Monthly Archives: July 2009

American football in Tijuana


When I heard that American football was being played in Tijuana, I had to double-check my semantics. Soccer, the more popular ball sport here, is commonly called “Football” or “Futbol.” But, no, I was told that actual American football  – not the soccer variety – was becoming increasingly popular among the city’s younger generation.

Last month, I got a chance to see this for myself when I went to an American football game in Tijuana against two junior high teams representing Tijuana (the Jaguares) and Mexicali for the state championship. The moms of the Tijuana kids had made up their own cheerleading chants in English and Spanish (see video below). A drum-pounding dad provided back-up to the cheers as the Tijuana kids took home the trophy.

My initial theory of how American football ended up in Tijuana was that a fair number of Tijuanans cross the border regularly go to San Diego Chargers games. But it  turns out, according to this ESPN story, that American-style football was started in the state of Veracruz where some Mexican students who had been studying in the United States organized an impromptu match in 1896. The article explains  how football has taken root in Mexico slowly but surely over the  year, even becoming established in certain Mexican universities.

This year,  in another development, the Mexican junior  division(American Football)  national team won a spot to compete in the  2009 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship.

Baja California governor speaking at UCSD Thursday (July 23)

The Institute of the Americas at the University of  California San Diego holds on Thursday another of its “Tequila Talks,” this time with Baja California Governor Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan (right), who will speak about public security issues and challenges  along the border.

Still salivating from the Baja culinary trip I took this weekend (see previous post), I would be tempted to ask him about what are his favorite foods to eat south of the border.

If you are a member of the general public, register and pay here for the event, which takes place Thursday (July 23) . It costs $10 for the general public, but is free for journalists, teachers and students who can sign up here.

The presentation will be in Spanish, and it starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Weaver Conference Center at UCSD-Institute of the Americas.   Get directions and parking instructions here:

For additional information, go to the Institute’s site:

I haven’t seen the governor in a while, but I send him my greetings. This photo (above) is from a Tijuana holiday gathering in December, 2007, shortly after he took office and when I told him I would be leaving The San Diego-Union Tribune after seven years covering the border beat. You can read a story about him here that was written that same year by my Tijuana colleague Sandra Dibble.


Information from Institute of the Americas

A weekend marathon eating adventure in Tijuana and Ensenada


This past weekend I joined a group of food bloggers, writers and chefs from Los Angeles in what turned out to be a non-stop eating and drinking tour of Tijuana and Ensenada that was organized by cross-border food blogger Bill Esparza and other Tijuana associations (full credit in message from Kenn below).

Funded mostly by Tijuana tourism folks, my stomach had never experienced anything like this: Morsels of ostrich meat wrapped in organic green stuff at La Villa del Valle Bed & Breakfast in the Guadalupe Valley; Spicy baby octopus at Tijuana’s high-end Villa Saverios restaurant; and sea urchins served on tostadas with a zippy peanut sauce at an Ensenada taco stand called La Guerrerense. 

While I had already been to most of the Tijuana places on the itinerary – La Querencia, La Diferencia, Villa Saverios, L’Apricot, Cien An~os, Lorca, Tacos Los Salceados and Cheripan – I wasn’t familiar with all their offerings. A Saturday morning breakfast stop at the Barbacoa de la Ermita Tijuana, which is run out of a family home, was a surprising treat.

The Ensenada portion of the trip introduced me to the wide range of seafood offerings beyond the traditional fish taco. And Saverios chef/owner Javier Plascencia  – who I once interviewed for a story about Tijuana restaurants expanding north of the border – joined us in the wine country of Guadalupe Valley to cook us a picnic of swordfish and beef cheek tacos accompanied by unique sauces.

Ostensibly, the tour was to introduce these L.A.-based food experts to the wide variety of food options just south of the border, but it also was about relationship building and creating word-of-mouth buzz about the region’s more positive offerings. Several of the Los Angeles chefs expressed interest in participating in cross-border culinary reunions that Plascencia said he is involved in organizing.

Watching the food bloggers and freelancers snap photos of their food and scribble notes, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of them. In my previous work as a reporter in Tijuana, I got to know the city’s darker side intimately, equating certain places and street corners with horrible crimes committed by the region’s drug groups. It’s a parallel universe, but one that is typically separate from the lives of ordinary tourists – and it certainly hasn’t stopped me from visiting the region regularly. Intently focused on the food, the visitors from L.A. couldn’t have cared less about such details.

