Turista Libre is a series of atypical day treks in Tijuana and northern Baja California, Mexico, led by an American journalist who now calls the border city home. Itineraries are geared toward – but not limited to – foreigners, a caravan that treks the region in search of the overlooked and underrated. See south of the border like a local. No gringo stereotypes.
Two days in Tijuana, Tecate and Ensenada with 25 social work university students from Katholische Stiftungsfachhochschule München, Germany -- part of a 10-day exchange program with San Diego State University. On the itinerary were Desayunado Salesiano Padre Chava, a shelter that serves breakfast to deportees daily; Bordofarms, a group of urban box gardens for deportees located along the Tijuana River canal; El Bordo, home to an estimated 2,000 deportees from the United States; Mercado Miguel Hidalgo, Tijuana’s oldest open-air market; the border fence in Playas de Tijuana, the northernmost corner of Mexico and Latin America and visits with indigenous communities of Baja California at Rancho Karuna in Tecate and La Huerta in Ojos Negros.
Long established as a tourist trap, Tijuana has traditionally been regarded as a place for red-light districts, donkey shows, cheap pharmaceuticals and trouble making. For others, it has been a speed bump on their way to the pristine beaches of southern Baja California. Ohioan Derrik Chinn has found another city as a foreigner living in Mexico for the past six years.
Turista Libre raises its glass to Tijuana's artisan beer scene, with a visit to two local homebrewers that are on the rise. Also on the itinerary: a visit to the headquarters of TJ's namesake brew, Cerveza Tijuana, plus a taco stop or two.
A rare opportunity to tour two of Baja California's most iconic pieces of architecture -- Tijuana III Millennium (aka La Mona) and Puerto Nuevo's La Sirena -- and meet the man who built them. Tijuana sculptor-architect Armando Muñoz Garcia gives Turista Libre not only a head-to-toe tour of his pair of giant lady houses (more on the massive concrete sisters here), he cooks us up a feast of chile en nogada, a Mexican classic, at Restaurante La Sirena, his culinary venture in Puerto Nuevo.
Here's the episode of "Crossing South" we shot with host Jorge Meraz for KPBS. It's a tale of two Tijuana malls, one with piñatas and birria, the other with rollercoasters and bumper cars. We start with a lap of Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana's oldest open-air market, followed by a romp around Mundo Divertido, Tijuana's mini nod to the Mall of America.
Waterslides that should probably require helmets but everyone rides face first anyway. Big-ass beers rimmed with chile and chamoy. Tambora bands, corn on the cob on the grill, Tecate eagle fake tattoos, a Tarzan rope. Everyone says Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. But they’re wrong. Welcome to El Vergel, Baja California’s largest waterpark.
Two days in Tijuana with 25 social work university students from Katholische Stiftungsfachhochschule München, Germany -- part of a 10-day exchange program with San Diego State University. On the itinerary were chapunlines and yaca at Mercado Miguel Hidalgo, photo-ops with Cuauhtemoc, a community clean-up in Camino Verde, an afternoon at the border fence and the obligatory round at Dandy del Sur.
Special thanks to German consul general Carlos Echeagaray, former Baja California human rights director Heriberto Garcia, Espacio Migrante, Miguel Buenrostro of Reactivando Espacios, Alejandro Miranda from Via Corporativo, Elva Olmedo from Mercado Hidalgo, Casa de las Ideas and the community leaders and members of Camino Verde.
Be it birria, lengua, asada, cachete, carnitas, costilla, ojo, pescado or pastor, nothing compares to the international culinary icon that is the almighty taco. Turista Libre treks to the four corners of Tijuana in search of the city's most authentic, incomparable incarnations of Mexico's gastronomic superstar. On the menu: quesabirria tacos at Tacos Aaron in El Soler, New York strip and shrimp tacos at Mariscos Tito's in Playas, pastor and asada at Taqueria La Gloria in La Gloria, deliciously bizarre ice cream at Tepoznieves in Zona Rio and a local craft brew sampling at the new Baja Craft Beers Tasting Room in El Gabilondo. ¡Provecho!
Grab your passport and bib más bueno and join Turista Libre for an urban gastronomic walkabout starring some of Tijuana's most iconic street foods. Stops on the progressive smorgasbord included Tortas Washmobile, Tacos N' Salsas, La Movida for tostilocos (the city's very own fruit-nut-nacho-lard salad) and popsicles at Paletería Michoacana. Then we washed it all down with a flight of Tijuana-made craft beer by Cerveceria Zesde at Don Loope downtown on Sixth Street.
A crash course on Turista Libre's alternative Tijuana tours via a dose of masked Mexican wrestling, thanks to our amigos at SD City College Newscene.
The paradox regarding a mob of 30 gringos crossing the border to visit Tijuana's longest-running tianguis, apparently, is that the majority of the merch hails from north of the line. True that may be, but our flea markets don't come with pancakes, flautas, corn juice, $2 haircuts or hand-stitched Super Mario Bros. hats. And so, the turistas go shopping high in the hills of Francisco Villa.
Tube socks, short shorts, headbands, sequins, vanity bibs, piñata trophies, 48 gringos, seven or so mexicanos, Saturday night at Tijuana's legendary roller rink Patines de Plata with Turista Libre.