Gringo : TurInfo : Walking.

Walking from the border to Avenida Revolución.

by Michael Thomas

The most famous walk in Tijuana is the path from the border gate to downtown. Danno and I call it "the river of pedestrians."

You begin this flow on the U.S. side, walking from the trolley station bus-stop plaza at the end of the lightrail line in front of burger-war sidewalk. Go into that open-air brown cement mouth on the left of the customs station glass doors. Follow the flow of pedestrians up and over the zigzag backflow ramp and walkway walking walking alongside the second floor glass window walls of U.S. Customs fortress (sometimes you can see groups of people inside with handcuffs and chains, near the outdoor big ashtray where official cigarette addicts get their fix), then out, away from the building, crossing through open air over ten thousand lanes and lanes of traffic coming into the U.S. or leaving south to Mexico.

It is tempting to pause and look into this view of the gates of U.S. and Mexico but the officials get all uptight if you stop to take photos. People do it anyway and sometimes the little loudspeaker boxes speak to them (KEEP MOVING KEEP MOVING). Once a soldier yelled at me from down below, waving his gun as punctuation and emphasis to his authority and power. This ain't no damn tourist sight, he shouted. He was wrong. The view, or non-view, is spectacularly postmodern and nauseatingly strange, what was once simply a half-desert river valley has been sliced by walls and cement buildings and patrol roads and jeeps and trucks and one huge superhighway mouth from hell. Not to mention the giant billboards advertising flesh, real estate, politics, what have you yes.

Finally you come down the other ramp to earth again, turn right along the sidewalk toward the turnstyle gate where pedestrians leave the United States.

You and I will go on through the clattering gate, and Voila! -- See that painted line on the cement? That rectangle monument in concrete? -- You are now in Mexico. Japanese, Canadian and American tourists pause and pose for snapshots. Here are the last mission bell and iron plaque. Limite de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos.

There are Mexico payphones here and a smell of sewage coming up out of the drainage grate. People with carts wait to ask to carry your heavier luggage for a tip/fee. If you need a tourist permit [staying longer than 72 hours or going south of Ensenada/blowhole] apply for it up ahead on the left, a little ways after the tourist information cabin. Go in to the tourist information cabin. Lots of good literature, free.

@@@@@ 2005 UPDATE construction DEMOLITION AND RECONSTRUCTION CONTINUES on the Corredor Turistico. The giant mural is HIDDEN BEHIND WALLS AND FENCES. @@@@@@@@@

You are walking up a long passageway known officially as the "corredor turistico." On one side is a long mural where something jagged and multicolored struggles to be born from ancient and modern motifs. If you have any interest in art, look at this singular piece. The title/artistsname at the beginning reveals it is the product of several people -- but it manifests a remarkable sense of unified purpose. On the other -- left -- side of the outdoor corridor, entrances to body cavity search (don't go there), information booths (yes, go in), and Mexican customs offices where you can get your tourist card if you are beginning a big trip into deepest Mexico or Baja California. Then, you pass the outdoor inspection tables -- and here you might be asked to push a button if you're carrying a bunch of bags (red light inspection, green pass) -- but usually tourists (even if carrying small backpacks) just go on without being stopped. Now -- still inside the touristic corridor -- you come to a junction of the path. You either turn right or go straight ahead.

AT THIS POINT THE CONSTRUCTION MORE OR LESS STOPS @@@@ 2005 .

Right takes you to the back door of Plaza Viva Tijuana, straight takes you to the Sea of Taxis and the Island of Tacos.

In either case, you will want to cross the street and go into the little shopping center (Plaza Viva Tijuana). (The "Linea" bus terminal -- for busses to Ensenada -- is just up to the left and around the corner to the right). Make your way through Viva Tijuana's huckstering sidewalks toward the mechanical bull plaza with all the karaoke cafe bars, and up the ramp onto the pedestrian bridge across the river.

From the ramp you can look back across the plaza, like you see here. A lot of people come to Tijuana and hang out here in this touristy plaza, it's got your usual bars and food and shops, with some smaller restaurants in the back plazas where the people who work here eat. But... well, there's more to see across the river, too. Especially if you have any interest in history.

