Tijuana to Hermosillo by Bus

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They told me the ride would take 12 hours, but it turned out to be 13 and a half. Not a big deal.

The scenery was mostly desert, but the first couple of hours covered some remarkable arid mountain scenery. The bus drivers with the Elite bus company couldn’t have been nicer. When they saw me taking pictures, they made a special stop at a “mirador” so I could get better shots.

Cabeza, Cabeza, Cabeza

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I just started this trip on Thursday, taking buses from Los Angeles to Tijuana, and from there to Hermosillo, and I’ve had a surprising number of invitations to eat the heads (cabezas) of various animals. The picture of the steaming skull is from my favorite taquería in Tijuana, Tacos El Gordo. The others are from the Mercado Municipal in Hermosillo. Each time I passed a food stand, they tried to lure me in for breakfast with their delicious cabeza… So far, I’ve managed to resist the temptation.

Chicas Kaláshnikov y Otras Crónicas – Alejandro Almazán

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My rating: 4 1/2 stars

Alejandro Almazán’s fiction can be cynical and disturbing. His recent novel El Más Buscado (see my earlier review) paints a troubling portrait not only of an elite leader in the drug industry, but also of the Mexico that has allowed him to exist and flourish. Chicas Kaláshnikov y Otras Crónicas, however, is disturbing at an entirely different level, because it’s not fiction. It is a series of interviews with the very real people who populate the Mexican drug trade, stripping away the cliches, horrors and romanticism that have filled our imaginations for many years.

A collection of stories published by Almazán in various publications between 2001 and 2012, the book introduces us to Yaretzi, a young woman now sitting in a Chihuahua jail, who wielded her AK47 cuerno de chivo (the Mexicans call them “goats’ horns”) as a surprisingly underpaid cartel assassin. She doesn’t look at her victims for fear of going crazy. We also meet Jota Erre (J.R.), who has been lured into various low-level jobs for the cartels, ranging from marijuana harvester to debt collector / assassin. At every turn, however, he comes away without getting paid, and what recourse does he have? None… if he wants to stay alive. At another end of the spectrum, we meet Julián Leyzaola Pérez, the one-time chief of police in Tijuana, and celebrated “incorruptible cop.” In a remarkable series of interviews, Almazán records the opinions, insights, and even introspections of a controversial figure widely held to be a hero.

These and other characters are presented so vividly, but without embellishment, that the “war on drugs” now has a face. The face of the real people involved in it.

Reseña de Rodrigo Araiza en EstiloDF:

Más allá de las tramas y personajes retratados en este compendio de historias, Chicas Kaláshnikov y otras crónicas ofrece un panorama de un problema que aqueja a la sociedad mexicana: el narcotráfico.

La mal llamada “guerra contra el narco” pasó de ser una gripa bajo control a un cáncer invasivo capaz de destruir el tejido social desde su célula más básica: la familia. En su ejercicio periodístico, Alejandro Almazán ha escudriñado dentro de las historias del narcotráfico, y como resultado de esa búsqueda se encontró con un país hundido en la pobreza, desigualdad, injusticia, corrupción y prepotencia, ingredientes básicos para un estado fallido.

A través de personajes como Lino Portillo Cabanillas, El Jota Erre; el adolescente sicario conocido como El Ponchis, e incluso figuras de autoridad como Julián Leyzaola Pérez y el alcalde Mauricio Fernández, el autor de estas crónicas reseña y dibuja un México herido por la violencia.

“Te encuentras con que los personajes también son seres humanos, tienen familia y ellos ven el narcotráfico como un trabajo; esto no quiere decir que sus actos son justificables, sin embargo, los medios se han encargado de crear un estereotipo que no se apega a la realidad del narco”, señala Almazán.Chicas Kaláshnikov y otras crónicas compila una serie de historias publicadas por Almazán en distintos medios de comunicación durante un periodo de 11 años, entre 2001 y 2012. Son historias que no pierden vigencia, personajes que ahora son cotidianos, que aunque parecieran sacados de la ficción, son parte de la realidad.

Los Tucanes de Tijuana – El Tucanazo

A lively song by Los Tucanes de Tijuana, probably the most popular Norteño band in Mexico. Hugely successful, they can fill stadiums on either side of the border. There has been some controversy over the years, though, over whether they have had ties to major figures in the drug trade.

9th Caesar Salad Festival – Tijuana – June 30

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Note: The date has been changed from June 23rd to June 30th

It’s pretty much confirmed that the Caesar Salad was created in Tijuana. For several years now, the city of Tijuana has held a celebration on Avenida Revolución to commemorate it. I never knew about it until now, but there’s a good chance you’ll see me there this year.

Here’s a brief history:

http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/CaesarSalad/index.htm#Invent

Ana Gabriél – Tijuana Concert June 15th

It was 1992, and I was travelling aimlessly in South America in the full grasp of a mid-life crisis. In Santiago, Chile, one evening, I turned on the TV and watched with my mouth open as this little woman brought down the house at a large concert venue. I had never heard of Ana Gabriel, but the audience certainly knew her songs by heart. It turned out she was performing at the annual festival in Viña Del Mar, a short bus ride from Santiago. I arrived in time for the final evening of the festival, where I saw some great acts, but none was as exciting as Ana Gabriel had been, even though I only saw her on TV.

She is coming to Tijuana this weekend, and I may take advantage of the chance to finally see her live in concert.

Pierna de Borrego (Leg of Lamb) – La Espadaña. Tijuana

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My rating: 4 1/2 stars

About 10 years ago, a friend told me to try La Espadaña, a lovely restaurant in an upscale neighborhood of Tijuana. “Try the Tampiqueña” he said. I eventually tried the Tampiqueña, a tasty steak covered in onions and peppers, but this time, I went for the leg of lamb.

It was a generous piece of beautifully braised lamb, served in its own juices, complexly flavored with cinnamon and spices that wouldn’t have surprised me in a Greek restaurant… except for the obvious presence of some smoky peppers. The presentation was delightful, especially when I was presented with a large dish of dried oregano, parsley, chopped onions and crushed peppers. This great meal and a diet Coke cost me $17.50 plus tip. Maybe I’ll have the Tampiqueña next time… or something entirely different.

Tacos al Pastor – Tacos El Gordo. Tijuana

Tacos al pastor -Tacos El Gordo. Tijuana

Tacos al pastor -Tacos El Gordo. Tijuana

Tacos al pastor at Tacos El Gordo in Tijuana. Still one of the most delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth. He dips the tortillas in the pork drippings, and heats them up on the grill. He then carves perfectly caramelized slivers of meat directly onto the tortillas, tosses on a handful of chopped cilantro and onion, and ladles on a splash of liquefied guacamole… Served so hot they hurt your fingers!