I have a love of places. I want to go everywhere and see everything. When this wanderlust began, I'm not sure. But I can remember driving with my parents to Texas with nothing stretching out in front of our dash but wheat-colored plains and a few distant volcanoes. I loved that feeling. Of escape, of adventure, of making it to that next dot on the horizon. Thanks to a commenter on my last post, I decided to chronicle my various travels around the world. I'll start with my first international trip - Juarez. (Photos courtesy of Pinterest. I'm not addicted. I swear. I can stop anytime...)
I've been assured by many Mexicans (two to be exact) that Ciudad Juarez does not in fact count as Mexico. But it does to me. My trip there as a little girl was my first taste of the foreign and exotic, even if it was just a step away from El Paso. At that time, the word Juarez didn't conjure thoughts of beheadings and drug wars as it might today. My sister and her husband were stationed in El Paso and took us to the old city of Juarez for a day.
The main thing I remember is blue, cobalt blue. We went to a glass shop where the walls were lined with cobalt rimmed glasses of every shape and size. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and I wanted to touch every one. I decided then and there that my glasses as an adult would be blue-rimmed margarita glasses (not that I knew then what a margarita was). My husband vetoed this idea upon marriage, not thinking margarita glasses were quite right for every day use, but I did get my cobalt blue plates in honor of Juarez.
My sister took us to a marketplace full of colors and purses and dresses. My mom and I went into a dress stall where there was color after color of fabric adorning the walls. I found a crisp white and red embroidered dress. I was sure it would make me the most beautiful and exotic woman on the planet. I learned my bargaining skills young. When my mom asked the shopkeeper how much the dress was, she feigned that it was far too much money. I, terrified that she was going to ruin the whole deal and lose me my chance forever at exotic beauty, cried out, "No, Mom, I have $25!" Guess how much we got the dress for?
Years later, I returned to Juarez on one of those spur-of-the-moment, poorly planned college road trips. It was the year 1999. My friend Erin and I decided that it would be a fabulous idea to drive to Juarez for Thanksgiving weekend. She had a minivan, and we headed out, driving down and down that brown stretch of I-25 that for me always represented freedom.
The first night, we had planned to camp at Elephant Butte campground off the highway. It was dark and nearly all of New Mexico looks the same anyway, so we missed the turn. No matter, we thought we'd just pull off into a promising looking lot and spend the night sleeping in the van.
We pulled off the highway onto a gravel road and turned off into a bare patch of land. The perfect secluded spot for a good night's rest. We were joking and laughing and creaked open the van doors to inspect our spot. The first thing we noticed was the silence. I walked around the front of the van to survey the landscape. There was an arroyo directly below us and a bare hillside on the other side of the arroyo. What we saw on the other side froze us in place.
There was a large group of people - perhaps 50 or so - all standing as still as can be in a circle. They were facing one another and their arms were resting straight against their sides. No one spoke. No one moved. It was as if they were in the middle of some kind of ritual.
Our fear stuck us in place. But as soon as I could unglue my lips, I whispered, "Go, go!" and were clambered back into the car as quick as could be. Erin started the van and we whisked off that gravel road as fast as a prairie road runner. I can't explain why, but it was the most terrifying moment of my life.
I was so scared, I couldn't think of sleeping in that van off the highway in this clearly God forsaken land. On a chance whim, Erin called a friend whom she knew was from New Mexico. It just so happened that he was at his parents that weekend in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We weren't that close, but I didn't care. I wasn't getting out of that van. When we finally got there late at night, his parents let us sleep in their travel trailer. I laid on the top bed of the trailer, staring at the roof that was a foot from my nose, imagining being sacrificed in a New Mexico pagan ritual. The next morning, we walked down to the Rio Grande River that ran through town and laughed at the experience and talked about boys before starting out again on our journey to Juarez.
By midday, we'd made it to the border. As we neared, we realized we had no idea what to do once we got there. We thought we'd improvise. Just minutes over the border, we were nearly in a car wreck and we wondered what in the world you did if you got in a car wreck in Mexico. We decided to stay close to the border. We found a nice restaurant where I ate mole and where we were the only diners. Erin found a place to buy vanilla. But we were too shaken up from our near human-sacrifice and car wreck experiences to be very adventurous, and turned back rather early.
It was easy getting into Mexico. It wasn't as simple getting out. At the border, a burly man waved at us to pull out of the line into the inspection area.
"Why do you have a minivan?" he asked once we were out of the car.
We tried to explain how Erin was a church employee and regularly carted college kids around and nannied a family of five. Nonetheless, they did a thorough search of the van for drugs. Surely a couple of 20-something girls wouldn't be so uncool to be driving a minivan, unless, that is, they were drug traffickers. But after a thorough search, they found we were clean and sent us on our way.
We spent the night in Santa Fe at a friend's house. In the morning we ate French pastries at my favorite bakery in Santa Fe and drove home. (I might have the order of these nights mixed up, I can't remember.)
They were just short trips, but my adventures in Juarez were just the beginning of a life-long thirst to see, to risk, and to explore.