I Did Not Ride the Zebra-Painted Donkey

Ashley at the Mercado Hidalgo. Photo by Eric Stone. Click to enlarge.

Everybody needs that friend, the one who you can call up for anything. Eric Stone, author and adventurer, is mine. This time I was working on a manuscript and discovered three chapters were going to take place in Tijuana. Road trip! Big fun, right?

Apparently, not everyone thought so. In fact, no one but me thought so. “You’ll be raped! Murdered! Forced to smuggle drugs across the border in your lady parts!” they said.

So I asked Eric.

“I know the best place for carnitas. When do we leave?”

See? He doesn’t worry about smuggling drugs in his lady parts.

Off we went.

You should go. You should go right now. No, really. You’re wasting time.

I know what you’re going to say, and yes, Avenida Revolucion is horrible unless, of course, you’re into zebra-painted donkeys and doing body shots off strippers’ dimply backsides. And yes, all the guidebooks start there. This is because they don’t love you like I do. Skip it. Do what we did. Wander and ask service sector employees. Wonderful things happen.

We found an impromptu market where the stalls were made out of tarps and baby blankets and where one shop was devoted entirely to men’s underpants and the next to cell phone chargers.

We ate huitlacoche (corn fungus) wrapped in a crepe with poblano cream sauce, which is what they feed you in heaven if you’ve spent your earthly life saving lepers.

We drank remarkably good local wine. (Yes, really.)

We had margaritas in a bar playing avant-garde cartoons having something to do with amputation.

We sat quietly in a beautiful church listening to the clink of pesos in the alms box. Well, I sat quietly. (Eric knows what he did.)

We found a huge outdoor food market displaying endless numbers of moles and chili powders in clay pots.

We ate cabeza tacos (love it) and tripe (so-so). (Cabeza translates as head but in this case is more like beef cheek.)

We spent an entire evening packed into a tiny club listening to four angelically beautiful musicians play political folk music to a crowd that ranged in age from barely legal to retired.

Everywhere we went – away from the zebra donkeys – we were the only recognizable tourists.

We had a really damn good time.

You can read more about it and see more pictures on Eric’s blog. And if you haven’t read his series of thrillers set in Asia, you should, and you can purchase them here or at your local independent bookseller.