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
It’s that time of year again when those of us who cross the border regularly have to brush up on our basic math skills and constantly check our clocks. The U.S. moves its clocks forward one hour as of midnight, March 8, to conform to daylight saving time. But Mexico won’t follow suit until almost a month later on April 5, according to a reminder in El Mexicano newspaper.
This has been going on since 2007 when the U.S. changed its schedule for daylight saving time. For a busy border region like the Tijuana-San Diego area, the time difference creates a particularly annoying wrinkle in time since so many people go back and forth on a regular basis. Here is a link to a 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune story about how the time difference trips up people, causing them to miss appointments and show up too early for events.
YouTube video of 2008 Ensenada Carnaval from TioSam
Ensenada throws its own version of Mardi Gras this weekend. Heads up to Luis Navarro over at gisluis.com for reminding me on his blog about the Ensenada Mardi Gras Carnaval, which is said to be the city’s largest and most popular annual event. In the past, more than half a million people have come here from California and Baja. It looks like there will be parades on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Watch out for the cumbia-dancing clowns. The festivities last from Feb. 19-Feb. 24.
For more information, go here.
See a slideshow of last year’s carnaval from SignonSanDiego.
Tijuana is full of motels like this one, but you might want to think twice about checking in.
Motels south of the border serve a quite different purpose than motels in the U.S., which are still an option for budget-conscious families and travelers. Motels in Mexico – and throughout Latin America – are for people to hook up in. This explains why they are built with large walls, and sometimes have paying areas set up as booths with reflective glass. The upper-end ones offer garages and private entries while the lower-scale ones use curtains to cover up your car. Once you realize what they are, you start to see them all over the place. The more extravagant ones take on themes: There’s one in the outskirts of the city inspired by the Taj Majal.
How do I know this? As a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, I once had to go to a crime scene near one of these “love motels” and tried – unsuccessfully – to get some information from the voices behind a tinted glass booth. Another time, also while on assignment for the Union-Tribune, I stayed at a motel in Veracruz out of absolute desperation. A photographer and I had arrived there during some national holiday and the city’s hotels were filled to capacity. A hotel worker suggested a motel. My room was decorated in surreal shades of blue. A plastic black couch faced a television and mini-bar. Inside a glass nook, fake flowers and arranged stones created a kitschy fantasy ambiance. The pillows were flat, the bed was hard, and napkin dispensers clung to the walls.
The motels are used by prostitutes and their clients. They are sometimes used by married people who are having affairs. But they are also used by people who just need a little space away from prying eyes. In Latin America, privacy can be sorely lacking when you are living with your parents, in-laws, kids, and other assorted family members. Some of these motels are designed to be quick – really quick – get-aways. That night in Veracruz, it became quite clear to me that this one wasn’t made for sleeping in as the sound of nearby garage doors opening and closing kept me up all night.
Here’s an interesting El Universal story (in Spanish) of how these love-nooks are offering free car washes or extra time due to tougher economic times.
Posted in Musings, Travel
Tagged adventures, border, couples, love, love motels, mexico, motels, privacy, prostitutes, prostitution, sex, Tijuana, Travel
Tijuana isn’t the easiest city to figure out. Most traditional Mexican cities are squarely built around a plaza that serves as the community’s religious and governmental meeting point, but in Tijuana there is no real center. So it’s no surprise that tourists typically stick to the tried-and -true strip of Avenida Revolucion. I didn’t get much beyond that part of the city myself until I worked here from 2000-2007.
Tijuana is trying to help visitors get to know the city better with a tour bus service that started this summer. The idea is a great one: Take tourists to parts of the city they would not normally visit and make it easy for them to hop on and off the bus. I did this recently, and got to see the city in a whole new way from my usual vantage point behind the steering wheel of a car.
You can make a day out of the $10 trip by getting off the bus at the Tijuana brewery or L.A. Cetto wine cellar for some homegrown drinks (unless it’s Sunday). You can also throw some pesos into slot machines at a new betting anex at the Hipodromo and grab some food in the city’s upscale Zona Rio business district to name a few possiblities.
When I took the bus one Sunday, though, there was only me and my party of four. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s not being advertised enough or because people are staying away due to recent drug-related violence. That’s a shame because the view from the bus is an inspiring one and as we passed by tourists walking down Avenida Revolucion, I couldn’t help think what they were missing.
The starting point for the bus tour is the CECUT cultural center, but the bus stops at the Mexicoach station on Avenida Revolucion, and you might want to ask if you can board it there. For more information on the bus tour, go here.
And to see more photos I took during the city bus tour, go to this page.
