The US/Mexico Border Daily
Section Six: Columbus to El Paso
Breakfast and organizing! Philip popped his head in and asked us to review his hotel while we chowed down some frosted flakes. We recommend Los Milagros!! Zak and Corey cleverly decided to drop a bike at our destination for the night so one of them could bike back to their vehicle in the morning. A bike shuttle! We all crammed in the car and drove to our camp at mile marker 100. A nearby shrub sufficed as a makeshift pole to lock the bike to. We drove back to the hotel, parked the car, and started walking.
We moved as a pack and it was entertaining. Normally when we trudge out of town we’re two lone females who are quite the spectacle. Zak and Corey made all the difference, we were lost in a crowd of four! So there we were gleeful and chatty, barely noticing the edge of Columbus come and go. Our directions for the day were basic, east on Hwy 9 and then down to the wall for a hot second.
We hoped that some of the spectacle of the borderlands would be on display for Zak and Corey’s visit. Bingo! Border Patrol pulled up shortly out of town. A nice guy asked if we were American citizens. We've been waiting for that question and only now, halfway through our hike was it asked.
Did our profile change because we're traveling with two guys? It dawned on him, oh you're the girls who were dropped off in a white car a couple days ago?
Looks like Border Patrol is back to communicating. He asked to see the tread on our shoes and we took turns flamingoing on one foot to show him the bottoms. He took notes on a little pad of paper: three triangles on heel, oval in middle of shoe, etc. He didn't know much about the nearby ranch land except that there are several gates by the border road in lieu of cattle guards, which are too expensive to install. And it’s proper ranch etiquette to leave all the gates as you find them (closed or open). Got it.
Tenny attempted to trap Zak in a conversation about himself, but was carefully guided into word vomit about the trip so far. Fair enough, she asked for it! He had his recorder on and speaking into it was hard. It’s difficult not to say too much or too little, the right amount is nearly impossible. One moment you’re speaking with total confidence, the next you’re plummeting to rock bottom, searching for something substantial and vaguely articulate. Or you’re so far off track that you have to switch to an entirely new train of thought. Oof. It’s unnerving how hard it is to speak on the spot.
We stopped for a break which included reassuring Zak and Corey we absolutely take breaks, we’re hikers but like our breaks. They were confused by the amount of food we pulled out for a snack.
So is this lunch time?Ha, nope we always eat a lot. Border Patrol passed us dragging the footprint-erasing contraption which we almost never see in action. Another sighting of border going ons.
Will we be able to show Zak and Corey everything that a day down here consists of!?
BP honked, it was the guy from earlier!
At this point Hwy 9 was one mile south of the border and we all wanted to see the wall today. Time to diagonal down to it, cross country. We occasionally got some stories from the guys in between our own frantic attempts to share what it is we are trying to do with this project. Corey recounted a photoshoot he’d been a part of; a piece on glass frogs and their mating process. He also told us about some scientists he’d met who were so into ants they could talk about them for hours. He told us the people who are most passionate about what they are doing are usually the easiest to film because they tell their own story. We started in on Zak. He and his friend Will Norris traveled the length of the Colorado River, from Wyoming to the Gulf of California in 2012. The Colorado crosses the US/Mexico border and we were interested in his experience. The anticipation he had felt before entering Mexico, how some had said don’t enter at all, it’s too dangerous, too hard. You could hear the passion in his voice when he spoke about the issues the Colorado River is facing and that he and Will were highlighting and raising awareness about. The enormous embankment near the river’s mouth, a result of ocean waves washing upstream and no water moving downstream to remove the sediment. And oh so many other obstacles.
Border markers and a metal fence appeared in the distance. Corey setup to film while we ate lunch, then took some videos next to the wall. Corey was great, he told us where to leave our footprints, where to pause and go, how to remember just to do your thing! It felt okay. Better than the photoshoot the previous day, we weren't implants, we had walked here and earned it!
The bike was stashed on the other side of the highway and we walked cross country to get closer to it and find a place to camp. All of the land in this section is BLM land, and we were lost enough in conversation and feeling safe as a group that we stopped paying attention and just ambled along. As we hopped the barbed wire fence along the highway, a Border Patrol vehicle came roaring towards us, lights flashing. In the time it took to reach us, two more were already approaching from both directions. We stopped moving abruptly and waved to show friendliness (and empty hands). The agent got out of his car and asked us if we were American citizens and what state we came from. He visibly relaxed upon seeing our white skin and hearing our American accents but continued to question us. Another two agents drove up behind the fence on ATVs with full body armor and faces covered. At this point we were surrounded by at least six agents and it was horribly intimidating.
The agents slowly began to disperse as we explained who we were but others continued to drive up, although with less urgency. A couple joked that we were the most exciting part of their day. We apologized profusely and for the most part they were all pretty nice about it. We’ve never even come close to this type of experience and we guessed that having the guys with us made us look more like a threat. By the time the last agent left we were buzzing with adrenaline and ready to find a campsite far out of sight of anyone.
We made it to the other side of the highway and trudged through the sand to a hiding spot behind some hills. Corey and Zak wanted to film a short interview before we lost the light and we awkwardly complied. Still having a really hard time talking about ourselves and the mission, which we know is detrimental to the project. It just feels so intuitive to us but we’re self conscious about sounding ridiculous when we try to articulate. Ugh. After wrapping up the interview we set up camp and ate dinner. We would have loved to enjoy the novelty of having people to camp with but it was too cold to sit outside and before long we were in our sleeping bags and down for the count.