The 2nd most dangerous place in Mexico

Trip Start Mar 26, 2009
Trip End Jul 18, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hotel La Fayette

Flag of Mexico  , Baja California,
Thursday, April 23, 2009

The time had finally come to say goodbye to the united states and move on down south over the border into Mexico. It was with bit of a sore head that i got up that morning as i late night season in the bar with the Irish guy who worked there had lasted until the early hours finishing with a few tequila shots and they were not sitting that great as we checked out to get an early start and cross into Tijuana and find some digs for the night. We had heard a lot of bad reports about the place, with random robberies happening in the streets which was rated as the second most dangerous place in Mexico, just behind Mexico city which was to be our destination the day... great! Not that would change any plans like as our flights were from Tijuana as they came out at about a third of what they would have been from the states, and its all about the bargains.So from leaving the hostel we made our way across to the trolley (which is what they call the tram in the San Diego, i reckon that they just try and mess with you with some of these names) which has a stop right down next to the border so that you can in fact walk across.

In about 30Min's we where there at the last stop at the end of the line at their very owns an Isidro. From looking around the surroundings were already beginning to change. Gone was all the nicer than nice look of San Diego and what we were left with was a much more run down looking part of town that had a few bars with Spanish names, a McDonald's and a bureau de change. There were also a few people offering to change money on the street but we had been advised against as to the less than favorable rates. Also after following all of the advise that had been given to use we had emptied our wallet of cards and money and had them all strapped to us in various undergarment sashes and belts. (ahhh the joy of hindsight of writing this a bit behind of were i really am makes some things that i put now a little ridiculous but for the benefit of this blog i am trying to go back as to how i felt in that particular time) Not wanting to draw too much attention from some of the what seemed unsavory characters hanging around outside of the bars and such. We heading into the McDonald's to use the toilet as a mask to get some money out to change to pesos.As would become a popular theme the toilets were inaccessible without paying for them and as i told Elena this at the restaurant table as we only had high bills and i we would have to break a 50 to get a dollar this Philippine guy leaned over from the next table of where he sat with his Mexican wife and offered me a dollar to use. It was a kind gesture and we sat there talking to him for awhile. Telling us that he had been signed into the US navy through a relocation scheme that they had with the states in the 60┤s that gave him the opportunity travel the world. So he listening with great delight about our world trip and also informed us that he had also had the opportunity to do the same in the navy and that now he spent his days between Mexico and the states. As we left the told us to be wary of a few people in Mexico but on the whole they were some of the friendliest people that you could meet. that would become apparent over the following weeks with the people that we encountered. With our money changed and still having that uncertain feeling of what we were doing in our bellies we walked across the overpass to the Mexican side of the border.

Going over the overpass you have a clear view of both lanes that mark the border. On the right hand side are the cars going into Mexico which seems to be a pretty flowing systems in effect to that the cars just slow down barley even stopping as some kind of id is flashed and then they are waved through to be let loose on the other side. The border to get into the states however was a very different story with back to back traffic taking up all four of the lanes and running on for literally miles. As the patrol guys marched from one car to the next guiding people into booths to have the cars stripped down or to be lead into an office for the usual interrogation. It could not have been more chalk and cheese. Along with the contrast of the two countries as the view from the bridge gives you about a 5 mile peak over both sides, so to see the high rises from the developed area of the states over to the overcrowded shanty towns in Mexico it leaves you asking how can it be like this? That neighboring countries can be so distinct in their economies and with one being the leading force of the world and the other a 3rd world country set years behind from even a fraction of the wealth of the states. The houses that line the border of Mexican barely even be called that as they are so tightly packed together and have an appearance that has been seriously run down its gives the impression that you are now talking your life into your own hands. An image br˛ught home even more radically by the military presence that roamed the streets, all dressed in a green jump suit complete with balaclava and a heavy automatic assault rifle slung over the shoulder. Of whom as while we crossed were amidst an operation that looked as though they were about to storm a house to take down all the inhabitants.

As we drew closer to the actual border from leaving the bridge a Mexican guy with a big cowboy hat and even bigger tash, struck up a conversation with us. Asking us where we from and if we had been to Mexico before. I think that this was the first time that i had heard a real strong Mexican accent from a person when speaking Spanish. It was for me almost impossible to understand as up until that moment i was only really used to the way Spanish is spoken in Spain, well mostly the castillan way anyway as down south it can get a bit testing as well but this was completely different. The words go on for ever and almost comes across as a song as it looses all the harshness of the way that it is spoken in Madrid, were a ci, ce combination becomes an English sounding th and sometimes even a d takes on the same trait with some people calling Madrid, MA - DRITH or gracias, GRA - THI - AS, in sharp sounds all really the same length as each other. Here that was not the case and to try and explain it, spoken by this guy would come out something like

Maaaaaaaaadriiiiiiiidwith the last d almost not audible and graaaaaaseeeeaaaassss one long song of a word. I liked how it sounded as it was much softer albeit harder to follow but it was easy on the ears. Finally we were at the border and breaking away from the flow of people and the friendly Mexican guy we entered into an office to get a stamp out of the states. The behind the counter was again dressed in a boiler suit but lucky without a menacing balaclava, told us that there was no need to get nor a stamp out or in as they would do it tomorrow at the airport.We looked at each other a little surprised, more so than not because with the strictness of the states you would have though that being stamped out would be essential (but thinking about it now the same thing happened a few years ago when we drove from new york to Toronto we never got stamped out either... i dont think they care who leaves it just the ones who want to get in have to endure the ritual interrogation) but we were told no and to just cross over.

