02 August 2012

The big move


Turista Libre originally began in 2007 as a personal blog project called "¿Donde está Derrik?" that documented the everyday experience of an expat journalist from Ohio living in Tijuana.

But it's since become more than that. We soon realized that it we could slather the web with the photos and text in an effort to prove that Tijuana had more going for itself than its obvious stereotypes -- donkey shows, narco warfare, etc. -- but it would never get the point across as efficiently as loading a city bus with open-minded day trippers for regularly scheduled romps around what is arguably the most misunderstood city in North America.

That said, it's high time that all our URLs involve the TL name. Turistalibre.com is still our official site. Turistalibreblog.blogspot.com is now our blog.

All 500+ posts have been imported to the new blog, including the very first, entitled "The other side of Dead End, USA."

¡Alli nos wachamos!

16 July 2012

Bike ride to Baja Beer Fest


Seven in total turned out for Saturday’s cross-border ride to the Baja Beer Fest in downtown Tijuana; not surprisingly most were seasoned cyclists looking to offset the impending cerveza buffet. (True bike folk rarely need a reason to ride but when it involves crossing an international border, an excess of homebrew waiting on the other end is definitely an incentive.)

It’s not every day you embark upon a self-propelled journey from one urban extremity such as San Diego – one of the world’s most romanticized – to another that is arguably one of the world’s most misunderstood. Needless to say, the experience is as underrated as it is surreal.

The starting line: Bottlecraft beer boutique in Little Italy. At the finish line: more than 100 locally crafted brews from Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. So much beer, so little time.

The 20-mile route took us from downtown San Diego along Harbor Drive over to Main Street, through National City and Chula Vista along the eastern stretch of the Bayshore Bikeway and into the sagebrush beyond Dairy Mart Road before finally arriving at the San Ysidro pedestrian border crossing. There, the peloton dismounted and front tires aimed at the sky, awkwardly shuffled through the turnstiles and into Mexico. Minutes later and now officially in Latin America, we were chaining up our rides at the fest alongside, appropriately, a zonkey named Monica.


Just on the other side of the gates was Francisco Talamante, ACABC president and founder of Ensenada-based Cerveceria Canneria, a Spanglish reference to the port city’s many fish canneries. Who better to ask where to begin the sampling marathon? Aside from the cup of Canneria’s La Bombera red ale in his hand, that is. For hoppy, Virgilio and Insurgente. For malty, Ramuri and Kudos. But more important, he recommended sticking to the 2-3 oz. samplers that each brewer was offering for around 10 pesos (75 cents or so), saving full pours – priced at 35-50 pesos ($2.50-$4) – for personal favorites.


Aside from a one-off walk-up at Cerveceria Kili – makers of an oaky Irish red ale and a stout brewed with Turkish and Guerrero coffees – and a random IPA at the Baja Craft Beers stand, a tasting room set to open in La Cacho in late July, that’s exactly how the afternoon played out. The strategy of asking each brewer where to head next in a sea of options proved productive, maybe even elitely curated, at least for an open-ended pallet like mine.


The rotary kicked off with Insurgente, run by brothers Damian and Ivan Morales. Tijuana’s would-be craft brew poster boys, the pair seem to wind up with multiple ribbons whenever awards are being handed out. While their La Luposa IPA continues to win popularity contests among their five brews the mid-afternoon sun called for a full cup of Tiniebla, a witbier heavy on orange peel and coriander but the lightest of their roster. It’s intended for weaning people off Tecate, Ivan confessed.


From there it was on to Cerveceria Zesde. ACABC’s youngest members, Alan Castoreña and Enrique Seamanduras are a pair of Tijuanenses who are ironically barely old enough to purchase beer north of the border. Dutch for “six,” Zesde is a reference to Sixth Street, the epicenter of Tijuana’s recent nightlife renaissance that served as the birthplace for their brew. Their regular roster includes a vanilla stout, British and amber ales, the Das Falco IPA (named after one of the city's celebrity graphic designer DJs) and a strawberry lambic. But today they were serving a coffee stout and a honey blonde, both made specially for the fest.

Next up was Silenus’ Munich-style maibock, whose heavy caramel flavor hides its high-alcohol content (at 6.8 percent, slurring soon becomes unavoidable). This may have been the day’s overall champion. Two words: liquid flan. A side of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla was sadly nowhere to be found.


