most of the traffic coming through is determined by the season, chilli and brussels sprout harvests bring the busiest time of year. So on and so on, too much to write down.
We were the only ones at the restaurant but the owner greeted us cheerfully and set us up with some truly delicious food. We couldn’t believe it when Phillip sat down and started up a conversation with the owner, apparently he was going to wait until we finished! We offered to buy him dinner but he told us he was happy to just hang out. Wow. That’s some pretty phenomenal customer service. Please stay at the Los Milagros Hotel the next time you find yourself in rural New Mexico! One of the most hospitable places we’ve ever stayed in.
After a great dinner and conversation Phillip took us back to the hotel. On the way back he told us about the Copper Canyon, an enormous and impressive formation to the south bigger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. A popular trip for tourists takes you from Chihuahua City to Copper Canyon by train. Zak was the only one who had heard of it before but we were all impressed, although a bit defensive of our Grand Canyon, which is magical and perfect and the best place in the world. Another example of border fear deterring Americans from discovering beautiful parts of the world…
On to sleep. We talked a little more, this time about the trip, and Zak pulled out his recorder to take notes on what we were saying. It made us nervous at first but we soon forgot it was there. Tomorrow they will hike and camp with us before leaving the next morning.
Have we mentioned how much we love company?!