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It’s impossible to camouflage a crowd of gringos at the mercadito. On Turista Libre’s website, one of the huge swap meets in Tijuana is described like this: “On Sundays the hilltop streets of Tijuana’s Colonia Francisco Villa are filled with an open-air swap meet so massive, it makes Kobey’s at the San Diego Sports Arena look like a 7-Eleven. It’s blocks and blocks of vendors selling food, clothes, produce, parakeets, puppies and — most important — mountains of the most random secondhand loot, everything from bottle openers attached to wooden papayas to pirated DVDs of Mexican classics.”

When I read this, the thing I could not get out of my head is that the majority of the stuff sold at Tijuana swap meets was bought at garage and estate sales in San Diego and Los Angeles. To me, this becomes a fascinating paradox. It’s like looking through a telescope and finding yourself looking at yourself.

It’s difficult to write about a tour through the insides of Tijuana. As a local it sort of feels like an unknown person is going through your laundry. There is a saying in México: la ropa sucia se lava en casa; it roughly translates into, “You should only do your laundry at home,” meaning no stranger should know your secrets. Turista Libre unveils Tijuana’s secrets and this somehow feels like someone just turned your family photos into exotic postcards.

In the end, are there any rules when traveling through a city? Must one always get lost or have maps or memorize a travel book? Whenever I’m traveling, I’m impractical. I like to use public transportation, eat what the locals eat, and go to local festivities. I like to do exactly what Turista Libre does in Tijuana, but there is a difference. They stay in a group, rent a public bus that is used exclusively for them during the day tour; this limits their contact with the culture, the interaction with the landscape and the people. But it’s a way to show another Tijuana, one that is different from the tourism campaigns and the constant reports in the media that sow fear on both sides of the border. Turista Libre is breaking down the common cultural perceptions of a poor, disorganized, lawless city. For that, I’m thankful and hopeful it might help some of the many shuttered businesses reopen one day. But I also hope that all these liberated tourists come back to Tijuana sometime — not on a guided tour, but just to wander around and experience their own adventures in a city they might come to love as much as I do.

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Comments

Lorena Mancilla Dec. 3, 2011 @ 7:11 p.m.

I just love that you do. Thanks for your comment, Sara!

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DonnaMac Jan. 16, 2012 @ 6:02 p.m.

I love Baja, and when I was married (my ex-husband and I used to lease a lot in Loreto and drive down there to spend a week fishing and enjoying life whenever we could), we used to visit Tijuana often (we lived in Mira Mesa; I now live in Imperial Beach) for dinner at great places someone told us about, or little out-of-the-way places we just happen to come across and decided to try (one of which is where we agreed, after about 15 years together, "Why don't we get married?") or just to look around and experience the interesting city, talk to the folks in what little Spanish we knew, etc. I've traveled by car, camped, hiked, fished, and have done a lot of eating and drinking Mexican beer all up and down Baja. MANY years ago I was robbed twice within about a month (there had apparently been a rash of minor robberies by vandals coming into the Ensenada area on foot), but it didn't keep me from returning.

I saw an article about Turista Libre in San Diego Magazine, and since there was no contact info, I looked it up on line. Candidly, the site seems to be more about gay activity than tours to Tijuana. I am not prejudiced or bigoted and have nothing whatsoever against gay people and in fact have several gay friends who are the sweetest and most fun folks I know, but it would seem this is quite unprofessional if you're attempting to appeal to all customers, not solely the gay ones. Just my impression and opinion, of course -- that's all I have to offer. I understand your tours are very popular, but unless I was looking at the wrong website (turistalibre.com?), I suspect you'd have far more customers if the website was more about Tijuana and less about gay folks. I am not trying to be offensive -- I would really like to go on one of the tours, even though I live just across the border, and I'm very curious about when you go and what the cost is, but I'm just trying to convey to you my impression in hopes that it may provide another perspective for successful marketing of the tours.

Best of luck, and I'd very much appreciate your responding with some contact info. Thank you.

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Lorena Mancilla Aug. 15, 2012 @ 12:17 a.m.

Hi, Donna.

Turista Libre's contact info is: turistalibre@gmail.com

I am not connected with turista libre, I only wrote about them. The tours cost between 30 and 50 dlls depending on the event (they used to cost between 10 an 25 dlls). They include transportation and sometimes food and drinks. You should email them and have them put you on their email list.

I apologize for responding so late.

Saludos Lorena Mancilla

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