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 SeƱora 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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 15: Bisbee, AZ to Douglas, AZ

Day 15:  Saturday, November 5     Bisbee, AZ to Douglas, AZ     Miles: 25 (696.5)  Flats:  0, 8 (trip, total)   Elevation:  5600 ft to 4000 ft

We woke to the dreaded sound of rain.  We are biking through like 3 deserts, for crying out loud!  We are not prepared for rain!  Fortunately, the rain was gone shortly before we wanted to hit the road, but the cold and wind remained. 

I had prepared for the cold.  I hate being cold and I bought a new down jacket and new merino wool long johns just for this trip because I hate being cold.  And I dragged those long johns and down jacket all through the heat of the Sonoran desert and when I got to Tucson, I did something silly.  It was unseasonably warm when we arrived, so I left my warm clothes with a friend who would bring them to El Paso where I could pick them up in a couple weeks.  So, I awoke in Bisbee to 45 degree temperatures, kicking myself.

Up to this point, our rides have been warm, if not hot.  We have planned to get on the road with the first light so we miss the heat of the day.  So, every riding day up until this one, I have worn my Chaco sandals (and I have quite an impressive tan line to prove it).  Today was my first day using my tennis shoes, and I had to wear wool socks too!  And not only did I wear wool socks on my feet, but also on my hands!  Luckily, Peter, who we stayed with in Bisbee, donated scarves to us, which kept us from freezing.

My tan lines three weeks before in Puerto Penasco
(I swear, we put on sunscreen 2x per day)

The new cycling outfit featuring sock hands

It was a short ride and it was all downhill and we just flew.  It was really chilly and very windy, but it was quite invigorating.  We arrived in Douglas right on time and headed over to the house of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who had offered us hospitality.

There are 4 sisters in the house, and they are so kind and welcoming.  They have been in the area for only a year and work with migrants in Agua Prieta and immigrants in Douglas, participate in water drops in the area, and much more.  They welcomed us in their beautiful home and immediately served us a hot meal and we sat conversing for almost 3 hours!  I am continually surprised and impressed and ever so grateful and how Eric and I are welcomed on our trip, especially given that we only give people a few days notice of our arrival!  How we are blessed.

We landed back in the Chihuahuan desert!

Bisbee, AZ and Naco, SON

We were welcomed in Bisbee (population 6,000) by near-famous/probably-famous-in-some-circles painter Peter Young.  After arriving and showing us the vacated apartment we could stay in, Peter immediately gave us a walking tour of the adorable historic Bisbee which included its very own OccupyBisbee!

Peter is one of many artists in Bisbee, but he is one of the few people there involved in work with migrants in Naco, Sonora.  Bisbee is only 11 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and a few years ago a devoted group from Bisbee started a migrant outreach shelter for people who were deported to the small town of Naco.  The shelter offered food, clothing and an orientation to resources available to migrants, but one thing they did extremely well was document human rights abuses.  I posted previously about A Culture of Cruelty and the staff of the center, including Peter and the director Cecile Lumer (who we also had the privilege of meeting in Bisbee though she was recovering from knee replacement surgery), provided a lot of the data used in that report. 

Unfortunately, last summer the Department of Homeland Security decided to stop deporting people to Naco, so this migrant center is now empty. Everyone in social services hopes their work will no longer be necessary in the future, but this was not the desired scenario.  Instead of deportations slowing or ending, DHS has just stopped deporting to Naco and is instead sending deportees to other cities which may not be as prepared.  Peter and Ceclie speculate that DHS stopped deporting people to Naco because they were so prepared and because of the fact that they were able to talk to a high percentage of deportees about human rights abuses.  Either way, the center is closed for now, but other projects continue.

Migrant resource center of Naco, Sonora

The day after we arrived, Cecile's friend Carol brought us over to Naco with her.  We attended a Plan Naco meeting at the Naco Wellness Center.  Plan Naco is a new binational collaboration that includes a sewing course and cooperative, diabetes education including building gardens and greenhouses, a clinic and health education for low income residents, and other projects.  It is so new that we helped them proofread their brochure and hoped with them that they are not biting off more than they can chew!  It sounds like an awesome effort and it was great to see that it was actually bi-national, with the meeting participants split about 50/50 from Bisbee, AZ and Naco, Sonora.

Plan Naco meeting at the Naco clinic

Tom, Carol, Lupita, Sister Mary Rose at the clinic

After the meeting and some lunch, we stopped briefly to drop off some medical supplies at the house of a young man who is now quadriplegic after being involved in a shooting.  After listening to the big dreams at the Plan Naco meeting and after hearing of some politics among the Bisbee volunteers that have caused several groups to go in different directions, it was really great to see a young man who is benefiting from this work.  When volunteer Tom met this young man, he was skinny and confined to bed, but is now going to receive his second wheelchair from them after having outgrown his first!

On the way back to the bridge, Tom also showed us part of the diabetes wellness project--building greenhouses from trampoline frames!

Tom shows us his greenhouse project using a trampoline frame
 After the halt in deportations in the Bisbee/Naco area, it was great to see how these committed individuals (in this case, mostly retired snow birds) changed the direction of their efforts to better their own well-being and that of their greater, binational community.

Days 13 & 14: Nogales, AZ to Bisbee, AZ

Wednesday, November 2     Nogales, AZ to Sierra Vista, AZ     Miles: 76.5 (total: 654.5)    Flats: 0,8 (trip, total)   Elevation: 3800 ft to 4600 ft

After so many days of rest, it was fantastic to get on the road again. And it didn't take long for the route to get really beautiful.  We rode past jagged mountains and through vast grassy fields.  It was lovely.

The roads were quiet and we were left to enjoy the silence and the beauty around us.  Our other companions on the road were the many large and colorful grasshoppers that would jump and float around us while the corpses of their deceased comrades would crunch under our tires.

The scenery was pretty and serene until we arrived in Huachuca City and Sierra Vista which houses most the soldiers of neighboring Fort Huachuca which has an annual protest similar to the School of the Americas protest at Fort Benning, GA.  We hoped to find camping in Sierra Vista, but no RV park would take us so we resigned to go 10 more miles down the road to camp at the San Pedro River.  We probably should have taken it easier on Eric's ankle our first day back in the road, but instead we set a new record for daily mileage!

The river had just a small amount of water trickling through, but it was lined with big beautiful cottonwood trees.  It was a chilly night, but a really nice place to camp for only $2.00 (well, we didn't have dollars so we left 25 pesos)!

Camping on the San Pedro River

Thursday, November 3  Sierra Vista, AZ to Bisbee, AZ     Miles: 17 (671.5)    Flats: 0,8   Elevation: 4600 ft - 5600 ft

We only had a short day of riding, but it was all uphill.  It was up and up and up to get to Bisbee, AZ, often only traveling at about 3 miles per hour. 

Right outside Bisbee, there was a long tunnel and a sign that it was a 6% downhill grade for the next several miles.  Realizing we were done with the uphill, we entered the cave hooting and hollering and crying from the wind in our face.  And down we flew into Bisbee, the cutest little town in Arizona*!

borrowed from

More on Bisbee and bordertown Naco in the next post!

*if you are looking at historic Bisbee and not the mine pits and slag piles...