March, 2015 – In the Big Bend area of Texas, the Rio Grande River separates the United States from Mexico, and during our stay in Big Bend, we decided to slip across the border to visit the quiet Mexican village of Boquillas del Carmen on the other side.
Back when we cruised Mexico on our sailboat, we saw lots of travel literature that talked about finding the “Real Mexico.” There seemed to be an idea that border towns and tourist beach towns somehow aren’t “Real” or aren’t really Mexico.
Yet we found that no matter where we went in Mexico, the culture was distinctly “Mexican,” and I think it was very real to the locals who called these places home.
Even so… Would we find the “Real Mexico” we had grown to love so much here in a little village sandwiched between two huge national parks on either side of the border? The answer turned out to be a resounding Yes!
The border crossing is as formal as any, and going into Mexico here felt more formal than the last time we entered Mexico at the gargantuan border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, especially since we were just leaving the US to visit Mexico for a few hours!
Once we passed out of the US gate, we walked down a dirt path. Suddenly we looked up to see a group of Mexican men hanging around on the far side of the river, the Sierra del Carmen mountains towering behind them.
As soon as they spotted us, one man began singing a Mexican folk song in a very full voice that rang out with wonderful clarity across the river.
Ahhh, Mexico!! How this culture loves music!
A young man was rowing a boat towards us and we hustled down to the water’s edge.
We hopped in the boat, and as our ferry captain rowed, the welcoming sounds of our greeter’s wonderful song filled the air from the far shore. In just a few strokes of the oars we were disembarking on the other side.
The Ferry Terminal consisted of a cable spool on its side, a folding table and a cut-off plastic milk jug for money. The singer (and ticket agent), whose name was Victor, and several other men that we later found out were personal guides were waiting for us. We paid $5 for the round-trip ferry ride and were offered three ways to get to town a mile away: by burro ($5) or by taxi ($5) or walking (free).
The burros looked really fun…
Other visitors chose to take the burro ride that day. But we opted to stretch our legs and walk.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we got to town. We were traveling with our EarthRoamer RVing friends David and Amanda, and the only thing we had all planned on doing was having a Mexican lunch with Coronas and/or Margaritas. So I asked our guide where a good place was for that, and he said “José Falcon’s Restaurant.”
Sure enough, when we got to town, it was the biggest and brightest building on the street — and was one of just a handful of buildings all together! A few doors down on the other side of the street was the other popular cantina.
Before we could start exploring, however, we made a quick stop at the trailer that houses Mexico’s Customs and Immigration office, and we filled out tourist permit forms and got our passports stamped and were issued short term visas that we returned when we checked out at the end of the day.
Formalities, done, we wandered outside and suddenly heard music and singing again. We walked a few paces to find an old man in a wheel chair, his faithful dog at his side. He was strumming a guitar and singing for all he was worth.
We had to smile as we watched this musician, because funny as it sounds, this was the real deal. Street musicians give Mexico’s culture a special twist, and we’ve seen them everywhere. They’ve serenaded us on the beach, in out-of-the-way bars, even on the bus, of all places! And now here.
He paused for a moment to tell us he was 85 years old. “Born in 1930?” I asked in halting Spanish. “Yes!” He said, his eyes lighting up. He had just lost his wife a few months ago.
We wandered down the dirt road a little further and looked up to see two men coming into town riding horses. Was that classic, or what?!
A couple of little kids were running around with bracelets for sale. The little girl said her name was Maria, but even though she repeated her friend’s name three times, I never quite understood what she said! Our friend David managed to have quite a conversation with both of them!
Throughout all our wanderings, our guide, Fermin (pronounced “Fair-MEEN”), never strayed too far. The guides aren’t formally assigned to visitors, but all the gringos in town for the day were walking with one. He gave us insights into life in this tiny rural village, showing us the hospital where there are two doctors on staff.
The village church was painted a wonderful bright yellow…
And we were very impressed that the town operates on solar power!
Tourism is really important to Boquillas, and the villagers participate on many levels. One woman makes hand towels and tablecloths that she displayed with clothes pins on a fence.
We returned to José Falcon’s restaurant and took a peek out back on the deck that overlooks the Rio Grande. This river is called the Rio Bravo by the Mexicans.
Much to my surprise, as we kicked back in the sun and chatted over lunch, I noticed a person at another table who’s face I had seen only in photos online. I did a double-take when I looked at his wife, as I now realized with certainty that they were Ray, who writes the wonderful blog Love Your RV, and his wife Anne, who teaches photography at Anne McKinnell Photography. Who woulda thunk? I swung by their table to say “hello” and introduce myself. We were all so surprised to bump into each other here in Boquillas, Mexico, of all places!
But that’s the kind of fun and magic that makes this traveling lifestyle so special. Settling back with our friends Amanda and David, we savored the afternoon and were very reluctant to leave. This was such a perfect spot to wind up a very relaxing and pleasant day.
