Monday, October 31, 2011

Pan Left Productions

On Tuesday, Eric and I spoke with Mary and Jason of Pan Left Productions. We have mostly been meeting with social service organizations, so we were excited to speak with someone from a different area of work--the media.

Started in 1994, Pan Left is a media collective with the mission "to amplify progressive stories and voices by providing access to equipment and resources, increasing the capability of individuals and organizations to use and make media, and promoting equity in media distribution."  Pan left members produce amazing videos that can be found on their webpage and here on their YouTube channel. 

The videos they produce range from the current OccupyTucson movement to the recent work to save ethnic studies here in Tucson/AZ to a homeless youth project and beyond.  They are also involved in a huge collaboration to bear witness (and film and broadcast on their YouTube channel) interactions when the Tucson police calls Border Patrol.  This involves a large text tree where people immediately report if they see BP called by the police and anyone who is available rushes there with a videocamera.  They have made some interesting observations with this project, like certain police officers who don't speak Spanish just automatically call Border Patrol to interpret!

In addition to producing their own videos, they teach workshops on media literacy and production, provide media services to allied progressive organizations and they hold screenings to promote independent artists.  They are really awesome, and I think their videos say it all, so check them out!  Also, I have to plug Jason's latest project about the worst sheriff in the country, Joe Arpaio of Phoenix.  Check here for more information and a screening near you of Under Arpaio.

Jason and Mary of Pan Left, near a very old Saguaro that graces their parking lot. 
A special thanks to Mary for meeting with us on her birthday!

Southside Workers Center

Tuesday morning we got up early and headed to the Southside Workers Center, a ministry of the Southside Presbyterian Church, which was the first church in the country to declare itself a "sanctuary site" during the Central American civil wars of the 1980's .  There we met with a couple of volunteers, Raul and Melanie, but mostly we talked with the day laborers who meet there every weekday from 6am-9:30am.

The Center started in 2006, providing a safe space and a place for day laborers to meet and organize.  Each morning right, when the Center opens, all the workers gather and put their name in a lottery.  The names are drawn and written down in order, and when an employer arrives, the first workers on the list are the first to go, and in this way, the workers aren't competing or fighting with one another to get the job.  After talking to day laborers in San Diego about competition between workers, this was a really interesting strategy.  Unfortunately, like we heard in San Diego, the demand for work has drastically decreased and the workers may only get 1-2 days work per week, so after the lottery, most the workers know that only the first 7-10 people on the list may get work that day.

The Workers Center provides a lot of other support and perks to the workers.  When an employer arrives, folks from the Center write down their name, phone number and license plates so that if they mistreat or do not pay the workers, the Center can follow up with them.  The Center also demands that employers pay not only the minimum wage, but a little above--$8.00 per hour, but the workers said they are often paid $10.00 per hour.  Also, the Center has a published phone number that people can call to hire a worker and they offer hot meals twice per week and know your rights presentations each week--educating the workers on labor laws, what to do if stopped by the police and what to do if detained.  All the workers in the Center also take up a monthly $5 collection to offer to their compañeros who have recently been detained.

The workers and the volunteers at the Center were extremely warm and welcoming.  We sat in a circle of about 10 workers and talked for over an hour, and they were very interested in our border trip and our blog.  Like Eric and I, they know that people in the U.S. need to be educated on the positive role immigrants have in our communities so we can change the way they are seen and treated.

Raul, Melianie and Mark fighting the good fight.

Heading to Tucson and Borderlinks

Last Sunday, Eric and I relaxed in our old digs in Nogales and the next day (last Monday) we took the shuttle up to Tucson.  We wanted to visit some organizations in Tucson, work on the bikes and see some friends.  We planned to stay just a few days, head back south and visit some people in Nogales before heading east again.  However, on Tuesday evening, Eric crashed his bicycle and sprained his ankle.  He did not see a doctor, but a paramedic friend looked at it and some other medical folks have shared good advice.  It appears that he just overextended some ligaments or tendons, but after several days of resting here in Tucson, they are improving each day and we are hopeful that we will get back on the road in the next couple of days. 

Our first meeting in Tucson was with Susanna and Elsbeth at Borderlinks.  Borderlinks is a binational experiential education project that began in 1988.  They bring groups from all over the world (but mostly from the U.S.) on educational border trip that can last from 1 day to 3 weeks. And they are good at what they do--they have 50-60 trips every year!  Participants are mostly from universities, but also church groups, seminaries, youth groups, and more.  Each trip has a leader from the United States and Mexico and they mostly stay along the border, but now also offer trips to Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico and Chiapas, Mexico and around the United States to explore topics of immigration, sustainability, etc.

A wall depicting what a trip with Borderlinks may include

A traditional border trip would include visiting organizations and people in and around Tucson and other communities on the border, sometimes traveling south to Nogales, Altar and/or Agua Prieta.  They examine the issue of immigration and talk to people affected on both sides of the wall.

Also, a huge focus of the trips is on sustainability and the groups all eat vegetarian meals during their stay, with an emphasis on local and organic foods.  The yard of Borderlinks also offers examples of other ways to live sustainably with native plants, rain harvesting systems and a grey water washer.

Cubicle dormitory at Borderlinks!

It is amazing to see this great work being done on the border!  I led immersion groups in El Paso for a while and I think education, especially about issues like immigration, is the key to making the world more just.

