Category Archives: Mexico

Walking to Remember Those Who Perished

I return from The Migrant Trail walk very tired, very sore, but very happy. The experience was quite difficult at times, but so moving that I cannot imagine my life without having done it.  I am pretty sure that I would like to do it again.

I actually ended up only walking 50 miles of the 75 miles. For the first part of the walk, I was on the “enviromental team”, the team in charge of latrines. This meant that for the first half of the Walk, we only walked around half the distance each day. We rode ahead on the support vehicles on every other “leg” of the trip, to prepare the latrines for the “water stops” and the “rest stops”.

The “logistics team” and the “food team” would also send some of their members to ride ahead each leg, to prepare the snacks, erect the “easy-up” shade covers, and spread tarps under them.

*each day had ‘rest stops’ (15 minutes, snacks, gatorade) and ‘water stops’ (five minutes, fill up your water bottle, the distance in between those stops was called a a ‘leg’


At long rest stops, the food team had snacks and gatorade wating for us

At long rest stops, the food team had snacks and gatorade wating for us

1116 rest stop  1119

The second half of the walk was on the highway. We on the environmental team now had the opportunity to walk the entire way, because on the highway the group had porta-potties on a flatbed trailer drawn by a small truck.


At long rest stops, we also had shade structures set up by the logistics team

At long rest stops, we also had shade structures set up by the logistics team









We always walked at a good clip, at least three miles per hour, keeping the line together with no gaps, no talking, and if we were on the highway, following the white line exactly. The banner was carried somewhat back from the front of the line, and the people carrying it were rotated so it wasn’t too much of the burden on any two people.  It was important that we give the impression of a dedicated, energetic line, not a bunch of stragglers chatting away to each other.

A prayer stick wound with a long string of green yarn with many red ties on it, one for each person who has died on this trail this year. We were each invited to carry it and be at the front of the line for a time, if we wished.

Also, by starting out at 6 AM and moving at a good clip, we could be at our next camp by around noon and avoid walking in the worst heat of the day.

I did walk the entire fourth day, which was the longest day,  15.9 miles and over 110 degrees.

should this following go here, or be put where it fits consecutively….really, the first part is a summary and the rest is more detail



When we had one mile left, someone made a joke and said it would be four more miles. Immediately they said, “just kidding”, but tears came to my eyes as I realized that if it really had been four more miles, and if we had not had the support vehicles we had, I could not have made it if my life depended on it. This made

I did make it into camp with the others, but I found that all I wanted to do was lie down under the shade covers, too tired to get up to eat lunch or to talk to anyone. Several people noticed, and my team leader took my water bottle and filled it with cold Gatorade.

The heat of the pavement came up through the soles of my tennis shoes, and that day I got my first blisters, right on the bottomS OF THE BALL OF EACH FOOT of my feet.

The remaining three days, I rode on the support vehicles for one of the “legs” each day, and learned to chug-a-lug my entire water bottle at each and every stop.”

That long day  so thoroughly tired me out that for the remaining three days I found it necessary to ride a few miles of each day in the support vehicles. It was stressed to us over and over that it would be much more difficult for the support vehicles to circle back and pick up someone. They asked us to opt for riding if we did not feel 100% confident that we could make each “leg”.

The person who encouraged me to participate in the Migrant Trail Walk was my friend Ann, whom I met through my travel club. She had walked it the year before, and she’d impressed them so much that she’d been asked to be one the organizing team: one of the two leaders of the Food Team.

*1189 Ann and me

I was so impressed by the caliber of the people I met, doing this. So many of the participants do so much good work on border issues.
One couple, when they retired, moved down to Douglas, Arizona, where they spend their time volunteering on both sides of the border. One lady, Margo, is one of the top immigration lawyers in the country, and has helped hundreds of immigrants get their citizenship, or get out of jail. I’d say 3/4 of the participants on the walk are people who do some kind of work or volunteering related to border issues.

At night the stars were so fantastic! And we all happened to be looking in the same direction when the asteroid came down to earth, and we all saw it! A brilliant ball of fire.

