83. A river in conflict

Having seen what the situation at the border is like, I am still sort of confused about how to go about this next stretch, that meanders along the borderline. My only option to stay right on the “river” from the start, is to “illegally” cross the border time and again, and to launch at a spot, that is very hard to reach without a car, right below Morales Dam on the US side. That does not sound very tempting.

Especially with lots of nervous people on either side of the river. In the east it is the US border patrol, and they have apparently had some pretty rough situations over the last couple of weeks. A guy had set a tree on fire and disappeared, and nobody knew whether it was a maneuver to distract the authorities, and then cross over the border illegally. And there have been tennis balls filled with cocaine tossed across the fence, I heard. On the other side the refugees are desperate. Many have traveled in demanding ways from terrible living conditions in Haiti, Honduras and further parts of South America. They have been stuck there in the heat for weeks, maybe months and their situation is dire. Their goal, the USA, is only a few yards away and yet there is hardly any chance for any of them to get in. In many ways, not least literally, the situation is getting hotter every day. I have heard of refugees hauling boulders at border patrol. It is all hearsay, I know. I myself have not witnessed any of this, but it is easy to imagine scenes like that, after seeing the migrants dreadful camps on the riverside.

I am planning my way south from here. After the gates of Morales Dam, all that is left in the riverbed is irrigation runoff, and a tiny little bit of actual water. That drizzle als runs dry pretty soon and from there on out it will be mostly dry desert hiking. I don’t know yet, how much of the 80 miles that remain ahead of me, before I reach the Sea of Cortez, will be in near remaining water. More detailed maps for this region don’t seem to exist, and Google Earths footage is probably quite outdated, with the rate at which the landscape is changing down here, due to the drought.

In the midst of all that there is me, a somewhat naive European. Speaking Spanish, and being able to use either my German or US nationality, depending on who I talk to, helps. But I know there is still a chance I may do something dumb, just because I don’t know better. And I certainly don’t want to be a hassle in any way for either side of the” river”. So I call Yuliana Dimas for advice. She works at ProNatura Noroeste, a regional branch of Mexico’s oldest and largest conservation non-profit organization, that I plan to visit, about 20 miles down “river”. She immediately offers to pick me up at the border crossing in Los Algodones, near Yuma, and I am happy to accept. We will meet early tomorrow morning, and go along that next stretch together. I am glad to be traveling with someone who obviously knows her way around there much better.

Next up on my days list of “doing something about it” is my visit to local irrigators – farmers growing all that water intense produce down here. Even though I have some contacts, it turns out to be impossible to talk to any one in an official capacity. They are all very busy. So instead I drive around the fields and look at the flood irrigation system. I also talk to Ismael, who I find standing next to a huge water truck, pumping water out of one of the flood irrigation canals. He is originally from Mexico, has been working here for over 30 years and is as happy about speaking Spanish as I am. He works for “Nature Farms” (how cynical) and tells me he is pumping the water out to clean it with chlorine, so he can then put it back onto the fields.

Then I head to the grocery store to buy a bunch of Gatorade and Crackers (much needed electrolytes and salt), and head to the border. The highway is lined with large billboards advertising dental treatments, stem cell therapy, plastic surgery and cheap medication. All to be found in Algodones, the town right on the other side of the border. As most Americans do, I park my car on the US side in a humongous paid parking lot, and walk across. Apparently it takes very long to get back into the US, when in a car.

I quickly find the park that some Mexican security guys have pointed out to me. With the little cart that a friendly guy in scrubs from one of the countless dental clinics has offered for me to use, I stroll along the park. He has warned me about gangs, but I see none. Only tired, mostly elderly people, who crowd the little shade there is from some trees. They all think I want to sell the stuff. Among others I meet Gabriela and Jose. They are a couple in their early twenties. They came all the way from Honduras because Gabriela is pregnant and they want a better life for their child, than what they have had. They believe to find that in the US. Gabriela’s face is strikingly open and clear, almost like a child, but she seems very strong at the same time. Jose seems shy, but the way he looks at Gabriela is full of kindness and love. And he is the one who tells me their strory. They don’t seem sad or angry. They seem patient. And kind of passive or maybe even inactive. I awkwardly wish them all the best for their life together. I can’t bring myself to wish them, that they will make it across the border. Because I am not sure, if they will find what they hope for.

US Border Patrol checking a family that has come across the border

Then I go back across the border, among lots of mostly elderly US-Americans clasping plastic bags filled with cheap medication. Many are severely obese, some are in wheelchairs, some otherwise apparently sick. The majority is somehow joyful, as if on vacation in a colorful wonderland of cheap medical treatment. It is all very strange. And I am not even sure what makes me sadder. The South Americans or the US Americans.

Tomorrow I am finally really leaving the US, and although a part of me is anxious about what I will find with regards to the Colorado River, I am looking forward to Mexico, to speaking Spanish, to real Tacos and, finally to arrive at the sea at some point.

A long morning yoga session with only birdsong for a soundtrack.

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