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September 20, 2009

Gringo Loco

How I hate those people that pump all their fear into me. Everyone I asked warned me that I'd be tortured and killed if I set foot into Mexico. But these are the same people that tell horror stories about motorcycles. They live in fear.

Yesterday, I put my tail between my legs and stayed home all day. Well, I drove up to LA and went down to Ocean Beach, but I didn't go to Mexico, and that was what I wanted to do.

I wanted to go to a foreign country and get some different shots. Some shots I couldn't get in the United States. Something radically different that what's here.

So, on Sunday, I woke up and I laid in bed until about noon and then I said fvck this. I'm not sitting around here wishing I was in mexico, but too afraid to go. I'm not going to live my life that way. Like, if they kidnap and torture me, then it wouldn't be any worse than this. It wouldn't be any worse than what I'm doing to myself by lying here stewing in my own misery. II'm going to Mexico. And I'm going alone. And I'm going without a GPS. But, it probably would be a good idea to stop and get some insurance before I cross the border. And a map would be nice.

Before I left the country, I had to do a little bit of planning. I was carrying an envelope with 25 one hundred dollar bills. Why? Because I like to carry cash. So, left my envelope of cash in my desk at my home in San Diego. I took out all but one credit card and about $150 in cash. I took my passport, $150 cash, 1 credit card, two camera, my laptop, cell phone, and all my chargers and USB cables. That was it.

No GPS. No passengers. Forget it. I'm going to Mexico.

So, with about that much planning, I grabbed a Gatorade out of the fridge in San Diego, threw my cameras and my backpack in the car. I had a bathing suit and my dop kit, so I could spend the night down there if I had to.

I climbed into my car and got onto I-5 and headed South. The last exit says "LAST US EXIT" and "TUNE RADIO TO AM 1700" and "FIREARMS/AMMO ILLEGAL IN MEXICO", etc. So, at the last exit, I exited and got an insurance policy for my car in Mexico. For a grand total of $25, I had an insurance policy in Mexico good for 24 hours. A map would have been nice, but I was off.

Then, I got back on the interstate and headed south. Basically, I rolled across the border without stopping and headed to the coast as soon as I crossed the border.

I was surprised to see that many of the road signs were in English. "Rosarito Ensenada Scenic Road Mexico 1D".

I drove around Tijuana for a bit and got sort of turned around. For the record, Tijuana is a dump. It stinks. The air is nearly impossible to breathe. It makes your throat constrict in a bad way. More polluted than you can imagine. Makes LA's pollution seem like Key West, in comparison.

It is odd, to see the Policia standing around with AR-15's, hand cuffs, and full face ski masks taking down scads of people. They seem to be everywhere, pulling over everyone at once, searching them, and piling them into trucks to be carted away. It's hard to know what's going on, but I suspect that the police are trying to get things under control.

Once, I got turned around in a bad area. There was a truck broken down in front of me with some guys blocking the road. It happened that this occurred in a blind spot under a burnt-out overpass. On a one lane one way road. Safety in Mexico is not a one time, one place, one issue. It's a new reality that's unfolding all around you all the time. So, you do what makes sense. You have to keep your wits about you. Have to keep your head up, so to speak. So I turned around and went back the way I came, the wrong way down a one-way street.

Eventually, I'm pretty well lost and I roll into this park in Tijuana and there's about 20 cops taking down everyone around me. They're searching, arresting, carting around a bunch of recent arrestees in the bed of a truck, like a rolling open-bed paddy wagon.

I just pull up to one of the cops and roll down my passenger window.

"Perdon. Donde Rosarita. Donde camino uno?"

I say in broken Spanish. He replies in perfect English. Go down here 2 or 3 blocks. Turn right. Turn right again.

He smiles and leans in the window. He speaks English. He's as nice as he could be. It was exactly nothing like what everyone had warned me about. I was so pissed to have not come down sooner. So happy to be here now, in Mexico.

So, in any event, I get back onto the Scenic Route - Mexican Highway 1 or 1D and head south. I'm rolling South and it's nothing like I'd thought it would be. I was imagining a desert. I was envisioning the Sechura/Atacama desert and instead, just outside of Tijuana, it's a well irrigated verdant hillside. Resplendent bouganvilla. Horses. Donkeys. Small hillside farms. Beautiful, brightly painted farms. Poverty, scrolling by.my windowsill. More than I'd hoped for. Dream like. Mexico.

