I had wanted to explore this specific point on the southwestern border of the United States ever since I saw a brief video about surfers from both Mexico and the U.S. gathering there and joining one another out among the waves.
On a late-August Thursday, I drove down from Dana Point, California, to Border Field State Park, the southernmost part of San Diego, California, without knowing for sure whether I could proceed to the border because the park was listed as closed. I had read that you could hike in, however, and once I arrived, signs confirmed that the park was closed to vehicles but welcomed walkers. Google Maps estimated a 30-minute walk to the International Friendship Park, an area within the larger park, situated right near where the border fence marched into the ocean.
I set off under a fairly cloudless sky and a hot California sun, the scent of sagebrush in the air. Wildflowers intermittently lined the dirt road as I walked. A helicopter hung low in the sky nearby, though, and occasionally tall poles bore lights and surveillance cameras, reminding me that I wasn’t ambling through a typical U.S. state park.
I met the border before I met the ocean, as the road angled toward it, the fence looming ahead for some time before I reached it. The fence followed what looked like a relatively affluent Tijuana neighborhood, providing an arresting contrast to the stark, arid park I was walking through. Immediately before the imposing border fence, I found a separate fenced-off area marked as government property. There was a paved road running along the border. Then our towering fence. Then there was a gap, a true no-man’s land between countries. Then there was Mexico’s fence. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone to make their way through that thicket of barriers.
As I continued toward the sea, signs on the U.S. side warned would-be swimmers to stay out of the water due to sewage from the Tijuana side. Signs also warned that there were no lifeguards. There were rip currents. Deep holes. There were snakes. Rattlesnakes. Dogs were not allowed.
I arrived at the beach to see a trio of people on horseback approaching the border fence from a distance. I walked toward them, and we exchanged greetings as our paths crossed. Then I was completely alone. I could see no one on the United States side in any direction. As I approached the fence, however, I could see people through the fence’s massive poles. They peppered the beach on the Mexican side. I stood back to examine the fence.
It was an astonishing thing to see this fence lumber down the hills through so many miles of arid countryside, forging a line of division like a rusty knife only to suddenly disappear into the sea a short distance away from where I was standing. The fence wasn’t out there in the water. I could swim out and around it in moments with ease. It looked shallow enough that a person might even be able to walk out there and wade across the border.