The Tecate Journals by Keith Bowden

Video of Keith Bowden reading: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/202270-1

Keith Bowden’s years of living, working (teaching) and playing (baseball in the Mexican league) out of Laredo have resulted in this first terrific first book, an account of his mostly solo canoe trip the entire navigable length of the Rio Grande to the sea. With the channel blocked upstream from Big Bend National Park by tamarisk/salt cedar and barbwire fence, Bowden and a buddy mountain-biked that stretch mostly on the Mexican side. Bowden’s writing is classic clear journalistic exposition, no-frills straightforward depiction of events and experience. While history, allusion and analysis is kept to a minimum in favor of things done and things seen, the book does benefit from Bowden’s life experience on the river and life-long interests especially in the Mexican side of the river. This opens up and supplements the day-to-day account of the trials of navigating rapids and man-made dangers (the Border Patrol, dams, slums, pollution, the threat of violence from drug smugglers, etc.) and provides useful perspective, balancing out the sensationalistic slaughter we’ve probably all read in newspapers (which is otherwise the only regular news from the border) with Bowden’s encounters and affection for the ordinary working people attempting to live on or cross the border. That’s the best thing about this fine book: Bowden’s fresh and sort of fearless determination (proceeding apace in spite of his own misgivings at not being the best canoeist, along with all the bad news, all the gloom thrown his way by well-meaning friends and officious officials trying to discourage him from his trip) provides for a first-hand witness to the great natural glories of the region and the river (not all of which are confined to the national park, by any stretch) and the generous human spirit of people whose lives are divided along that line.

from the Kirkus Reviews
THE TECATE JOURNALS (reviewed on September 1, 2007)

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.

Book Information: http://www.mountaineersbooks.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1436

Here’s a podcast of an interview with Keith Bowden by Rick Steves at http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/travel-with-rick-steves/id79063354
Program 194: Mexican Borderlands: The Rio Grande and Baja California
Release Date: 01/23/2010
Description:
We’re taking a look at two parts of Mexico’s northern borderlands. Keith Bowden spent the better part of a winter canoeing the length of the Rio Grande from El Paso to the Gulf, and he tell us what surprises he found. Also, the author of guidebooks to Baja and Cabo describes the natural attractions of Baja California, with two coastlines more 800 miles long.

Guest Interviews:

Keith Bowden, professor at Laredo Community College, and author of “The Tecate Journals” (Mountaineers Books)
Nikki Goth Itoi, author of Moon guidebooks to Baja and Cabo

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