Today I met a national park service ranger by the name of A.L. Weimer who wore a bulletproof vest and carried a police-issue sidearm. While there are daily sightings of mountain lions and black bears throughout Big Bend National Park, I think his handgun has less to do with keeping the animals in line, and is more intended as a show of force in case any renegade Mexicans or Islamic terrorists get any big ideas about invading the U.S. through Mexico.
If so, Ranger Weimer, who manages the Boquillas Crossing, then becomes our first line of defense. Of course, thanks to our 2nd Amendment, I’m certain that many park visitors would rally in defense of our great nation, and arm themselves with the requisite arsenal of spatulas and Swiss army knives, or whatever else they could muster from their tents and RVs to hold off a foreign attack on American soil.
Leah and I decided that a reconnaissance mission was in order. To get to the other side, documents are first presented to Ranger Weimer, a dour-faced, no-nonsense bulldog, who makes sure there is no misunderstanding about the prohibition of alcohol or tobacco from abroad.
Walking through the customs house gate to the waterfront along a garden trail takes only five minutes.
The trail ends at a sandbar where eager Mexicans negotiate with Gringos to ferry them across the river by rowboat. Five dollars is generally the agreed upon price.
However, with the Rio Grande water levels so low, Leah and I found it cheaper to wade across fifty feet of knee-deep water to the other side.
Land transportation comes from Uber burros, charging five dollar fares to cover the dusty and shit-laden ¾-mile trip…
…to a white trailer check-point surrounded by cyclone fencing on the edge of the village. It was a treat to sit in Boquillas’s only air conditioning for a few minutes to escape the 100◦ heat, while our identities were checked against a drug cartel database.
Once Leah and I were cleared as respectable American citizens, we opted to lunch at the Original José Falcone’s Restaurant and Bar, the largest of two eateries in town…
…with an overlook of the Boquillas Canyon.
Mama Falcone was sitting on the patio in her kitchen apron working on a future needlepoint tapestry that would soon display in the family curio shop next door, while her nephew Renaldo brought us menus and took our order—chicken quesadilla for Leah, and beef burrito for me. Meanwhile, a family of three from South Carolina sat at a nearby table chatting it up with Mama’s daughter, Lillia.
Lillia was explaining that her father opened the restaurant in 1973 after a pickup truck accident put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The restaurant was a big hit among locals and tourists, with Mama serving bean tacos and burritos, and Papa schmoozing the guests. Thanks to the unofficial crossing, villagers were accustomed to serving up to 200 Big Bend visitors a day—mostly tourists looking to enhance their park experience by buying food and souvenirs.
After Papa died in 2000, Mama and Lillia continued the business until the U.S. closed the border in May, 2002 in response to 9-11. Consequently, the town’s tourist trade dried up, and businesses failed without customers.
The town population shrank from three hundred to one hundred adults and children, with many leaving for Muzquiz—the nearest Mexican city, and a seven-hour bus ride away. Eventually, Mama and Lillia found work in the States, but returned home to the restaurant after the crossing officially reopened in April 2013.
They are hopeful for an economic recovery, but the town is in shambles, and it will take many more Americans to salvage Boquillas’s economy.
After lunch, Lillia volunteered Chico to drive us back to the landing in his beat-up Chevy Silverado. Chico was born and raised in Boquillas, and although his two brothers have moved on, he has never left.
“I like it here,” he admits. “It’s very quiet.”
When Chico isn’t shuttling visitors between the restaurant and the water, he bartends for the only bar in town, usually serving up beer to the locals. “Cervezza is cheap, but gas,” he explains, “is very expensive and hard to come by since Boquillas has no gas station. However, American friends are willing to fill five gallon containers from the park store, and send it over by boat.”
It occurred to me that Chico was giving us good intelligence about his situation, which would be useful should tensions ever flare between the U.S. and Mexico. And I believe that given the chance, Carrie Masterson and I could turn Chico into a valued asset. We tipped Chico five dollars for the ride and the invaluable information.
Leah and I crossed back the way we came—by wading through the Rio Grande. We acknowledged Ranger Weimer upon our return, who ushered us to a virtual customs station, where we submitted our credentials electronically and spoke by phone to an invisible agent who scanned us by remote camera.
“Take off your hat, remove your sunglasses, and stand behind the yellow line,” barked the long-distance voice.
After answering a few routine questions, like “Are you bringing any raw fruits or vegetables into the country?”, we were safely readmitted to America.
Turning to Ranger Weimer, I asked casually, “So how do you feel about Trump building a Wall down here?
He looked at me sternly, and answered in a stoic voice, “Sir, we’re not allowed to express an opinion about that matter.”
But I wasn’t done yet. “But do you think these people are dangerous?”
He was becoming annoyed, answering more emphatically, “Like I said, sir; I have no opinion on the matter!”
I left Boquillas Crossing completely satisfied by our cultural exchange, and reassured that we would be safe from bad hombres from the other side. Fortunately for us, the citizens of Boquillas del Carmen are hard-working people. They are a small and subdued militia of struggling entrepreneurs who depend on us, and are more interested in fighting for their livelihood than picking a fight with their neighbor.
I have met the enemy face to face and I do not fear them. Their rowboats and mules would be no match against our ships and tanks.