Borderlinks employees Elsbeth and Susanna

Day 12: Altar, Sonora to 10 miles from Santa Ana, Sonora....Then on to Nogales, AZ

Day 12: Saturday, October 22    Altar, Sonora to Kilometer Marker 16 on Highway 2, Nogales bus terminal to Nogales, Arizona      Miles: 40     Flats: 4, 8 (trip, total)

We left Altar feeling great.  We had a delicious breakfast of nopalitos cactus at the migrant shelter and we picked up some groceries for the day and we were off!  We were going strong until exactly mile 2.77 when I had to call Eric back because my rear tire was flat again.  At this point, both the tube on the bike and the extra had been patched in the same place with thicker pieces of innertube because we thought the problem was a little piece of the metal bead that was coming out of the tire.  When we took the wheel off this time, and pulled out the tube, Eric realized we were misdiagnosing the problem.  There was rubbing all the way around the inside the tube and the real culprit was determined: The Velox Rim Tape.

Day 12 = this times four

I bought this rim tape that I was told was the best, but I didn't know it came in different sizes.  It covers the spokes on the inside of the rim TO PREVENT FLATS.  Well, the size I bought was too wide to fit neatly in the depression of the rim, so it was poking up and rubbing on the innertube.  We ripped it out, found only one hole for the moment, patched it and biked on.

We stopped for snacks around mile 25 and after a delicious coke and some beef jerky, my tire was low again.  Off came the bags and boxes, over went the bike and on went another patch.  In the same exact spot.  But the thing is, patches that are in the same exact spot as another patch don't want to stick, because there is already old glue and dirt and crud there.  At this point, the rear tube and the extra tube had been patched a couple times in the same place (and the front tube is probably rubbing on Velox too, but hasn't blown yet!).

We were back in hilly country, expecting to climb at least 300 meters in the day's ride.  It was beautiful and surprisingly Eric and I were actually really glad to be using our hill muscles again.  I realized I like how a hill provides a simple goal that you can see, while you can see a flat, straight stretch go on forever in the desert and you can already tell there is no where to stop for a coke.

But we were dragged down by mechanical difficulties and my tire went flat twice more in the next ten miles.  On the last one, my anger spiked as we pushed the bikes toward a teeny patch of shade made by a mesquite tree.  But when we finally decided that the only option was to hitchhike the last 10 miles to Santa Ana, I got really excited!  I had never hitchhiked and I always wanted to!! Not necessarily in Sonora, Mexico, but what choice did we have in that one?

In fewer than 20 minutes, a nice driver named Alfredo (otro angel de nuestro viaje) pulled his big truck over and we were able to tie our bikes up in the back and jump in the cab.  We chatted about migrants and narcos and the situation in Mexico  and his job hauling stoves and washers and refrigerators from Tijuana to Monterrey as we rode to Santa Ana and then to Magdelena, 20 km more down the road.  He spoke bluntly about politics in Mexico and even showed us how he was ripping off his company by paying the employee at Pemex to inflate the invoice when he purchased diesel.  He said the company expected him to do that, because they know he can't live on their wages, and that is just how Mexico works.  He did make me nervous when he texted while driving--I imagined the text "picked up another two...I will drop them off for you at X point."  But we were delivered safely in Magdelena where we had intended on spending the night.

Eric, tying our bikes in the back of the truck

Magdelena, Sonora is beautiful! We tried to find our contact, who had apparently moved to Tucson, and we tried one last time to fix the tubes.  Eric ripped off the old patches and cleaned the tubes with gasoline so there was no old residue.  Still, the patches would not stick.  My wheels are 27" which is bigger than a normal tire, so we knew we wouldn't be able to find new tubes in town.  With few options left, but much indecision, we opted to take a bus to Nogales for $7.00 each (cheaper than a hotel).  We were only a day's ride away, 70 little miles, so we were really disappointed as we tucked our bikes under the bus.

Pretty Magdelena - hope to visit again someday

Arriving in Nogales, Sonora, we stretched Eric's extra 26" tube on my wheel and rode (in the dark) to the port of entry.  We zipped through and made it to the apartment in Nogales, Arizona where we had lived this past August with no problem, except bruised egos.  But we were so happy to be there and count ourselves lucky that we only missed one day of riding and we were able to see Altar.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Altar, Sonora

Ever since reading Targeted: National Security and the Business of Immigration, which briefly mentions Altar, Sonora as a major waypoint for migrants, I have wanted to visit.  This is why we dipped south of the border and missed a few border towns along the way--all for Altar, and it was worth it.

We were warned that Altar is completely controlled by narcotraffickers and our presence would probably be known even before we arrived.  This fact was a little intimidating at first, but we were really fascinated by our time in Altar and nothing bad happened to us while there.

Eighty percent of Altar's economy is based on migrants.  At its highest point, between 2002-2004, 3,500 migrants were passing through Altar everyday.  Every Single Day.  Since then, the numbers have decreased dramatically (but still at least in the hundreds per day), due to a poor economy in the U.S., heightened border enforcement and as narcotraffickers have become more involved in the business of smuggling people in the area.  Now, often, the coyotes/polleros/guides/smugglers who assist in crossing migrants work for the narcos and, more regularly, people are convinced or forced to be burreros--folks who lug marijuana to the U.S. on their backs. In a very systematic process they have set up in recent years, aside from what they pay to be smuggled into the U.S., every migrant must pay a fee to the narcos/mafia/"duenos del terreno/owners of the land."

There are vans that drive migrants from Altar, Sonora to Sasabe, Sonora, the border town almost 60 miles north.  The drivers of the vans charge the fee for the narcos, 1200-1500 pesos for Mexicans, 2000 pesos for Central Americans ($100-125, $165 USD). When the fee is collected, the driver calls their mafia contact, giving that person the number of the van and how many people will be crossing.  On the journey, the van will get stopped at a checkpoint of sorts and another mafia member will check the van number and the number of people who the driver reported had paid.  If the number is the same, the van continues to the border. If there is one person too many, the van driver will likely get beat up and the extra person may be kidnapped, his/her family extorted for the money owed and more.

