Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in Devon in mid-2012 to move to Tijuana to love a girl.
They ended up in San Diego where he became a TV anchorman (yes really...), they got married, and now they're living in England together.
Simple as that really.
Follow your heart, who knows where it will lead.

Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

"... You can always go, downtown"

“BUY something you don’t need?” asked the ageing Mexican as we walked past his magnificently chintzy tourist shop.
As far as sales pitches go, this one was pretty lame.
But you had to appreciate the apparent brilliance in its sheer honesty.
Had we a penchant for buying over-priced rubbish then we might have taken him up on his offer.
But we decided to venture on exploring Tijuana’s infamous ‘Downtown’ area.
I know I know, I can hear you asking… ‘it’s taken you six MONTHS to go downtown?!’
Personally I’d much rather settle into an area and then do the ‘norm’ and take in the tourist traps.
Avenida Revolucion (Revolution Avenue) is THE tourist heart of TJ. It’s the main strip which plays host to most of the city’s bars and tourist shops and stalls.
At one end is the famous Tijuana arch, and at the other is the huge Mexican flag. Both act as symbols of pride.

Standing tall: Tijuana's famous arch

Now THAT is a flag
Each shop on Avenida Revolucion pretty much sells the same chintzy assortment of key rings, guitars, sombreros, chess boards, 'I LOVE Tijuana' stickers, wrestling masks (Mexicans LOVE wrestling), and spectacularly bright ornaments which would immediately cheapen any mantelpiece.

Chintz anyone?

The entertainment


I’m led to believe its TJ's notorious drug cartels which have given the city, and indeed, Avenida Revolucion its bad name in recent years.
Sadly even at night the once bustling and chaotic downtown area is now a shadow of its former self.
Promotional teams, bar and restaurant owners and even waiters, almost go as far as to sell their souls to entice you into visit their establishments.
Some sales pitches are obviously better than others.
It seems that even the sale of a couple of cold beers will allow these establishments to open the next weekend.
When I ask whether it was the global downturn in the economy that put paid to the once booming trade, Jacks tells me that it was actually largely the fault of the US media which shot an arrow through its heart.
As I’ve mentioned before, you only have to watch a US comedy starring Will Ferrell and you’ll hear reference to the slurs against ‘Tijuana’.
It has probably the worst name in Hollywood.
And while I admittedly wasn’t around here a few years ago to witness the ‘bad times’, it’s hard to imagine a place so bad that it deserves such a stigma which still sits heavily on its shoulders.
Even Jacky openly admitted after our night-time visit that “it’s not as bad” as she imagined.
Sure it’s seedy, and it feels dangerous and edgy.
But we weren't offered any form of drug, not least an Aspirin, as we wondered around. 
The air reeks of stale cigar smoke, cheap perfume and tacos, and your ears are filled with the sound of The Doors, banda music and some sort of techno – but isn’t that its appeal? It is what it is.
A few titty bars, drinking holes, bric-a-brac tourist shops, and a zebra-donkey or two to have your photograph taken with?
I mean, that’s Blackpool right?!
Nowhere here does a sign say ‘welcome to Tijuana, please wipe your feet’.
Besides in life you have to taste the sour to appreciate the sweet.
And I actually like it.

TJ - proud to be Mexican

In between all that there is also evidence of an upcoming art revolution in the street. A few new trendy and retro art gallery/shops have opened and there are cool Banksy-style murals and designs on shutter doors and shops fronts.


Street art

The famous 'zebra-donkey'

Oh, useless fact for the day?
The concept for the traditional ‘Caesar salad’ was created in Tijuana.
Weird huh?
It turns out that an Italian restauranteur called Caesar Cardini owned a restaurant in TJ and developed the salad at that establishment.
That was back in the 1920s.
Nowadays The Hotel Caesar and the associated restaurant on Avenida Revolucion proudly continues the association.

Further food for thought eh?
Talking of which it didn’t half feel strange tucking into an ice cream last weekend in 25 degree heat – especially because everyone back home in the UK has been experiencing hell on earth with regards to the weather.
I’ve told Jacky that on second thoughts she’d best pack the snorkel and mask and a few extra woolly jumpers.

