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25 In Culture/ Mexico/ Travel

Crossing the Rio Grande to Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico

When my dad & I decided that our father / daughter trip was going to be to Big Bend National Park, I wanted to figure out how to cross the border – it was the perfect opportunity to make the goal of leaving the country happen! My dad researched and found some information about crossing the border to Boquillas del Carmen, which became the thing my dad was obsessed with doing!

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» A Look at Our Experience in Boquillas «

Our last full day in Big Bend we drove down to the Boquillas crossing, went through border patrol (they give you a bit of information and explain limitations in here). We walked down from there to the edge of the Rio Grande where a man in a johnboat was rowing a couple across the border into Mexico. Then, the boat turned back toward the U.S. and Carlos offered me his hand into the boat, sat us down, and rowed us back to Mexico.

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We were greeted by a group of children offering us wire scorpions, woven bracelets and walking sticks. Moments later we were on donkeys with our guide, Esteban, leading the way.

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Your first stop is the passport office which is a construction trailer. All along the walk to town and through town children will run out to sell you little trinkets. This Mexican town is 150 miles from any other town in Mexico, so American tourists are their source of income. There are two restaurants – one on the right and one of the left. We heard before going that they’re in a bit of a family dispute. The restaurant on the left – the one we chose by recommendation – is newer, but her aunt owns the one to the right and all the guides try to take you to that one! Not only has it been there longer, but she offers the guides free meals for bringing tourists.

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Not only was the food supposedly better, but this restaurant offers a much, much prettier view. Margaritas overlooking mountains and the Rio Grande? Yes, please!

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The green chili enchiladas were highly recommended and as unappetizing as that looks, it was actually incredibly delicious. My dad who is the world’s pickiest eater devoured all of his and half of mine! They were that good!

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Papa-Bear chowin’ down!

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While we were having lunch, we were talking with Esteban about different things, about his life, and about his training to become a tour guide. While we were there Esteban asked if we could bring him a backpack the next time we come to Boquillas and showed us the massive holes in the bottom of his pack – he had to keep a box at the bottom to keep the smaller stuff in. My dad made me incredibly proud by emptying the contents of his backpack onto the table and handing Esteban his backpack! I got a little teary-eyed as Esteban grabbed my dad, hugged him, and said that it made him happy in his heart. He proudly emptied out his backpack and put his stuff in the new one. This is one of the many moments that have made me so proud to be this man’s daughter over the years.

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A little ways down the road there’s a bar where my dad took his very first tequila shot ever! I explained how to lick the salt, take the shot, bite the lime and then we went for it! I loved my dad’s response – he coughed like crazy and made the bartender, Esteban and me giggle!

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After we took our shots, Esteban walked us to the edge of town, talking about the school, the government and other things to explore near Boquillas.

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The town of Boquillas del Carmen from above

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» Tips for Visiting Boquillas del Carmen «

  • As silly as this sounds – don’t forget your passport. This seemed like a duh! thing to me, but every single person we talked to about Mexico asked if we had our passport – apparently people forget it. Don’t miss out on this experience by doing something silly.
  • Know the times of the border crossing! It’s closed Monday & Tuesday, so plan your visit accordingly. Also, it’s only open around business hours, but they change depending on the season.
  • Don’t stress about getting pesos – they prefer American dollars.
  • Learn more about the other sites provided like mine tours, trekking and their version of the hot springs.
  • They “assign” you a tour guide when you cross the border. While you don’t necessarily need a guide, this is their source of income and they work for tips alone. We could’ve said no to Esteban, had lunch, taken a shot and left, but instead we learned about other opportunities to explore in that part of Mexico (some of which I’m dying to do with Matt – plus, I learned they have a hotel there!), Esteban told us loads about Boquillas and I felt like we got to know more about their culture and everyday lives than we ever would have just going for lunch.

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» The Greatest Lesson Boquillas del Carmen Taught Me «

While I have been to many third-world countries and crossed multiple borders on foot or by boat, something that really struck me was how something so incredibly insignificant like being born on a certain side of a river can have such a massive impact on your life. Going through Big Bend along the Rio Grande was surreal even before we actually crossed it. Poverty and misfortune in Mexico isn’t something that we’re unaware of as Americans, but it’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and it’s all of a sudden out of sight out of mind. When you’re standing in the U.S. looking at this river that is extremely shallow and narrow in places it doesn’t seem possible that a third-world country lies on the other side, but it does.

By crossing the Rio Grande and into Boquillas I felt a dichotomy unlike any that I had experienced before. The U.S. border patrol was a permanent adobe building (see first photo), that took us through metal gates, down a nicely paved path to the Rio Grande – in Mexico it was a dirt road about a mile to their construction trailer for their border patrol. I’ve never lived in a house or apartment without air-conditioning  in the U.S., in fact I can’t imagine it here in the Midwest – Esteban has no air-conditioning and sleeps outside in his hammock at night to keep cool. Every trip to a poorer country is always a learning opportunity and reminder to be grateful, to give what you can to those less-fortunate, and to appreciate what you have. This trip, though, truly opened my eyes to our neighbors to the south and I feel I have a better understanding just from an afternoon with Esteban in the tiny town of Boquillas del Carmen.