Van which transports migrants between Altar and Sasabe

Before we knew ANY of that, we arrived in Altar.  The shelter we stayed at opened at 5:00 and we were early, so I ducked into an internet cafe, while Eric watched the loaded bikes outside and read his book. Eric saw a numbered van pull in and the driver and two women walk toward the internet cafe.  The driver lingered outside, waiting while the women used the computers, and read the bumper stickers on our bikes before striking up a conversation with Eric.  He talked freely of his work the past 10 years as a van driver--"it's just like driving a taxi," he said several times.  He said it was recently very dangerous as the area became disputed in the drug world and two cartels began to duke it out.  Many people were killed , though it was hardly reported, but now that the area is completely controlled by one cartel, it is much safer.

The driver said that the mafia controls everything and they keep everyone in line.  He didn't tell Eric how they charged the migrants, we learned that later, but he said that all the money made off the migrants goes through the cartels.  He quoted the mafia saying, "el dinero es para mi y para el pueblo--nadie mas" meaning the money earned from the migrants is for the people employed/controlled by the narcos in the migrant industry and for the narcos themselves--no one else. This means, if a police officer is found by the mafia to be stealing from a migrant, an all too common practice, the police officer will be punished. The driver said he has never witnessed the mafia mistreating the migrants, though he has witnessed them beating up coyotes who have misbehaved.  What an interesting person to chat with, having spent less than an hour in the city!

We stayed at CCAMYN - the Centro Comunitario de Atencion a Migrantes y Necesitados, which is the migrant shelter in the area, run by the parish.  The shelter started 10 years ago, and a year before that, congregants gave food to migrants in the plaza every Sunday after mass.  The shelter opens to men and women each night and welcomes people from 5-6pm. A dinner is served in a big comedor that is filled with migrant themed art and educational posters.  After dinner, guests are shown to the dormitories where they can shower and rest the night.  There is also a big courtyard used for educational purposes to show the guests what kind of flora they will find in the desert, along with an example water barrel, which many humanitarian organizations fill on the desert trails.  If available from donations, the guests may also receive clothing and/or toiletries. In the morning, another volunteer wakes the migrants up and invites them to breakfast.  Then they are out the door and the whole place is closed up by 7:30am.  It is run entirely by volunteers who live in the city and no volunteer even stays overnight.

CCAMYN- the migrant shelter where we stayed

The courtyard at CCAMYN has examples of cactus found in the desert and a water barrel to educate the guests

Map of Arizona - red dots are places remains have been found, though many more have died since this poster was made, and the semi circles show one, two, three days of walking.  Some migrants walk all the way to Phoenix - 150 miles!  On the bottom, the poster says "Don't go! There is not enough water! It is not worth it!"

Cross at CCAMYN draped with names of migrants who have died crossing

It was a beautiful space and we were welcomed by several volunteers who very graciously sat with us before dinner and told us of the work and the city.  Marcos, the evening volunteer, and long-term volunteers Belen and Teresa, told us some facts and figures about the city and about the recent change in control of the area.  We also chatted about the struggle to keep out coyotes and burreros.  After a fascinating discussion, we ate dinner and chatted with that evening's 5 male guests before heading to bed nice and early.

Marcos, who welcomes guests each night

I thought, in a city where 3,500 people used to cross everyday, the migrant shelter would be overflowing, but the volunteers told me that even when numbers in the city were that high, the most they saw were 30-40 people per night.  This is because most people who come to Altar have already paid a coyote and that coyote has his or her connections in area, likely staying at one of the many cheap hotels that fill the town.  So, most of the people staying at the shelter have been abandoned or assaulted by their coyotes or they were deported recently and are preparing to try again.

We spent the next full day in Altar, just walking around, observing and chatting with people.  I don't even think you have to pay attention to see that everything is catered to migrants.  The small town is full of restaurants and hotels--most with names like Hotel La Veracruzana, Restaurante Chiapas--trying to lure in migrants with names from their home states.  The street markets sell camouflage backpacks, socks, ski mask and glove sets.  Even in the grocery store, we pointed out displays of cans of pop-top tuna and Gatorade.

This restaurant tries to lure in migrants from the southern state of Chiapas

Markets catering to migrants

Walking around Altar, you just see a lot of men.  Lots of them with backpacks, but some too nice looking for town--perhaps coyotes?  While in many towns in Mexico, there is a void of young men, Altar is chock full of them.  We saw Greyhound-style buses pause at the plaza several times per day to drop off ever more men and at one point, we saw a group of about 30-40 men walking past the main plaza.

We only saw one woman who appeared to be a migrant during our time in Altar.  I would bet there were more there, but they probably take greater care to not be seen, as female migrants are so likely to be abused and assaulted on their journey.

The plaza of Altar, where migrants and coyotes mingle and hang out.

A couple of women we did talk to were surveying the migrants, for data collection by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.  The COLEF has paid people to talk to Mexican migrants every day all along the border for the last twelve years and have published many reports here.  They do not ask the migrants name or address or phone number, but instead want to know where the migrant is going, if they have a job or house or family there, if they have a job or house or family in Mexico, have they crossed before, were they deported, what is their level of education, etc.  I am so glad to see that this institute has been doing this research and it sounds like they must have an incredible amount of data available.

I spent a good amount of the day in internet cafes, and one notable observation from my time inside was witnessing many children playing super-violent video games that were set in the desert.  I have debated with many friends about the effects of violent video games, but it felt different to be in a narco-occupied area, knowing that with the current economy in Mexico, many of these kids may see working for the narcos as their only option.  And in hearing about atrocities committed against migrants, one has to wonder how they can be so dehumanized, how violence can be so normalized.  Do these games really have no effect?

