Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Anne Stratton of Bethesda.
Where, when, why: I visited West Texas and Mexico from Jan. 23 to Feb. 4, taking a Road Scholar hiking trip as a 60th birthday present to myself and spending weekends with my daughter, who works for the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
Highlights and high points: The hikes in Big Bend National Park were the highlight of my trip. These were rigorous four- to six-mile hikes at a high elevation with lots of steep ascents and descents along rocky, narrow paths. The views, including vistas of the Rio Grande with the mountains and desert beyond, were spectacular. One trail crossed a creek multiple times, over rocks and steps built into the mountain. Another led to Balanced Rock, three huge boulders with one balanced on top of the other two — a perfect photo op!
Cultural connection or disconnect: Our 22-member group visited the Mexican border town of Boquillas, just outside Big Bend. To cross the border, we walked through a very formal, institutional building, then down a steep gravel path to the Rio Grande, where we climbed into rowboats that took us about 200 feet across the river. A group of men atop a hill greeted us with song as we climbed up the hill, where small boys swarming like bees tried to sell us souvenirs. A pickup truck, donkeys and horses waited to take us into town, about a half-mile away. Because this was my personal Outward Bound experience, I opted for a donkey, holding my breath as it clomped and swerved along the dusty narrow path.
At the village, a lone Mexican customs official in a trailer processed our visas. Then we had lunch in a bright orange building that housed Boquillas Restaurant. Afterward a local man named Max gave us a tour of the town. Boquillas was nearly abandoned when the border crossing closed after Sept. 11, 2001, but it is making a comeback now that U.S. tourists are able to visit again. The crossing was reopened in April 2013. We visited a health facility, a school, a church, a hotel, restaurants and shops.
Back at the border crossing, we went through U.S. Customs, using an ATM-like machine that communicated with an off-site customs officer. I saw a family of five enter the station with luggage, plastic bins and coolers packed to the gills. They were probably returning from a shopping excursion. Boquillas is almost 300 miles from the nearest city, so shopping is a several-day affair. It’s amazing to think of the challenges residents face to meet their day-to-day needs.
Biggest laugh or cry: After a rigorous morning of hiking, our guide decided to shorten the afternoon hike in Davis Mountains State Park. Unfortunately, his shortcut missed the trail. Deciding to proceed anyway, he bounded down a steep, rocky embankment to a road and called for us to follow. I gingerly started sideways down the hill — and became stuck halfway in a tangle of weeds and rocks. But there was no turning back, and tears were not an option. I refocused and remembered the adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite (or in this case, step) at a time.” Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I took my final step onto the asphalt pavement. I did it!
How unexpected: I was awed by the thousands of stars that lit up the Texas sky. I saw the Milky Way and many constellations that I haven’t seen in decades with my naked eye. We attended a “star party” at the University of Texas’s McDonald Observatory (where the NPR show “StarDate” originates). Telescopes allowed us to see the gray bands of Jupiter and the Pleiades star cluster. Several mornings, just before dawn, I was able to see the crescent moon near the “morning star,” Venus. This was a beautiful way to start the day — and something I rarely see, as I’m not a morning person.
Fondest memento or memory: I purchased a retro-style poster that depicts Balanced Rock in Big Bend, with a view of the mountains and desert through the opening. I will frame it and hang it in my house as a memento of my amazing hiking adventure.
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