Tag Archives: Tijuana

Time out, but have a seat & keep chatting

I haven’t been able to update this blog lately because I’ve been in the middle of getting a new job and home – and moving into a new home and job.

Both major life events are happily bringing me back to San Diego after a two year absence. During that time I was in Los Angeles where I  got a master’s degree at USC, and worked full time at the university. It was a great experience, but I am glad to be returning closer to the border where I am starting a new career as social media director at Tree.com (parent company of LendingTree and a bunch of other loan and home-related sites).

With so much going on, I want to let readers know that I am putting things on hold –  for now. But please continue the interesting conversations that have developed around a number of blog posts, in particular the one about the passports. I will make a point of checking and updating the comments to allow for contined information exchange.

Happy border travels and let me know if you are in the area!

Photo credit: Benches.com

ICF Survey finds that many U.S. retirees in Mexico live comfortably for less than $1,000 a month

This month, the National City-based International Community Foundation released findings of a survey they conducted of more than 840 senior retirees in coastal areas of Mexico who are over the age of 50. I’m republishing here portions of the Foundation press release that was posted on their web site: 

  • U.S. retirees in Mexico are relatively young and well-educated. Nearly 53% are under 65 years of age (and, in fact, 80% are 69 years or younger), perhaps indicating that Mexico may not be as attractive for older Americans that require additional medical care. In addition, almost two-thirds have at least a college degree, and another 28% had attended at least one-year of college.
  • The respondents chose Mexico for retirement due to its proximity to the United States and its affordability relative to other U.S. retirement destinations.
  • U.S. retirees residing in Mexico continue to maintain strong ties to the U.S.: 50% consider the U.S. their primary country of residency, and almost 22% return to the U.S. on a monthly basis. 85% remain in contact with friends and family in the U.S. through the internet, 64% used the telephone, and 33% used Skype.
  • Retirees living in Mexico are worldly and world-wise. Of those that had considered retirement locations other than Mexico, 41% considered retiring in Central America or the Caribbean; 19% considered other non-U.S. destinations as possible retirement locations. Should quality of life decline in Mexico, those that are financially able could begin to look elsewhere.
  • Mexico may become an alternative for those U.S. retirees facing economic challenges in the future. While survey results and focus group participants clearly express that economic reasons were a major factor in leading them south of the U.S.-Mexico border, the potential is likely greater than is being realized. In 2007, the California Elder Economic Security Standard Index (a financial measure that indicates basic financial needs for seniors in California) ranged from $21,000-$27,500 as the minimum needed for major California cities. The survey results show that nearly 44% of U.S. coastal retirees in Mexico live comfortably on less than $1,000 per month – an amount which underscores the potential demand for retirement options for low and middle income retirees in Mexico.

For more on the survey, go to the ICF website or read this story by San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Sandra Dibble. 

To get an insight into the life of senior citizens retired in Mexicali, go to MexicaliMaryAnn’s blog:  http://www.mexicalimaryann.com/

About the ICF (from their web site):  International Community Foundation is a public charity working to foster lasting philanthropy to benefit under-served communities throughout the Americas and Asia. With over 70% of International Community Foundation’s recent grantmaking benefiting charitable causes along the Baja California peninsula, International Community Foundation is committed to assisting US donors with charitable giving needs from Tijuana to Los Cabos.

Traveling in Mexico: Passports and travel advisories, oh my!

Several travel-related issues along the U.S.-Mexico border are sure to raise some questions on this blog (and they already have started doing so), so I’m going to see if I can address them in this post:

Is is safe to go to Tijuana? Tijuana’s name showed up again in a list of cities linked to drug trafficking violence by the U.S. Department of State under their periodically-updated  travel alerts. This time, the alert seemed to focus more on the Mexican border towns south of Texas, but Tijuana continues to smart from being on this “black list.” Tijuana’s mayor Jorge Ramos has criticized the advisories for being too inflamatory (he would like the wording to change).

A story by ABC News points out that overall violence appears to be in decline in Mexico when compared to a decade ago, and in explaining that much of the impact of violence is influenced by perceptions rather than reality. Tracking and defining border violence is a complicated thing, especially since it tends to surge up and down and shift back and forth between regions. I have found the alerts to have no impact on my own travel decisions, but that’s just me.