Child in internet cafe, playing violent video games set in the desert

That night at CCAMYN only two guests stayed at the shelter besides us (there were a few more at dinner who were overheard talking about carrying drugs so they were asked to leave).  The volunteers and guests were so kind to us, blessing our journey and joking that they were going to grab bikes and join us. 

The Friday night volunteer cooks at CCAMYN, Gloria and Catalina

Migrants attended: 22,272

It was a really interesting day and a half in Altar.  Eric and I are really glad we were able to spend time there, that CCAMYN was willing to host us, and that so many people were willing to let us sit and listen to their stories and insights.

"A los Caidos en los Desiertos de la Muerte/To the Fallen in the Deserts of Death" poem by Othon Perez

I found this translation of the above poem on the blog of Rick Ufford-Chase:


In memory of those who, when seeking a better life,
found only death,
In memory of those who risked risked everything and lost it,
Who went with hope in their eyes and challenge in their souls.

The sun calcified them, the desert devoured them,
and the dust erased their name and their face.

In memory of those who will never return
we offer these flowers . . .
To them, with respect, we say:
Your thirst, is our thirst.
Your hunger, is our hunger.
Your pain, is our pain.
Your discomfort, your bitterness, your agony
Are also ours.

We are a shout that demands justice. . .
In order that No One, ever again, will have to
Abandon their lands, their beliefs, their dead, their children
their parents, their family, their race, their culture, their identity. . .

We are a silence that has a voice . . .
In order that no one will have to look for their destiny in other lands.
In order that no one will have to go to the desert and be consumed by loneliness.

We are a voice in the desert that cries out:
Education for all!
Opportunity for all!
Work for all!
Bread for all!
Liberty for all!
Justice for all!. . .

We are a voice that the desert cannot drown. . .
In order that the country offers equality to all its children
The opportunity for a decorous and dignified life. . .

"For the right to live in Peace"
Mexico, Winter - 2004
Othon Perez (Poet)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Days 9, 10 & 11: Puerto Peñasco, SON to Altar, SON

Day 9: Tuesday, October 18   Peñasco, SON to La Y Griega, SON    Miles: 75  Flats: 1, 2 (trip, total)

This was a nice day of riding with the wind graciously at our backs most the day.  The road, however, was pretty terrible--no shoulder, bumpy, lots of holes, jagged edge--but we passed huge asparagus fields, vineyards, citrus groves, and olive orchards that gave us something to look at and kept us cooler.

I jinxed us in Penasco by talking about our luck with flat tires, and on this leg we got the second flat of the trip. Of course, it was on my wheel again, this time the rear, but strangely it was on the inside of the tube.  We checked the tire and found there was a bit of the wire bead that was protruding.  It was a cause of some concern, but there wasn't much we could do, so we patched it and biked on.

A sight not too common--at this point

One would think that there would be places to stop an enjoy a coke amidst all that farming, but there was very little in the way of "towns" and thus we had to push on until we found one little restaurant at mile 57.  There we ate in the company of many employees of the nearby mine and rested a few hours before zipping along to our destination of Y Griega (which is the name of the second to last letter in the alphabet--Greek Y). The only hotel cost more than we wanted to pay (350 pesos), but we were in unknown territory of narco-occupied Sonora so we handed it over and enjoyed the luxuries of television and wifi.

Day 10: Wednesday, October 19   La Y Griega, SON to Pitiquito, SON   Miles:  45  Flats: 2, 4

We awoke to find my rear tube had gone flat again.  We grumpily patched it again, this time with a larger piece of inner-tube, hoping it would take longer to wear through.

We hit the road again, and right where we left our tailwind the night before, we found the strongest headwind we have encountered.  For the first time, we really felt as if we were battling the wind, and we took turns in those first 15 miles leading and drafting.  I learned not only is biking into a headwind way more work, but also much more dangerous as you cannot hear anything coming from behind.

As there was no shoulder on this two lane road, we had to ride in the lane, along the right, white line. By the time we heard the car/truck/semi-truck-with-2-trailers with whom we were sharing the lane, it was right on top of us. Most vehicles were very courteous and got completely into the oncoming traffic lane when passing us, and if someone was oncoming in that lane, often both drivers would slow to a crawl to get by us.  However, the few that were not courteous are much more memorable as all the sudden, my elbow is almost leaning on a trailer and I am holding my breath and trying to stay going exactly straight on the road.  Scary.

Between the morning flat, the road, the wind, and our much slower pace compared to the previous day, we were not in high spirits.  We tried to enjoy the scenery--all of the sudden we were in a beautiful desert scape complete with many varieties of cactus: saguaros, teddy bear chollas, ocotillo, organ pipe and senita, to name those we recognized from the road--but we were dragged down again by another flat we thought was caused by the tire.

The not-so-barren desert

Things were looking up when we finally arrived in Caborca and were able to get through to our contact in Pitiquito, just 8 kilometers down the road.  Francisca, a Tohono O'odham health promoter, welcomed us into her home for the night. 

Francisca, along with her large extended family who almost all live on the same block, is part of a traditional O'odham community in Pitiquito.  Following old traditions, every evening her family and other community members gather in a circle of chairs outside to talk things over and shoot the breeze.  After Francisco filled us to the gill, we joined the circle and met the family, talking to them about our trip and hearing about Pitiquito, community traditions, and their lives.  It was a really beautiful space that made us homesick to be around our own families (though my extended family, while all living within 45 miles of one another, only gets together 3 times per year - aren't we always too busy?).

