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
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