While some spent February vacation on the slopes or at the “Tourney’s”, I convinced my husband to leave our house in the middle of the winter and visit my brother and his family in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico! (And no our pipes didn’t freeze or the boiler break down as he had feared! In fact, one morning while we were gone, Orono temps were higher than cool & breezy Tijuana!) But, I was excited to see my two year old niece, experience Mexican culture, and learn about my sister-in-law’s new job with the U.S State Department.
Skulls and Zonkeys
Having never traveled to Mexico, and after listening to our President riling people about building Walls and negative talk about immigrants, I was worried about crossing the boarder myself! We flew into San Diego and luckily, my brother has diplomatic licence plates that smoothed the ride. Driving into Mexico was easy. It was after the crossing that things became difficult to navigate; the roads quickly got congested, twisting and turning, filled with pot holes, speed bumps, steep hills and plenty of stray dogs! We visited the “old Main Street”, Avenida Revolucion. This area has a modern archway towering over the entrance and is “cleaned up” from earlier seedy days. There are some clubs, historic hotels, and the old Jai-Alai stadium. But also, there are elegant trendy galleries, like Casa Duhagon and new construction of “boutique” hotels. However, one cannot miss the “Zonkeys”,(bleached donkeys to appear like zebras) on every corner, with crusty somberoed men yelling “pesos for pictures or rides” in their carts. There were shops of brightly painted Terracotta suns, skulls, and other native crafted ceramics, embroidered pillows, smocks and even a Mexican blanket backpack with the N.E. Patriots logo! Can you guess what I bought?
Taco Alley and Dead-end Streets
If you spend more than $40 US dollars at a street vendor’s shop, then you might be invited to throw down a shot of Tequila with the owner, no matter what time of day! Remember, 11:00 AM in TJ is 2:00 PM in Maine, so when in Rome! Speaking of drinking and eating, my brother, Brian took us to the famous “Taco Alley”, not far from his daughter’s Spanish Montessori School. This area is filled with open lunch counters that people pull up stools, sit on the street side of a grill, watch the “cocinero” make the tortillas, and get the most luscious fresh Mexican food imaginable. We ate there four times during our visit! The limes were juicy and tasted scrumptious on salted sliced radishes, cukes and grilled scallions. There’s a reason so many Americans flock across the boarder every day, just to go out to eat, at 20 pesos to 1 US Dollar, the price is right!
One day, my brother decided to take us to an art gallery he’d heard about, but never been to that was supposed to be quite interesting. After winding and bouncing around some questionable streets that were mostly dirt, with barking dogs, broken fences and no signs, I was getting slightly nervous. He parked by a corrugated metal building covered with graffiti, no windows and a rusted industrial steel door set in the wall so that it was dark. He pushed a buzzer and someone answered and let us in…wow, what a surprise! The Gallery has been written up in the L.A. Times. I met Arturo Rodriguez the owner of La Caja Galeria. This hidden gem holds some unique contemporary Mexican Art. I did a Facebook Live from there illustrating how some paintings were animated by an IPad program. Extremely innovative and creative facility! Arturo explained that they have studio space for artists and even teach painting to blind people using other sensory generated effects, such as mist or scented air. Here’s a link to an article in the L.A.Times:
Mexican Politics and Cartoons
Lastly, ever heard of the political cartoonist from Mexico City, called Juanele Tamal? I met him the first day of our vacation, as our hotel was hosting a cartoon/comic book convention. The graphic artists had displays with prints of their drawings and illustrations right outside our door. We were invited to listen to a panel discussion of political cartoonists; David G. Brown from California, Juanele Tamal, a Mexican physicist/cartoonist and Astrid Bear a women’s rights cartoonist. Juanele said, “Government corruption in Mexico, people get used to things [as]…”Normal”.. He quoted “Les Miserables”, Victor Hugo: “Not being heard is no reason for silence.” Here is one of his cartoons:
Security is strict entering the U.S. and leaving Mexico was more eventful than our arrival. Even though my brother had the diplomatic plates and paperwork, we had to drive through an X-ray machine. Much to the chagrin of my hermano! I know he will report this to his wife, my sister-in-law, whose dad grew up in “the County”, Presque Isle, who works diligently interviewing 100 Mexicans per day for US Visas. She is highly intelligent and fluent in Spanish. No one can fool her. Rest assured there is a Maine connection protecting our boarders in Mexico! Still, our experiences were estupendo! The people were muchas friendly, the art was exquiste, the quisine was savory and seeing my sweet niece and family was the best! I will be traveling back to TJ hopefully without having to crawl through a wall! Muchas Gracias!