“Welcome to Tijuana – Tequila, Sex and Marijuana” is a famous song by Manu Chao… Unfortunately the Mexican bordertown has a very bad reputation in the US, more or less fitting the lyrics of the song.
But let’s start with the positive things: Tijuana is where Caesar’s Salad was invented in the hotel with the same name. The city became a tourist destination for Americans during the time of the prohibition in the US – it was a place where you could drink freely. Nowadays, TJ is one of the richest cities in Mexico with lots of great restaurants, many academic institutions, a modern Cultural centre and a fast-growing economic sector with assembly plants and other factories.
Products in a Mexican market
However, people usually associate the city with poor, desperate people trying to cross the border, where cheap Viagra and other prescription medication are being sold, and under-aged Americans go partying…
The contrasts are big in this very touristic city; we visited a traditional Mexican market, looked at old photos taken by a Japanese man who lived in TJ at the turn of the last century at the local museum, saw the cheap pharmacies selling prescription drugs, the traditionally zebra-painted donkeys*, the Mariachi artists waiting for a gig as well as the cheap and tacky tourist shops on Avenida Revolución, the red light district with scantily clad women, the beach where some people are sun-bathing and playing in the sand while others, more desperate, are hanging around trying to figure out how to cross the border while the American border police is patrolling the US side of the beach on horse-back.
But, we also had great food in the traditional La Casa del Mole**, as well as yummy Argentinean food in the sleek restaurant Cheripan, and partied with the locals in Plaza Fiesta – didn’t try drinking beer with salt and lime though but admired the young Mexicans who danced to traditional music in one of the bars.
One of many pharmacies in Tijuana
Our Mexican hosts took us on a day-trip to the vineyards of Baja California, the so-called Ruta del Vino in Valle de Guadalupe. But first we got to taste a traditional Mexican breakfast in one of the roadside restaurants in Rosarito – tacos with meat, onion, lime and fresh coriander as well as scrambled eggs with cactus leaves. It was a little heavy but it was already late morning and we were very hungry!
A Mexican fry-up breakfast – tacos with meat, onion, lime and coriander
It was interesting to visit some Mexican wineries, it is not very well known that the country does not just produce tequila and light beer, but also wine. Prize-winning wine even – L.A Cetto has won lots of international prizes for their wines (both in France and in Belgium)! We visited the L.A Cetto winery where we got a brief guided tour of the wine-making process, as well as La Casa de Doña Lupe, where we had a nice sip of wine with some tapas on the terrace overlooking the vineyards.
Casa de Doña Lupe vineyard
On our way back to TJ, we stopped in Puerto Nuevo for a big lobster-dinner! Puerto Nuevo is a restaurant-oriented community close to Ensenada, with more than 30 restaurants catering for all the tourists longing for lobster 🙂 As a starter we ordered a bowl of guacamole – it was the biggest serving of guacamole that I have ever seen! The five of us were almost too full for the main course…
Another photo from the Casa de Doña Lupe vineyard, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California
After having spent almost 3 days in Tijuana and Baja California, I have to say that I liked the area and I think that it is well-worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood (i.e visiting California). The food was definitely one of the highlights, as well as the good quality Tequila!
Just be careful where you go in TJ and use common sense… And try to leave the city to see the coast further south, as well as the wine country.
*) A very bizarre tradition, but the story goes that the donkeys were painted black & white to appear clearer on the black & white tourist photos.
**) Mole is a sauce made with cacao and chilies.