Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
What can I say about Mexico? I know her well. Mexico was the first country, outside of my own of course, that I’d ever traveled to, and it’s the country that I’ve visited the most: easily over 100 times, probably closer to 200. From my first trip to San Felipe as a kid, with my father; to crossing the border every Saturday night, for years, as host of a wild nightclub in Nogales, Sonora – Mexico is the country I have the most memories and stories of, which is one reason I’ve put off this Mexico page for so long: I simply didn’t know where to start. I guess we should probably just go city by city, in alphabetical order. So grab a cafecito and settle in – this is gonna be a long one.
Cabo San Lucas
My first trip to Cabo was on a cruise back in 2009. This was many years before I started taking notes of my international adventures, so you’re in luck – just a couple photos and fond memories from the afternoon at Lovers Beach. I’d return in 2016 to be the best man at my best friend’s wedding. Cabo is always nice.
In 2008 I hosted a “Slow Jams” cruise from L.A. to Ensenada. We featured live performances from Rome and my favorite R&B singer ever, Al B. Sure! It was so much fun, and I even made a little video…
I’ve had the ultimate luxury of calling San Diego, California my home for the past nine years. It’s a dream! Along with its beaches, laid back attitude, and the absolute best weather in the entire world, its geographical location is just fantastic. I’m only two hours from Los Angeles, and being a mere thirty minutes from another country (Mexico) is just the coolest thing for a traveler like me. In addition to being able to pop over and enjoy Tijuana whenever I want to, many San Diegans have also discovered the advantages of using the Tijuana International Airport for flights all around Mexico, as a great route to get to South America, and even for trips to Asia (There are direct flights from Tijuana to Beijing and Shanghai!)
What makes the Tijuana Airport even more attractive, is that now, you don’t even have to cross the (regular) border to get to the airport. There is a new, special pedestrian bridge from San Diego that leads directly into the Tijuana Airport. Reserved for ticketed passengers only, the Cross Border Xpress allows you to walk into a building in San Diego, cross an enclosed walkway, and come out of the other side, directly into the Tijuana Airport in Mexico. It’s pretty brilliant, and what a luxury it is, for San Diego residents to have two international airports to choose from!
Fin De Semana
With all of my recent international travel, I’d really put Mexico on the back burner. With this new bridge, and the incredibly low fares offered through airlines like Interjet and Volaris, I made a promise to myself that I’d start enjoying Mexico more. Who knows how much much longer I’ll be in San Diego–I hope for a long time–but better to enjoy the luxuries of living here now, including the awesomely easy and convenient system of traveling throughout Mexico. Tomorrow is never promised.
I jumped online and found a $126 round-trip ticket to Guadalajara aboard Volaris. This price included seat selection and hand baggage, so how could I say no? The hotel was cheap too: $220 for three nights at the aloft. Anyone who says they can’t afford to travel is full of it. Skip a couple nights out at the club and move over those funds for a trip like this. Over the years, I’d heard my friends rave about Guadalajara. I was excited to finally see it myself. Eventually, I’d like to see every state in Mexico.
I had a flawless and quick trip across the CBX bridge that Friday afternoon and was soaring over Mexico by 5PM.
By the time I completed the two and half hour flight, added in the two-hour time difference and the 30-minute cab ride to the hotel, it was close to midnight. I was beat–I’d been working since 7am–and passed out in a matter of minutes. No Friday night fiesta for me.
A few days before my trip, I discovered I could take one of Mexico’s only passenger trains to the nearby town of Tequila (Yes, birthplace of the drink). I immediately jumped online and booked the day-long excursion through the official Jose Cuervo tour website (Be careful of the imitations!)
By 8:15am that Saturday morning, I’d arrived (via Uber) to the starting point of the tour: a big tent on one of Jose Cuervo’s properties in the neighboring town of Zapopan. Good Lord, there were gobs of tourists, but I was determined to enjoy myself. A small breakfast was served while mariachis played happy tunes. By 9AM, about a dozen buses were loaded and we were off. (We’d take a bus to Tequila, then take the train back home at the end). I must say this was one of the most comfortable bus seats I’d ever planted my butt in. It was super soft and reclined pretty far back. I enjoyed the views of the countryside from my giant window. Ironically, I didn’t drink any of the tequila offered on the ride there. Lame, I know, I’m just not a huge tequila drinker, and it was way too early. Solo agua for me.
