South of the Border

There was something exciting about seeing the rays of sun touching on the hillside of a country not my own. It had been a while since I’d crossed an international border on foot. In Europe, it was as easy as an afternoon stroll, but in the states, it’s gotten more complicated than that. Despite the research and fading memories, getting to Tijuana required guidance from a young man who pointed towards the right direction.

Baja (4)The hope of seeing an international border line marked across the road faded the further we walked from the gates. Unlike previous occasions, there were no red light check points or soldiers poising their high caliber weapons. Instead, American tourists and Mexican school children mingled in the street. The sight of it was beautiful and in some ways deceitful of the  issues that have presented themselves in that area.Baja (5)I’d gone south of the border for various reasons. The first was quickly resolved after walking into the immigration office. That would be the first Baja California stamp on my passport. Chihuahua, Zacatecas and Distrito Federal have already been stamped on there.

Of course, I’d been to Tijuana on various occasions, but considering the border zone, I didn’t realize one could get a stamp for visiting.Baja (7)Also, I wanted to get pictures of Tigger in Tijuana. Of all the road trips through Mexico and the year he accidentally stayed behind, Tigger had never been to TJ.

To my delightful surprise, the Mexican soldiers did not poke his shoes as they did in Zacatecas and they did not pretend to cut him open as security at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris  had done. The thing is that since I’d gone to Mexico with a friend, and wrapped Tigger like a baby, many of the locals thought we were newly weds. Definitely had to turn down offers of tequila and fine dinning.

Baja (2)

Instead, I was set on getting a Mexican blanket! The sky was too cloudy to not have one. Research on buying souvenirs was done before hitting the shops. Of course, it was the usual – don’t purchase anything on the bridge because it will be more expensive, avoid this and that.

Honestly, the marketing strategies used in attempt to get sales were quite universal:

The Flirt – 

Individual appearing to be attracted to customer. Often complimenting, smiling and giving discounts biased on physical or linguistic appearances. [Previous encounter – Brussels, Belgium, when a group of Moroccan salesmen thought it was cute that I spoke French.]

The Creeper –

Individual who disrespects customer’s personal space in attempt to get a sale. Often appearing out of  nowhere, intimidating, grabby, pushy and loud.  [Previous encounter – Paris, France, when a group of vendors demanded that I buy Eiffel Tower souvenirs… also encountered in San Francisco… and Los Angeles, but without Eiffel Tower souvenirs.]

The Storyteller –

Individual who shares personal stories during business transaction. Often entertaining, friendly and sometimes distracting. [Previous encounter – San Andres, Colombia, when a hotel owner became friends with my family during our weekend stay.]

The Bored –

Individual appears indifferent to customer. Often looking off in the distance, talking on the phone or watching TV. [Previous encounter – Amsterdam, Holland, particularly in the red light district with the girls doing their nails behind the glass.]

The Genuine –

Individual who attends customers from a neutral standpoint. Often courteous and attentive but basing interactions on customer’s needs. [Previous encounter – Geneva, Switzerland, when a guy friend was shopping for boots. The store employees were helpful but didn’t follow us around or provide unsolicited information. The third visit was very conversational.]

Baja (6)One little souvenir that could not be resisted was this engraved keychain. When first seeing samples of the artisan’s work, I was upset that I hadn’t brought along my fountain pen for the treat. After watching the process, which consisted of sawing out the negative space, perhaps it was best not to have repeated it on the pen. Nevertheless, the finished product looked absolutely amazing, especially since it was done by hand. Couldn’t help but get two of the customized key chains.

As for the blanket, it was suggested that we take a cab to Avenida Revolucion. Not wanting to miss out on the colorful walls and alleys, we made our way on foot. All along, I asked for prices which ranged from $40 to $25 for the same product.

Haggling was the name of the game in Tijuana. That being the case, perhaps the stories behind the marked down prices were falsified. Vendors always appeared to be in a hurry, plummeting  discounts up to 50% off. Some claimed to have prearranged meetings, other had to pick up their kids from school and so on.

When someone quoted $20 as starting price, I just wanted to purchase the blanket immediately. By then, I’d given up on speaking Spanish as a way to disguise tourist status. Strangely enough, the owner – a fluent  English speaker -thought I was Mexican. Got it down to $17 by the help of my friend. Even if we could have gotten the blanket for a lower price, the sales man deserved to get something for it. After all, everyone’s got to make a living.

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As soon as I bought the blanket, a woman came up to me at the store entrance.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, trying to steer me towards her booth.

Frightened by her sudden approach, I answered in French, saying “Désolé, mais je ne comprends pas.”

Her facial expression didn’t change. “You must come with me.” Dang, she was persistent! We walked away and mingled into the crowd. Blanket in hands, it was enough shopping for one day.

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