Thursday, December 29, 2011

Presidio, TX and Ojinaga, CHH

Eric and I really didn't know what to expect of the Presidio/Ojinaga area.  Up until this point, most people we have visited in border towns have given us contacts for farther down the line, but Presidio/Ojinaga was a vast empty space on our border contact list--no one we had talked to knew people there or even knew of immigration work going on in the area.  And while the population of Presidio is small, the port of entry is really significant--it is the only port in almost 500 border miles--that is one half of Texas' border miles and one quarter of the distance of the entire border!  The nearest port to the west is in Fort Hancock/Porvenir and the closest to the east is all the way over in Del Rio. It is a very isolated part of Texas and Mexico, but we knew there had to be something going on there.

Not having any contacts in the area, we turned to to look for a free place to stay and an easy way to meet a Presidio resident.  Our luck could not have been better: 2 of the 3 listings for Presidio were people who worked in the immigration field at the Mexican Consulate in Presidio and they were roommates. 

Mexican Consulate employees: Jerry, Erick and Maximiliana
We spent a significant amount of time with one of our hosts, Erick Hernandez. He drove us all over Presidio and Ojinaga and the surrounding area and introduced us to relevant people on both sides of the border.

Presidio has a population of around 5,000, a large percentage of whom work for Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other authority stationed on the border (ATF, DEA, etc.).  The town feels very small, though when we arrived it took us quite a while to find one of the three restaurants, not because it is a large area, but because so many stores and restaurants were no longer in business.  Ojinaga, just on the other side of the river, is a bustling city, home to 22,000 people and 4 small maquilas.  Ojinaga and its residents have felt very few effects of the drug war, and border city Presidio has not had a murder since 1999 (debunk the spillover violence myth!).  Ojinaga declares itself to be the most "unspoiled" border town which retains a strong Mexican rural culture.

The first full day we were there, we spent most the day in Ojinaga.  Erick brought us over and our first stop was Mexican immigration at the foot of the bridge.  We talked with some folks about deportees and migrants in the area only to learn that Presidio/OJ is not a major crossing point and very few people are even deported through this port.  However, last year US immigration officials began busing in 40-80 people per day from Arizona to be deported through Ojinaga, and immediately the Mexican immigration authorities and Mexican Consulate put pressure on DHS to stop these deportations because the city had no infrastructure in place to accommodate the deportees.  Fortunately, they did stop and now the city sees just a few deportees per day, if any.

From the bridge we went to the two Ojinaga shelters which can house deportees or migrants. The first was a DIF shelter (DIF is the Mexican equvalent of Child Protective Services) which houses unaccompanied minors caught crossing in the area until a family member is contacted.  The second shelter was for adults and was not exclusively for migrants, instead it served as a rehabilitation center of sorts that trained people in technical skills so they could make it on their own.  Unfortunately, we were not able to talk to people who ran either shelter.

Dormitory of the DIF shelter

That about concluded the immigration portion of our tour of Ojinaga--not a lot of services offered, but not a lot of need.  Next, we went to the plaza, saw the cathedral and walked around town a bit, enjoying amazing bread from a great local bakery that bakes in a mesquite wood burning oven.

Amazing panaderia La Francesa! See the wood burning oven in the wall?

Bakery employee cutting out donuts

Los Conchos river near the Port of Entry
Then Erick brought us to the Conchos river which is responsible for significantly increasing the flow of the Rio Grande when they the two rivers join in Ojinaga.  The Rio Grande hardly has any water when it becomes the international boundary in El Paso and the water that is in it is brown, so it was really lovely to relax on the riverfront of the beautiful Conchos.

Erick then drove us about 30 miles out of town to another part of the Conchos river--this time where it has carved a huge canyon in the mountains.  We made it just in time to get a good glimpse into the canyon and watch the sun set.

Los Conchos river about 30 miles from the border as it carves canyons into the rocky hills

After the lovely scenic tour, we dove into Ojinaga culture and had a delicious dinner of tacos and enjoyed some drinks and karoke.  Eric and I realized we knew almost all the words to one of our favorites: Vicente Fernandez's Estos Celos.  It was a great day.

"...jamás aprenderé vivir sin ti..."

