Close to the U.S. Mexico Border, next to to the drug-cartel-ridden Ciudad de Juarez in Mexico is the friendly little city of El Paso. It's not the picturesque kind of vacation destination but it's charming in its own way... Just don't go out for a stroll at night...
“El Paso is the second safest city in the country.” proudly declares the nice lady in the city’s visitor center in the Civic Center Plaza across the street from the El Paso Museum of History. “Go ahead. You can read the article on our website. I moved here from California a few years back and I love it.”
I nod and smile at her politely while I scoff with skepticism in my head. Not only is the city conveniently nestled next to the drug-cartel-ridden Ciudad de Juarez in Mexico, we were also told late last night as we checked into our hotel that it is highly recommended that visitors DO NOT go for a little walk at night.
Still, it is here where we decided to spend the night. We had left Tombstone, AZ after sunset and San Antonio was 13 hours away.
(By the way, it turns out that the lady is telling the truth. CQ Press, a Washington-based company, did find in their survey that the only US city safer than El Paso is Honolulu in Hawaii. Of course, results from similar research by other better-known companies can’t confirm CQ’s findings but let’s not dwell on it.)
In the daytime, however, the city is admittedly safe and although small, has its share of interesting people, landmarks and attractions. The city’s Civic Center Plaza contains a modest collection of museums, theaters, hotels and convention/performing arts centers. The architecture is humble and nothing awe-inspiring but unique in its own way. A few blocks west is the Union Station which houses a Locomotive Museum which, in turn, houses a vintage train.
We leave the visitor center and walk up and down the Golden Horseshoe District a few blocks away around 10 am. I find that the people, many of whom speak Spanish, are polite and friendly. Of course, it could be that they’re only being nice so we’d buy their goods.
You see, the Golden Horseshoe District is El Paso’s own Rodeo Drive, if you must, except the prices won’t burn a hole through your wallet, the products are mostly imported from neighboring Mexico, and the area is more reminiscent of Divisoria in the Philippines than the upscale Rodeo Drive. There are no quaint Spanish-style cafes or cute vintage shops here but if one has the strength and patience to sift through everything, one could surely get some really nice finds – from clothes to jewelries, toys to kitchenware.
After lunch, we decide to get back on the road. The Alamo is waiting. There is, however, one last stop we need to make. The nice lady from the visitor center gave me specific instructions to get on I-10 heading West and take the Woodrow Bean exit to Transmountain Ave before we leave El Paso. On this road in the Franklin Mountains are sheltered rest areas and a nice view of the city of El Paso and Ciudad de Juarez.
Since the sun is high up in the sky, the view isn’t exactly romantic but I’m pretty sure – as Hemingway would put it – “at night is another thing.” I take in the sight of two countries existing in unison under heat and humidity. It’s not every day that I get to see two countries at the same time. I live, after all, in the third biggest country in the world (in terms of land mass) and Mainland USA is bordered only by Canada and Mexico.
We stay for a few more minutes before we start heading East. Like I said, The Alamo is waiting.
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For more information about El Paso, visit http://visitelpaso.com/. Also, if you happen to be on Interstate 10 heading East, you might wanna take exit 49 and head North to Cattleman’s Steakhouse. Their steaks are said to be one of the best in the country.