Over the two meals she fed us this day, and two the next (so much amazing food), we talked with Francisca about her involvement with a comunidades de base, Christian base communities, that were a product of the Liberation Theology movement.  She attends these church meetings twice per week and really enjoys them. She also spoke of her training in tuberculosis prevention and her desire to continue learning about other health issues so she can educate other community members.  Francisca is an amazing woman and we are so grateful that she was willing to open her house and life to us with only a few hours notice.

Day 11:  Thursday, October 20   Pitiqutio, SON to Altar, SON   Miles: 15, 538 (trip, total)   Flats: 0, 4

Since we were only 15 miles from Altar, the shelter we were staying at didn't open until 5:00, and because of apprehension of arriving in narco-controlled Altar too early, we slept in (the first time since Tijuana!) and hung out with Francisca and her family in the morning, visiting the mission church in Pitiquito.

The Mission in Pitiquito

After a fantastic family photo, we headed towards Altar and had a short, non-eventful ride.  Our time in Altar was quite fascinating, but that will be in the next post.

Three generous generations - Daniela, Francisca and la abuelita

Friday, October 21, 2011

Puerto Peñasco

Okay, so we drifted a bit south of the border, but we want some beach time too! (Actually, we just wanted to visit Altar, Sonora, where we are now!)  But, let me tell you, Puerto Peñasco is a strange place.  We did some awesome things with some awesome people, but there are way too many rich Americans in Peñasco in their fancy beach homes. 

We were told that Peñasco is the beach of Arizona and that rattled around in our heads the whole time we were there, and we realized, "What!?  Arizona, home of some of the most anti-immigrant sentiment and laws, has her vacation home in Mexico?"  Of course, Arizonans (and other folks from the US) want to be able to travel across borders, stretch their dollar and enjoy a pristine environment where they can plop a house just 50 feet from the ocean, but those people who are building their house on that beach shouldn´t be given the opportunity to cross a line to earn a decent wage or give their kids a decent education, right?  No way.

So, it was a little icky feeling and I think this feeling put me in a funk for a couple days because even though we did some awesome stuff, not a lot of it sunk in.  Now, I have all these questions I am wondering why I didn´t ask, but in the moment, I was just floating along. 

Our stay in Peñasco was much improved by the fact that we stayed at CEDO, a desert and ocean research and eduction center.  And the fact that we stayed with this semester´s crew of students from the Earlham Border Studies Program, a semester long, domestic "study abroad," if you will, that is based in Tucson but brings students all over the border and Mexico, studying immigration, human rights, globalization, environmentalism, etc.  With CEDO and the crew from Earlham (you don´t have to go to Earlham to participate), we went on a kayak tour of an estuary on the Gulf and up to the Pinacate peaks, a range of volcanoes and craters, just on the other side of the border from the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge in Arizona.

We kayaked in the Morua estuary as the tide rippled in, where we saw crabs, a great variety of birds (sandpipers, egrets, herons, osprey, some kind of kingfisher, and, of course, sea gulls), and jumping fish.  We also passed several oyster farms, one of which was part of a women´s cooperative.  I have seen sewing and weaving women´s cooperative, and even cooperatives that make composting toilets, but this was a first!  How awesome! And sustainable too. Of course, we had to give our support and try some oysters.  A bit gooey for my taste, and fortunately, it wasn´t until after we ate them that they informed us that they are alive when we eat them.  (Sorry, no pictures, until I get my disposable underwater camera developed! (talk about not sustainable...))

On Sundy morning, we ventured over to the Pinacate and Great Desert of Altar Biosphere Reserve.  We enjoyed the visitor´s center, where we watched an awesome video that told us the history of the area, the historic indigenous migrations, and had awesome wildlife footage.  With all that, the fact that stuck the most was that vultures are bald so that infection won´t grow on their head as they feast on flesh--fascinating, huh?

Eric is much better than me, and he recalls that the indigenous people of the area, the O´odham, seasonally traveled from what is now Arizona, through the Pinacate, all the way to the Gulf of California, where they would catch fish and dry them for future consumption.  They were wise to the landscape of the Pinacate and relied on hidden pools of rainwater called tinajas, similar to the huecos at Hueco Tanks State Park right outside of El Paso.

Then we went out and visited two maar craters, which are created by groundwater coming into contact with hot lava.  The Pinacate Reserve is home to 9 maar craters, one of the largest concentrations in the world.

Crater El Elegante - a maar crater, caused by steam

Eric and I with the Earlham crew
A big thanks to the Earlham Border Studies Program for inviting us along on their adventures.  You can find a blog written by this semester´s students here.

Another really awesome thing we did while in Peñasco was meet with the Tohono O´odham governor in the area, Jose Cervando Leon.  We met Cervando on the beach, and he chatted with us for a couple of hours about his personal history and the struggle of the indigenous people of the area.  Being who we are, we were especially interested in how the border wall and heightened border security has affected the O´odham people.

Cervando shared that the wall and security has greatly affected the people, as they are no longer able to cross where they used to, though both sides were originally Tohono O´odham territory, and many people do not have the resources or money necessary to acquire a visa to cross into the United States.  This affects people´s participation in meetings, ceremonies, but also their medical care, as the O´odham´s hospital is located near Tucson, AZ. 

Hearing this from Cervando, compiled with learning about traditional migration patterns of the O´odham people from the video at the Pinacate, added a whole new perspective to our learning on the border. We remembered this border has not been here forever and it is stopping the movement of people who have been around much longer than the Border Patrol.  Human migration has happened as long as there were humans on Earth, and here we are, trying to stop it with laws and jail sentences?

Chatting with Cervando gave us a whole new perpective on the border reality, bringing indigenous groups into the picture.  We are so grateful to have had the opportunty to speak with an O´odham leader!

