Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

02 May 2009

Tijuana and Back Again

We take you now from India (our previous entry) to another wholesome, clean, safe place: Mexico, or more specifically Tijuana, which most seasoned travelers will tell you is about as Mexican as a meal from Taco Bell. (Note: This fast food chain did not pay for this slap in the face. They owe us.) Still, Tijuana has its charms: you can find them on a street corner for two American dollars, but they’re usually broken by the time you reach home. —MB & JS

The United States has so many laws, it’s a wonder anyone can keep track of them all. Someone does, of course. He’s paid by the government and wears a uniform. Still, it’s a good bet that if you’re a US citizen, you don’t follow every single rule to the letter. Which ones irk you the most? The taxes? The drug laws? The drinking age? The speed limits? There are so many oppressive laws to choose from.

Luckily, the US is bordered by two more lenient countries. To circumvent any US law you happen to find inconvenient, take a trip down to Tijuana, just south of San Diego, California. Want to score some drugs (even prescription-free Viagra)? We found them in Tijuana. Want to drink but you’re underage? No one carded us in Tijuana. Want to speed over pockmarked highways until the landscape blurs? Well, we decided to drive past Tijuana because the city streets are crowded with drunk and horny tourists.

On weekends, underage teenagers (and overage slackers like us) escape the confines of the US for the freedom to drink liberally in Tijuana.

Hordes of Americans travel to Tijuana every day, often for legal reasons like sightseeing, art collecting, and practicing high school Spanish. On weekend mornings, whole families cross the border in search of burro rides and cheap gifts for the in-laws. It’s a cultural experience!

A trip to Tijuana requires two passes through US Customs . . . anything less is bad news. Exiting the US is relatively painless. Once we entered Mexico, the pace of life—and traffic—slowed to a crawl. As we inched toward our destination, we saw a sight that made us feel better immediately: the traffic going the other way. It looked more like a camping trip than a highway. Unshaven men ran around, bartering gasoline for food. Toothless old women gummed week-old candy bars. Children finally got to play in traffic. Vines had grown up around the vehicles in the breakdown lane. We think it was bougainvillea. Pretty. Impenetrable.

The sight made us feel better . . . until we remembered that we too had to return that way. To shake the image, we focused on driving, which turned out to be wise, since drivers on this side of the border follow their own rules. Mexican traffic laws aren’t enforced; they’re ridiculed.

Then we arrived. Tijuana! Smell that stench! Of course, Tijuana doesn’t represent real Mexico any more than Hollywood represents the real United States. Mexicans built Tijuana for the tourists, who’ve likely paid for every wooden sidewalk, false-fronted building, and aging burro a few times over by now.

You can find bargains in Tijuana, sure, but if you’re not careful or astute, you can overpay for anything from a two-dollar trinket to a thirty-dollar blanket. We skipped the trinkets, but felt drawn to the blankets. Real wool. Colorful designs. They’re useful, right? We talked one vendor down from thirty dollars each to two for twenty-five. You can do it too. Choose your purchases carefully, don’t drink the water, and always know the location of the nearest baños (toilet).

Tijuana is one of those places that encourage movement, and we’re not talking about dancing, unless you’re a teen with a good buzz-on. No, we were eager to get there to look around, but by noon, after a “gourmet lunch,” we suddenly felt the urge to evacuate. We saw what we came to see and did what we came to do. Also, we feared if we stayed any longer, our chances of getting ripped off would increase exponentially.

While we didn’t need a passport yet (a valid driver’s license sufficed), we did get the fourth degree when we finally reached the border on our way back into the States. Maybe it was the long hair and sunglasses. Maybe it was the car’s bumper stickers. Maybe it was the drug-sniffing dog.

Mark, after a day of drinking, smoking, and God knows what in Tijuana. This is not a person you want to let back in the country.

We were lucky, for once . . . and smart enough to bring back nothing stronger than tequila. You may be questioned, searched, or asked to recite the alphabet, depending on the whim of the Customs Officer. We recommend that you comply. Quickly.

