Beeline for the Border

Trip Start Apr 11, 2010
Trip End May 20, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , Northern Mexico,
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Juarez is a big city that sprawls into the desert for many miles from the Rio Grande river and every bit as big of a dump as it's made out to be in recent years in reports about "La Violencia". I once walked across a bridge to Juarez from El Paso in 1998 for a lunch and a bit of souveniring, but the little I saw of center didn't indicate the extent of the squalor that spreads out for miles.  I've since made two month-plus trips to Mexico and can see how Americans get negative impressions of Mexico if all they do is cross into border towns; Juarez is about the worst of what Mexico has to offer.

I've created this blog entry on Juarez only for purposes of noting my observations about the levels of U.S. border security because the border has been in the news so much lately.  There appear to be four levels.

First, out in the desert about 30 miles from Juarez and the border I was stopped at a Mexican military checkpoint.  Unlike the military checkpoints I passed heading south on Baja, this one involved an extensive check, including sliding mirrors under the car and checking underneath to see if mechanical parts had been tampered with to conceal drugs.  The young soldier engaged in personable chatter to the extent we could communicate, but it was clearly an interrogation, part of which involved making me repeat Spanish phrases after him.

Second was a more casual auto inspection of my car by soldiers on the Mexican side of the hectic traffic-clogged entrance to the border crossing bridge.

Third, on the U.S. side of the bridge American border guards wandered through the dozen lanes of traffic waiting for over an hour to reach the inspectors asking drivers questions.  Where did I go?  What did I do in Mexico?  Do I have alcohol, tobacco, or firearms?  At the checkpoint are the border formalities like passport scan and then another interrogation. 

"Where did you go?" 

"Why were you in Mexico?" 

"How long were you in Mexico?" 

"What do you do?"

Instead of giving a more complex bullshit answer to the last, I confidently responded "I'm unemployed," a quick ticket to a more extensive auto search and interrogation outside the traffic lanes.

As a single traveler with lots of stuff in my car and no full-time job who's been in Mexico for a fairly long time, I realize I fit a profile for someone who might try to smuggle drugs and don't object to the nuisance of a car search.  So the border guards not only looked through my car but emptied it and brought a dog over to sniff all my belongings and walk through my Jeep.  "OK, there's nothing here."  Of course not, and there wouldn't even be the slightest scent of any illegal substances on the dirty clothes in my laundry bag.

While my Jeep was being searched, three other officers repeatedly asked me some of the same questions about where I was in Mexico and how long I was there. 

"Touristy stuff like going to the beach on Baja, snorkeling in Cabo, visiting historic missions, some time at Copper Canyon."  I guess I must look especially shifty.

One such question posed in over and over again in numerous ways was, "Did anyone work on your car in Mexico?"  Apparently I'd be expected to panic if I had cocaine built into the m car and would try to blame it on someone else. 


"Are you absolutely sure you didn't have any work done on your car in Mexico?"

"Yes, I'm sure I didn't have any work done on my car in Mexico."

Finally, about 50 miles north of the border on I-25 in New Mexico I had to stop at an immigration checkpoint.  I'm not quite clear on what purpose such a checkpoint serves that far into the U.S. because it seems like once across the border it would be fairly easy for illegal aliens to avoid such road checks if they wanted to continue north.

I made it to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico for the night and camped at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, a reservoir created by a dam on the Rio Grande.  After crawling into my tent for the night I was treated to an example of the reason for the vigilance against illicit drugs at the border.  At the next campsite, about 100 feet or so away from my tent, was a group of 4 or 5 people including at least one woman.  Ghoulish laughter and bizarre nonsensical babble, occasional screams and some apparent violence kept me awake well into the night, the group members high on something stronger I'm sure than alcohol and marijuana - maybe crystal meth, the scourge of rural America.
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