Kate goes to California, Day 8: San Diego & Mexico (But Mostly Mexico)

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When the trip to California was planned, I started thinking about how close San Diego was to Mexico. I had heard that pharmaceuticals are exceedingly inexpensive there, and, having a neck injury, that was pretty appealing. After doing some research into whether or not it was safe to venture into the country, I decided that it was, and added a little jaunt across the border to the itinerary.

Oh it all sounds so idyllic.

The Friday morning, the second to last day of the trip, I woke up, threw on a denim skirt and a pretty summer top, grabbed my purse and sunglasses, announced I’d be home by noon at the latest (it was about 9AM) and headed out toward the border. On the way, I Instagrammed this photo with the caption, “just going to Mexico quickly. BRB.”

Just going to #Mexico quickly. BRB. #kategoestocalifornia

HAHAHA.

Be right back, indeed.

I parked the car about a quarter mile from the border, in a lot I had researched. I wasn’t at all nervous about going to Mexico on my own, but in the interest of ensuring I came back with everything I left with, I left my iPad and most of my money in the glove compartment.

It was an easy walk to the border – down a street, over a pedestrian bridge, down a flight of steps and then around a corner. I stopped on the way to exchange some money into pesos, and then headed for Mexico, unsure of what I’d find.

#mexico. #kategoestocalifornia

Oh but first I took a selfie on the bridge with the Mexican flag in the background, because of course:

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Getting into Mexico is easy. The border is literally a turnstile. I’m not joking:

The Mexican border: a turnstile. #mexico #kategoestocalifornia

You walk up to it, go through it, and bam, Mexico. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Just on the other side of the turnstile are men in army fatigues with huge fuck off guns, but they mostly just stood there and didn’t make any eye contact. There was also a sign saying that bags would be searched, but they didn’t even look twice at me as I walked through. Then I emerged in the sunlight, and then bam, Mexico.

I had read online that the wait to get back into the U.S. would be about 100 minutes, so I decided to quickly do my shopping and then get in line. I had thought about going a little ways into Tijuana to do some souvenir shopping, but found a pharmacy right next to the border, and ducked in there. It took less than ten minutes to buy three bottles of strong muscle relaxants (the same thing that you can find in Robaxacet but like three times as strong), and then because I was alone and didn’t know where I was going, I decided to forget the souvenirs and just get in line to go back. Really the trip was about just doing something kind of different, being able to say I’d been to Mexico, and adding another adventure to the trip. So to me it didn’t matter that I’d be in Mexico less than two hours total.

Oh, and I should mention here, because it’s important later, that I had to pee at this point, but I didn’t think I’d be able to find anywhere with a public washroom nearby, so I figured I’d hightail it back to the States to use a washroom there.

Oh, the universe is laughing at me right now.

It took me a few minutes to find the line for the U.S. border, and when I did, there were two of them, which confused me until someone explained that there was a line for regular people and an accelerated line for people who have the Mexican equivalent of the NEXUS card. Only by the time that was explained to me, I had been in the line for half an hour, and didn’t really want to go all the way to the back of the line. Cue Kate sidling over to the other line and just inserting herself into it.

It wasn’t such a hot idea.

I had realized by that point that the wait was going to be considerably longer than 100 minutes, as I had been there more than 30 and hadn’t really moved. I still had cell service so I quickly sent a text saying it might be a bit longer than I had thought but that I still thought I’d be home by 1PM.

Cue two hours of the people in front of me yelling at me in Spanish that I was cutting the line, and that I was stupid and ugly and white. Here’s the problem. I understand a lot of Spanish, but I don’t speak very much of it anymore. So if someone is speaking to me in Spanish, I can understand most of what they are saying, but I can only answer basic things. I understood every word these people were yelling at me, and all I wanted to do was yell back, “yo entiendo todo!

Related to nothing, somewhere around this time, I looked up and saw this billboard and just had to take a picture:

It *was* just going to be a quick trip, but now that I've seen this I'll have to stay in #mexico a little longer. #questionableplasticsurgery #kategoestocalifornia

Around the two and a half hour mark, my feet were starting to feel a little sore, but it wasn’t that bad. I still had to pee, but not really any more than I did when I got in the line. I had no cell phone signal anymore, because literally, I went further into Mexico in the winding border line back to the U.S. than I did shopping, so I was a little bit bored, and I was hot because it was 45 degrees and I was in full sun, but I just kept thinking of the tanning potential.

