Boquillas Crossing
(Near Rio Grande Village, Texas, USA)

A few miles to the north and east of a national park crossroads village (containing little more than a convenience store and campground) is the location of a secluded dead-end roadway known as “Boquillas Crossing”. For many years—if one parked their automobile at the end of this roadway and searched a bit—it was possible to hear the call of a small aluminum boat ferryman, whistling over from the other side of the narrow streaming waters of the Rio Grande (Río Bravo del Norte), the infamous natural borderline separating the U.S. state of Texas from its southern neighboring Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. The whistle and greeting was a casual non-verbal invitation to cross over the waters and visit the tiny village of Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico. After replying affirmatively to the ferryman’s request for service and being shuttled across the waters, it was then possible to reach the village (roughly 1/2 mile away) by either pick-up truck, burro, or simply on foot; and each of the 3 transportation services had their own guides for hire: young men drove the trucks, children led the burros, and village elders would escort visitors on foot. On all occasions one was also observed and accompanied by a taciturn, yet friendly old black dog on duty to proceed over all of these affairs, from swimming alongside the boat’s crossing, to following the burros up to the village. The sleepy village of roughly 250 residents, lacking electricity and solely run by propane gas, contained a café/restaurant with an open-air patio, a nearby cantina, as well as casual overnight accommodations at an informal bed & breakfast, or whatever it was called. Children and women sold minerals, rocks and other trinkets, and the main dirt road through town was usually empty and quiet, excepting the occasional roaming wild chicken.

The impromptu ferry service serving Boquillas del Carmen had operated uninterrupted from at least the 1990s until 2002, when the U.S. federal government decided to put an end to the informal and illegal crossing point. In the years after 2002, lacking necessary income from the foreign visitors, it became a difficult time for the residents of Boquillas del Carmen; many locals moved far distances away to the larger and less remote towns and cities, and even the bed & breakfast closed its doors. For the residents who stayed, all have struggled to survive and have needed to adapt to the new environment. As for the former ferryman: it is highly likely that on most ordinary afternoons he can still be spotted at his new post, held since 2002. He will most likely be seen either while legally wading ankle-deep in the waters of the river, or emerging from some brush nearby. Now one hears the sounds not of an inviting ferryman, but of a sad troubadour, no longer calling for passengers, but instead looking solely for a musical audience. A former ferry master, now singer of the shore.

NOTE: As of April 2012, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has made plans to open the river crossing once more, allowing the return of the impromptu ferryboat operation. This time however, on the U.S. side of the river there will be an official unmanned electronic customs crossing terminal and a U.S. Parks Department information kiosk, as well as new public toilets. There is also no official word yet on whether the now defunct “Buzzard’s Roost” bed & breakfast will return to business once the ferry starts operation.