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The market experience is about seeing and smelling and touching and checking things out, maybe even sampling a bit if they offer it and then, maybe after arguing about the price, finally getting what you want.
The market is not just for buying and selling, it is for experiencing the wealth of the world and carefully selecting what you need. There is a cosmos of difference between the slower, denser market with all its different stops for so many different things, and the big, fast, ordinary supermercado where everything sits under one plastic-metal roof and all roads lead to only one row of cash registers at Rome -- *sigh*
Yeah there's Calimax supermarkets and big-box supersize-style stores here (la Ley, Commercial Mexicana, very convenient. You should not be surprised that modernity is like a consumer stampede trampling on antiquity here, too... but in new-olde Mexico, even on the wild frontier, the power of the market is more than simple corporate marketing technique that we gringos guzzle like fastflavor diet colas... no, there is something more... so very folk, so very popular culture, so very human about a bunch of stalls or tents or booths all in a row with all their different people, and well, sometimes you go to the supermarket here, and sometimes you go to the old style market.
We shop at both; sometimes one, sometimes the other. But we recommend tourists see at least some traditional market culture -- although, truth be told again, even the supermercado here has its fascinations for us little gringos.
Oh - did we mention tortilla-making shops and bakeries? Tortillerias and panaderias. Mmmmm pan dulce -- Mexican sweet rolls in a thousand varieties.
If you happen to be in Tijuana on the night of the 11th of December each year, you might see the parade of hundreds of market workers and owners who march through the streets singing with mariachi bands behind big truck-drawn tableaus and floats of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, setting off fireworks at many corners of the route, they pass down Constitution to Third, then turn west and circle back to arrive at the cathedral and present huge offerings of flowers and vegetables and fruit to the blessed virgin. This year (2003), what with the recent canonization of Juan Diego, the celebrations should be even more festive. Only problem is reallllly dense crowds around the cathedral that night.
The central market per se -- Mercado Miguel Hidalgo -- sits on one corner of the zona río, taking up a whole block smack dab on Blvd. Sanchez Taboada and Avenida Independencia (extension from 10th Street from downtown). It is a large complex of shops and stalls that offer all kinds of produce and food and candy and housewares and even folk art and curios.
Paula McDonald -- a knowledgeable and devoted lover of Baja California -- wrote a colorful and passionate description of this excellent resource for her Baja Online site (recently 2003 off-line). "Tijuana's Bizarre Bazaar," she wrote, "This marvelous serendipity is undiscovered by tourists but only five minutes from the border. An absolute treasure for gourmet cooks, shoppers and people-watchers."
This block-long, two-storey structure dates from the 1950s, and predates the urban renewal project that swept away the old "Cartolandia" ("Cardboardland") river slums and replaced it all with the booming, bustling River Zone -- Zona Rio -- where Tijuanans of all ages now go to party, spend money, shop at the Plaza Rio shopping mall, eat at a hundred restaurants, see movies and visit the museum, galleries, theater and omnimax at CECUT -- el Centro Cultural de Tijuana -- which, like the shopping mall, is only two blocks east of the Mercado Hidalgo, by the "world's largest pair of tweezers" monument (heh).
The Mercado Hidalgo thus is not only a sight, site, and goal for shoppers seeking a "Mexican" shopping experience, but it also forms the gateway for walkers entering the river zone from downtown. Nearby streets are full of restaurants both moderate and fancy. This is also a zone of several fancy hotels and nightclubs.
Produce, Meat & Seafood Market Zone.
A few steps back between downtown/Revolution and the Zona Río is an entire zone of small produce, fruit, fish and meat markets, with many small restaurants tucked in between. Intrepid walkers may wish to explore this route from downtown to the river zone. Trust your nose if you are hungry. If your nose says no, it smells bad, then don't! We've had some delicious marlin tacos along 8th street between the Café Juglar and the little triangular park at Sanchez Taboada... and, not to be forgotten, around the corner, the Tacos Franco on Sanchez Taboada near 8th is the source for some of the best tacos in Tijuana, and is very crowded on weekend nights. Go there to watch the local experts and learn HOW to eat a taco without getting dripped on (the wrist bends down, the hand turns away, the plate catches the mess, not your shirt).