Lessons Learned: If you’ve ignored our warnings and followed us to Tijuana, you probably don’t need our advice. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the border after a trip to Tijuana, you’ll do just about anything to get back to the restrictive, confining, safe, and clean US of A. There’s no place like home.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 5
Communication Breakdown: 4
Customer Dis-service: 4
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 5
Inactivity Guide: 3
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 5
Fun Fraction: 2/5
Vibe-Rating: 1

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: General Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport
Native Population: 1,500,000
Normal Attractions: Shopping and nightlife, which covers a lot of ground, both legal and illegal.
Final Point of Interest: Bullfights are held every other Sunday between May and October. Go for the cheap seats or get close enough to see the shit stains on the matador’s trousers.


duane said...

good words on TJ. cant believe you got TWO blankets for 25!!!! GOOD BATERING MAN. I PAID 15 FOR A LUCHE LIBRE MASK LOL.and i know i got gouged but eh, as you say TJ has its ups n downs and ive found personally you give here and there so you dont get much TAKEN frm you here and there you feel?just recently came back from a day trip this weekend with a friend, and had zero problems, we ate, drank, shopped for certain things and split by one in the afternoon.GREAT place, bad shit going down for the people there tho', and the media im sure had hit their tourism hard.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Thanks, duane, for your comment. You have first-hand experience so you know we're speaking the truth.

For the rest of you reading these words, find the story that speaks to you and leave a note. We want to hear from you, even if you just want to call us good-fer-nuttin, redneck racists. . .

Alberto Gandara said...

If you are WHITE and don't speak Spanish, don't go to Tj, we don't want to see any of you here. If you come for the wrong reasons, don't come at all. We will kidnap you. If you want drugs, we will drug you up till surely you won't want to come back, that's if your lucky enough to get back in the first place. And it's not the civilians you should look out for, it's those soldiers you see and the cops that are passing by. No one else obeys the law there, But you should. And let everyone cut you off. It's better that way. I find this post very offensive, I do not see how degrading a culture is so interesting. If you want some real advice, learn to appreciate the Mexican culture if you want to feel welcome and treated as a guest, make a Mexican friend who knows his way around. I don't know What type of Mexican would consider you as a friend. Notable real Mexican, I'll tell you that. And not one you could trust either.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Dear Alberto,

Lighten the fuck, man. If you have any of our other posts -- and it's obvious you haven't, you would see we revel in being offensive, but we're universally offensive, even to our own. It's what this travel blog is all about.

We would like to commend you on your English, however. Unlike others (we're talking about you, duane), you write well, using full words, correct punctuation, and capitalization, and everything. Your teacher would be proud.

Alexandra Camacho said...

Sounds like the person who wrote this review made the same mistake every white person makes: visit downtown Tijuana. EVERY single city around the globe has its good and bad areas. La Revolucion IS Tijuana's bad area. Try finding out more about the places you're going to visit before you actually visit. I understand that you are "universally offensive", however, I do find it sad that you have the need to be offensive. Also, your use of foul language in a public forum shows your lack of education.
I'm sorry I bumped into this blog.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Dear Alexandra,

Thank you for your insightful comment. We particularly appreciate that you shared a positive experience in Tijuana to contradict our story. Wait, you didn't do that. That's because there isn't one to be had. We chose to write about Downtown Tijuana because that is precisely where all the gringos go. We want to warn them, to get them to go someplace -- anyplace -- else, even if it's the good part of Tijuana, if it exists.

Regarding our use of "offensive language," we write how we feel, and our experience in Tijuana brought that language out of us. Our blog, by the way, is not a public forum. It is our place to complain -- and for other people to complain too, apparently.

We suggest you choose a different story on the site, a description of a place you haven't been and don't feel so strongly about. And this time, look for the humor. It's there, we promise.

Sirusjr said...

As a white guy who went down to Tijuana for the first time this year despite growing up in San Diego, I mostly go down for the local cerveza artesanal. The food is also great if you know where to go but as a beer geek experiencing local cerveza artesanal is where it is at.

It is certainly a bit sketchy in the downtown area right by the border but as you get further away from that touristy area there is more to enjoy. I visited a bar called Baja Craft Beer Tasting Room (known to the locals as BCB) the last time I was down there and got to sample a number of Mexican IPAs and even a solid Belgian Tripel.

I'll be visiting that place again this weekend with a group of craft beer fans from San Diego and we expect to have a great time. Though it helps that I have been studying Spanish so I am not limited to places where someone can serve the Gringos. If you happen to be a beer drinker, I suggest you check out BCB if you ever get down there again.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Dear Sirusjr,

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing a positive experience in Tijuana. Despite our rather contrary tone, we hoped this blog would actually encourage people to travel, if only to prove us wrong. This is exactly what you've done. We can find good in any place we go, but we choose to write about the bad. That doesn't mean the good doesn't exist, even in Tijuana, as Sirusjr has pointed out. So get out there and travel. See the world. The only thing you have to lose is your prejudice.

-Mark & Jason