On Friday morning I drive to the border crossing. A couple small buildings with a gate between them. The road stops at the gate. Men are gathered around a pickup truck which is backed up to the gate. I go through the door in the building on the right that says “enter here”. Some official immigration documents on the wall, a counter with some warnings long ago taped to it, and a door out the back of the building.
“Hello.” I call out. Silence except for the muffled voices of the men outside.
I go out the back door. The pickup truck is being unloaded. It is full. Boxes are set on the ground, two men in uniform search them and push them aside. One of them stands up.
“Going to Boquillas?” The lettering on his uniform says U. S. Park Ranger.
“Been there before?”
“You know the routine, no plants no rocks …”
“Enjoy you trip.” He smiles and goes back searching boxes.
A man, his cart loaded, heads down the trail. Another, with an empty cart, is coming up the trail. I follow the man with the loaded cart. It’s a bit over a quarter mile to the river. On the way we pass another man with an empty cart heading toward the truck.
Arriving at the river the contents of the cart are handed to two men in an already overloaded row boat. They struggle to push the boat from the shallow water of the bank into the current. Once in the current, one rows against the current while the other leans against the refrigerator standing on the bow. It resembles miniature container ship.
“You cross señor?” says the man next to the second boat.
He motions to the row boat. “Come, aqui.”
He pushes off and begins rowing hard against the current. Arriving on the Mexican side he says, “Pay him.” Pointing to a man standing on the bank.
I hand the man $5.
“Is Felipe aqui?”
The young man next to him says, “I am Felipe. You see Jesús?”
“You see Boquillas? Trucké or donkey?”
“Uh, trucké. Definitely truck.”
“OK. We go to Jesús’ house first.”
“We drive Jesús out to river. OK? You want to see the crystal cave?”
We take the road out of town and then turn into an arroyo. A mile on we turn out of the arroyo on to two ruts through the mesquite. Through washes and around boulders getting closer to the canyon entrance. Then Felipe stops and shuts off the truck.
“From here we walk. One mile maybe.”
The three of us get out of the truck and begin to hike up out of the mesquite into the desert, the canyon looming ahead.
“How old you?” Jesús asks as we walk along.
“Me sixty seven. Three years, seventy.”
“You’re getting around good.”
“My leg. Not good.”
“You don’t have your knee brace.”
“Forget. Es en mi casa. (It’s at my house)”
“That’s not good.”
“Is OK. … OK.”
Soon the trail splits. Jesús heads left toward the river. We go right toward the canyon wall.
Before he disappears he calls out.
“Mi amigo, you come? Today. Tarde? (afternoon)
“Bring Coca-Cola echeeps”
I look at Felipe not understanding.
“Coca-Cola and chips.” he says.
“OK” I shout back.
Jesús turns and disappears into the mesquite trees in the valley.
Crystal cave is a shallow cave that is completely lined with crystals. Felipe explains that many of the longer crystals have been broken off over the years but it is still a solid mass of crystals. As we head back we can hear Jésus dragging his canoe toward the water below.
“He cannot see more than this.” Felipe says extending his arm full length. “That is why he has binocular. To help see people coming.”
“He still comes out here every day?”
“Si, it is his job.”
We get back to his truck and ride back to Boquillas stopping at his wife’s open air shop where I purchase an embroidered tortilla cover and little wire and bead Christmas tree. We get back in the truck and head toward the river.
“You want to see ojo caliente (hot springs)?” Felipe asks.
“No, not today. I’ll go back. You are an excellent guide. I will come back and ask for you. You have more tourists this afternoon?”
“No, I am not on the list. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m on list. Tourist is only job in Boquillas. We each take turn.”
I head back to the border station and clear immigration. I climb into my truck and off the camp store to buy Coca Cola and chips and then off to the trail head. A mile in there is Jesús.
“Greeting my friend.” he says.
“I brought you Coca Cola and chips.”
“How much you sell today?”
“Nada. (nothing)” he says looking down.
“That’s not good.”
“No. Maybe mañana.”
He looks up. “I sing you song.” and he begins singing.
I turn. Two tourists are approaching. They’re looking but not turning off the trail. I walk over to them.
“This is Jesús.” I say pointing to the man by the river. “He sings for you and has some trinkets for sale. Go look.”
I head on up the trail leaving Jesús to his business. Before I disappear into the river cane and mesquite I turn. The woman is looking at his wares. Jesús is opening a plastic bag to show her more. It is his job.
I turn back to the trail. The mesquite and cane provide welcome shade from the afternoon sun.
No Tequila??! Seriously Alan, I thought you were looking to have fun. Where is Lorraine while you are out there hooking up with total strangers in a strangeland. As I watch these I keep hearing the theme song of “Breaking Bad” in my head. Especially now that we hear the Jesus is referred to as Jessie…. run Alan, Run….
My last encounter with tequila many years ago ended badly. No desire to repeat it. The whole border thing is much more relaxed here. The way I remember it in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Border Patrol and Immigration are here but their looking for smugglers not casual cross border interactions. run, Alan, run is just not the pace of life here. It’s more like mosey on speed.
Are you practicing to migrate if things don’t go well in the next election?
I think you should rename this series to… “Hanging with Jésus, AKA Jessie”
I have never heard the name Jesús translated as Jessie. I assumed it was a nickname. The boatman said Felipe’s nickname was Masacote.
Thanks again Alan and Lorraine, a remarkable adventure, and what characters in this anodyne age. Does Jesús only know one song? Again, their relative poverty puts our abundance to shame. Glad you saw Dondi; that period seems another age. I hope that bad tequila incident was not with me, possibly my worst hangover ever. Back to the slabs next, that place did seem weird. I like the videos being included. Love, Robin.