Friday, January 4, 2013

In Which We Go to Tijuana

Being the fairly paranoid, yet "up for adventure" travelers we are, we sometimes end up having some pretty interesting experiences while out and about. I thought you might enjoy a little narration about our most recent one!

So this past week we took off for a very impromptu and much needed getaway and ended up taking the whole family, big kids and all, and driving the 11 hours to San Diego. Love that city! Love the zoo, love the beach, love the posh restaurant places, love the neighborhoods, love the park, love it all.

We've now visited several times, but never have we tried the Tijuana thing. So this time, with the heavy prodding of our Spanish speaking son, we thought we'd give it a go. We proceeded to research things where it was confirmed that going to this border town can be quite risky. All the stuff we read mentioned crime, and  shady characters, cabbies that rip you off, muggings that are common, and on and on and on. We wondered, why are are doing this again?

Then we learned that the experience of getting BACK can be quite the thing. I thought it was simply a matter of walking through a gate (or driving as the case may be) and proving you are a legal US citizen with a nice passport flash. I guess hundreds of other people are doing the same thing at the same time, which causes quite the bottleneck.

Anyway, we decided to drive down there and just see how it looked. We stressed first about making sure we got off the freeway before it was too late (my husband absolutely under no circumstances wanted our car to make a crossing!) and once we managed that, we tried to find "the big parking place" that we'd read about. The one where it was so easy to just park, pay and walk across! We saw no such thing. After several maneuverings and back and forths with our huge Suburban and a bit of dicey moment where we had to make a U turn in massive traffic or we WOULD be crossing over in our car like it or not, we finally parked in a Mexican-run, trashy looking spot for ten dollars.

Our next thought was to just walk and see what it... "the border"... looked like! So we walked across a big bridge over the freeway where we could look over at all the people in cars trying to come back. Wow! It was insane!
I don't know if you cans see the craziness through the grid.

My vision of the border crossing was a well marked path with lots of people, tourists and Mexicans alike, walking on over to Mexico. Well, the path was  marked, sort of, and took us through back alleyways, and up and around buildings and... not a tourist in sight. Only street-wise Mexicans, looking at us like, what the heck?

At one point, we saw the big sign MEXICO, and we stopped and had a pow wow in a graffiti decorated alley alcove. Should we really do this? Our 13 year old said NO WAY. She had no desire to be snatched from us, as we had read about. My thoughts were... we've been to Mexico many many times already, why will this be any different? My son and husband thought, we are here now, so why not? We were actually okay with the idea of Tijuana itself, but were a bit nervous about The Line to get back. Some one had told us though, that you could buy a spot on a van that would get you back "so much faster," and so after much debate and hand-wringing, we decided to go for it.

(First we checked our passports just to be sure of the dates, and guess we what learned.... a couple of ours expire in just a week! What???)

About to cross!
We boldly walked on and through the massive iron revolving doors, past the guards in camouflage holding machine guns and on down the ramp to the Mexico side where we were suddenly barraged with pleas to buy this and that, ride in this taxi, and eat our food and have a beer here! We laughed and smiled at them all and walked on.

Off to the side we saw The Line and it was LONG... but never fear, we had plans to hire the vans!

One of the many pharmacies... if you can call them that!

The idea was to find the main tourist street and walk up and down it, maybe buy a taco and just people watch. We got to a plaza of sorts and there were absolutely no other people about! All the little Mexican kids were constantly coming up to us begging us to buy their candy and bracelets  All the guys were begging us to eat at their restaurant. We walked on, but then we noticed the big rain cloud headed our way, so instead of continuing on to the original tourist street destination, we stopped and bought our taco and guacamole from the nice, very well groomed Mexican in a cowboy hat.

Sitting there waiting for food. Do you see another soul besides us?

He really was nice actually, but there was NOBODY else there! And every SINGLE kid in that plaza came up to us AGAIN while we sat there to sell us candy and bracelets! We bought one and told every other one afterwards, sorry!

The guacamole was awesome by the way.

Yummy guacamole!

But since we still had to face The Line, and that storm cloud was coming ever closer, we decided our little Tijuana moment was over, after maybe barely an hour there.

Getting closer, we could see that The Line was long, really really long. We started hearing it was at least a three hour wait. Are you KIDDING me? And then we found the lady who confirmed that there were indeed vans that we could pay ($5 a person) to hop on and it would ONLY be a half hour to get across. Oh, boy we were all for that.
(Video of walking past the line, complete with kid entertainment, and past all the buses to "our" bus!)

So we followed her, bypassing the whole line, walking down yet another alleyway, past bus after bus after bus until we arrived at the one she deemed was ours, whereupon after more discussion (remember both my son and husband are quite fluent) we finally learned that we get on the bus and wait for it to move. And we would be lucky if it moved at all. So my husband paid the money and we got on, only to find out that there were absolutely no more seats. So, we stood there and waited.

And stood and waited and waited and waited. We started talking to the other people. A couple of them had been there now for 40 minutes and the bus had not moved at all.

I was dumbfounded. What blatant lying by those people! What happened to the half hour crossing? I was beginning to wonder if we would get back over at all!

And then my family started saying... so Mom, what are we going to do next? I was like... um... let's just see if we get BACK first! Then we think of the next step! Sheesh!

So, it turned out that we stood there for an hour and a half, with the bus/van thing moving a few feet every 20 or so minutes. I guess there were maybe ten buses ahead of us, and each one unloads and all those people have to file into the building to show their passports, and then back out again. I guess it takes time. I guess. And hopefully it actually turned out better and faster than The Line, but I was wondering the whole time.