Our first stop, after about 50 minutes on the road, was the Jose Cuervo agave fields, where we were given a demonstration of how agave plants are harvested for tequila production. After the demo, we had breakfast (tortas) under a tent before getting back onto the road.
Casa de Cuervo
About 20 minutes later, we pulled into the Pueblo Magico town of Tequila, where we would be students of a quick lesson on proper tequila tasting from our guide Rafi, before touring the Jose Cuervo distillery. He taught us about using our taste, touch, sight and smell to tell if you’re drinking good tequila or not.
The Art of Tequila Making
As much as I usually don’t enjoy big, planned, group tours, I really did appreciate all that I learned about what goes into making tequila on this excursion. I not only learned the history of tequila, but also that of the Cuervo family, along with the intricate process that’s undertaken to make the drink, from harvesting the agave, to constructing the barrels, to the aging process and the difference between the varying colors of tequila. But my absolute favorite part was tasting the sugary strips of agave. You’d bite down and the agave slice would just explode in your mouth with sweet juice. Soooo good! I totally wish these were available at Trader Joe’s! After the distillery tour, the group was let loose to explore the town, and I couldn’t wait to break away and wander.
I enjoyed strolling the streets of Tequila, although it was a little too touristy for me. The town was quaint, clean and charming, but the center was packed to the gills with tourists, 90% of them wearing those little “Smokey the Bear” hats; I was beginning to think wearing one of those silly hats was a requirement to visiting the town. I got outta there as quickly as I could, however the outskirts of the center seemed completely dead and closed up, so I had no choice but to head back into the “crowd.” In my quest to find lunch away from the touristy center, I suffered a complete fail, ordering some pretty below-average tacos. Here I was, in the region known for some of the best food in the entire world, and I was eating bad tacos. I was a little deflated, but at least now I was completely relaxed from the full belly and two drinks courtesy of the house. I headed back to the center of town and fell asleep on bench like a boracho.
C’Mon Ride the Train
After a couple of hours exploring Tequila, it was back to meet the group for a goodbye mariachi show at Cuervo headquarters. The music was really good and was the perfect ending to a pleasant day. After the show, we headed to the train station to finally board the Jose Cuervo Express. I’d been looking forward to this all day!
The train ride back to Guadalajara was awesome, with stunning views of pastel colored agave fields as the sun set over the Jalisciense countryside. The train itself was super sexy inside, with wood paneling and Art Deco lighting, although the seats were not nearly as comfortable as the morning bus. It definitely felt a little cramped, as each pair of seats faced each other, albeit I was in the “economy” car. But this turned out to be a good thing, forcing me to socialize with the couple in front of me, who turned out to be really cool people. I even ended up giving in to the tequila offerings, discovering one of my new favorite drinks, the Vampiro! This vampire contained fruit juice, spices, fruit soda, fresh lime juice, tamarindo and of course tequila. It was sooooo good! And all this time, I’d insisted I wasn’t a tequila fan…perhaps I am now!
By the way, if you are a serious drinker, you’ll definitely enjoy the “all you can drink” offerings on the Jose Cuervo bus and train. I’m a super lightweight, so this didn’t mean much to me, but if you are a drinker…man, you are in for quite the ride!
We pulled into the Guadalajara train station around 8PM and I was back at the hotel before nine. It had been a pleasant day but I needed sleep. I would tackle the city mañana.
Livin’ For the City
I was up and at ’em by 8:30 Sunday morning, taking an Uber to Mercado Santa Tere. I arrived just as the shops and stands were opening and enjoyed witnessing the city wake up. I ducked into a coffee shop for a cafecito and one of the most amazing pieces of cake I’d ever put in my mouth!
I spent the next three hours wandering the streets of Guadalajara on foot, through almost empty historic residential neighborhoods that got gradually busier as I neared the center of town. I loved the street art, the many parks and plazas, and all the activity happening around me once I got closer to the center. Guadalajara was hopping this Sunday morning! They’d completely closed off traffic on Avenida Juárez to allow cyclists to enjoy the route. Hula-hoopers on the corner gyrated to the beat of music, as did folks doing Zumba and other miscellaneous activities in every direction. It seemed like the entire city was out to play, spending quality time together while burning calories. Such a cool vibe!
