Rowboat to Mexico

The Boquillas ferry. Photo from the Austin Chronicle.

Red flags lofted at the suggestion of a side trip to Mexico, so I asked the Information Desk staffer in Big Bend National Park.

“You are safer here than in your home town,” she claimed.  (Apparently she considers the Mexican village of Boquillas part of Big Bend.)

The next surprise was the Port of Entry, a nice official building on a dirt path leading to the Rio Grande River–no road, no bridge, no Immigration officials, just a friendly Parks employee who prompted us to check and see if our passports were expired or we’d picked up another family member’s by mistake.  It seems that there are different classes of ports, and this was a Class 2 which means, among other things, that alcohol can only be imported by stomach.

At the river we stepped into the “ferry” which delivered us across the border for $5 each.  Another couple who rode across with us had traveled the same route the day before and enjoyed lunch in one of the two restaurants. Now they planned to tour caves “full of crystals” three miles outside of town.

The original price of my ocotillo/roadrunner souvenir was $10, but half a nudge dropped it to $7.

Boquillas shopping photo by bigdawgimages.

The trek into town is less than a mile, but we opted for adventure and rode donkeys.  The donkeys have learned that they don’t need to pay a lot of attention to suggestions from their riders.  Mine sometimes played bumper cars with Steve’s, but a handler/tour guide was included in the $7 fee, so we had good backup.

Almost every house in town offered a selection of souvenirs. Embroidered table scarves and aprons, small beaded wire sculptures of scorpions, road runners, cactus and so on.  Small children ran out to display decorated strips of cloth, mounted on cards.  Our guide pointed out his wife and her wares. On our return trip, she called to him, and he told her esperate (wait).  Maybe she’d complained that he hadn’t managed to shepherd us her way?
It doesn’t take long to tour a town with a population of 200.  The two restaurants were by the far the most up-and-coming spots. One boasted two bountiful gift shops.

A solar collection system supplies Boquillas’ limited electricity.  To enjoy lighting after sundown, people must buy their own batteries. An electric pump delivers water from a well to a tank on the roof of each house, so toilets will flush at night.  A medical clinic opens when personnel visit from a city 250 miles away.  I suspect that long bumpy road explains the town’s admirable safety record.  Criminals don’t see any point in making the effort to get there.

About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.