03 April 2015
C Is For Christmas In Boquillas, Mexico
During April, we're participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Every day (except Sundays), we’ll be doing an alphabet themed post starting with “A is for Adventurous” and ending with “Z is for Zinc”. We've got a theme for every letter sorted except for Y. If you have any ideas for the letter Y, please leave a comment or email.
While we were in Big Bend National Park, we decided to make the crossing to Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico for our Christmas lunch. Because, what could be more festive than enchiladas, tostadas and a Carta Blanca beer on Christmas Day?
Big Bend is situated on the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. For much of its history, the border between Mexico and Texas was pretty fluid with people going back and forth. The notion that a river could divide a land into two separate countries probably seemed a bit arbitrary to the people who inhabited it. Things evolved over time and the border tightened up to some extent, but people still crossed back and forth. However, after 9/11, the border crossings in the park were closed. I can only imagine that it had a profound impact on the neighboring communities and economies. Fortunately, in April 2013, the crossing to Boquillas was reopened and you can now visit Mexico as part of your stay in Big Bend.
To make the crossing, you go through the Port of Entry which is staffed by National Park Service employees (the actual immigration stuff is done remotely using some high tech machines). Needless, to say, they get a little antsy when you try to take photos of government immigration and customs facilities, so we didn't. But we did take a snap of one of the signs after you pass through the checkpoint.
To get to Boquillas, you walk down a short path and take a "ferry" across the river. It costs $5 roundtrip and you pay Victor once you get to the other side. The ride is a pretty short one. You'll spend more time getting in and out of the boat, then you will actually rowing across the river. Apparently, before the border was closed, folks could just wade across the river. Nowadays, things are bit more formal.
As we were crossing the river, one of the guys serenaded us. It was in Spanish, so I have no idea what he was saying, but I'm pretty sure it went something like this, "Welcome to Boquillas del Carmen. Come and enjoy our food. Maybe a beer or two. Buy lots of trinkets to take back with you. Welcome, welcome, welcome!"
Once you get to the other side and hand Victor your money, you're assigned a guide who escorts you to Mexican immigration and customs and then shows you around the village. The guide is free, but as Victor told us, "Felipe will take care of you and then you take care of him." As in, be prepared to tip. We gave him $10 based upon what we had heard was customary from some other folks. Victor also suggested that we might want to tip the guy who serenaded us. We did.
You have a choice about how you get to the village - you can walk (it is about 3/4 of a mile), you can take a donkey or you can get a ride. The donkey or ride costs extra. Walking is free. You can guess what we opted to do.
Mexican customs and immigration didn't seem to be the most pressing thing on Felipe's mind. He kept inviting us to check out the stalls and look at the trinkets as we made our way up into the village. It seems that getting your passport looked at is secondary to shopping in Boquillas.
Eventually, we made our way to customs and immigration. The guy there seemed a bit befuddled by his job. He kept having problems scanning Scott's entry card into the computer system. After a while staring at his screen, he suggested that we go to the restaurant and come back later for Scott's passport. I don't know about you, but I really prefer to have my passport with me at all times. After a confusing conversation (keeping in mind we don't speak any Spanish and the official's English was a bit limited), he let us leave with both of our passports. He gave me an entry card, but told Scott not to worry about not having one. We were a little bit worried, but we left anyway and checked out the place.
As we were meandering down the street, who should come driving by but Santa Claus!
Santa and his elves handed out presents to all of the children of Boquillas, along with a ham for each family. The kids were so adorable telling Santa their names and ages and saying gracias when Santa handed gifts to each of them.
One of Santa's elves told us that he has been making the crossing to Boquillas for the past 12 or so years. Even when the border crossing was closed, Santa still managed to find his way across the Rio Grande. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that, in his day job, Santa used to work security in Big Bend National Park. Even politics and border concerns can't get in the way of Santa finding a way to visit the children in Boquillas. I'm not sure who raises the money for the gifts and hams and organizes all of the logistics, but it looks like Santa has had a lot of help and generosity over the years.
After seeing Santa, we headed off to lunch. There are two restaurants to choose from - the big one and the small one. Felipe suggested we eat at the small one. I'm glad we did. It was delicious! We both had cheese enchilladas which came with little bean tostadas and avocados. I detest avocados, so Scott got my share. What a lucky boy! Our lunch, along with a Carta Blanca beer each, cost us $19.
While we were having lunch, a guy serenaded us. Unlike the guy singing at the river, this fellow was just awful. I really can't put it any other way. Each time he stopped singing a song, you prayed it was the last one. Sadly, he always had another song to sing. But he sure did try hard. Bless.
It wasn't just Santa and lunch in Boquillas. Felipe showed us the pre-school, church and clinic. The clinic is unlocked - Felipe opened the door and showed us around. It looks like a really nice facility. They even have a really well stocked pharmacy - unlocked of course. I'm guessing that in a small town like Boquillas with a military base on the hillside, they don't worry too much about theft of narcotics.
Visiting Boquillas was a fun and very interesting way to spend a few hours on Christmas Day. If you ever find yourself in Big Bend National Park, be sure to make the time and do the crossing (assuming you have the right kind of passport - it is a bit tricky for some nationalities). If you're interested in finding out more, check out the National Park Service site here.
We spent Christmas Day in Boquillas, Mexico in 2014.
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