Blood, Drugs & Sangria – How to vacation in a war zone – Part 2 of a 5 part series..
In our previous post, we talked about the dangers of traveling in Baja, Mexico and also about how beautiful the country is and how it should not be overlooked just because of the current media hype. It also happens to be a budget travelers wonderland with a variety of activities to partake in that are all easy on the wallet.
To Read Part 3 click here: Blood, Drugs & Sangria – How to Vacation In A War Zone – Part 3 of a 5 part series.
To Read Part 4 click here: Blood, Drugs & Sangria – How to Vacation In A War Zone – Part 4 of a 5 part series.
To Read Part 5 click here: Blood, Drugs & Sangria – How to Vacation In a War Zone – Part 5 of a 5 part series.
This is the second post in our series of 5 and highlights our first tip for hanging out in one of the busiest & dangerous border cities in the world – Tijuana, Mexico.
We want to encourage you to head south of the border so while our tips may start with a “Don’t”, they are followed up by several “Do’s”. It can be scary to drive or visit any foreign country so we invite you to comment or contact us by email if you have any other specific questions before embarking on your own adventure. We would love the opportunity to answer your questions and give you the confidence you need to begin your journey.
Tip #1 – Don’t look flashy
This may seem obvious yet I still see people looking like they just stepped off the tourist boat wearing their big jewelry, carrying their big cameras around their necks or driving their decked out BMW’s all around Tijuana (TJ). This is just plain dumb so please don‘t be this person. Wear your everyday clothes, keep your jewelry to a minimum and keep the camera in your bag until you need it. Take the crappy car or at the very least let your car get nice and dirty before you head in. The goal is simply to blend in. Remember that Tijuana is a border city. Border cities are generally less safe than other areas and require a little more caution. Many people are far away from their families, living off very little and in desperate situations. Your sweet, little car stereo could go a long way here. Do yourself a favor and leave the big, black SUV’s and fancy rims to the drug lords.
1. Park in well lit areas or in lots with a security guard and tip him/her. This is typical in Mexico and not something you want to skimp on. A simple dollar or two can go a long way.
2. Lock your car up and keep all belongings out of view even if there is a guard – trust no one. This also applies to the lots on the U.S. side of the border. One night we came back to the U.S. from TJ only to find our friends car was stolen from the lot and we’re pretty sure the guard was in on it. The car was never found.
3. Consider picking up a local language newspaper and putting it in the dashboard to look more “local“. A lot of local people cross daily and it isn’t unusual to see California license plates all around the city. Likewise it is very common to see Baja plates here in San Diego. A Spanish language newspaper can make your car even more local looking and less appealing to a thief with a conscience for the people of his/her homeland.
4. Wear comfortable clothes that are mainly generic in style. You don’t want to be too hippy, too goth, too Gucci or too military. You just want to blend in. It’s fine to wear some jewelry, just don’t get too blinged out. Ladies – don’t get slutty. You might want to club hop with your tight tank tops and short skirts and while I don’t recommend it – if you do, be sure to bring clothes to cover up with when the party’s over. The men of Mexico are very amorous and love any reason to approach women. They will assume if you are dressed even remotely revealingly that you want attention and they will be more than happy to provide that for you. It doesn’t matter if you are with other guys. I have had men buy me drinks and start a conversation with me while I was sitting next to and talking with Randy. A waiter even asked me to marry him once when I was eating dinner with Randy. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, I’m definitely not a beauty queen and I don’t get any attention like this at all back home. Typically I wear jeans & flip flops, nothing special. While it’s flattering at first it can get intimidating quickly so don’t go out of your way to encourage it or you will regret it. Tijuana also used to be the serious playground of the under 21 American crowd and it’s reputation as an insane party destination is still strong even if it has dwindled a bit in the past couple of years. As a result,, a lot of American men think normal rules don’t apply in Tijuana. They think because there is a brothel, cheap drinks and strip clubs they can get out of control drunk and stupid with all the ladies in town, this includes the locals girls and you. If you dress revealingly and hang out in bars or clubs, you are guaranteed to be approached (read: harassed) by the locals, the drunken U.S. frat boys or most likely, both. You will have a pretty good chance of having an annoying and possibly dangerous night so do yourself a favor and save the revealing threads for another time. For the men: having long hair will most likely get your bothered by the cops. Randy likes to grow his hair long and then cut it all off. We have noticed a huge difference when we visit and Randy has either long hair or short hair. Every time his hair is long he is harassed by the cops – thrown up against fences, questioned, etc. Mexico is a fairly traditional country and although the younger generation is bucking the trend, being a male tourist with long hair is just another way that you will stand out and will most likely get you the gringo shakedown.
5. Do bring your camera and keep it in a bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag. Any over the shoulder bag that looks generic will work. A small diaper bag is also perfect because it has built in padding and no thief is interested in ripping off a diaper bag. A small over the shoulder, flexible cooler lunch bag will work too. Take photos and have a good time but be smart about it and don’t carry the camera around your neck or wrist while walking around. This also goes for cell phones. Randy has been robbed of 2 cell phones in Tijuana by people who befriended him in the city.
There you have it. The first big tip for traveling in Tijuana. Stay tuned for tip 2 which will fill you in on what to eat and what not to drink.