I played harmonica at the talent show, accompanying Jack, who played guitar and sang a couple of rousing blues numbers, and people went crazy. I also played an Arabic song on tambourine to accompany two girls who did poi dancing, to great response.When people have gone almost a week without recorded music, movies, or TV, everything sounds good to them!

Well, that was an overview. The rest of this blog post is a day -by-day account of that week on the Migrant Trail Walk.

Tucson, First Night: Dinner and the Organizational Meeting

The Walk officially started on Sunday, May 28 with a meeting at a Presbyterian Church in Tucson. My friend Ann’s friend Barb volunteered to drive the three of us down to Tucson. Dale Sr. drove me into Tempe. After attending the service of the Guardian Angels Catholic Congregation (a congregation which uses the traditional Catholic prayers and service, but is welcoming to gay people and has a female, married pastor instead of the traditional celibate priest), we left for Tucson.

There we got our name tags and officially registered for the Walk. We had a delicious dinner which was provided for us by one of the groups who works for more humane border laws.

The people sitting around me at dinner were all so impressive! Jack and Linda had moved down to Douglas, Arizona when they retired, just so they could work on border issues. They spent their time doing volunteer work on both sides of the border.

Jamie was a professor who taught border issues. She had with her two students, very impressive girls named Marija and Flor. Because she had been so impressed with these two students, she had applied for a grant to take them on the Walk, and also to spend some time before the walk learning about border issues. They had spent the last few days on something called the BorderLinks tour.

1082-first dinner together at church

Then we had our “organizational meeting”.

There are different “teams” which each are responsible for some aspect of this 80 person walk. There was the Safety Team, all wearing orange vests, which used two-way radios and walked beside the other walkers, sometimes needing to do extra jogging to get to the front or back if there was a problem. Ann knew that Barb, quite the organizer at their church and also an avid hiker, was very capable of being on the Safety Team, so she suggested that Barb volunteer for that one.

1090 Barb in Safety Team Vest

As I was not even sure I could make the entire Walk on my own, and feared that even if I did I would be too tired to think responsibly, I of course did not sign up for the Safety Team!

The “Medical Team” all carried first aid kits and were responsible for all first aid, the most common of which was piercing blisters and taping up peoples feet.

Ann had been on the food team the year before, and this year she had been asked to be one of that “teams” two leaders. I had decided I would not ask to be on that team, because if I had a melt-down from the difficulty of the walk, I did not want it to affect my friendship with Ann!

Here’s Ann giving a presentation about how the food set up would work. She did a really great job as leader of the food team, and it was inspiring to watch her leadership skills.

1084 —Ann giving presentation.

The Logistics Team was responsible not only for loading up everyone’s gear in the morning, and also for riding ahead and setting up camp in the evening. As they had only half as much time to pack up their own stuff and eat breakfast as the rest of us, I decided against that team.

The Support Team was not one of the options, because it was made up of those who drove the support vehicles: two vans (both of which happened to be driven by immigration lawyers) a truck with the food trailer, and a truck with a trailer full of all of our gear, and the all-important “water truck” with a trailer of huge blue jugs of water, and (strictly separated from the water) the latrine supplies.

So that left me one team, the Environmental Team, whose responsibility was the latrines for the first half of the trip. I really liked everyone on this team. Our team was divided into two halves, “Number One” and “Number Two” (I know, heh heh). Every other “leg” of the day’s walk we walked with the group, and every other “leg” we rode ahead and dug holes, set up the latrine tents with sawdust, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, buckets with toilet seats, all at great speed. There was a lot of pressure to have the latrines ready when “the walkers” arrived.

So what this meant was that for the first half of the trip, the part where we were not on the highway, I only had to walk half of the distance each day. On the second half of the trip we were on the highway, and we had two “portapotties” on a trailer pulled by a little blue pickup truck driven by one of the Environmental Team.


One of the things they told us was not to take any photos, nor to leave the group for any reason, when we were in Sásabe, Mexico, because the town was controlled by people-smuggling gangs.

Barb, Ann and I had opted to rent a motel room for Sunday night, so that we could have a shower before we started on the walk. Unfortunately for Barb, I was just getting over a cold and snored even louder than usual.