Three hours into the line, I was dying of thirst, and when a roadside vendor came by selling bottled water for twenty pesos, I bought one. I was a little hesitant but I figured that they always tell you to drink bottled water in Mexico so I thought I might be okay. More than anything I just hoped that if I got sick, it wasn’t until I was back in the U.S.

Incidentally, around this time I watched the woman in front of me purchase a shrimp cocktail from another roadside stand and then proceed to drink it, and I’m completely serious when I tell you that I nearly puked on the spot. Shrimp. In 45 degree sunshine. Dear. God.

Three and a half hours in, I began to despair.

Four hours in, I was exhausted. My feet were aching. I was pretty sure my tan was turning into a crazy burn. I felt dehydrated. Whereas the Spanish-speaking people in the line made friends and talked to each other and took turns keeping each other’s places in line so they could sit down and rest a while, I was alone and couldn’t converse with anyone around me. And to be completely honest, I felt a little like I was losing my mind.

So when suddenly I could hear different languages being spoken near me, and I realized I could understand them, it was like a gift from the heavens. Somehow four French Canadians and one American were in front of me in the line, and as I listened, I realized that they had all been almost near the front of the line when they’d realized they were in the wrong line, and they’d been sent all the way to the back. The Canadians and the American weren’t together but I guess they’d all woven their way back up to near the front of the line.

I didn’t even care that they had gone in front of me in the line. I was so relieved to have people to speak to that I was happy for them to stay there. I learned that the Canadians were on a 6 week road trip through the U.S. and the American guy, whose name was Steve, was a San Diego resident and had only been in Mexico for a few hours. He had to work in another couple hours back in the States, and was hoping to get back in time. The problem for all of them was that a Mexican cop was looking for them in the line, to tell them to get back to the back of the line – and in fact this is exactly what happened to the French Canadians. Steve kind of turned away, put his ballcap and sunglasses on, and I was more than happy to try to help “shield” him from the cop. This nearly backfired, because the cop actually thought that all four French Canadians, the American and I were all together – and understandably, the line was like a thousand Mexicans, six white people and then a thousand more Mexicans. I began to panic, thinking about how there was absolutely no way I could go to the back of the line and wait several more hours, and I decided right away that if I had to, I’d find a shady place to sit, and just wait until later in the evening for the line to die down before I tried again. I just kept repeating, “no no, cinco horas!” to try to convey that I had been in the line for approximately three days.

In the end, the French Canadians were sent to the back of the line, and I felt bad for them, but I was mostly just relieved that I hadn’t also been. Steve’s phone had a signal, and he was kind enough to let me quickly send an “I’m not dead don’t worry the line is just taking forever I’ll text you when I can this kind stranger let me use his phone don’t reply to this it will cost a fortune” text so that other humans would know I was alive and also not bound, gagged and in the trunk of a car somewhere. He also became my personal hero when he agreed to hold my place in line while I ran into a little convenience store just to the side of the border line and bought a bottle of Powerade. I was so tired and hot and dehydrated that I was shaking from head to toe, and that bottle may have literally saved my life. Up until that moment I actually had been thinking I might pass out, and I just kept praying that if I did, it wasn’t until I was actually in the border building, because I was pretty sure the Americans would help me then, but if I passed out in the line outside, I knew the Mexicans would just step over me and leave me there to die.

Four and a half hours in, we were finally inside the building, which provided some refuge from the heat but no real relief. We were corralled into lanes, and I spent most of the time bent over with my arms leaning on the lane dividers, my forehead resting on them. If I’d had any fluid left in my body, I’d have been crying. Remember when I said I needed to pee when I got in the line? I no longer needed to. It was like my body was like, “we’re taking this back.”

At some point in this part of the line, I heard a funny noise and opened my eyes, still bent over at the waist leaning on the railing. Hanging out near my feet was an adorable (and huge) chihuahua type dog. I don’t know if he belonged to someone in the line or if he was a stray, but seeing him made me smile in the midst of what was very nearly a breakdown, so I snapped a pic.

The #chihuahua I met in #mexico.

I’d had a thought about halfway through the line that the muscle relaxants I’d bought aren’t sold in the United States and therefore there was a chance they wouldn’t even let me bring them into the country. Five and a half hours after I got into the line, I finally reached the front. A border agent took my passport, glanced at the drugs and waved me on through. I was probably at the desk less than thirty seconds. Five and a half hours for less than a minute’s scrutiny.

