Day-trip – Boquillas Mexico

You can’t really understand Terlingua, or Terlingua Americana Music, without coming to grips with the other side of the border- and the nearest border crossing is at Boquillas, Mexico.  Unfortunately, for the past 11 years, that’s been hard to do because the border has been closed.

Recently, a new border crossing to Boquillas, Mexico was opened in the Big Bend National Park.  I made this crossing in the 70’s, and don’t remember much about it… but, I do remember that the process was informal.  You just drove to the crossing, took the little boat across the river, trekked up the hill, and bought cheap tacos and beer.

Falcons restaurant
Lilia and Bernardo – Falcon’s restaurant – Boquillas, MX.

Now, getting to Boquillas is a little more complicated.  After driving an hour and a quarter from Study Butte through the park, you first go to the store at Rio Grande Village, where you buy your tickets for the boat- $5/per person.

Then, a short drive to the Boquillas crossing, a $2,000,000+ Homeland Security compound (my buddy Lance, who builds things, figures he could’a built it for $100,000… where does the money go?) where you show your passport and receive official permission to cross the border.

The crossing closes at 6:00 PM.  I talked to the guard who told me the rules:  “no mercy, no quarter.”  If you haven’t been fully processed back into the U.S. by 6:00, you have to stay in Mexico.  “Back at ya,” was my unspoken reply.

A short walk takes you to the Rio Grande river, where you very much leave the United States.  A small john-boat picks you up and takes you across.  On the other side, there are horses, burros, some old trucks, and Victor, who sings to you.

boat
Crossing the Rio Grande
Horses and Burros - we took the truck.
Horses and Burros – we took the truck.
the other side...
the other side…

 

On the other side, you’re in a different country.  You’re also in a different world.  Boquillas is a six-hour drive over mountains on very bad roads from the nearest city.  Before the border was closed, the residents could easily pop across the border and go shopping in Alpine or one of the stores in the National Park.  Now, anything that gets to Boquillas – beans, vegetables, meat, gasoline, furniture, clothes… anything – is trucked in over the mountains.

Consequently, it’s pretty primitive.  Dirt roads.  Old adobes.  No stores.

$5 per person buys you a bumpy ride from the river to the town.  It also bought us a personal guide – ours was named Eduardo.  He stayed with us all day and drove us back to the river crossing when it was time to go.  He drank some Cocas and declined the offer of lunch.  I’d recommend him highly – very helpful guy.

We went with our friends, Lance and Yvonne.  Yvonne speaks fluent Spanish, which came in handy, although many of the residents speak some English – and Lilia and Bernardo at Falcon’s restaurant speak excellent English.  With Yvonne’s help, we were able to talk to many of the locals and get a feel for life in Boquillas.

Right now, there is a feeling of anticipation among the citizens of Boquillas, and hurt and anger over the border crossing.  It’s been a long 11 years.  This is the first “season” the crossing has been open.  Will the tourists come back?

Before the borders closed, spring break was a crowded, noisy party there.  In the fall and spring, when the weather is cool, the town was crowded with tourists.  After the border closed, the people had to leave.  They’re trickling back…  I wonder if our government knows the damage that closing the borders has done?  Families divided?  Friends separated?  And entire villages, which had come to rely on the U.S. side for supplies, decimated or erased?

There are two restaurants.  There is a bar.  Electricity has been run from the U.S., but it hasn’t been hooked up yet.  Small solar panels charge car batteries in some places…

Walking the streets of Boquillas.
Walking the streets of Boquillas.
Construction... getting ready for the tourists.
Construction… getting ready for the tourists.

Aside from tacos and liquor/beer, the economy is based on selling hand-made items.  Crowds of small children, carefully watched over by their mothers, crowd around with their samples:  cloth bracelets, bent-wire scorpions, etc.  Everything is $5, and they have no change – where would they get it?  Be sure to bring a wad of 1s and 5s.

kids2
Betsy supporting the economy.
Hand-made items for sale.
Hand-made items for sale.
Betsy and Yvonne shopping.
Betsy and Yvonne shopping.

I took it as a good sign that there was a film crew in town, interviewing Lilia, Bernardo, and the street vendors.

falconsinterview
Film crew interviews Lilia at Falcon’s restaurant.
oldmanfilmcrew
Film crew interviews a street vendor. He was a crusty, funny old guy.

