Intense color is splashed on the walls by local mural artists. Vibrant color is dished up, with a side of freshly made guacamole, under awnings that provide shade on restaurant patios. A parade of color is on display, and sold for a handful of pesos, in the marketplace. Modest apartment homes, just on the edge of the tourist hub in Tijuana, are given splashes of character by baskets of bright flowers, and the mosaic created by long lines of this week’s laundry.
San Diego’s commuter train carried me to the Mexican border, and I earned a 3rd passport stamp for 2016, as I walked from one world into another. Differences in infrastructure, from street and sidewalk maintenance to the availability of a free public toilet, alert you that you aren’t in the U.S. anymore. I was very aware of the armed border patrol, and the skillful (some would say aggressive) street vendors.
As I cross the bridge to enter the country I’m offered small pink, yellow and green packets. Tijuana is known for the easy availability of pharmaceuticals, including a variety of drugs for the enhancement of male sexual performance, in large doses. But it’s not drugs I’m being offered. What the 5-year-old’s has in her hand are packets of Chiclets gum. She is working, and her big brown eyes are assets to the success of her efforts. There is a lot of controversy over child labor in Mexico, but that’s too big of a subject for this blog.
On my way into the country I glance at the exit I’ll take later that day. Under careful watch, hordes of vendors take advantage of the captive audience exiting the country, stuck in their cars with nowhere else to go. Family owned shops line the passageway. Carts on wheels and brave pedestrians weave amongst the cars. They are loaded down with T-shirts, oversized purses, “gold” jewelry, ceramic pots, and Jesus figurines. If that’s not entertaining enough, there are acrobats, jugglers and even juggling acrobats working for a peso. Whether you are waiting to cross the border by car or on foot, food vendors circulate with bottled water and cinnamon-dusted churros.
From a distance I see a towering metal arch in the center of a courtyard. This part of the city has been molded for tourist, from the U.S. and from other parts of Mexico, and is waiting to entertain. Streets are cheerfully decorated and there is a festive mood. Music pours out of restaurants. Performers take the stage at the end of a long row of stores; shoppers are tempted by liquor shops offering rows of Tequila, dress shops, bakeries, food stands and pharmacy… after pharmacy… after pharmacy.
After a few hours of exploring we allow a friendly waiter, Juan, to pull us into his restaurant. There seemed to be small groups of locals eating there, which is always a draw for a frequent traveler. Juan waved us in, with the offer of a free shot of tequila. I checked the time – it was close enough to noon.
I sat just at the edge of the patio, the first table inside the restaurant, close enough to see some of the food preparation and catch a bit of the sports on the large screens by the bar. The atmosphere was open, so I still felt like I was outside.
A trio of mariachi was circled around one end of a table of four on the patio. Their music created a cheerful atmosphere, but their volume was just perfect from two tables away. There would be no chance of conversation over lunch if they were serenading my table. After four or five songs, I imagined that the couple at that table must have handed over a significant tip. A few more songs in I wondered if the musicians were patiently waiting for some sort of tip, determined not to leave until they received some compensation. The musicians remained, while I finished off my drink, and the 2nd shot of tequila that the waiter brought over without asking, letting us know it was “from the house”.
The meal was outstanding! Although I can’t recall what the waiter called it when he made his recommendation, it was a memorable family-style mountain of food, presented on a burning hot dish. Outside of the U.S. I set my vegetarianism aside to experience the local cuisine. Chorizo was buried under piles of chicken and beef, while shrimp sat atop the mound and the whole dish was stirred up with green onions, seasonings, agave and drippy sauce that the meal had been cooked in. On a platter was rice flavored with corn, guacamole and refried beans. The waiter got busy quartering small limes, the size of golf balls, to enhance the flavors of the dish.
Corn tortillas were fresh and plentiful. They appeared to be made on site – I had seen the process in my wanderings earlier that day, at a small restaurant filled with locals, just outside of the popular tourist area. I realized that I’ve never known how tortillas are made. I watched a churning device mixing the ingredients together, then feeding it into a set of rollers that squished it along a moving conveyer belt, to be cut into rounds by an automatic set of cutters that slammed down – they looked like gigantic cookie cutters. The leftover trimmings were collected by the man overseeing the tortilla production, and fed back into the machine. These tortillas served as a fine utensil, and the food began disappearing.
As it turns out, even the interactions between wait staff and the pubic are “colorful”. From my seat at the wooden table I heard shouting, and sensed that something was amiss just outside of the restaurant. My back was turned, so I had to twist around and crane my neck to get a glimpse of what was going on. Although I didn’t understand a word, I heard more of the commotion than I saw, until a woman was pinned to the ground in her miniskirt, flat on her stomach, showing diners more than most wanted to see. This had all the signs of a “cat fight”, though I had no idea what had provoked it. The waitress had sustained some strikes and hair pulling. Her peers helped her by bringing a bag of ice to soothe her head, then she returned to work with one had occupied with holding the ice.
A bike cop appeared almost immediately, but the nearby customer who had secured the woman stayed in place while everyone waited for a car come and take her away. The Good Samaritan seemed to be rather intoxicated himself, and went to the bar for another beer once things calmed down. The musicians resumed their lively music and I finished my meal. There was still a lot of food remaining, but I was stuffed! With a full belly, and feeling quite contented, I wandered away.
I’m not entirely sure what to say about what I saw next, so I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. Keep in mind that I’d had a margarita and two sidecar shots of tequila with lunch, so I may have found it a bit more comical than you do. I challenge you to name the celebrities. Put your thoughts in the comments section of this blog, if you can name at least 2. . .then go ahead and guess on the others.
As a side note, I’m not sure why the Mexico Bariatric Center has made a video tour of the Tijuana wax museum, but I have supplied the link below, for your viewing pleasure. Admission was only about $1 USD, so the experience was well worth the cost to get in. For a full experience for yourself, do watch the video!
Join me on my next adventure!
Chiclets Gum: http://www.oldtimecandy.com/walk-the-candy-aisle/chiclets-gum/
Homeless Children in Mexico: http://www.chron.com/news/nation-world/article/Youths-struggle-to-survive-on-Mexico-City-s-1605746.php
Tijuana Wax Museum: http://www.cecut.gob.mx/sis/museos/cera.php
Video of Wax Museum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXAhXrwxzD4
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