We hung out the next few days in Presidio, often with staff of the Consulate who were very interested in our trip and eager to tell us the work they do in the community. Interestingly enough, one of our host Erick's primary tasks is to find ways to bridge the two cities of Presidio and Ojinaga and he was proud to tell us about binational events he has organized--one of which was a health fair that included a binational bicycle ride and a day of games right on the river front including a tug of war across the river!  It was awesome to see that the Consulate not only does the usual administrative tasks regarding passports, visas, etc., but also seeks to create a single binational community.

It was only on the morning of our departure that we realized why the asthetics of the Presidio/Ojinaga border area were so pleasing: there is no wall!  We have seen sections of the border without walls, but within cities there is often two or three walls, so this was really new. Of course, the border is a river at this point so that is a deterrent, and there is a large swath of open land on both sides of the river which makes visibility really high, but I was still really surprised to not see a fence.  Not only was there not a wall, but the river was not in a concrete canal like it is in El Paso to keep it from changing course.  Instead, here it just looked like a beautiful, natural river.  We can only hope that all the border can look this welcoming someday.

No fence on the Rio Grande/Bravo, U.S in the foreground, Ojinaga on the far side of the river

Looking north at the Chinati Mountains, Mexico on the left, U.S. on the right

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Days 20, 21, 22 & 23: El Paso, TX to Presidio, TX

Day 20: Monday, November 28    El Paso, TX to Fort Hancock, TX     Miles: 52 (total: 979)    Flats:  0  Elevation: 3,740 ft to 3,580 ft

Back in the saddle again! Riding today felt great. It was hard to imagine leaving El Paso again, but getting on the bikes again felt right (except for all those extra layers we had put on).

We passed pecan orchards and cotton fields (marshmallow plants) and mostly stayed in populated areas. That was a nice change, because so often we are going 30, 40, 60 miles of nothing but nature, which is usually really lovely, but more difficult on the mental game.

Marshmallow plants!

We rode a good part of the day along an irrigation canal of the Rio Grande river which was amazing because every once and a while we would spook up beautiful white egrets or huge blue herons from the water.

Amazing (camera-shy) egrets!

We had the name of a Sister in Fort Hancock and tried calling various times during the day with no luck. Upon arriving in town, we swung by the parish office where she works, but it wasn't open. We had arrived about 3:00pm so we had plenty of time to find a place to stay so we just bought a Powerade and were chilling outside the little convenience store, asking people who walked by if they knew the Sister.  After asking only a few people, a woman invited us to stay with her and her 5 kids next door. What generosity!  And to trust a couple of strangers like us!

It was a really fun night, watching zombie movies and helping with homework with the kids who ranged in ages from 4-19.  The older girls (14, 16, 19) were so fun and didn't even blink an eye when they saw us sitting in their living room.  The mama made us dinner and chatted about the family's history of moving back and forth from Mexico to the all around Texas.  It was such a privilege to be part of this family for a night!

One member of the family we stayed with!

Day 21:  Tuesday, November 29     Fort Hancock, TX to Van Horn, TX    Miles: 74 (1053)   Flats: 0    Elevation: 3,580 to 4,050 ft

We headed out of Fort Hancock plenty early and decided to pop across in order to see Porvenir, Chihuahua.  We just biked over and back, took some pictures of the wall and chatted with the CBP agents. I kinda wish we had made it a point of the trip to cross through every port of entry, pero it's a little late now!

Just across the border in Porvenir, Chihuahua

After that honeymoon day back on the road on Monday, this day was rough.  Early in the day, our nice quiet road ended and we had to get on highway 10--our second stint on the freeway.  And it was a couple hours of uphill in the Sierra Blanca mountains.  I kept thinking how great the coast downhill was going to be, but it never came! 

Up, up and away

After lunch in the town of Sierra Blanca, we got back on the frontage road and seemed to continue going slowly up. Then all of the sudden, our frontage road ended and we had to haul our bikes across the oncoming traffic to get back on the right side of the freeway.  We knew we had to ride the freeway earlier, but we didn't expect to get on it again!

End of the road!

By that time, the sun was setting over the mountains behind us and we finally got to fly down into Van Horn where we were planning to camp.  We got a nice diner dinner, overpaid for a tent site and went to sleep, totally exhausted and apprehensive about doing another 75 mile stretch the next day.

