A few weeks ago I took the trip across the border to Tijuana. I was lucky enough to have my cousin Hayley staying in San Diego, and she came along with me. We left the car in a parking lot in America, and walked across the bridge into Tijuana, which was a weird experience-New Zealand is pretty isolated and to go to another country we have to get on a plane. We didn’t even have to show our passports going through to Mexico, although the gun-toting men at the border were intimidating.
We headed to Avenida Revolución, which is the main tourist strip towards the south. After almost walking North into the red light district, we finally got our bearings and I was surprised since I had expected to see a bunch of Americans, and we were pretty much the only tourists there.
We stopped for a mid-day Margarita (two for $3!), and our waiter tried to convince us to take a shot of tequila from this giant jar:
I consider myself to be at least a little adventurous when it comes to things like that, but it just wasn’t happening-even after he told us it was an aphrodisiac.
There was shop after shop selling similar items, and people on both sides of the street trying to get our attention. I had experienced this on a smaller scale in Fiji, but I was definitely unused to people begging me to have a look in their shop, and yelling at us from across the street.
We grabbed a cab (always ask the price before you get in), and headed away from the tourist area and toward Paseo de los Héroes. At some stage we lost the map (I’m pretty sure I had it last), so we had no idea where to go. There was a big mall here, and we checked out the local market, which was mainly selling clothes and makeup, before stumbling across a great Mexican restaurant.
I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, but for around $10 each, we had chicken enchilades and chicken mole poblano. The dish is prepared with over thirty ingredients including Mexican chocolate, and there are many legends about how it was invented. Our waiter told us that one day when the king was visiting, a cook had no idea what to make and just started throwing ingredients together. Luckily the king loved it, and I sure did. Hayley and I both agreed it was the best Mexican food we’d ever had, in fact I’m craving it right now!
From here we headed to Playas De Tijuana, which is right next to the American border. There is a lot of poverty in Tijuana, and the drive really opened my eyes to how these people live. I can definitely see why so many of them want to go to America. It must be hard knowing that a few miles away the Americans are living it up while you’re busting your ass trying to sell cheap tourist crap to them.
The people in Tijuana went out of their way to help us, time and time again, and when we couldn’t explain to the taxi driver that we didn’t really want him to leave us there for long, a man came over and translated for us. He was acting very apologetic because his English wasn’t great (when we’re the ones who should have been speaking Spanish). There were tons of spot lights on the American side of the border, as well as patrols everywhere.
After seeing the security in place I don’t know how anyone gets across the border, and some don’t, as you can see below:
Between 150 and 250 people are dying in the desert every year, while they try to cross from Mexico into the United States. Security has become so tight near urban areas, that they have to try to cross in the Arizona desert, where temperatures reach well over 100 degrees fahrenheit. Some are trying to connect with family who made the journey years ago, and others are just trying to find a better life. How desperate must these people be to take the risk?
I’m definitely glad I experienced a day in Tijuana. Travel is about stepping out of your comfort zone, and I was definitely uncomfortable for the majority of the day, for reasons I can’t quite explain. I think both Hayley and I found it extremely sobering to see the crosses on the border, and it opened my eyes to how lucky I am to be from New Zealand. Yes we were treated like walking wallets on Avenida Revolución, there was trash lying everywhere, and we had one of the scariest taxi rides I’ve ever experienced (I’m pretty sure he left half his car behind when we went over a bump), but the people in Tijuana were so lovely and always ready to help us. A random guy helped make sure we weren’t getting ripped off by our taxi driver, and one of our waiters even offered to drive us to Playas, although we figured it’d be better if he finished his shift!