Next month, Mexican eco-tourism site Parque EcoAlberto celebrates the tenth anniversary of one of its star attractions. It's not the ziplining, kayaking, or water slides that are being celebrated. It's an experience called Caminata Nocturna, or night walk, during which participants wearing ski masks pay an admission fee to be chased, shot at, and verbally abused.
Caminata Nocturna is a simulation of what it's like to cross the border from Mexico to the United States illegally, at night, under stressful and dangerous conditions. The three-hour experience involves being rushed through streams, brambles, and rugged land while being pursued by sirens and dogs. Fake drug smugglers and border patrol guards amp up the adrenalin factor. (The bullets are blanks, but it's hard to remember that when you're fleeing in the dark.)
Though the attraction may seem in questionable taste, Parque EcoAlberto maintains that Caminata Nocturna provides a powerful lesson for its participants. The aim is to dissuade people from attempting to flee to the USA.
Before experiencing the chase, visitors attend a motivational talk in a Catholic church. Afterwards, the group is asked to reflect on the teamwork, solidarity, and confidence that the experience seeks to reaffirm.
The ultimate message conveyed is that leaving Mexico for the USA is a choice that breaks up families and destabilizes communities. Parque EcoAlberto is operated by the Hñähñu community, an indigenous group that has experienced a major population decline due to its members heading north to cross the border. With Caminata Nocturna, and Parque Alberto in general, the Hñähñu aim to create jobs, keep the younger generations engaged, and prevent people from leaving to pursue the American dream.
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