On the Border

We’ve reached El Paso, our last stop in Texas. We’re right on the border, at the intersection between Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico. We liked El Paso so much we decided to spend three days here, shopping, cooking and relaxing after our trip through the Chihuahuan desert.

We’ve been staying in an AirBNB near the university. The kitchen and washer/dryer made us both very happy – we’ve been cooking almost non-stop.

After leaving Marfa, we rode on old highways and frontage roads, sandwiched between the Southern Pacific rail lines and I-10. As traffic (and business) moved to the interstate, the towns along these routes have faded. I found the empty downtowns melancholy, but quietly pretty, with their sun-bleached vintage signs and overgrown cacti. It’s an odd contrast from the over-eager prosperity of Marfa.

On the approach to El Paso we found improbable farmland in the middle of the desert. There were pecan plantations, cotton fields, and bright green, irrigated pastures. On Thursday, we entered the suburb of Fabens, and saw our first stoplight in weeks. Instantly there were cars, people, and commercial activity. After all our time in the desert, where every gas station and store was a highly anticipated event, I think my brain forgot how to handle all the stimulation of civilization. I found the sights, sounds and traffic of El Paso overwhelming at first, and I felt oddly emotional when I saw the abundance of Albertson’s, our local giant grocery store.

It’s impossible to be here without thinking of “The Wall” and the other political inanity of the last year. El Paso itself is a city divided, with the Rio Grande splitting it into into El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. After spending almost two weeks biking along the US/Mexico border, I can’t help but note the tight link between our two countries. Far-west Texas is evidence of that, with a culture that’s neither exactly American nor Mexican, but a bilingual blend of the two. All we’ve learned about Texas history makes it clear that the border has always been complex, shifting, and porous. And seeing the mind-boggling emptiness of the desert itself drives home the absurdity of building any kind of wall there at all. I’m sure it’s a trope – young woman travels, discovers borders are arbitrary! – but how much more enlightened would we be if we were able to speak about Mexico with the same words we use for our neighbors to the north?

Tomorrow we’ll leave Texas for New Mexico. We’ve spent 5 weeks in Texas, longer than in any other state. I’m a bit sad to be leaving. I’ve grown fond of riding here – the wide shoulders and quiet roads; chili and tamarind flavored everything; avocados that are cheaper than apples. However, I’m proud of us for completing such a huge and challenging part of our trip. Our next trial will be the high passes of New Mexico!

One Reply to “On the Border”

  1. Wonderful post and loved the reflections on the border and desert. It makes me think of one of my favorite movies that weaves the border (and larger borders) into its plot – “Lone Star” by John Salyes. Such a solid movie. Not sure if you ever saw the Burtynsky doc, “Water” but it features some of the YUUUGE farms which are dependent on the ever shrinking / draining Texas aquafirs. He has some epic overhead pics of the farms you might have passed by 🙂

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