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Turista Libre brings together urban explorers wishing to experience Tijuana

Created: 17 September, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read

The train leaving the Garcia Tijuana station

    The Garcia Train Station is the only remaining station in Tijuana; it connects it to Tecate and eventually to the rest of the country. It is hidden after a series of junk yards and car repair shops, right by a taqueria with no distinction from the next.

    Few Tijuanenses know Garcia Station or ever go there, but on Saturday morning at least 400 people woke up bright an early in order to take a train ride to Tecate and learn about Mexican history by the hand of a historian and a Mariachi band.

    The group included entire families, children, grandparents and young couples, as well as 30 Americans brought here by an atypical tour provider called Turista Libre (Free Range Tourist), an idea brought to life by journalist Derrick Chinn.

    Originally from Ohio, Chinn moved to Tijuana three years ago,—right in the midst of a violent streak where many business people and their families were moving away—.

    But Chinn simply fell in love with the city. He quickly learned Spanish and explains despite the massive pot-holes and apparent chaos, this city has a vibrant cultural scene and an ambience that fosters creativity.

    “Another thing Tijuana has thought me is you can’t live with fear, its not worth it to live with fear, and this obviously has to do with faith, -hoping nothing happens to you-, but in the 3 years I’ve lived here the worse thing that I’ve experienced is being thrown in jail on Halloween night for wearing a mask, I mean….” He laughs as he acknowledges he didn’t know adults where prohibited from wearing masks during Halloween.

   While the Department of State has issued a travel warning and media outlets keep stressing violent events around the country, Chinn is just one of many Americans enjoying and exploring the border and wishing to share their experience with others.

   At first he started a blog with pictures and stories, but he got few hits and decided to create a full-experience inviting people to experience the city themselves.

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Turista Libre at a Lucha Libre.

   “I started thinking, what was the most fun I’ve had that few tourists would know about?…I promoted the tour in social networks and went from there… we climbed La Mona and went to a lucha libre, visited the casino…” Chinn explains.

   The idea is to mix and mingle around the city.

   “We use public transportation whenever possible and talk with Tijuanenses, we travel the way they do everyday and even learn how to take public transportation or pay bus fare in the city, that is something your average visitor would have no idea how to do” he adds.

   Ten months after his first tour, activities have attracted groups of up to 50 people and include the visit to the famous house shaped like a woman nicknamed La Mona; a visit to a man whose house and car are covered by toys; a walk through the oldest Tijuana swap meet and a street art bike tour.

   Part of Turista Libre’s success has to do with visitors becoming vocal advocates for the city. Visitors like Amber West, whose eyes light up when she remembers her visit to the traditional ice cream parlor Tepoznieves.

   “I loved it so much, I never thought I would go into a place that had so many different flavors of ice cream, I mean you go to 31 flavors in the US and ok its 31 flavors but this places has over 200 flavors and I’m tasting ice cream that tastes like tequila, and lettuce and rose petals…carrot. I just never imagined I would want to experience such flavors” West says.

   Among those joining the train ride are John Cressler and Felicia Raya. John is now a returning Turista Libre member for Raya, it’s her first time experiencing Mexico.

   “We [Americans] are trained to think its going to be dangerous, or its going to be below us, and there’s this whole other beautiful rich culture just teaming right there over the fence so I came to be exposed and have my eyes open to that..” she explains while looking for a place to sit on the train.

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   On the way to Tecate, a historian explains the importance of the train in the Mexican Revolution as well as its role to the agriculture of the region and the expansion of border towns.

   Once in Tecate, the visitors visit a small farmers market full of wine, olives, cheese and artisan bread, they walk to the brewery and enjoy a folklore performance in the beer garden.

   Before sun down, the group walks slowly back to the station.

   “I’m actually half Mexican” Raya explains, “and I wish I where more in touch with it,  hopefully going to more turista libre events will help me tap into that…”.

   Once on the train, she participates in a dancing contest and wins a bottle of wine. Despite not being fluent in Spanish, Raya remembers all the lyrics from a Selena song and sings along with a group of Mexican girls wearing wacky hats.

   For November, Turista Libre will go to a football match were local team Xoloscuincles will confront Cruz Azul in Caliente Stadium and Chinn is already planning the adventures they will have next year.

More photos from Turista Libre:

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