Trump's Southern Border - Looking for the Wall - Day 1

- by Fred Schlomka - 

Day 1
El Centro, USA - Mexicali, Mexico - 21.5 miles (34.5 km.)

I am up early at the Sunbeam Lake RV Resort, a lonely spot at the edge of civilisation near the confluence of California, Arizona, and Mexico. I plan to explore the border area and see what all the fuss is about. Will Trump's stormtroopers be on hand to tear children away from their parents as they try to illegally pass the border? Will I see Mafia hirelings tossing bales of illicit drugs over the fence? Have the feds actually built this WALL I keep hearing about. Everyone tells me this is a dangerous area. We'll see.

The fellow who is supposed to show me where to store the RV is late, so it becomes 7am before I am actually cycling. It's already 43 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). I decide to leave the tent and stay in (hopefully air-conditioned) hotels along the way. Melting in a tent at night in this heat is no fun. Been there done that a couple of years ago cycling the Dead Sea and Arava Desert.

I'm off. Google maps shows the way along back roads and dirt trails to the border. It's very flat, with the mountains looming through the haze to the west.

This seems to be industrial farming country. Fields are massive, and huge machines are at work harvesting hay and a root crop. According to the U of C Cooperative Extension, Imperial County produces iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupes, honeydews, dry bulb onions, processor onions, carrots, sweet corn, spinach, spring mix and watermelons. I saw mainly hay, lots of it. (Imperial County - Are they SERIOUS?)

A steady wind is blowing from the south-east. It's annoying, in my face all the way to the border. I miss my electric assist bike in Shetland.

Pretty boring really. Just flat and dusty. There's a canal system used for irrigation. Seems inefficient since lots of water must evaporate in the heat. Not many houses betwixt the fields. Where do the farm workers stay? I wave at the odd passing car or truck. They mostly wave back. Good sign. Drinking lots of water.

I arrive at the built-up area of Calexico, a town right on the border. I pause at a gas station and eat my breakfast. No-one speaks English. I must learn Spanish. 'Hey Google' I speak into my phone. 'translate to Spanish - What is the best way to change money?'
 - 'cual es la mejor manera de cambiar dinero' I am told.

The lady behind the counter tells me (in Spanish) to change at a kiosk before the border. I get the impression that the money changers on the other side are not to be trusted. I ignore the advice since my experience tells me that better exchange rates are usually to be had inside the country of the currency to be purchased.

I chat with a fellow who comes over to admire the bike. 'Be careful' He admonishes. 'It's not safe over there'. I've been hearing this a lot.

The border crossing is imposing, and looks a bit like the checkpoint at Shuafat Refugee Camp in Jerusalem, except that no-one is being asked for ID cards or passports - at least not going south. Bits of WALL here and there, but nothing earth-shattering.

Then I am in Mexico, in the sprawling town of Mexicali.

I meander though the older part of town, looking for a low-end hotel. Can't find any. So I start to move in the direction of a hotel I saw on the map at the southern end of town. The road becomes a 6-lane boulevard and cars are moving fast. No hard shoulder. I firmly ensconce myself in the middle of the right hand lane and force the cars to move out to pass me.  With my two flags flapping in the breeze, the cars and trucks give me a wide berth. I stay safe.

Finally I arrive at HotelCo Inn. It's a clean working man's hotel. 550 pesos a night (about $30). I sluice off in the shower and change into dry clothes. Then off on a walk to explore the town. It's hot. Few are walking except dogs and crazy gringos. I wander through some residential neighborhoods, a mix of cinder block and frame construction.

Well-to-do families and dirt poor neighbors seem to co-exist side by side. I see a collection of rude shacks in a dirt lot that look very similar to the 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages back home in Israel/Palestine. The juxtaposition of such extreme poverty with middle class wealth is jarring, yet seems normal here.

I stop at a money changer. The rate is right, and the count is accurate.

I keep walking, trying to find the lake indicated on the map. The neighborhood I am in seems to have only one or two routes in and out, and dead ends at a big highway which is uncrossable. The lake on the other side is in the middle of a huge park, is empty of people, and surrounded by a high wire fence. Must only be open on weekends.

The heat is draining me. I've drunk a couple of litres of water in the past hour. Feeling slightly whoosy. Time to sit somewhere cool. Nothing in sight. I walk some more. No neighborhood cafes? Finally I spy a water shop, where a family makes a living by filtering the city water and selling it. I buy some more water and ask the young man to call me a taxi. He seems confused and bangs on a neighbor's door. The matron who answers finally understands and calls me a taxi. Just a short 60-peso ($3.5) ride.

Another shower and I'm human again. I do a little work. The wifi is surprisingly good. Then off to a local convenience store to buy a sim card so I can stay in touch and use GPS navigation.

Dinner at a local Chinese restaurant is appropriately bizarre. The veggies over rice is ok, and the entertainment hilarious. There's a party of some kind going on, and in comes three musicians, two on guitar, and one with a tuba. I'm not sure what genre of music they are playing, but it was noisy and lively and their clients seem to like it.

The first day ends early. No sign of the WALL. I sleep like a log.

- Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. - 


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