The next morning we drove back to the Presbyterian church, which was also in the process of giving a huge group of homeless a hot breakfast (it looked a lot better than the spread in the breakfast room of our motel, actually!). We put our gear in the pile to be loaded up, and went in the church for one last meeting.

banner 1078

Here’s Tom, driver of the water truck and leader of the Support Team, addressing the group the following morning. Tom reminded me a lot of our brother Joseph. Rather brusque and intimidating, he has a heart of gold. He is affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee in Denver, Colorado.

Tom addressing group 1092

There were speeches by group leader and one by the youngest member of the group, a high school girl named Ruby who was doing the walk with her mother and her grandmother.

News photographers present included the local news of Univision, and the local Fox affiliate.

Then we all piled into the vans, to be driven to Sásabe, Mexico.

PHOTO 1098 Mike drives us to Mex

Next to me in the van was an older man from Guatemala whose name was Manuel (call me “Meme” he said)., who had made the same walk we were doing, 20 years before, with his son and another family member. He said that crossing that stretch of desert was more difficult than all the rest of the trip from Guatemala combined. He was able to tell me how to pronounce the Quiche surname of the person whose name was on my cross, “Tambriz-Xum” and also was able to tell me that all the people with that family name came from one town in Guatemala, Nahuala.

Me with the wooden cross

He said that some towns in Guatemala are safe to visit, and some are not. Antigua, famous for its colonial buildings, has many tourist police, he said.

Meme also told me, quietly, when we were standing together after getting out of the van, that every person who wants to cross the border at Sásabe has to give a certain amount of money to the gangs who control the town. I do not remember the exact amount, but I do remember that it was a huge amount.

Meme was only going to walk with us for the first day and the last day, as he had to be at his job at the Tucson airport during the week. He told me that after he had been in the US long enough to get his citizenship, he had been able to bring his wife and his daughter in also, and that they were all citizens.

It meant a great deal to me to be able to talk to someone who had made the same trek which were were making, without any help or support that we would have.

It was a very wierd sensation to cross the border and go a few short blocks through this desolate little town, and get to the church. Later I heard that the priest only visits that church once a month.

I of course followed our group’s leaders admonition to not take photos of Sásabe. You can see it on Google maps, not much to see.

We were given a lovely lunch by nuns and other church workers. Standing around were older Mexican men, and all of these wonderful people came from the town of Altar, seventy miles away.

1101 Church Sásabe prayer

We all filed into the church and were given a speech by the local priest, who was not wearing his habit but rather jeans and a plaid shirt. Flor, one of the students on the walk, translated and did a good job of it. The speech was gripping. One of the saddest things I remember is that the priest said that of the women who make the crossing, 80% were violated by other men. Because of this, he said that women routinely take a contraceptive before they make the trip, a contraceptive which lasts an entire year.

1104 Priest addresses, Flor translates

After the priest talked to us, we walked through town, swiftly, silently, single-file, carrying our banner as pick-up trucks drove slowly beside us. We had been told that we would be protected by a “police escort” but these were unmarked trucks, and I would not be surprised if they were driven by the same guys from Altar who had been with us at the church in Sásabe. Do actual government police actually ever set foot in Sásabe?

A desolate little town. There were a few fancy houses, and I shuddered to think how the owners of these houses got their money. Once out of town, we walked on silently until we got to the border, where we all showed our passports, which group leaders had asked us to have ready.

We actually had two sisters on the walk with us, Naty (for Natividad) and Lupita, who had originally lived in Sásabe as little girls. When they lived there it had been a nice little town. She said that many of the men worked making adobe bricks, and others worked on a big American ranch just north of the border.

Natividad and Lupita:
PHOTO 1134

“When we would cross,” Naty told me, “The  border agent would just wave us on across, just smile and wave us through.”


Once we got off the highway

PHOTO 1115 Starting Out

long stop

PHOTO 1116


There were three young people on the Walk. It was fun to see how they bonded with eachother. All of them had older relatives on the walk. The girl on the right was a third generation: both her mother and her grandmother were walking!


Because these kids were on the food team and I was on the environmental team, we would sometimes end up riding in Mike’s van together. It was fun to hear them chatting, singing songs from musicals they had performed in in high school. Chayanne is he grand-daughter of one of the two ladies from Sasabe, and is involved in ROTC as well as drama activities.


