My work with Vincent, the French guy from youmakemytrip.com, is not what Tijuana Adventure is about. When I hosted Vincent I was hoping his challenge would be to party all night in Tijuana, but the voting decided for the border, so I investigated with him. We went through places in TJ I’ve never been before, scary places, yet we never felt any threat. The material we got is amazing, the editing by Vincent is also very well done, and the result was one of his best completed challenges in all his journey. When we were done filming, we did a lot of partying, but we did not record that much…
Vincent left to San Diego after spending a week in TJ. But he liked TJ so much, that after a couple days in SD he decided to cross the border south once more, extend his trip for another 2 weeks and finish the editing in Tijuana. Today he embarks into the USA for a complete different adventure there, though I know he doesn’t really want to leave TJ.
Here’s the video documentary by YMMT. Visit his site for more at www.youmakemytrip.com
And now…. if you want to just read more and more of our adventures. I wrote a really long article that I was hoping to get published somewhere, but unfortunately I got turned down. To not let my efforts go to waste, here it is for whoever wants to read from my perspective what me and Vincent did in his week here:
Exploring the Deep Jungles of Tijuana with a Frenchman
Vincent Romain is a 28 year old roller-skater world traveler from Lyon, France. He is the co-founder of the videoblog Youmakemytrip (YMMT:www.youmakemytrip.com). He travels the world with the task of completing a challenge in each city. Vincent proposed four challenges for his viewers to vote for in Tijuana—a culinary tour, to investigate the heavy drug use, to discover how wild the party can get or to understand the migration issue that has thousands of families separated. It was a close voting battle between the never party scene and the migration issue, but at the end investigating the border won by just six votes. Interested in his work and the challenge, I offered my help and a couch for him to sleep on. I crossed the bridges that go over the river everyday, however, I’ve always been terrified of going under them. I had no idea how I was going to guide a French visitor to places I was scared off, that even when crossing over the bridge I pick up my pace.
I met Vincent outside my apartment in Tijuana on Sunday night of labor day weekend. He arrived the day before from Mexico City, but stayed with some girls that spoke French for his first night in the border city. After he settled in my living room, we went out for some beers in Zona Norte, the tolerance zone in Tijuana where anything can happen. We entered the trendy “Zacazonapan Bar” where we drank a couple of beers and some strange drunkard came up to us aggressively claiming that we were Arabs looking for a fight. I calmed down the stranger, spoke to him in Spanish and got rid of him. We exited Zacaz bar and walked around the area where all the girls are looking for work. Vincent wanted to film in the area, but I advised against it, though not illegal, it is however highly discouraged. We went to the famous Adelita Bar instead, where it was packed with Americans enjoying Labor Day weekend surrounded by topless women, we had one beer and left.
As soon as we left, I bumped into my friend Ramon, who is more familiar with the cheapest, grossest, most disturbing hole in the wall bars you’ll ever find in the area and we ventured there. The first place he took us had dirty red curtains in the entrance and you could smell the stench before even going in. Inside we found a classic cantina perfect for a horror movie. The walls, floor, tables, bar and virtually everything inside was filthy and smelling of urine, including the few patrons in there. We sat at a table behind an old couple of street vendors and next to an old lady dancing by herself holding a big bottle beer that was spilling all over the floor, everyone seemed to be intoxicated by more than just alcohol. Indeed, the bar works as a drug-user meet up and hang out and the price of the beer is the same as in a convenient store. We ordered one big beer and shared it between the three of us. The old lady dancing and spilling beer came over and placed her hand on my knee that was exposed through my rip jeans. I smiled apologetically and said no thank you. An older man came over and started dancing with her, we finished our beers and left.
