Running Across the Border (Feb. 28, 2009)

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Chiapas State in Southern Mexico, better known by Northerners as a Zapatista rebel zone, is actually quite safe and is a popular tourist destination among Mexicans. A friend recommended that I visit the Lagos de Montebello, a region composed of 2 national parks some 51 lakes all of a different shade of blue and green. Leaving San Cristobal de las Casas, I hopped on a collectivo (a minibus that has no passenger limits), en route to Tsizcao, the only town listed on my map, in hope that it might have a place for me to stay. I struck gold, not only because I found a room nestled on a stunning lake, but also because Tsizcao proved to be a stunning mountain town with no other gringos but me. Perfect

A nice lakeside view from my room in Tsizcao

Lakeside view from my room in Tsizcao

After napping by the lake, I reluctantly mustered the energy for an evening run into the countryside. I jogged by farmers, children, roadworkers, all of whom ceased their activity to watch this awesome site pushing its way up the dirt road. Their stares lasted as long as their sight allowed. Maybe they had never seen a white person before, or perhaps I was the first runner in their village, or maybe it was my naked pail legs that blinded them. I often wonder if running in these indigenous villages invokes bad cultural karma, but now I justify my hobby by acknowledging these people´s interests, smiling upon every encounter, and knowing that I was providing a story at the dinner table that evening.

I crested a small hill and encountered a deep blue lake with a village of about 30 homes. Again I met the interest of the natives, and in particular a curious twelve year-old boy who stood at the only crossroads in town. This time, I stopped to say hello. He informed me that I was looking at Lago Internacional. Hmmm. Interesting name. I knew I was in the South of Mexico, but didn´t quite comprehend how far south. ¨Where is the border?¨ I asked him, and he pointed to a stone monument behind me. I was shocked. I interrogated him once more, ¨and where are you from?¨

Intimidating border marked by a buoy line across Lago Internacional
Intimidating border marked by a buoy line across Lago Internacional

¨Guatemala!¨ he replied, smiling because he could sense my confusion. They call this a border? I had literally just run from Mexico to Guatemala with no passport, no police, no barb-wired fences, and I wasn´t planning to stop. I giggled, thanked the boy, and continued running through the green hills of Guatemala. Forgetting that such a low latitude yields hasty sunsets, I was soon benighted and had to return home, navigating the endless potholes by moonlight. I showered and sat by the dock, reflecting the whole time about my international run.

There are few roads that traverse the Mexico-Guatemala Border and this was one of them. I thought if I were an illegal immigrant, what a gem this would be! But I later found out that Guatemalans and Mexicans are permitted to freely cross the border, as there exists a legal trade zone that dissipates hundreds of kilometers from the formal map boundary. This experience was quite different from a run I had 3 months ago around Niagra Falls. Hoping to see the falls from the other side (AKA Canada) I ran to the border, again at twilight. But this time I was welcomed with 10-foot high cement walls, covered in a shards of glass, and a feeling that I might be electrocuted as I came within meters of the border. If only our borders could be as simple as that of Tziscao…

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