Forget about the good old days when U.S. travelers to the Mexico border could just flash their driver’s license to get back into the United States. As of June 1 – this Monday- tourists to Mexico will need to start bringing their passports ( or other travel documents) to Mexico when they cross by land at places like the San Ysidro border.
The alternative to the passport include:
A passport card
A SENTRI card, A NEXUS card, or a FAST card
A driver’s license with radio-technology that is apparently not available in California.
****UPDATE: Go to this blog post for what happens if you forget your passport: http://acrosstheborder.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/answer-to-question-about-passport-requirements-at-the-border/ ****
I have been away from the border lately and forgot this date was coming up. I was glad to learn that I don’t have to drag around my passport on my border trips since I have a SENTRI card (I get to use the “faster” border lanes since I’m pre-screened and considered low-risk for bringing illegal substances into the United States) so I should be fine. I had no idea, or had forgotten, what a NEXUS or FAST card are so I did a search and found that NEXUS appears to be the Canada-traveller version of the SENTRI program and FAST is a pre-screened program for commercial border-crossers.
Go here to read more in a story written by reporter Leslie Berestein of The San Diego Union-Tribune
Go here to read to get the latest information from the U.S. government.
It’s hard to miss the many D’Volada coffee shops around Tijuana. D’Volada’s franchises sport green-and-white exteriors and woodsy interiors that remind me of a certain global coffee business north of the border. But the interesting thing about D’Volada is that its founders saw an unmet need - not so many coffee places in Mexican cities – and got a head start before the inevitable Starbucks invasion.
The D’Volada brand started here in Tijuana in in 2ooo. Since then, D’Volada – which means roughly “on the go” – has really taken flight, expanding to eight other states in Mexico. It seems to be particularly popular among the bleary-eyed commuters heading to San Diego in the wee morning hours (roving D’Volada employess will take orders from your car). D’Volada has even crosed into the United States with a D’Volada shop in Chula Vista, Calif., the home of many upper-income Tijuana expats.
When Starbucks arrived in Tijuana in 2007 you could almost smell the coffee wars brewing. USC professor Josh Kun, who calls D’Volada a “glocal” success story, wrote a story in the Los Angeles Times that explores how the arrival of Starbucks in Tijuana evoked manifestations of Mexico’s class divisions. I’m not a coffee connoisseur, so all I can say is that I may drink Starbucks north of the border but I support the homegrown brand when I’m in Mexico.
For many years, the mustachioed Jesus Malverde was the “saint” that drug traffickers went to when seeking spiritual support. But lately Jesus Malverde seems to be getting some competition from a skeletal figure called Santa Muerte or the Saint of Death.
When Mexican authorities detained suspected trafficker Angel Jacome Gamboa, aka “El Kaibil,” at a Tijuana banquet hall in March, they found him carrying a gun that had been emblazoned with an image – not of Jesus Malverde – but of the Santa Muerte.
In recent weeks, I’ve run across a few U.S.-based reporters seeking experts to speak on the Santa Muerte’s growing popularity north of the border (according to this 2007 Time article, they are a little late). South of the border, I’ve also noticed several stories in the media about Mexican authorities knocking down the Santa Muerte’s shrines. Followers in Mexico City recently marched in protest of the actions, according to this Reuters article.
To be sure, the two unofficial “saints” aren’t exclusively worshipped by drug traffickers. The Santa Muerte had been used to pray for life-saving miracles as well as death to enemies, according to the Time article. Malverde may have been based on the story of a bandit killed by Mexican authorities in 1909. Their presence possibly represents the erratic results that came from imposing the Catholic religion on a country with its own indigenous faith traditions.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering if all the attention on the trendy Santa Muerte might lead to a nostalgic resurgence of interest in Jesus Malverde.