The public beach where we met Cervando
Eric with Cervando

Days 6, 7 & 8: Mexicali, BCN to Puerto Penasco, SON

Day 6: Wednesday, October 12   Mexicali, BCN to Luis B. Sanchez, SON    Miles: 53    Flats: 0, 1 (trip, total)

We left Hotel Migrante excited to get on the road, but nervous about how hectic the roads would be and concerned with being able to carry enough water as we enter more desolate desert stretches.

This was the first day of riding that was flat and I felt well and to make it even better we had an incredible tailwind and we got lots of happy honks and waves from drivers.   Once we got out of the city, it was a lot of fun, regularly cruising along at 20 miles an hour.  The aroma passing by cattle ranches and manure strewn fields got to be a bit overwhelming at times, but it was lovely nonetheless.

We decided to get a cheap hotel in the last decent sized town before the roads got a lot more uninhabited, and dumpy as it was, it was lovely to have a shower and electricity to charge my camera battery!

Hotel Santa Fe in Luis B. Sanchez, Sonora

Day 7:  Thursday, October 13    Luis B. Sanchez, SON to BehindADune, SON     Miles: 75     Flats: 0, 1

Really fun day of riding, and the farthest I have ever ridden in one day. We got out of our crummy little hotel early, stopped for breakfast 5 miles down the road and off we went. There was only one "town" in the first 50 miles, and that was really just a military checkpoint, but it was enjoyable nonetheless for the shade and the cold coke (our new habit).

Shrine to the Virgen in the middle of the desert

Sacred upcycling

We flew along with a second day of tailwind, eventually seeing the Rio Colorado delta and the beautiful Gulf of California.  We arrived in El Golfo de Santa Clara before 11:00am after 50 miles of riding.  We had originally planned to stay in El Golfo, but if we did that we were looking at having to do the next 90 miles (wherein there were NO services) in one long day or breaking it up into two, and camping in the desert. Two full days in the desert also bought up the concern of how much water we could carry.

So, we decided to hang out in El Golfo for a few hours until it cooled down a bit (how can it be so hot in October!?), get on the road again and go as far as we could.  So that is what we did and we made it 25 miles before we picked a nice spot where we couldn't be seen from the road, and we camped there, watching the sun set and the moon rise before falling asleep at approximately 7:45pm since we didn´t want increase our visibility by using our headlamps in the tent.

Our campsite

I observed two interesting, thought-provoking events this day which I would love opinions/perspective on.

First, as we sipped a gatorade in a gas station, waiting to head out into the desert, a little girl, maybe 6 years old, came in the store and asked for some prepared food, a hundred peso bill in her hand. At first glance, I thought that was a big bill for her to be trusted with. Then I thought, well, it´s less than 10 American dollars, so that is not so much. But the conversion isn't really that easy, minimum wage is 53.8 pesos PER DAY in Baja California, so 100 pesos is like 2 days work! So, in dollars, it would be like her having a hundred dollar bill! Which perception is right? Was it like a little girl with 10 dollars or 100 dollars?  (for more perspective, and because people always say the cost of living is so low and that is why its okay to pay workers so little in poor countries, our gatorade cost 28 pesos, public busses in Tijuana cost 10 pesos (no transfers), our average meal out is 50 pesos each, if not more).

Second, on the last leg of our day as we pedaled into the desolate desert, about 15 miles in, next to a big pickup truck with its hood up, a man tried to wave us down for water (presumably for his radiator). When we saw him ahead, I told Eric I was nervous and to keep going. As we rolled by he said "need water" in English and we remained haunted by those words the rest of the ride. As we swung wide, I responded to him "necesitamos nuestra agua"- we need our water, which was true, but not the full reason why we didn't stop.  We were nervous, on bicycles, and there were plenty of other cars going by that may have had more resources.  Also, we were specifically advised not to stop for supposedly stalled cars in Sonora and I assumed it wouldn't really happen because we are on bikes. Eric observed that not only the hood was up, but the spare tire was on the ground while all 4 tires on the vehicle appeared fine.  As sketchy as it seemed, I feel like we denied someone water! Could we have helped? Did we do the right thing? I probably would do the same if the situation happened again tomorrow, but not without guilt. What would you have done?

Day 8: Friday, October 14     BehindADune, SON to Puerto Penasco, SON    Miles: 72    Flats: 0, 1

We awoke in the morning to find all of our stuff damp!  Who knew that there would be such heavy dew in the desert?  (Was it really dew?  I don't really know.  It probably had something to do with proximity to the Gulf? You tell me.)  We were slow to get going which was fine because there was quite a fog on the road, which made it really picturesque, but also quite dangerous.

Dew in the desert!  What?!
Foggy morning!

Looks like we are biking to heaven!

Though it started out pretty, this was a really rough day.  It was surprisingly hilly and after two days of tailwind, we were fully realized how lucky we had it, because it was headwind time.  It was also just really rough to not have any shade to stop in or any distraction from the vast expanse of road ahead- I would get one line of a song in my head and sing it to myself for what seemed like hours ("doo-doo-do-do, do-do, do-do, Can´t touch this" x 1000000). To keep my sanity, I usually like stopping every 10-20 miles and taking a break at a gas station or puesto, but that was not a possibility here.  The road signs were also really annoying as one would say we were 70 km away from Puerto Penasco, and 10 km later another would say that we were 71 km away. And the icing on the cake was that we had some mechanical difficulties, as my crank arm started clicking and Eric's shifter for the rear derailleur starting breaking so he stopped using it and his 21 speed became a 3 speed.

