One of the cool things you can do when in San Diego is to go to a totally different country. Mexico! It’s easy to take the 45 minute ride to the border and walk over a bridge into another world. All you need is your passport (and you better have it!) and a ticket for the trolley.
But first, breakfast. On the way to the trolley from the hotel we breakfast at Café 21, home of the amazing and wonderful Peanut Butter and Banana-Stuffed French Toast. The recipe is simple, really. Take 2 pieces of French Toast, spread peanut butter on one and place some nice (but not overly) ripe bananas on the other one, and put them together to make a French Toast sandwich. Add syrup as needed. Yum. Do try this at home.
I’ve always heard about this trolley to Mexico, carrying folks from downtown San Diego to the border. The ride was underwhelming, really, passing through shopping centers and neighborhoods along I-5. Not many tourists, but hey, this is slow season, and a Monday, to boot. In fact, most of the folks on the trolley looked like commuters of some sort.
We get to the border and follow the crowd over the 7 lanes chock full of cars (50,000 vehicles cross the border every day) waiting to get into the US. Across the highway, through a turnstile and past a guy with a machine gun – we’re in Mexico! So easy to get in. No one to check our documents or even remind us that we need a passport to get back. Good thing we’re prepared. We walk along the tourist trail to the Avenida de la Revolution, the heart of tourist Tijuana. (And, it’s pronounced Tee-Wan-ah, not Tee-ah-wan-ah, FYI). It’s either early or it’s Monday, or something else is going on, because we are just a few of the handful of tourists strolling up the street. We stop at the wax museum for some kitschy fun (why do they have Tom Cruise in a Mexican wax museum? Bill Clinton? Madonna?)
On the Avenida, the vendors see us coming. We’re fresh meat and they offer us special deals on blankets, silver, velvet paintings, and pictures sitting on donkeys painted like zebras (huh?) We “no, gracias” our way up the street, wishing we were hungry enough to try one of the restaurants lining the Avenida. It’s spooky, though, not many people here today. At the top of the street, we detour to find the local winery to see if they’re giving tours. Sadly, no, and the cultural museum is closed as well. However, the street parallel to the touristy Avenida is brimming with life. The sidewalks are crammed with people and the shops are busy. Sidewalk vendors sell all sorts of edibles and gifts (it’s almost Christmas) and the church square is lively with locals. There are not too many tourists in sight.
We find a nice little square and George tries to haggle some beers down to $1 from $1.50 and is eventually successful. However, he fails to take account for the $3 soda that Morgan wants. Oh, well. There’s a guy sharpening a knife below the balconies of the cheap hotels that line the street. On the way back to the border, we stop at the crafts market and it’s a ghost town.
We find the place where we came into Mexico, but the exit from Mexico is somewhere else. After a bit of wandering, we find it, recognizable by the huge line. We can’t see the front, but join it anyway, since it looks like it’s heading in the right direction. It’s right along the road and it looks like the cars are backed up for miles. It takes almost an hour to shuffle back into the U.S. We are just 3 of the 25,000 pedestrians that cross the border every day.
The next day we found out that the concierge at the Westin where we were staying was advising guests against crossing the border. Yes, the State Department issued a travel warning in July, and then again in September. But a warning is just that, a warning to be careful, not a reason to stop traveling. Usually warnings are issued when there is trouble in the outlying areas of a town, not in the tourist areas. So, as I always try to be careful and perceptive of my environment, and stay out of dark alleys and bad neighborhoods, I still travel. I believe that it is the right thing to do. My travel presence, as well as my dollars, will help this poor country, in an infinitesimal way, become a little richer and more friendly toward America in general.
The underwhelming trolley now seems like a pristine coach whisking us north. Shopping centers are bright, cars on the freeway look luxurious, and the poor neighborhoods stand out as free. Of course, now we’re hungry and our trolley pass will get us to Old Town San Diego (where the first settlers came) and ironically, some pretty good Mexican food. Strange to visit Mexico and end up eating Mexican in the US. Go figure. Next time, we’ll skip the French Toast and be hungry for enchiladas and margaritas!