After yesterday’s taco disaster, I would take no chances on lunch, taking the recommendation of a good friend and very seasoned traveler, who firmly suggested I go eat goat tacos at a joint called Birriería Las 9 Esquinas, which translates literally to, “9 Corners Stew Maker!” I soon arrived at a little square that was literally surrounded by nine corners. The tiny space itself was so charming, looking like a set straight out of some fairy tale movie, the one where a neighborhood shopkeeper falls in love with Jennifer Lopez; or something like that. There was a fountain in the middle, benches, trees and the neatest little shops and restaurants in every direction. And I found it amazing that this little adorable placita wasn’t crammed with annoying tourists.
And there, right in front of me, stood what I’d come all this way for: Birrieria Las 9 Esquinas. I’d sit at a tile table near a big opening looking out at the courtyard and enjoy a very delicious plate of tacos de chiva (goat tacos). Even more outstanding was the agua fresca de mandarina (fresh mandarin orange juice). I’ve never tasted orange juice this rich. It infiltrated my soul! The lunch was impeccable and added to my score of Guadalajara. A visit to 9 Corners is a must!
I spent the next couple of hours continuing my casual stroll around the city, stopping to admire old churches and beautiful plazas, eventually making my way down to the city’s biggest and most famous market, Mercado San Juan de Dios. This giant, yet unassuming red brick structure houses hundreds of stands and vendors, lining multiple levels: selling everything from knock-off shoes and handbags, to pigs’ feet and goat heads and everything in between. The market is also home to an enormous food court, lined with dozens of small restaurants with counter seating and very few empty seats. It’s the kind of place you’d see Anthony Bourdain trying weird food that would make most of us squirm just at the sight. The smells were interesting and next time I may even be bold enough to eat with the locals there.
It was getting close to sundown and I’d clocked in nearly 20,000 steps. It was a productive day. I headed back to the hotel to rest my bones before a final dinner across the street at Cervecería Unión. The tacos palomas were a great snack but the vampiro didn’t compare to the one I had on the train. I had a nice sleep and was out the door by 8AM the next morning to catch my 11:10 flight home and was back home in front of the microphone to kick off my radio show at 3PM.
A couple notes on Guadalajara…The entire trip was extremely inexpensive: from the airfare, to the hotel, to the Uber rides, to the food. The tourist stuff like the Jose Cuervo train is a little more expensive, but the rest was an extremely good value. While my hotel was a little far away from the center of town, once I arrived in the middle of town, I was able to walk everywhere.
And Now, the REST of the Insta-Story:
I may have only have one photo from Hermosillo, but I have a heart full of a million sweet memories from my time there in my early 20s. My connection with Hermosillo has to do with a young man in love, and I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for my book to come out for any of those details. Hermosillo will always have a special place in my heart.
I spent a day in Mazatlan back in 2009 as part of a Mexican Riviera cruise. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed exploring the town. This stop was well before my blogging days, so I’m afraid I didn’t record too much info, but I did manage to snap a few photos.
I don’t have a ton of experience in the border town of Mexicali, although technically it was the very first place I visited in Mexico when I was just 12–and the very first foreign city I ever visited in my life, on the way to San Felipe. In 2009, I did film an episode of The Taco Inspector there, and it didn’t go as I expected.
But don’t be sad! I’d return a few years later and score some sweet Sonoran style carne asada tacos at Asadero Acatlán. I’ll have to dig those photos and videos up later – I have them somewhere in the archives. Check back please!
Mexico City I
My first trip into Mexico City was in 2002: an overnight layover on the way to Cuba. This was so early on in my travel career–Cuba was only country number four–that I didn’t even take any pictures. Not a one! Can you believe it? I’m ashamed of myself!
I’d pass through Mexico City on layover a couple times, on the way to some Central American countries, but I wouldn’t leave the airport.
