Sunday, August 16th 1986
At 9am I left El Paso youth hostel and headed down Stanton Street towards the Mexican border.
Even the part of town on this side of the border was quite Hispanic with Spanish seemingly being spoken everywhere and Spanish music blaring out from the shops. Recognising the word Cambio, I dived into a booth and changed a 20 dollar bill to 13,000 Pesos. That was quite a lot of Pesos, I thought, and I suddenly felt rich.
A footbridge led across the actual border. The precise point was marked by the two national flags on a stump high above the Rio Grande.
Entering Mexico on the other side of the bridge no one stopped me at all. If I hadn’t wanted my passport stamped I could have walked in with no questions whatsoever. I had to physically divert from my path in order to find a little immigration booth and an officer willing to stamp my passport. I suspected that this experience wouldn’t be mirrored on the way back.
The realisation that Mexico was decidedly poorer than the USA hit me almost immediately. I set off along Juarez avenue and immediately encountered the smells from the poor drainage, people begging and every taxi driver asking if I wanted a ride to some market somewhere. For some reason there were also dentist clinics everywhere.
I was quite thirsty and I went off towards the market in search of a Coke. I found nothing in the small market and so crossed a large plaza and then went back along 16th September Avenue where I finally found a little shop selling drinks. I ordered a bottle of Seven-Up and when the shopkeeper put the bottle on the counter, I flung the 2000 pesos indicated on the price list in return. I walked off drinking the Seven-up as I went.
I didn’t get far down the street when I heard him shouting at me from behind. “Cien Pesos more”. The deposit on the bottle was another 100. If I was taking it I needed to pay that as well. I put the coin in his hand and he smiled and walked away happy.
I continued along towards the cathedral and went inside for a quick look around. I came out and then headed once more onto Juarez Street and towards Woolworth’s. I had the intention of getting something cheap and Mexican to eat.
I then bumped into a lad that I recognised leaving the hostel earlier on and we stopped and chatted. It turned out he was from Walton-on-Thames near London and he was doing pretty much the same thing as me; touring the USA and popping into Juarez just to get a brief glimpse of Mexico.
We came up with an idea to go and have a few drinks in the Kentucky Club before lunch. It turned out to be a rather nice place with a pretty cool atmosphere. Andy introduced himself and explained that he was a human biology student.
I persuaded him that we should pop into Woolworth’s for a meal before returning back to El Paso. It turned out to be a mistake. Looking back, I suppose I should have known Woolworth’s would not offer the best example of Mexican Cuisine.
The waitress came back from the kitchen four times to tell us that what we had just ordered was off. In the end we asked her what they did have and she recommended “Combination #3″ so we just ordered two of those. It turned out to be a piece of fatty steak, refried beans and nachos. We ate it up and left.
We spent another hour taking some photographs and then headed back to the border. As we approached the border there was a lot more begging going on, children were selling chewing gum and mothers were holding up babies in one hand and begging cups in the other.
We crossed the Rio grande and had a relatively easy passage through US customs and immigration.
Now El Paso, even with its poor Hispanic neighbourhoods, looked much more wealthy than what we had just seen. We walked back to the youth hostel and agreed to meet up later for a drink.
Mexico had been a fascinating experience. But it was the worst culture shock I had experienced up until that point and I can’t say that the experience was altogether enjoyable.