August 03, 2014

The Streets of Mexico

"I'm asking myself am I really doing this? Is it really the best idea to be going to Mexico with you?"

My friend Abhay was thinking out loud as we drove down the highway from San Diego to the Mexican border 30 miles away. I assured him nothing could possibly go wrong as we passed a large green billboard declaring "No guns allowed in Mexico". Not allowing an American to bear arms is the same as asking a Korean not to carry a smart phone, so a few U.S. citizens are rotting in Mexican prisons after being caught with firearms.

My friend is a cautious fellow so we did not drive into Mexico, opting instead to leave the car at a parking lot near the border crossing. We saw a stream of Mexicans heading our way and walked in the direction they were emanating from. We crossed a footbridge and followed the arrows, zigging and zagging through some pathways and past a couple of armed guards, emerging in what we realized was already Mexico.

There had been no actual border control where our passport or any form of identification was checked. We saw a kilometer long lineup in the other direction of folks trying to make their way back into the promised land. It seemed only the American authorities were interested in checking passports and verifying identities.

A few taxi drivers immediately descended upon us as we entered Mexico, offering to take us to the seedier parts of the region which old white men are apt to visit. We instructed them to drop us off at the Tijuana city center, which was not too far off from the border crossing. We paid $5 for the ride, inclusive of a $4 foreigner premium.

Tijuana was very walkable, with the touristy stretch only lasting a couple of blocks. There were a lot of dental clinics and strip clubs on each street, catering to American visitors who could not afford healthcare or happiness on home soil.

I tried to convince Abhay to have lunch at some of the dirty looking local eateries, but he wanted something clean and preferred returning to one of the tourist restaurants we had passed by earlier. We walked several more blocks until I found an establishment that was both local and clean, satisfying both requirements. I ordered an item that I had never heard of before. It ended up being a large portion of liver.

The World Cup was on and radios blasting live coverage of the soccer match could be heard as we wandered the streets of Mexico. We drifted from one bar to another, as the goalless match between the Netherlands and Costa Rica extended into extra time. The partisan crowd was disappointed as Costa Rica fell to the Dutchmen on penalty kicks. As the match ended, we caught a taxi back to the border crossing knowing full well that it would be a lot harder to get into America than it had been to get out.

As we approached the kilometer long lineup of souls waiting to enter the States, we were approached by a fellow holding a ticket to bypass the queue. Within minutes we were stuffed into a van with a dozen other people, which was something I had imagined would happen at some point during a trip to Mexico. Almost two hours later we made it to the border checkpoint.

I had prepared for a potentially long wait in line by bringing some snacks in my backpack, including some pears. I explained to the American official that my pears were from America. "Once your pears go to Mexico, they Mexican." he stated. The security personnel took my passport and made a note on their system. "Now Interpol will think I am a pear importer." I complained to Abhay. "Not a pear importer..." he responded, "A pear smuggler!"