This is the busiest, land-border crossing in the world with 55,000 plus vehicles making the journey each day. Today, I am in one of those 55,000 that all appear to be crossing into the USA at once. I have just eaten three of the five Churros that I bought from the lady hawking them car window, to car window and the line hasnâ€™t budged an inch. I even alighted my car, opened the trunk and rummaged around in search of my laptop to kill time by writing this article.
I have been here, staring at the rear end of the Volvo in front of me for one hour. In the dark, vendors stroll the car lanes between vehicles, selling their wares. I have thus far resisted cups of Champurrado, toffee apples, tiny guitars, maracas, corn on the cob, not one but two cute puppies, a hideous, ceramic, glitter-splattered, â€˜Last Supperâ€™ wall-sculpture - that my Mother would actually die for come to think of it - and listened extensively to news-radio coverage about how Malibu is burning down (again).
Iâ€™ve crossed this border on foot a handful of times but this time â€“ as the very notion of a northern Baja road trip requires â€“ we took my car. Iâ€™m supposing that the time Iâ€™m doing trapped in my Scion bubble, is the price I have to pay for the absolute delight that was mine in cruising over the borrder into Mexico three days ago, without so much as a decrease in velocity.
Although I believe it mandatory if you are an Angeleno - at least once - to deal with the smack-in-the-head experience of negotiating transport, food, accommodation or anything else (whether or not you speak Spanish) in Centro Tijuana, this time it was not for me. Iâ€™ve been in the thick of it all â€“ while not being able to habla Espagnol â€“ enough times to have earned the privilege of watching TJ pass me by from the window of my car.
Weâ€™ve advanced four car-lengths at this point and the vehicle fumes and the general stench of open trash permeate my space every time I dare to roll my window down. A boy wants to wash my window. If I give in, itâ€™ll be the third time it has been washed today. The porcelain baby Jesus and kitsch Virgin de Guadalupe statue appear more and more attractive with each vendorâ€™s loop about the line of cars. The lady in the car next to me bought that distasteful, â€˜Last Supperâ€™ wall sculpture. Boredom and frustration appear to be wearing everyone down, clouding judgment.
People are trying to jump the line, high tailing it in the emergency lane and trying to cut back in. the police are rounding them up and escorting them back to the end of the line. Iâ€™ve given away the last of my small change to children and men selling chocolate (no matter which country, the chocolate men always find me). This is how it is at the busiest border crossing in the world and still, the actual border is nowhere in sight.
9:05pm, Saturday Nov 24.
Weâ€™re heading back from a Thanksgiving weekend south of the border where we kept the sea port of Ensenda as home base and got lost on long day trips/ hikes over to the Sea of Cortez, National Parks in the Sierra Juarez and mountain roads around Guadalupe Valley (wine country) up to Tecate (yes, where the beer is from).
I can confidently say that I prefer what I call â€˜our sideâ€™ of Mexico. My FiancÃ© and I lived for a time in the Yucatan on the east coast of Mexico. It is wilder on the east coast with virtually untouched, seaside villages, Maya ruins and the sophistication of the colonial, European-flavored capital of Merida. Thus far it remains much less developed (with the exception of Cancun), less affected by tourism and less influenced by the cultures of Northern America than the west coast in particular.
Baja is not without its magnificence however. No amount of development could exorcise all the grandeur from the land. In so far as Baja California (the Northern section) goes, the sierra Juarez reverberates with a subtle kind of beauty and a vital ecosystem that hums beneath the carpet of cactus. Over the rolling mountains and craggy ridges, rocks and boulders are scattered like sprinkles across cake icing. The hot, white sand bears the tell-tale prints of two, four and no-footed local residents who have deserted and the stillness and loneliness of it all wraps you up in quiet. Everywhere you look, even when the red sun is not setting and the white moon not rising, is a painting.
9:45pm Saturday Nov 24.
We are finally hitting the border crossing epicenter â€“ a town unto itself. There are large screens blaring cheap commercials, billboards mounted on billboards. Itâ€™s a city come alive with ice-cream carts, Churros trolleys and more vendors than ever, weaving in and out of the cars. Neon lights flash, traffic is moving and itâ€™s as if weâ€™ve all stepped out of a fog into a bright, artificial sun.
I have my windows down and even the smell has changed (for the better). I can make out the distant music of a typical, Mexican Polka and the pretty tinkle of a vendorâ€™s glass ornaments striking each other in the rhythm of his stride. I can see an American flag flying furiously in the wind.
A fellow at my window â€“ I can safely say is high - is giving us a story about needing to catch a bus and something about a wife and child waiting for him. He switches to English after coming to terms with the fact that I donâ€™t speak Spanish. Everywhere I go (Mexico & the US) people think I am Mexican. They are always completely confused and then astonished when I say I do not speak Spanish (yet). His English is perfect. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I donâ€™t have any more money. This line has exhausted my wallet and my Fianceâ€™s patience. Jesus looks down at me from his giant, wooden cross that hovers above my windshield before continuing on to the next car. I wonder how much he costs?
We pass the building where I was detained for a good 2 hours over a discrepancy with my visa when last I crossed here on foot. Sniffer dogs are approaching our car. Four officers have surrounded the vehicle two in front of ours and a young woman with a large amount of dreadlocks has stepped out and is being hand cuffed. As she is led away, the dogs are going berserk and the officers high-five each other.
And there it is, â€˜United States Border Inspection Station.â€™
10:30pm Saturday Nov 24.
Customs Officer: Goodevening.
My Fiance hands over our passports.
Customs Officer: Got anything to declare?
My Fiance: No, nothing.
Customs Officer: Australians? You have visas? You have Visa Waiver, you donâ€™t need a visa right?
My Fiance: Yeah, we do. We live in LA. Theyâ€™re our work visas.
Customs Officer: Oh yeah, if youâ€™re working then â€¦
My Fiance: Busy night. Is it always like this?
Customs Officer: Oh yeah, always.
Me: All the time? Is there any time it isnâ€™t?
Customs Officer: Only like 12am until 2am. The best you can do is have a couple of drinks and just hang out.
Have a couple of drinks? Iâ€™m not so sure that thatâ€™s sound advice, but Iâ€™d advise brining your laptop and a power pack. Three and a half hours and 1200 words later, I am back on American soil without detainment or incident and with an article. For this, I am thankful.
WORLD - CITY LIVING
Copyright © 2010 V
Portrait of a Thanksgiving Border Crossing
8pm, Saturday Nov 24. At San Ysidro, Southern California, the US Intestate 5 from San Diego crosses into Mexico at Tijuana.
Copyright © 2010 V
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