Once I left the counter, I had to put my purse through an x-ray machine and then I was free.

I slowly made my way back to the car, and when I got there, I just sat for a minute with my eyes closed before tiredly starting the car and heading back to the condo. It was after 5 PM when I got there, and when I walked in the door, the first words out of my mouth were, “I know I was gone forever and it wasn’t what we planned for today but you can’t be mad at me because I’ve had the worst day ever and I’m sore everywhere and exhausted and can hardly move!”

Yeah I was pretty desperate.

The first thing I did after I took off my sandals was to fill the bathtub with cold water and sat on the edge to soak my poor feet, which I had watched begin to swell in the line. I’m not kidding, as soon as I dipped my feet into the water, it turned black – I was absolutely filthy. The water felt good but it really wasn’t cold enough, so we dumped all of the ice from the maker in the freezer into the tub and I sat there, practically moaning in relief, until it was all melted.

This is what my foot looked like about an hour after icing it:

This is what #mexico does to your feet. Those marks are from the shoes I put on *after* I got home and soaked my feet in ice water. Beautiful swelling and glorious cankles! #sorefeet #tired #kategoestocalifornia

Those marks, by the way, are from the shoes I put on after the ice.

You’d think after a day like that, I’d want to have a shower and climb into bed. But actually we still had things to do that night – namely, a ball game. We decided we weren’t too fussed about getting there right at the start, so after I’d changed out of my disgusting Mexico clothes, we went across the street to the Spaghetti Factory and had dinner before walking down to the stadium.

Petco Park is really beautiful. It’s one of the newer major league ballparks, and it shows. It’s modern and clean and just really nice all around.

Last #ballpark of the trip: beautiful #petcopark from the inside tonight! #mlb #baseball #sdpadres #sandiego #kategoestocalifornia

My ballpark pictures that night show a tired, possibly slightly overtanned girl.

If I look hunched over and exhausted it's because I am. Five and a half hours in the line to get back from #mexico will do that to a person. This person is tired. #mlb #baseball #petcopark #ballpark #sandiego #sdpadres #kategoestocalifornia

Last #ballpark #selfie of the trip. Home tomorrow night! And maybe bedtime very very soon. #tired #mlb #baseball #sdpadres #sandiego #kategoestocalifornia

Despite being absolutely exhausted, I did really enjoy the game. The Padres beat the Braves 10-1 so it was an exciting game to be at. Especially considering they celebrate home runs with fire:

A #homerun at #petcopark calls for #fire. #sdpadres #mlb #ballpark #baseball #sandiego #kategoestocalifornia

It was a pretty enjoyable way to end a horrific day. I did laugh to myself during the game as every time I looked down at my foot, I noticed that it was swelling up again. I figured it would go down by the morning after getting some sleep.

And sleep is exactly what I did when we got back to the condo after the game – after showering off the remnants of Mexico, of course, because there was no way I was going to get into bed in that state. I nearly wept with relief when I finally did slide between the sheets that night.

The verdict on Mexico? You know, I’d do it again. I’d do it differently – I’ve since learned a lot about how best to shop in Tijuana – but I’d do it again. It was worth it for the cultural experience (my God, the difference one wall makes is incredible – extreme riches on one side and extreme poverty three feet away), and I think I’d have enjoyed the shopping and possibly an authentic Mexican meal somewhere. And I feel like I should state that in spite of what I jokingly call my Mexican near-death experience, there was never a time where I felt fearful, at least for my safety. So many people I talked to about my plans go to to Mexico expressed worry about how safe it was. I never ever felt unsafe or like I was in any danger, except for when I thought I might pass out and collapse from sunstroke, exhaustion and dehydration. But that’s not Mexico’s fault – if anything, it’s the United States’. So yeah, I’d do it again. But I’ll be very glad not to repeat this exact experience – once in a lifetime is enough for that.


