"Adventura" Mimics Illegal Pilgrimage to U.S.

Photoessay: Adam's "Adventura"
E-mail Adam Housley

The Georges are leading us through a three-hour excursion of partially paved roads, sometimes cluttered by shepherds and their flocks; apparently a sparsely grown median seems to be the best location to serve their herds.

Our route north from Mexico City is aimed at Eco Alberto, a Mexican state park split by a rigid, cactus filled canyon formed over the centuries by the Tula River. It is here that Mexicans make their "pilgrimage" to "experience" the difficulties encountered by migrants illegally trying to sneak into the United States.

Our crew consists of myself, New York producer and part-time medic (we might need him) Dan Cohen, and Los Angeles photographer Chuck Denton. Joining us is the Georges, as we've dubbed them:

• George One is a dark-skinned college educated guide, that sports a lean build that suggests that he likes hiking and the outdoors … there’s no better place to check my theory than Eco Alberto!

• George Two drives our SUV with abandon and without fear. Nothing really dissuades the 67-year-old Mexican national, that looks more like he's in his fifties — even random speed bumps in the middle of rural roadways, partially paved roads, people, animals won't stop him. He has already decided he'll stay with the car when we begin our hike … and that might be a good thing.

After a quick stop to check into our nearby hotel in the Hidalgo city of Ixmiquipan, we are back on the road to Eco Alberto. We pass dramatic and rigid canyons and cactus of all types sprout from the arid yet green land; soon we will be hiking this land with nothing more than a flashlight, and a backpack of cookies, water, crackers and energy bars.

When we arrive, about 26, mostly 20-somethings, from Mexico City have paid the $25 fee and prepared to join us on our "adventura," as the Mexicans call it. There are varying forms of preparation for this trip, including one college-aged student who has decided that a five-pack of Modelo beer was all he needed. Since our crew has spent considerable time on the border, we each have a backpack filled with out television gear, two satellite phones and digital cameras. Intermixed with extra water, we are also loaded down with snacks and clothes to make sure we survive this five-hour hike in some semblance of one piece.

Along with the 20-somethings, there are a couple of families, and children as young as 8-years-old have donned sweatshirts and tennis shoes to go along for the night time hike, to take part in "la migre." As I watch the kids sign in with their parents, I am reminded of the real pictures of kids I see each time I travel to the border. Most recently during a trip to Sasabe, Mexico, I saw pink backpacks and kids just like these with their parents, piling out of vans. Here at Eco Alberto, one father tells me in Spanish that he hopes this will teach his daughter about the difficulties that migrants face.

As we gather at a century-old Catholic church that looks like it has been used in many a John Wayne movie, I am a bit skeptical of how real this night hike might be. The white stucco seems to glow in the light of a full moon, and we've now been joined in the church courtyard by a number of locals who play the roles of “coyotes.” That's the term used for human smugglers who illegally lead immigrants into the United States.

The fake "coyotes' won't tell us their names, and they only speak Spanish, like most of the participants. Black ski masks cover their faces, and heavy wool shirts and serapes protect their arms and torsos from the elements. I have spoken to the real coyotes along the border on a number of occasions, and this attire couldn't be more appropriate. So far, so good.

After a long and spirited lecture in Spanish on the plight of the migrant, the danger of the crossing and the need for Mexicans to stay at home, the coyote leader of this pack of simulated illegals (which includes us), drives not one, but two animated crooning renditions of the Mexican national anthem. We are now ready to begin.

With the full moon providing only scant light through the trees of this plush Mexican ecological preserve, the anthem ends, and without notice, we are told to run. Immediately, sirens blare and loudspeakers crackle with warnings in broken English; some in our group fall, a woman slices open her hand on a jagged rock, and our producer, with camera in hand, slides down a small incline, and tries to hold up an 8-year old being dragged by her father.

Our coyotes tell us to duck and hide for cover. We have made our way down to the edge of the Tula River. The mossy ground is wet, and while ducking into small ravines and under brush, people have lost their shoes stuck in the thick, musty mud. As we capture the controlled chaos, I notice that the simulated border patrol trucks are actually small Toyotas with sirens haphazardly attached to their roofs.

The fake border agents are actually dressed in U.S. Air Force and Army camouflage uniforms … not normal for a real life border agent. The men search with flashlights through the brush and the riverbank, and come across men hiding. The chase begins.

Shots are fired, blanks from real guns that remove any serenity that previously existed in this remote air. I note that U.S. Border Patrol is not known for firing on unarmed migrants, let alone agents dressed in U.S. Military uniforms … I'm sure it’s not the depiction the border bosses in D.C. would welcome.

As we crouch near one rocky riverside, I ask one simulated migrant in Spanish what he thinks of the event, the “Adventura.” He says it is his birthday, and his girlfriend and buddies thought it would be interesting to feel the plight and the danger of this hike. He seems winded, a bit muddy, and likely rethinking the idea of not bringing water along for the hike.

At one point, we are led across a road, one by the way that has not been shut down for our event, and I wonder what some random passing motorist might think. It is here the second chase begins. The speakers crackle in poor English, "We know you there. You cannot escape. We no hurt you. You need to drink and think of yo famely in Mexico."

With that the trucks arrive. Four teenagers playing the part of migrants (they were border agents earlier in the night) are chased. One is shot with a blank by a man dressed in American camouflage. His body is then dumped face first into a patch of weeds, and the border agents flee the scene, as if they were committing a crime. I asked some on the trip if they think this is a reality — American agents shooting an unarmed teenage migrants in the back, then dumping his body in the weeds. Some don't answer … one man says he realizes this is an exercise. I get the feeling that once again Americans are being misrepresented.

Throughout the night, there are various small injuries. I tear my boot open; Dan our producer falls into a hole. Others along for the jaunt are scraped, cut and likely bruised. There are a couple of more chases and a couple of more speeches by our lead coyote. He tells stories and tall tales. We hike, run, and then hike again. The night ends with a red bandanna, tied to cover our eyes. We pile back into the trucks, blinded by the cloth and driven to the nights end. We arrive at a picnic ground, our group of imitated illegals told to circle up. Once again, the lead coyote leads the speech. He rants about staying in Mexico, about the beauty of the home country. He talks of our “adventura” as being spiritual and mystic. He encourages all to remember the migrant and to help ensure people stay at home and build their own country from within.

After about 20 minutes, people begin to sway, as they lose their sense of direction and location. Finally the blinds are removed, and the jagged, rugged hillside that rockets vertically up from the Tulsa River is aglow with hundreds of torches. Their flames flicker, and the night of the migrant concludes.

Adam Housley joined FOX News Channel in 2001 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent. Most recently, Housley reported from President Ford's funeral. He also reported from Nicaragua and El Salvador on the war against drugs and scored an exclusive interview with Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega. You can read his full bio here.

Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.