Mexico – Boquillas Crossing Reopens

The changes at Boquillas Crossing are immediately apparent as soon as you turn off the paved road leading to Boquillas Canyon: a gate with scrolled metal lettering saying “Boquillas Crossing”, a wide, freshly graded road and, a little further on, some parking spots outside a brand new building. This is the self-service, remote-control U.S. Immigration station, an expensive project which finally opened on April 10 after months of delays. We are early witnesses to the reopening of this crossing, one of three unofficial border crossings to Mexico in Texas’ Big Bend, which were closed after 9/11 due to security concerns.

Everyone leaving the U.S. must pass through this building, where a U.S. National Park Service ranger explains what  may not be brought back from  Mexico (rocks, plants, alcohol) and answer questions about the ferry and what to expect on the Mexican side. We had already bought boat tickets ($5) in the store at Rio Grande Village on the way in.

Thus briefed, I walk with a couple of friends along the path which quickly leads to a look-out point: two seats under a shade roof, from which we can observe across the river tethered burros, some pick-up trucks, a truck carrying Mexican Army soldiers and a group of men sheltering under a ramada with a Mexican flag flying above.

Ramada with Mexican flag

Tethered burros

We drop down to the river bank just as a flat-bottomed, metal row boat arrives. Two us us climb aboard with three other visitors, while the third in our group chooses to wade across further downstream, where the water shallow.

Row Boat and Oarsman

 

As we are rowed across the river, a Mexican breaks into exuberant song and, as we step off, introduces himself as Victor Valdez. Dressed in a colorful shirt and a red neck scarf, he adds that the oarsman is his son,  Adrian,  asks if we want a  ride on a burro or in a pick-up into the village and points out his tip jar stuck in the sand.

 

Victor (with stick)

Thanking the burro handlers but declining their offer, we start the 15-minute hike along the track leading to the village. Rounding a bend and climbing a short incline, we come to the first house and the first display of artifacts, tended by a woman and her daughter. We say we will return later and move on, only to be waved off to the right by a young man. He wants to guide us to the Mexican Immigration office, a trailer with seats and desks, where we fill out our tourist card applications and have our passports stamped.

We head out into the street and notice the long freshly painted facade of Falcon’s Restaurant and Store.We walk for 10 minutes through the village and spot the former Buzzards Roost Bed & Breakfast overlooking the river. It is being converted into a motel, with three rooms already finished, for $20 a night. This information comes from a young man, speaking good English, who is buying an ice  cream from a van, which had driven five hours from Melchor Muzquiz, the nearest town to the south.

Falcon’s restaurant

Ice Cream Van

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We return to the village, noticing sewer lines being installed and new standpipes in the street, and enter Boquillas’ only bar, the Park Bar. Bare and clean, it is almost empty of customers. There are two pool tables with dust-covered, torn surfaces. One of us hits a few balls using a hiking stick just purchased ($6). We order a Coke and a beer and listen to an off-key singer outside playing a guitar.

Interior, Park Bar

Park Bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the health clinic, the school and the immigration office, there is one other new building: the tourist office, which also doubles as a shop selling artifacts which the whole village seems to be making: decorated hiking sticks made from sotol, metal stick ornaments, fabric wrist bands saying Boquillas, various rocks, and embroidered cotton squares  for use as tortilla warmers, made by one woman sitting outside a small restaurant.

The sense of community and revived spirit of tourist hospitality in the village is due to the work of Ernesto Hernandez, who is employed by Solimar, a Washington, DC-based NGO. His job is to get Boquillas ready for tourists, and he seems to have worked wonders, Boquillas today projects a spirit of community involvement and welcoming tourist hospitality. Of course, everyone wants to sell their own trinkets or act as guide, but rebuffs are taken lightly.

Old Bar

This is a desperately poor village where, for 11 years, those inhabitants who remained (two thirds of the villagers left to find work elsewhere) ate little more than beans and tortillas daily. Now there is hope for a better life. But we are about to enter the hot summer months, and tourist numbers will drop sharply. Today was a good day, with around 80 visitors. Looking ahead, Ernesto has plans to add horse rides up into the Sierra del ,Carmen, which looms behind the village, mountain bike trails and sand dune rides.

Lilia

 

Mini Burritos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We eat lunch at Falcon’s Restaurant. Service is prompt and the menu is the same as before: a choice of three small tacos or burritos, filled with beans and vegetables, with salsa on the side. We chat with Lilia, daughter of Señor Falcon, founder of the enterprise and unofficial mayor of Boquillas until his death in 2000. Lilia and her mother, Ofelia, have risen to the challenge and reestablished Falcon’s as the major restaurant in the village. Her husband, Bernardo, who speaks English as confidently as she does, waits on table. Clean rest rooms are adjacent, various rocks are for sale on the terrace which faces the river, and a well-stocked shop displays tourist products from the interior.

Coming back was a breeze. The same National Park Service ranger was on hand to see that we correctly inserted our passports or passport cards into the scanner. We then lifted the phone handset and spoke with a Customs and Border Protection agent, who asked us what we were bringing into the USA. Having answered that question, we were free to go. Even though one of the two scanners was out of order, the  elapsed time, including a short wait in line, was 7 minutes.

Back to the USA

Crossing to Boquillas is easy and  it is safe, so once more we are able to say to our neighbors “¡Buenas Dias!”.

Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your article regarding the newly reopened Boquillas Crossing. I hope all goes well for the border community

    My only criticism is grammatical and perhaps petty. El dia is masculine so when saying good morning in Spanish one should say “Buenos Dias” even though it seems wrong to a gringo. La tarde and la noche are feminine; therefore, “Buenas” is correct when saying good afternoon and good evening. Ciao.

  2. Barbara Wright says:

    In 1966, when taking a junior level vertebrates Zoology course at Texas Tech, our class walked across the river one night into Boquillas, where alcohol by lamplight was available in several little buildings. The Mayor and some other fellows were playing a game, which they invited some of the male students to join, for free, at first, but we all saw where that might go! The five girls walked back across the river, but all the guys, who had enjoy some adult beverages, rode burros back across the river. We then set up our bedroll campsite in the rushes along the river for the night. Can you imagine anything like that in this day and time?

Trackbacks

  1. […] here? Wikipedia mentions the Buzzards Roost was popular until the border was closed in 2002. According to this blog post, it is “being converted into a motel”. What is the situation for winter […]

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