Illegal border crossing – for tourists
But it certainly felt real. Complete with its own Border Patrol cars, smugglers, raging rivers and dark mountains, La Caminata Nocturna in Parque Alberto gives visitors an insight into what many Mexican and Central Americans experience nearly every night. The experience is run by an indigenous Mexican community, which itself has been ravaged by migration to the United States.
The dry countryside surrounding Parque Alberto is scattered with half-built houses that stand empty – unused and unfinished. Corn fields stand untended, and the giant maguey cacti thrive. Remittance money being sent home from the United States has slowed of late, bringing construction to a halt.
Most of the staff, such as the manager Delfino Santiago, have crossed la frontera to el norte illegally many times. Delfino is on sabbatical from his landscape gardening job in Las Vegas.
Traveling to our start point in the back of a truck, another member of the community told us he has crossed the border 15 times. The details on La Caminata Nocturna seems based on first-hand experience. The urgent tone of the coyotes sends a chill up the spine, as does the separation of men and women at the beginning of the trip. Our smuggler, who never removes his black balaclava, explains that women run slower. Making them go first allows them to set the pace to avoid anyone getting left behind.
However, two very experienced border reporters tell me that La Migra never shoot their guns in the air, nor do they use sirens. Some additions appear to have been made for dramatic effect.
As we crouched panting in the bushes, flash lights penetrated the darkness and the crackle of walkie-talkie radios came into range. â€œStop! Get down! Get down!â€ yelled Border Patrol, clad in camouflage army gear and green Border Patrol t-shirts. Three migrants [actors] scrambled out of the bushes and tried to make a run for it.
â€œSuelta me! Suelta me!(let me go!)â€ one of the three protested as they were wrestled to the ground by La Migra. But there was no escape, and they were dragged off into the darkness. The flash lights of La Migra receded into blackness once again. A stunned silence ensued.
Then we were off, slithering under a wire fence â€“ THE border fence â€“ one by one. The trek was in many ways an obstacle course – an accident waiting to happen. To get out of the woods, each of us had to edge along a wall no more than eight inches wide, which separated a thin river from a five meter drop. With my boots slippery from mud and cow-shit and the wall wet from the rain, it was no easy task in the dark.
We broke out into a moonlit, pebbled clearing under a tree. A couple of teachers on the trek, Sergio Mendieta and Maria Elena Estrada, rested their bones in front of us. They were visiting from the nearby state of Mexico and the walk was a must-do part of their itinerary. He rubbed her shins as she tried to catch her breath.
After a brief rest, we made a break into the mountains, running first downhill at breakneck speed which in the dark was an exhilarating but terrifying experience. The mountains were beautiful, lit up by a full moon that cast the cacti and stones in an eerie dull, white light. Flash lights werenâ€™t allowed because they would give us away to La Migra.
We scrambled over a mountain of shale, but were frozen by a violent whisper from our smuggler: â€œParanse! (Stop!)â€.
Beneath us, in the base of the steep valley, a bunch of migrants broke cover of the bushes and ran across the open, throwing themselves into the back of a waiting red truck. At the same time, two Border Patrol cars screeched into view in a nearby country lane. A bumpy car chase ensued between the three vehicles around a rough dirt car park, the red truck seemingly escaping La Mirga and breaking out into the country lane. But La Migra raced ahead, cutting off the speeding car â€“ its occupants piled out. Game over.
And it was the end of the road for us also. In the ride back to the Park, I chatted with our smuggler, who said he has crossed the border many times.
â€œIs this trip anything like the real thing?â€I asked.
â€œWell, really? No. The real thing is so much harder.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s the hardest part?â€
â€œThe desert,â€ he replied.
â€œAlways the desert.â€