Because I needed the reminder

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Nothing will change if all the plans I make go wrong
Your love stays the same
Your light will guide me through it all
I’m hanging on
I’m leaning in, to you

Nothing can reach
The end of all your faithfulness
Your grace is with me
Through every shadow, every test
I’m hanging on
I’m leaning in, to you

I don’t know where you’ll take me
But I know you’re always good

My hope is built on nothing else
Than your great love, your righteousness
I will not walk another way
I trust your heart, I trust your name
I’m holding on
I’m holding on, to You

You are my rock
When storms are raging all along
You shelter me, God
I’m safe with you on solid ground
I’m hanging on
I’m leaning in, to You

I don’t know where you’ll take me
But I know you’re always good

My hope is built on nothing else
Than Your great love, your righteousness
I will not walk another way
I trust Your heart, I trust your name
I’m holding on
I’m holding on, to you

Paul Baloche – “My Hope”


Kate goes to California, Day 7: San Diego

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Our last big stop of the trip was San Diego. Because there wasn’t anything we really wanted to see in LA, we left the condo fairly early to get on our way. We made a quick stop at a clothing store I like in the US, grabbed breakfast at a drive-thru and then hopped on the highway. There were a few more vista points along the way and we stopped at one to take a few pictures. Remember that story I told you in my last post about the giant bug I had to beat off with my iPhone? I had my days mixed up. It happened on day 7, right before this picture was taken. I think my heart was still beating at about 600bpm.

A sunny vista point by the ocean on the way to #sandiego. Also, a giant flying bug tried to kill me and I had to beat it off with my iPhone. #kategoestocalifornia

I think it was about a three hour drive from LA to San Diego, and we hit a bit of traffic on the way, but I mean, what’s a little traffic when you’re in a cute little rental car in southern California, watching the temperature on the thermometer on the dash go up degree by degree the further south we got? I was giddy with excitement over how hot it was getting. It was about 70 when we left LA, and about 95 when we got to San Diego.

Photos on the fly - last stop, #sandiego!! #kategoestocalifornia

At all of our other condos, the owners weren’t there and we had the whole place to ourselves. At the condo in San Diego, the owner was going to be there, and I was kind of curious to see how that would work. I was also kind of looking forward to the opportunity to talk to a local, because we hadn’t really had that chance in the other cities. Paula, our host, met us at the entrance to her condo’s parking garage and showed us where to park (amazingly, thanks to her friendship with the building manager, she had secured a spot for us for the duration of our stay). She was super gracious and kind, showing us around the apartment, telling us about the area and all the things there were to do there.

We were staying in the Gaslamp District of the city, and when I say her condo was close to Petco Park where the San Diego Padres play, I’m not kidding. It was the closest of all three baseball cities we visited – from her open windows, we could see the ballpark and hear the sounds of the midday game, and if I remember correctly, her building was on the last block before the park. From her front door to the gates of the park was MAYBE a two minute walk, if that.

This was great for us, because we had planned to get to the park for at least part of the game that afternoon. Petco Park has what they call a “park in the park” – just outside the outfield fence is a lovely space with some bleacher seating, sand for children to play in, and just beyond that, a concourse with some food vendors and then a green space, a little grassy knoll where you can spread out a blanket and watch the game or just get some sun. There are big screens with the TV broadcast of the game, so you can keep up with the action even if you’re not within view of the field.

We walked down and bought general admission tickets for the Park in the Park, and wandered in to take a look. It was very very hot, and very humid, which I thought was normal for that area but Paula had told us that it was usually around 70 degrees and pretty dry, and that the heat wave was unusual. Between the unseasonably warm weather in San Francisco and the humidity in San Diego, I guess we really brought the Ontario summer with us to California this year.

Beautiful Petco Park! #petcopark #parkinthepark #mlb #sdpadres #baseball #sandiego #kategoestocalifornia

Loving this Park in the Park at #petcopark!! #parkinthepark #sdpadres #sandiego #MLB #baseball #kategoestocalifornia

It's hot as hell here in #sandiego and I am loving it. #mlb #baseball #sdpadres #petcopark #parkinthepark #kategoestocalifornia

I LOVED the Park in the Park. I think I’ve said it before, I loved the open air stadiums we visited while we were down there, loved the fresh air and sunshine. Petco Park was so unique and different from anything I’d seen before. It was so fun to see people just relaxing in the bleachers, kids building sand castles while their parents chilled in the Muskoka chairs near the fence. We got hamburgers and lemonade and settled down to watch part of the game. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon so the sun was right above us and made the bleachers almost impossible to sit on, so we sat in the grass between the rows of benches and put our feet up on them instead. I stretched out my legs in an attempt to even out my tan.

