I almost forgot to tell you. Don't go to Tijuana. It is a complete hellhole. Even Coventry looks picturesque by comparison :-).
I was there a few weeks ago - I only lasted about six hours. The only redeeming features I can think of was that beer was only $1 a bottle and I almost had my photograph taken with a zebra.
Never have I felt more like a tourist in my entire life. At every turn, people tried to sell goods and services to me. Sunglasses, viagra, cigars, beer, burritos, hats, naked girls... the list goes on. I was almost losing the will to live when I was approached by a man with a Polaroid camera with a zebra on a lead. It is the first time this has ever happened to me.
Now let me say, I was tempted, but one look at the slightly mangy zebra was enough to convince me that this kind of practice shouldn't be encouraged.
It would have made a good Facebook profile pic though...
In a bar in Tijuana I met this guy. Let's call him Jose. He told me his story.
His family are all American citizens but he was born across the border in Mexico, where he lived for a year before moving to the US. Jose lived in the US for thirty years. After 9/11, he signed up to the military, where he served for a year. He was preparing to go to Iraq, when he got a different kind of call up... from the immigration office. He was being deported. He'd spent two years in Tijuana rebuilding his life. He now worked in a Mexican bank and seemed to be doing OK, though the standard of living was obviously much lower.
I was liking this guy and was enjoying having a beer with him, when disaster struck. Yes, it turned out he was a crazy conspiracy theorist.
"Phill, I think god made us meet today because he wanted me to give you a message."
*eyebrow arched quizzically* "Yes?"
"The message is that our governments have been lying to us for all these years. We need to overthrow them and take control. We need to take power back for ourselves."
"Do you want another Corona?"
When he offered to take me to a local strip joint, as he could get free entry, I realised that it probably wasn't going to be the place to plan world domination. Taking this as my cue to leave, perhaps shamefully, I ran off whilst he was in the toilet. Sorry Jose! I did pick up the tab though...
The squalor of Tijuana is in start contrast to San Diego, just over the border. The word I would probably most use to describe San Diego is nice. I can see why it is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. The climate is good, great beaches, the city feels friendly and safe. But for me, maybe it was a little too friendly and safe?
Don't get me wrong, I liked it there and had a great time. I met some great people, there are some interesting districts and the beaches at Del Mar and Oceanside are beautiful, especially at night. But it felt, well at least the downtown area did, a little too ordered and sanitised. Plus it didn't seem to have the edge of San Francisco or Los Angeles.
I'd really like to go to Mexico City or Guadalajara to see the real Mexico. But for now, I can't stress this enough... Don't go to Tijuana!