Day 22:  Wednesday, November 30     Van Horn, TX to Marfa, TX     Miles: 74 (1127)    Flats: 0    Elevation:  4,050 ft to 4,685 ft

Rough day(s).  Lesson learned:  when you rest for over 2 weeks, go easy on the first couple days back on the road. Two 75 mile days in a row was probably not the best idea, but we really had little choice as Texas is frickin' huge and cities are quite far apart.

After a few miles on the road, we had a little pick-me-up and just the encouragement we needed to push all the way to Marfa.  Our contact in Marfa, Tim Johnson, a former Annunciation House volunteer who we had not met, but had been in contact with, pulled over as he drove by to introduce himself.  He confirmed that we would have a nice, warm place to stay when we arrived in Marfa, which really helped us push on.  He was on his way to El Paso, but assured us he would be home by 4 or 5pm.  For the rest of the day, I kept thinking how it took us three days to get to Marfa from El Paso, but in a car you can go there and back faster than we can cycle 60 miles! We travel in one day the distance you can drive in one hour in a car!  Tough to think about as you crank down (or up) the road.

This was a sloooow uphill day and the wind, once again, was not on our side.  There is one little town between Van Horn and Marfa, but there isn't even a shop to stop at.  Instead, we stopped and had our lunch at a art installation right outside this little town of Valentine--a Prada store in the middle of the desert.  It's fantastic.

we had ourselves a little pizza-Prada photo shoot

We ate some pizza that a very friendly man gave us and had ourselves a little nap outside the Prada before pushing on the last 35 miles.  We got to Marfa after dark, so happy to meet Tim, his girlfriend Caitlin, and his friends for a beer and some room temperature water at a local bar which used to be a funeral home!

We spent two rest days in Marfa since we couldn't even bear to look at our bicycles seats, let alone sit upon them, and because our contact in Presidio wasn't going to be in town until Saturday.  We mostly just hung out and walked around town, checking out local shops, galleries and The Marfa Book Company owned by Tim, who had graciously offered us hospitality.  We also got to see the first showing of the film Pincus on Friday night, made by David Fenster.  It was very well done, about a man who cares for his father who has Parkinson's.  It seemed quite personal too, as the man with Parkinson's in the film was actually David's father. After the film and a visit to the Museum of Electronic Wonders and late night Grilled Cheese Parlour (awesome), we watched some short films online by David which can be found here.  I recommend Wood and the Fly Amanita (the only two we've watched, so far).

Day 23:  Saturday, December 3    Marfa, TX to Presidio, TX    Miles: 62 (1190)   Flats: 0   Elevation: 4,695 ft to 2,580 ft

We bid our farewells to arty Marfa and headed South to the border.  Since the elevation drop between Marfa and Presidio is significant, we thought it would be all downhill, but of course, there was plenty of ups and downs and a headwind to keep us warm and keep us working.

This was one of the most beautiful rides of the trip and none of my photos do it a bit of justice. 

lunch at the church in Shafter ghost town
After about 45 miles, we were past the Chinati Mountains and we were practically able to coast down to Presidio.

We are excited to visit Presidio, TX/ Ojinaga, CHH because in asking for contacts all along the border, we haven't heard of any organizations or work being done in the area.  Luckily, via, we found a place to stay and the host happens to work at the Mexican Consulate!

More on Presidio/Ojinaga in the next exciting episode! (after a few days in the cold, camping at Big Bend National Park)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Chihuahua

I can't believe we have been in El Paso for over two weeks!  It has been so lovely--running around seeing old friends and colleagues, gathering warm clothes, tuning up the bicycles, spending time with people we love.  I wish we could stay here longer, and actually after those last cold days on the road, we talked about postponing the trip until Spring, but we have decided to forge ahead and hope it gets warmer as we move south.

I had grand ideas for what I wanted to blog while here, but it took me the whole time just to catch up!  I spent some time this summer typing up various stories of guests at Annunciation House and I hope at some point I can get a few of those up.  For now, a brief overview what we have done here.

Our first full day in El Paso, we hiked up in the Franklins, we saw two friends get married at Casa Vides and we danced the night away.  What an incredible day!