Add paragraph about calling out names

I think it was our third night that we slept among the mesquite trees. Lupita said, “There is no shade like the shade of a mesquite tree.”

Among the chatter of voices after people set up their tents, you could hear guitar music: Jack playing blues and country, I was drawn to the sound of a latin song and near the kitchen Saulo was jamming with ______ and Lupe and Nati were enjoying it. I went to get my tambourine and it seemed to fit. I particularly loved one of the songs they did “Esa Negra Tomasa”, especially loved the part where the rhythm ramped up as it went into the chorus.  I asked Saulo for the name of the group which recorded it, so that I could buy the recording and maybe learn the song.


Later in the afternoon, a truck arrived from the organization Humane Borders and sprayed us all off with water! There was water dripping off one side of the truck, so I ran to get my shampoo and soaped my head there before I got in line to get sprayed off: clean hair! (I have very oily hair, so it itches if I go without washing it.) Everyone was so happy, feeling so refreshed in their dripping wet clothes, which soon dried in the heat.

PHOTO 1137 Water Truck

Fourth Day

The following day would be our longest day, almost 16 miles, and the weather forecast was for almost 110 degrees. CHECK WITH ANN Because it waould be such a long day, we woke before dawn for an early start.

When we all lined up, we were suddenly treated to a breathtaking moment, a huge flash of light on the blackness of the horizon. Some pooh-poohed it, saying, “Someone shot off a flare.” It wasn’t until the last day, when many other people joined us for the seven-mile leg into Tucson, that we found out that what we had seen had indeed been a meteor landing from outer space. It had come down in Cibicue, Arizona. No earthlings had been injured or killed.

1140 Starting off in the AM

One of the few times that the Migrant Trail group makes a stop just for aesthetic reasons is at sunrise of this long day. This is a long-standing tradition We all stopped to photograph it. Here Brother Sam takes a photo.

1140 Sunrise

1144 PHOTO Brother Sam

1146 PHOTO Starting out

This was not only the longest day, but XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Paragraph of what it was like to walk my first long day

When we had one mile left, someone made a joke and said it would be four more miles. Immediately they said, “just kidding”, but tears came to my eyes as I realized that if it really had been four more miles, and if we had not had the support vehicles we had, I could not have made it if my life depended on it.

Not pleasant to experience. However, going through this added hugely to my understanding of what those poor souls went through. Nothing even remotely like what they went through, nothing even remotely like it. But an understanding which is far greater than what I felt before when I heard of someone dying in that fierce environment.

I did make it into camp with the others, but I found that all I wanted to do was lie down under the shade covers, too tired to get up to eat lunch or to talk to anyone. Several people noticed, and my team leader took my water bottle and filled it with cold Gatorade.

The heat of the pavement came up through the soles of my tennis shoes, and that day I got my first blisters, right on the bottom of my feet. Robert, of the medical team, did a nice job of fixing my feet,

PHOTO 1149

It was kind of Ironic (XXXXXXXXXXXREWRITE THIS) that I was so wasted, because this was the most “luxurious” of our stops. Way out in the desert, it still felt remote, as the hilly terain and the mesquite trees hid the few other campers from our view.It was actually an RV camping spot and up on the hill was a little building with two shower rooms, one for men and one for women. By the time I finally got the energy to walk up there, it was really fun because it was a room fullof women all so chattering and happy to have their first shower in three days.

Adding to the jovial atmosphere was the happy sound of Saulo next door in the men’s shower, singing “The Lion Sleeps tonight” loudly and cheerfully”

I still felt really shaky and it seemed so much effort just to remove my clothes (really glad to have the long shirt I’d made for sun protection, as I could use it as a kind of short robe) and I stood there shakily and waited until all the others were finihed before taking my own shower. Every movement seemed to take a lot of concentration and effort.

But the shower felt so good, and I even made my slow shaky way down the little hill again to get my little bottle of dish soap so I could wash out a few items.

I learned my lesson from that experience of getting so dehydrated.  The remaining three days, I rode on the support vehicles for one of the “legs” each day, and learned to chug-a-lug my entire water bottle at each and every stop.

