A “Night Hike” to the Border – Amusing or Not?

By: Lisa Coleman

Someplace between comedy and drama there lies a little piece of reality. We hear things that just don’t make much sense and can’t decide if something is really sad or really funny.  Maybe that’s why some of us (including myself on occasion) are drawn to even the most absurd “reality” television shows. Interesting premise, really, these kinds of programs… most of the time, we watch in a strange unsettling horror and feel thankful for the lives we have.  It’s just so bad we can hardly believe it’s true, so we quietly chuckle at the spectacle in spite of ourselves. Nonetheless, our society has become populated with “sheeple” just following the rest the herd through life without knowing exactly why they are going in the first place. I know it sounds like a stretch, but maybe this notion somehow contributes to the massive and ever-growing illegal immigration problem.

The Los Angeles Times recently did an article about a place called Parque EcoAlberto. This 3,000 acre eco-park located in the state of Hidalgo is about three hours northwest of Mexico City and about 700 miles from the border.  The highlight isn’t rappelling or camping – The number one attraction is the Caminata Nocturna (Night Hike). For about $10 US dollars, tourists can hike for almost four hours and 7 ½ miles through the desert to encounter a “simulated” border crossing. Complete with border guards, gunfire (all are blanks), riding in pick-up trucks, hiding in bushes and masked “coyotes” barking commands, Mexicans can get a taste of what a real trip to the “promised land” might feel like. Opened in July of 2004, more than 3,000 people (mostly Mexican) have experienced the Night Hike.

When I first heard about this, I laughed. I was shocked, but still laughed. I mean come on, an amusement park in Mexico that has a mock border crossing. That sounds like reality TV alright! Yet the more I researched the Caminata the more I tried to understand the reason behind such a thing. The argument is that it’s a training ground for would-be illegals, but perhaps we need to give the people the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe, just maybe, things are not as they seem – perhaps there is another side to the story.

If you ask the local Hñahñu Indians who run the park, their logic may surprise you. The indigenous people of this town have been decimated by migration. They have lost almost half of their population to those seeking a better life in the United States. They say this isn’t training to teach people to leave, it’s training them to stay. Many of the guides on the hike have crossed the border for real several times and they look at things through different eyes. According to one article, a local is quoted as saying “Being an immigrant isn’t a source of pride. We abandon the family, the language, the Earth. We lose our sense of community. The idea here is to raise people’s consciousness about what immigrants go through.”

Considering what an unprecedented problem immigration has become, we might as well consider any and all possibilities to change things. And, as evidenced by this, the battle is uphill, either way you look at it. About 70 of the Hñahñu people make their living working on the “hike.” They say most people come away “stunned.” One of the guides says that participants “learn to value the liberty they have in their own country, and they don’t have to run and be chased down in their own lives.”

My hope is the Caminata Nocturna saves a few lives. If this sugar-coated version of reality encourages even the smallest percentage to stay in Mexico and fight for change then perhaps it accomplished something worthwhile. It has to start someplace, and maybe in the middle of the desert in Hidalgo someone might realize the importance of addressing their own social and political issues at home rather than looking for the answers here. If that’s the case, then perhaps it’s a hike in the right direction.