The Village of Boquillas
A week ago, my husband and I crossed the border into Mexico, through Big Bend National Park. The border officially opened a year ago, making it possible to visit the village of Boquillas. In the past year, Don and I have spoken with many locals on the US side of the border who have a special bond with the village.
By Boat and Mule
We were the first tourists to arrive when the Port of Entry office opened that morning. As we walked down towards the Rio Grande, we could hear Victor, the singing greeter across the river, serenading with great enthusiasm. A rowboat took us to the Mexican side of the river where we paid $5.00 for a round trip burro ride to the village.
Noel, shown with Pardo the burro, accompanied us on our dusty 3/4 mile walk. He spoke a tiny bit of English and luckily Don spoke a decent amount of Spanish.
We hoped to enjoy the cultural experience along with some Mexican food and beers. But we also hoped to give some business to this community, that almost disappeared after 9-11, when the border was strictly shut down. It would have been nice to have lugged my big quilt and some entertainment for the kids, but that would have been hard. Instead, I brought my smaller quilt project...the quilt that I'm making with a little help from the friends I meet here and there.
After checking in with passports at the village, Noel became our village guide. This turned out to be a great way to meet some of the locals and learn more of the history. We stopped at this little house on the edge of the village and met a wonderful family.
Alexa was like many of the village children that Saturday, selling beaded jewelry, miniature wire animals and walking sticks. She approached with a collection of bracelets and spoke softly. I bought a woven wrist band for $3.00 and she shyly posed with me.
Mom & Dad
Alexa's mother, Emma and father, Felix encouraged us to look at a few crafts on the table in front of their house. Seeing the embroidery prompted us to ask about quilts. We had heard that over the years, US quilters in the Big Bend area had helped the village women sell their quilts. Even though the collaboration had halted with the border closing, we hoped maybe we could find a quilt to buy. Unfortunately, Don didn't know the word for quilt, but I pulled out the quilt project from my bag and tried to explain.
Emma seemed to understand me and I thought her answer was no. But after we parted and made it half way down the hill, we looked back to see Emma, Felix and Alexa coming towards us with two bundles. When Emma opened the square patchwork quilt I could smell the smoky smell of a wood stove. I could see the small patches of vintage fabric were quilted by hand. I sure hoped she hadn't pulled it off Alexa's bed! "Mucho, Mucho trabajo!" Emma sort of pantomimed the hard work of hand sewing. When they asked for 50 dollars we hesitated politely. I'm sure they could tell we were already sold, but I fumbled with a "deal" that Don and Noel helped translate.
A Square from Alexa
I showed them my quilt project and said we would buy, if Alexa would help me. I somehow explained that the quilt was being pieced together with squares, decorated by friends that I meet on my travels. I pulled out some colorful pieces of material and fabric markers and let Alexa choose. She picked a fabric with colorful paint brushes and flipped it over to draw a picture of her house and a flower.
I wish my camera could have captured one of Alexa's brief smiles. She seemed bashfully pleased when I let her pick from a funny collection of "monkey socks" I'd brought to give to children. And I guess I'll stop worrying that the quilt might have been taken from her bed. Her mother had numerous embroidered blankets and spreads, so I know Alexa will have her pick, if that happened to be the case.
What did I learn?
I gained some wonderful knowledge about this tiny town, with one phone and no electricity. I learned that the people are warm and welcoming, even though some may be a little shy. I also learned an important Spanish word. Edredon means quilt!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.