14 Sept 65 : Highs and lows in Mexico : a trip to Tijuana

Tuesday 14th of September 1965


Dear family,

We are stopped in the shade trying to cool the engine down after climbing a mountain range, so I thought I would catch up with a bit more news.

Last Saturday we said goodbye to John and his wife (the electrician) and promised to return to their place when we come back from Mexico.

We left them at lunchtime and drove down to a place called El Segundo, on the coast just south of Los Angeles, and looked up a couple we met in Monterey. We had a surprise when we arrived, as when we saw them in Monterey they weren’t even engaged, but last Saturday had popped over to Las Vegas and got married at 11:30 at night.

That’s the way it’s done over here it seems!! They seemed happy to see us and had arranged a party for us at the apartment of a friend of theirs. We sat around the pool chatting until 7:30 and then went over to the other place.

This turned out to be a most fabulous apartment overlooking a marina near Beverly Hills. There were about six other people there and we had a good time, especially as the highlight of the evening was the cooking of some of the biggest steaks I have ever seen in my life.

Earlier in the day on Saturday we had returned the key of the beach house to the English couple, and were invited to breakfast on their patio overlooking the bay, and learned a bit more about this wealthy pair. The garage was littered with cars including an Aston Martin DB4 (with her initials on – and hardly ever used).




Aston Martin DB4 (image from Wikimedia commons)


There was a car for each of their daughters although they all live in England or Europe. They seemed to have far more money than sense.

He had made his money out of land, and when he heard we had been looking at land he invited us to purchase a portion of some land he has recently bought, as a money-making venture. We are thinking about it and may contact him when we get back to Los Angeles.

We drove down the coast on Sunday to the Mexican border, and decided for safety’s sake to leave the van in the US and walk across to a place called to Tijuana (pronounced Tee-a- wana).


Tijuana 1960s postcard Mexico.JPG
1960s postcard: Border into Mexico


We passed through the border with no trouble and crossed the bridge into Mexico. We found it very hard to believe that we had only walked about half a mile from the USA. The poverty was incredible.

All the suburbs of the town consisted of people living in cardboard ‘houses’ – no roads, no water, no sewerage. What roads there were, were almost too rough to walk on – let alone drive on. The centre of the town was no better. The streets were filled with stinking, rotting garbage, beer cans and paper and the whole place smelled foul.

We were obviously taken for rich American tourists and were continually pestered by small boys, girls, and taxi drivers for all sorts of things. We visited a few of the night spots, and they too were as bad as we had been told they were. We saw the most amazing sights.

It’s a notorious place for being robbed, swindled, cheated etc, and we were quite pleased to cross the border (back into the USA) all intact and minus nothing.


1960s postcard of Tijuana – Night Time on Avenida Revolución
downtown Tijuana 1960s postcard
1960s postcard – downtown Tijuana
Tijuana 1960s postcard
1960s postcard of Tijuana


The next day (Monday) we had to go through a fantastic procedure to go into Mexico with the van. We had to go to the Mexican Console and each obtain a tourist permit, a permit for the car and special car insurance to drive in Mexico – this took nearly all day and we then spent another hour taking all our stuff off the roof rack to prevent it being stolen!

We finally entered Mexico at 4 p.m. and set off down the coast road to a place called Ensenada. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go very far as we have to be back in L.A. on the 23rd to get ready to sail. Actually it was just as well really, because the roads were so terrible we would have wrecked the van if we had gone much further.


Tony with VW campervan
Tony with the precious campervan


In some places there was no road at all which was a bit alarming, especially at night. We passed through some very spectacular scenery and saw miles and miles of beautiful coastline. The sea was a vivid blue and the surf was fabulous. We passed through villages of absolute squalor and poverty.

When we arrived at Ensenada there was a big fiesta just starting. It hadn’t really got warmed, up so we went around looking in the shops and saw many good bargains – especially after you had haggled with the fellow and got the price reduced by half. There were lots of people in the streets begging for money.

When we got back the fiesta was well underway and good fun it was too. There was a fair and stalls (when they played bingo they used gravel) and lots of open-air cafes cooking the most revolting looking foods in big black greasy dirty looking pots and pans over wood fires.

There was lots of music provided by groups of musicians who strolled around the grounds, and plenty of dancing.

It’s very strange but although these people are so poor they are tremendously happy and are always singing and playing music. Everywhere we went there were groups playing, mostly for their own enjoyment, dressed in traditional Mexican costumes. We even saw fellows walking down the street strumming guitars and singing.


Ensenada Mexico 1965 postcard
1965 postcard: Motels of Ensenada, Mexico



Mariachi Singer


Unfortunately one thing they seriously lack is hygiene, everywhere we went was filthy – even the countryside, miles from anywhere, is littered with rubbish. We couldn’t find a toilet that we could even consider using, and in the end had to drive out into the desert!! All very inconvenient – but the only way out.

Also we could not drink the water as it is unfit for drinking (the Mexicans can drink it, as they have been brought up on it) and this too made life a bit difficult. As beer was ridiculously cheap we ‘had to resort to drinking that’, although of course you can’t clean your teeth in beer!!

We decided after a while that we were wasting our time, there wasn’t much to see, except poverty, and as living was so difficult we decided to return to the States, and arrived back after two days.

On the way back we stopped at Ensenada again to have a haircut. Unfortunately he couldn’t speak English (not many of them do) and I had it the way he wanted it – which turned out to be very short. Still, I don’t mind as it only cost 50 cents (3/6) while in California they cost 250 cents (nearly £1). So this one will now last me until I get to New Zealand.

We drove back across into the USA late last night and drove up to a place just north of San Diego.

We are on a beautiful beach park overlooking a fabulous Marina, with palm trees and luxury yachts and pelicans and glorious weather. We spent most of today cleaning up – and even had my first swim in the Pacific, which was very cold.

We even gave the van a clean – the second since we had it.

It’s so nice to be back in civilisation that we have just lazed about all day – enjoying all the cleanliness and luxury. We shall now head slowly back towards LA and fix this trailer that we have been given and be all ready for the 26th.

To be continued… 

Notes from Tony: We saw things in Tijuana that I couldn’t possibly have put in a letter to my family. For two young men from Bristol it was all ‘mind boggling’ and unbelievable, and not to be repeated to respectable people!

The music in the streets in Ensenada was exactly like a band in the 70’s/80’s called ‘Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass.’ Very exciting music with lots of trumpets, and Mexican outfits and huge circular hats.

We were still unfamiliar with extreme poverty at this stage in our world trip, and it was extremely upsetting to see such harsh living conditions in Mexico – especially considering how kind and friendly the people we met there were. It was an additionally shocking contrast, having just experienced the luxury of Roddy McDowall’s beachfront home in Malibu.

Crossing back into the USA from Mexico we had to go through Customs and Immigration, and a lot of officialdom. They thoroughly searched the van and confiscated all our fruit and vegetables. We protested that this produce had all been bought in America, and we were simply taking it back. All to no avail and it was unceremoniously dumped into bins. We were not pleased.



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