One comment that we got from people ALL THE TIME--especially in Southern California as we were approaching the US/Mexico border--was to avoid going into Mexico. Actually, I still get the comment all the time. It poses a tricky question: Is it safe to enter Tijuana from San Diego on bikes?
The short answer is no.
Here is the long answer:
The entire US/Mexican border is a volatile place where much crime and violence has taken place in recent years for various reasons. Stories of kidnappings and shootings along the border are fairly common in the news and by word of mouth. So is going across the border dangerous?
But so is riding your bike down a mountain going 50 miles per hour with nothing between you and the pavement but a thin layer of Spandex.
Or spending the night in a tent in the middle of bear territory.
Or drinking water from a potentially virus contaminated stream off the side of the road.
Or sharing the single lane highway with geriatrics driving 50 foot long motor homes requiring no special training.
Need I go on? By the time we got to Tijuana, drug cartels with automatic weapons and explosives weren't any more frightening to us than what we had already endured. Any of those things I listed are potentially life threatening. You can't be "deader" than dead. It is like rock climbing; You get to a point that if you fall, you are going to die. Climbing higher doesn't increase the severity of death you will experience if you fall.
The fear of death can drastically limit the flavors of life that you can sample. Everyone dies. Don't fear death. Fear passing up the opportunity to live. Given the choice between dying while just living an ordinary life (AKA, in a car accident, by terminal illness, or natural disaster) or while living an extraordinary life (AKA being mauled by a grizzly bear, eaten by wolves, or shot by a Mexican drug cartel) I'd have to pick the latter.
One can influence the chances of death or injury under given circumstances though. How do you do that? Well, to increase your odds of surviving a bike wreck, you wear a helmet, and learn how to ride safely. To increase the odds of surviving a bear attack, first learn how to avoid them with proper backwoods techniques, and learn what others have done to survive actual attacks. You can decrease your odds of danger when visiting Mexico too. I'll talk about more of that in another post.
As a final thought for this post, we've visited the marketplace just over the US/Mexico border at Tijuana numerous times in recent years without issue. One time, we actually asked one of the shop owners who we'd become chummy with if we were in any danger. Here is how he put it:
"Our entire economy [in that area of Tijuana] relies on you Americans coming over the border and buying from us. If you don't do that, we are history. You see the guys there, there, and there?"
He pointed to some dangerous looking Mexicans standing like statues in the shadows with their arms crossed tightly over their chests and eyes hidden by sunglasses.
"They make sure you are safe. They make sure that we can stay in business."
I got the impression that those guys weren't exactly hired by the city officials--but were maybe placed there by whoever really runs that town. I'm not saying it was the Mexican Mafia... but I'm not saying it wasn't.