When it comes to visiting a park, part of its appeal is that it delivers exactly what you expect – a clean, well-cared for and well-chosen area to interact with nature in all its splendor. Every park is different, yet somehow delivers familiarity: scenic vistas, gentle rivers, and towering mountains.
Parque EcoAlberto in El Alberto, Mexico delivers these comforting flourishes of nature in spades, but then takes an extra step, delivering something completely unexpected and somewhat disquieting. At this park and no where else, visitors can experience what it is like to illegally cross the border that separates Mexico from the United states.
Anyone who is interested can participate in an immersive, four-hour night hike through the rugged countryside with only a gruff coyote-like guide to lead the way. There is no actual border and no laws are broken, but the landscape and experience is recreated as realistically as possible, including difficult treks through unfamiliar areas at a fast pace, with the potential for injury or confrontation with any number of predators always present. Predators that include both nature and man, as the "border crossers" are periodically instructed to hide from authorities and band together to stay safe.
Tongue-in-cheek and playfully steeped in current events as the expeditions may seem, what the leadership at Parque EcoAlberto are trying to do is no publicity stunt. The park is operated by the local Native American community, the Hñahñus, and their objective is to teach a powerful lesson: border crossing is not safe, not fun, and not good for the local community.
The Hñahñus make it no secret that they are opposed to border crossing, and Parque EcoAlberto – an eco-tourism destination in addition to being a place for crossing demonstrations – is their effort to try to revitalize and sustain their community, which has itself been decimated in recent years as over a third of their own people have left to cross the border.
The park is an effort – and a successful one thus far – to create new jobs, foster a sense of community, and educate visitors and locals alike about what it does to families and communities when leaving home becomes the option of choice. And with that in mind, Parque EcoAlberto really does offer something different from the typical park's goal of experiencing nature at its purest – it offers a chance to experience humanity at its purest as well.