[First posted February 4, 2007. If I could restart this blog all over again, I would reconceptualize it as a travel agency blog advertorializing its packaged tactical tours. I'll even have postcards to sell!]
About three hours northwest of Mexico City, in the Parque EcoAlberto, a reporter from The New York Times got to experience “one of Mexico’s more bizarre tourist attractions: a make-believe trip illegally crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States.”
For about $18, you get to cross deserts, hills, brambles and riverbeds, and have men playing Border Patrol guards chase after you and taunt you from somewhere in the dark: “Ya sé que están escondidos. We know you’re hiding. We’re going to send you back to Mexico.”
Interestingly, the organizers received financial help from the Mexican government.
The article also tells us that “the idea of tourists’ aping immigrants can seem crass, like Marie Antoinette playing peasant on the grounds of Versailles. But the guides describe the caminata as an homage to the path immigrants have beaten across the border. And the park’s approach to consciousness-raising is novel, but not completely unique. In 2000, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders set up a camp of tents, medical stations and latrines in Central Park to recreate the setting of a refugee camp. Last year, the refugee-camp project returned to New York and also traveled to Atlanta and Nashville.”
What the organizers should do next is join forces with these Latvian hoteliers, and develop a whole series of packaged reality tours, recreating death marches, diasporas, and other mass displacements of people.
For instance, rather than experiencing the Cold War holed up inside a building, you set out on a gulag-bound train, inside a boxcar packed with fifty other adventurers, and with only an inch or two opening between the wooden panels through which you can view the passing beauty of the Russian steppes. You try reading Solzhenitsyn, of course, but there aren't nearly enough light, and the sound of metal grating on metal and that smell — what is that smell! — make it difficult to concentrate.
If warm weather is to your liking, there's the Bataan Death Tour. Searing temperatures. Humid air — thick, gelatinous, in your crotch. Sun beating down heavily on your head. The din of the forest. The specter of cholera. Hired Filipinos as Japanese soldiers barking orders.
Also on offer is the Armenian Death Tour. But as this would be impossible to recreate in Turkey, a substitute for the desert of Deir ez-Zor will have to be found in France.
The Trail of Tears on Jeep® Cherokees.
The geography of displacement