Like most border towns, Tijuana is not reflective of Mexico as a whole. It is a city full of window dressing, of hawkers and tourist attractions. The once quaint town is a hodgepodge of immigrants and transplants drawn to the city for work and the promise of a better life. Spurred by the anemic Mexican economy and an influx of maquiladoras, it is a region that’s population has exploded in recent years and now totals over $1.7 million. What little was left of its innocence was destroyed by the recent drug cartel wars.
Add to its problems tighter security and longer wait times to re-cross the border in to the U.S. and Tijuana’s tourism industry has slowed to a trickle.
Yet the people try. Revolution Boulevard is sparsely populated compared to years past. Yet it is still home to great drink specials, counterfeit watches and pharmacies. And yes, although the herd has been culled, “Mexican Zebras”.
The one constant in Tijuana tourism for the past 60 plus years are the “Zonkeys”. From a far the striped animals do appear to be zebras. However, in actuality they are donkeys with black stripes painted on them. These docile animals stand along the famed boulevard for hours. Harnessed to a wagon they wait patiently for visiting tourists to climb aboard, don brightly colored sombreros and have their picture taken. It is as cliche as any tourist attraction in the world.
No one can say for certain, but it is believed the tradition of painting the animals derived out of necessity. Since donkeys’ hair is light colored they often looked faded in tourists’ photographs. Until one day one of the handlers decided to add stripes to his animal. He figured it would show up better in that Kodak moment. One wonders if he knew what impact it would have on future generations for man and beast alike.
With the Baja turf war among cartels waning, it is anticipated tourism will increase this year. In a city that has so much to offer it is bound to lure visitors from across the border. And for those striding down Revolution the zonkeys will be waiting, patient, striped and uniquely Tijuana.