We were halfway to our destination when the cabbie cursed in Spanish and jerked the car to the left as a woman cut him off. At the next stoplight we pulled alongside the woman and discovered the cause of her erratic driving -- she was brushing her teeth. Where does one get the water? Where do you spit? We jutted forward and then ahead of her as the light turned green, and I found myself relieved that I wasn't able to discover -- by way of witnessing -- the practical side of driving one's car while performing hygienic routines.
We were dropped in front of a building that resembled Pac-Man -- a large cement sphere with stairs on either side acting as the curvy arms coming out of the videogame character's head. Right where Pac-Man's mouth would be was the entrance to the building. Uncanny. This building is the Tijuana Cultural Center, and at five stories high, it is the city's largest local history, science, and art museum. Here there is an Omnimax theater, galleries, a bookstore, and another theater that is home to Baja California's symphony orchestra. People come to la Bola (a local nickname given to the big brown ball) to attend concerts, theater, writers' lectures, and science and history conferences. The fountains outside the building were not flowing this Saturday morning, but children frolicked in the noncirculating water.
"Pretty cool," I said, after Eddie had explained what went on inside Pac-Man. "Are we going to see an exhibit?"
"Nope," he said. "We're not even going inside. We're going over there for a mimosa and something to eat." I followed his gaze down the busy street, seeing only buildings and giant statues at the center of each major intersection. I later learned that these were statues of important historical figures such as Cuauhtémoc, the last emperor of the Aztecs, and our very own Abraham Lincoln.
Chilaquiles for Breakfast
Eddie led me down Paseo del los Héroes to the east, past Plaza Rio (a shopping mall that, as I would discover later in the day, harbored a wondrous place), to Hotel Camino Real. The hotel's several stories were yellow, purple, and hot pink.
"We're not going in there, are we?" I asked Eddie.
"This is where Gogo's sister got married," he said, as if by pointing out that our friend's family had chosen this location for such a special event he could convince me to go in. It worked -- I've been to some of the swanky, classy functions hosted by Gogo's family, and knowing they chose this place was all the proof I needed to enter, whether or not I found the colors to be hideous.
The inside of the five-star hotel was an elegant, muted version of its garish outdoor appearance. We went up an escalator to the main lobby, where the concierge -- a bilingual young man -- greeted us. Eddie asked if the hotel's lobby bar was open. Rather than raising a brow at what could only be two Americans with a bad case of alcoholism, the concierge informed us that the bar would be open later that evening, "with live music," and suggested we eat breakfast in the restaurant.
Eddie reminded me that we'd be drinking in a few hours, which helped end my lamentation for our missing mimosas. We headed to the hotel's restaurant, Azulejos.
We were led to a table against a lemon yellow wall. The sun made its way into the room through rectangular skylights, reflecting off the walls to give everything a bright glow. Wedges of watermelons -- a three-dimensional frieze -- adorned the vibrant purple wall at the back of the room in a wavy horizontal line two wedges thick. Above my head, more food decorations were attached onto square boards that were split into four sections -- each section contained a basketball-sized sculpture of a fruit (pineapples, strawberries, mangos, and more).
A besuited waiter appeared with menus written in English and Spanish and informed us of the breakfast buffet bar (all you can eat for five dollars). Eddie ordered mole enchiladas à la carte, and I decided to try chilaquiles for the first time. When our food arrived, I picked at Eddie's mole -- a chocolatelike sauce -- and he helped finish my chilaquiles, which seemed to be the breakfast version of nachos -- chips, cheese, and tomatillo sauce. We lingered over our freshly squeezed juices until it was time to search for beer -- around noon.
The Czech Republic of Tijuana
Outside the hotel, we hailed a taxi.
"Cervecería Tijuana, por favor," Eddie said to the man in the driver's seat. We traveled a long way (ten minutes was long compared to our previous ride) into residential streets. On the hillside were colorful shacks interspersed with large homes. Most of the buildings lining the long stretch of road we traveled appeared dry, dusty, and dilapidated.
Consorcio Cervecero de Baja California is the name of the company that makes Cerveza Tijuana, more commonly known as TJ Beer. It's located on Boulevard Fundadores (heading south on Avenida Revolución, you can turn right onto Fundadores, but we took a different route). We arrived at a structure; with its fresh coat of paint, it was the best-looking building in the neighborhood.
Out of the cab and facing the yellow-and-green edifice, I pointed at the bronze plaque affixed to the wall. The plaque was engraved with an animal figure that resembled a cross between a lion and griffin. Eddie translated the words imprinted on the crest: Consulate of the Czech Republic. To the right of the bronze crest were enormous green doors, like those allowing entrance into a barn. Eddie greeted the security guard standing in front of the doors. The guard took a moment to check with his superiors, verified that our presence was acceptable, and allowed us access to the main office. The brewery itself was to our right as we walked inside.
Though anyone can arrange a group tour (of around 30 people), Eddie had managed to orchestrate a private tour. The plant manager, Pedro Iturrios, ended a meeting with his employees to greet us. He wore fine pressed slacks with a black turtleneck sweater. His clothing and disposition, along with his mustache, salt-and-pepper hair, and wire-rimmed glasses, gave him the appearance of a man comfortably in charge. Iturrios's English was far better than my Spanish -- which is to say he can actually communicate in the language -- but we still both appreciated Eddie's deft interpretations.