El Paso and Juarez from the Franklin Mountains

Cindy and Charles, right before getting married at Casa Vides

When in El Paso, Eric was a member of the Labor Justice Committee, a group of people dedicated to ending wage theft in El Paso.  They are a really incredible group who see great results (thousands of dollars of recovered wages!) by banding together and using simple tactics of letter writing, phone calls and vigils.  While we were here, Eric attended a press conference the LJC had with the police, sheriff's office, district attorney's office and local senator Jose Rodriguez where they announced changes in the law that were made to make wage theft easier to prosecute criminally (watch the YouTube video here).  This is a huge step, but the LJC keeps pushing! This week they will ask City Council to pass an ordinance that prohibits the nonpayment of minimum wage, requires overtime payment, etc.  Sign the petition here!  Eric and I both think the Labor Justice Committee is one of the most exciting groups of activists in El Paso.

Labor Justice Committee Press Conference, photo from their Facebook page

Another day, we crossed the bridge to visit our dear friends and inspirations Carmelite priest Peter Hinde and Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell.  These two have worked for decades all through Latin America and the United States.  They have a commitment to educating North Americans about the impact of U.S. policy on Latin America and for many years, traveling the U.S. spreading the word in reverse missionary work.  They also started Casa Tabor communities in Washington D.C., San Antonio and now Juarez, where they have been for the last 15 years.  In Juarez, Peter helps out with masses in a couple of parishes and Betty runs groups for women and they both accompany the people in this hard time in Juarez.  It is always a pleasure to spend time with them and hear their perspectives on the issues.  We are very blessed to have them in our lives.

Sister Betty and Father Peter

We grilled some dinner with West Cosgrove, a good friend and cyclist that for the last several years has led immersion groups with Project Puente.  We heard about his cycling adventures across Texas and down the west coast, and we hope that he will be able to join us for a segment of our trip nearer to San Antonio.

We stopped by to visit old friends at the Farm Workers' Center in El Paso.  Carlos and Alicia Marentes have committed the last 25 years to accompanying farm workers, shutting down the bridge several times to get resources to build the center!  They provide them a place to sleep, low cost or free food, and help them navigate other services available.  The last few years, I have come to realize how mistreated, underpaid and invisible farm workers are and how important this issue is.  If you eat food, it affects you!  Farm workers deserve better and we all need to recognize and organize for their sake.

We had a great dinner with Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy in Las Cruces.  Molly is an archivist librarian at NMSU and she runs the Frontera List, a Google group where she keeps track of those killed in Juarez and sends out articles of analysis on the violence in Mexico.  The Frontera List is a great way to keep track of what is going on in Mexico.  Charles Bowden is an author who has written several books about the border and Juarez including Murder City, Down by the River and Juarez: A Laboratory for our Future.  He also often has articles in magazines like Mother Jones and Harper's.  Both Molly and Charles just collaborated on a documentary and book which interviews a former Mexican sicario (hitman) about his work for the drug cartels. 

The Sicario,1568586582,9781568586588

We had lunch with Brian and Jay of the New Mexico ACLU.  A project that Brian is really involved in is setting up a binational system along the border to document human rights abuses.  After talking with folks who are documenting abuses all along the border, Eric and I are in awe of this system and hope that it can be used.  It would be so incredible to be able to gather data of abuses all along this interesting region!

We had lunch with Betsy Allen-Rodriguez of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.  Betsy is an accredited representative which means she can represent people in immigration court.  She helps lots of people in detention, especially unaccompanied minors, change their documentation status via U-visas, T-visas, asylum, and Juvenile visas.  I have worked with her on several cases of Annunciation House guests and she is totally one of my heroes.

We had dinner with Columban Priest Bill Morton who operates a center for educational events and immersion groups.  Father Bill is a committed environmentalist--he started a large community garden and in remodeling the center, has used green building techniques.  For Black Friday, Father Bill organized an alternative event, promoting goods made in cooperatives in Mexico and the Philippines.  He also sits on the board of directors for Annunciation House and is a great friend of the volunteers.

Father Bill, photo courtesy of Annunciation House

We have also spent significant time at Annunciation House and Casa Vides, houses of hospitality for immigrants where we used to live/volunteer, and visiting former guests in El Paso and Juarez.  Most our community of friends in El Paso is connected to these wonderful houses.

