Tuesday 20th Feb
Some visits may seem macabre but there is usually a reason behind them, why else would we take ourselves to a cemetery? Billed as El Paso’s very own “Boot Hill” we negotiated the spaghetti of the new roads, then the regular grid of the old routes and finally found our way to Concordia Cemetery. Hill it was not, but history abounded. Many epitaphs too old to read, others sharp and crisp recording the present. We had to admit we weren’t familiar with the most famous resident; John Wesley Hardin, but found other tombstones quite poignant.
Oh, and on the way some tumbleweed blew across the road in front of us, can’t seem to move for the stuff now! This bit wanted to tag along so it lodged itself in the front of the car. One last errand for the day took us to the border. Mexico, only a mile or so away across the Rio Grande has twinkled tantalisingly each night at sundown. There are three main bridges; one has a footpath so you can actually walk across. Maybe not so inviting for the Americans unless they cross to buy the cheap prescription drugs that are readily available on the other side, but it is a path to riches for Mexicans and Hispanics that want to come the opposite way. We wanted to just be tourists, however we thought it wise to clarify our status with regard to our visas. We didn’t want to jeopardise any return to the US either from Mexico or indeed the UK. Well we’ll just go and ask we thought. Simple…not!
Following the signs on one of those highways that Malc describes as a 70 mile an hour traffic jam we went to find customs. Then at almost 70 miles an hour in a stream of three lanes of traffic we find ourselves heading one way straight for the bridge over the Rio Grande. Panic was immediate! “Turn right” I shouted, “I can’t there is no right ” came the quick reply…well that’s what he meant. Though they weren’t quite the words he used. We did manage to pull over to the kerb in the right hand truck lane…what now? There was a border patrol car sitting under an overpass behind us so Malc reversed back to seek advice. The chap (Mexican) didn’t know anything about visas and suggested that we did a bit of off-roading through the park that was beside us in order to avoid crossing the border and be able to find a road going back the way we’d come. Phew! Well that’ll be OK then…
We followed his directions, up over the kerb, across the pavement and into the park.(We did feel we’d been given official permission to do this) and found our way to the customs/border control. I stayed in the car as we were now parked in a Government only car park. Malc went into the building only to find that the flow of people was against him, he was looking at the back of the checking-searching desk. Oops! Traffic from US to Mexico isn’t an issue, traffic from Mexico to the US most certainly is! Perhaps you’ve heard President Bush wants to build a wall all along the border to keep illegal immigrants out. Anyway they were very helpful and told him there would be no problem at all, all set for the next day then when we planned our visit.
Malc was keen to drive across, but after reading some reports on line about the pitfalls… US car insurance that “covers” you in Mexico is not legal there, accidents are rife etc. etc we decided to use the tourist trolley bus. www.borderjunper.com the sites worth a look for novelty value! Lack of any decent maps of the other side also made this more sensible.
Juarez, the city over the border was every bit as chaotic, noisy, dusty and different as we had imagined. Though the Rio Grande was rather a shock, not really as grand as we expected, more of a drainage ditch between two countries, you’ll have to look hard to see it in the photo. The roads and pavements are atrocious, huge holes in both, some of them seemingly bottomless. At one point Malc “fell” down one of these, one moment he was standing tall beside me as usual, the next his left leg had disappeared down a hole up to his knee! Luckily he didn’t injure himself, the consequences of that don’t bare thinking about. We continued to trip our way along, two fair skinned, light haired tourists, in a throng of Mexicans. The market we had been told was a highlight, it was certainly interesting. Though we soon became tired of holding a fixed grin as we politely declined to buy, as EVERY stallholder approached and followed us in the hope of a sale. It was satisfying to see that all browsers were met with the same zealous selling tactics, no matter what their nationality. It was rather a shame because you felt you really didn’t even want to stop and look as you knew you would be accosted, though all were polite if somewhat persistent. Once outside we encountered grand houses, hovels, beggars both adult and child and traffic. It seems to be habit that as soon as traffic halts, drivers begin honking their horns even at traffic lights. The insurance issue by now had become farcical, these cars all have insurance? The ones with no lights, broken lights, bumpers hanging, the ones whose paint had long since ceased to have any recognisable colour, the ones with childlike drivers? The buses in particular fascinated me, there seemed to be hundreds of them all looking as though they had had a better former life as they all seemed to be ex school buses, destinations written on the windows and sometimes the windscreens in white marker. The vast majority of shops it seemed were selling either shoes or gaudily coloured cowboy boots, the sort that have extremely pointed toes that are angled skyward. They obviously care for their boots though; rows of shoeshine kiosks lined the dirty streets (perhaps that’s why) industrious shiners using crème and hairdryers to achieve the desired effect! Oh, check out the shop-selling wedding dresses girls, brings a whole new meaning to “meringue”! The only disappointment was that we didn’t try the local “fast” food; it just didn’t seem appetising either to the eye or the nose, even though the burritos were well ironed!