The literal border was a wire fence with a couple of guards sitting on each side. Now this is the first time that i have ever crossed a border on foot but it seemed very basic as to what i was expecting. The crossing went like this, i presented myself to the guard who was sat down with another woman who was eating a burrito. A very friendly guy who asked me to press the large button that was next to him that was hooked up to a traffic light kind of sign with two colours being red and green. Red was the colour for me which meant that i had to lay my bag on the table to be inspected. Now we are getting down to business i thought. The guy looked at me with a more serious look in his eyes and as he opened my bag he asked me if i spoke Spanish to which i replied yes. Then he asked where i had learned it, when i told him he gave me a big smile and said Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadriiiiiiiiiiii, Bienvendo a Mexico! Closed my bag up and prompted me to step over the border where Elena was waiting for me... tight.

Like two little sheep we went over the border with our heads full of Drug lords just awaiting around the courner ready to ponce on us as we were gringos, well almost and must be exploited. On the contrary as we walked on to Mexican soil we were welcomed in by the mariachi band (that looked uncannily like the ones in Madrid that are always trying to escape the law when they pull up mid number) with a series of taxi drivers each one looking as stereotypical as the next. With large mustaches and a variety of hats they bustled round asking us if we needed a taxi into the centre. We asked the guy with the biggest cookie duster how much it would be and the words had hardly left his mouth of his price of $5before Elena was trying to get him down to $3, clearly getting in the bartering mood from the offset. He said that $5 was the standard but he would however throw in the music for free. You cant argue with that so we climbed aboard.

Arriving in Tijuana the houses and surroundings start to spread out a little leaving the crowded housing of the border and opening up into quite industrial buildings.The highway that we followed had on the other side the backed up traffic waiting to get into the states at a complete standstill with some people having abandonded their vehicles just stood standing talking between them selves not really having much else to do. The main town centre was about 8 miles away and when we pulled onto the main street it became a clear that this was a truly a tourist fed town. The main drag was made up of basically bars, restaurants and shops that sold things like over sized sombreros, maracas and everything else you can think of with the world Tijuana written on it. Our hotel was one that we had found in the guide book and was situated right on the main street in between a bar and taco joint. The steps leading up to it take you away from the liveliness little but still giving everyone ample time to offer you a variety of ponchos or a shot of tequila. The Hotel was a little bit rough and ready with flaking paint and probably designed in the 70┤s but it was clean, big and very cheap with free Internet.