Mexico City II
Finally in 2017, I’d be back…but only for eight hours. This time, on layover on the way to Buenos Aires. Although it was a quick stop, it was an awesome stop, due to the fact it was paid for by my employer! The visit was part of the absolute biggest radio promotion/contest in history, called #EPIC48hours. Three rules: Be willing to go anywhere, be willing to do anything, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The guarantee: The most EPIC experience of a lifetime. The two days are filled with money-can’t-buy experiences, including one-on-one celebrity encounters, thrilling experiences, and some pretty insane travel. This edition of #EPIC48hours included a stop to see the pyramids in Mexico City before flying on to Buenos Aires to learn how to tango and see the Diplo at South America‘s biggest music festival.
Mexico City III
November 2020. With no plans to return to Mexico City (I had so many other places to go), all of a sudden I found myself booking a flight to the Distrito Federal for the very next night. I was coming to apply for residency. This is a long story that I’m sure you don’t have time for, but the main points are: I’ve really wanted a second passport for some time now. Mostly because there are a handful of countries that are almost impossible to get into on an American passport. Having a second nationality (and passport) gives you more freedom to see more places.
While I can’t share many details of how I was obtaining my Mexican nationality (another story for my memoir book), I can tell you that it all happened so quickly, and before I new it I was flying out of the Tijuana airport on a Thursday night on a nonstop flight to Mexico City that would have me in just before 3AM. I’d awake the next morning to begin the process, flying back home that Friday afternoon, all under the guise of a sick day at work. No one could know. I didn’t take a single picture. I was rushed, tired and nervous, all at once. Again, details to come in the memoir. I didn’t take any photos of this trip.
Mexico City IV
Mexico City and I were quickly becoming good friends. Less than two weeks after the last trip, it was back for more paperwork. This time I’d have two nights and a few hours to enjoy myself. It was the first time seeing the center and it was fantastic. I’m looking forward to coming back soon. And return, I will.
Nogales is the main border town south of Arizona. It’s the same name on both sides: Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora. I’ve been to Nogales at least 50 times. I lived only 40 minutes away.
I really wish I’d taken pictures of my first trip down. I was only 15 and I don’t even remember how I’d gotten there – I didn’t have a car at that time. It was to meet a girl: Bibiana Baez. She was a freshman at the University of Arizona. Did I mention I was only 15? What an ego boost! That first trip across sure was blurry, but I remember meeting Bibiana at the McDonald’s on the American side. We walked across “the line” together and then she showed me streets of Nogales, Sonora for a bit. I remember having my very first horchata and being a little put off out by the “particles” at the bottom of the cup that got sucked through the straw and into my mouth. “What is this weird stuff,” I thought. I’d later become quite a fan of the drink.
Later trips would have me buying fake Rolexes with a scheme to sell them for a profit back home in Tucson. I don’t think I sold many, but I sure had fun trying.
Circa 1999, I’d start to know Nogales extremely well, being hired as the Saturday night emcee at a club on the main drag called Coco Loco. Hundreds of young partiers would pack the two floors and balconies of the club as the DJs spun hip-hop and Latin music while I hyped up the crowd on the mic. We had a really good, multi-year run at Coco Loco. The crowd consisted of about 30% locals from just across the line (Nogales, Arizona) and 70% kids from Tucson who’d cross the border to party and drink (the drinking age in Mexico was only 18 compared to Arizona’s 21.)
I definitely had some fun times at Coco Loco and those frequent trips to Mexico led me to discover just how amazing authentic Sonoran street food is. Not only did I try my first Sonoran Hot Dog in Nogales (to die for!), but to this day, I’ve never had better tacos than those from the locals-only stand tucked away in the back streets of Nogales.
Ahhh, Puerto Peñasco, a.k.a. Rocky Point. Rocky Point is the place for Arizona Spring-breakers, retirees and families looking to beat the heat of Tucson and Phoenix, as it’s the closest access to the ocean.
I actually had a disaster of a trip my first run down: I missed the midnight border closure and ended up having to sleep in the car on the side of the road until I could cross the line the next morning. My hotel wasn’t ready when I arrived and I don’t do well without sleep. When I finally did get a room, I had to share it with a ton of other radio station staffers (I was down there to host a concert), and when I finally got to bed, I swear, they were Folklórico dancing directly above our room. I had a horrible time and never wanted to come back. Thankfully, my opinion would change on my next trip down years later.
