Tijuana, our home for a while

Martha amiga de Todos

Colorful Tijuana

Tijuana, our home for a while

Missed the last entry? Here it comes: On the way to Mexico: Cycling southern California

Blog auf deutsch: (Fürs erste) zu Hause in Tijuana

Tijuana is a special place. There is lots to see and do: arts, concerts, the beach walk, the museums, the famous Baja Med cuisine and the nightlife are only a few examples. Despite all these attractions, Tijuana still holds a rather negative image.

Pasaje Rodriguez

Pasaje Rodriguez in the city center

Hollywood had a lot to do with the creation of this image, and so did the news. Who wants to hear about parks, exhibitions, concerts, arts, tacos and craft beer, when you can report about mafia, drugs and party?

Back in the 90s Tijuana had a bad problem with several mafia groups, but that’s history now. Nevertheless, recreating a good image is a difficult task.

Tijuana's city center

Tijuana’s city center

Back in the USA we had been asked on a daily basis “Where are you headed?” The answer “Tijuana” was not what most people expected. Why go south into the “dangerous” “foreign” and “different”, when you can go to New Mexico, Texas or Arizona? People are often afraid of the unknown, so we were usually told to take very good care of ourselves down there.

Left Mexico, right USA. This is the border at Playas de Tijuana

Mexico on the left and the USA on the right

Surprisingly most of the people who gave us this well-intentioned advice had never been south of the border themselves.

The situation rings a bell. Back in 2012 when we found ourselves on the border to Iran, we had several discussions with people who had never been there, but thought they knew that it was dangerous nevertheless. They talked about war, weapons and evil people. There hasn’t been a war in Iran for quite some years now, there was no official travel warning and people were absolutely kind, polite and hospitable. I would go again without a moment of hesitation. And the same counts for Tijuana.

Plaza Santa Cecilia

Plaza Santa Cecilia, where you can hear the Mariachis play

It is illegal to buy or use a weapon unless you’re in the police or military force. Even the border patrol go unarmed. The mafia bosses who smuggled their guns into the country, don’t intend to kill foreign tourists, but fight other mafia bosses.

Playas de Tijuana

Playas de Tijuana

The city center is packed with police men and police women (many of them on bikes) and there are emergency buttons on most crossroads that connect straight with the police. There’s a phone number for any kind of tourist advice, doubts and questions and I’ve not once felt unsafe. Of course it can happen that tourists are robbed or kidnapped, but I don’t see the chances any higher than in other big cities. We’ve gone following our guts so far and Tijuana has got a good vibe.

Bienvenidos a Tijuana

Tourism Information booth in the Avenida Revolución

By myself, in a group, during the day, at nighttime, I’ve always felt safe in Tijuana.

It hasn’t happened often that I was all by myself though. Roberto has got a very big family and a small fraction of them live in Tijuana. That’s still enough aunties, cousins, family-friends who count as family, and great-uncles to fill half a football stadium. And now guess what we did throughout the first weeks – we visited them all.

Annika the Mexican

Mexican at heart

Every single one of them wanted to provide us with a delicious Mexican dish – imagine that party in our mouths! At night we often went out for a beer with Roberto’s friends. There is a huge amount of bars and clubs and we enjoyed some yummy local artisanal beers. It was a miracle that we didn’t gain ten kilos each.

Leckere Fisch Tacos!

Fish Tacos!

It was about two weeks into our new lifestyle when I began to miss the nature, the wind in my hair and the constant movement. Most of our time was spent in front of the computer screens, inside a car or at a dinner table. But the city parks were few and far, so I joined Roberto’s mother Katyna for “Runtastik” (dance and aerobics on a treadmill). Still not outdoors but it’s a good start. Roberto joined a crossfit gym and we decided to go out for nature trips once a week at least. It was hard to go more often, because Tijuana is a big chaos of busy roads and it takes forever to leave the city.

Parque Morelos en Tijuana

At the Parque Morelos there is lots and lots to see

I had been spoiled by California’s parks, green areas, public BBQ areas, lakes, rivers and hiking trails, but Tijuana’s culture had a lot to do with indoor activities like cinema, shopping, going out for lunch or dinner and drinking beer in a pub. Of course there is an active hiking community too and there are several big bicycle groups, but you do have to search them first, it’s not like there’s signals all over town pointing to the Cero Colorado hiking trailhead or bike maps being sold.