We had the day to kill so we left our things in the apartment, including my camera as i had been warned about that it could be stolen if on view and decided to go out and explore or first taste of Mexico. We walked down the high street finding it almost impossible to avoid being offered all sorts of wares and took a left of the main drag that led us down a very dusty road that confirmed we were now definitely not in the states, to a museum of Mexico that the guide booked raved about. The maps in the guide book are great for a basic idea of where things are but not that detailed so inevitable we ended up asking for directions. A Woman in a furniture store that we passed on the way that we were on the right track and that also there was a large outdoor market on the way down that was worth a visit. We took her advise and headed down, now as i have tried to explain prior the contrast of the states and Mexico or better said San Diego and Tijuana is brutal. To say that they are only separated by 45 mins they could not be more different in every way imaginable. First of all the roads and houses look tatty and worn down and everything is a little bit rough around the edges and not finely scrubbed to perfections like we had over the border. The cars are older models and the hummers and mustangs have been traded for beetles and old ford pickups. The impact is quite strong that you have with this so called culture shock as you try to adjust, only worsened more so by the image that is portrayed of Mexico in films and in the news of it being a dangerous place made up of cartels, desperado's and lazy downbeats. Now i am not gonna say that it is all untrue as there is no smoke without fire, but its definitely an overstatement that can be very misleading when arriving fresh off the boat.This has to be one of the main reasons why i personally wanted to do this trip to separate the fact from the fiction and get my own experience of the place through my own eyes. So after meeting and talking to few locals we were starting to relax a little and not be so apprehensive to take the word of locals or walk a bit away from the beaten path. Taking the advise of the woman we went to the market and had a look around. Most of the stalls were either vegetable produce, a large selection of Chiles and also pe˝atas of all forms were hung outside most of the brick and brak stalls. It was a lively place and we spent alot of time looking at the various products, mostly the massive selections of chiles and also the catus that was served with salads and could be brought as either whole leafs or diced called "nopal" that tasted a lot like celery but some people sweared by it as contained vital vitamins. From there we eventually got to the museum which had a funky 360 imax style cimena outside of it contained in a large dome shaped building. The displays that they had were of Mexican arthouse films with a lot of stills and biogs about the directors and actors. I didnt recognise any butthere was a Spanish director that had fled to Mexico during the Spanish civil war called luis bu˝uel which had some exciting stuff and also some well abstracted on the top floor by another Mexican artist that i liked but have no idea what he name is now, gonna have to start writing these things down. After that there was not much left to do besides return to the high street. We were now in the swing of things to be fair and felt quite relaxed as we had been there for3 hours and nothing bad of the sort had even faintly happened. so we thought with it being Friday night in Tijuana (drugs, sex and marijuana as the famous song says) and being the most visited border town in the world due to its reduced prices and lower age limit restrictions we could perhaps eat and then have a few drinks to celebrate our start to the Mexican stage. After visiting the last sight of a church of gualupe just off the main strip we took a brisk walk around some of the other streets that came off the main drag but with them offering little more than what we had seen and after declined for about the 10thtime to have our photo in a horse cart complete with beach backdrop a very bored looking donkey wearing a straw hat we dived into a restaurant that was recommended in the guide. Now as Tijuana is fueled by tourism and mostly american most of the bars pump out a mixture of loud hip hop style hits mixed in with various rigaton tracks. Everyone of them is in constant competition to grab the attention of people walking past and this place was no exception. We were taken up to balcony looking over onto the drag with the music being blasted out so loud that it the bass was making the tables shake. The thing was though from looking around down onto the streets below it was hard to see as to whom they were playing it for as even at 7 at night it was hard to pick out the tourists that should be on the street to warrant this kind of attention. Even sitting out there on the balcony we saw that the only other people dining had leaving just us two sitting there We got taking to the waiter after he recommended the camerones (one of many new word that i would learn in Mexico as in Spain they go by langostinos) and he told us that the crisis had affected the tourism bad and coupled with the bad press that it was receiving at the minute from a lot of drug rated arrests it had taken a real dive forcing a lot of places to go under. Once we had eaten, Elena was a left a little hungry as with most things in Mexico they are served with chiles, something i love but she cant stand so we headed down the road to a little Spanish place we had seen, home from home. Not before though i was treated to a slap on the back by some random Mexican bar man and treated to shot of tequila forced down my throat dentist chair style. Clearly not really willing to accept that the party was not getting started that night with just two people in the bar... he then tried it with Elena but got a look that made him think twice. We filled up at the Spanish bar which was had a little bit more life and a lot less music and headed back to the hotel as we had an early morning flight the next day.

We were just about to go to bed and Elena went on to the net to check her mail and read the lastest news. "que fuerte" was the words that came from her as the mainstory that el pais was going with was a recent outbreak of a super flu in Mexico city that had left numerous dead and was worsening to cause almost an epidemic. Clearly rattled by the news as we were about to the fly to the epicenter of this outbreak we headed downstairs to reception to try and get some more news from the woman working the desk. Her name was Paloma and once again she was as nice as you could wish for in that kind of situation, geinually unconcerned for our situation. She gave us all off the info that she knew and also promised to call her friend who worked in Mexico city as a nurse to give us some more information in the morning. She seemed reasonable calm over the situation and told us not to worry to much as these things are generally blown out of proportion and also she had an undertone of cynicism regards her trust for the government and that things like this had happened before generally trying to deflect attention to things that are happening elsewhere. A favourite topic that we heard was the case of "chupacabras" that had gripped mexico in the 90Ęs of another deadly disease that also was on the verge of an epidimic but later fizzled away into nothing. With that there was nothing more left to do but not to pay it too much attention as the flight was few hours away and also we had planned to meet friends there so unless they didn't let us on the flight then it was to plan was to stick to the plan whatever...

Tijuana is an interesting place that serves more of a cheap alternative to the states then rather a little trip over into Mexico. The streets packed full of bars and nightclubs could clearly not exist without a steady supply of tourists from across the border. With the world crisis and recent bad press clearly things have slowed down and the town is feeling the impact with restaurant closed and bars struggling desperately to get custom. The locals of Tijuana seemed not that interested in the bright lights and loud music of the bars as i dont think irecall seeing even one of them in there paying $1 in the dentist chair nor climb onto tables to give an impromptu pole dance as was clearly show in some of the photos outside the bars in better days by girls who looked far from Mexican. What also was lacking was this presence of danger that people has spoken of, with these random muggings and girls being attacked. It seems that without the party crowd drinking themselves into oblivion lurching out into the roads drunk on the local delights what you are left with is a lot of empty bars with a lot of empty streets that feed them. So makes you wonder just who are the dangerous ones.

And They say Mexico city is even worse...
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