DAY 167 - FIRST DAYS IN MEXICO
Day 166 - Tijuana, MX - 5109 km
Mexico is a welcome change of scenery after 5 months in the US. At Tijuana I cross the border, a town often rushed through by travellers coming from the ‘safe’ west. Drug dealing, criminality, dangerous traffic are associations I hear from peoples stories. Among a lot of Americans there is a sort of a Mexico phobia. ‘Be careful out there!’ I got warned many times. It’s similar to the views from Western Europeans towards the Middle East. ‘Are you sure you’re going to cycle through Iran?’ Among many people there is a general fear towards other cultures and religions. My experience has been that when you’re cycling through those countries you get treated like you are family. Not that I’m ignorant or oblivious to any dangers, I try to use common sense and an open mind. When I spoke to Latino people in California about my travels south I always get the reaction ‘Oh, you’re gonna meet a lot more friendly people there!’
So I wasn’t too nervous to enter Mexico. Actually I liked the big changeover. A couple of weeks ago I was in Rosarito, not far from the border, to attend a film festival where One year on a Bike was awarded for Best Sports Documentary, so I knew a little what to expect. My first impressions could be summarised as ‘a colourful mess, where the food is always good.
The border crossing went smooth. I’m mainly on MEX1, the highway leaving Tijuana. It’s dusty, narrow and it reminds me of the happy chaos of traffic in Iran or Kyrgyzstan, where the cars are older, with rattling engines and black smoke. Mexico is more colourful, more vibrating. Advertising is painted on the buildings, weathered away by the sun. Banda music loudly played from car radios and roadside stores. The road goes uphill and I have to fight for my space on the pavement. It’s hot and while I grind up the hill I constantly watch over my shoulder to keep an eye on the larger trucks. Traffic is heavy. Once most of the chaos is behind me I make a stop at an Oxxo, a roadside grocery store as widely present here, as the 7elevens in Thailand. I get a cold frappucino and sit next to my bike on the pavement with my back against the glass windows of the shop. The vains on my forehead are swollen as blood rushes through. I take a moment to let it sink in, I’m two hours passed the border. I know the crowded traffic will only be for the first few days. After I’ve crossed the first towns, the road will get more quiet and there will be less traffic.
In Ensenado, one of the bigger towns in Baja California, I need to stay put for a few days to finish work. The local food is incredible - goodbye to the hamburgers! The great thing in less developed countries are the less developed food laws. Everywhere you find street food, freshly prepared by local people. Tacos, birria, tamales… For 3 dollar you have a filling meal. My current favourite is birria. Spicy beef stew served with freshly made flower tortilla, cilantro, onions, lime, salsa and some radish to nibble on. I’m going to love Mexico.