South of the border, down Mexico way
Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico, is a mile and several decades south of the American border. The village almost died when the international crossing closed following Sept. 11, 2001. After 11 years, the river crossing reopened in 2013, and the community has gradually rebounded.
Twenty miles from Big Bend National Park headquarters at Panther Junction, Boquillas is surrounded by mountains and desert. Before the border was closed, many of the men worked in Texas and families drove to Alpine to see the doctor. Without the tourist trade and with a 150-mile dirt road to the nearest Mexican municipality, the population dropped below 100.
Our guide to the village was Jerry, an 11-year-old who works the tourists arriving by the rowboat ferry. His English was much better than my Spanish. Next year he starts at the village's high school, and he has dreams of becoming an elite forest firefighter.
The village is a collection of adobe houses, two restaurants and curio shops, and a bar on a steep caliche hillside overlooking the Rio Grande. The merchants get an average of 30 chances a day to make a sale. Local craftspeople make embroidered towels and bags, and hand-carved walking sticks. Jerry pointed out what each house had to sell.
After lunch and shopping, as Jerry guided our burros back toward the river, his mother thanked us and wished us luck.
Boquillas del Carmen is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9am to 6pm. Passports are required. American cash is accepted, but not credit cards. The ferry ride is $5 per person, riding the taxi or burros costs $5, and horses are $8. Walking the dusty mile to town is free.
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