Saturday 6th September. El Paso, Texas USA
I'm soooo tired. I couldn't resist Erin's invitation to go hiking at Red Mountain yesterday before I left Flagstaff. At first I thought she might've just felt she should show me around, but then I realized that she really wanted to get out for a hike and all her dorky friends only wanted to do crossword puzzles. We drove about thirty miles north from Flagstaff, actually coming within forty-five miles of the Grand Canyon. That was frustrating, but I have been to the canyon before, and I just don't have time on this trip. Red Mountain was an extraordinary place. It reminded me of photos I've seen of Cappadocia in Turkey, but on a much smaller scale. We hiked around there for an hour or so, Erin helping me to get some great photos. But I had a long drive ahead of me, so that was about all the time I could spare.
No-one had responded to my message in the hostels, so I'd have to foot the gas bill alone, at least until El Paso. It was after three o'clock by the time I left Flagstaff, with no real idea of where I'd get to that night. I figured I'd just drive as far as I could, then catch a few hours sleep in the car. My host in Phoenix hadn't replied to confirm my stay, but anyway Phoenix wasn't really very far from Flagstaff- it would have left me with too far to drive to El Paso.
Down in southern Arizona, between Phoenix and Tucson, is cactus country. The giant Saguaro cactus is only found here, in neighbouring New Mexico and across the border in *old* Mexico. The drive through endless vistas of cactii was a unique experience, especially at sunset. Every couple of minutes, I'd spot a great photo opportunity, but would be past it before I had a chance to stop. Damn car just doen't know how to go slow. So before I knew it, the cactus covered hills and plains were behind me and I didn't have a single photo. You'll just have to take my word for it. It was cool.
After the sun went down, there wasn't really much to speak of. I had the music blaring, and stopped several times for much needed coffee. The plan was to make as much ground as I could during the night; that way I'd have more time in El Paso. I drove and drove and it was after 1:00 a.m. when I pulled up in a rest area on the outskirts of El Paso itself. You're not really allowed to sleep in rest areas, so I crawled from the folding back seat into the trunk where I couldn't be seen, and kind of slept for a few hours. Kind of.
In the morning, first priority was to post a notice at the hostel in El Paso. I didn't really want to drive the last leg alone as well, especially since it was a 650 mile leg and it had to be done in one day. Gas money aside, I could use some company to keep me awake.
El Paso is right on the border with Mexico, the two countries separated by the narrow, winding line formed by the Rio Grande. In fact, the majority of El Paso's population is Mexican. Across the border from El Paso is Juarez, from all reports nothing more than a border ghetto, a sleazier rougher version of Tijuana. That sounded intriguing, so across the border I ventured. Driving across didn't really cross my mind; I paid four bucks to park in El Paso and twenty-five cents to cross the footbridge. When I saw the traffic snarls on the bridge, and the potholed chaos in Juarez, I was glad I hadn't driven across.
Mexico doesn't check your passport as you enter. If you've got twenty-five cents for bridge toll, you're welcome as far as they're concerned! But you have to make sure you bring your passport with you, cause the US sure as hell won't let you back in without it. My first impression of Juarez was that Chris from LA was right- this place was a down market version of Tijuana. The bars and restaurants had signs in English, but were smaller and poorly maintained. This street was obviously geared to tourists, and that's not what I wanted to see. I walked off zigzagging through the backstreets left, right, left, right until I stumbled across an interesting market area. Locals were doing their shopping and eating their breakfast at tiny taco stands. I had a plateful of beef tacos with jalapeno peppers and a bottle of Fanta. The bill? A dollar fifty.
My host in El Paso was expecting me. His name is Juris, pronounced with a 'Y'. He reminded me in an email of that pronunciation. The reason, he said, was that if I called and pronounced his name with a 'J', he may mistake me for a telemarketer and be less polite than he'd otherwise be. I can relate to that, especially after fielding several calls from persistent telemarketers when I was staying with Meghan and Erin in Las Vegas. I phoned Juris, carefully pronouncing his name, and got directions to his house. He and his wife Molly and their two teenage kids Ingrid and Reinholt, live a few miles north of town.
Molly was at work when I arrived. She's a seamstress, particularly involved with bridal outfits. Jeff recently retired from a career with the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. and they moved to El Paso about a year ago. They like the milder, dry climate, the lower cost of living- especially housing- and also the cultural aspect of having such a high Mexican population. Molly's enjoyed learning to cook Mexican food, and being from Malaysia I don't think she'd have a problem with the chillies and peppers!
Juris took me for a drive around town in his new sports car, up to a viewpoint that overlooks all of El Paso, and through some of the top end housing estates. I was really exhausted, so when we returned to the house, I excused myself and got an hour or two nap on the sofa downstairs. Molly was home when I wke up, and we sat down to a delicious homemade lasagne *even the sauce was homemade* then Reinholt hooked me up to their DSL connection and I spent much of the evening catching up on my journal, and editing the hundreds of photos from Las Vegas. I hope you're enjoying the photos, and thanks to the reader from Pennsylvania for the generous PayPal donation. Much appreciated!