Road trip (1) – San Diego, Tijuana & Las Vegas

Last week I took a week off to drive around California with my sister Sonja. She has been on a round the world trip for the past 5 months and coincidentally we were in the US around the same time. So after a busy week at the GDC conference I took a plane from San Francisco to San Diego on Saturday night to meet my sister there. We only had 6 days and we wanted to see a lot, so we decided not to waste time and try to pack as much in these few days as possible.

On Sunday morning we got up early, despite my sister having a major jet lag (she had arrived from Australia on Saturday). We walked around downtown San Diego and explored the waterfront. A nice and quiet city, but I guess almost every city is quiet compared the Shanghai. Around lunch time we decided to go to Tijuana, south of San Diego just across the Mexican border. I heard it was always very busy there and extremely touristy, but I wanted to take a look anyway.

The drive over took only about 30 minutes, and after parking the car at a shopping mall on the US side we walked across the border into Mexico. Tijuana was much more Mexican than I had expected, a big difference from the US towns just a few kilometers away. But it was also much more quiet, it looked like we were about the only tourists. A bit strange considering that the guidebooks warned for the huge crowds of tourists there. I didn’t think too much about it and we walked around the town a bit. Not only the main streets, but we also explored the smaller ones to get a better feel for the city. Eventually we had a big lunch on a rooftop. There were only some Mexicans, no other tourists in sight. A quick check online learned me that there had been some drug related crime in the city, and I assumed that was the reason there were no tourists. But I was not too worried, everything seemed peaceful. Maybe a bit too peaceful actually…

A few hours later we decided that we had not done enough yet in one day and went back across the border to the US. We had to wait for about an hour in a one kilometer line of Mexicans also trying to cross the border on a late Sunday afternoon, but re-entry went fairly easy. In the car we decided to drive to Las Vegas, about a 5 hour drive. My sister and I could both drive, so we felt it was feasible. The first part my sister drove, and I put together a road trip play list on a USB stick (the car sound system had a USB port, every car should have that).

While driving I checked some more news about Tijuana and was shocked to find out that 600 people had been killed in the town over the past year. Not just “some” drug related crime, but 600 people who had been gunned down. No wonder there were no tourists… Later that night we saw that on the same day several other people had been killed there and that in a city close by a US consular employee had been gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Pretty scary when you just went there a few hours earlier. It did not feel dangerous, but sometimes things are not what they seem. Anyway, we didn’t encounter any problems, but we may have taken a bigger risk than we realized.

We arrived in Las Vegas around 11 PM, ending up in a huge traffic jam on the Strip. After checking into a hotel we walked around the Strip for a while and then had a drink in the Bellagio casino, watching the crowd lose money. I can’t gamble, I have an aversion to it. I guess I am just too rational, if the odds are against you and you can’t influence the result why bother? For the same reason I have never bought a lottery ticket, knowing the odds takes the thrill out of it for me. But it’s still fun to watch, especially when people lose big time and to see how they react. At 2 AM we saw several people outside the casinos shouting on mobile phones, likely because they were agitated because they lost a lot of money.

Vegas was fun for a night, it feels like a parallel world to the one we live in. What has been built in the middle of the desert is totally amazing. It’s tacky and all just a facade, but it’s an amazing sight nonetheless. Especially when you approach Las Vegas late at night from the totally dark desert and you see the lights in the distance coming closer it is quite a sight. I knew there was a copy of the Eiffel Tower and a pyramid, but seeing them lighted up while driving into the city is still an unexpected experience.

The next morning we spent in Las Vegas and then we had lunch in a casino. It was Monday morning and the casino was quite full, something I just could not understand. Do these people not have a job? Or are they just so addicted that they can’t stay away from the game? It gave me something to think about while driving out of the glitzy Las Vegas into the desert.

Pictures of the road trip see here:

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  1. Hey !
    I came across your blog by doing a google search on San Diego (btw, I just luv it! :p)