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And in case I want to come alone next time, he instructs me to tell the cab driver, “Third and Madero” or “Revolución and Third.”


A view of Pasaje Rodriguez y Pasaje Gomez.

I’ve heard and read about these pasajes, but even photographs haven’t prepared me for the sensation of having traveled by Star Trek transporter. One minute we’re in downtown Tijuana, among the cart vendors, drugstores, taco stands, and people everywhere. Then we turn down an alley between buildings and suddenly we’re in this in-between place, not outside anymore, but not completely inside either. The roofs of these alleyways are covered with translucent yellow and green corrugated plastic, so the weather doesn’t come through but light does. The walkways are lined with 250-square-foot storefronts, art galleries and vintage shops, blackbox theaters, cafés, and dentist offices.

At this time of day, Pasaje Gómez is quiet, with only a few storefronts open. In the evening, more of the metal gates will rise, Sheiner says, and the pasaje will liven up. Many of the business owners have day-jobs.

Castro steps out of La Tentación and greets us as we approach. He is as olive-skinned as the red-headed Sheiner is fair. After we embrace, he throws an arm around Sheiner’s shoulders.

“We’re the odd couple,” Castro says. “A Jewish pelo rojo and a Mexican Jew. It’s interesting for a lot of people. We have a lot of fun.”

The two laugh and then Castro launches into his explanation of how they ended up here.

“A friend of mine invited me to this place — a pasaje,” he says. “Pasajes are like little malls that were very popular in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. They were very crowded. There were a lot of them in Tijuana, especially in La Revolución — Revolución Street. After 9/11, the economy was brought down and a lot of these pasajes were closed and abandoned. They just closed the doors and the curtains for almost 11 years, until we started opening them again. So now it’s like a little art district.”

Castro says the recent renewed interest in Baja “started with the Valle de Guadalupe and their wine attracting the attention of Americans. There have been many Baja food and wine articles.”

Sheiner adds, “We said, ‘If they’re talking about food and wine, why don’t we start talking about art?’”

When they first opened the gallery, with the encouragement of the Museum of Photographic Arts’ Debra Klotchko, they started with a 250-square-foot space. Within a couple of months they’d expanded to three spaces, where they now hold workshops as well as exhibitions. The storefront is painted bright white with lime-green columns. Out front, in the middle of the pasaje, they’ve added white, plastic modern-looking lounge chairs.

“What we’ve got is very inexpensive rates and rents,” Castro says, explaining that the rent for a space in a pasaje ranges between $200 and $600 per month.

“We’re growing really fast,” Sheiner adds.

According to a September 2012 New York Times article, Pasaje Gómez is the most successful of the new pasajes, having rented out 60 spaces in its first year and a half. And yet, Castro says, the perception of danger , which he attributes to the Mexican media, still keeps potential foreign visitors away.

“Sometimes [the media] don’t even think about what they’re doing,” he says. “They’re working against us. They want to sell their newspapers. They always put something bad on the front page. So it makes it really bad-looking for everybody, but it’s not that dangerous.”

Castro and Sheiner offer themselves as chaperones to gallery guests as often as they can. This afternoon, they walk me around Pasaje Gómez, Plaza Revolución, and across the street to Pasaje Rodríguez, introducing me to friends and café owners, pausing so that I can take pictures of arched doorways and painted corrugated gates. I’m gushy with enthusiasm, oohing and ahhing around every corner. I can’t help it. Not only has my travel bug been awakened, but it has also occurred to me that this place is only 30 minutes away from my house. I’m hoping the photos will entice my husband to come back with me.

“It has taken us a lot of effort, getting Americans down here,” Castro says. He tells me how surprised he was when, in early April, two female artists, both in their 70s and both due to exhibit at La Tentación mid-month, crossed the border to visit the gallery.

Andrew Sheiner and Josué Castro opened La Tentación, an experimental gallery dedicated to the photographic arts.

Andrew Sheiner and Josué Castro opened La Tentación, an experimental gallery dedicated to the photographic arts.

