At border towns, nations are divided, but nothing separates their people
These places pay little attention to political boundaries and the formalities that take place at border posts
Border towns are intriguing places. Their distinct identity defies our stereotypical view of their countries. The smaller and more remote the border town, the more unified it is with its twin. In such places, residents identify themselves less with their country and more with their neighbours across the border. The mix of cultures and language that should be awkward is rarely noticed. In fact, some border towns are so unusual that they are not a transit point, but rather the destination itself.
Rio de Onor in the northeastern corner of Portugal, and Riohonor de Castilla in northwest Spain, comprise a single town in an agricultural area far from tarred roads and urban places. A stream separates the countries, but nothing separates the people.
There was a boom gate when I visited many years ago – a heavy, aged and cut chestnut tree, permanently in upright position. There was no border guard on duty then and with the advent of the Schengen rules of the European Union, I’m sure the boom gate has been removed, and not replaced. No matter, other old customs were quite alive. Whether on the Portuguese or Spanish side of the stream, residents displayed their produce for sale on small tables lining the single main road of dirt, chatting in their native Leonese or Rionorês. At day’s end they strolled to their homes built high off the ground, warmed by the cattle sheltered directly below...