Ramuri was a name that kept popping up over the course of the day, recommended by several brewers. While their Diablo Blanco (White Devil) “premium Mexican lager” came off as a sort-of deluxe Corona and the saison for some reason had me thinking of bleu cheese (not necessarily a bad thing but neither necessarily intentional either, although saisons are known for getting rather funky), their Lagrimas Negras (Black Tears) oatmeal stout -- brewed with medium-roast Oaxacan coffee -- was definitely another personal favorite. Also on tap was a cider that I'd normally pass on because of its sweetness but it was probably the most memorable brew that I tasted, solely for the fact that it was made with green apples from Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana’s most iconic open-air market.


Onward to Bosiger, the house craft brew at Swiss-themed sports bar Sotano Suizo in Plaza Zapato and probably the closest any beer at this fest came to keeping with the Reinheitsgebot, to try what one of the Silenus guys called the best hefeweizen in the world. "And I hate hefeweizens," he said. Along with their porter, head brewer Demian Bosiger said it's the most popular of their whopping list of 20 brews, even though his extended family back in Switzerland thinks it's too much of a chore to drink. "Too complex," he said. "They apparently also think I'm an idiot for brewing with habanero."

I'll stop short of wishing every brew whose name I bothered to scribble down were more readily available in the U.S., at least for now. Tijuana deserves the chance to go from a tourist ghost town to every beer lover's Mexican Field of Dreams. And judging by the turnout at a fest like this, it very well could.

One thing's for sure, TJ. If you brew it, and brew it well, they will come.

A grand finale photo atop Monica and back to the border we went.


12 July 2012

Contemporary Mexican art summit at CECUT July 18-20


A three-day conference dedicated to contemporary Mexican art is happening at Centro Cultural Tijuana July 18-20. On the lineup are workshops, panels, an in-depth look at the museum's new collective exhibit "I Just Want the Universe," and Tijuana's second-ever pechakucha event. CECUT is literally a $3 cab ride from the border and in a perfect world a place everyone in San Diego would already know from top to bottom. Here's the press release in English. More info at cecut.gob.mx.

The exhibition “Sólo Quiero el Universo” (“I Just Want the Universe”) features the work of 24 emerging artists living in Mexico working with a wide variety of media and exploring diverse artistic expressions. The exhibition will open to the public on July 18th at the Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut). In parallel to the exhibition, a one-day Symposium —“Agentes del arte contemporáneo” (“Agents of Contemporary Art”) — will be also hosted by Cecut; alternate programs in other locations around the city will take place over the next two days.

“Sólo quiero el Universo” (“I Just Want the Universe”) brings together painting, sculpture, drawing, graphics, photography, video-art, video-dance, installation and robotics — a variety of works articulating a collective project that aims to show the latest artistic proposals from the emerging art scene in Mexico.

The selected artists explore the expressive qualities of multimedia art, digital sound art and robotics, among other platforms derived from the intensive use of technology that enhaces creativity on younger generations. The symposium “Agentes del arte contemporáneo” (“Agents of Contemporary Art”) will offer the opportunity to reflect upon current artistic production and discuss about its contents and forms of expression.

Close to 50 agents working in the Mexican contemporary art scene will meet from July 18th to the 20th to take part on the symposium and the extended program which will include workshops, art consulting, project reviewing, sound art presentations and an open invitation to all interested parties to be part of the event.

The exhibition — focused on exploring a variety of emerging proposals in Contemporary Art — will be hosted at the exhibition hall located at the lower level of CECUT. After opening night, on July 19th at 10:00 am the symposium will take place at the Lobby of “El Cubo” (The Cube). Entrance will be free of charge, though a previous electronic registration is required from all attendants.

The event is organized by the Centro Cultural Tijuana in conjunction with Centro Cultural Border — an independent art space located in Mexico City — with a generous grant destined by the Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo (PAC). The exhibition “Sólo Quiero el Universo” (“I Just Want the Universe”) features the work of diverse artists coming from distant back-grounds exploring a variety of expressive media; artworks that will trigger the reflections that will nurture the Symposium “Agentes del arte contemporáneo” (“Agents of Contemporary Art”).

Regarding the artist call to take part on the workshops, the applications may derive from cultural enterprises, festivals, urban development, public interventions, ecological projects, exhibitions, pedagogical programs, individual artistic projects, and civil associations, among others cultural and artistic development areas. In order to participate it is required to consult the terms and registration guidelines. The selected artists will be part of the second edition of “Pechakucha Night in Tijuana” —event that will take place on Friday July 20th at Kafé Mua in the Pasaje Gómez, located in the downtown area. “Pechakucha Night” composes of a series of encounters guided by an innovative and efficient approach that instigates concise presentations of all kinds of art related projects. The homogeneous format of presentations in modular time frames, enhances their efficiency and specificity.