Photos approved for public use. Click photo for credit.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Baja California, border, destroyed shrines, drug trafficker religion, faith, jesus malverde, mexico, narco religion, narco saints, religion, saints, santa muerte, Tijuana
For most of us, the telegram is a quaint, historical footnote. It had its heyday in the early 1900s until long distance phone calls and other advanced communications rendered the delivered messages obsolete in certain parts of the world. Electronic mail may have been the final screw in its coffin. The last telegram in the United States was delivered in 2006 through Western Union, according to this NPR story. But here in Mexico, the telegram lives on. This is a picture of a telegram office in Tijuana, which was open on a recent Sunday. Though I’m told that many of the transactions here involve wiring money to relatives, (Tijuana is a city that attracts a large number of migrants from other parts of Mexico) the telegram apparently still serves a purpose in communicating with friends and families in remote villages that have limited or no access to phone and computer networks.
Here is a link to Mexico’s Telecom-Telegrafos with a photo of telegram deliverymen on motorcycles. In Mexico, telegrams can be delivered within 24 hours through “ordinary” service and 12 hours for “urgent” messages.
Western Union also seems to still be offering telegram notes from the U.S. to Mexico, according to their web page.
Normally, the street of Paseo de los Heroes is full of cars and not at all the kind of place where you would linger at. But that has all changed on Sundays when local police close off a portion of the street’s access points to vehicles. From about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the city’s residents are invited to reclaim Paseo de los Heroes through a new program called “Via Libre, La Calle es Tuya.” That roughly translates to “Open Road, the Street is Yours.”
Curious, I dropped by on a recent Sunday and saw enormous potential. With no cars in sight, residents were able to do laps on their bicycles (some free rentals are available, too!). Kids on skateboards and inline skates took to the asphalt. Young children pedaled furiously on tricycles. There was entertainment, too: A giant chess game, a giant Jenga game, obstacle courses and a pair of strolling musicians who let volunteers step in as conductors. Families lounged on the grassy center divide near a small collection of photos and paintings, a few couples brought their leashed dogs, and a pair of young guitar players strummed on a street corner.
Not a lot of people seem to be aware of the program so it will be interesting to see how the Sunday street scene evolves. I’ve written before about how Tijuana doesn’t have a sense of centrality like other Mexican cities that were built around a traditional plaza. A four-block area along Paseo de los Heroes may not make a square, but it’s a linear start. The program is expected to last through November.
To get there: Paseo de los Heroes is one of the city’s main streets and a major entrance and exit point for the San Ysidro border. Signs at the border will guide you to the street, which takes you to the city’s Zona Rio business district and the CECUT cultural center. The closed-off portion starts at the traffic circle of the Indian (Aztec ruler Cuauhtemoc). You can park at the Zona Rio mall or one of the nearby side streets.
Posted in Travel, Uncategorized
Tagged Baja California, border, mexico, paseo de los heroes, recreation, Tijuana, tijuana events, tijuana festivals, tijuana weekend activities, Travel
San Diego Magazine is publishing a series of stories about drug trafficking along the border. In the first installment, S.D. Liddick explores the case of the 2006 beheadings of the Rosarito Beach police officers, which was linked to the Arellano-Felix drug organization. It’s well worth the read. Liddick spent considerable time collecting information for this story. I know because at one point when I still worked at The San Diego Union-Tribune, he lost the cell phone number for the former Rosarito police chief Valente Montijo-Pompa - and I helped him get back in touch with the chief.
The story is skillfully written with powerful insights into the corruptible forces of drug trafficking, including some fascinating quotes by realist Montijo-Pompa, who freely admits “I’m not going to fight with somebody whose circumstances are 1,000 to my one. I’m not going to be a hero—to kill my people. I’m not going to sacrifice others or convert Rosarito into a battleground or put innocents in the middle.”
With Mexican drug trafficking violence the “hot” topic over the past year or so, many media groups are jostling for a chance to claim their stake in this story. Of course, the story has been going on for years but the degree of attention tends to correspond to body counts. It’s no surprise that San Diego Magazine would explore this issue in depth, and kudos to the magazine for investing the time and resources in doing so. I look forward to reading the upcoming installments. My only issue with the first article is that I think it takes an unwarranted and unsubstantiated swipe at the quality of border coverage by other media groups in a curious attempt to elevate the article’s authority. You can read my opinion in the story’s online comments section.
Read the first installment of “Blood of Their Brothers: The Border Trilogy” here.
Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles with no apparent link to the Arellano-Felix organization whatsoever.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged arellano felix, arellanos, Baja California, border, drug trafficking, drug violence, drugs, mexico, police beheadings, rosarito, rosarito beach, rosarito beheadings, s.d. liddick, san diego reader, Tijuana
Tijuana has more than its share of charming oddities, but this one was definitely a head-turner. While driving near the Otay Mesa port of entry, I saw this giant hot dog literally roll to a stop on a side street.
I have seen giant condoms, a giant Jesus, and giant beer bottles in Mexico – but not a hot dog. So I immediately went back to look at it more closely. As you can see, the truck has been decorated to emulate the physique of a hot dog topped with chile peppers, avocados and tomatoes. Mustard and catsup artfully drip from its sides. I chatted briefly with the owner, a guy who gave me his name as Jose, who said that he moved to Tijuana from Arizona a few months ago. He has big dreams of creating a whole fleet of these super-sized hot dog trucks, but right now he’s just starting out with this one that offers hot dogs prepared with options for his cross-border clientelle: New York style, Chicago style and Sonora (Mexico) style. It was too early for me to eat a hot dog that day but I plan on returning to check it out some other time.
This reminded me of a post I recently read by the blogger at Masa Assasin, who wrote about the way that Mexican hot dogs have taken U.S. hot dogs to spicier and colorful new heights, i.e. the bacon-wrapped hot dog that appears to form the basis of the Sonoran style hot dog. You can read more about that at this Masa Assassin link.
Posted in Musings, Travel, Uncategorized
Tagged Baja California, giant hot dog, giant hotdogs, hot dogs, hotdogs, masa assassin, mexican hot dogs, mexico, odd things, sonoran hot dogs, Tijuana
It’s easy to overlook Tijuana’s Mercado Hidalgo, which is hidden from outside view by thick, citrus-colored walls. But once you find the marketplace, it’s a pleasure to get lost in the smell of spices, the rows of fluttering pinatas, and the colors of tropical fruits. Nestled in the city’s Zona Rio area, not far from the San Ysidro border, the market reminds me of those bustling village-style markets in Mexican pueblos deep in the country’s interior.
Mercado Hidalgo is comprised of several generations of vendors with roots that go back to the mid-1900s. Reflecting the region’s unique border identity, the market got its start when vendors brought produce from California and Arizona to Tijuana. That was before Mexico built better roads to connect Tijuana with the country’s interior. Now most all of the produce comes from Mexico and you will often find nostalgic Mexican-Americans stocking up on their favorite foods.
During my last year as a reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, I learned how to do multi-media presentations. Go here for a virtual visit of Mercado Hidalgo, which includes interviews with merchants, photos of the produce, a history of the market and a locator map.
Posted in Travel
Tagged Baja California, border, food, Hidalgo market, Mercado Hidalgo, mexico, produce, shopping, Tijuana, tourism, traveling
I feel an odd sort of connection with Miguel Felix Gallardo, who was reputedly the precursor to the Baja California area’s Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization. A blog post I filed last year - about a web site set up by the reputed drug trafficker’s family – continues to generate a lot of traffic to my own site from people apparently curious about Felix Gallardo’s savvy use of the Internet.
Felix Gallardo, according to Mexican and U.S. reports, is an older relative of the Arellano Felix brothers (a family member says this is not true), and he was said to be a major Mexican drug trafficker in the 1980s. He has been locked up in a Mexican prison since 1989. Family members started a web site to document his health needs in prison as well as a forum for people to ask questions and send greetings to Felix Gallardo. You can check out the site here.
Here are a couple of media updates on Felix Gallardo:
McClatchy News Service wrote a story about the Felix Gallardo website and about the use of the Internet by Mexican drug traffickers in general. Reporter Marisa Taylor interviewed Felix Gallardo’s son, who started the website. You can read the story here.
In February of this year, Mexican media ran a story about Felix Gallardo writing a 32-page letter to La Jornada newspaper detailing his experiences with certain Mexican law enforcement officials, as well as other juicy details of his own arrest. You can read the La Jornada story here.
Screenshot of the Miguel Felix Gallardo web page.