Good times and good elotes en Juarez

Visiting friends in Juarez

I can't believe Christopher is only a few days away from being one year old!

Volunteers Ines and Alicia making delicious pupusas!

Two of my favorite people in the world - Pamela and Karina

Thanksgiving dinner at Casa Vides

Well, it's time to hit the road again.  Adventure and education await us as we head down the Rio Grande toward Presdio/Ojinaga, Big Bend, Del Rio and beyond. We plan to ride only on the Texas side, but visit border cities along the way.

Some are sad to see us go...

While others say, "Get going already!"

So long for now, El Paso!  We'll be back.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 19: Columbus, NM to El Paso, TX

Day 19:  Friday, November 11   Columbus, NM to El Paso, TX    Miles: 82 (926.5)   Flats:  0,8 (trip, total)

We woke up early after our warmest night in 4 days and it was a toasty 32 degrees.  By the time we got packed up and on the road at 7:00, it was 34 degrees and we sniffled our way through the first few hours of the ride.  But nothing could get us down--we were going to arrive in El Pasito!

A balmy 32 degrees
Since heading east, we have been thinking about arriving in El Paso.  It is there that the dream of this tour was born and where we have dear friends and (practically) family. 

After the rough day getting into Columbus, this ride was a breeze.  There was a light headwind, but not bad and we just cruised.  We rested at 10 miles and again at 25, and we had a brunchish meal of bologna sandwiches at 11:00am/40 miles and we even took a little nap on the BP side road!  We woke up refreshed and excited to continue.  It didn't take long and we could see the Franklin Mountains that are in El Paso.  We pushed on excitedly and only got more excited as they grew bigger. 

Straight shot to the Franklin Mountains
By 2:00, we had biked over 60 miles and were on the cusp of crossing into Texas from Sunland Park, New Mexico.  We rode through town (noticing several things we had never seen before from cars), acheived a new mileage record, and arrived at Casa Vides at 3:00 where we were greeted by the guests with surprised smiles and wide open arms.  As is Casa Vides style (the longer-term shelter operated by Annunciation House), almost immeadiately we were sitting down to some of the best food we had eaten in months, while dodging questions from every Señora about when we were going to get married.  We were home.

Casa Vides

Palomas, Chihuahua

I spent a day in Palomas, Chihuahua a couple years ago, checking out the new organization Border Partners.  Three years later, Border Partners is still going strong with program areas including economic, education, health and recreation projects.  

When I came over before, we visited the women's cooperative, which includes fewer than 10 women who make products from oilcloth and sell them online and at several gifty stores across the country.  The cooperative stays small so that it can provide a sustainable income for the women who aim to take home $70 per week.  The women also learned computer and accounting skills as they set up their online business to sell their products.  Their oilcloth bags, aprons, and table decor can be found here. (Great Christmas presents!)

On this visit to Palomas, we accompanied one of the Border Partners volunteers, Peter Edmunds, in one stage of building a greenhouse.  The greenhouse was built of paper-crete, a sustainable product produced in the area, by the owners Fernanado and Juana.  Our task of the day was to build a door frame, window frames and a frame for the roof.  I was given tideous little tasks and spent most the day just talking with Juana about her garden and chickens.  Eric, who is a carpenter, was in his element.

Juana and Fernando's partially built greenhouse in Palomas

Eric and Fernando, building up the wall frame

Juana and Fernando
We wish we could have spent more time in Palomas (and Douglas/AP and Naco), but we are so glad we got to hang out there for a day and be useful! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Days 16, 17 & 18: Douglas, AZ to Columbus, NM

Day 16: Monday, November 7    Douglas, AZ to Rodeo, NM   Miles:  52 (748.5)  Flats: 0, 8 (trip, total)  Elevation: 4000 ft to 4400 ft

This was a tricky stretch.  We had about 150 miles to cover so should we do it in 2 days or 3 days? We set up a meeting for Monday morning, but we decided we should at least get a head start, so we set out in the afternoon. 