Our spirits were lifted a few times along the way, which made it a lot easier to push on.  The first was the Earlham Border Studies program van stopping and saying hi around mile 30.  We planned to stay with them in Puerto Penasco, but it was so nice to have an excuse to stop and rest for a moment.  The next was a environmental and cultural education rest stop, which to my disappointment did not have a coke machine (Weren´t we in Mexico?!), but it did have some big signs that provided us some deeply desired respite from the sun.  The best surprise along the way was a little woman's house that had a little Cafe sign pointing to it and it was there that we finally got our Coca-cola!  In addition to that, we also got to hear about the UFO sightings in the area--we saw pictures and everything. Pretty freaky, y'all.

I wanted to kiss the ground (and get off that bicycle seat!) when we finally arrived in Puerto Penasco around 3:30, but unfortunately it wasn't over yet.  We planned to stay at a research/ecotourism organization that was about 6 miles into town, and those were long miles, but managable since we knew it would be over soon and because we stopped for lunch and Gatorade (I say managable, but the day was hard and in those last 6 miles I continuously sang a song to myself that I wrote about hating Puerto Penasco).

We biked 150 miles in two days!  I am really glad we get to rest for a few days, but I am excited to know that we can do it and how much water we need--we packed 18 liters for that 100 miles and we had 4 left over when we arrived.

Our first sunset in Puerto Penasco

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Eric wrote the following post about a guest we chatted with at Hotel Migrante:

Cristian is from Guatemala. His family lives in Puerto San Jose on the Pacific coast. Cristian is 23 years old and was working in Guatemala as a welder, building doors and window bars - specialized in customized designs such as flowers, birds, etc. After work he used to go fishing in the ocean to make ends meet. He has a wife and a 3 year old son in Guatemala. 

Five years ago Cristian made an attempt to migrate to the U.S. I can't remember how long it took him but at one point he was kidnapped for 5 days in Nuevo Laredo until family could pay a ransom. Eventually he made it to Houston, but was picked up and deported shortly thereafter. This time, he says, things have changed, are much worse and migrants, especially Central Americans, run much more risk that they did five years ago.

Cristian left home again six months ago with 130 Quetzales in his pocket (roughly 10 USD). It took him two months riding trains to make it to the border. He had been traveling with a friend who had made the journey several times and knew the ropes, more or less. However, this friend was unable to jump one train which Cristian managed to get on and since then the haven't heard from each other. 

At one point, in Sinaloa, he and a fellow traveler jumped from a train that was moving at high speeds to avoid a group of federal or municipal police that were stopping it to search. He said that when they jumped it wasn't possible to stay on their feet and they had fell hard, rolling. They got up and ran hard and only when they stopped did Cristian realize that he had hurt his knees. Months later they still hurt when he walks a lot.

We hardly have anything in common, really, with these guys, but we did bond over one thing with Cristian.  I am not sure which trip north it was on, but at one point, Cristian and his friends used bicycles to get across Chiapas.  He said that in this way, crossing through one of the most dangerous parts of the journey, that at any given point, they only resembled campesinos of the local area.  I had heard this same story a few years ago from some Honduran guys I worked with hanging drywall in New York.

Since arriving at the border Cristian has been back and forth along it for 4 months looking for the best way to cross North.  Who knows what all happened to him in those travels.  Without money and phone problems, Cristian had not spoken with any family member for six months!  We were able to get him through to his folks in Guatemala using Skype on our phone and will never forget that smile- as if some weight he was carrying had been lifted off his chest. ¨At least now they know I'm alive and well.¨ Eventually we hope he can get through to relatives in the states who will send him sufficient funds to cross over.

I am amazed again and again at what lengths these guys will go to, reaching for a dream that so many of us take for granted: the right to dignified work, the right to feed one´s family and the right to travel without risking your life at every turn of the road. At one point Cristian told us that ¨Aquí en Baja California está muy tranquilo, aquí sólo me han agarrado una vez!¨ ¨It´s pretty safe here in Baja California, here I´ve only been assaulted/kidnapped one time!¨

Hotel Migrante in Mexicali

We were invited to stay at the Hotel Migrante in Mexicali.  The Hotel Migrante is a very new organization (less than 2 years old) that provides food and housing to men (and a few women) who have been deported.  The space is an old hotel that is slowly being renovated and still needs a lot of work.  As a new organization, funds are low and barely pay the rent and for two meals per day. There is no electricity, limited restroom facilites, hardly any doors in the doorways, few beds and gaping holes in the ceiling where there used to be skylights.  Despite the conditions, the house provides a resource to those who have been deported.

When we first arrived, we thought perhaps Hotel Migrante was the only option for migrants and deportees, but we were happy to discover, with kiosks right near the port of entry where people are deported, a slew of organizations devoted to the cause.  There are three shelters--two for women and minors and one for men.  They are short-term shelters each with a stay limit: 3 days for men, 7 for women, 3 weeks for unaccompanied minors. There is also a comedor we visited which serves meals every morning for 5 days after you have been deported.  And there is another Catholic group Caritas that provides services like phone calls, assistance with paperwork, food and clothing, and there are also some governmental organizations that work with migrants.

While Hotel Migrante does not have the best conditions, there are some things that set them apart.  They are located only 1 block from the port of entry, while all the other shelters are a bus ride away.  They also do not have a time limit for the guests, allowing people to work and save to cross again or arrange paperwork, etc.  As people are deported at all hours of the day, Hotel Migrante is also the only group that has a 24 hour presence at the port of entry.  Article on Hotel Migrante

Hotel Migrante

Hallway of Hotel Migrante, where most the men slept

Warm welcome from the Hotel Migrante crew

They have great posters:  No to the Kidnapping of Migrants!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Days 3, 4 & 5: Tijuana, BCN to Mexicali, BCN (via California)

 Day 3:  Friday, October 7th     Tijuana, BCN to Campo, CA     Miles: 38     Flats: 0;1 (trip, total)

First lesson learned:  In Mexico, take the toll road.  Because it might be prohibited, but they will still probably let you on, and it is much wider and there are waaaaay fewer cars. (No scary busses! yay!)