Is Mexico requiring that I have a passport to go to Tijuana/Mexical/other border cities? The Mexican government created some confusion over this when they said that visitors to Mexico who travel through the land ports of entry would need to bring their passports starting in March. It became clear that having passports checked at these busy border entry points would be a logistical nightmare. Since then, the Mexican government has clarified that people who travel as far south as Ensenada in Baja California won’t have to worry about bringing their passports after all. Read more in this KPBS report. and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Of course, the issue of whether or not people need to bring their passports to get back into the United States through the land ports of entry  – despite a U.S. government passport “requirement” announced last year – continues to be hotly debated. For more on that, go to this blog post or start a new conversation thread below.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Ten: The drive back to Tijuana


This is the final of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: Jan 3, 2010. Baja California North.

The border road trip was winding to a close. Over the past nine days we had seen and done a lot: Exploring the state of Sonora, crossing the Gulf of California in a ferry – and visiting islands and cave art sites along the Baja peninsula. It was Sunday, and time to head back to the Tijuana border. This would be an all-day drive along the Transpeninsular highway, but fortunately the Baja peninsula landscape is never boring.

We left Guerrero Negro at 8 a.m., which was actually 7 a.m. Tijuana time (the time zone switches once you cross into or out of Guerrero Negro). It was foggy, but eventually the shroud parted to reveal a flat stretch of desert with cactus bent in odd angles. Our second road-kill episode during the trip (after the previous night’s coyote hit) took place when a small bird impaled itself on the car antenna.

By 9:30, we had reached Catavina. We had foolishly forgotten to fill up on gasoline at Guerrero Negro or other places nearby, so this was our only hope for fuel. There isn’t a PEMEX gas station here, but there are other options like this guy on the side of the road who probably earns a pretty decent living from travelers like us.

Catavina is a good place to stretch your legs. It’s a speck along the road with a smattering of hotels and food place. It would be nicer if there weren’t so much graffiti on the rocks, but if you pull off the main road you can immerse yourself in a more authentic desert experience.

We left Catavinia around 10 a.m. and then pushed on to El Rosario, which is about an hour away. We reached the agricultural community of  San Quintin at noon and kept driving along the main road cuts through town, lost in indecision over where to go for lunch. After eating some unmemorable fish tacos, we continued north.
I lost track of the number of military checkpoints we went through during this one day. I think it must have been around eight.


Three hours later, we arrived in  Ensenada from San Quintin. For some reason, I was seized by a sudden urge for donuts. By the time we left Ensenada the sky was starting to darken.

It had been a long day on the road but we made good time. We reached Tijuana at 5 p.m. –  about nine hours after we left Guerrero Negro – and I was back in the LA area a few hours after that. When I look at this map below, I’m somewhat amazed at the ground that we managed to cover in just ten days. Sure, it would have been great to have just gone to one place or region and get to know it really well. A road trip can be somewhat superficial and cursory, especially when you have a limited time frame. But on the other hand, it is also a chance to get the bigger picture of things and to realize how much more there is to get to know.

Dotted lines on map represent north-bound part of trip.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day One: Tijuana to Puerto Penasco

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Day One of the trip: December 25, 2009

The nice thing about traveling on Christmas Day is that most people are at home and not on the road. Me and my travel companions (another adult, two kids and two sock puppets)  left Tijuana at 4 p.m. after I picked up a tourist card . This was necessary since I was traveling beyond the border area’s tourist zone. It cost about $20 and I got it at the same Mexicans Customs office where we had to  register our car (A Mexican car restricted to circulating in the border zone).

Heading east towards Mexicali takes you through a rock-studded chain of mountains called La Rumorosa that inspires frequent stops for photo shoots. By the time we hit the Mexicali desert, it was nightfall. Crossing into Sonora at San Luis Colorado, we picked up some sandwiches for dinner at an Oxxo (sort of like a 7-11) where the cashier told us there was a new, faster toll road that would take us just two hours to get to our destination, Puerto Penasco. 

The new toll road costs about $8.00. Since we were traveling at night, there wasn’t much to see – except for the stars above us and a large number of roadside signs that we seemed to pass every 30 seconds:  FOGGY ZONE, WATCH OUT FOR FAUNA, DON’T PASS CARS, KEEP THE ROAD CLEAN, RESPECT NATURE, DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE, NO HUNTING.

My favorite of the bunch…DON’T DESTROY THE SIGNS.

We arrived in Puerto Penasco at 8:45 p.m (Sonora is one hour ahead of California) and as we headed to the downtown area we passed this city traffic sign (above) that made me laugh. The sign includes a banner that basically says “here we take care of tourists.” Yet the multiple arrows heading every which way prompted me to feel tourist trauma: Which road to take?

We managed to find our way to the Hotel Vina del Mar, where our $63 got us a room with an angular view of the ocean. 

