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Sombra in the Tijuana Jail

by Vee Webber <>

Vee is a respected contributor of Baja information on USENET and America Online, the latter of which she also developed and hosted a long-time Baja chat series with many travel "celebrities."  Besides her work here, she also has a website with information on her favorite area of the peninsula:

We had purchased Sombra with an eye to breeding her, and when her time came, we located a fine Golden Retriever named Lombard. A retired couple who settled on the hill above ours at La Bufadora owned him. The date was set and I drove down to La Bufadora by myself for the first time on a Friday afternoon. Shortly before sunset we arrived at Lombard's kennel, which was to serve as Sombra's bridal chamber. I left her in capable hands or paws, as the case may be, and headed to my trailita. I made one quick visit on Saturday, but she was happily occupied and I didn't see her again until Sunday afternoon when I returned to take her home. She was one tired dog and fast asleep in the back of my Honda before we got off the ranch.

Hoping to catch an ocean breeze I drove north towards Tijuana on Baja's beautiful Highway 1, which skirts the azure and gold coastline of northern Baja. I should have known that it would be just as hot on the coast as inland, as the Santa Ana winds were blowing from the east making it so hot and dry I could taste it. The cloudless sky reflecting the sun's rays a hundred-fold on the ocean, made the drive hard as I squinted behind my sunglasses against the blinding glare. I felt a terrific headache coming on.

Just south of Tijuana I was able to pick-up a U.S. radio station with a traffic report. I faced a two-hour wait in the engine exhaust filled lines at the San Ysidro border crossing. The dull throbbing behind my eyes grew stronger at the thought. Then I had what I thought was a great idea. I had heard that the recently opened crossing at Otay Mesa was easier, less crowded. Up on the hill there was a chance of catching a breeze while waiting in line, if only I could find it in the maze of roads and unmarked intersections that made up Tijuana's eastern section. I decided to go for it.

As I made my way through unknown territory in a Tijuana barrio, my great idea suddenly turned lousy. Frustrated at being hopelessly lost, I cut off a car that was trying to pass me on the right in the middle of one of the few marked intersections on my journey, and 'road karma' literally hit me a moment later in the form of a taxi-van. I was ready to accept the loss of my rear fender and keep going down the road. In fact I waved to the driver that I was just going to keep on going, he shook his head and pointed to the two uniformed officers on the corner flagging us down. They had very different ideas than mine.

I cursed myself (again) for taking French in high school, as I didn't understand any of the heated conversation taking place between the officers and the taxi driver. I did understand that I wasn't going straight to any border crossing when one of the officers climbed into the passenger seat of my car after a dubious look at Sombra sleeping contently on the backseat. He pointed down the road. I drove, he pointed straight down a nameless road, left at a Calimax grocery store onto a less traveled, less paved road. Finally right onto a dirt road which led to a squat beige building with bars on the windows and one lone tree in the front yard with a fast dying lawn. The jail!

I had no fear of going to the jail, the taxi driver was clearly at fault and previous encounters with the police in Mexico had been, well, if not pleasant at least not too painful to my psyche or pocketbook.

When we arrived at the station I found that we needed to wait for the Special Officer in Charge of Accidents. At least that's what I deduced from the statement of the policeman who said:

"You wait, he come" as he strolled away from me towards the station.

"Por favor," I called to his back, he turned "Mi perra..." summoning as much Spanish as I could, I pulled her from the car by her leash and mimicked taking her in with me. He nodded. I was thankful at the time as the thermometer was topping 90 degrees at 3:00 and I did not want to leave Sombra in that oven of a car. Another wrong decision on my part - I still wonder to this day, if I had just gotten in my car and driven away, what really would have happened?

Sombra and I entered the vestibule of the police station with its open arches at either end. A different uniformed man motioned for me to sit on a simple wooden chair near the captain's desk. In the shade of the vestibule, the Santa Ana winds played through the arches at either end, providing some relief from the skin cracking dry heat of the day. However, I do believe that those same winds guided every male dog in Tijuana to that station to woo my very receptive Sombra. She, who was so recently introduced to carnal delights, began to prance and dance, shaking her bottom in the doggy version of the hoochy-coochy. Most of the dogs (who came from several generations of indiscriminate breeding between large and small, fat and thin) were promptly dispatched by officers who loitered in the halls. Not in deference to my plight mind you, but because most of the suitors were mangy, bothersome creatures.

After an hour of waiting and struggling with Sombra, who was quite the flirt, my patience snapped.

"Acuestate!" I snapped at her, and she immediately lay down.

The captain who hadn't paid us the slightest attention, up to that point, looked up from his paperwork, "Your dog, he knows Spanish?" he asked, obviously searching for the words to ask me this question.

"Sì, mi perra, es Mi Sombra" I stumbled over my Spanish, which served me so well in Hussong's and so poorly in jail.

He took new interest in my case and my dog after that. He petted her and felt her dry nose. With a snap of his fingers and a few rapidly uttered words to an underling, a cracked ceramic bowl of water was brought for Sombra, who greedily lapped it up.

When the taco vendor brought his wares in, the captain motioned with his hand as if to offer me one. I declined, but he bought two anyway and gave one to Sombra, who rewarded him by lying by his desk, her chin resting on his shiny black boot. When the soda vendor strolled in with his ice chest carried in front of him by a strap around his shoulders, the captain didn't ask me, but simply bought me Pepsi, in an ice encrusted returnable bottle and handed it to me with a wave of his hand. He gave me the papers to fill out and permission to use the telephone to call my friends in Tijuana to help get me out of my jam.

As I was on the phone, Sombra slept contently at the captain's feet on the cool linoleum. I saw out of the corner of my eye, Sombra's next potential suitor enter the vestibule. This fellow was different from the other mutts that had attempted to woo her; he actually had a traceable lineage. He was the fattest Basset Hound I had ever seen. He had to rock from side to side as he made his way forward, his stomach brushing along the ground.

He made his way slowly, yet determinedly towards the unsuspecting Sombra - like some sort of a stalker. I was stuck on the telephone trying to get through to my friends, and feared hanging up as this might have been my only chance to get a translator. I was twenty feet away and didn't want to call more attention to my gringa self by yelling across the arched ceiling chamber. But I had no need to fear. The captain looked up and slowly shaking his head got up and tossed the brute out the door. He stopped by his desk at the now standing Sombra and patted her, I came over in time to hear him say,

"Mi Sombra, bonita, ninguno va a molestarte" (Mi Sombra, pretty, no one is going to bother you).

My friends arrived and an hour later we were released and in the car. The Captain's business card was in my pocket with the assurance if anything happened to us in Tijuana again, I need only to show his card for rapid assistance.

I thanked him as he reached through the back window to pet the already snoring Sombra.



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