A travel journal
to Tijuana by El Gallo
Quote: The most famous "South Of the Border" town can be a hoot...or a tacky nightmare. Here are painless ways to get there, a few places to eat, what to buy, and how to do the place and get the hell out.
Take the San Diego Trolley to the border and either walk across. (About a mile to the downtown, not especially scenic). Or, for , grab the big red 'Mexicoach' and get delivered right to the heart of the beast.
Restaurant | "Chiki Kai"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 24, 2000
Revolución and 8th
La Vuelta has a wider menu, but is essentially a 'carnitas' place. And carnitas is where good little pigs go when they die--sliced thin and grilled, then chopped up on a wood block and served as a mass of pork. Your basic Mexican cowboy chow. With the basic cowboy look that such places have: the heavy wood 'rathskeller' booths just say 'ranchero' real big, and don't buy the local stereotypes--not ALL of those guys in cowboy hats are drug-exporters.
But enough of them are (or owners of 'maquiladora' factories) to make La Vuelta a cut above most carnitas places. For one thing, you can get other goodies like 'codorniz' which is either a quail or game hen--it's hard to tell, but either way you'll be glad nobody cares if you like your fingers in this place. You expect barbecue, and hey, here it is, barbacoa.
The serve all afternoon and until very late at night, but the best time to go there is late evening, when the music is going on. Which, in La Vuelta, means mariachis. Actually, the mariachi tradition is of musicians that wander the floor charging per song to pay at tables. But here at 'The Corner' they have a stage and they get the best mariachis in town, and they solid lay it out. In other words, not the best place for complex conversations. But a great place to get a great meal and have absolutely no doubt that you are in Mexico--in fact, it's not much of a tourist spot. Wear your Stetson and Tony Lamas and they probably pour you a better brand of tequila.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 28, 2000
BUT, if you just have to see the 'pageantry' and 'drama' of the 'sport', the season is from August to November. Schedules are available here. If you're lucky you can see a fight not at the downtown toreo, but the bullring By the Sea in Las Playas, a cool stadium with fantastic view. If you take Mexicoach over the border (which I heartily recommend) you can arrange for transportation directly from the Tijuana terminal to whichever bullring is doing that day. Call 86-1510 (Las Playas_ or 80-1808 (downtown). Enjoy your massacre.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on August 28, 2000
Plaza de Toros
Aside from blankets, cloth bags, and Mexican curios or handcrafts, the best deals are probably in leather and costume jewelry. Small leather bags and luggage can be bought for amazingly low prices. Costume jewelry (called alpaca) is a better deal than silver or gold--you can get very striking pieces for a few dollars.
You will also see fake merchandise, like twenty dollar Rolex watches, phony Sassoon purses, and knock-offs of fashion and trademarks, which can be fun.
Cuban cigars are available, but illegal to take into the U.S. (as are switchblades and fireworks). Liquor and cigarettes are bargains. As far as liquor, stick to Mexican brands like tequila, brandy, and Kahlua. Two lesser known products worth checking out are Rompope, an alcoholic eggnog sometimes called the 'Bailey's of Mexico'; Tequila Almendrada, an almond flavored tequila that is very sweet and smooth; Damiana, a liquor made from a Baja herb that is reported to have aphrodisiac properties; and Cana, a sugar cane 'Everclear' for mixing, 99% alcohol and extremely cheap (also treacherously potent--easy does it, even for experienced tipplers). Liquor is much cheaper in supermarkets than in liquor stores--the Commercial Mexicana in Plaza Rio or on Revolucion, for instance. Importation limit is one liter per adult per visit.
'American' cigarettes like Winston and Raleigh are locally made and will not taste the same, but should run about 80 cents a pack, a third of the U.S. cost. For those who smoke unfiltered, Mexican cigarettes like Alas or Faros are a good buy--cheaper and better tobacco than the pseudo-Camels and Bensons. One carton per adult per visit.
Tijuana has lots of drugstores (or Farmacias) that not only sell prescription drugs and medicines cheaper than in the U.S., but also pills that are legal in Mexico but illegal in the U.S (and can be confiscated at the border). As well as aphrodisiacs, sexual balms, herbal cures, cancer panaceas, youth serums, and other definitely non-FDA chemicals of varying worth and price. Some such tonics can contain steroids, for instance, (legal in Mexico and often smuggled by weightlifters) which can feel good in the short-term but cause trouble in the long run. Caveat emptor. The differing laws, drug names, and prescription requirements can be very complex, but worth looking into for people with high medical expenses or special needs.
