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Staying classy

December 14, 2009

In the morning we have breakfast before calling a car hire place to drive down to San Diego. The stoner guy gives us a phone and the number and stands there nodding uselessly while an old French woman, presumably the manager tells him to call Michael at the hospital.

At 1.30 we are picked up by a shy Peruvian and a short time later arrive at Avis where a black guy with too low pants sorts out the paperwork. Rusty takes the wheel and on the 105 we are soon passing Newport, Orange County and Laguna as we head south out of L.A. Thanks to the carpool lane we make good time and soon the signs to San Diego are 59, then 18. As we hit the first turn offs for downtown we watch for Front St, the instructed exit to take. But it doesn’t come. Highway 5 keeps right on going and in the distance a huge Mexican flag lies on a hill. Tijuana was rapidly approaching and we had yet to see Front St. Suddenly a sign told us 3mi to Tijuana and not long after “LAST EXIT IN USA”. Panicked, we pull off to the right as the chaotic Friday traffic comes to a standstill at the border.

Attempting to get back to the highway Rusty inadvertantly makes an illegal turn. Flashing red and blue lights in the rear view mirror catch my eye. “Is that us?” asks Rusty. “Move to the right please,” confirms the patrol car. No longer enjoying the ride we do as we’re told. The officer demands licence and registration as Rusty gabbles her confusion. Realising we are tourists he warns us to watch the road signs and gives us directions back to 5. We thank him and set off, only to take the wrong entrance on to 5. Hoping the police car is no longer behind us, Rusty throws on the left indicator, grits her teeth and pulls across to a chorus of horns behind us. Another wrong turn later we make a u-turn and at last get back to 5. Calling the hostel I am unhelpfully told to take the F St exit and go to 5th. F St fails to materialise in the twilight so we take 8th and hope for the best. At this point I remember I am in possession of a Lonely Planet which has a map in it.

At last we head in the right direction and a short time later find ourselves in Downtown. We park the car and finally, exhausted and stressed, arrive at the hostel. We dump our bags and set off in search of dinner. We eat at a place called Fred’s Mexican Cafe where the food is delicious and the servings massive. We buy beer at a pharmacy and return to the hostel completely drained. After a beer Rusty suggests we go for a walk. Outside the air is mild and festive as 5th St comes alive. We wander down to the harbour where USS Midway sits and head down Broadway, waiting at the crosswalk that says “wait, wait” and not long after arrive back amongst the noise and lights of 5th. We ascend the stairs to the room and I fall asleep almost instantly.

I awoke to sunlight streaming through the window. After breakfast and a shopping trip we returned to the hostel for a trip to Tijuana. Joining us were Joe, Matt and Jarred, three guys from Melbourne; a girl from Brisbane and two girls from Germany, one of whom was pushing 40 and trying not to show it. We set off for the trolley and a 45 minute ride later arrived at the border. A short walk and a turnstile later we were in Mexico.

Immediately the vibe (and smell) was different – festive and colourful despite the rampant poverty and misery evident as young kids came running asking for dollars and selling candy. We walked to our first destination where we drank $2 Coronas, wore sombreros and got to know each other. We set off for the next destination an hour later, pausing at a shop where we sampled tequila and moonshine, and arrived at a restaurant-cum-night club-cum-tattoo parlour. The place was owned by the Mexican mafia our guide Mike informed us, which meant we were safe from the cops. We ordered our food before a tequila rapist descended on the party. Armed with a towel and a bottle of tequila he would on request – or usually of his own volition – wrap the towel around your neck, pour the tequila in your mouth, follow it up with a shot of beer and then a final tequila shot.

As we ate Mike told Rusty the place offered nose piercings for $25. Tagging along as documenter of the proceedings I took photos before Rusty emerged with a nose stud to the amazement (and shock) of the others. Some rode the mechanical bull, we drank and danced.

The next stop was a night club and spirits were high as we walked the streets of Tijuana. I bought Sols for Rusty and I but she had to pay after I couldn’t get change from a $20. We drank and danced some more before Mike decided it was time for our final destination, a strip club called Madonas. Inside the lights were low and the air stale and smoky as a Mexican girl pole danced for the leering bastards around the stage. At this point, whether because of the fatigue, the alcohol, the guilt or a combination of those things, I cried. I cried for the daughters of Tijuana who today sold candy in the streets, in a few years would probably be grinding the same pole for the same perverts who leered and threw dollars for the chance to see some breasts; for the poverty of a country that couldn’t give me change for a $20 while the greed and wealth of the country next door had driven the world into the biggest economic downturn since the Depression; at the realisation that here was I, another tourist feeding the machine and marvelling at how cheap everything was.

After a while we set off for home. Along the way, Mike disappeared and fed up, most of us continued to the border. We lined up for customs and I was soon called. “Are you Irish?” asked Sanchez me after I said hello. “No, Australian,” I replied and that was the end of our conversation. He wordlessly returned my passposrt and I was back in America. We waited for the trolley and exhausted and disillusioned more than usual we set off for home. “It was an interesting experience,” said Rusty. She was right.

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