And after a while, as my stomach became full with even more tasty morsels of foods, I started to understand why.


(Chef Javier Plascencia, who has a number of restaurants in Tijuana and Chula Vista, serves up some special tacos during a picnic outside a winery in the Guadalupe Valley).

Here are several posts from the 20+ food bloggers and writers who went on the trip:

Javier Cabral writes about his Baja experience  at

Patty Berlin elaborates at

Matt Kang provides his perspectives at his  blog, Mattatouille,

Organizer Bill Esparza recaps the event at his blog, Street Gourmet LA @

***I will post additional perspectives of the trip in future blog entries***

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The Los Angeles connection to Mexico’s Arellano-Felix cartel

felixThe U.S. media gets  flack from some Mexicans for focusing so much attention on the drug violence that happens south of the border.

“Why doesn’t anyone write about the top-level drug traffickers in your own country?”  was a question posed to me once by Jesus Blancornelas, the editor of Tijuana’s muckracking weekly Zeta newspaper when I first started working as a border reporter with The San Diego Union-Tribune nine years ago. Blancornelas, who regularly wrote about the Arellanos and other drug groups operating along the Mexican border,  had almost been killed in an ambush in 1997 that was later tied to the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.

To him, it didn’t make sense that so much attention was placed on drug traffickers and violence south of the border when it appeared to him those drugs had to be distributed through a centralized system north of the border that would require some degree of institutional corruption. I replied that perhaps it was a question of the scope of the problem being much larger in Mexico – a valuable transit area with weaker institutions –  than in the United States: Mexico had its capos, and the U.S. had smaller-scale dealers with lower profiles.

Still, his question lingered with me over the years as I occasionally wrote about the Arellano-Felix drug group’s activities in San Diego and Chula Vista. Recently, I read a story in the Los Angeles Times that explored a connection with the Arellano-Felix drug cartel in a 101-Freeway shooting in December, 2008, that left the the driver of a $100,000 Bentley dead. According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the paper, the victim “might have been selling drugs here for the notorious Arellano Felix cartel.” (Read the article here)

I thought that when I took a job in Los Angeles last year I had left the Arellanos behind, but I guess not. They are, in a sense, everywhere.


Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles that has no known connection to the Arellano-Felix drug group whatsoever.

Tijuana events for the weekend of July 17-19: Opera, Beer and Erotica



Credit goes to the Tijuana Convention & Visitors Bureau for compiling this trio of things to do in Tijuana this weekend of July 17 (Friday) through July 19 (Sunday). I was aware of the beer festival and the Opera festival – but not of the Annual Exxxpo Erotica. Here are snippets from the press release:

Tijuana’s 6th Annual Street Opera Festival takes place on Saturday with performances by 150 artists, singers, actors, dancers and musicians. This free street fair attracts thousands of people each year from Baja California and California. The Festival starts at 12 noon on Saturday, July 18, lasting until midnight, and is located along Calle Quinta (5th Street) and Aquiles Serdan streets in Colonia Libertad (just a few blocks east of the Pueblo Amigo Shopping Mall, south of the San Ysidro Border Crossing). Learn and hear more about Tijuana’s opera scene through this documentary produced by Stories de la Frontera:


 5th Annual International Craft Beer Festival – Check out more than 70 types of beer from 15 breweries in Mexico and around the world. Participating breweries include San Diego’s own Stone Brewing Company, Port Brewing Company, Tsingtao, Paulaner, Bear Republic, Carlsberg, Baja Brewing Company, and Cerveceria Tijuana (Tijuana’s own, award-winning micro-brewery). This three-day event (lasting Friday July 17 through Sunday, July 19) will be held at the Tijuana Caliente Casino and Race Track. Live rock, music and local singers – and local food. 


