Last year I was lucky enough to see Marcus Sedgwick talking about his latest release, Saint Death, at the Bath Kids Lit Fest, where he took us on a fascinating journey through his process of researching the setting of the novel, Juárez, one of the most dangerous cities on Earth.
For today’s stop on the Saint Death blog tour you’ll get to discover Juárez yourselves, as Marcus Sedgwick takes us on a photo tour of this infamous city, which serves as the setting of this brutal, unforgettable novel.
Borderland: A Photo Tour of Juarez, Mexico
Everyone knows that Mr Trump wants to build a wall along the entire length the Mexican-American border. Fewer people know that around one third of this 2,000 mile frontier is already fenced in some way or other.
One of the starting points for Saint Death was wondering what life is like at one of the places where the existing fence stops. So I decided to find out.
I started virtually, spending hours flying along with Google Earth. I had some references to work to; I’d seen photos of a fence somewhere in the city of Juárez, which is the infamously dangerous city that slaps up right against El Paso, Texas.
From the air, you can see the fence, arrowing west towards the city, in a region of the city known as Anapra. The railroad tracks are in the United States, below it is the Colonia de Anapra, Mexico. The yellow line is the border as on Google Earth, and if you look in the highlit area you’ll see the end of the fence.
I spent a long time using Google Earth and Streetview to ‘walk’ the streets of Anapra, and the city of Juárez itself, but it was frustrating. Growing obsessed with the place (as you do when you write a book), I really, really wanted to go there.
Finally, about a year after I’d first set eyes on Anapra from the air, I managed to go.
Let’s start right at the spot the aerial shot is showing.
This part of the fence has been here for twenty years, it’s listing a little towards Mexico.
Looking the other direction, this is my new best friend Sergio, who drove me around, although weirdly, after a year ‘walking’ the streets of Anapra virtually, I already knew which turns to make. It felt like walking into a recurring dream.
One of the poorer houses in Anapra, right against the border fence.
Anapra was a friendly place – locals were welcoming, there were lots of stray dogs who came to say hello.
It’s a colourful place. Very quiet and still. I was there around midsummer; extremely hot.
Kids running across the road in Anapra. The hills in the distance are in the United States.
We headed into the city, passing this place. Again, I already knew it from the internet. I’d seen claims it was either a mosque or even an ISIS base in Mexico, right across the border from the US. Such claims seemed ludicrous to me, so we stopped and asked what the interesting building was all about.
Answer – it’s a children’s play centre.
Driving in and around Juárez, it’s not uncommon to see these black on pink crosses – they commemorate the dead of the ‘femicides’ – an infamous recent stretch of years when the abduction, rape and horrific murder of women in Juárez was at its worst. The women were the victims of the drug gangs, or the police, or the military. Or all three.
A picnic site overlooking the city. Few people come here, and certainly not to have picnics. The little shelters are riddled with bullet holes.
Downtown Juárez. Poverty and wealth mingle uneasily in border zones like this one.
While work for many people involves a 60-70 hour week for around the same amount of US dollars in a ‘maquiladora’ like the factory above…
… a handful of wealthy people live on the East side of the city, in places like the above. One guess for how they came by their wealth.
The majority of the drugs entering the US at Juárez come through the legal ports of entry – such as this one. This is the queue to get across the bridge into El Paso. Corrupt officials and sophisticated smuggling means that 70% of all the cocaine consumed in the USA comes through this one city.
And this is who I’d come to Juárez to meet – Santa Muerte – or Saint Death herself. This life-size model of the skeleton saint can be yours for around $300.
Me, downtown Juárez. Until about five years ago, this was, and had been for many years, the most dangerous city on Earth. It’s relatively more peaceful now. Local government claim it’s thanks to their efforts to rebuild the city, having won the fight against the drug gangs. Local people say something different. The Sinaloa Cartel wiped out the Cartel de Juárez after a turf war that lasted years. The peace is sometimes referred to as a ‘pax narcotica’.
© All photos and text Marcus Sedgwick 2016/2017