We planned to only bike 20ish miles and stay in Tecate, but we couldn't find a cheap place to stay so we just grabbed some lunch, crossed the border and pushed on to Campo where we had a potential contact. The ride was really hilly, but extremely beautiful.  I saw some of the prettiest vistas of my life on this ride, and it helped that I was proud to have just pushed myself up to that high point without the use of any fossil fuels!

We had the name of the priest in Campo, but he wasn´t at the church when we finally arrived, so we decided to camp on the church grounds and hope that if anyone came by we could just throw his name around like he was an old friend.  However, luck was on our side.  As we stood in the parking lot, eyeing the best place for our tent, a truck pulled in.  Instead of kicking us out, this wonderful woman named Jema gave us permission to stay and she opened the bathroom in back for us!  The bathroom was big enough and it was pretty chilly outside, so (following Jema´s suggestion) we just rolled our sleeping pads out on the floor and slept there. 

Home, sweet, baño!

The view from our bathroom suite.

Day 4: Saturday, October 8     Campo, CA- Ocotillo, CA        Miles: 46       Flats: 0;1 

We got up early, stashed our gear in the church´s shed and biked back south a few miles on a tip from Jill Holslin in Tijuana. We headed toward the border wall and there we found a dinky, barbed wire fence presumabley put up by minutemen (riding into Campo, we saw lots of American Flags and paraphenalia on houses and wondered if they were minutemen).  So this fence is about 50 feet from the governmental fence (again the old army salvage construction), is barbed wire, and on the posts there were some thoughtfully inscribed metal tags.

(Let me know if you can´t read them.)

There must have been about 30 of them.  And I admit, Eric and I just found them funny and rushed to each one, competing to read them, eager to see what each said, like opening Christmas presents.  But, really, what a representation of hate! Well, some are more cruel than others, but in total, it was quite a display.  And really fruitless too.  I wonder how much money each person contributed, to have this small tag hung on this 5 foot tall fence that has large openings to allow Border Patrol vehicles to pass through.  And they are in English, on the north side of the fence.  We walked right by the first few, and we were looking for them!  I doubt many migrants ever stop and read this (un)welcome.

After that excursion (thanks Jill!), we cleaned the sand from our chains and hit the road again.  We were not pleased to be riding into a strong headwind and of course, more hills. Eric came up with a new dicho: what goes down, must come up. The first 12 miles took us 2 hours.  I admit that I have been feeling like a bit of a wuss about the amount of cycling we have been doing (40-50 miles per day) and how exhausted we are (¨real¨ touring cyclists do like 80-100 miles per day), but I didn´t realize until this day of riding just how much we had been climbing. We started our riding at the ocean and this, our 4th day, we were up over 3,500 feet!  I didn´t realize this until we looked at our map and saw that we were going to have to get on the freeway and the road was going to go down, down, down.  Cyclists are only permitted on a few sections of freeway in California when there is no other option, and when we rode up the entrance ramp, we passed a sign that said we were at 3000 feet elevation.  And down we flew.  We went 10 miles in less than 25 minutes and when we stopped, we had landed in the desert and we were at less than 500 feet elevation.  It was SO FUN.  It almost made climbing up all those hills worth it...

Getting on the freeway!

excited for that 6% grade and that view!

I am serious when I say that we landed in the desert.  It was dry and hot and we were windburned and dehydrated.  And Ocotillo didn´t seem to have too much to offer us.  We settled into camp at an RV/trailer park and since we had paid for lodging and we couldn´t find anything at the one gas station to prepare for dinner, we resigned to just eat all our snack food over a beer.  That is when we were invited to the adjacent trailer by Martha and Juan.  They were an older couple who was celebrating the visit of their daughter and son-in-law by barbequing lamb, steak and chicken.  They were eager to fill our plates and hear of our adventures, as both Juan and his son-in-law had seen us on the road during the day and had wondered aloud to their spouses about our destination.  And here we pulled right in next to them!  In Ocotillo, population 170!  They were really sweet and filled us with meat, rice and beans, cake, flan and beer, and told us over and over again how we had to visit them in Michoacan in a couple of years when they retire there.  What luck we had to meet them!  We went to bed early, muy contentos, and a little tipsy.

Sunday, October 9     Ocotillo, CA to Mexicali, BCN      Miles: 33      Flats:  0,1

We woke up dehydrated, and somehow even after the previous night´s feast, hungry.  Luckily, we got invited over again for eggs with ham, beans, tortillas and pancakes! So amazing!  We packed up and took some photos with Martha and Juan and Martha gave us a colorful rosary to protect our journey.

Sweet Martha and Juan!

Unfortunately, by the first turn, I was feeling nauseous (It wasn´t from the beer, mom, I only had 2!).  I knew I was dehydrated, but with every sip of water I took, my stomach did somersaults.  We only had a short ride, and it was our first FLAT ride, but I my muscles ached and I was kinda miserable.  Also, as I said, it was desert, and in the first 20 miles, there was NO shade to rest in. We sludged ahead and finally we made  it to Calexico, the next town after Ocotillo, and by that time Eric was feeling a bit off too.  We laid on the cold concrete outside a gas station for over an hour, sipping gatorade, before we hopped back on our bikes to head over the border to Mexicali.  Luckily, we had been invited to stay at the Hotel Migrante, and it was there that we crashed for the rest of the day, waking up feeling much better.