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I often call Zona Norte in Tijuana “the butthole of the world” because it can be the most disgusting place in the world, but everyone loves a great butt. I’m aware there are other such buttholes in the world like in other seedy cities in SouthEast Asia, but this butthole is particularly close to America. Forgotten by Mexico’s centralized government, Tijuana was bred and raised to be San Diego’s and Los Angeles butthole. It’s a bizarre popular city that is often misconstrued and wrongly cited in popular media.
Bender Rodríguez, the Futurama robot, was born in Tijuana. In the year 3,000, Tijuana is still depicted as a shitty violent town with mud houses and cacti.
It just has a nice dangerous ring to it.
It calls for adventure. For anything that can happen. A place to risk it all. Double or nothing. Fuck it. You’ll never come back anyway.
A city with cheap tacos and even cheaper beer.
Chances are that you could have the best or worst time of your life. Flip the coin and find out.
You can tell your friends you visited just for the glory of it. How brave of you to cross the border into a shitty city where millions are decapitated by Narcos for no reason as soon as you enter.
A city that has the infrastructure of a five-year-old attempting to play Sim City.
The lawless city where everyone is corrupt and drugs are easy to find.
Tijuana. A multiverse hidden underneath the skirts of San Diego.
There are thousands of stories written about this border city. And thousands more are missing.
Here is mine.
Chapter 1. How It Came to Be.
I remember exactly when I said to myself “Tijuana Adventure!” That’s what I will call my touring company. I wanted something obvious. Something stupid. Something easy to google. Almost every city has a tour named “CITY adventure”. For fuck’s sake, there’s a website called urbanadventures.com and it links you to guides in any city. Sort of like an Airbnb but for tour guides.
I didn’t know about that website when I thought of the name.
It was around 7:20 pm on a Thursday, January of 2012, I had only been living in Tijuana for a couple of months. I stumbled out of Zona Norte after a crazy night in the red light district area. I searched my pockets and found I had $37 dollars in my hoodie. I reached for my cell phone and called Brown, my first Tijuana friend. I had to tell him about the night I had. I had my first extreme Tijuana Adventure.
What happens in Zona Norte can be fucking insane. It’s Vegas on steroids, much cheaper and with less regulation. It’s the happiest or saddest place in the world depending on who you are.
And I’ve been a tour guide of that area and the greater Tijuana since then.
It’s been more than six years of exploring Tijuana, bringing with me strangers from around the world. Organizing bachelor parties and getting paid for it.
And now I write this. Half a decade of experiences of a Tijuana tour guide. Most memorable experiences. The highlights. Including my own.
I was a tour guide before I was officially tour guide.
I was a tour guide before living or knowing Tijuana all that well.
I started visiting in early 2010 when my middle brother moved there from San Diego. I moved to Los Angeles with my oldest brother in 2008 after college. I would visit my middle brother in San Diego frequently. To Pacific Beach to be more precise. Fresh out of college and PB go well together.
I didn’t know of the existence of Tijuana or did I care back then. I had no interest in visiting. I didn’t know it was that close to the border. It simply didn’t exist.
And suddenly, my brother decided to move there because he had fallen in love with a Tijuana girl.
Tijuana is not Mexico.
I realized that on my second visit. Or at least it was not the Mexico I grew up with. I spent my childhood and most of my teenage years in the city of Querétaro in central Mexico, until my senior year of high school when I moved to the Midwest (Michigan for high school, Minnesota for college).
Tijuana is nothing like the rest of Mexico.
It’s dumb how I noticed it. It was in the front room of La Mezcalera bar. Sublime’s Santeria was playing on the jukebox and everyone in the bar sang it with no accent.
My first visit involved going to a bar called Red Lion. Who knows if that place still exists. It was merely an okay experience. It was cheap which was a plus. But it was a shitty bar. Apparently, my sister-in-law heard that we were preppy and thought that would be the appropriate choice. It wasn’t.
I hated Tijuana.
It was nowhere as cool as Los Angeles. And I revered LA back then. I loved it so much that I have a half-sleeve tattoo of Venice Beach, where I first surfed (and did horrible).
In 2011 I did a road trip through the United States visiting friends, family, and strangers through couchsurfing and craigslist. I started in Los Angeles and covered Las Vegas, Denver, West Des Moines, Detroit, Kalamazoo, back to Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, through North Dakota straight to Miles City Montana (weird place), Spokane, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, back to Seattle, Eugene, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and back to Los Angeles.
I was not the same when I got back.
LA lost its appeal.
It was fake. It was meaningless. And I hated my job.
I stopped my job as a paparazzo in May of 2012.
Yes. That was my job.
I had no desire to stay in Los Angeles. I had no desire to settle anywhere. I wanted to travel the world. Be rid of all my shitty possessions.
I stayed in Los Angeles for a few more months deciding what to do and doing light freelance work. Wasting my savings.
I went to my friend’s wedding in Montreal that summer.
That further convinced me to move from Los Angeles.
With nowhere to go. I ended up in a house in Rancho Peñasquitos in the Northern San Diego area. I wanted a place to stay for my brother’s wedding that year but I definitely did not want to move to Tijuana.
I moved to a shitty four bedroom house with three roommates. I paid $560 a month for the small room. One of the roommates had two weird cats and she was a bit odd herself. The other was an alcoholic libertarian obsessed with guns and drinking shots of Karkhov every morning before going to work. He went through 1.75-liter bottle every two or three days and twice that on the weekends. The last roommate was a country boy who lost his parents at an early age. I thought we weren’t going to get along. He was the nicest of all three. And he had an awesome dog and cat.
Rancho PQ is basically as far away from downtown San Diego to downtown Tijuana. I started to frequent la ciudad whenever I could.
That house in Rancho PQ ended in ruins. The weird roommate and the libertarian one betrayed the other two as they secretly moved out and left us a messy place with no chance to get other roommates or come to an agreement. I had to move out, quick.
I crossed the border with all my shit and left it in my brother’s place in Tijuana. Then I flew back to my hometown in Querétaro to explore my future there. My parents were still living there.
I saw no future there.
It was boring. Dull. A place to retire or start a family. Not a place to move after Los Angeles.
I ended up in a one bedroom apartment in Tijuana behind taco street (a place named Las Ahumaderas) for $350 a month. The landlord of the building was a friend of my brother’s who, back then, worked in a call center in San Diego, commuting daily across the border.
That was my plan.
To do the daily commute across the border.
It was too much for me.
The border waits were over two hours long and I wasn’t landing any proper jobs in San Diego.
I was running out of money and ended up selling my car for $6,600 USD.
That lasted me for a half year of doing absolutely nothing in Tijuana but getting constantly lost in the city and in my head.
25 years old and I had no idea what to do next.