Tijuana throbs with sex, most of it synthetic. As soon as it gets dark the midway atmosphere of Revolucion turns into a ghetto of discos, sex bars, and table dance joints. Forget the discos unless you are interested in American girls between 18-21 who came there to get drunk. The Revu strip is the most like the U.S., and the most expensive. Most veteran TJ hoppers avoid it. On the other hand, if you have the money and want to be in a fairly safe, familiar environment, it's a way to go.
The table dancing is a fairly new thing in Tijuana and features some very pretty girls (many Americans who come over to work). Most are upstairs, but there are plenty of barkers to show you in. You don't HAVE to sit where they tell you to, by the way. Sit where you're comfortable. If you go to topless bars back in Iowa and wish you could touch the girls, you'll be in heaven. These girls will dance on your lap and stick their nipples in your mouth. And charge you maybe $20 US per song. Drinks cost an arm and a leg by Mexico standards, but not so bad compared to U.S. bars--especially topless bars.
Up around 6th there are some of the old fashioned clubs, like Bambi and San Soucci. These are more like the Mexican idea of paying for it. There are dancers on a stage, but a lot more girls wandering around just absolutely happy to sit with you and be infatuated with you as long as you buy them 'drinks'. For around $50 you can take them somewhere (taxi expenses, hotel expenses, risk) to get nasty. Fellatio under the table is not unheard of. Women who turn out to be men under the G-string are not unheard of. Even teen-aged sailors learn to avoid these places. Don't EVEN go down into the below-the-street joints--it just isn't worth climbing back up the stairs.
THE RED ZONE
The 'Cuahuila' is Tijuana's sex mall, where the real thing happens. It starts on First Avenue as you head west off Revolucion. If you've ever seen 'Tijana whorehouse' scenes in a movie (like La Bamba, for instance) this is where it was--an arcade full of bars with girls hanging out looking hopeful on the sidewalks outside. These places are not really recommended--dirty, low-class, understaffed. One exception is Club El Fracaso (roughly: Club Fuckup), which is a lot of fun. It's a squalid little hotbox, too, but the thing is, it's mostly for dancing. Not all of these girls even leave with customers, they dance with you for a dollar a dance romance. Learn how to do the forbidden Quebradita with a sultry senorita! And if you just HAVE to spoil a lovely evening, you can generally do it for like $30, hotel across the street is cheap, no risk.
(Which reminds me: generally girls take you to hotsheet hotels and generally the hotel provides them with condoms. The government cares about the spread of AIDS--should you do less?).
But best is to continue down to Constitucion and turn north (downhill). Ahead of you is the beginning of The Cuahuila. Let me say this...it used to be very safe place, but lately there have been robberies and muggings and such unpleasantness there. A group of men is okay, but a vulnerable-looking (old, weak, naive) foreigner could have problems. Stay in the lights, walk in the street, keep an eye out. Don't flash money. Don't let anybody 'guide' you. (These places open early, so they can be visited in the afternoons, by the way, much safer if you are alone and vulnerable). They really rock on Friday thru Sunday night, hitting their stride starting about 10 PM.
Down Consitucion you will see girls on the sidewalk. The street girls are a lot cheaper (don't pay more than $20 US, bargain--under $10 is normal). You will come to an alley lined with bars. This is not a deadly alley or anything and the clubs range from dull places where Mexican guys drink to taxi-dance places like Monaco to red hot places with very attractive girls, like Hong Kong. The sidewalk is thick with girls, who might even grab you to try to have you have your way with them. My advice, walk around, check things out, have a beer or two, listen to some music, make a choice when you are comfortable. At the end of the alley (corner of Ninos Heroes) you probably should double back to Consictucion.
Although, the bars across Ninos are all gay bars. I know nothing about them but that. If that interests you, check them out, but be very careful--they are reportedly more dangerous than the straight places.
The next street over (past the alley) is Cuahuila, the real meat of the Red Light Zone. Bars on both sides feature hundreds of girls from grotesque to movie actress quality in appearance. There is a degree of specialization. 'Chicago' has always featured oriental girls, or Mexicanas who look oriental--they attract a lot of asian-american men. Probably the best-looking women, certainly the most women, and the highest priced women are at 'Adelitas'. This place is totally secure, and the hotel is right upstairs. You can relax here. Well, if you can relax in the presence of about a hundred extremely sculptural and gorgeous young women wearing mostly spandex and mascara. You can dance here, too, but the girls are usually interested in the dance just being a chance to sell you on a trip upstairs (makes you realize what women go through). Roam around and check it out, there are more women here than you could experience in a lifetime and none of them are going to tell you no. Guys stand outside on the sidewalk to watch the ladies go upstairs. When they come back down, they are available for hire.