The trailer park provided this pipe structure perhaps for campers to use to mount tarps on for shade. As we already had our shade structure, people used it as a clothes dryer.

1148 PHOTO clothes dryer (you already used 1149)

Every evening, volunteers from different churches or organizations brought us dinner. There is a photo of sister Judy with two of these wonderful people.

PHOTO 1150-Judy with volunteers

In the early evening, we were treated to a talk by Lupe, who drove one of the support vehicles for us, about the history of the Mexico-US border in the southwest.

PHOTO 1151-Lupe’s talk

One of my worries about the trip was having to get up and pack my things before even having a cup of coffee which I seem to “need” when I am at home (even when traveling, I take packets of instant cappuchino and a coil-in-the-cup water boiler, and set my alarm early so that I can have that half-hour to just sit and slowly wake up.

On the Migrant Trail Walk we had to be up and packed within a half-hour after we were awakened at 5:00 AM. Coffee was gulped as part of breakfast. It wasn’t as miserable as I’d feared it would be.

PHOTO 1153 early morning packing up

There is a southwestern artist who creates metal crosses out of found objects on the migrant trail. One of the most poignant times on the Walk was when we stopped at one of these crosses, one which was located only 6 feet or so by the highway. Tears came to my eyes what a sad place to die. My own physical difficulty the day before allowed me to attempt to understand what it would be like to die right by the highway, unable to take one step further.

PHOTO 1154 cross by road

Our stop that evening was the first stop within a town. It was in a beautiful Southwest-style church, Serenity Babtist Church. Those of us who road in the vans the last leg of the trip arrived before everyone else.

PHOTO 1155 Serenity Babtist Church

Dale and Carlos fell asleep in the alcoves of the church.

PHOTOS 1158-9, Dale and Carlos sleeping

A couple of hours later, everyone else arrived. We all found places for our sleeping bags, either within the church or outbuildings.

PHOTO 1160 everyone else arrives

Everyone had been talking about the wonderful Thai food we would have that night. There are two things which are “traditions” of the Migrant Trail Walk when they stop at Serenity Babtist. One is that a wonderful vegetarian Thai dinner is cooked by Buddhist monks and brought to us. The other is the talent show.

1162 PHOTO Brother David and Thai Priest

Festival Ortiz Tirado: A Jewel of a Music Festival in a Gem of a Mexican Town

 Festival Ortiz Tirado: A Jewel of a Music Festival
in a Gem of a Mexican Town


When a friend asked me if I wanted to take the bus down to a music festival in Mexico, I jumped at the chance! I was a bit hesitant about taking the bus, but I found all-night TBC buses to be quite nice, with spacious comfy seats that adjust back so one can sleep, a toilet on the bus, and all the stations clean and newly painted. There were absolutely no opportunities to change money, and nothing on the way down but snack and drink machines. (On the return trip the bus hardly stopped at all, so I would recommend bringing some food, bottles of water, and a supply of pesos for the journey.)

It is recommended to  buy tickets in advance and to reserve seats 24 hours before departure if your group wants to sit together. (Not all of the employees speak English, which was no problem for our group of “gringos” because we all have some basic Spanish, and one of our party was fluent in the language.) None of the other passengers were Americans, all were pleasant to us, and the skillful drivers were professional and courteous.

We didn’t change buses until we were all the way down to Navajoa, a city near the southern tip of the state of Sonora.  Then we took a one-hour bus to Alamos.

Although the bus trip was far easier than I expected, it was still a 13 hour bus trip, and it was lovely to get to our artistically decorated room in an annex of the hotel “Hacienda de los Santos” The hotel is a former hacienda which is owned by Americans who have decorated it with lovely colors of paint, paintings and hand-woven rugs, and beautifully landscaped the grounds with lush plantings, statues, and fountains.  The annex, called “Posada Tacobayu” is more reasonably priced than the main part of the hotel, but we had access to the same breakfast room, internet, etc.

It’s true that our shower was somewhat low on water pressure and the water barely warm.  As in many older hotels throughout the world, we were only given one key for the room, although there were three of us.  These things were unimportant compared to the lovely setting and service.

