While in Big Bend National Park camped at the Rio Grande Village Campground, I walked the Nature Trail and Overlook Loop. This is one of the views from there looking across the Rio Grande to Mexico and the small village of Boquillas del Carmen. (Click links for more pics and info on the national park, campground and trail.)
Honestly, I was a little nervous about doing this on my own despite so many friends telling me it was perfectly safe and I shouldn’t miss it. I was happy when I met another camper who wanted to go, but when we got to the Port of Entry, he discovered his passport had expired just the week before and they would not let him across. But in talking to the customs agent there, he assured me there had never been an incident and the locals were well aware how important it is to keep good relations with the tourist industry since that is a large part of their livelihood. I finally felt like I’d certainly taken bigger risks in my life that I lived not to regret, so I decided to proceed.
When I went down the short path to the river, I saw how narrow the crossing was between us and Mexico and rowboats like this get you there quickly and safely. $5 per person for round trip. I noticed a solo woman standing there and when I said hello, she said she really wanted to go across, but she was too chicken to do it alone. I told her I had the same fear at first, but if she wanted to go with me, that would be great. That actually turned out to be a not-so-great decision on my part, but more on that later…
Looking across to the Mexico side from there, you see people with trucks, horses or burros that will take you the short distance into town ($5.00 round trip).
I had been in a truck and on a horse before, so I opted for the burro ride.
Meet Fidenzio, who lived up to his name and faithfully got me there and back safely.
Most of the houses I saw were set up as vendors to sell their wares and souvenirs. Children would come up with handmade bracelets and everyone was friendly and polite with no “hard sell” tactics or anything like that.
I did buy another walking stick here, hand carved with a winding snake around it for $10. This is the 4th stick I have – it was time for another one since my other ones are already filled with medallions from my other trips and hikes. These are some of my most prized possessions and I just love the memories they bring up.
I had seen other items like this alongside the nature trail from the Rio Grande Campground on the American side for sale on the honor system. (NPS.gov Visiting a Border Area cautions against this – more info below.)
I hadn’t seen those warnings at the time, but I remember thinking I hoped these items or the money left in the jars were not stolen. When I did the Boquillas Canyon hike, I saw a group where one guy picked up one of the sticks and said he didn’t want to buy it, but would use it for the hike and return it on the way back. That’s pretty rude in my opinion!
I asked my guide, Chalo Diaz, about this and he said they know this happens sometimes, but not often and this is a good way for locals to make some money to support themselves and their families.
Chalo was born and raised here and said he had no wish to live anywhere else. He said it was a great place to raise his family, everybody knows everybody else, people are friendly, and there no drug problems. He said he also works sometimes for the highway department, but enjoys guiding tourists through his hometown here. There is a group of locals who work on some sort of rotation schedule here, but tourists can request certain guides if they’re available, so I would certainly request him again.
I got a kick out of this donkey hanging out in this doorway. A lot of the older buildings here have seen better days, and only about half of the town is powered by solar now, but they’re working on expanding that service.
There are only two restaurants in town and this one has an outdoor patio I wanted to check out. I saw signs saying wi-fi available, but I don’t know what the deal is on international rates if you access it, and I didn’t care anyway since I was only there for a short time.
Speaking of short time, and to get back to why I ended up wishing I hadn’t invited that other solo woman at the river bank along with me:
From the time we first got into town from the river, she started saying she really didn’t want to stay long because her friends back home would be worried about her “being kidnapped or something.” I told her she should have told me that from the start since I definitely wasn’t ready to go back and didn’t want to make Chalo take her and then come back for me, so I said to just relax and we should go get a cold beer. She then said she didn’t have enough money for that, so I said I’d treat her, another reason to regret my invite to her to come along with me because I hadn’t brought a lot of cash with me and that is the preferred method of payment here.
We ended up sitting with another couple we met around town, and the cerveza was really cold and only $2.50. I was sorry I had already eaten lunch because the food they ordered looked great. Other solo lady was noticeably antsy, and I don’t know what her real problem was, but it made me think, “And people wonder why I prefer traveling alone.” 🙂 It’s not like there was a whole lot more to see, but I hate to be rushed and would have liked more time without her griping. I also wish I had spent a little more money there to help support the locals, especially bought a bracelet or something from the little kids. In any case, it was still a totally fun day and I’m glad I went!
More Info and Other Blogs about Boquillas del Carmen:
Again, you must have current passport. I have just the card type that won’t allow international airplane travel, but this one worked fine here. Sometimes there are regular immigration officers there, but sometimes it’s the law enforcement rangers from the national park. When coming back to the American side, they put you on the phone with the immigration office in El Paso. They simply asked what was the purpose of my trip and if I bought anything there to bring back. No problems at all.
From info sign: “Boquillas del Carmen has been in existence since the late 1800’s. Its beginnings can be traced to silver and lead mining in the nearby Sierra del Carmen. Villagers worked in the mines, farmed and raised families. When mining ended in the early twentieth century, some villagers stayed and continued carving out a living in what some consider a harsh environment. As a frontier border town, Boquillas reflects the durable character of the region and its residents welcoming visitors to experience the culture and its history on the edge of two countries.”
I later read about how Boquillas was almost decimated when the border here was closed in 2002 as a result of the 9-11-01 attack. About half the population (a little over 200 at the time) had to move away without the income generated by tourism. It wasn’t until April, 2013 that the new Port of Entry was opened. The population now is about 110 people.
Visiting a Border Area (NPS.gov)
Official info, hours of operations, etc. (Note: not open on Monday or Tuesday)
Also noted on this site: “Mexican Nationals may leave items for sale such as walking sticks, bracelets, and other crafts on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. If you purchase their items or make a donation, you are encouraging illegal crossings of the river, which may result in the individuals arrest and deportation through Presidio (100 miles away). Additionally, they may be fined or incarcerated.”
Visit Boquillas (Visit Big Bend.com)
Crossing the Border in Big Bend (National Parks Traveler)
What You Need to Know (Boquillas.org)
The Border Town Bringing Mexicans And Americans Together (APlus) – Boquillas, Mexico is a small border town with little more than one restaurant, electricity in half the homes, a school for young children and the incredible nature that surrounds it. It’s also the only “un-manned” border crossing in southern United States. The town is a small reminder of what American border towns used to look like in the pre-9/11 world.
Next to Big Bend but a World Away (Gone With the Wynns) – They provide more history and great photos.
Boquillas del Carmen – A Taste of Mexico in Big Bend (Road Less Traveled)
Afternoon Visit to Boquillas Del Carmen Mexico (Love Your RV)
Our Gringo Holiday at Boquillas Crossing (Live-Work-Dream)
All Malia’s Miles Big Bend Pages: (more coming soon)