BY LISA MORTON
Last Friday, a group of about 300 persons gathered at El Paso Saddleblanket Company, which also serves as the JuÃ¡rez Visitor Information Center, for a tour of JuÃ¡rez. El Paso Saddleblanket was a major sponsor of the event thanks to owner Dusty Henson.
About two months ago, we received an invitation from JuÃ¡rez Mayor Oscar Serrano to attend the event.
The group included El Paso city officials, state representatives, U.S. Congressmen, mayors, press, and business owners.
We boarded several buses to go to JuÃ¡rez at about noon. As soon as we crossed the international bridge, we made our first stop where dignitaries met Mexican officials and Mayor Serrano. A large group of Mexican press that included newspapers, TV and radio were on hand to capture the event.
It should be stressed that we were always under the vigilance of Mexican state police and other security detail that were not visible to the average person.
At this point a group of three members of the JuÃ¡rez Chamber of Commerce spoke to us about the similarities in the twin cities of El Paso and JuÃ¡rez and the desire to maintain close ties as well as rebuilding JuÃ¡rez as a city for business and tourism.
The Chamber members pointed out that although JuÃ¡rez had suffered a great deal during the dark days of the drug cartelsâ€™ killings, an all-out effort was being put into force to change not only the image of the city, but to lure tourism back to the city. They said that tourism has increased, but that they would continue to work on making JuÃ¡rez a must-see attraction once again.
After the greeting, we again boarded the buses to tour the historic district of JuÃ¡rez. We began at the Old City Hall, a beautiful, ornate three-story building with balconies. When the president of Mexico visits JuÃ¡rez, he speaks from one of these balconies.
From here, we walked to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral, a very classic old building which remains a centerpiece for the city. After leaving the cathedral, we walked to the central plaza, an old historic gathering place for locals who simply want to sit and visit under the large trees.
For anyone who has visited Mexico, the site was typical of other cities where vendors of all sorts are touting their items for sale on the street or on their bodies.
Much of what we remember from the old JuÃ¡rez remains intact; however, going from location to location on the bus, it was clear that there was still some work to be done. Although this was the case before the city went into chaos with the destruction caused by the cartels, there were several vacant buildings which were nothing more than shells that are in need of renovation or demolition.
I took a detour to a side street to take a photo of a huge mural painting of Mexican superstar singer JuÃ¡n Gabriel on the side of a building. Gabriel was born in JuÃ¡rez. Along this route there is an underground tunnel that helps pedestrian traffic as well as motor vehicle traffic flow better because of the congestion that tends to slow traffic to a crawl on busier days.
We boarded our bus again and we went to Viva Mexico Restaurant, where we ate lunch. The lunch was hosted by Mayor Serrano. Our steaks were cooked to perfection. Following lunch, we enjoyed a vibrant show of traditional Mexican culture that included horses, Indian dancers and other Mexican-styled themes. The show was beautifully executed and I shot video of the different events that will be posted on our Facebook page.
The next stop was scheduled to take some of us to industrial parks and five casinos, but some of us decided to return to El Paso. Crossing back into the United States was no problem. The buses went into a separate lane of traffic. Motorist traffic was minimal.