Kiwi in the Desert
2 October 2016
So we’ve been in El Paso with Dave’s family since Saturday afternoon. Fabulous to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a long time, and meet others for the first time.
Today we went on a three-hour guided tour of El Paso with tour guide Rudy — a senior citizen who had spent some time in the military, El Paso’s predominant industry (if ‘industry’ is the right term).
El Paso is in west Texas and sits on the border with Mexico. The two cities of Juarez and El Paso merge along the banks of the Rio Grande (more accurately the Rio Pequeno by the time it gets here — it’s just a trickle). Juarez has a population of about 1.5 million, and El Paso about 750,000. On top of that, Fort Bliss (the biggest military base/posting in the States, apparently), which sits in the middle of east El Paso, houses about 50,000 soldiers (army and air force). The base is huge, and has an airfield big enough for the Space Shuttle to land on (which it may have done), and big enough for the B747 Space Shuttle transport to drop in with the Space Shuttle on board.
The city has grown hugely since Dave left almost 20 years ago, and the road-building continues apace. It’s clear that the military presence dominates El Paso’s economy and is the primary reason behind the infrastructure investment. But, I guess if your primary theatres of war are in the desert, then investing in training your fighting personnel in a desert is a smart move.
There are a lot of contrasts here. The large military base with immaculately kept everything (including large historic houses that still serve as homes for the various commanders) and opulent homes of all architectural styles; a downtown area as neat as a pin that has turn-of-last-century architecture alongside modern concrete and glass; and just down the road the border shopping community patronised almost exclusively by Mexicans (the tour driver invited us to ‘count the white folk’!) that reminded me of main-street Papakura. And across the river in Juarez colourful dwellings stacked together in what we would consider little better than shanty towns.
Just some snapshots today from our tour.