“It was a surprise to me that that they were not afraid,” he says. “[The perception of danger] is one of our first things we have against us in bringing people from the United States, especially [people over] a certain age. I’m 57, but, you know, people that are older than 40 are more afraid. Most of the people that go from the United States to our openings and exhibitions are very young.”

Sheiner came to Baja for the first time with Castro, who is a former Tijuana resident, six or seven years ago. They would spend the day, go out to eat, see art, or maybe take a trip farther south to one of the wineries.

“Andrew is most adventurous,” Castro says. “Now he knows all the good taquerías, the good vendors. He shows me things I don’t know.”

Sheiner laughs. “The zeal of the convert,” he says.

Like my husband, Sheiner’s wife was nervous about his trips across the border. But eventually, she was able to let go of her fear.

“She said, ‘If you’re with Castro, I trust you,’” Sheiner says. “After coming so many times, she became comfortable, too.”

Okay, I say, but what if she came on her own? Does he trust that she’d be safe?

“As long as she looks both ways crossing the street,” he jokes. “That’s the real danger.”

You asked for an authentic experience

The aforementioned perception study on travel to Baja from Southern California revealed three particular pain points: 11 percent of respondents do not have a passport (a decrease of 3 percent from the 2011 survey); 43 percent of respondents are not satisfied with the border wait, with San Diegans being the least satisfied, and; women still perceive Baja as less secure than men do.

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Comments

BillEsparza July 25, 2013 @ 2:23 a.m.

What was the point of this article, SD Reader? It's old news, all of this, including the sensationalism. It would appear that this story was written by someone who doesn't read the news. How about a story on how the San Diego craft beer scene is really taking off?

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David Dodd July 26, 2013 @ 11:16 a.m.

Chad Deal will be submitting that story soon, stay tuned. I was incredibly impressed.

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Ken July 26, 2013 @ 11:20 a.m.

...or how about a story of the craft beers in Baja, which is also 'really taking off.' There are actually competing beer festivals in Tijuana!

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BillEsparza July 29, 2013 @ 5:27 p.m.

Was being facetious. Just pointing out the SD Reader's inability to use Google.

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CSWLTD July 25, 2013 @ 9:31 a.m.

Thanks for your attempt to enlighten us about the greatness of Baja. With that said, any article about Tijuana that begins with references to “dissolving bodies” and “severed heads” is not helpful, rather, it is the problem. Why is it necessary to make these references PERIOD? It is completely unnecessary and it overshadows everything good about the current “revolution” in Northern Baja (food, art, wine, beer, etc.). Kristin knows her stuff, so I am confident that you were exposed to a lot of great things during your trip south of the border. I just wish you didn’t ruin your story in the first few paragraphs. Everybody knows Tijuana’s “past” and it’s not worth reiterating over and over before getting in the good stuff. It’s like eating in a 5-Star restaurant and writing a review that starts by mentioning a health code violation 10 years ago……NOBODY CARES. Thanks for the effort regardless.

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kathy2 July 25, 2013 @ 11:04 a.m.

I love that you actually came to Baja and then wrote this story. I have read so many articles from people that have never been here. Your title is perfect! I see more and more people coming back To Rosartio Beach only to return back to California and book there next trip back to Baja. My husband being the surfer, our phone is ringing again from other surfers coming down for a surf weekend! I am American have raised my kids here in Baja and choose to stay in Baja even when I could have returned to the US, I too have a home in East Lake, I would never leave if we had Whole foods, trader Joe and Nordstroms in Rosarito!! Yes I am one of those Americans who spend way to much money a cross in San Diego for the American delights!! Thanks again for the honest article about Baja!! PS we have some great restaurants in Rosarito!

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yikiyaki July 25, 2013 @ 11:11 a.m.

There are many of us who have worked over the last 5 or 6 years to help bring people back to Baja. In honest conversations with each other, the decision was made that we cannot deny the things that have happened in the past in our area. That would be dishonest and we are not trying to present a "cover-up". It is the reason that the negativism is still present in the writings.

Today we have a much healthier, safer and happier Baja to promote and we are all proud of the hard work many folks have done so we can say this. Watch the videos, read the articles, talk to friends who have ventured over, come to concerts, art galleries, wineries. We welcome you and provide you with information to keep you safe and happy!