Tijuana city scene from the bus (above)
Tijuana’s Grand Hotel (right) is also known affectionately as the city’s own “twin towers”
For those of you who have been feeling a little wary about visiting Tijuana these days, consider this: Rick Steves just went there.
Steves is a perennial traveller with his own television show and travel book series. He has traipsed all around Europe, but he admits in this Oct. 9 blog posting that this was his first visit to Tijuana. And he came here when many tourists appear to be avoiding the city due to concern over a prolonged wave of drug-trafficking violence.
He apparently didn’t time his travels this way, but Rick Steves in Tijuana is probably one of the best things to happen to tourism officials here lately. (Another boost came from Mickey Mouse, who was in town this month for some park-related promotion). Steves’ visit also appears to be inspired in part by an attempt to amend a statement he made last year – equating old Tangier as the Tijuana of Africa – that some took as an unfair dig of Tijuana. Read this friendly challenge lobbed by World Hum co-editor Jim Benning.
During his short stay, Steves observes the busy border scene and walks down Avenida Revolucion. He takes a city bus tour and he joins mass at the downtown cathedral. Then he repents his former bad thoughts of Tijuana over a bag of churros.
In a follow-up posting, Steves muses about the drug-related violence, finds “no tension” as a traveller during his visit, and considers decriminalizing marijuana.
I’m not sure Mickey Mouse would agree with Steves’ drug policy, but if these two American icons can visit Tijuana safely then that’s probably an encouraging sign for the rest of us.
Photo of Rick Steves from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License by author Andrew Bossi.
The last time I went to the Centro Cultural Tijuana, called “la bola” for its ball-like shape, I saw a photo exhibit by Los Angeles Times photographer Don Bartletti about immigration and the border. The cultural center (known more formally as CECUT) often highlights regional themes like this through the works of Mexican and local artists, making it a good starting point for exploring Tijuana.
The rotund part of the CECUT is actually its IMAX theater. The main building has a permanent natural-history type exhibit that details the history of the Baja California peninsula. The rotating exhibits, according to their website, currently includes Photosintesis, a series of photos by Baja California photographers, and an exposition by Baja California artist Jaime Ruiz Otis.
This Saturday night, Sept. 13, the CECUT is featuring a presentation by the Mexican folklore group Compania de Danza Ticuan with mariachis, jarocho groups, and all the colorful costume trappings. Shows are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and tickets cost about $20 per person.
The CECUT is also the starting point for a city bus tour that takes you to various Tijuana landmarks (I’m not sure if this is offered during the week, too). You can zoom through the tour in one hour, or you can get on and off the 13 stops and catch the next hourly bus. For more information go here.
The cultural center is located on Paseo de los Heroes, and it’s just a few minutes from the Mexican port of entry at San Ysidro. You can take a cab from the border, or you can drive.
Photo from Flickr contributor El Randy under creative commons license.
*My strategy of how to get to the CECUT by car: Cross into Mexico at San Ysidro. Drive past the Customs area and avoid the first exit to the right. Continue with the flow of traffic and stay on the right-hand lane as you start crossing the bridge. Avoid any merges or turns that veer you left or right off of this road. You will see a CostCo straight ahead. Drive as if you are trying to go to the CostCo and you will find yourself on the major thoroughfare of Paseo de los Heroes, which curves to the east. Keep driving along Paseo de los Heroes until you reach the traffic circle. You will see the CECUT on your left and should be able to figure out how to get there OK.
Tijuana can be a difficult city to navigate through, which is probably why most tourists stick to the entertainment and shopping area of Avenida Revolucion.
But not far from the frenetic downtown, Parque Teniente Guerrero provides an oasis of calm: Old men read newspapers, portrait photographers ply their waning trade, and chess fanatics duel it out on the concrete surfaces of about a dozen specially-marked tables.
Parque Teniente Guerrero is a five or six block walk west from the intersection of Third Street (also known as Felipe Carrillo Puerto – see map below) and Avenida Revolucion, and it is one of the stops of a new Tijuana tour that aims to show tourists the city’s other offerings. Read a story, with information on the tour schedules, by The San Diego Union-Tribune here.
On weekends, local families bring their kids to play at the park and and listen to live music at a central gazebo. Visitors relax in wrought-iron benches and shoe shiners – “boleros” – put the sheen back into shoes that visiting Mexican-Americans typically bring in bagloads. The park is neatly manicured and full of large, shady trees. One of my frustrations with sprawling Tijuana is that it has no real center but this tiny park manages to evoke a traditional gathering place.
(The park’s chess players enjoy an audience and they would probably be amused to play against a gringo or two.)
A map of Teniente Guerrero in relation to Avenida Revolucion:
screen shot of Google maps page.