To round up the reflective experience of the Symposium agenda, a sound art event will be hosted at the Casa del Túnel - Art Center, located at the Colonia Federal, with presentations from Juan Pablo Villegas (Mexico City); R.R. (Guadalajara); and Tron (Mexicali).

The participating artists featuring in “Sólo quiero el Universo” (“I Just Want the Universe”) are: Alejandro Berea, Amor Muñoz, Dhear, Dulce Chacón, Fernando Pizarro, Gustavo Abascal, Javier Campuzano, José Luis Rojas, Juan Pablo Villegas, Marissa Viania, Neuzz, Santiago Izcoatl and Trash—all residing in Mexico City; as well as Andrea Sicsik (Guadalajara, MX); Antonio Domínguez (Tabasco, MX), Carlos Olvera (Monterrey, MX); and Patricio José (Estado de México).

The exhibition will also feature works of Ramiro Chaves y Tania Solomonoff (Argentina); Helena Fernández Cavada (Spain); and Rita Ponce de León (Peru). Alongside the local Baja Californian artists Karina L. Vega and “El Norteño” (Tijuana); and Enrique Minjares (Ensenada), enriching the list of emerging artists whose work will be featured in this contemporary art exhibit.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Symposium “Agentes del arte contemporáneo” (“Agents of Contemporary Art”) will frame its dialogues questioning current practices in contemporary art through four discussion panels whose main objective will be to generate debates and unchain reflection processes regarding production, management, diffusion and consumption of contemporary art.

The discussion panels have been organized to address three main thematic areas: the art establishment and its relations to independent artistic enterprises; the relationship between the artist and the art public; and the importance of marketing as part of the artists’ professional development.

Organized through a joint collaboration with Cecut and Centro Cultural Border, the symposium seeks to promote horizontal ways of communication among its participants, enabling an open dialogue between different points of view while attending some of the processes currently active in the contemporary art scene.

The organizers — IIlya Haro, Cecut Exhibitions Manager, and Eugenio Echeverría from Centro Cultural Border — envision this project with “the intention not to sentence or limit the art practice, but to explore and envision the possibilities it currently has to offer.”

Symposium participants comprise: Iván Abreu, Multidisciplinary Artist; Sergio de la Torre, Scholar and Visual Artist; Violeta Celis, Researcher and Art Curator; María Álvarez del Castillo, Cultural Manager; Bárbara Perea, Critic and Art Curator; Maribel Escobar Varillas, Researcher and Art Historian; Adriana Cadena Roa, Anthropologist specialized in Cultural Politics and Cultural Management; Iñaki Herranz, Curator and Art Researcher; as well as Visual Artists Hugo Lugo and Aldo Guerra; adding up to the artists participating in the exhibition.

Taking place in several locations throughout the day, on Friday July 20th the workshops, art consulting, and project presentations will lead to “Pechakucha Night Vol. 2”— closing event happening at 8:30 pm at Pasaje Gómez located at Avenida Revolución, between 3rd and 4th Street in downtown Tijuana. “Pechakucha Night Vol. 2” will include special performances by Los Lichis, from Mexico City; Letters From Readers, from Mexicali; La Organización Mendoza - Máquina Popular from Oaxaca; and a project by Dardin Coria, from Tijuana.

04 July 2012

TL's maiden Valle de Guadalupe voyage


Nothing like crawling out of bed bright and early on a Saturday to delve into a full day of wine tasting in what's being heralded as the Napa Valley of Mexico, which lies a mere 80 miles or so from San Diego. Just shy of 25 turistas turned out for our inaugural trek into the Valle de Guadalupe, a cluster of some 60 vineyards scattered between the hills between Ensenada and Tecate that's increasingly perking the curiosity of enophiles from near and far.

A 9:30 a.m. departure from Tijuana put us just south of Rosarito around 11, where we stopped across the street from the set of "Titanic" (really) for roadside tamales at Tamales Liz. Doña Liz was happy to see us lined up outside her door, and happier to see the gringo herd happily gnawing through her corn logs of various flavors. Options included chicken, rajas and cheese, nut, pineapple and beef. But replacing my previous favorite of spicy pork were her strawberry variety.


