So you think you're a travel expert? A down-to-earth backpacker who travels green and is the kind that really gets in touch with the culture, the locals and the traditions of the destination you're visiting?
Well, if you want to even begin to understand what it's like to be a Mexican trying to illegally cross the border into the United States - here's your chance.
Parque EcoAlberto in Hidalgo, Near Mexico City
Far away from the border, just north west of Mexico City, tourists and locals can go through the experience of illegal border crossing in Parque EcoAlberto, located in the Hidalgo state of Mexico. This region has been lived in by the Hñahñu Indians for many years and over 2,000 live in the area today while about 1,500 are currently living in the United States as illegal immigrants.
Some of the tour guides of the tour have crossed and come back. The tour began in July 2004 and ironically, has been attended by many local Mexicans. The park has also had funding help by the Mexico Government (suspicious much?) - a move to get local Mexicans to understand the dangers of the plight and to appreciate how good things are in their homeland.
Caminata Nocturna: The Fake Night Time Illegal-Border Crossing Experience
The tour is fake and simulated and is lead by 'experienced' tour guides. It is a four-hour hike at night that takes a group through the park's desert, hills, rivers and bush - to simulate the path taken by Mexicans who try to escape Mexico by traveling through the wild into the USA.
Along with one or two tour guides, other Hñahñu Indians also take part in the simulated crossing: describing why they are going, what they want to do in the U.S., where they will go, who they will live with, and etc.
The tour guides in ski masks, the paths on steep hills, the dark, the shouting, flashlights, fake police chasing you down, fake gunfire and arrests - make this fake illegal-border crossing experience one of a kind. From wading through mud to hiding in the bush for the police to go by - the urgency and simulated danger makes this tour a one-of-a-kind and sadly ironic kind of experience.
The tour costs 200 pesos (just under $20 USD to CAD) whereas a real smuggler would ask for over 15,000 pesos to cross into the United States. If you're caught? In the tour, you get a few scratches rather than getting arrested or being imprisoned for attempting the real thing.
The Real Thing
It has been estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants attempt to cross the wilderness every year, a 15 to 30 mile hike between Mexico and the United States into Arizona, Nevada and California. For more about Arizona, read our Discover Arizona: 5 Highlights of the Wild West article!
Many cross with hopes of making a new life, for wealth, to be able to work and send money home, and to get away from inequality and corruption that they face in Mexico.
Smugglers, called "coyotes," are paid thousands of dollars to help those who are eager to get across the border achieve their goal successfully.
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Gizelle Lau is a freelance writer & photographer in Toronto, Canada with a passion for food and travel.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: cities, culture, food/wine, paths-less-travelled, photography, wildlife