Soon we were having a pleasant breakfast at “Koky’s” a little restaurant with a beautiful patio-garden. One of our party had visited Alamos several times, and other restaurants she recommends are  Las Palmeras, the Café del Sol, and Reyna’s.

In many restaurants in Alamos, the coffee one gets is instant coffee!  But I got a wonderful cappuchino at Café del Sol and there is also a cafe on the high portal with a great view of the church plaza, which sells espresso drinks, luscious slices of cake, and other goodies.

Alamos is a very old town which became rich through its mines, which yielded silver, copper, and gold. Many of the buildings date from the 16th century. When the rich ores were depleted, the “ricos” departed, and many of these buildings had fallen into ruin. American expats, many artists among them, began to move to Alamos and restore the historic buildings, and now these expats number around ten percent of the population and have become very involved with the goings on of the town.

Alamos is the sister city of Scottsdale, Arizona, and the mayor of Scottsdale and many of the Scottsdale members of the sister cities’ organization were there for the festival, and stayed at the same hotel. The group sponsors a student exchange program with Alamos, and other charitable projects, besides helping relations between our two cultures.

The town has two main centers… the main plaza, with its wrought iron bandstand set in a lovely square planted with flowers under towering, slender palm trees, adjoins the massive, stone 16th century church. Around the plaza are the famous “portales” the covered sidewalks lined with arches, cool to walk along even in the heat of the day. I recommend the Museo de Costumbristas, (excellent displays on the local history). You will also find the Palacio Municipal (the city hall, where the opening night gala performances are held) and many restaurants and cafes.

Go through a little alley called the “kissing alley” you find the other center of action in the town, a long double avenue with a tree lined park in between, called “the Alameda”. Here is found the day-to-day action of the town, the bus-station, our favorite taco stand, the Mercado building where everyone buys their groceries, and lots of shops.

Friday during the day we went to see some Yaqui dancers and musicians perform in front of the Artesania Mercado (folk crafts market) a little ways outside of the town center. There were some tables set up under a shade cover, and Yaqui women were stretching out huge tortillas by hand. Two huge aluminum pots on an open fire held red chile and green chile. So of course we had lunch as we watched the performance, and then did some shopping.

As the day went on, one could sense the excitement building, as more and more people began to arrive. Groups of police in brand new dark blue uniforms were manning every corner; a the governor of Sonora would be attending the opening night ceremony. Stages were being set up in the Callehon (a wide alley by the church) in the long park at the Alameda, and at a villa a ways out of town, for the rock band concert.

There was a huge line of dressed-up people for the opening night concert, so we were glad that we had asked the hotel to arrange for tickets for us. I had never heard live opera singers before, and I was just blown away by the skill and emotion displayed by the two Mexican singers who performed. It was fun to see all the VIP´s hob-nobbing during the intermission, in the colonial-era palacio which serves as city all when its not festival time.  It has two stories of loggias built around a plaza, and the concert was on the stage at the front of this.

Other performances included “zarzuela” musical light opera performed by a university troupe, a German country-western band, a Mexican country-western band, a classical clarinet quartet in the lovely church, a group which played Afro-Latin music, and others. Student troubadour groups called “estudiantinas” led the crowds through the streets when the opera performance let out, and street performers along the Alameda included roaming groups of “banda” music, lovely vaquero music, clowns, and even a world music drum and dance group.

On Saturday morning, there is a home tour which includes several of the most magnificent restored colonial homes. It meets in the street in front of the Museo de Costumbristas, is run by a group of ex-pats who donate the proceeds toward scholarships for the youth of Alamos. I so enjoyed seeing how beautifully these homes and gardens have been restored. One of the owners collects Mexican colonial art, and had decorated her entire home in that style.

I chatted with the American owner of the Hotel Hacienda de los Santos over breakfast one morning, and he told me that he and his wife looked all over Mexico before they decided to settle in Alamos. The reason for their decision is that the expat community in Alamos is more thoughtful and more involved in the local community than in many expat communities. Three of the American families have teenage children, and they go to local schools.

I am so pleased that I have had the opportunity to visit this gem of a city, and to attend the first weekend of its wonderful music festival. I can see why a Mexican movie and a “telenovela” have been filmed here. All of the rich sights and sounds and memories will stay with me for a long time.