Story and Photos by Greg Niemann
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, there was an initial drop in border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico, however in recent months more and more people are going back and forth from southern California to Baja California.
Renewed and greater tourism, improved business conditions, and an increase in the number of Tijuana residents who commute regularly to San Diego County jobs are some of the reasons given for the increase. According to Juan Luis Coronado, a Tijuana tourism official, tourism in the border city is up 22 percent from last year.
Today, the city of Tijuana has a population of approximately 1.5 million, making it the second largest (after Los Angeles) on North America’s Pacific coast. Lorena Blanco, media coordinator for the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana, recently said, “The population here in Tijuana just keeps growing and growing.” About 60 percent of Tijuana’s economic base is industrial, with 700 maquiladoras (factories) employing some 170,000 workers. The rest is divided between tourism and commerce.
In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2004, border crossings escalated by two million, from 9.3 million to 11.3 people at the area’s two main ports of entry (San Ysidro and Otay Mesa). The main entry at San Ysidro is commonly referred to as the “busiest border crossing in the world.”
Pedestrians make up the biggest part of the increased traffic. They may have been attracted by a special pedestrian gateway that opened in September. Part of the SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers’ Rapid Inspection) program, the lanes allow expedited crossings for people who have been pre-screened.
Two vehicle SENTRI lanes at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa have become so popular with drivers wanting to avoid long border waits that U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the opening of two additional lanes at each port by early spring, 2005. About 60,000 commuters have registered with the SENTRI program at the two ports of entry.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge visited the area in mid-December, 2004, two months before leaving office. He concluded that a third border crossing in the San Diego region could alleviate the strain caused by the record traffic.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Ridge said, “At some point in time the security and economic integration of ourselves with our northern and southern neighbors are going to require us to make some substantial infrastructure investments.”
Ridge added that while waiting for improvements, private industry should share the enormous expense of moving people and products safely and smoothly between the countries. He cited an example in Arizona where companies used private funds to open extra crossing lanes for truckers at Nogales, a move that enhanced security and commerce.
In the meanwhile, crossing the border from Tijuana into the U.S. is often an onerous task, one that involves a lot of patience. Sitting in your idling car, creeping forward to the gates, can often take one or two hours, depending on the day of the week and the time of day. Even for retired folks, who can cross mid-day, mid-week, crossing can be a crap shoot, taking anywhere from five minutes to an hour or so.
If a person’s objective is just to do some shopping in Tijuana, it might be best to leave your car at one of the lots on the U.S. side and walk across. Or you can take the red San Diego (Tijuana) Trolley right to the border. I once took the Amtrac from San Clemente to the San Diego Union Train Station, walked out front and caught the trolley to the border.
There are a couple of other options as well, if you don’t want to walk across. One is the Border Shuttle, big blue busses that pick you up at the On The Edge Parking Lot (in front of Jack in the Box), or at the last stop of the San Diego Trolley. The Big Blue Bus will drop you off at the Tijuana Tourist Terminal in the heart of the tourist shopping district on Avenida Revolucion. The Big Blue Bus also has options to take you to Rosarito Beach. When you’re ready, the Border Shuttle will take you from the tourist terminal across the border to your car, or the border trolley station.
The largest international border-crossing shuttle bus service is Mexicoach, which maintains a fleet of 15 bright red buses and makes over 96 crossings daily. Mexicoach departs every 15-20 minutes (8 a.m. to 9 p.m., 365 days a year) from either the Border Station Parking (next to San Diego Factory Outlet Center) or the last stop on the San Diego Trolley. Shoppers are dropped off and picked up at the new Tijuana Tourist Terminal. Mexicoach also offers service to Rosarito Beach for only $5.00 each way per person. Border crossing to downtown Tijuana is $2.50 per person each way. Additional information for Mexicoach: (619) 428-9517, or HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com.
U.S. citizens must show proof of citizenship (Valid state ID like Drivers License or a valid U.S. Passport, or other proof) when returning to the U.S. Shoppers are allowed up to $400.00 U.S. of merchandise duty free and one liter of alcohol per adult over the age of 21.
Book Signing & Wine Tasting
For those interesting in learning more about Baja California, an excellent opportunity awaits on Saturday, April 30, 2005. The Pyramid Resort (K57 in Plaza Del Mar), about 15 miles south of Rosarito Beach will host its Third Annual Baja Author’s Book Signing and Wine Tasting Party.
Last year over a dozen of Baja’s popular authors were on hand to sell and sign books. Included the first two years were Graham MacIntosh, Ann Hazard, Paula McDonald, Judy Botello, Harry Crosby, Larry Stanton, Bernie Swaim, Ed Vernon, Marvin and Aletha Patchen, yours truly Greg Niemann, and others.
Wine tasting is provided by Baja’s Domenq-Baja winery. Along with camaraderie, wine, food, books, door prizes, music and much more, you’ll enjoy a fun afternoon at the beautiful cliff-side resort overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean.
The event keeps getting bigger and better each year. For more information, contact Keri at 011-52 (646) 155-0265 or e-mail her at HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com.
Baja Legends and Baja Fever are also available in San Clemente at the Book Site and Books, Etc. Both are on the popular web sites.