Tired of its reputation as a swell place to go for a donkey show, Tijuana is attempting to change its image. Everywhere you look there are signs of progress, from the new street signs to the friendly vendors on street corners offering to help turistas with directions to local landmarks and, perhaps, sell them a ceramic Bart Simpson statue.
But, gosh darn it, the occasional drug-war gun battle continues to dampen the Mexico Tourism Board's effort to present Tijuana as the Solvang of Northern Baja. It's tough to sell "Family Fun in Tijuana," when that damn media continues to focus on executions and a few misconstrued beatings. One little girl gets stuffed in a piñata and it makes everyone look bad.
But now Mexico tourism officials are firing back, putting the real muscle of the government behind the effort to make Tijuana tourism-friendly. The result is a really nifty brochure, which was unveiled amid much hoopla a few weeks ago.
The brochure is designed to help tourists navigate the inner works of Tijuana's criminal-justice system, should, by the grace of God, they encounter some unpleasantness during their stroll through historic old Mexico. The brochure, available online at www.tijuana.gob.mx, offers all sorts of helpful tips about who to call and the details of the law.
"This publication is proof that our municipal government has the will to do all that is necessary so that visitors to our area feel protected and safe at all times, including in legal situations," Tijuana mayor Jesús González Reyes says in the brochure's intro.
Of course, Tijuana is about to crown a new mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon, unless the government responds to charges of shady deals and overturns the election. Hank is a gambling tycoon who's spent years denying any involvement in a variety of heinous crimes, which is why his election is seen as a small speed bump in Tijuana's re-branding campaign.
However, visitors can rest assured knowing Hank ran on a law-and-order platform, which means he's more than likely 100 percent behind the helpful new brochure.
But the brochure only scratches the surface. If you're planning a family trip to the delightful Mexican playground, perhaps as a fun new way to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, here are a few tips not included in the official brochure:
* La Zona Roja may sound like a really cool mercado; it's not.
* Although San Diego institutions of higher learning encourage young academics to explore the world of science, it is unwise to try the famous Tequila Experiment, which involves mixing large quantities of mescal with pork tamales, and then vigorously shaking them all about.
* When the polite policeman pulls you over, don't argue with his interpretation of stop-sign laws. If queried, the smart response would be to say, "Yes, officer, I will gladly pay the fine now."
* Remember, margaritas do, in fact, contain alcohol.
* Tijuana's friendly taxi drivers can be your guide to all the wonders of the city, especially if you're looking for a cheap furniture outlet that may or may not be operated by the driver's cousin.
* Always agree on a price upfront with your friendly taxi driver, in order to avoid an uncomfortable moment when you are charged $50 for a one-way, deluxe personalized tour of Avenida Revolución.
* Taco stands on the streets can provide a tasty snack, but you will find chefs do not appreciate jokes about missing local dogs.
* As the brochure points out, it is your right to consult with an attorney. However, it may be unwise to seek legal advice from the bartender at La Perra Cantina.
* Contrary to popular belief, it's considered rude to barf on the sidewalk.
* If you're driving into Mexico, you must have insurance, and it's best to buy it from a reputable broker. For the record, Juan, the guy standing next to the garbage can at the border entrance, is not a reputable insurance broker.
* Never, ever identify yourself as a journalist. In the United States journalists may be treated with respect and adulation, but in Tijuana they tend to become shooting victims.
* When enjoying a hard-fought game of Jai Lai, it is inappropriate to stand up and scream, "This is rigged" and demand the return of your wager.
* If a man with a gun approaches your car, allow the nice man to borrow your car.
* Many Tijuana residents are bilingual, so it's best not to use the phrase "This tastes like crap" too loudly.
* In reality, only drunk tourists actually wear sombreros.
* Buying trinkets from street vendors is a wonderful boost to the local economy and you should feel free to haggle for a deal. However, it is considered tacky to negotiate the price of Chiclets.
* If C.S.I. makes you queasy, you probably should stay away from the bullfights.
* When getting your picture taken with a burro, one of the beloved tourist traditions of Tijuana, it is best to mount the burro from the side, not the back.
* The streets of Tijuana are alive with the heritage and vibrant culture of Mexico, but it's wise to avoid the man in the sarape who offers to give your daughter a personalized tour.
* Young gents looking for a little liquid refreshment should not be surprised if their fresh-faced young waitress disappears under the table. She is just very, very thorough. And remember, she works for tips.
* Keep in mind, Thanksgiving is not a big holiday in Mexico. B
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