Then we went to a bar that was in the same block, the stench of the place bothered me and I did not want to make it pass the entrance. However, Vincent had a previous accident that made his nose unable to smell properly and he did not notice. I felt uncomfortable as we entered the place, several people were staring at us, Ramon said not to worry, but I opted to go some place else. We went next door, to another heroin and other drugs hang out that had no ventilation but with a bearable stench. Again we split a beer that was priced the same as in a convenient store. After that, we went to the bridge that overlooks the river and the border where Vincent filmed the silent yet heavily active night of El Bordo.
The following day we went near city hall (Palacio) to the offices of International Human Rights, where they help deported people, to ask if we could get some guidance. We knocked on the door but got no response so we decided to venture by ourselves. We went down the bridge near Plaza Rio and down a ramp into the river area. I’ve crossed over the bridges countless times, but never have gone down. As soon as we were down, we saw people injecting heroin into their arms. We simply walked by them under each bridge as we headed to the main deportee camp, the deep jungle. On our way we saw the daily activity of El Bordo as we walked under the heavy sun. The area was littered with needles, used condoms, plastic spoons, broken lighters and even human fecal matter. Many deportees and junkies live under the bridges and use them as their main bathroom, the stench was horrid, but not overpowering.
Before we got to the deep jungle, we met two deportees that asked us for cigarettes. It was the perfect opportunity to get our first interview, so we asked them if they were willing to let us film them, they agreed they’ll do it for 50 pesos ($4). Ricardo was a light-skinned short man covered in tattoos with a heavy mustache on his face. He had spent 8 years in federal prison in California until he got deported a few weeks ago. His whole family, wife and children, still live in the USA legally, however he will not be seeing them anytime soon as he has no plans of going back. Guillermo was darker fellow, with a dirtier mustache and decaying teeth, though both spoke perfect English, Guillermo made little sense when he spoke. When we asked about drug use, Ricardo said he likes to be clear of mind, only consumes beer, Guillermo on the other hand, stayed quiet.
They advised us to not go any further from the bridge we were about to cross, much less with all the equipment we were carrying. Vincent filmed the surroundings when suddenly we realized there was a camp right above us, hidden between the bridge and the river. We decided to take their advice and turn around, were we caught up with Guillermo and Ricardo. They were headed to the hospital near the bridge we came down from, we joined them on the walk. The hospital gives free meals to the less fortunate everyday at 4:30 and they were going to hang out under the bridge until the time came. Guillermo wanted more money and cigarettes and promised to show us around, but we didn’t feel he was trustworthy, so we parted ways and called it a day.
Early on the next day we went to Playas de Tijuana after reading an article (in the San Diego Reader) that deportees were kicked out of El Bordo and moving to the beach. We could not find any deportees during the hot day, so instead we went for a swim and relaxed on the beach. As the sun was setting and the climate cooling down, deported people gathered by the border looking over the fence into their home that they miss. We interviewed an American Army veteran named Mario that got deported because of mistakes by himself, his lawyers and the American government. Mario told us he migrated to the USA when he was only 6 months old and he calls Southern California his home. His whole family still lives in the USA legally but he cannot get the papers to cross anymore. He misses his kids, his wife, his eight siblings and yearns for the day he can go back home. Honorably discharged from the army, he has no idea how he ended in Tijuana and is living a nightmare unable to cross back home. He spends his days in Playas looking over the border, waiting for migration reform to pass so he can get back to his family and out of the country he has never called home.
Only one more thing was needed to really make the YMMT challenge complete for Vincent, and it was to go deep down into the jungle. Brenda, an attractive female friend of mine joined us on our quest that day. We started by Parque Teniente, the only park in downtown Tijuana. From there, we went to Autopista Internacional, the new highway that goes along the border that connects Playas to Downtown. Once next to the highway, we headed east towards the big Mexican flag where the border crossing is located. On the long stretch we saw around 50 people injecting heavy drugs in broad daylight in between alleys as it was the most normal thing ever. Though both scared, we never felt that we were in grave danger.
