At that time I could cross very easy because Juárez used to be the number one tourist attraction for visitors to the El Paso area. Then!
Over the last few years it has obviously changed. Since September 11, 2001, crossing the border has become more difficult. Security is tighter, lines are longer and now everyone must have a passport. Over the last few years, drug-related violence in Mexico, especially along the border, has increased to the point that more and more people don’t like anymore travel to Juárez.
I am curious enough to go. I pay 50 US-Cents to cross the long border bridge, called Santa Fe Street Bridge, and start my walk at the other side. El Paso is inextricably tied to its neighbour to the south. Not surprisingly, a trip to Juárez is like a visit to a foreign country. For me too!
Juárez comes back
Before there was Las Vegas, there was Juárez. It was the original Sin City, with gambling, showgirls, and twenty-four hour bars. Juárez is tamer now. The gambling is gone. The showgirls have disappeared, and the bars keep reasonable hours. Many of the spaces just over the bridge on Avenida Juárez, which locals used to call the Strip, have gone over to pharmacies and optometrists.
During the time of the prohibition Americans from all over visited Juárez to enjoy legal alcohol. The nightlife infrastructure built in the twenties and thirties buoyed Juárez’s entertainment industry well into the seventies. In the eighties, the city voted to enact closing hours on bars and nightclubs that previously were open 24/7, reducing the perception of Juárez as an “anything goes” kind of town. The War on Drugs throttled casual tourism as did the United States’s new passport requirement for re-entry in the wake of 9/11.
I am strolling around the market place with lots of shops and street vendors. I have a quick glimpse in the Cathedral, where Sunday service is going on. The church is fairly new and modern inside, old and traditional outside.
On Juárez Avenue I meet artist Antonio Hernández. He creates two little things for me, and I have a long lasting memory.
Before I enter the bridge again I have to pay 35 US-Cents. The immigration procedures to the US take a long time. I supposed it already. Passport check, which takes long due to my many Visa stamps from all over the world (oh, you have been to South Sudan!), a document to fill out, waiting for almost an hour to pay a fee of 6 US-Dollar. Finally, the homeland security allows me to enter into blessed USA again. I am back. What for a day!