Keep up the good work! People are returning! I live in Baja and have for the last 18 years. We are very glad to see the hotels returning to full occupancy, our beaches being enjoyed, the restaurants thriving and the horses being ridden!

Thanks Reader and Elizabeth Salaam and Thanks Baja Joe!

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woooosh July 25, 2013 @ 11:38 a.m.

Yikiyaki has the right approach- accept what has happened in the past and move forward. Unfortunately (and likely after this article was authored) the US Dept of State just put out a travel warning for Tijuana and kidnappings are on the rise again. This cannot be disputed. I think it is necessary to keep promoting Baja, but we'll never get away from the truth and the reality. Denial did not work in the past, and they won't work in the future. You have to find a type of tourist who can enjoy the good parts of TJ's music and foodie scene- while filtering out the bad parts. You need tourists who don't care if there is lawlessness around them- as long as they don't see it and it doesn't affect their trip. That is the challenge. So far Mexican tourists are picking up the slack in Rosarito and although people are posting about a lot of gringos returning- I don't see it yet.

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jnojr July 25, 2013 @ 12:40 p.m.

We really need a good look at who is getting kidnapped, killed, head sawed off, etc. Where were they, when, doing what?

I have a VERY strong feeling that, if any American tourists have been victims of crime, it's because they were in the wrong part of town at the wrong time, looking for things they shouldn't be looking for; or doing something fairly dumb like camping all by themselves at a remote beach. If you go to Mexico looking for drugs, hookers, etc. you can't act surprised when you find trouble.

Have any tourists been grabbed from a resort, a winery, a museum, a downtown cafe, etc? I'll bet no.

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Ken July 26, 2013 @ 11:29 a.m.

Good observation. You would win your bet! In all of the sensationalized cases, victims may have been 'American citizens' but were also Mexican-American and/or with strong ties to Mexico. The more typical Southern California tourist comes and enjoys their visit.

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woooosh July 25, 2013 @ 2:07 p.m.

Well "jnojr", I think that's the whole point. Does it matter from a tourist-economy perspective who the crime is against? Do people care if the crime rate is high so long as they aren't an intended victim and the violence is far away? Some will, some won't. The security situation has been fluid the past eight years and Tijuaneros have moved on to create better tourist-worthy food and music attractions and that is to be commended. But the US Dept. of State travel warning for TJ issued last week is based on the current risks. At a minimum- people who ignore that should deploy good "situational awareness" skills. My US friends who won't visit have kids and tell me they aren't afraid of something bad happening to them in TJ or Rosarito on a day trip; but they are afraid if something does go wrong, there is no one they can trust to help them.

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MsAg July 25, 2013 @ 5:39 p.m.

I am happy to read an honest piece without the usual BS I see in the press when it comes to Northern Baja.

I've been taking the family down for years now and have NEVER been in any danger. Yes, I was unjustly stopped by a cop once, (speeding?), but I paid my fine on the spot, and moved on. No, I didn't get a receipt :) But that is one time over about 20 years.

My wife, kids and I have always found the locals to be super-friendly and warm, and have never felt that we were in any danger. We look around the shops in Rosarito & Puerto Nuevo, eat some lobster and buy some crap, before heading back to our rental in Las Gaviotas.

No-one I know has ever been attached or been in any danger when south of the border, and I wish people would stop saying it's dangerous down there. Still, when I tell people we're going to Mex for the weekend, they get all wide-eyed and say "please - be careful". Really?!

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chefchadwhite July 26, 2013 @ 6:52 a.m.

