Destination: Tijuana

A Sort of Happy Ending

David Farley was 15 when his older brother took him to a strip club in Mexico to make him a man

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Video: Luis Alberto Urrea on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Luis Alberto Urrea has written a number of great books—fiction and non-fiction such as “The Devil’s Highway”—about the U.S.-Mexico border and life in the two countries. He appeared on Moyers & Company recently, where he discussed migrant deaths, book-banning in Tucson, growing up in Tijuana and a San Diego suburb, and a range of related topics. Great stuff. Here’s the hour-long show:

Mexican Border ‘at its Ugliest Right Now’

That’s the assessment of Mark Lacey in the New York Times. He appears to have visited Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez for his report.

[A]s I cross back and forth at some of the border’s most troubled points, I find that even a journalist faces scrutiny going both ways. American authorities grilling those entering the United States wonder just what an American could possibly be doing south of the border in this climate. And entering Mexico elicits surprise as well from the American inspectors who now regularly stop southbound cars, looking for gun traffickers and money launderers.

“You sure you want to go down there?” one of them said to me recently.

As I noted a few months ago, Tijuana’s Revolution Avenue, once hopping with American visitors, looks more like a tourist ghost town these days.

What Does a Travel Warning Look Like in Tijuana?

Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana. (Photo by Jim Benning)

Something like this, snapped with my camera phone over the weekend.

I went there for lunch and took a stroll down Revolution Avenue, the main tourist thoroughfare lined with bars and curio shops. A few years ago, the street would have been hopping with gringos out for an afternoon of margarita drinking, taco downing and sombrero buying. Not these days, and especially after the latest travel warning issued earlier this month.

A number of shops and restaurants were closed. The sidewalks, at least on some blocks, were nearly empty.

I’ve been going down to Tijuana for years. The drug-related violence has been taking a toll on the tourism business for a long time. But this was, by far, the emptiest I’d ever seen Revolution Avenue. Strangest of all, I didn’t see another gringo on the street during my visit. I was less than a mile from the U.S. border but in some ways felt as though I could have been in central Mexico.

One shopkeeper told me he sees more European visitors than American these days. (Now that I think about it, I saw more German travelers than American when I visited the southern Mexican state of Chiapas several years ago.)

Revolution Avenue wasn’t entirely empty. There were people out having drinks and lunch in bars and restaurants, and some of them appeared to be having a good time. They just weren’t white Americans.

This street designed to appeal to gringos is now, it appears, catering almost exclusively to Mexicans.

Bill Maher on Mexico: ‘Closed Until Further Notice’

Bill Maher’s “new rule” about Mexico cracked me up—even if I don’t believe travelers should avoid all of Mexico.

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Tijuana Embraces its Touristy ‘Zonkeys’

Tijuana Embraces its Touristy ‘Zonkeys’ Photo: Roebot via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: Roebot via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Behold the zonkey. This poor donkey and others like it, painted with stripes to resemble zebras, have been a kitschy mainstay on Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución for years. Before drug-related crime frightened most tourists away—visits from the U.S. have dropped off 80 percent since 2001—many would pay a few bucks to don sombreros and pose for photos with the animals. It’s a ridiculous tradition that somehow endures.

And now, a new Tijuana basketball team playing in a regional Mexican league has embraced the painted zebras, calling themselves the Tijuana Zonkeys. They have striped jerseys and, yes, even cheering “Zonkeys girls.”

The team’s president told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “It’s a crazy, cartoonish figure, and in a way, that’s what the city’s all about. It’s a crazy, cartoonish city where everything is possible.”

He’s right about that.

Go Zonkeys.

Finally Some Good News on Travel in Mexico

Finally Some Good News on Travel in Mexico iStockPhoto

Drug cartels. Murders. The news is often bad out of Mexico. Peter Ferry journeys beyond the headlines.

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Morning Links: Americans Behaving Badly, Disappointing Attractions and More

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Morning Links: Buffalo-Wing Boycott, Nashville’s English-Only Measure and More

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Rick Steves, It’s Time For a Tijuana-Off!

lucha libre Mexican wrestler Tijuana Photo by Jim Benning

The travel guru recently suggested that the Mexican border city is a hellhole. Tijuana-defender Jim Benning invites him to go mano a mano, travel writer-style, south of the border.

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Smackdown in Tijuana

Smackdown in Tijuana Photo by Jim Benning.

The teeming border city has a bad reputation. But in a rickety arena on a Friday night, Jim Benning discovers the forces of good still have a chance against the forces of evil, at least in swan-diving, chair-slamming lucha libre Mexican wrestling.

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Border Stories

San Diego native Jeff Spurrier has visited Tijuana's tourist circus countless times. Now he's on a Reality Tour and the sites beyond Avenida Revolucion are sobering.

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