July 09, 2018

A Warm Welcome Back to Mexico (Bienvenida a México)

I had no plans to return to Tijuana anytime soon. After all, there are so many other places in Mexico I've yet to explore—the Mayan ruins and the tequila distillery where you can sleep in a barrel and get high off the fumes, just for starters.

But I'm an opportunist, and when I see an opportunity that might not come around again, I have to jump on it.

I just have to.

So I found myself heading south to the state of Baja, California once again in July after having just been there twice in January and again in March. One visit always seems to beget another.

This time, I was joining another Turista Libre group tour—but instead of meeting them in San Ysidro at 11 a.m., I asked our tour guide if I could cross the border on my own a bit early for some sightseeing and join up with them on the Mexico side.

He said "No problem"—and, to my horror, that meant I was going to be entering and walking around Tijuana by myself for the first time ever.

Maybe it shouldn't have been a big deal. Millions of people cross back and forth all the time—in cars and on foot. But even though I'd crossed over from PedWest US to El Chaparral twice before, it still felt lika a big deal to do it on my own.

I worried that my phone's international data plan wouldn't work, or that GPS walking directions would fail me, or that I'd become disoriented and turned around and lose all sense of direction. (After all, all of those things have actually happened to me before.)

But after poring over the map and realizing I just needed to walk towards the Tijuana Arch (Arco y Reloj Monumental, a big arch with a clock) and I wouldn't lose my way.

The arch was built "in the heart of Tijuana" in 2001 to welcome visitors from across the border—just like me.

It's located along the Avenida Revolución, the main thoroughfare in Downtown Tijuana for tourism and the only street in Tijuana that some tourists ever see.

I'd never actually been to that part of Tijuana, as my jaunts have been a little more offbeat.

I'd never seen Saint Cecilia watching over the mariachis—for whom she serves as a patron saint— lining up in the morning for a day's worth of performances by the plaza named after her.

There, I found Avenida Argüello, one of the last diagonal streets from the original street plan of Tijuana and named after 19th century Spanish soldier and Mexican land grant owner, Santiago Argüello.

Along with descendents of Agustin Olvera, one of LA's prioneers, Argüello's family members organized the city in 1889.

And it felt a bit like I was walking through LA's own Mexican marketplace, Olvera Street...

...and I suddenly felt a bit more at home.

All in all, I only spent about two and a half hours or so by myself in Tijuana. Over an hour of that was spent protected inside either an air-conditioned museum or an air-conditioned hipster cafe.

I walked maybe a total of two or three miles. And all the while, my phone worked just fine and I felt surprisingly oriented.

But when the tour leader swung by to pick me up with the rest of the group, I was ready to not be alone in Tijuana anymore.

Baby steps.

Related Post:
Crossing the Border (Cruzando la Frontera)

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