A subtitle would read; ‘You can buy anything at the Border’
Getting into Mexico is simple, stay on US Interstate 5 past San Diego and Camp Pendleton military base, drive toward the large concrete wall with international border written on it, follow the lane markings and drive slowly by as a camouflage wearing 16 year old armed with a fully automatic rifle waves you through. Then don’t stop until you are south of Tijuana. In stark contrast to the luxurious apartment complexes on the US side of the border, Tijuana is in every sense third world. The sheer impact of driving through a gate and immediately and forcefully being met with such living conditions is unsettling. Roads climb steep cliff faces that crumble and fall down on the shoulders, shanty houses constructed out of any available material jostle for position nearby and look no more stable than the road, homeless, disabled and orphans walk the road seeking donations from the influx of Californian licensed vehicles. Amidst a squall of shanties, a high rise tower emerges, encased with large steel fences to hold its ground against the flow of unregulated buildings. Behind which are several more apartment complexes in a state of semi complete construction, apparently come to a halt for unknown reasons.
Continuing south along the highway towards Rosarito, the coastline opens up to a spectacular view of Baja California beaches. The major tourist artery into Mexico is lined with no pedestrian access signs, heedless of the danger of walking on a narrow road with cars traveling up to 65mph, parents lead their children along the road towards the secluded beaches. Approaching Rosarito, the road works it’s way inland to enter the city, first cutting through slums, then quality hotels and apartment complexes most likely owned by United States conglomerates. The closer to the city, the more varied the type of vehicles using the road becomes, it seems that the only rule of the road in Mexico is to carry enough cash to bribe an official if they decide to pull you over. Trucks with several children and dogs piled into the tray are common sight, ATVs, lawn mowers, buggies are all present with as much place on the road as the Californian sports cars. Halto (stop) signs are on EVERY intersection, however they are paid very little attention as a more effective way to get where you are going is to push your way through. One pleasant element of the Mexican road system is that there are very few car horns, the road as an almost organic pulse that sees everyone to their destination.
Once out of the car, the locals and good smells will lead to authentic Mexican restaurants, however, ordering a meal in Spanish is risky as it is uncertain if you will receive chicken or sheep brains in your quesadilla. Another item of sage advice is to check the salsa that looks like guacamole before ladling it generously onto your lunch, often the nastiest red or orange salsa pales in comparison to the innocent seeming green gauc sent by Satan to destroy your soul #justinbennetts. Aside from many fantastic restaurants, the streets of Rosarito are lined with makeshift stalls and markets that twist and turn through one hundred alleys full of quote; ‘useless Mexican junk that you don’t need’ unknown Mexican street peddler selling ornamental fans. In the markets you can purchase ‘Cuban’ cigars, stone chess sets, ponchos, knives, anything that can be made out leather and a myriad of other trinkets to declare at the US border immigration on the way home. Venturing off the main street towards the beach, Rosarito offers a vast selection of sandy bars and eateries. Sitting by the water while sipping cheap drinks and watching crazy beach shenanigans is a great way to spend an afternoon; groups of people ride hired quad bikes through the throng of beach goers, children approach to sell more trinkets and looks very sad when declined, venders cut up coconuts and make amazing fruit salads, fires are started right on the sand by those setting up tents for the night and 8 piece mariachi bands compete for noise supremacy just 200 feet from one another. One could easily spend many hours with fine company in these fun loving areas.
After spending a day at the beach taking in the sights, the time comes to make the long trek back home. Going into the United States is not as easy as going into Mexico; the crossing into Mexico takes approximately 5 minutes, however the calculated time differential to make it across the US border is 2 hours 55 minutes. Heading north out of Tijuana everything appears to be normal, traffic is moving at a speed conducive of a large city until you hit the freeway entrance and immediately come to a grinding halt. 10 miles is all that stands between this location and the gloriously lit ‘Welcome to the USA’ sign on the southern most point of California – 10 miles that will take 3 hours to drive. 10 miles of no restrooms, hot driving conditions and the largest drive through flea market known to man. For 10 miles Mexico locals walk up and down the narrow two lane highway hawking their wares; every useless item imaginable can be procured by a shout or a wave in the right direction, caution is advised however as placing a hand out a window will quickly result in several Mexicans hustling to your window to convince you their useless item is better than the one you were originally calling for. Food can be ordered from one of the many carts that somehow squeeze between the staccato flow of traffic; churos, nachos, tacos or anything else ending in ‘os’ in varying degrees of freshness are stored in the belly of these carts. Most upsettingly, puppies are paraded for all to see and will be thrust into your window should you roll it down far enough, to the credit of the puppy peddlers, they appear to be in good health, but who knows what US customs officials would have to say about a Mexican immigrant puppy trying to enter their country.
Bedraggle and bewildered from our experience on the Mexico – US border we finally arrived at the front of the que, presented our papers and with a smile were promptly let back into the United States after a truly amazing an eye opening experience in Mexico.