Finding Traditional Mexico

By David Simmonds 

The strip of real estate just south of Tijuana, centered around Rosarito Beach in Northern Baja, is undergoing a period of huge growth. Hammers are swinging, real estate agents are selling, and gringos from the norte side of the border are laying down their money, looking for that ocean-view hideaway that has become an impossible dream for many in SoCal.

Now I’ve been traveling to and through this area for years, and I really don’t see the attraction, especially when compared to so many other places in Mexico. It has that uneasy border feel and mentality to it, the beaches are no warmer than San Diego’s (where you can only swim in the summer without a wetsuit), and it now resembles a very long strip-mall. But it did have a strange appeal in the early days, before the land rush…some good, authentic bars and restaurants, a funky Mexican ambience, and down-to-earth, friendly locals. It was a quiet respite from the madness of California life and it was cheap. Many people would haul a small trailer down, find a place to park it along the ocean where they paid someone $20 a month for rental space, and over the years they would bootleg a more permanent structure around the trailer. It was all very Bohemian and unplanned, with just enough element of the unknown to make every trip an adventure. It was a relatively small population of people who “got it”, and they liked it that way just fine.

But that was then and this is now, and as we gringos tend to do, we find a special place unlike the States and turn it into a place…just like the States. And we end up stuck with the dark side of unintended consequences. The old-timers are now complaining about how everything costs so much more now. A $1.00 beer at the local cantina is now $2.50 and the price of a plate of street tacos has doubled. Many of the “trailer parks”have been demolished to make room for condo buildings (Trump even has his name on a project) and the traffic is often stop-and-go…mostly stop.

The lesson here, if there is one, is that you need to pick your place very carefully. If you want a community not much different from where you now live, you can find it. But if your desire is to experience “Old Mexico”, a place that is still steeped in tradition and Mexican culture, you need to look a little farther into the country, and hope that the crowds are not close behind.