TRAVEL FACTOIDS:

Total road travel time from Tijuana to Puerto Penasco: 4-5  hours.

Total amount of money spent on five toll roads between Tijuana and Puerto Penasco: $19.20

Christmas in Mexico

Mexicans aren’t color shy. Driving around a city like Tijuana is a lot like taking a detour onto a Candyland board game where yellow doors, mint-topped roofs, and violet walls are all the norm. Watch any Mexican soap opera to get a sense of how color infuses clothes and the interior of homes  from the very rich to the very poor. Spend enough time in Mexico and you will return home, look around, and realize everything is just so…beige. Not even the Christmas tree appears to be exempt from the inclination to dress up and color up most anything in sight, as can be seen in these photos I took last weekend at a Tijuana tree lot.

How social media is helping cross-border investigations

Facebook, Inc.
Image via Wikipedia

Being a former border reporter and an eager student of social media, I am always keeping my eyes open for ways that these two interests of mine intersect. A couple examples from this year demonstrate how social media is playing a role in cross-border investigations.

I previously wrote how a blog called the
The Stalker Chronicles apparently helped Tijuana law enforcement officials find the alleged stalker of actor David Caruso earlier this year. (Read details of the case in this Feb. 20 Associated Press story).

And now a story in The Guardian sums up why it’s a good idea to understand what’s public and what’s not in Facebook – especially if you are a fugitive hiding out in Mexico.

According to the story (which I first read in Mashable), Maxi Sopo fled the United States earlier this year after allegedly getting involved in a fraud scheme and learning that investigators were looking into his possible involvement. Rather than lie low online as well as offline, Sopo started updating his Facebook status with descriptions of the good times he was having in Cancun. One of his Facebook “friends” was a former justice department official who apparently met Sopo at a Cancun nightclub and had no knowledge of Sopo’s fugitive status, according to the story. Read The Guardian for more details, but I would venture to guess that Sopo’s updates from jail probably aren’t so pleasant.

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Tijuana Tequila Festival this weekend

Tijuana Tequila Festival

Painted donkey-zebras not just in Tijuana

tijuanazebra

Tijuana’s painted donkey-zebras have some distant counsins – in a Gaza Strip zoo.

Here in Tijuana, visiting the famous donkey-zebras is a time-honored tradition for tourists to Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion. You get the family and friends together around the painted donkey, don some sombreros and ponchos, and SNAP – a photo is taken. The city’s unofficial mascots  were apparently painted with black strips as far back as the 1940s so that they could show up more clearly in the black-and-white photos.

Across the world, donkey-zebras are now appearing in the Marah Land Zoo, though in this case the painted stripes for educational purposes. The idea is to teach  Palestinian kids about zebras. According to this Reuters story, the donkeys were painted with women’s hair dye  using a paintbrush after it became clear that importing a real zebra would cost $40,000 or so.

Tijuana’s Tepoznieves a tasty ice-cream spot

tepoz2

Have you ever craved some prune ice cream?

What about a dollop of coconut with gin, celery – or pineapple with chile pepper?

These are the kinds of funky flavors you can find at a Tepoznieves ice cream store. It’s a Mexican “gourmet ice cream” chain with two branches just across the U.S. border in Tijuana. The ice cream originated from a Mexican village called Tepoztlan where it was dedicated to the son of the God of Wind sometime before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, according to the Tepoznieves website.

When it gets hot like it has been in Los Angeles lately, I find myself thinking about Tepoznieves ice cream. The stores boast more than 100 ice cream and sorbet flavors. Sure, you can get your traditional ones like chocolate, vanilla and bubble gum. But why not try something more adventurous, like fig, cheese, rice – or tequila!

 The stores are cheerily decorated in a way that emphasizes the confetti-like colors of the ice cream itself. I spent a good hour tasting eight different flavors during a recent visit. The offerings include ice creams that are outlandish mixes of various flavors. “Xilone’s ice cream,” for example, includes the following flavors: corn cake, mango, peach, cherry, pine nuts and chocolate. And for those who find ice cream a little – bland – there are several specials that use chile pepper flavor to add a kick to the flavor.

tepoznieves3

If you go: There are two Tepozneives in Tijuana. One is at the MacroPlaza anchored by the WalMart at Plaza los Antojos, near the Morelos Park. The one closest to the border is in the Zona Rio along Blvd. Sanchez Taboada. It’s near a Sam’s Club. You can find them on this Google map: http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl&q=tepoznieves%20tijuana

 

 

ancient times.