Monday, 26 November 2012

'hat's about it...

I DON’T know about you but I simply can’t take someone who wears a cowboy hat seriously.
Here in Mexico I’d say that about one in 10 men you meet will be wearing one. Proudly too.
They even do the tip of the cap thing when saying ‘hola’ in true Clint Eastwood style.
And I can’t help but smile or worse still, laugh uncontrollably.
I just want to call them “pardner” or say “yee har” when I agree with what they’re saying.
Sometimes I actually have to stop myself from asking “what have you come as?”
Seriously, it’s weird – simply because if you saw a man wearing a traditional cowboy hat walking down the street in England, he’d probably have a gang of tooled-up chavs behind him in close pursuit.
If you're really lucky you could get the chance to see someone wearing not only the hat, but also the boots, belt and hideously over-sized buckle, and leather waistcoat.
Oh, and of course the magnificent moustache.
I’m guessing that the cowboy thing stems from the ‘Wild West’ way of life here in Baja California.
The Western films were based on that way of life so now, is life imitating art, or is art imitating life?
I’m not sure.

Play it again Sam...

Behind the sombreros (sombrero means ‘hat with a brim’ in Spanish Mexican) is also the deep-rooted love of traditional Mexican music.
It’s called ‘banda’ or ‘nortena’,  and it’s the type of music which makes Jacky pull the most extreme unappreciative face I’ve ever seen on a person.
Eighty per cent of the Mexicans here seem to love it. Like a religion in fact.
They drive around in their cars day and night with windows down blasting it out like they’re the coolest people on the planet.
When they pull up within eye shot they give you that cocky look as if to say “yeh, you know it”.
And I think “yep I certainly do”.
That style of music should be used as a weapon in war.
It incorporates acoustic guitars, drums, possibly trumpets and, of course accordions.
Click on this link and you’ll get some idea:
Now, it would be unfair to say that I ‘hate’ it because that’s a strong word.
To me, it’s not big and it’s not clever. I’d rather listen to AC/DC.
I don’t mind it, but when you hear it all day every day you can’t help but begin to despise it.
The fact that the music goes hand in hand with the sombreros, and the fact that someone like me - who is clearly not from round here - is targeted by the traditional musicians on the street several times a day when out and about, only adds to my feeling of discontent.
It is worth pointing out that people also listen to American or English music (notably British rock music) and Mexico does have some pretty cool rock bands, but most people seem to listen to banda or nortena.
So anyway today marks the 13th date since I ran out of Golden Virginia tobacco.
It also marks the 13th day since I last had a cigarette.
Cold turkey….? No sweat (literally), which is strange after 16 or so years as a full-time smoker.
Sure I could go and buy some horrible pack of smokes but I like what I like, so I’ve decided to quit until I get some more tobacco back home.
I live in Tijuana, why would I want my sense of smell back?!
Well, I’d rather wait.
Eight days until Jacky meets my mum and dad!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Homeward bound