Many years later, when I was a little wiser and much more established in my radio career, I was able to visit Rocky Point on my terms, and I assure you, I had a much better time. In fact, I had some of the best times in my life in Rocky Point, as host of a big radio promotion called R Dub’s Big-Ass Bus to Rocky Point. It was just what you imagine: a huge bus full of radio winners, heading down for a weekend of all-expense paid fun south of the border. I was the host for three nights at a gorgeous hotel on the beach where we’d spend our days at the giant pool and our nights out at the nightclubs. I was the host for the entire weekend and really enjoyed myself. Alas, there are hundreds of photos in my collection, but I’ll post just a few of my favorites.
Puerto Vallarta was a stop on that 2010 Mexican Riviera cruise. The town was really nice, however I wouldn’t spend much time there. Instead, it was an excursion to the tiny coastal town of Sayulita for some quality beach time. Of the entire cruise, Sayulita was the town that left the biggest impression on me. Small, quaint, charming, friendly…it’s a place I bookmarked in my mind to come back to. I’d love to stay longer next time.
My very first trip to another country, and can you believe it, not one photo? This was 1989, we didn’t have camera phones and rarely brought out the big Kodak. Maybe photos do exist somewhere. I’ll call my dad this weekend and inquire.
I should probably write down the handful of memories that still do exist, before they too, escape. I was in seventh grade, living with my mom in Los Angeles, when my Dad flew down to visit. We had a Chinese dinner that first night in L.A. and then the second or third day began our drive into Mexico. I remember the maroon Dodge Dynasty rent-a-car clearly – Dad was excited about the airbags, which was new technology at the time. I remember driving along the 8 West, through mountains of rocks that looked like giant mounds of stones just piled up high. In fact, I know I have pictures of my in front of those enormous mounds of rocks hidden away somewhere; I’ll have to find them.
I remember stopping in Calexico (California) to get Mexico insurance for the car and that thrilled moment after we crossed the border and we were suddenly on a busy city road with five lanes of traffic and no painted lines on the road…I do remember how crazy that moment was!
The rest of the trip was pretty blurry. I remember staying at a nice hotel in San Felipe and marveling at the little boxes of Kellogg’s cereal with the printing in Spanish. I’d never seen that before, and as a 12-year old boy, it amazed me! I remember walking along the main beachfront and my dad buying me a really pretty silver ring from a vendor. And that’s about it! How I wish we would’ve taken scores of photos to memorialize that special trip. Alone time with my Dad was always special as a boy (and still is now)…that visit from Pop was one of the best weeks of my life and although the memories of the succinct details may be a little fuzzy, I can never forget the warmth in my heart, spending a few uninterrupted days with Dad.
Check back later for photos.
Update from Dad:
Sorry I don’t have any photos – that was well before everyone had a cell phone. I read your account and I can add that we were both astonished that the ocean disappeared from the shoreline overnight – for miles – the Sea of Cortez is very shallow there and is know for great tides. I also remember showering in cold water and the next day discovering that the hot & cold water lines were opposite from what we had in The States. I remember feeling a little sad when the trip was over – I had a good, good time in Mexico even though it was a short time.
As of this publication, I’ve called San Diego my home for nearly ten years now. Our Mexican neighbors are literally only 20 miles away – I’ve never lived so close to the border. I often joke that it’s a good thing I didn’t live here in my 20s – I never could’ve handled it! I’d have either ended up in jail or with ten kids! It was God’s plan to wait until I got a little older to move to this city: There’s just too much fun happening in TJ on a nightly basis: if I were still in my 20s, it would be like Coco Loco (see Nogales, above) on steroids. Nope, now that I’m in my 40s, I use Tijuana as an occasional escape to cross the border for lobsters in Puerto Nuevo, buy inexpensive medication and/or pottery and occasionally visit under the guise of “business,” as I check on our radio stations’ transmitter sites, which are located across the border. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a love I’d once courted who lived in Tijuana many years ago, when I lived in Arizona – but that’s something else I’m saving for my memoirs. For now, you’ll have to use your imagination there.