Just on the other side of the Rio Grande River in the Big Bend National Park lies Mexico, and the small border town of Boquilles del Carmen. Years ago, crossing to the small towns just on the other side was casually done, with no border crossing formalities. That all stopped after 9-11, when the border was closed indefinitely.
The tourist town dwindled to almost nothing when tourist traffic stopped. In April 2013, the border re-opened as an official port of entry, open Wednesday through Sunday only. The tiny border village revived, and exists primarily as a tourist village with two restaurants, a tiny hotel, and one telephone line. I have been through many border crossings, but this one has to be the most unique.
We parked and entered the small border crossing building. The park ranger explained the process, including what we could (and could not) bring back across the border. We could bring handicrafts, but no minerals, animal bones or alcoholic beverages. Since there was no mechanism to collect taxes at this small station, no tequila allowed over the border (except in your stomach!)
From the building, we walked down a winding path to the bank of the Rio Grande River. Seeing us arrive, a rowboat was dispatched for us from across the river. Technically, one could swim across, but looking at the swift current dissuaded us from even the thought. Once rowed across, we climbed up the other side, paid the $5 per person round trip fee and were asked if we wanted a ride to the village, about 3/4 mile away. We had the choice of a burro, horse or truck. We could certainly have walked the distance, but hey, how often do you get a chance to ride a burro! We ponied up the $5 each (round trip) and mounted our donkeys, and plodded off on the only road toward the village, led by a guide. Frankly we could have walked faster, but riding a donkey was a whole lot more fun.
Once we reached the outskirts of the village, we dismounted and our guide gave us a tour of the town. He spoke almost no English, but Jeff’s Spanish was just sufficient to make communication possible. He escorted us first to the Mexican customs office, a white trailer surrounded by a chain link fence. We filled out the necessary forms, showed our passports, and were on our way in a few minutes.
We walked through the town, littered with tables full of local handicrafts for sale. We trekked to the nearby hot springs — but had to hastily retreat because the spring was in use as a makeshift bathing facility. I usually enjoy meeting our Mexican neighbors, but not quite that intimately. As we continued, we learned about their clinic and toured the town hotel. It was more like a hostel, but for $20 person, it offered a lodging option. If you missed the 5 pm closing time for the border crossing, you would need it! Our guide’s wife worked at the hotel and just coincidentally had her own collection of handicrafts for sale where I picked up a couple of things (of course).
Growing thirsty and a big hungry, it was close enough to lunch time, so we backtracked to one of the two town restaurants. We could choose from burritos, tacos or tamales, and we both opted for the tamales. They were delicious, especially when chased down with a local beer (or two). The restaurant owner (who spoke perfect English) coincidentally had a few things for sale, and I picked up a supply Mexican vanilla extract.
After lunch, we figured we had pretty well done the town. We checked back in at the Mexican office, turned in our paperwork and had our passports stamped. We then headed back to mount our burros for the slow amble back to the river. After dismounting, we thanked and tipped our guide and clambered back into the rowboat for the return trip across the river. Back at the US border crossing building we were metered one at a time to a kiosk where we scanned our passports and were interviewed by a remote customs agent. It took just a couple of minutes each. Formalities concluded, we were officially back on US soil.
It was as very interesting day, although more expensive than one might expect. Transportation (boat and burro) was $20, lunch was $25. Adding in souvenirs and guide tip, the total was around $80 for a few hours in town. But, this is the village’s primary source of revenue so in my opinion, it’s money well spent for a unique experience.