The Festival hours are Friday from 7:00pm to 1:00am, Saturday from 12:00pm to 12:00am (noon to midnight), and Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Tickets are $5 ($60 pesos) per person, and include a threesome of your choice of beers. For more information:


Tijuana’s 2 Annual Exxxpo Erotica showcases adult entertainment, sexy fashion shows, educational workshops, sdance performances (for him and her), and a spicy collection of lingerie from the largest adult stores in Northwest Mexico. Held just a 10 minute drive from the 

border at Mezzanine Events Hall (near the intersection of the Via Rapida and Blvd. Insurgentes) – or a quick taxi ride from the Craft Beer Festival. Cost for adults 18 and over is $170 pesos (approximately US$13) at the door, with show hours from noon to midnight each day.  Event lasts Friday through Sunday. If you are old enough, go here:,18_y_19_de_Julio_del_2009.html


Tijuana activities for the weekend of July 11-12

A short list of Tijuana-based events for the weekend of July 11-12…

Go to a binational art and music festival on Saturday:  An art and music festival will be held at the CECUT cultural center, which is easily reached from the border. For more information on the festival, refer to and to find it on a map go to

Run a half-marathon on Sunday: Get more information at this Meetup group web page. Looks like you need to register before Saturday, but that may  be flexible.

Dancing away the tourism blues in Baja California


Can Baja California dance away its tourism blues?

U.S. expat Rob Cochran, 42, hopes so. Cochran, who lives in Baja California, said he was inspired to create this video dance project (a surprise launch at B.C.’s La Fonda restaurant took place June 28) to counter the coverage of drug trafficking violence and the Swine Flu scare earlier this year. The Baja Tequila Dance is intended to inspire tourists to see Mexico in a more positive light.

Cochran, who made Baja his home four years ago, has been working at the Hotel La Fonda for about a year and he told me it’s frustrating to get calls from people who cancel their reservations because they think it’s “too dangerous” or “because of all the violence.”

“Sure, there’s crime here in Mexico, just like anywhere else in the world. But when I look around, I don’t see bullets flying, there are no thugs waiting to kidnap me at every turn, and I’ve not known a single person to get the dreaded swine flu,” Cochran wrote me in an email.

Cochran, who told me he doesn’t work for a Baja tourism agency, nonetheless makes for a good ambassador. He wrote that he considers Baja California “the most beautiful and peaceful place I’ve ever lived.”

“I live without a car, I walk to work most days along the highway overlooking the ocean…I rent a charming little casita in a beautiful neighborhood for $350 a month that includes all my utilities, and my day to day life is filled (with) a variety of activities ranging from spontaneous dinners and BBQ’s at the neighbors’ , volunteer functions, fundraisers, fiestas and the occasional quiceanera or wedding.”

For more information on The Baja Tequila Dance  and how the project came to be, go to this site:

Tijuana streets getting a concrete makeover


Tijuana has been the brunt of many a pothole joke. It’s not entirely an exageration. After years of living and working there, I was amazed at how they seemed to appear overnight.  I once did a story on them, and was told as many as xxx existed in the city. Not even a  a mobile pothole patcher designed in xxx seemed to keep them from popping up.


These days, however, the signs of street progress are clearly underway as huge swaths of pothole-pocked asphalt streets are being entirely replaced with sturdy concrete. You can get a taste of this  when you enter Tijuana from the Otay Mesa port of entry where the new topping makes for a smoother and quieter entry experience.
The administration of Tijuana mayor Jorge Ramos apparently borrowed money to pay for the road work. It may be annoying to many Tijuanans who must navigate around orange construction cones and cement trucks, but I expect that new roads will leave a tangible impression on residents here, and it certainly won’t hurt the political aspirations of Ramos, who may just be interested in running for governor.
Tijuana has been the brunt of many a pothole joke. It’s not entirely an exageration. After living and working there, I was amazed at how they seemed to appear overnight.  I once did a story on them for The San Diego Union-Tribune, and was told that as many as 800,000 existed in the city. Not even a mobile pothole patcher  seemed to keep them from popping up.
These days, however, the signs of street progress are clearly underway as huge swaths of pothole-pocked asphalt streets are being entirely replaced with sturdy concrete. You can get a taste of this  when you enter Tijuana from the Otay Mesa port of entry area where the new topping makes for a smoother and quieter entry experience.
 This article in Tijuana’s Frontera newspaper says that paying the debt will take 20 years and take up 6 percent of the city’s annual budget each year. Tijuana mayor Jorge Ramos countered by saying the new roads won’t be pothole-prone, and it beats wasting lots of money each year to fix the holes.
It may be annoying to many Tijuanans who must navigate around orange construction cones and cement trucks, but I expect that a smoother driving experience here will leave a tangible impression on residents (and visitors). I wouldn’t be surprised if it also helps Ramos when Baja Californians vote for a new governor.