It doesn’t take long to “do” Boquillas.  After a lunch of tacos and beer at Falcon’s we walked through the town.  The main street has houses, a bar, a couple of restaurants, a Catholic church… and then just sort of fades out.  Below, to the South, there is another section of the town.  Nothing commercial there- just houses and the Evangelical church, where Bernardo is the pastor.

window
Boquillas through the church window
street
Boquillas.

I would have enjoyed spending the night, but there’s no place to stay.  There are beds on various patios, and you can rent one…  a little too rustic for me.  The locals all sleep outdoors during the hot weather.

beds2
The “hotel.”
bed1
The locals sleep under the stars.
pool
The tables were torn… you’d have to be pretty drunk to play pool here.
lanortenobar
abandoned bar

After we’d seen all there was to see, Eduardo took us back to the Mexican customs office.  Getting in and out of Mexico, on the Mexican side, is a breeze.  The customs officer seemed glad to see us and was very helpful – there was a short form to fill out, which you keep until you leave and then return to him.

Eduardo drove us back to the river.  We hopped in the little boat and three minutes later were back in the U.S.

Returning to the U.S. is a pain in the ass.  Like visiting a prison.

The park rangers and guard are formal and nervous.  We declared what we’d bought and then “talked” to a customs agent in El Paso via a phone/camera hook-up.  They could see us.  We couldn’t see them.  They asked stupid questions.

Eventually, they decided that we weren’t a threat to national security and let us back in our own damn country.

 

falcons2
Looking out at Boquillas from the patio at Falcon’s restaurant.
falcons1
Falcon’s restaurant and gift shop.

Even with the hassle of going through a “border,” we’ll be going back to Boquillas.

churchcross
The 12 stations of the cross… hanging on the wall in the Catholic church.
church1
Catholic church.
boqhovel
the green building is the school…
bomx1
Shade….
bldgs
Houses in Boquillas.
betsybar
Betsy enjoys a cold beer on a hot day in the Park Bar.
beds3
Everybody sleeps outside in the summer.
bar3
The Park bar.
bar2
We didn’t try this one – we’ll give it a shot next trip.
alter
Alter. Catholic Church. Boquillas.
bar
Park bar. Entrance.

As

 

"Come see my guitar," he said.
“Come see my guitar,” he said.

As we were getting ready to leave, Lance and I went behind Falcon’s to take a couple of pictures.  An old man in a wheelchair called to me – “Come see my guitar.”  I started to blow him off, but he was insistent, so Lance and I went down the stairs to his house.

He was a feisty ol’ guy.  85 years old.  He had moved away when the border closed, but returned when it opened.  He’s not going anywhere again…

He brought out his guitar – a Korean Harmony with rusted strings.  I handed Lance my camera and tuned the guitar; played a few blues riffs.  The old guy enjoyed my playing, he said.  We talked some about living in Boquillas, and then it was time to leave.

I handed the guitar back, and he started playing and singing a Mexican song…  as we walked up the hill and to the truck, I could still hear him singing.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Replies to “Day-trip – Boquillas Mexico”

  1. Nice written account. These unknown or lesser known border relationships are significant. I am from New Mexico and when you mention border, the Juarez area immediately comes to mind. Its nice to see an account of this area.

  2. I really enjoyed your pictures and your comments! I will be heading that way next week for my first time. I have traveled to Mexico many times over the years and look forward to visiting Boquillas. I am still confused how you get there from Terlingua, but I suppose it will makes sense when I get there. Thanks again! You should travel all over and write blogs like this!!

    1. to get to Boquillas from Terlingua – go into the National Park. Drive till the road ends. Buy your ticket for the boat ride at the store. Drive back a short distance, and turn right at the sign that says “Boquillas Canyon” – then follow that road till you come to the crossing. Be sure and bring your passport and lots of small bills.

  3. My wife and I are going to the Big Bend area 3/6-3/9 and we’ll definitely be going to Boquillas. I started going in 1994, senior year of high school with a group of friends but haven’t been back to Boquillas since 2000 ( I was beyond sad for the residents when we absent minded-ly closed the border crossing); my wife has never been but she’s heard all the usual “partying in Boquillas” stories. I’m a little more mature these days but I’ll definitely be consuming several beers at the Park bar. Also taking a bunch of school supplies to drop off at the school – I would highly recommend everyone do so, they really need things for the kids down there.

  4. Nice photos. I just made the trip a couple of weeks ago and had a good time. Didn’t find returning to the US a bit more difficult than entering Mexico; you just need to follow the instructions. Only thing I would add is that at present, the border crossing is open Wednesday – Sunday only. Thanks to Big Bend National Park for making this happen.

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