This article did nothing for Baja, it was a waste of paper and my time reading it. Im surprised Kristen allowed her name and picture to be used in it. As a person interested in travel, food, music and arts if I didn't already know Baja I'm pretty sure this article would have thinking twice before crossing the border. Every city all across the United States has problem areas. I find it weird that in the past 20 years of me traveling to Baja with my family I've never encountered danger. By the way I'm 30 years old so almost my whole life. Or in the past 2 years of me traveling solo to cook all over Baja I haven't been threatened, or my last 24 day trip to Baja from Tijuana to Cabo visiting over 27 cities, towns and fishing villages on both the pacific side and sea of cortez earlier this month I felt Zero amount of fear nor danger even in the most remote places. Some said it before keep your nose clean and you'll be fine, same goes in the states or traveling anywhere abroad. Reader maybe should should focus a bit more on your whole experience than pointing out what everybody already knows. If you think you were doing Baja a favor, good try, but sorry I think you missed a few steps.

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Ken July 26, 2013 @ 11:13 a.m.

For those of us who have lived in Baja during the media hype over the past 6 years or so, it is nice to see anything in print portraying the lifestyle south of the border in a balanced way. Sure there have been 'food' articles, because to be honest, Baja has some wonderful places to dine, Valle de Guadalupe is a true Mexican version of Napa valley, and our beach venues offer some of the best sunsets on the west coast.

Of course, this great lifestyle is available at a fraction of the cost just a few miles to the north. I've chatted with visitors to Baja from around the world who are... well, more 'worldly' than many Americans, and they don't pay attention to US media. Mexicans and Mexican Americans are used to the sensational style of the Mexican media... so they don't pay attention either.

Everyone is entitled to experience their own taste and style... but the fear about visiting Baja is simply unfounded. If you are not used to being in a foreign country, there will be differences, because... it is different here. But that's not bad! If you can't handle the differences, there is always Disneyland, which is a controlled environment. Many also like the 'controlled environments' of Mexico as well... luxury resorts where you parachute in and spend your time within the environs of the resort.

This article is for those who are interested in a experiencing something of Mexico, and able to do so in a easy drive from somewhere in the US southwest. More and more everyday are deciding it is also a good place to consider a second home or retirement home because their dollars go farther. We're having fun... and happy that 'Baja is back!'

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tillief July 26, 2013 @ 4:06 p.m.

I have lived in Baja in the Punta Banda area South of Ensenada for over 36 years. I am 80 years old and I have never feared living here. On the contrary living relaxed, getting to know the Mexican people, their culture etc has been a marvelous experience. There is a pleasant surprise every day, with finding new restaurants, social activities and just enjoying "The Baja Feeling".. Baja is Back but as far as I am concerned she never left.

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Visduh July 30, 2013 @ 4:26 p.m.

Pardon my skepticism, but I'd think twice (or more) before heading to Baja for gourmet dining. The sanitation problems and lack of refrigeration make it very hard for even those in Baja who want to keep the food prep sanitary to avoid spreading intestinal disease. As far as safety goes, the average, everyday tourist had little to fear as far as major kidnapping and death. The fear should have been for the same old crap that went on in Baja for decades, meaning the strong-arm robberies, the cop shakedowns (paying a fine for an imaginary traffic offense to the cop directly), the crazy driving that caused horrible traffic crashes, and the lack of medical care if you found yourself needing it, All of those things were part of the dark side of travel to Mexico that made it seem so exotic for many tourists, and were also excused as "local color." If TJ is ever going to get back on the map, that old stuff has to be stopped for good, and it has to do a better job than ever before with cleanliness, safety, and honesty. Is that really the case? Despite all the talk, I doubt it, and as long as I doubt it, will refrain.

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latentacion Aug. 3, 2013 @ 11:38 a.m.

Mil gracias to Elizabeth Salaam and the Reader! We appreciate the depth of research, quality writing, and the lack of sensationalism rarely seen in articles about Baja. Well done!

You are all welcome Thursday and Friday nights of this month. We have...

Two photography shows are currently on view through August: "Insomnia" by Josue Castro of San Diego and "No Lucha, No Victory" by Eden Rodriguez of Calgary

You may also sample our hand made nano-brews: Los Marranos Chocolate Milk Stout, American Style Wheat with Orange Peel and Rose Hips, and British Brown Ale.

Hope to see some SD Reader Readers!

Andrew Sheiner La Tentación & Nano-Brewery Los Marranos 100 Pasaje Gomez, Tijuana Enter pasaje next to La Especial Cafe on Revolución, cross street 3ra

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