Our ride to Douglas was cold, but because it was so short and all downhill, we hardly pedaled and just kept laughing at how many clothes we were wearing.  Unfortuantely, it hadn't gotten much warmer, and on this ride we realized how heavy we felt wearing pants and jackets and scarves and gloves.  Luckily the wind was on our side and we flew along, seeing a rainbow, antelope and snow in the nearby Chiricahua mountains!

Home, home on the range

The snow topped Chiricahua mountains

With about an hour left of daylight, we made it to our desire destination: Rodeo, New Mexico, population 200. Eric stopped in the grocery/cafe to ask about camping possibilities and while I watched the bikes outside, I spotted a little flyer on the community bulletin board announcing game night on the first Monday of the month.  What luck!!  The thought of Bingo and snacks with the residents of Rodeo was about all I could ask for.

That is until we started for the RV park a few blocks away and we hadn't even crossed the parking lot before a nice gentleman named Jose offered us his lawn to camp in!  He had driven by us a couple of hours before and said there were some other cyclists about 20 miles behind us.  He asked us some questions, gave us some cokes (score!) and let us get to setting up our tent and cooking our dinner.

Right as we were cleaning up the dishes and heating water to bring hot cocoa to game night, we saw three bikers ride by.  We shouted to them, but a bit too late and they didn't hear us. We assumed they were headed to set up camp at the park and we almost wished we had gone there instead of Jose's lawn.

On our first day of cycling from Oceanside to San Diego, we chatted with one other bicycle traveler and since that day, we had not seen another.  In Douglas we saw a couple packed bicycles outside the library, but we didn't see the cyclists and we thought we had lost our chance to talk to them.  And, here they were, rolling into Rodeo at dusk!

We headed over to the community center (aka pole barn), pleased to have somewhere warm to go besides our tent.  Upon entering, we saw there was quite a generational gap, but over at a table in a corner were three young folks and it turns out they were the cyclists!  And they weren't just any cyclists, but a traveling bluegrass/old time music band! 

Two of the musicos (banjo and violin) had started from Portland in early September and the ukulele met up with them two weeks later in San Francisco.  Unbeknownst to us, they had pulled into Bisbee, AZ just a few hours after us and had met up with some great folks who insisted they record an album, which they did in the restroom of the visitor's center (download it here). After Rodeo, they were headed north to Silver City and over to Las Cruces and Carlsbad Caverns, their final destination being New Orleans. 

Bingo night in Rodeo featuring New Time Country Kitchen

We swapped cycling stories and in the bingo breaks, they played some tunes.  They were offered a place to stay in the carport of the grocery store next to us and it was there that we bid them goodnight.

Day 17: Tuesday, November 8    Rodeo, NM to Hachita, NM   Miles:  51 (799.5)   Flats: 0, 8  Elevation:  4400 ft

Cold, cold, cold. After waking to ice crystals on our tent, we heard that it had gotten down to 25 degrees in Rodeo the night before.  We huddled in our tent until the cafe opened and then rushed across the street to get some coffee and breakfast.  We dined with the musical cyclists and what seemed like half of the residents of Rodeo.  This cafe was the place to be and it probably has something to do with their plate sized pancakes.

I spy with my little eye FIVE touring bicycles

After a huge meal, we broke down camp and compared the loads on our bicycles.  We hoped to ride together for a few hours, but Eric and I got antsy and bid our farewells before hitting the road.

Shortly after crossing the continental divide, we pulled into our destination of Hachita.  We rode past the only three businesses on the main road, all of which looked like they had been closed for some time, and wondered what to do.  Our map showed camping in the area, but where?  We spotted a post office sign and biked over, arriving 2 minutes before they closed.  After a short phone call, we were directed a couple more blocks over to the residence of Sam Hughes.

it's all downhill from here, right?
 Sam is a chain-smoking bachelor in his upper 80s who allows folks to camp in his yard.  This is commonplace in teeny Hachita, population 40, because it is the last "town" on the Continental Divide trail which ends 45 miles south in a little border town called Antelope Wells.  So, Sam offers hikers and cyclists his yard and driving services to and from Antelope Wells and to Columbus, Demming or El Paso.

