The Big Bend region seems to have an infinite amount of unique adventures and it’s easy to romanticize each. Big Bend is very remote so it remains rough on the edges and keeps its own vibe and energy that’s easily felt by all who visit. To make a point, pick what you want to do today, all within a very short distance from each other:
- Have dinner in an early 1900’s theater in the middle of an old ghost town
- Make your way up an alpine mountain then climb up to the peak
- Hike desert canyons discovering staggering geological formations
- Visit a quaint remote Mexican village where you can cross the Rio Grande, rent some donkeys, and ride into town, and have some tacos and beer
The latter, and our topic today, is Boquillas, Mexico. A small village that has had quite a rough go and has seen its community dwindle since 2002. There is a port of entry on each side that acts as customs and processes your passport, etc. After 9/11, the US border crossing shut down for 11 years only to close again for almost 2 more years after 🦠😷. So you only had a small window of visitation in the past two decades. However, the port of entry is reopening this week, November 17th, 2021. Let me tell you why you should take advantage of this trip.
Visiting Boquillas is such a magical experience, Robert Earl Keen Jr., who is Texas royalty, wrote a popular song about his experience called, “Gringo Honeymoon”. Here are a few lines of lyrics, but out of sequence with the rest of the song so it’s out of context in this jumble:
- We took a rowboat across the Rio Grande
- Rented donkeys from an old blind man, saddled up and rode to town
- We went in the first place we could see, servin cold beer in the shade
- He took us to the towns best bar, he knew a crusty caballero, who played an old gut string guitar [saw this guy playing back in 2013, he was amazing]
- We asked the world to wait, so we could celebrate a gringo honeymoon
You actually can hire someone to row you across the river. You can also hire a guide to show you around. And if you are a good soul, you can ask about the hot springs on the Mexican side. The town is about a mile up, so you can rent a donkey and take it up to the town or just walk the mile.
Bring cash on this trip, and be generous. Once you get into town, children playing in the streets will approach you with simple sewing or copper wire sculptures. They all yell out, “five dollars! five dollars”. Feel free to negotiate but be generous and buy stuff from them. These families don’t have a lot. You’ll make their day. When I visit Boquillas, I don’t look at it like a trip to get things as cheap as possible, but as a way to support this endearing community.
This area used to be a shared community on both sides of the border and there was an actual town called Boquillas, Texas too. There were other communities nearby too (La Noria, Glenn Springs, San Vicente) supporting all the mining activity in the area. All have withered away but you can still find remnants of their remains. See this post: Raiders of the Lost Park – The Ruins of Big Bend.
The shared community lives on today. There is an annual festival that takes place in the actual waters of the Rio Grande where both sides of the border converge for one day to throw one giant party.
But is it safe?
I get this question a lot regarding the whole region. First, out of all the times I’ve been to Big Bend, I have never seen any sort of incident my entire time. There is plenty of Border Patrol in the area and I have never once felt unsafe. I feel unsafe at Houston gas stations, but not in Big Bend. Second, the people of Boquillas are very kind, gentle, and humble folks. They do want to make a few bucks to get by but they will treat you with respect and gratitude for you just being there. Not to say you should ever let go of common sense, but I certainly feel safer anywhere in Big Bend than in any place in the big city.
Boquillas is also very remote and has no through traffic. You won’t find any cartel action in such a remote destination. There is a guard station located in town that receives foreign visitors, stamps your passport, and sees you back home. The next closest port of entry would be two and a half hours away in Presidio, TX. Boquillas is isolated.
So grab your passport, cash with plenty of singles, and go have a Gringo Honeymoon. Take it slow and as Pat Green would say, “Have some tacos and beer, and let yourself go.”
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