One of the best, and easiest market experiences for walking tourists to sample, is the Popo Market, only two blocks from Revolution, on Second street before the Niños Heroes corner. Here - within the market proper as well as in the shops surrounding it - you will find stalls overflowing with produce, meat, cheese, housewares, religious items, herbs and natural tea, etc. DID WE MENTION PIÑATAS? Yes, them too! Hundreds of piñatas, AND ALLLLLLLLL kinds of candys and snacks mmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmmmm!!
(If the fotolink doesn't work (they seem to be changing their address (2004) try: http://digthatcrazyfarout.com/tijuana/ to see the impressive photos of Pernel S. Thyseldew.
Here is it, diagonally across from the catedral (marked with red cross dead center on the aerial photo) the El Popo market tunnels deep into the block, away from the street, and has two entrances under archways partway up either side of the corner. This is a fulsome collection of open-air shops to visit, with things to satisfy almost everyone in your group, even (God forbid) a few touristy type things (but not many, truth be told) tucked into its regular world of herbs, food, cooking implements, piñatas, religious icons, etc, etc, AND On The Same Show: an old movie theater back in the corner showing wild Mexican movies mixed with dubbed Hollywood and Europe (but the sound is pretty bad and the moviehouse was rebuilt after a fire and now looks even older!!!)
A Public Restroom -- twenty-five or fifty cents or something (more about the bathrooms in Tijuana)-- sits tucked into the back corner near the movie theater.
The 2nd street entrance is surrounded by other open air shops groaning with sweet Mexican candies and dangling piñatas... this is an extremely crowded sidewalk. Notice the giant dead clock standing there in front of the taxis de ruta and newspaper stand....
Collections of shops, sometimes with living spaces, sometimes only booths, where you can browse and select from ceramic, jewelry, glass, leather, iron, papier mache, etc. These items are of course available EveryWhere here or there around town in scattered stores and passageway markets, but sometimes certain collections of shops and booths take on the appearance of little vilages.
IN PARTICULAR there is one HUGE conglomeration of shops set into a large, full block right next to the pedestrian walk from the border gate to downtown (where the "beer fair" used to be and Ramón saw the ferris wheel fall over, a poemic horror that refried-gringo Dave told us (offline in person) gives him the shudders to read... but we digress I yes... ahem), a fascinating and labyrinthine maze of shops all tucked in together along walkways, with apartments or maybe storage rooms and workshops upstairs. You can follow tittle passageways between the shops and discover a tiny restaurant tucked in here or there, with hidden bathrooms (25 or 50 cents charge unless you're a paying customer) hidden away somewhere.
This fascinating place to get lost (In The Daytime)is marked "Artisans" on the aerial photograph on this page... see it there, right next to the green arrow marking the "corredor turistico". (FYI: In Spanish, the period or comma can, often should, go outside the "quote marks," unlike English. But we digress I again heh.)
The entrance to this Artisans' Village is right off the pedestrian walkway ("corredor turistico") to downtown from the bordergate, just after you cross the river. See those shops fronting onto the plaza on the left? Yep, those are the entrances in between, leading back, back, back, all the way to second street where you come out of wonderland right by a couple of the biggest damn pottery barns you will ever see in Tijuana. Coincidentally enough, there is even a big Beer Can on a stick out there by the street, reminding us of Ramón's terrifying vision. Back at the other entrance, from the top of the pedestrian bridge ramp you can look out over the roofs of the shops. This area is fairly safe in the daytime -- but the shops shut down at night and we wouldn't go in there after dark.
This "village" is chock full of little stores with artists and shopkeepers who are eager to bargain the living hell out of anything you want to buy from them. There are probably almost a hundred shops in here and you could spend hours just wandering around from one to another. Remember the Prime Golden Rule of Shopping: Don't pay more than you want to. You can bet they will not sell it to you for anything less than they want to.
Gringo : Touristic Information .