On the pedestrian river bridge you will notice two things: the smell (sometimes not bad), and the view (rather spectacular). Here, crossing over the cement channel of the Tijuana River, you can see the reason why Tijuana was built here -- yep, the River. As you cross towards downtown and the big arch, upstream is on your left and downstream (and the U.S.) is on your right. In ancient times, this was the area where the river settled down into the swamps, here, above the muddy mess and below the steep hills, here was the most convenient zone for crossing the river. Plus, when there was no city and everything you see was ranchland, the water was good. It is possible that "Tikuan" means "water here" in a language either from here or from southern Baja California, but don't bet on it. Scholars argue without agreeing on its derivation. Turn your view ahead. Over there, a couple blocks beyond the end of this bridge, on a swath of flat land just above the river flood zone, the Tijuanenses built their second town -- the first one had been closer to the river and washed away. The second town was the one that boomed in the 1920s and 1940s -- it is now the "centro" aka downtown.

Looking on your left again, beyond the freeway snarls, you will notice a bunch of modern tall buildings up the river. This is the "Zona Rio" -- River Zone, the recently developed modern center of commerce. You might be able to pick out the round brown ball of the the omnimax theater at CECUT. Farther on, the twin glass office/hotel towers of Torres de Agua Caliente. The glass pinata in the foreground marks the location of Mexitlan, a failed tourist site which still holds some of the worlds' most beautiful model buildings (closed, but the parking lot under the model deck is sometimes open daytimes off of Third Street *hint*hint* in the bodywork, mechanic and upholstery zones).

If you have particularly sharp eyes and know where to look, you may pick out the white Spanish-Moorish "Torre de Tijuana" a reproduction of the Casino airport beacon which was rebuilt at the base of the hills at the head of Revolution Avenue, after it bends to become Agua Caliente Boulevard (and goal of another walk). This beautiful tower is a landmark. Many cakes are built in its shape to celebrate the City Anniversary (July 11). You will also notice, dead ahead (if they haven't torn it down in political anger) the gigantic arch built at the corner of Revolution and 1st. The official name is "Reloj Monumental" -- Monumental Clock.

As you reach the end of the bridge, you cross over the speeding traffic and descend via a ramp to a little plaza. On your left, opening via alleyways between piles of souvenirs, begins the Artisans' Village, full of little stores with many many different kinds of stuff. This area is reasonably safe in the daytime and has a broad selection of curios and artworks. Remember to bargain and don't pay any amount you don't want to pay. There are also a couple of little restaurants hidden inside the village, where the locals eat. Restaurant prices are NOT open to bargaining, incidentally.

Passing through the little plaza, cross the big street and walk uphill toward the gigantic arch. Little stores and tourist restaurants boom on the left of you and on the right of you. This is old Avenida Puente Mexico - the old street to the old bridge. It has recently (2003-2004) been completely rebuilt into a pedestrian street, as part of a major overhaul of the touristic zone, a project which included the big arch up there as well as more sidewalks up ahead on Revolución. Some people preferred it all sleazy the way it used to be. Mais fait acompli c'est ca ici.

Another block up you come to the corner of Madero. Here, on your left, is the old bus station on one corner, and the wax museum on the other. Inside the bus station (entrance around the corner) is a lovely tile map of western Mexico, showing the destinations of a 1950s and 1960s bus line (they're still around, but many other companies compete). Aside from the artwork mosaic, the old bus station is now the source for busses to Tecate and Rosarito. You can also buy tickets here for busses into the interior, i.e. Los Mochis, Guadalajara, Mexico City, etc.; but you'll probably have to catch the bus at the bigger Main Bus Station (Camionera Central) five miles up the river. Probably.

Also at the corner of Madero and your walk, you will find the Tijuana Wax Museum -- "Museo de Cera" -- with its many curious statues, including "Tia Juana" (the mythical true/false lady who used to cook such wonderful food that people gave her name to the city which already had its name from a hundred years before... ah, myths are wonderful, no?).

Incidentally, there is another, parallel pedestrian path, one short, short space to the right (north). Both of these narrow streets running between the river and Revolution used to be the main access to downtown from the border.

The official name of the street is "Puente Mexico" -- Mexico Bridge street, and in the first half of the 20th century, during the golden and silver ages of Tijuana tourism (1920s and 1940s), everyone, I mean Everyone, who drove into Tijuana used to come up and down these streets to get to the old bridge over the river. (The old bridge is gone but you can see its broken feet in the cement channel just north of the pedestrian bridge.) Nowadays, however, many people just call it part of First Street.

At the corner of Madero and the "other" pedestrian street you might notice a historical plaque, marking the site of Baja California's first airplane factory. They built three airplanes in the 1920s which made historic flights, taking off and landing from a strip in the river valley nearby.

Just a few more steps up the hill and you reach the corner of Revolution and First Street. Now you are smack dab in downtown Tijuana. Congratulations! You have successfully walked from the border!