Baja Mexico: Mexican Circus

(To maximize your enjoyment of this post listen to this song while you read and look)

Baja Mexico holds secrets and mystique that lures thousands of Americans to it every month. It’s shockingly close when you are in Southern California. You can see it’s dusty color pallette from several lookout points in San Diego. Incidentally, on the right day you can smell the Tijuana slough where raw sewage flows free.

I’ll tell you what most visitors to Baja find out the hard way- it’s a scary place. Don’t go.

But if danger and hepatitis intrigue you, then you should go. I promise that you will return with stories that no one will believe. My buddy Christian and I heard the siren song of Baja many times but only succomed twice.  Both times we went, we cut out trip short by a day because of discomfort and dismay.

I shouldn’t say everything’s bad, there are some good points. One thing that I really like about Mexico is the absence of political correctness. They aren’t interested in impressing any minority groups with tolerence. They don’t care much about the separation of Church and State or equality of the sexes. It’s a complete change of attitude from the US.

My favorite part is the initial culture shock because it only takes about 20 minutes to go from downtown San Diego to the belly of Tijuana where people are hanging out next to the freeway and kids chase your car with handfuls of chiclets gum. It’s very stimulating.

Darn, now I am wanting to go back again.

By way of stories to tell I don’t even know where to begin.

  • Should I mention the time we bribed the cops to keep us out of jail?
  • Or shall I relate the story of us watching two guys kick the crap out of someone in the desert?
  • How about the guy that handed Christian two shiny handles that were attached to a car battery?
  • Maybe the time we were driving through a dust storm that got so bad that we couldn’t see the hood of the car. There are so many choices.

I think I’ll show the experience that we had in Ensanada on a sunshiny, windy Saturday.

This was a real circus. They could never pull this off in the states. It had a big top, a ringleader and a Superboy.

The tractor trailer that attracted us to the circus.
It was, of course, the Rolex circus

This could easily pass as a movie still from the 1940's. Notice the glow of the lights. That is pure dust. It provided an exciting atmosphere.
A little something for the kiddos. I wonder if they are paying royalties to Mr. Spongebob?
This is how you do handle 10 white tigers. Take that Siegfried and Roy.
Is this not what you would like to see when you go to the Mexican circus? Me too.
To think that the net around this cage was made of string...
Superboys people helping the crowd get in the mood

A moment of patriotism.
Superboy signing autographs
Just your average dancing pony. Nothing special
The locals. They were a great crowd. They cheered, jeered and laughed.
Trimuphant ending


Technical details and philosophical information: Photo tips

All photographs shot with a borrowed Minolta x-700 on 35mm tri-x black and white film.  50mm f1.7 lens used exclusively. Film processed and scanned by Dalmatian lab in North Carolina.

I wanted a vintage, grainy, photojournalism look to the images. I like using prime lenses for subject matter like this because with a zoom lens you can become lazy, not really working with the elements around your subject to make a interesting composition. You can end up with a lot of close up’s and visually sterile images. I prefer lively, complex images that give you more story and more context.

My buddy, Christian, whose Minolta x-700 I borrowed has photographed a lot of stunning images with this camera/lens combo. He did a group of photographs in Haiti about 8 years ago that are out of this world.

When asked what kind of digital camera a new photographer should get I tell them to get a Minolta x-700. I almost have to laugh to myself later because I can visualize them going online and being surprised that it is a film camera from the early 80’s and that they sell for about $50.

If they ask me why I suggested that camera I tell them that if they are planning on spending $1000 dollars on a digital camera with a crappy slow zoom lens then they’ll get better images with a $50 dollar camera and $950 spent on film and processing.

-Jon Ball is a portrait photographer living in Boise Idaho. His portraits can be found at Thank you for reading photo tips.

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