My upper body is nicely tanned (*cough*burnedinplaces*cough*) but my legs are what I believe Benjamin Moore would call "Canadian White." Here's hoping a little while in the #sandiego #sunshine will change that! #sdpadres #mlb #baseball #petcopark #parkint

Oh and I got my ballpark selfie in:

Another day, another #california #ballpark #selfie! #mlb #baseball #sdpadres #sandiego #petcopark #parkinthepark #kategoestocalifornia

We didn’t stay until the end of the game, it was just too sticky and hot. We walked around a bit more, watched a group of kids playing in a little diamond – a park in the park in the park, I guess, and then set off back for the condo.

A mini ballpark in the #parkinthepark at #petcopark. A #parkintheparkinthepark? #mlb #baseball #sdpadres #sandiego #kategoestocalifornia

We didn’t get very far though, before a group of women stopped us on the street.

“Can we take your picture?” one of them asked me. “We’re doing a scavenger hunt and we need it.”

“Your sheet says to find a Canadian named Kate?” I asked. “Let me see that.”

“No, a woman in a bright dress. Also, we have to pretend to be in a band. Can you play air guitar?”

What was I going to do, say no?

Them: "can we take your picture? We're doing a scavenger hunt and we need it." Me: "your sheet says to find a Canadian named Kate? Let me see that." Them: "no, a woman in a bright dress. Also, we have to pretend to be in a band. Can you do air guitar?" #s

Up until a couple nights before, we hadn’t had any plans for that evening. While we were at our last Giants game, I had been browsing Facebook briefly on my phone and realized that the first night we would be in San Diego, there was a worship night happening at a big local church called The Rock. I was familiar with The Rock because a friend of mine attended for a while and I had read some of their resources a couple years back. When I posted a status about potentially attending, to my surprise a couple other friends responded that they were planning to attend. I didn’t even know they went to the church (or any church), so we quickly made plans to meet up and go together. I had known these people a long time online, but never in person, so it would be the second time I’d be meeting up with very familiar strangers on this trip.

After the ballgame, we showered and changed, and ran to Walmart before heading up to the church. After texting my friend a couple times, we managed to find each other in the huge lobby. It has to be one of the strangest and neatest things, to meet people you’ve actually known forever – you know so much about each other’s lives, without ever having seen each other in person. My friend laughed as she told us about telling her new husband about me, and reflecting how I had seen her children grow up from the time they were just babies.

A #worship night while on vacation? Yes please. #therockchurch #sandiego #kategoestocalifornia

We found seats in the enormous auditorium, and as we waited for the service to begin, we talked faith. I found out that they had only fairly recently become Christians, and that it had been as a result of being dragged to the church by another mutual friend, and finding out that they loved it. They were both baptized this past summer, and I was inspired by their faith journeys. It was neat to find that we had this kind of connection as well as the ones that had kept us friends online for so long.

The worship night was something else. When we do them at my church, there are probably 7-9 people on the team in total. There were nine vocalists alone at this one. They certainly have a lot of talent, which isn’t surprising given the size of the church. I enjoyed it, but to be honest, it made me a little homesick for my church. The sheer magnitude of the show – and it was definitely a show, not just a worship service – took away, for me, a little from the point of it. I prefer the simpler style of worship that we do here at home. That said, I was very happy to have experienced it, and to see the church in person, and to see the differences between there and here.

At the end, we took the opportunity to take some pictures together, and then hugged and promised to keep in touch.

If you're keeping track of how many friends I've known for 10 years but had never met in person until I came to California, the count is now up to 3. Amazing night. :) #sandiego #worship #therockchurch #kategoestocalifornia

We stopped by the church book store so I could pick up a gift for someone back home, and then we headed back to the condo for the night. Our hostess had texted us earlier to say she was going to stay at her other property in Solana Beach, so we unexpectedly had the place to ourselves. It had been another long (but excellent) day so we were more than happy to call it a night in the pretty little condo.

Up next: that one time I nearly died.


The smallest thing can change a life

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“You know, the smallest thing can change a life. In the blink of an eye, something happens by chance and, when you least expect it, sets you on a course that you could have never planned, into a future you never imagined. Where will it take you? That’s the journey of our lives: our search for the light. But sometimes, finding the light means you must pass through the deepest darkness. At least, that’s how it was for me.”

– Opening monologue from “The Lucky One”