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Esteban and me

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    Mani (A New Life Wandering)
    April 14, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Fun photos! And go cowboys! haha

  • Reply
    Jeremy Sell
    April 15, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Great post on Boquillas. My wife and I trekked over a couple years ago when we visited Big Bend, and I thought it was a really unique experience.

  • Reply
    Katie
    June 1, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Well that sounds like quite the interesting experience. I have crossed many borders on foot in various countries around the world, but never from my own country into Mexico. Sounds like an experience you won’t forget, particularly the kindness and empathy your father showed to Esteban. Love the idea of a father daughter trip like that!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      I highly recommend after/daughter trips! We’ve taken one just about every year since I was in high school – some big, some small. But each trip has its highlights and moments that I learn something different about my dad or share a special moment- like watching him give Esteban the backpack. Thank you so much for reading! Cheers!

  • Reply
    Megan Indoe
    June 2, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Wow, I would love to do this when we are back in the area! I love that you and your father did this trip together. What great memories! I wish my parents were more inclined to travel so we could do something together like this to remember forever. The food looks great and I love the way this place looks! I will bookmark this for future reference! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks, Megan! I’m very fortunate to have incredibly wanderlust-filled parents, My dad and I road trip to hike together every year and I’ve gone to Europe with my mom a handful of times. They’re pretty awesome and the memories are worth more than anything! I hope you have fun when you go! Cheers!

  • Reply
    Vyjay Rao
    June 2, 2016 at 12:23 am

    Boquillas, comes across as a refreshing change from the usual places that people travel to and blog about. Thanks for sharing this. Looks like you had a great adventure and a great trip.

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      Thank you! It was an incredibly fun experience and definitely the first time I popped into another country for lunch and a visit through town. Cheers!

  • Reply
    Gina Bear
    June 2, 2016 at 12:50 am

    This is really interesting. I think the river crossing is a great experience. Being half Mexican, I can say I’ve done most of these things already! 😉 This trip would be really great for first time travelers who are scared of going other places. It would be comfortable and an easy transition for them. I really loved the glass with the cactus in it and it’s too cute!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      It is a perfect trip for beginners. My dad was exceptionally excited about this because it felt like such an adventure. My grandma called him saying she just knew I had talked him into this. I assured her there was nothing to worry about. Haha!
      I think the glasses are so darling too! I tried to find some afterward, but none were as cute. Cheers!

  • Reply
    Shayan Naveed (@ShayanBkk)
    June 2, 2016 at 1:20 am

    That restaurant looks like its taken straight out of a Mexican film. So retro and stereotypical hahah
    I can see how you would feel the dichotomy, especially that it is just a little river that separates it all. How high is that river though? Can you walk across it?

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      It does look incredibly stereotypical, huh? Ha
      The river is deep in some parts, shallow in others. There were many places that you could absolutely walk across – this part included. So bizarre.

  • Reply
    Safari Junkie
    June 2, 2016 at 3:46 am

    What a wonderful trip! And that margarita looks very good!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      It was the best margarita I’ve ever had! Cheers!

  • Reply
    Toronto Seoulcialite
    June 2, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Look at all that sauce! The most hysterical thing about seeing a South African is their constant need for extra sauce. I think Mexicans must be the same way! That must’ve been a great time. Tequila and enchiladas you can never reeeeeeeeally go wrong!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      I know! I think we left about 3/4 of it on the plate! haha And you’re so right – especially the tequila part! 😉

  • Reply
    thetravelpockets
    June 2, 2016 at 10:25 am

    What an experience to cross the border with your father. I thought it was funny that you taught your dad how to do a tequila shot! The whole time I was reading your adventures, I kept thinking that I wish I could do these things with either my mother or father. Not sure if they would do the tequila shots though 🙂 And how sweet of your dad to offer his back pack to Esteban.

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:19 pm

      It was really great! He was absolutely giddy with excitement and made me smile a lot! You should try to get them to start with something small! I was surprised that my dad did a tequila shot with me, actually. He’s not a big drinker and we had already had a margarita, but he went for it and it was such a weird, random, fun moment! I’m a pretty lucky lady to have such an awesome dad. Thanks for reading and commenting! Xx

  • Reply
    Amandas_Wanderlust
    June 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Really interesting post, particularly hearing about the contrasts between the two border posts.

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 2, 2016 at 6:17 pm

      It was totally surreal just to go from such a wealthy country to such a poor spot in another country. It was really special and especially humbling. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    June 2, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Looks like a fun trip you two had! I would have told me dad to buy a second helping if he started in on mines 😉

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 1, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Haha! He was definitely eating my leftovers! I’m a small eater!

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