(At least in line you could move now and then. Stand totally still for 1 1/2 hours is hard on the feet!)

There was a moment where the bus was actually straddling the very borderline, I should have taken a picture, but you know, I was so not in the mood at the time.

Anyway, finally, FINALLY it was our turn to file through. They questioned us, what were were doing in Mexico? What are we bringing back? What did we buy? Did we have anything to declare? And my 17 year old son was lucky enough to get wand searched. And also, you have to go through one by one, which means my very nervous 13 year old daughter was left to face them alone! And I was trying to wait for her on the other side, but they were like "uh, mam, keep moving!" and I was like, "but she's just a little girl!" Luckily, they didn't question her much and she was done and caught up to us quickly.

And just like that, we were across! Back to California  Whew! And it was pouring rain by that time so we ran to our car and were on our way!

Well, it was an adventure anyway, and like I said, paranoid or not, we are always up for one! Still, I have to wonder if the taco and delicious guacamole, and the begging kids were worth it.

In the end, I guess so!

Now tell me, is this the sort of travel experiences you have? I want to know! And, have you ever been across the border like this? What was it like?


  1. What an adventure - and your writing style kept me riveted the entire time!

    I am looking forward to many travel adventures in the future, but I'm not sure that I will add this trip to Tijuana to the list :)

    1. Molly: You've made me day saying you like my writing style! THANKS! And yes, skip Tijuana when you make travel plans!

  2. Hmmm ... when I was last in Tijuana it was a breeze to go in and out again. Then, of course, that was almost 20 years ago and heck, maybe they like Europeans better and only strip search Americans (just teasing).
    What I do remember though is how vendors and kids were a pest to sell their stuff. I remember looking at a huge straw hat which I found real cute yet too expensive and the seller followed me down two blocks until I bought it ... at half price *lol*. I still own the hat and have it as decoration nailed to a wall in my apartment.

    1. Birgit: HA! :) I wonder though if the craziness HAS changed a lot these past years. Interesting.

  3. What a story. My experience was like Birgits, walked in and out. This was about 10 years ago. We went for the shopping. I have numerous blankets from there that I still use. I felt it was very dirty and very tiring being there. Just having to constantly tell vendors no and turn the children away selling their Chiklit gum. I walked across the border with no problems. I do recall the huge line of cars on either side of the border.

  4. Ah yes, border life!! Been there, done that. Next time, take the light rail. It drops you off at the border so you can park your car back in the relative safety of San Ysidro or San Diego. Plus shopping in Tijuana just doesn't have the flavor of a border town to me.

    I DO remember going across with my new little, dark haired baby that every border agent thought I was trying to kidnap!! I was carded and grilled and was a nervous wreck by the time we crossed the line back to California in our car. Yikes.

    Nogales, Arizona is a LOT different. The shopping is right at the border...the streets are full just different and it feels more small town and quaint to me, but then we made bi-annual trips down there for years when we were younger.

    Some of my students (even 150+ miles away in Phoenix) do it more regularly and say that's just the way they "do things in Mexico!"

    Good for you guys for taking adventures...of course I always appreciate the memory but when I'm in the moment I am a little more crazed. Happy New Year to you!

    1. Inside: That would be have been so so scary to have them wonder about your baby! I was looking at the map and wondering if the Arizona border crossing was less crazy, sounds like maybe, huh?

      But yes, the memories are fun.

  5. Definitely a story to be remembered forever by your kids :-) I've never crossed the border like that ... planes & that's about it.

    Tanya Patrice

    1. Tanya: When we've gone to Mexico before, it's been on cruises... much much easier!

  6. What an adventure! I have never been to Tijuana (even though my parents live in the San Diego area). I honestly don't think I would be brave enough unless I was with someone who spoke Spanish fluently and had done it before. Makes for great memories, though!

    1. Gayle: My husband and son have done a crossing to Mexico there in Texas and there was a little shack and they just waved them through. No drama at all!

  7. I've never been anywhere...but I can say that Tijuana will not be tops on my list after reading about your escapade! LOL

    1. Melissa: Yeah, I'd say to go other places first that's for sure!

  8. Wow! I've actually never been outside the US. I've been very close to both the Mexican and Canadian borders. But, I've never crossed. Your adventure sounds just like that, an adventure! I'm glad you got back and that your 13-year-old was okay. I sure enjoyed seeing your pictures on Instagram of your trip. (I was trying to figure out where you were.)

    1. Jenni: I wonder what it is like to cross over to Canada by car (I've done it on the cruise boat... no big stress there!) My guess is it's not a big deal at all.

  9. Never been to Mexico but I say your crazy adventure was worth it. It's all about the experience.

    1. Jenny: Yep, that's for sure. Adventures are pretty fun.

  10. After reading your blog post, my thoughts were of the truck driver who inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up in a Mexican jail for months.
    I haven't been to Tijuana in decades but when we went we were with a group, left the bus in the parking area and took a Mexican bus along with all the window baubles and stuff hanging from the front window like in a Victorian parlor across the border. Sounds like you had an adventure.

    1. Ann: Scary! Yes, those are the sort of things we worry about!

  11. Hey you know? This is the type of thing you guys will be talking about years to come. We never talk about the museums that we went to but the time my mom stepped in dog poop in Rome? Yup--still topic of regular conversation. ;)

    Hub is from a border town in Texas (Harlingen) and folks don't even cross the border into Matamoras anymore. Too scary!

  12. This is an awesomely hilarious adventure! Sounds like it was more about the experience than what you actually got to do. I've yet to make it over that southern border, but I'm rather excited to try it sometime :)



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