Tristan Nichols, Avenida Revolución, You can always go to downtown

Avenida Revolución, You can always go to 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 Revolución (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.

Each shop on Avenida Revolución 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.

I’m led to believe its TJ's notorious drug cartels which have given the city, and indeed, Avenida Revolución 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.

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.

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.

Blog Once Upon a Time in Mexico:

Twitter: @tristan_nichols

Award-winning journalist Tristan Nichols joined U-T San Diego in 2013 after a 15-year newspaper and multi-media career in England. A former defense correspondent for The Herald in Plymouth, Nichols spent five months covering the war in Afghanistan on three occasions. In 2011, he also worked as a broadcaster, blogger, cameraman, presenter and editor for The British Forces Broadcasting Service for three months in Afghanistan. On his return to the U.K., he was awarded the Operational Service Medal on behalf of the queen. He also won The Royal British Legion’s regional and national President’s Award, in recognition of his support of the U.K. armed forces. Nichols has also reported from countries including Iraq, Brunei, Bahrain, Sierra Leone, Norway, France, Brazil and the Falkland Islands.