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San Diego Las Vegas

16th August 2010

A Day Out in the City of Dentists, Poverty and Neglect - Tijuana

Avenue Revolution
    Dan and I took the metro down to San Ysidro, and walked about 100m to the Mexican border. There were no formalities to the crossing into Mexico at all, just pass through a turnstile and we were in Mexico, Tijuana to be precise.
    Tijuana, with a population of more than two million, was Mexico's fourth largest city. It was little more than a village at the turn of the 20th century, but it grew explosively in response to the needs of San Diego and the rest of California, providing a workforce for factories and fields, especially during World War I. It was also a decadent playground for Americans deprived of liquor and gambling by Prohibition and moral reformers.
    We aimed first for the main tourist drag, Avenue Revolution, and walked a few blocks up the road. This street was a string of restaurants and shops selling leather goods, clothing, jewelry and gifts. At every store front, we were enticed to "come this way, very best bargains, I have just what you want", and other variations of the same theme. I soon adopted a fixed stare, and a firm "no thanks" as a response. Occasionally a little humorous banter could be established with the sales people. One guy made me smile when he cried, "I won't rip you off as much". One thing that really intrigued me was that about every fifth building was a dentist; were the Mexicans' teeth that bad?
Jai Alai Fountain Palace
    After enduring this tirade for a short while, we turned off the street to sit down at a cafe for a drink. The harassment didn't stop there. Very young kids, much less than ten years old, would amble up to us at the table, trying to sell necklaces, beads and chewing gum. Why weren't they at school? It was sad to see them spending their childhood scraping a living like this, instead of studying and playing with their pals. It got worse, trios of musicians stalked the cafes, trying to entice folk to part with their money for a song.
    Bored with the main drag, we headed to a winery a fair walk away. On the route, we passed Tijuana's Jai Alai Fountain Palace, with its attractive frontage. The game of Jai Alai, which in Basque means "Party of Joy", was played on a 702 square metre three walled court, each wall being 13m high. The ball was thrown by a curved basket (chistera) attached to the arm at near 200 m.p.h. Fountain Palace, with its seating capacity of 2,100, was opened by its founder, Mariano Escobedo, in February 1947. It had burnt down in its lifetime, but had been restored to its former glory.
    The L.A. Cetto winery was located with some difficulty; well hidden and not advertised. This provided an excellent introduction to the Mexican wine industry. Luis Augustin Cetto, an Italian immigrant, introduced an Italian vine to the Valle de Guadalupe, a fertile region southwest of Tijuana. We were given our own individual tour with a young fellow, who explained that the grapes were harvested and pressed at the vineyard during the first week in October, and the juice brought to the winery. After 15 or 20 days of fermentation, the wine was aged in barrels of French oak for 14 months, before being bottled and stored for two years. We were led through a maze of 9,500 gallon stainless steel vats, past the bottling plant, to a colossal cellar where hundreds of barrels stretched in rows on the ground, and deep walls of wine bottles lay resting patiently as far as the eye could see. After the tour, the lad opened a bottle of Nebbiolo for us to try, a deep red, fruity wine with plenty of body and an element of dryness. He carefully aerated the wine for us, since it would normally be allowed to breathe for an hour or so, and poured us a glass each. That wine was exquisite. I could have sat there all day sipping that wine, it was delicious, and at 14%, quite alcoholic!
IMAX Dome Theatre in the Centro Cultural Tijuana
    Suitably fortified, we now took a hike to the Centro Cultural Tijuana. Walking the streets away from the main drag was fairly straightforward, there were no shops trying to entice us through their doorways, and none of the hoards of urchins or musicians trying to extract money out of us. A fair amount of care was required crossing some of the roads, but the Mexicans were considerate and didn't try to run pedestrians down. The pavements were some of the biggest menaces. There were hundreds of neat rectangular holes in the walkways, perhaps where manhole covers were at one time. Now, they were just holes, some being as large as 20cm by 40 cm, and about 50cm deep; so simple to break a leg in one of those. Health and safety didn't seem to be an issue around here. Indeed, some roads were being totally reconstructed, and were just beds of sand with trenches running through them, with pedestrians just sauntering across and leaping the trenches; no barriers whatsoever!
    Tijuana's cultural icon, when we got there, was an ultramodern complex, comprising a sand-coloured sphere that housed an IMAX Dome Theatre, and adjacent buildings containing museums, galleries, cafes, restaurants and theatres, or so we were led to believe. The IMAX theatre was certainly there, and one of the other buildings did contain an exhibition of charcoal and pastel portraits, but there was nothing else to see. I was very impressed with the external and internal design of the buildings. Internally the blend of metal, concrete, marble, and wood was stunning. The buildings must have cost a fortune, an art form in their own right, with a lot of potential, but were sadly largely unoccupied. There seemed to be fifty or so attendants spread across the complex, all wandering about aimlessly bored out of their minds, but none offered to discuss the purpose of the buildings. What a waste.
Tijuana Church
    We left the complex disappointed, and picked a route across to the Palacio de la Cultura, which was meant to be a large gallery showcasing the works of local artists. We found the locality, but there was no sign of the building. I concluded in the end that Tijuana was definitely not trying to sell itself as a tourist resort, it wasn't helping itself, and it seemed as though it deliberately went out of its way to hide what it had to offer.
    We ambled our way through the broken pavements and roads towards the border crossing. Dan spotted the local brothel, with three scantily clad young women hanging about outside. The entrance was a flight of stairs, up which an elderly chap was having difficulty climbing. How he would get on once he got there was anybody's guess. We gave the area a wide berth and began the tortuous crossing back across the border.
    We crossed a bridge under which long traffic queues were lined up waiting to cross the border back to the US. As for the pedestrian crossing, we joined a long queue, and got chatting to an American chap who had been to Mexico on business. It turned out he was an American football referee, who tended high school games. He explained that the rules of the game got more complicated as you progressed from school matches up to the top professional games, and he stressed the rules were indeed very complicated. He also had interesting views on Obama, but I suspect he was a staunch Republican. We got through one queue, only to find that it was the queue to yet another queue. It was a tedious but straight forward affair to get through the crossing, taking one and a quarter hours of queuing.
    On reflection, once we had got off the main drag of the city, I had found the city more relaxing because of the hassle free environment, though people were still keen to extract a dollar out of us for directions. I didn't feel threatened at all, probably because we stayed within 'known' boundaries of the city. It was a city that smacked of a little wealth, but a lot of poverty, and I knew we would be targets if we strayed off the beaten track or hung around until darkness descended. The general lack of regard for health and safety appalled me, but the locals didn't seem to care. It was an experience, but not the best of Mexican experiences; by individual accounts, better existed in the Mexican interior.
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San Diego Las Vegas

Uploaded from Treasure Island Hotel, Las Vegas CA on 19/08/10 at 09:00

Last updated 22.8.2010