The city of Tijuana's mystique goes far deeper than its border facade of tequila and prescription-less drugs. No, Tijuana is a haven for just about everything illegal in the United States. But don't judge it for that, because it's also filled with culture, interesting people, and great food.
My first experience with "T.J." as they call it, (jargon in Southern California,) was shortly after moving to Ventura. My Spanish professor who was also a white blonde gringa, spoke fluently the language, and was actually the author of our textbooks. She may have looked American, but she knew the ins-and-outs of Mexico.
She gave me good advice on my way there, some on which is fairly important.
1) Park on the US side and walk across.
2) Don't get arrested in TJ
3) You can bring 2 bottles of Tequila home.
4) Don't go to the Tijuana Donkey Show.
So one day, I threw the T-tops off of the Camaro I was driving and headed down the 101 to the 405 and into San Diego County.
The drive is one of the most beautiful and serene drives in California. Open freeways with the coast on your side, you don't even realize your getting close until you see highways signs with rapidly running Mexicans warning you to beware of hitting Mexicans. For me this was comical because the closest thing in North Carolina we have is a deer crossing sign. I couldn't imagine having to call your insurance to say you'd hit a Mexican.
So I park the Camaro feet away from a twelve feet from the brown iron border fence, in a secured parking lot. I Threw t-tops back on, and began walking to the spiral gates that allow entrance into the country. It's a fairly lackluster experience as no one questions or cares leaving America, it's the coming back that's the problem. Once you clear this area, which is some sort of purgatory between the two countries, you arrive in the hustling and bustling Tijuana. It's like going from a country roads to New York city in the matter of seconds. Immediately, if you're white, little girls come running up to you begging for money. Street vendors shout out "Bonita Senorita, come here, por favor." Trinkets, Jewelery, and everything you can imagine is being sold at the highest price they can sucker you out of.
The most important part of any Tijuana trip, which I learned after several times there, is the food. The aromas fill the air as you arrive, and everything from tacos, to nachos, with authentic Mexico sanitation, encompass the marketplace. Combine this with the bars, and grab a cerveza with nachos for only a fewdollars.
Most people come to Tijuana for something, whether its a busload of senior citizens getting their prescriptions or underage college students enjoying Mexico's relaxed drinking laws.
What most people don't know is the city of Tijuana beyond that which most people see just across the border is that of poverty and lawlessness. During daylight you can grab a Taxi and head into the city for even better deals on the things you've come for, including those who come for the sex industry, and the illegal narcotics.
In Tijuana, there is opportunity, and many of its residents take advantage of any US visitor who is easily persuaded. One of the more commonly held scams is for taxi drivers to take unsuspecting victims to some back alley where they're robbed and left for gullible. One of these scams is the Mexican Donkey Show I mentioned earlier.
For me, I travelled to Tijuana about 20-30 times in my 5 years living in California. It was always interesting, and at times, educational. The process of coming back across was always simple for me, but for anyone who looked half way ethnically Mexican, the ability to cross the border with drugs and alcohol, often made you feel like a smuggler, even if it was only Tequila and Midol. The first few times you stand in line at the border control and are asked "What country your from?" it's a relief to be back Stateside. This quickly fades the more you go, because eventually you realize that the US government MUST let you back, or no marijuana will make it to Berkley.