Outside the post office, before heading over to Sam's, I peeled the anti-tea party sticker off my bike, and upon entry into Sam's house I was glad.  There was a gun over the door and one of Sam's first stories included his shoulder holster.  But really, I shouldn't have been so quick to judge.   Sam spoke several languages, understood the plight of the migrants, and was a really interesting fellow.  He told us about his family, his metal-detecting, his jewlry making and his international guests since he began as a trail guide over 10 years ago.  Sam was really sweet and again we were so glad to have a warm place to escape from the cold.  Due to the frigid temperatires, Sam offered us his floor, but in the end, we picked the clean, cold air instead of breathing smoke inside all night.

Day 18: Wednesday, November 9   Hachita, NM to Columbus, NM  Miles:  45 (844.5)  Flats: 0,8   Elevation: 4400 ft to 4000 ft

We had a contact in Columbus, and we were invited to join them across the border in Palomas if we got into town before 2:00.  We left with what we thought was plenty of time, but once again, the headwind got the best of us.

Part of the reason we chose from the west coast to the east was because in El Paso, the wind always seems to be going east.  Our friends in Columbus agreed and said 90% of the time the wind blows from the west.  But we landed in that 10% and the wind was about 20 miles per hour.

Eric thinks this was the worst day of cycling of the trip (I still think that day of pure sand dunes on the way to Penasco was the most difficult).  When we arrived in Columbus, later than anticipated, he collapsed on the ground in exhaustion.  Instead of heading over to Palomas (we spent the next whole day over there), we got some delicious grub and picked out our campsite at Pancho Villa State Park.

View of Columbus from Pancho Villa State Park

Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, Sonora

On November 5, after our chilly ride to Douglas and a warm arrival from the Sisters Christine, Louise, Lucy and Judy, filled with long introductions and amazing vegetable stew, Sister Christine brought us on a little tour of Agua Prieta.

Similar to Naco, volunteers from Douglas and Agua Prieta had come together to serve the population of deportees being repatriated only to have Agua Prieta cease to be a deportation site.  The migrant resource center still remains, right next to the port of entry, and everyday volunteers still go there, but hardly anyone arrives.

Migrant Resouce Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora

Sister Christine trying to find pants for the men who stopped by

We stopped in to see the space and soon after three men were knocking at the door.  They were traveling north from Veracruz and were pleased to get a bite to eat, some new pants and a lively conversation.  We sat and chatted about the persecution of immigrants these days over bologna sandwiches and cookies.  One of the men explained to us: "Most of us are good people.  There are a few bad ones, criminals, and they are ruining it for us all."  This is something we have heard over and over again from migrants--they feel forced to explain their goodness, their lack of criminality. 

As we have historically done when in economic crisis, our country is using immigrants as scapegoats for our broken system, and I feel so bad when I hear migrants having to explain themselves, like they have done something bad, when in reality, they are practical slaves in our society!  Look in nearly every hotel, every restaurant, every field, every construction crew, and you will see how immigrants are the backbone of our economy and they are not only underpaid and underappreciated but they are persecuted at every turn!  One great lesson I have learned on this trip how important it is to express my gratitude to each and every undocumented worker for the backbreaking labor they do in our communities.

After chatting for well over an hour at the migrant center, we walked over to the shelter for migrants, which is operated in a similar way to the shelter we stayed at in Altar, Sonora.  It is part of a parish, this one right next to the church.


At the parish Casa del Migrante
 Because of the lack of deportees, the number of guests arriving at the shelter are very low, but they continue to keep their doors open for the one or two that straggle in each night.

It was inspiring to see how the commuinities of Agua Prieta and Douglas built up a network of resources for migrants, and while their numbers are currently low, they continue to be a presence because just as fast as they stopped deporting to Agua Prieta, they may start again and if they do, there will be kind faces to welcome them.

The next day, Eric and I accompanied Sister Judy, deacon Gabe and volunteer Fernando on a water drop in Naco, Sonora.  We traveled several miles both east and west of the town of Naco and assured that 10 55-gallon drums of water were filled for the migrants that chose that route to cross.  We sat in the back of the truck with the huge barrel of water and Fernando's dog, el Rey/King.  It was chilly, but the landscape was really beautiful (except for that tacky border wall thing).

Gabe, checking if the tank is low

These water tanks are on the Mexican side, because, due to the wall,
migrants are running out of water before they even make it across the line

El Rey, stealing Sister Judy's seat

Almost perfect