Julian: It is a dangerous, unpredictable journey hiking miles of open desert, dodging violent drug traffickers and desperately trying not to get caught as they attempt to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. Many are left battling dehydration, hypothermia and heat stroke.
To discourage Mexicans from trying to make an illegal run to the border, the town of El Alberto has a bit of an unusual tourist attraction. It is called La Caminata Nocturna, or The Night Hike. And for 250 pesos, which is about twenty bucks, they say you will get to experience just how tough crossing the border can be.
Locals and tourists alike lined up to get loaded into trucks to begin their border crossing experience. So, I hopped in with some teens to experience it with them.
Julian: Are you nervous?
Teen: Yes, very!
Julian: Yes? Why?
Teen: I’ve never been out when it was this dark.
Julian: For some people, the simulation is all just fun and games.
Caminata Nocturna Participant: From what I’ve heard, it seems like a very cool experience; exhausting, entertaining and very cool.
Julian: And for others, this simulation touches a bit closer to home.
Luis Felipe: My father said that we had to go, so we left.
Julian: When Luis Felipe was just ten years old, he and his family left their home in Guatemala to head for the United States. They survived the journey. But facing a growing risk of deportation in the U.S., they have since returned to Mexico. Luis says he wanted to experience the simulation because it is an important reminder of what his family went through.
There were many similar stories in El Alberto, where just a few years ago, residents were leaving to cross illegally to the U.S., threatening to turn El Alberto into a ghost town. So, back in 2004, the town began offering La Caminata Nocturna. Since then, the population of El Alberto has nearly doubled, and more than an eighth of the people there are now employed by the park.
Last year, more than 6,000 visitors took part in the border crossing experience.
We pulled up to an abandoned church and met with our guide, Ti-Ti, a coyote, or migrant smuggler, paid to transport people across the border. He went over the rules: move swiftly, stay safe and, most of all, stay quiet.
It wasn’t long before border patrol, or la migra, was on our tail.
The border patrol agents, or the people playing border agents, just caught us. So, our guide told us to just run for it.
They caught a couple of people. Some women, some children. We are still running, hoping that we don’t get caught.
Even though we knew the border crossing was fake, fear and adrenaline took over, and this simulation began to feel very real.
There were injuries along the way. Some people even had to receive medical attention before continuing. This gave the rest of us a chance to catch our breaths.
Teen: it’s very difficult. It takes courage.
Julian: is it what you expected?
Julian: What did you expect?
Teens: Much easier.
Julian: But La Caminata isn’t meant to be easy. The employees here warn that a real border crossing is even harder, and sometimes deadly.
“Ti-Ti”: It’s not a training ground, as some people say it is. It’s a place to learn what it’s really like to be an immigrant.
Julian: And the actors here do their best to show the harsh reality of what could happen.
“Ti-Ti”: In real life it’s very difficult. It’s very ugly. And so we try do this so that people are discouraged from migrating.
Julian: We spent the next five hours crawling through tunnels, marching through mud and jumping over streams, all while avoiding la migra and bandits that were trying to rob our group of supplies and kidnap our women.
The journey was long and difficult. Some were lost along the way. But for those of us who finished the hike, we were given a moment to reflect on our experience.
Julian: It has been especially impactful for me, personally, because I am the son of an immigrant. So, it is something that I will definitely never forget.
Julian Dujarric, Channel One News.