As the sun floats on the horizon in Del Rio, Texas, this warm Friday evening, cars pour across the U.S.-Mexico border, clogging Hidalgo Street into the town of Ciudad Acuña. Street vendors stake out corners where they'll sell fruit drinks and snacks. Shopkeepers stand in the doors of their establishments, beckoning shoppers to peruse shelves brimming with merchandise.
Two mariachis, each sporting a bolero and cowboy boots, stroll casually among the revelers. As soon as they spy a group of American turistas, they flash practiced smiles and begin plucking their guitar strings. "Oh, oh, oh, cuando caliente el sol," they finish in unison, the last of the popular ballad melting into the velvety darkness of the night.
"I love Mexico," says longtime Del Rio resident Dee Money, who sometimes leads groups into Ciudad Acuña. "I like the people. I like the culture. I like the traditions. We really do have the best of both worlds here."
These two cities--Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico--call themselves sisters. They share the banks of the Rio Grande, which forms the international border. Yet they've also managed to forge a deep and abiding friendship, defined by necessity and mutual respect.
Of all the Texas border towns, locals claim this is the cleanest and friendliest. Indeed, you can cross the border with few hassles here. Somber guards and the mile-long International Toll Bridge can be somewhat imposing for first-time visitors. But once across, you're greeted by residents and merchants eager to share their rich culture and traditions.
"It's another country, and you have to be respectful of that," says Susan Cottle-Leonard, tourism and convention director of the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce, "but it's an extremely friendly town."
Pilot John Mitchell agrees. "I have been to Mexico numerous times and visited many different border towns," the San Antonio resident says, "but Ciudad Acuña is different. You can easily cross the border here for great food, entertainment, and the exhilarating atmosphere of Mexico."