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On The Road With Larry
Tuesday March 21, 2006
By Larry Johnson
It will probably come as no surprise to you that crossing southern Louisiana was an adventure I would hesitate to repeat anytime soon. Unfortunately, I will be doing just that in early April, on my way back to Florida. I judiciously avoided New Orleans, however, on my way west by detouring off Interstate 10 for a short distance. The detour took me to Baton Rouge where I rejoined I-10, the main artery that connects I-95 on the east coast of Florida with my jumping off point, El Paso, Texas, nearly 2000 miles to the west.
Driving through southern Louisiana, post Katrina, is not recommended---by me, at least. Accommodations are almost non-existent. I stopped at dozens of motels before I found one that was functional, and the roads, even the interstate, were in terrible shape from flooding. I spent two hours in the middle of Interstate 10, along with thousands of other drivers, waiting for a four-car wreck to be removed. We could've held a square dance and charged admission. It was amazing to me that no one I talked to got angry. The people in this disaster area have learned, it would seem, to take things in their stride. That is one of the few blessings resulting from this cataclysm.
I talked to a local truck driver who spent considerable time telling me about people he knew who had risked their own lives to help others. Chainsaw parties were the norm, he explained, for weeks after the hurricane struck. Neighbors helped neighbors clear the downed trees and debris from their yards and their houses. “The news media is downplaying the disaster in New Orleans,” he told me. “It is nothing but a ghost town.” I believed him. Along the interstate I saw piles of debris; dozens of fishing boats piled up like cord wood. Some were leaning up against trees, although the trees in southwest Mississippi and Louisiana had not fared well during the storm either. “You don't see any hardwoods out there, do you?” the driver asked, pointing at the nearby swamps. I shook my head. “The hardwoods are all gone,” he explained, “and so is much of the wildlife.” Just then a white tail deer poked her head out of the trees and pondered the miles of stalled traffic. “She wants to get across the road,” the driver explained. “The deer are desperate for food.”
I survived Louisiana, but I'm not sure that Louisiana is going to survive the aftermath of Katrina. I think the jury is still out on that one.
I have, in the past, made disparaging remarks about Texas that were, to say the least, exaggerated. There is much about Texas that I have learned to admire---even love. From the Louisiana border to El Paso is 856 miles. In my wanderings, mainly around southwest Texas in The Big Bend National Park region, I drove at least 1200 miles within the boundaries of The Lone Star State and not once did I wish I was somewhere else.
My favorite part of Texas is, without equivocation, The Big Bend region. Big Bend is one of our largest, if not the largest, national parks. It has some of the highest mountains anywhere; many reaching more than 7000 feet above sea level. It is desert but it is a beautiful desert brimming with wildlife. In my many miles of hiking the back country, I saw coyotes, a family of javelinas (little, wild pig-like creatures) and many deer. The park is also home to the mountain lion, black bear and a multitude of smaller mammals, reptiles and birds.
The Rio Grande River runs through the park, providing the necessary water for this bounty of plants, creatures and human beings. It also provides a tenuous boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. If the “geniuses” who live and work inside The Beltway had any idea of how vast and desolate this country is, they would give up the idiotic idea of building a fence across this land in an attempt to keep out the illegals who cross the border on a daily basis. There is no possibility of preventing smuggling or illegal immigration. It has been going on for a long time and there isn't enough money in the U.S. Treasury to keep out the illegals and the smugglers.
The town of Boquillas Del Carmen, a small town in Mexico just across the Rio Grande, is an excellent example of the ineptitude of our government in dealing with the alien infiltration problem. I hiked into the area known as the Boquillas Crossing. It is a place that has been open to informal border crossings for decades. Tourists visiting Big Bend would walk down to the Rio Grande and be transported across the river in a row boat to Boquillas, where they would eat, drink and buy tourist's Kitsch. The Park Service knew about and even approved this activity. After 9/11, Homeland Security closed the border to this informal back-and-forth migration. The town of Boquillas died. It seems the park and its patrons were their only source of revenue.
Walking toward the river, I spotted a bunch of hand carved hiking sticks. There was a hand written sign that read “Please help the people of Boquillas who are suffering. Buy a stick or leave a donation.” Across the river sat a group of four or five young men. I put $5.00 under a rock and took a stick. At this crossing, the Rio Grande is about as wide as Otter Creek. One of the men across the river thanked me for buying a stick. They carve the sticks on the Mexican side and then they swim them across to the U.S. side where they leave them for the tourists to buy whenever the Border Patrol is out of sight.
I walked down to the river. “Thanks for the walking stick,” I yelled. “This will come in handy.” I already knew, from talking to some of the park's personnel, but I asked anyway. “What's going on here?” One of the men across the river, who told me his name was Ramon, said that after 9/11 the Border Patrol had closed the border, leaving the people in Boquillas without any way to make a living. The nearest town on that side of the border is more than a 100 miles away. An older man, sitting some yards away, told me that he had made his entire living, for over 35 years, by ferrying people from the park to Boquillas. He had charged them only a dollar a piece for this service. “Now I have nothing,” he told me.
“What's happened to your town?” I asked.
“There are only a few families left,” he told me.
“Where did they go?”
He pointed to where I was standing. “To the U.S.” he said.
So the people of Boquillas, who had been happy for many decades in their little town in Mexico, had been forced to illegally emigrate to the U.S. because Homeland Security had closed down the border to free trade in the U.S. I was perplexed. How were we in the U.S. any safer now than we were when the people of Boquillas Del Carmen were prospering from their trade with the tourists across that very narrow river. I thought that was what NAFTA was all about.
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