A first work from a new voice that is parts gritty, elegant, and contemporary. The Rio Grande is simultaneously one of the most watched and least understood rivers in the world. Some stretches of the Rio pass for endless miles through remote wilderness, boxed in by canyons hundreds of feet high and inhabited by only the hardiest animals and humans. Other stretches go straight through the center of massive urban areas, all but ignored by the thousands of city folks above. It is a national border, a water source, a dangerous rapid with house-sized boulders, a nature refuge, a garbage dump, and a playground, depending on where you are on its 1885-mile course.
That's why journalist Keith Bowden decided to become the first person to travel the entire length of the Rio as it forms the border between America and Mexico. This is his fascinating account of the journey by bike, canoe, and raft along one of North America's most overlooked resources. From illegal immigrants and drug runners trying to make it into America to the border patrol working to stop them; from human coyotes - smugglers who help people navigate their way into the United States - to encounters with real coyotes, mountain lions, and other flora and fauna, Bowden reveals a side of America that few of us ever see. The border between the U.S. and Mexico is, in many ways, a country unto itself, where inhabitants share more in common with fellow riverside dwellers than they do with the rest of their countrymen.
With this isolated and colorful micro-world as his backdrop, Bowden not only explores his surroundings, but also tests his inner mettle along some of the most dangerous and remote riparian wilderness in North America.
©2007 Keith Bowden (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
I couldn't put my finger exactly on why I didn't like the book more, deciding it was his style of ingratiating himself with Hispanics he met as "such a cool Anglo" (which he had the honesty to report actually backfired on him at least once).
The first part is rather slow going with backstory of his life, finally getting in the water at El Paso, and then canoeing down to Laredo, where the author lives. A couple of friends join him for stretches, and he meets up with others along the way. This section isn't very populated, and there's only so much description to go on about, so he "profiles" the folks I've just mentioned, which fell into a "you had to be there" mode for me.
Still, on balance, that was marginally better than the second part from Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico. Here, he spends a great deal of time charming initially-unfriendly border patrol agents, between beer runs in local towns. At one point, he marvels that he was able to stroll through a (prosperous) winter retirement community ... "because I'm white!" That was back-to-back with an encounter with a Mexican who was pleased that his countrymen had treated Bowden so kindly (he had bopped back and forth between the countries in a sort of zig-zag fashion); his delight in telling the reader of that fellow's follow up remark "and how would I be treated as a stranger in your country?" to which Bowden gives the expected answer of "not well!" had my eyes rolling. If that politics wouldn't bother you, you'll like the book more than I did.
Finally, the narration was outstanding - perfect fit!
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