As we hung out in the warm sunshine, unwinding in the familiar plastic chairs that are the standard decor in every outdoor cantina across Mexico, we felt ourselves happily transported.
If this wasn’t the “Real Mexico,” then I really don’t know what is. Other than having a different view, the feeling and vibe were exactly the same as we found when we traveled through stunning Guanajuato, exotic Palenque, idyllic Huatulco and laid back Zihuatanejo, and each of those places was a true five-star highlight in our journey so far.
If you are going to Big Bend National Park in Texas, don’t forget your passport, and make sure you treat yourself to a few hours in Boquillas del Carmen where the sweet taste of Mexico is very real.
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More info about Boquillas del Carmen:
- Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico – Wikipedia Page
Related pages about Mexico:
- Cruising the Pacific Coast of Baja California
- Cruising the Mexican Riviera
- Cruising the Tropics on Mexico’s Pacific Coast
- Cruising Mexico’s Sea of Cortez
- Adventure Travel in Mexico’s Colonial Cities and Mayan Ruins
Related posts about Big Bend:
- Terlingua, Texas – A Living Ghost Town in Big Bend 03/28/15
- Boondocking at Big Bend National Park – Cheap & Scenic RV Camping 03/26/15
- Big Bend National Park – Mountain, River & Desert Hikes 03/19/15
- Big Bend National Park TX – Vast and Varied with Views! 03/17/15
- A Glimpse of Big Bend National Park in Texas 03/05/15
- Big Bend Bound – To Texas!! 02/17/15
What a great day! Love the idea of getting to cross the Rio Grande in a little boat. We will have to try this sometime.
It was a lovely day, from start to finish, and the little boat ride both ways was really fun!! Definitely check it out sometime!!
Great post! We went to Boquillas on Christmas Day this year and got to see Santa hand out presents to the kids. Such a fun day trip. It’s neat seeing your photos – you got some great ones that we missed. I particularly like the one of the outside of the little church – we just got one of the inside. You can see our photos here – http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/2015/04/boquillas-crossing-mexico-christmas.html.
What a neat post. Thanks for sharing! It must have been so much fun to see Santa there — definitely a great time to go. The folks at Jose Falcon’s Restaurant told us they had 120 people on Christmas day!!!
I wasn’t aware that a visa was now required for entrance to Mexico.
In most of Mexico, Americans and Canadians are issued a 6 month “tourist admission card” (Mexico’s “FMM” tourist permit) when entering the country, and you must leave Mexico before the 180 days is up. This is not technically a “visa,” but it is a piece of paper that must be in your passport at all times. It costs $22 and you get it at Mexico’s Customs and Immigration when you cross the border. I didn’t examine the slip of paper we were issued in Boquillas, but I believe it was just a one-day permit and not the actual “FMM” card. We did not have to pay for it, and we returned it at the end of the day.
We were there just a few weeks ago in mid March. It was our second visit to Boquillas. Things have really improved for the town. Tourist crossings have increased. They just got electricity this year. And they now have 28 pupils in the school. Victor, the guy at the river, used to sing in Boquillas Canyon. His booming voice really carried in the canyon. Lillia, the owner of Falcon’s, is a very gracious host. Its a nice day drip to take while in Big Bend.
we were told by a friend of a friend that it is very dangerous to go to Boquillas,
is this true and if so why
In our experience, Boquillas was safer than safe. Lots of people are afraid of going to Mexico, but we lived there for the better part of four years and loved it. Check out this blog post: Is Mexico Safe?
Great trip. It brought back a lot of memories of quiet, relaxing and contemplative moments I had in the Big Bend area in the mid 1980s. I really enjoyed the ferry ride across the Rio—-into Boquillas to sip a few beers. In the mid 80s there was no electricity, it was liking walking into a village seen in movies like “The Magnificent Seven.” It’s been a while, but I seem to recall the “ferry” was guided back and forth over the river by a rope or wire manually pulled. I just rode over and walked in. There were no formal, or informal country to country stamping and presenting documents. Mexico has long required tourist documents, but only to visits into the interior. The check points were not until you reached about an hour into the interior of Mexico from the border towns. I had never been asked for anything by Mexican officials in the border towns, and I have been to them all at least a couple of dozens of times over the years. Only when I drove well into the interior did they ask for any documents, and document returns upon leaving the country (you could keep the car window decal). However, all those trips were pre-9/11 and obviously a lot of changes have been made since then. I was just surprised you had to fork over $22 for even a very short term border town. That border town village beer is now very expensive! Then again, I see where within Big Ben NP, the primitive car camp fees are $12 when there was no fees when I was last there.
The world has changed a lot since the mid-1980’s.
We visited in1982. No passports, no fomalities at all, but the visit was much the Same.I bought a large fluorite crystal and the weight of it made me fall off the donkey on the way back.I’ll never forget that donkey looking at me on the ground and thinking ( dumb gringo)…..
Funny! Hopefully the crystal was okay and you were too!