On the advice of many people we decided not to take our car into Tijuana, so we drove to the border post on the American side, parked the car in one of the many large parking lots. From there we caught a bus into Tijuana, the round trip coat, if I remember correctly only a couple of dollars, well worth it for a number of reasons. Firstly, we went through the Mexican border with no problems at all, and secondly, one would have to be crazy to drive in Tijuana. Most cars have bumps and dents as a result of some over boisterous and daring driving.
This city, which is not really Mexican and definitely not American resembled some poor run down African town, not unlike
parts of Maputo, or Antananarivo in Madagascar. The one difference was all the music and resultant atmosphere emanating from the many
bars with their resident brass bands playing on the balconies. It's amazing to think that Tijuana is only a few miles from San Diego,
which is totally first world, and here, just a few miles south we were in a patently obvious third world city.
This city is interesting, with its many small stores selling leather goods, gold jewellery and never have we seen so many pharmacies. Prescription medicine can be bought here, over the counter for a fraction of the cost just 5 miles north. Every few metres one comes across yet another shopping arcade full of stores all selling the same good, each store has a staff member outside the store attempting to lure one into the store by offering massive discounts. We found all these people, although persistent, very friendly with a tremendous sense oh humour.
There is no shortage of places to have a drink or something to eat - like always we avoided the tourist type restaurants and sought out a local restaurant, one which we eventually found a fair walk from downtown was primitive, but the food was excellent. One of the problems however, were the begging street children. Eventually I had to part with a chicken drumstick as I could no longer ignore the persistent begging by a young girl, probably no older than 6 or 7.
Something that fascinated us were the zebras we saw on display in numerous places throughout Tijuana. At first they looked like white donkeys that had been painted with black stripes, but after careful inspection they were indeed real, and not painted Mexican donkeys. As you can see in the photo the colouring is opposite to the normal donkeys of Africa.
Another interesting thing we saw that we had never seen before, although I had heard about them and thought it just a 'story', were jumping beans. In many of the arcades and alleys we heard soft popping sounds, like popcorn popping, but there were no popcorn machines or vendors anywhere. Finally, we saw little beans in a sombrero hat moving, making quite a noise. They were quite fascinating
We saw many young children selling local art and jewellery items, most of them were young girls of between 7 and 10 - we were amazed at their bargaining & sales skills. We watched one young girl hold out against low offers from an aggressive bargain hunter. Eventually she won and got the price she wanted, not a penny less than she asked for in the first place! It was just sad to see such young children having to work for a living.
The traffic on the way back into Mexico, from the 'States, especially in the late afternoon and early evening is amazing. Many Mexican workers who obviously work in the 'States return home each night, resulting in these very long backups. We, when we returned to the US from our visits always experienced long delays getting back into the US. The Immigration officials at this entry point are very particular and strict. TIP - do not buy anything in Tijuana that you are not allowed to take back into the US - it is simply not worth it.
We visited Tijuana a few times after that but always during the day, never at night time. We had been warned not to go there at night, as the crowds generally became a little rowdy and if you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could have severe consequences. We have no first hand knowledge of the above, but were often told stories about "friends of a friend." - so who knows? Despite what you may hear about visiting this city, it is worth it, so plan a full day there, but we still suggest you leave before nightfall.