Stomachs sufficiently padded with homemade masa, we pulled into the valley around noon and headed to Monte Xanic (sha-neek), the first of three wineries on our itinerary. The name comes from Nayarit's Cora tribe and means flower that blooms after the first rain. Some 25 years in the business, it was definitely the largest and most-commercial of the day's trio, and makes for a decent starting point on a tour like this because of the size of both the place and the menu. Over the course of an hour we worked through eight 1 oz. tastings of chardonnay, chenin colombard, a late-harvest chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc (the apparent winner of the white bunch, while the general consensus regarding the rest was that they too sweet), merlot, cabernet-merlot, cabernet-sauvignon and cabernet-syrah (my personal fave).


Next up was Hacienda La Lomita, the group favorite of the day in terms of both wine and overall aesthetics. A newer setup that's been in operation for about five years, the architecture and interior decor are on par with a dream lair of Condesa trust-funded hipsters. The cellar looks like something out of "Tron." They sell olive oil in aluminum tins usually used for turpentine and Sea of Cortez salt-chipotle grinders. Even the oversized iMac and even more oversized dog snoozing on his plot of astroturf alongside the tasting room fall into play in assembling the place's rustic-chic appeal. La Lomita produces four wines: a rich grenache that gives off hints of tobacco and cacao, two cabernet sauvignon-merlots (one of which Mexican wine mag Catadores awarded a 94, the highest apparently among 200 Mexican wines), and a chardonnay.


Onward to the third and final vino sampling of the day. If Hacienda La Lomita is a Condesa hipster (and it really is), then Liceaga is a Rancho Bernardo housewife who serves her guests plates of Ritz crackers. (This actually happened, although we've heard they usually serve bread from Hogaza Hogaza, a Euro-style bakery in Ensenada; and furthermore, I have no problem eating Ritz crackers. Especially when famished, which by this point I was. As most of us were.) Over swigs of Liceaga's rose, Melvin (a cab, named after the founder's son), Sofía (merlot-cab, named after the founder's wife), and the 43/60 Reserva (cab-merlot-syrah, a reference to the birth years of the founder and his significantly younger wife), it was time to decant some gossip.

Why was the cava door locked when we first pulled up, despite the fact we'd made reservations weeks ago? What's up with the private garden party going on around back, complete with full band and hundreds of guests? Was or was Rick Bayless not in the area (one foodie turista vouched that he was)? And did we or did we not just crash what may or may not have been his personal Valle de Guadalupe barbecue? Lydia, be a dear and pass me another Ritz cracker, would you? Make it two.


A visit to a place like the Guadalupe Valley usually consists of a well-researched list of required stops, something that's highly personalized and may vary greatly from wino to wino. But sometimes I wonder if coming to guzzle a questionably excessive amount of aged grape juice is just an excuse to work up an abominable appetite for dinner on the patio at Ochentos. Hidden at the end of a dirt road that backs up directly into the hills, the "pizzeria rustica" serves woodfired slabs of absolute heaven, i.e. the Colombiana (grilled chicken, bacon, fresh tomato, basil and garlic), the Minera (grilled chicken and garlic, caramelized red onions and a butter-white wine sauce) and the Triple (salami, Canadian bacon and pepperoni).


Visiting three of some 60 wineries in one day -- 17 pours in total -- means it'd take the better half of an entire month to sample something from the entire region. Despite our 9 a.m. meet-up time we barely made it to all three, as most vineyards close between 4 and 5 p.m. Which meant no time to stop to eat when the hunger pangs kicked in after winery 2, despite the midmorning tamales. A road snack is definitely advisable, sandwiches or maybe more tamales or something.

And while it's indubitably a cornerstone of the Turista Libre experience, we'll work out a different mode of transportation for our next run into Baja wine country. Cameon 156 -- a deported 1999 model year school bus, essentially -- is tried and true, but those deflated, narrow seats just aren't meant for lengthy country drives. It's either that, or hemorrhoid pillows for all.

03 July 2012

¡Volver al Vergel! | Back at the Tijuana waterpark


There's not much more I can add to further my case that El Vergel is Tijuana's epicenter of pure, sheer (even if slightly perilous) summertime joy. Only that dollops of chamoy on your 20-peso can of Tecate are complimentary, and despite all slacked appearances the lifeguards will indeed step in to save you from any major harm, eventually, as they did after an unnamed turista from Atlanta who despite all preemptive warnings apparently breached his quota of goes on the treacherous red, yellow and blue Medusa. But only once he began channelling Evel Knievel with the intention of traveling from top to bottom while airborne, a goal which he apparently came too close to completing.

At least one person in the group had never visited Tijuana before, and although her friends back in San Diego thought her insane for deciding to do so with a trip to the city's waterpark, I honestly can't imagine a more perfect edition of Day 1 down here than a bikini-clad cultural cannonball such as this.