Football beer and friends

Roberto enjoyed his Sunday of football, beer and friends

With the time we got deeper into the hiking and biking community and we found out that there were several hikes and rides offered every weekend. But by now the difficulty was finding time for these kind of activities.

Being indoors was hard for me as a German who grew up in a place where sunshine wasn’t something to take for granted. I have always been told to make use of every ray of sun – you never know if it won’t rain for the next week. But Tijuana has plenty of sunshine, so while I felt like spending day and night in flip-flops and shorts on the beach, the Tijuanenses rather hid under an umbrella or inside an air-conditioned building. Many local friends dreamed of snowy mountains, foggy forests, mulled wine and a white Christmas while I felt like drinking cold beer at the beach.

Estadio Caliente Casa de los XOLOS

Where the Xolos play

The bikes mostly remained on the veranda, accumulating dust. From our home it was nearly 15 kilometers and 300 meters of altitude to get to the city center. Another reason for the dusty bikes were the hilly roads, the speed bumps, and the shoulders that converted into extra lanes once the traffic got bad. It wasn’t easy to bike and even though we were stuck in traffic a lot, it was still much slower than moving in a car.

Up! Graffitti en la Avenida Fundeadores

Carl from “Up!” in Avenida Fundeadores

But then again, who am I fooling here? We could have also tried to set our meetings closer to each other in space and further from each other in time. Then we could have moved by bike. But to be honest, being able to use a car, we were simply too lazy and too busy.

Empathy am Strand von Tijuana

Empathy in Playas de Tijuana, where the fence separates the US-side of the beach from the Mexican side.

Roberto was busy selling advertising space in our new guide books: A bike travel guide for Mexicans (to be released late May) and a Tijuana by bicycle 101 guide in English, to welcome bicycle tourists to our city (to be released soon). He spent most time between meetings, phone calls and emails, while I prepared lessons for my new job as a German language and culture teacher. In between we prepared and held presentations at more than twenty private and public schools, universities, in an arts school, a cooking school, a bar and an adult education center.

"El Reloj" (Die Uhr) ist das Wahrzeichen des Stadtzentrums.

“El Reloj” (the clock) is the city center’s landmark. Sometimes the screen shows a clock and sometimes it shows ads.

Instead of changing these places, we decided to offer the presentations free of charge and rather find local businesses that want to support our presentations and workshops. This way we were able to reach a greater amount of public schools and motivate the kids to spend their weekends rather in the nature than trying to make the quick big money for fancy cars or to impress their peers. Long story short: we weren’t bored even once.

Besuch aus Deutschland

Visitors from Germany and from the North Pole

In December we stopped work for a while. We had family and friends visiting from Germany and finally spent the days like tourists with them. Together we walked along the beach boardwalk, ate fish tacos, visited the zoo, shopped for souvenirs in the city center, and visited the cultural and historical museum. We spent Christmas with Roberto’s father’s side of the family in the desert town of Mexicali, where we enjoyed enough sun to have a Christmas-BBQ.

Familia Ricci Rosas

Fraction of our 50-people New Year’s party.

Ricci Rosas reunión 2015/2016

We even got matching caps!

For New Year’s we all flew down to see his mother’s side of the family in Chiapas, Mexico. As I’ve mentioned earlier: in Mexico, the great-aunt’s second cousin’s wife is your family and somebody you’ll call for their birthday and you’ll visit whenever you get near their town. In Chiapas it was only Katyna’s siblings and their families, what led us to a total of nearly 50 people. For Roberto it was great to finally meet some of his cousin’s kids (called nieces and nephews just to keep it simple) whom he had only seen pictures of on facebook.

Wasserfälle von Agua Azul

Back in Tijuana I missed the warm and humid climate of the South.

We spent a great week in sunny Chiapas before my family went for a vacation in Cancun and we returned to Tijuana. While we were gone, Tijuana had suffered from severe rain and sold and parts of the city were under water. I fell right into a small winter depression, but fortunately we were far too busy to think about just watching movies and eating cake all too much.

Cyclist Jin from Korea

It was great to see Jin from Korea again. We had cycled with him back in Canada and the USA

One of our main goals was now to prepare another event: our wedding! Yes after all those years of 24/7 togetherness we were finally officially engaged and eventually decided to change all plans and get married in Tijuana. When, why, how and where? We’ll get into that at the next blog entry!

 

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