A Visit South of the Border
The Captain and I recently visited southern California, and stayed at Chula Vista RV Resort.
Just five miles from the RV park lies the US/Mexico Border, and one day, the Captain and I took the trolley from the H Street Station in Chula Vista to San Ysidro. The last stop on the trolley is at the border.
I was a little anxious walking towards Mexico (and that woman in the photo isn’t me), as one person told me it wasn’t safe to go to Tijuana because I was in possession of a U.S. passport and white. “You could be kidnapped and held for ransom. The drug cartels are in a war for territory since El Chapo’s extradition to the U.S., and gunfights break out in broad daylight,” this stranger informed me. Even the U.S. State Department has issued a warning for Americans traveling to Tijuana:
Exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. According to the Baja State Secretariat for Public Security, the state of Baja California experienced an increase in homicide rates from January to July 2016 compared to the same period in the previous year. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours.
I have been to Tijuana before, once, back in 1986. Back then you could cross the border freely without a passport. I walked across and was immediately in the tourist area, or better known as Avenida Revolucion.
Little kids were trying to get you to buy Chiclets gum. It was hard to resist those little faces looking up at you with the most pleading expressions in their dark brown eyes.
Today, however, you need a passport to enter Mexico, and the border crossing is in another location and you must take a cab or endure a long walk to the tourist district. The wait times to cross the border can also be excruciatingly long, for both those crossing in vehicles and pedestrians. If you are crossing the border at San Ysidro, you can check border crossing wait times here for pedestrians, personal vehicles and commercial vehicles. The city of Tijuana now boasts a population of approximately 1.3 million, the same as San Diego.
After going through Customs in Mexico, and walking out of the building, we were immediately approached by numerous cab drivers offering us a ride to the tourist district. Everyone was polite, and didn’t bother us further if we said “No gracias.” We finally settled on the last cab driver, and $5 for both of us seemed to be the going rate to be dropped of on Avenida Revolucion. Since it was late morning on a Wednesday, there weren’t very many Americans crossing the border, so the Captain and I really stood out, and one of the merchants even told us so. There were donkeys dressed up in all sorts of costumes ready to have your photo taken (which I did not partake in) on just about every street corner.
There were no children peddling Chiclets gum on our visit.
Tia Juana Tilly’s is still there, although we didn’t stop in, I had forgotten about the establishment until I saw my old photographs.
As we walked down the Avenida Revolution, we passed by this magnificent structure, El Foro Antiguo Palacio Jai Alai. Jai alai is a sport played with a wicker basket used to fling a ball off walled spaces, and was very popular in the mid-20th century. (There are still some Jai Alai venues located in South Florida.) However as the popularity for the sport waned, the El For Antiguo Palacio fell into disrepair and was closed in 2002. Because of the building’s historical significance, necessary repairs were made by investors, and the venue now serves as a concert hall.
We walked down the street and took in the sights on this beautiful early spring day.
After walking around for quite awhile, We found a wonderful department store, Sanborns.
There was a restaurant featuring a buffet as well as an extensive menu. We sat down and enjoyed a nice lunch and did some shopping afterwards.
The store also had a bakery, and candy store, accepted my US dollars and actually gave me change in US currency.
Locating the Post Office
I was on a mission to find a post office to mail a post card.
The post office was a couple of blocks off of Avenida Revolucion. I had heard “not to venture off the main tourist area,” however, we were fine and people were very helpful in providing directions. ( I loved the pink walls inside the post office.)
While on our journey to locate the post office, I saw some dogs roaming the streets, very thin, looking for food, and took a photo of one looking right at me. It is heartbreaking. I wish I could save them all.
Once we got back to Avenida Revolucion, we stopped at a sidewalk cafe, Hamburgers Andy’s (I could not find a link online to this establishment), to get a cold drink.
Touring the City via Taxi Cab
After our refreshments at Andy’s Hamburgers, the Captain and I hailed a cab and gave the driver $20 and asked him to show us the city.
I neglected to get the cab driver’s name; however, I noticed his hands were gnarled with arthritis, he had crutches laid across the passenger seat, and he drove us around for 90 plus minutes showing us the city.
The driver explained he worked in restaurants most of his life, and since he didn’t have a trade he didn’t have health insurance or a pension when he retired. Now he drives a cab to earn a living. He mentioned that his son is an engineer and was able to get health insurance through his son’s policy.
Playas De Tijuana
Our first stop was the closest beach to the Mexican and United States Border, Playas de Tijuana. There on a beautiful beach stood the border to the United States, 21 foot tall and six feet deep into the ground, stretching as far as the eye could see and even extended 300 feet into the Pacific Ocean.
Playas de Tijuana was a quaint little beach town, with numerous shops, restaurants and boutique hotels.
Bullfighting in Tijuana
Deeply rooted in Mexican tradition is the sport of bullfighting. A short distance away from Playas de Tijuana, our cab driver pointed out Tijuana’s Bullfighting Ring, Plaza Monumental de Playas de Tijuana, and he said rather wistfully, that the ring wasn’t in use as much anymore, as Mexico considers a ban on bullfighting. Seventy-three percent of Mexican citizens support the ban. Mexico has already outlawed live animals performing in circuses. However, it appears that bullfighting is still alive and well in the Bullring by the Sea, and another event is scheduled here on April 8, 2017.
A (Mostly) Positive Experience
We saw neighborhoods with no evident building code and structures erected haphazardly at best.
Seeing stray dogs and cats roaming the street in any city is always disturbing to me. I want to save them all.
However, we also drove through the affluent Tijuana neighborhoods, as well as the modern city center with Costco, Starbucks, and other well-known American hotels and establishments.
We witnessed the best and worst of Tijuana.
The city is facing many challenges, and embracing many successes.
My experience in Tijuana was a very positive one, and I found the people to be friendly and helpful.
I would recommend a visit to this vibrant and bustling city.
As with any city anywhere in the world, exercise caution, and have a enjoyable visit.