DON'T walk back to the border from here unless you are in a large group of guys. Taxis are $5 US and you are never as vulnerable as after drinking and whoring. If you have doubts about coming or going, hang around and wait until you see other men and ask to walk with them. This is understood as practical, not a come-on by San Diegans who frequent the area. Hanging around with a bunch of sailors or frat boys may not be intellectually stimulating, but it's a safe way to get in and out of the area. Once in a club, you're okay.
If you have a hotel in Tijuana that permits 'guests', you can get girls to come with you in a taxi, but not all girls will do it. None of the street girls will even consider it. Out of Mexico Lindo or Adelitas it works--the bouncers and selected cabbies have everything wired and the girls are confident that they will be taken and returned.
If you wonder about safety or going rates, again, hang loose and you will see American men who appear at ease in the area. Ask them what's up, join them in a drink or walk along with them. Most San Diego whore-hoppers are proud to share their hipness to the area. If you don't speak Spanish, expect paid sex to be more than just a few minutes of boredom, or are nervous about the whole thing, avoid the girls on the street, no matter how fetching, cheap or insistent. You're better off paying more for veteran pros (who belong to the Whore's Union--no joke, it's called Las Magdalenas) who are used to dealing with foreigners and work out of the cooler clubs and hotels.
Use your head, use your condom, don't carry drinks on the street, don't start arguments or fights--you will lose.
You could take a taxi straight here from the border. Say 'La CWAH HWEE LA' of just 'Adelitas'.
Of course there are fireworks that would give Saddam Hussein second thoughts, and switchblades and Cuban cigars, and over-the-counter codeine and all that--but sooner or later you have to cross the border. Best stick to legal goods that are a good buy. Leather, embroidery, Mexican liquors, handicrafts, cutlery, woven goods are all good bets.
EVERYBODY is selling leather. Prices vary--and you have to haggle for anything. Just walk away and hear the price coming down as you recede. But it's a good buy anywhere. A nice leather bag that might cost $90 in the states can be had for $25, okay $20, for you $16, today only $12, how much do you want to pay? And some of the stuff just can't compare to anything available north of the border. Like leather Tweety Bird baseball hats. Sleek leather jackets with the logo of your favorite team stitched on in leather go for under $200. Examine closely, drive a hard bargain. Remember that all your friends are expecting you to bring them some trinkets from Mexico.
On the West side of Revolucion by Sanborns is Hand Art--THE place to buy embroidery. They have gorgeous blouses, unbearably cute little dresses, sumptuous tablecloths--all hand embroideried at prices that are ridiculously cheap by US standards. English spoken, too. Don't worry about little girls going blind from their needlework--purchase of labor-intensive crafts helps support village people (no, not THOSE VIllage People) who need the money.
Handcrafts can get out of hand. You can steal a stained glass window, a wrought iron bedframe, a life-sized paper-mache giraffe, a basket big enough for Alladin to hide in--but how do you get it home? The better shops take care of that for you, of course. And the better shops are tucked in among the 'junko loco' places on Revu. You'll know when you walk by and look through the window and see a bunch of incredibly beautiful furniture or decorations. HIGHLY recommended is the big circus tent-looking place right by the Jai Alai palace at 7th. Good prices and here you can actually see some work being done. Huichol indians in their native dress (colorful pajamas and hats with dingle-balls) doing their beadwork, maybe a weaver doing a blanket or wall-hanging (your name woven in for a price). Other than that, it's a scavenger hunt.
Tequila and Kahlua are cheaper here, but so are most LOCAL brands of rum and brandy. But remember, only one liter per adult when you hit customs. And only one carton of the cigarettes, which cost about a quarter of the US price. For something different, try Rompope, an eggnog liquor and fairly cheap. Cheap drunks try a bottle of 'Cana', sugar-cane based everclear that is like 98% alcohol and costs about $2 a liter.
Blankets are everywhere, of course, and you can't beleive anything anybody says about them. Search out nicer wool blankets in places you can walk into, they'll still be cheap. Everyone has rows of gleaming knives, but look past the barbarian killing empliments and you'll see good prices on useful sports, kitchen, and pocket knives.
Also check out duty-free bargains on everything from Lalique crystal to european perfume in the big import shops--'Sara's' is the big one, but there are several along the drag.
And if you find yourself going home with some money left, don't panic. There will be hawking bizarro wares right up to the border crossing.
Monkey Junction, Afghanistan