Mexicali? Baja's capital? Wrong it's Tijuana or is it maybe Ensenada, but not Mexicali. And where is Mexicali anyway? The desert right? Along the border?
Those are questions I have heard many times. People have heard of Mexicali, but not much else. They have always thought of it as some small border town on the international boundary in the hot, lifeless desert. Or a place to drive through quickly on the way to San Felipe and the Sea of Cortez.
Well small it's not, border town in the desert it is. But I was to find out it is MUCH more....... in 24 hours!
|Estadio B Air where the Mexicali Aguilas play|
Luckily I was invited to attend a playoff game for the local professional baseball team, the Aguilas de Mexicali (Mexicali Eagles). I had always wanted to attend a game, but never found the time. Glad I finally did. The Aguilas play in the Liga Mexicana del Pacífico (Mexican Pacific League) from October to January. Similar to an MLB AAA team there was some serious talent on the current roster.
I arrived in the small town of Calexico, CA (the town across the border from Mexicali) around 2pm on a Wednesday. I had decided to walk across the border, both to experience crossing as a pedestrian both ways and to not get stuck in a border wait via car on the way back. I had looked online and found favorable reviews for the AAA Border Parking lot. This basic dirt lot had security and at only $5 a day was well worth the 3 block walk to the border.
Once on the Mexican side of the "wall" (FYI, there are already border walls along much of the California/Baja California border), I hailed a taxi from the nearby taxi stand. After negotiating a price (always do this before getting in the taxi), I was on the way to the business class Real Inn Hotel in central Mexicali.
I choose the Real Inn after deciding I wanted to be near both the ballpark, where the Aguilas play (10 minutes by cab), the Plaza de Calafia bullring (5 minute walk), and near the old downtown and the border (10 minutes too). The hotel was perfect for me; comfortable rooms, pool and gym, pretty good breakfast and friendly, helpful staff.
With the game beginning at 7:30pm, I left for the ballpark around 6pm. I wanted to meet my contacts, get to know the grounds and settle in for a championship series game. The Aguilas were in a heated battle with the Cañeros de Los Mochis and the series was tied 2-2.
The baseball stadium was like any other in the States, but they had cheerleaders, all kinds of foods and drinks plus lots of music on the sound system. It was quite and experience (highly recommended) as well as a great game. The hometown Aguilas ended up winning.
After the game we walked over to the recommended Bar El Sume a couple blocks from the stadium. I was told not only did it have a cool vibe but I'd find a great selection of Mexicali and Baja California's emerging craft beer selections. It didn't disappoint.
|El Sume was a welcome after game stop for tasty craft beer.|
Early the next morning, I had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel. Next stop was the Plaza Calafia de Toros bullring less than a five minute walk away. I've always been infatuated with history and the tradition of bullfighting. Less interested in the bull being killed, more interested in a tradition waning in the public's eye.
Lucky for me, I ran into the bullring's friendly caretaker and after he heard how interested I was in the history of the bullfighting he graciously allowed me to enter the locked gates. I was allowed to roam freely and at the end, he showed me a couple spots I hadn't seen myself and explained some history to me.
Old Mexicali and the Cathedral
I'm a sucker for "old Mexico" and knew that where you find the cathedral and/or the zocalo (main plaza), you usually find the old part of town. In this case it was right next to the border crossing where I would cross on my return.
This area is under a nice renovation in an effort to bring back the 40's & 50's era of architecture in Mexicali. Not only is the colorful church something to see, but there are authentic, old buildings being brought back to life, local food vendors, and areas for families to come and hang out.
Overall, it was a whirlwind and I discovered there is even more to see in Mexicali. I'll have to return another time to experience the other highlights of this capital city of the state of Baja California.
Stay: The Real Inn was perfect for my quick visit. Convenient, comfortable and well-priced.
Eat/Drink: El Sume near the ballpark is a craft-beer lover's dream. Maybe 30 or 40 Baja craft beers to choose from and apps if you are hungry.
Do: A Mexicali Aguilas game. Real baseball with a collegiate atmosphere. Great food and drink options too.
See: Visit Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe near the border. Bullfighting and/or architect aficionados should check out the Plaza de Calafia bullring near the Real Inn.
*All photos & information by Ted Donovan