And now, I come to a toll road. A freaking toll road. Like, everyone I talked to convinced me that they would burn my car, steal my cameras, and hold me for ransom in a dump by the sea. Instead, I pull up to a toll booth and I say "Quanto Es?" meaning, how much is it. Because, the sign says $27.00 and I'm thinking...that's a lot of jack for a toll road. Instead, this was in pesos. They tell me the exchange rate is 13 to 1. Or 15 to 1. It's hard to know. It's not like I bothered to convert any currency. And I didn't bring my ATM card because everyone I knew had convinced me that I'd already be dead by now.

So, the toll road is only like $2.00 I think. I'm not clear. It doesn't really matter. But pretty soon, I'm driving down the coast by the pacific ocean thinking how much I hate the fear. How much I hate the fear mongers and the people that live in fear. I'd rather die in Mexico on my feet than live in San Diego in fear.

The first real town that I come to is Rosarita. I drive for a bit down the street, shooting through the window of my rental car. The roads are not great. There's a large dip in the concrete, and the car in front of me brakes hard, and I nearly ram them from behind shooting photos out my window.

I pass a little third world bazaar and decide to stop and get some shots. I park, and ask if where I parked is OK.

"No hay problema?" I query.

"It's no problem. You can park where the curb is green."

Everyone down here speaks perfect English, god as my witness. Or, let's say more than half of them do. When I pass them, I'll say "Hola", and they'll say "Hi" or "How's it going?". Just not really what I was expecting, but there it is.

I wandered through the maze taking photos. What I wouldn't give to have Jennifer down here with me. How cool that would be. But no, I'm alone. But I'm OK with this. This is allright.

Eventually, I wander out of the 3rd world bazaar and down to the beach. I'm walking down the beach wearing my khakis, dress shoes, and long sleeved shirt. Shooting like mad, of course. Shooting like crazy.

The beach, is nothing like any beach in the United States. On the beach, you can rent horses. Four wheelers. People are selling things on the beach. Coconuts. Tamales. Mangos. Nuts. Gummi bears. Hats. Everything. You name it.

"What you want, senor?"

And, you have the feeling that he could get you anything. A cerveza. A child. A kilo of heroin. If this isn't freedom, it's not far from it. And I know that I'll have to make my way back to the U.S. at some point, but I'm going to do it on my own terms. And I'm not going to let people pump their fears into me any more. I'm past that. Stay at home in your armchair with the remote if you want. As for me, I'm going to go out and look around a bit before I settle in.

Posted by Rob Kiser on September 20, 2009 at 10:52 PM


Hi Rob,

Good for you! I like the pictures of the beach, in particular. It looks like there are some high risers by the beach, even on the Mexican side.
I agree with you that people exagerrate about the risks, but still be safe down there.

I am taking the whole family on a mission trip to Guatemala in December. We have friends who have spend 12 years down there now, so we have a reference point, but they did warn us that things are not as safe as in "most places" in the US.
Here is their website: www.hands-of-hope.com

I am hoping to get a good used camera by then, so I can provide good visual coverage for all to see... I have not bought one yet ($$ :) ), so if you run into any great deal, let me know.

I hear Jennifer and Isabella are becoming good friends this year.

Hasta Luego


Posted by: Enrico on September 21, 2009 at 8:24 AM

Hi Rob,

I find it interesting that you take this stand on fear when you buy into all the Fox News fear mongering BS.

Entertaining as always,

Posted by: Karen on September 21, 2009 at 1:36 PM

I'm not clear how Fox News has the lock on fear mongering. Last time I checked, the media was pretty much jointly engaged in a campaign to generate ratings/viewers by scaring the masses into a lathered frenzy. Fox news is beating the pants off of the mainstream media because the MSM has a hidden liberal agenda which I did not initially realize. Finally, I was so disgusted by the obvious liberal bias that I told my mom I wasn't going to watch the news any more. I was just going to quit cold turkey. But then my mom told me "you know...fox news does claim to offer a more fair and balanced perspective" and then I found Fox news and I was saved. So, no - I'm not swayed by Fox News. Instead, I went looking for an honest news channel that wasn't deliberately trying to dishonestly feed me a watered down socialist agenda masquerading as journalism.

Posted by: rob kiser on September 21, 2009 at 3:03 PM

Great post, thanks for the story and the pictures. And well put regarding the MSM.

Posted by: Greg in Limerick on September 21, 2009 at 6:04 PM

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