Brenda on the other hand, was really comfortable in that environment despite wearing short shorts and a black tank-top. Turns out that she knew the area well since she lived there as a kid because her dad was a heroine addict nicknamed “El Pato.” She saw how the streets of Tijuana destroyed his dad in front of her eyes when she was only a teen. Her father used to take her everywhere as protection against the cops who are less likely to arrest someone accompanied by a little girl. She was indifferent to all of it and saw it as a normal part of life.
We walked between streets and alleys filled with people doing drugs, construction workers for the unfinished highway, cops around but doing nothing, just another regular day in Tijuana. No one bothered us, asked for money or anything of the sort. As we approached the flag, we saw cops arresting a man and a woman for no apparent reason. We arrived to a place the people call “El Mapa” where a new deportee camp was installed not so long ago. Turned out that Vincent was there before with the girls that welcomed him to Tijuana. More familiar with the people there, we decided to ask if someone was willing to guide us inside El Bordo. They told us the directors of the camp were busy with a meeting from another organization but if we waited twenty minutes we would get an answer. We ended up waiting more than three hours. As we waited, we talked to some people from the camp. Brenda gained the attention of everyone there. A guy from a tent we never saw came up to us and asked in broken English for a blue pen, Brenda reached into her purse and gave it to him. He came back twenty minutes later with an amazing drawing all in blue ink in a piece of parchment, on the back of the drawing there was a note for the three of us.
Finally after the long wait, we met the organizers of the camp and they told us someone that lived in El Bordo was going to guide us. We met someone nicknamed “El Chino” who did not want to be filmed but was willing to take us down to the river. We all had to jump the fence that divides the highway, an organizer from the camp named Luis came with us as well. After jumping the fence and crossing the busy highway, we made it to where almost no one dares to go, but which becomes the living nightmare for many deportees. Once down there, “Chino” told us what area we were allowed to film in and which area we should be careful at. He then said he was busy and left us with Luis who knew a few people in the area.
Luis, who got deported himself, explained to us in perfect English the whole Bordo situation and how people end up there. The American government kicks people out leaving them with nothing, no identification or money. This becomes a problem, because it is illegal to be on the streets of Tijuana without an ID. The deportees are caught in a catch 22 scenario where they can’t leave el Bordo because cops will arrest them for not having ID and they are not able to go back home to America. With nowhere else to go, they end up in Bordo where drug use is an everyday thing.
Down in the river area, we walked on top of debris that people use to build “ñongos” (underground huts made out of garbage). The cops dislodged a lot of the people in El Bordo, so some of the ñongos were empty. We found one that had for a door two tires. Vincent went inside and found it more comfortable than he expected. The ñongo was constructed with pieces of wood, metal and plastic, the floor had several blankets that could have accommodated up to 4 people. There was a resident on the ñongo next door and they agreed to be interviewed on film, but did not allow us to see inside their ñongo that seemed more spacious.
We kept walking until we saw a group of people bathing by the sewer doors that open up to dump the dirty water into the river. A funny shirtless fellow nicknamed “El Buki” asked us for beer and soap then he started to speak in Taraumaran dialect. There were a couple of women in the group as well, all cooling down with the dirty water as the hot day carried on. As the sun was going down and we were making our way outside El Bordo, Vincent gave his concluding thoughts to the camera in French. We walked by what is considered the scariest places of Tijuana and never felt any threat, of course we were not going to be there after dark. The Frenchman learned the sad life of the deported people and was able to interview them and share cigarettes with them. Tijuana was the last stop of his journey through Latin America for Vincent. With his passport and visa all in check, he was ready to enter the United States, the country that all deportees he interviewed call home but cannot go back to.
With more material than we could ever imagine, YMMT challenge was complete. It was time to unwind and show Vincent the Tijuana that is away from all that mess. His last couple of days before going to America were spent enjoying the amazing party scene that downtown has to offer. What happened then was also recorded, but was not part of the challenge and is another story all together of a very different Tijuana adventure. Vincent is now in San Diego where he is editing the video of the completed challenge and getting ready for the last part of his world traveling journey in the USA before heading back to France.