SO blimey, today marks the 159th day since I arrived in Tijuana, Mexico.
In that time I’ve consumed roughly 156 Mexican meals (for the record the missing being MacDonald’s and Burger King); experienced approximately 60 upset tummies from over-exposure to chili; witnessed 158.5 days of sunshine; and spent 0 days regretting the decision to come here in the first place.
Today also marks the countdown to me flying back to England – with a certain Iliana Jaqueline Pantoja in tow.
In 17 days Jacky will experience a). what real ‘cold’ weather is; b). what ‘real’ rain is; and c). why the English moan about the weather all the time.
It will be the first time that Jacky has met my parents and friends, and the first time she will have been to England, or indeed Europe.
And the best part? It’s Christmas!
When I’ve asked her how she imagines England, Jacky’s simply replies “fairies and castles”.
Well, being part-Cornish, and 100 per cent a West Country boy, I can definitely provide evidence of the castles.
But fairies… hmmm… is Zeros still open in Plymouth?!
Coming home with Jacky will be the most amazing experience for me. To show off the most amazing thing I’ve ever discovered on my travels will be well, perfect.
When I first met Jacky’s dad, Pedro, I told him about my background, and the fact that I’m a descendant of Sir Francis Drake (true story by the way).
He jokingly replied: “Well, piracy is obviously in your blood… coming over here to Mexico and stealing the treasure”.
When I first mentioned my intention to simply up sticks and move to Mexico I’m sure most people thought I’d finally lost the plot. More than a few eyebrows were raised.
But here I am with proof of my sanity. You’ll see. (Unless of course I’ve been living out a sort of Edward Norton in Fightclub scenario for the past six months!)
Life is for living. And I guess sometimes you have to go somewhere to really come back home.
Anyway the prospect of introducing Jacks to my world puts a huge grin on my face.
Just imagine… “That’s right Jacky… here is a meal WITHOUT chili”.
In a way I wish I could see all that the ‘Great’ Britain has to offer for the first time too.
When you consider it, there is no place like it.
It has so much history it’s bursting at the seams. In fact, I think I have cutlery at home which is older than American civilization.
Great Britain also has the variety too. I mean, look at the weather for a start…
Then there’s the beaches, the historic cities, the moorland, the highlands and lowlands, the legends, the tales, Led Zeppelin, the Queen... it has it all and more.
You could easily spend a month in London alone visiting all the tourist attractions and sights.
And we have three days or so to cram everything into our visit to the capital.
The vast majority of the 2.5 week trip will be spent in and around home in Devon and Cornwall.
We’re planning to visit the beaches of North Cornwall, castles in around Tintagel, Looe, Polperro, Dartmoor and Plymouth Hoe to name a few sites.
I’d like to take her to Stonehenge too simply because it’s magical.
Hey, if anyone has any suggestions please drop me a line!
Oh, and the food experience...
So strangely enough Jacks hasn’t heard of a ‘pasty’. Or ‘fish and chips’, or in fact ‘shepherd’s pie’, an ‘Indian takeaway’, or even ‘chicken kievs’.
Is that unusual? No, not really. She’s from a different world to me.
But even my mouth is watering at the thought of all the food we can eat, with her trying the vast majority of it for the first time.
So right now Jacky is mulling over what to pack.
You know how we English get when we’re packing for a ‘summer’ holiday?
“How many jumpers do I need to pack?!” - regardless of the fact that we know the climate in Egypt/Spain is not wooly jumper weather.
Well, Jacky is currently asking herself the same question… knowing that no amount will be too little.
“How many jumpers do you own?” has been my answer.

A few wardrobe 'options'
Regardless of the time of year, Jacky sleeps underneath three blankets and duvets at night.
Girls feel the cold more than boys. And Jacky, it seems, is no exception.
It’s safe to say she’s nervous about the whole trip – most of all meeting my mum and dad.
And by the sounds of it I think my mum is also nervous at the prospect.
“Well, what does she eat?” is a recurring question.
Food mum. Food. In fact, see aforementioned food types.
They’ve met on Skype but it’s not quite the same is it?
I mean, in real life Jacks isn’t pixelated. And she doesn’t sound like Stephen Hawking.
So yes… fun times. I might well ask her to write a blog about her experiences.
Few things are guaranteed in life but these: England will be cold, and it will be wet.
But hey, it’s Christmas!!!
While we’re away Mexico will remain hot. Today it’s still around the 26-degree mark which just feels plain weird when you see Christmas decorations being put up around the city.

Christmas trees now on sale at Mexican supermarkets.

Anyhow, drastic change of subject…
How cool is this?
I was sat in the garden one day last week when I looked down and saw something peculiar sticking out of the earth.
Well, I might well be wrong but I’m 99 per cent sure I picked up a Neanderthal Stone Age stone spearhead.
Straight to the point... it's pretty old

The edges are serrated, the point is sharp, and it has chip marks on it where it has obviously been fashioned. I Googled it and it states it could well be 200,000 years old.

We live on a new housing estate which was built on displaced land, so it’s entirely logical to find something like this.

How awesome though? Reminds you that we’re not the first to live our lives here.
We’re just tourists in time.