A Very Mexican 4th of July.

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JULY 4, 2007

On Independence Day, everyone puts on primary colors and blasts Lee Greenwood music. So I hopped a bus and went to Mexico.

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FIRST STOP: TIJUANA

As our tour bus pulled onto the Avenida Revolucion, the shop owners went ape shit. They jumped and waved and gestured wildly towards their establishments. You’d think they were trying to land a jumbo jet.

This is how the Beatles must’ve felt.
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As we drove through Tijuana, the bus turned a corner and I saw a group of men standing on the street corner waving hammers and assorted other tools at the bus. “Is that a lynch mob?” I readied myself to protect the bus. In a pinch, I could wield my 300 millimeter telephoto lens and bludgeon some mobsters in self defense.

But as we got closer, I noticed that the angry mob of hammerers were smiling. As a rule of thumb, angry mobs don’t smile. Unless they’re certifiably insane. I clutched my telephoto lens a bit tighter.

Just then, our driver came on the intercom and cleared things up. “They’re handymen advertising their services.” Carpenters, Auto repair guys. Whatever service you need. These guys had the tools to do the job. Literally.
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In Tijuana, Dentists are like Starbucks. There is literally a Dentista on every single block. Sometimes multiple Dentistas. I have no idea how they all stay in business. Are the people of Tijuana that obsessive about their dental hygiene?

Perhaps.

But I doubt it. I think there’s another reason why there are so many Dentistas in Tijuana. I’m no fluent Spanish speaker, but I believe the direct translation of “Dentista” is “Front for prostitution.”

Don’t believe me? Just listen to the names of some of the service offerings.

“Root canal.”

“Filling.”

“Fluoride treatment.”

See what I mean? It’s no accident that Eliot Spitzer has a nice smile.

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This, as our driver explained, is a rare breed of animal found only in Tijuana called a Zonkey. “These animals are very quirky,” he said. “Because you never see them when it’s raining.”

Did you know that the Caesar Salad was invented in 1924 in TIJUANA? That’s right. Not Italy. Mexico. It’s only a matter of time before Taco Bell catches on. The Ceasar Stupendo Ranchero salad. Coming soon to a backlit menu board near you.

We returned to TJ at the end of the day to buy cheap tequila and take pictures. So you’ll get those photos later.

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SECOND STOP: ROSARITO

Rosarito is a resort community and home to the Rosarito Hotel.

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The Rosarito Hotel was once a favorite hideaway for Hollywood stars Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. Rumor has it the hotel is still haunted by the ghost of Orson Welles, who sneaks into guestrooms at night, shouts drunken insults at the guests and eats their room service.

Here are photos from Rosarito:

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This is the studio where they shot scenes from Titanic and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

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THIRD STOP: ENSENADA

Ensenada is a touristy town and popular cruise ship destination. In fact, two ships were in port the day we visited, so tourist crap sellers were out in full force.

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Before shopping, we stopped for lunch at Casamar restaurant.

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On the menu was a broiled boneless beast of chicken.

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So I ordered the filet of calamari.

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It was breaded, fried and coated in a stick of butter and minced shrimp. It’s a rare occasion that I can’t join the clean plate club. This was one such occasion. That squid was pretty dreadful.

Here are pictures from in and around Ensenada:

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This is one of the ships that they used to play The Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Johnny Depp was nowhere to be seen.
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Mexico’s largest flag sits atop a 350 foot pole along the Ensenada Harbor. It weighs something like 500 pounds.

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Depending on who you ask, it may or may not be the largest flying flag in the world. The internet doesn’t seem to agree.

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I’m not entirely sure which is true. Either people in Mexico REALLY like Mexican wrestling masks OR gullible American tourists REALLY like Mexican wrestling masks. They had them on every other corner. They’re like Tijuana Dentists.

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Ensenada has lots of food stalls all around town. Our driver told us not to chance it with any of them because there’s no way to know which are reputable. But I didn’t come to the capital of the fish taco to leave without trying one. So I decided to risk life and stomach at a fish taco stand just outside of the Ensenada fish market. Hey, it was just outside of the fish market. How bad could it be?

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The owner spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. But we had no problem communicating about the food. “One fish taco” I said, pointing to the sign. She nodded, fried the fish to order, and folded it into the warm tortilla shell. She handed me the paper plate and gestured to the condiments.

“Which ones do I use?” I asked.

With a sweep of her arm, she replied “todos.”

I smiled. “Ah. All of them.” I loaded up the shredded cabbage, cilantro, diced onion and freshly chopped salsa, took a stool at the counter and tucked in.

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The fish was perfectly crisp on the outside, delicate, white and flakey within. It was muy bueno. (That’s Spanish for “yummo.”)

I said “Gracias” and headed into the Ensenada fish market.

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Many Americans think of Mexico as a dangerous place to dine. The ingredients and preparations are intimidating to our Tex-Mex palates. The water is a punch line.

So the Ensenada fish market came as an incredibly pleasant surprise. The fish was as fresh and pristine as any I’ve ever seen. There were whole red snapper and barracuda, octopus and squid, mixed seafood for the grill, and tiger prawns stacked lovingly one-by-one. This stuff was gorgeous. It made the Safeway seafood counter look like Mongolia. I’ll take my catch from the Ensenada fish market any day.

Here are pictures:

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With 5 minutes left before the bus was scheduled to leave, I dashed into one of the shops to buy a Molcajete y Tejolote – a Mexican mortar and pestle made of volcanic rock. I loaded back onto the bus to head back up the coast.

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Along the way, we passed a 75 foot tall Jesus.

Our driver said that the statue is the tallest statue of Jesus in the world with a sacred heart painted on it. The Jesus has a blinking light on his head so small planes don’t accidentally crash into him. Talk about an ironic way to go.

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The light also indicates when Jesus has an idea.

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Picture if you will, your dream house. It probably has a yard and a white picket fence. A pool. A deck with a view. Lots of windows to let in the light.

Whatever you’re imagining, it doesn’t hold a candle to Armando Munoz Garcia’s perfect house. Armando built his house on a hillside near Rosarito. True, It has a view of the seaside, but the real view is Armando’s house itself.

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According to some Googling, I learned that Armando lives in the still-under-construction house with his girlfriend, Isabel. They sleep in the bedroom, which is located behind the right boob. The bathroom is in her bottom. The living room is in her stomach and there is a hot tub in place of her womb. Asked why he built the house, Armando replied, “because I love sex.”

Extreme Home Makeover, eat your heart out.

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Here’s the rest of the day in Tijuana:

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Downtown Tijuana:img_7511rev.jpg

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3 thoughts on “A Very Mexican 4th of July.

  1. Jay Selway says:

    Awesome! I just got back from Mexico. What a crazy place.

  2. Dad says:

    Hi Bri,
    I enjoyed reading of your experience in Tijuana. You gave me enough information to convince me that I never want to go there! I think you bled all the humor one could out of this place. I’m am glad you got out alive and with your immune system intact. Thanks for sharing! Love, Dad

  3. smatt says:

    I like the nice piece of garbage on the Mexico side of your last photo.

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