We were in Tijuana, just over the California border on the Baha California peninsula. I was totally amazed to find out 2.7 million people lived in the area. It is not some small border town and speaking of the border, Tijuana’s claim to fame is that it is the largest border crossing in the world.
Going into Mexico is a breeze, we simply drove through, got the car’s license plate picture taken and did not have to speak to a guard or wait in any lineup. Coming back, oh my goodness is a much different adventure. We flew into San Diego, cheaper flights, and got picked up in and out of Mexico by a hired driver. Coming out we were in a “fast” lane and we only waited just over an hour. Our escort’s husband was headed over for work up in San Diego (only a 20 minute drive from the border) that same morning and he was not able to use the “fast” lane, he waited 2.5 hours to get over.
Now that is mild, we heard stories of people simply waiting in line, in the hot sun over 4 to 5 hours to get over the border. Those kind of line-ups enable them to possibly miss their flights or appointments on the other side. I was equally amazed that many people drive to work in San Diego every day and wait in that huge line to do so.
While you wait in line there is all kinds of excitement around you, vendors have roadside shops, food carts complete with runners to bring the food right to you, people walk by the car staring in showing you’re their wares. Sadly there are the beggars also waiting there, walking by your car looking into your windows hoping for a money handout. Our guide told us that the money does not go to the children, they have to hand it in to the boss.
Tijuana is not a city that I would call beautiful, the weather was beautiful some of the buildings and parks were lovely, but the whole atmosphere was not a tropical tourist delight. I found the city a jumbled mixture of very old, plus very new. It is a city of contrast. Many places were being built or in the process and buildings that had fallen down or burned, seemed to be vacant for a very long time in disarray before someone took on to rebuilt them. There was a lot of barbed wire around different lots and fences. Traffic is Tijuana was just plain – “wow”. I would not wish to drive there. The flow seemed to exhibit jumbled chaos. Street lights and signs were kind of optional. The traffic moves very quickly and if you want to cross the road, you moved at a good pace and watched that indeed the cars were going to stop; some didn’t.
One of the things to get used to as I walked quite a few places was the “taxi’s”. There was a least a cab every 30 seconds there, sometimes your regular “taxi cab” type car but most of the time it was large vans that held approximately 10 people, more like a mini bus. They were color coded so you could know what part of the city they served (I had no idea what color meant where), but as you walked along, no matter what direction you were walking they beeped at you. They were letting you know they were coming if you wanted a ride. The noise of the beeping every few seconds to the loudness of the sheer volume of traffic was overwhelming at times. We ended up using Uber’s as there are many. Our biggest problem was the language barrier as many people did not speak English. The people in our hotel and the places we went did but out and about on the street, they did not. We found the Uber’s to be the cheapest and most reliable, with the Uber app on your phone, you can call one – usually a 1-3 minute wait and it would show you the price of the trip complete with your driver’s name, car description and license number.
We went to a traditional farmers market, this is where the locals shop. It was an absolute sensory delight. From candy stores to fruits, pinata’s and spices to vegetables and made up chili and mole pastes. It was a hot and sweaty place where the scents just got stronger in the heat. I walked by one fruit stand and the smell of the fruit ripening in the sun was intoxicating, you could almost taste fruit salad in your mouth by just walking by.
These cones are brown sugar
The food is Mexico is well – delightful does not even begin to describe it. If I was going back to Tijuana the food would be my highlight. Everything is handmade, and everything tastes amazing, from the nacho chips to the tortillas. Some of the best chicken soup I have ever had was there, I went back the next day to try it again – yup still as amazing. I mean there was even cheese in my soup. If you leave Mexico hungry it is your fault, they know how to feed you.
Our hotel was amazing and probably one of the nicest in town, it had security on the driveway, checking to ensure people were supposed to be at the hotel. I would slip into the pool for a morning swim and sit in the early sun each morning, I could get used to that part.
By noon walking in the humidity and heat, that would take some adjustment, thank goodness there was always a breeze.
We had some excitement at our hotel on the weekend. People started showing up and waiting around the lobby, and then crowds started at the bottom of the driveway and along the fence. We had no idea for what. Then a team started arriving, one by one and getting stopped for their autograph and pictures. Brian and I said there ringside with our chai lattes and could reach out and touch them, but we had no idea who they were.
Turns out the guys were Mexico’s biggest soccer team, the Chivas from Guadalajara. Fox news team checked in, WWF wrestlers came in and some boxers for another tournament. We had a nursing convention going on at the same time. The place was hoping and we sat and people watched big time.
When the soccer team was going to leave for their game people were all over, taking pictures getting autographs, yelling for them. They had a security detail for the bus, and hotel lobby. By the time they boarded the hugest bus to take them to the stadium we also had Mexican police on the driveway and by the road, and 5 more at the top by the hotel entrance. The Chiva’s got a police escort to the stadium when they left. It all made for some great people watching.
Would I go back to Tijuana? Yes, the food calls out to me and the people are warm and friendly. Tijuana’s largest job sector is medical tourism, people from all over the world go to Tijuana for medical reasons. Our hotel was 50% filled with patients who had come down for medical care of some kind, I found that quite fascinating. Hotels and hospitals worked hand and hand in the industry. If you had some kind of surgery you had a minimal hospital stay and then went to the hotel to rest and recuperate, it was a really neat system.
It is always hard to readjust back to “normal” after a vacation and I unfortunately still am rolling along on Mexican time which is much slower and laid back, I want to nap more and am desperately missing my pool…..but back to reality I must go.....