By Turista Libre’s Derrik Chinn
Sculptor-architect Armando Muñoz Garcia has been a pilar of my take on Tijuana’s cultural landscape ever since I was driven past his 55-foot, 18-ton livable concrete statue — a giant nude named “Tijuana III Millennium” hidden in a canyon near the airport — on my very first escapade around the city in 2006.
Years later, while on the freeway to Ensenada, I caught a glimpse of his second project, a mermaid house overlooking the Pacific near Puerto Nuevo on Calle Zihuatanejo appropriately titled “La Sirena.”
Time and regular snooping around “Tijuana III” eventually led to meeting him in person, an occasion which he generously gestured into an impromptu open house that allowed me to interact one on one with not just the statue but the mysterious man responsible for what are arguably two of the region’s most iconic, infamous pieces of architecture. The day ended with an official welcome to bring entire Turista Libre groups to tour both of his voluptuous monstrosities.
Fast-forward another few years to a recent Tijuana installment of Pecha Kucha, where — while presenting Turista Libre to a cafe crammed with 100 or so of the city’s artists, writers, intellectuals and critics — I mentioned our visits with Armando and his statues. This prompted someone in the audience to mutter aloud, with no apparent remorse, “Está loco.” He’s crazy.
That commentary follows suit with the talk of the town, a general consensus that I began hearing long before Armando and I actually met. Perhaps it would be the talk of any town that’s home to a man who builds a giant naked lady house out by the airport (and then another one down by the beach). Eccentric, sure. But crazy? I personally have no reason to believe that to be true, based on our conversations and the manner in which he shares his ideas with awestruck tourists. I really don’t care either, just as common opinion regarding his reputation seems to cause him no bother.
A week or so ago Armando wrote to say La Sirena was now operating as a sustainable gourmet restaurant that would be serving French cuisine and Mexican delicacies like chile en nogada, pescado la veracruzana and mole — cooked by Armando, a former chef at a French restaurant in La Jolla — and that I should come check it out. His four-course menu included liver pate atop sylvester oregano leaves, beet leaf salad, tomatillo soup with chunks of squash and cojita cheese, grilled salmon and filet mignon, a spread for which he charges around 200 pesos plus the cost of wine.
Sitting on the sun deck below massive cleavage along the edge of what would be a swimming pool at the base of her stomach if it only had water, it’s easy to assume La Sirena is destined to be a never-ending work in progress. Already more than 10 years old, the top half of her hairdo is still spiked rebar and her paint job is sporadic and splotchy at best. Maybe she’ll never be completely finished, and that’s OK. I could dive deep into existentialism here, but I think the symbolism between this statue-house-restaurant and the particular corner of the world which she calls home is pretty obvious.
That thought rounded third and slid into home as a pickup full of curious Mexicans who now live in Indio pulled up to inquire about what exactly happens in the giant mermaid house. They left with plans to come for dinner the following week.
The lesson? Ignore all adversity; dreams suffer enough internal distraction and delusion as it is. In all honesty I suppose that’s what I admire most about Armando.
The irony of it all? What the world says of Tijuana, Tijuana in turn says of its own. Está loco.
Derrik Chinn- From unassuming reporter to freedom-loving Turista Libre (free tourist), Derrik Chinn’s reputation as underground concierge to the traveler has grown. Chinn, who has been spidering about in Tijuana with groups of tourists looking for a different kind of Mexico experience, is now sharing some of his insights and perspectives on Baja.com. You can visit him on Facebook.
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