An account of the author’s journey—by canoe, raft and mountain bike—down the Rio Grande.
An avid outdoorsman and adventurer, Bowden set out to explore the winding river that divides Mexico and Texas, from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico, despite numerous warnings from friends and experts about drug cartels, the Border Patrol, the dangerous rapids and aggressive wildlife. Not to mention the river itself, allegedly full of murdered bodies, pollution and desolate stretches through which no man or woman in memory has navigated alive. The warnings, while exaggerated, are not misinformed—news reports from the months leading up to Bowden’s journey were filled with violent murders and kidnappings that would make any Sopranos fan shudder. But the author persevered, embarking on his 70-day jaunt to the sandy bank that marks the end of the river and the beginning of the Gulf. Deft writing keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace, and Bowden—a loner who can happily subsist on scant portions of tortillas, beer, beans and cheese without complaint—is an astute observer. Equally adept at describing wildlife, stinking garbage dumps and the endless stream of illegal workers crossing the river naked with clothes bundled atop their heads, Bowden is a welcome guide. (His fluency in Spanish certainly helps.) The minute details about each obstacle in the river—to portage or not to portage seems to be the prevailing question—occasionally become tedious, and the lack of a map is a glaring omission. But Bowden offers a unique view of this border barrier and the fate it suffers under political tensions.
Part cultural study, part environmental espionage, part adventure, this is a welcome look at one of the most heavily guarded yet mysteriously neglected waterways in the United States.