As I write this blog post, I can’t help but think about everything my producer and I went through trying to get to El Alberto — a VERY small rural town in Mexico.
We were shooting a story on a border crossing simulation that, I must say, was quite an eye-opening experience for me. Every year, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children try to illegally cross the nearly 2,000 mile border between the United States and Mexico. El Alberto’s population had dwindled due to its residents fleeing the town for a better life in the U.S. So in 2004, the town started “La Caminata Nocturna” in order to discourage its residents from making a run to the border — and to give tourists a look at what the reality of making that journey might be like.
Interesting story, right? Well, what’s even more interesting is the story behind the story. Let’s start at the beginning of the day. We had a shoot earlier that afternoon with the archaeologist you saw in our Mayan calendar story that aired last month. We were already running behind because we could not secure a location for the interview until, literally, ten minutes before our expert was to arrive at our hotel.
Fast forward two hours and now we were making a run of our own to Eco Alberto Park, the theme park where night hike takes place. Mind you, it was already 5pm and the theme park is about two hours away from Mexico City. We were supposed to be there at 3:30!
Eight frantic phone calls, six blown red lights, and three U-turns later, we finally arrived just as the hike was beginning. I put on my microphone as my producer, Demetrius, prepped our camera.
We, literally, had seconds to go before we missed the story we drove so far to shoot. Luckily, Demetrius and I moved fast and manged to make the very last roll call — when the actors who play our guides go through the list of participants and take attendance.
After about ten minutes of taking attendance, we hopped into pick-up trucks and began our border-crossing experience. We were dropped off at an abandoned church about ten minutes away from the park entrance. I kept thinking: THIS. PLACE. IS. SCARY. It’s in the middle of the desert, and if you get lost here, you may not be found.
Our guide gave us a few words of encouragement and advice. With that — it was time to run! One thing I didn’t expect is how real the simulation felt. Between the border patrol agents, the coyotes (people hired to smuggle us across the border) and the constant running and hiding, the line between fantasy and reality was pretty much blurred.
What’s more, the hike itself is not for the faint of heart as we were walking through mud and crawling through tunnels, often with cactus thorns stuck in our shoes. And although the hike was tough, it’s nothing compared to what Mexicans go through every single day in their attempt to cross the U.S.–Mexico border. It’s a dangerous journey, one that can leave more casualties than survivors.
I couldn’t imagine leaving everything I know and love behind for the chance of a better life somewhere else. And even though what they’re doing is illegal, I feel it’s a testament to how courageous these men, women, and children are.
After having trekked through the desert all night, I came to appreciate all the comforts of my normal life. Things I thought were so important suddenly became less important. We live in the best country in the world and having been through this experience, I’m grateful for the many opportunities I once took for granted.