A little under twenty (!!!) years ago, the division of the company I was working for was sold and part of the deal required that I move down to Mexico to help lead the transition. At the time, I didn't know anything about Mexico other than what you see on television in the United States, which is basically how dangerous it is and how you shouldn't go. I didn't really want to go but, as they say, they made me a deal I couldn't refuse.
The big day came and I boarded a plane at LAX and for the next six months I lived in Merida, which is opposite Cancun in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Considering how I felt about going, the experience was probably the single biggest influence on who I am and definitely the biggest impact on my love of travel and desire to experience new cultures. The fact that this blog exists is in part due to my time in Mexico.
After my six months came to an end, the plan was to move back to Oceanside and start working for my old company again. They were in the process of starting a new facility in Mexico and asked me if I was interested in going to manage operations there. What? Of course I'd go!!! So, two days after arriving back in San Diego, I loaded up my car and moved to Ensenada, Mexico, which is about a one-and-a-half-hour drive south of the border with Tijuana.
One of my goals on this trip back to California was to go down to Ensenada for a visit. For a variety of reasons I hadn't been there in over a dozen years. Plus, my friend Eduardo, with whom I worked in Ensenada, has a growing family I had never met. So, Diana and I headed south of the border for a couple of days...
And, yes, the U.S. border entry into with Mexico at Tijuana looks somewhat like you're entering (or, maybe, escaping from???) a prison!
Eduardo was nice enough to take the time to come pick us up on the Mexican side of the border. I hadn't seen him other than on Facebook in I don't know how long. Fun fact, both Eduardo and I owned MINIs for a time.
Me and Diana with Eduardo and his wife Natalia at their lovely house:
While Eduardo and Natalia were busy during the afternoon, Diana and I set about exploring (and rediscovering) Ensenada. I have fond memories of my year-and-a-half I spent there and it's very much how I remember it.
Ensenada's a smallish city that is surprisingly safe and quiet, which, really, is how ninety-five-percent-plus of Mexico is. The crap you hear about in the U.S. represents maybe 1% of what the country's about. It's funny but living in Europe, the image we get over here of the U.S. is almost identical to that which the U.S. gets about Mexico. Drugs, guns, murders, corruption, and so on is daily fare.
Diana making new friends on the touristy Lopez Mateo street in downtown Ensenada:
Ensenada's a port city so there's really no beaches until you go out of the center. We walked along the water's edge checking out the cruise ships, local fishing boats, and small shops. One of the things that I missed having in Barcelona was a lifeguard hat. I hate sunblock so, when I lived in California, I always wore one and there are absolutely none of them in Spain that I've found.
In the shop where I bought the one below, the woman wouldn't negotiate at all, which was a surprise. I even left at one point to see if she would chase after me. But, no go. So, I walked back in and paid the full price of FIVE dollars! I remember when I lived in Mexico that you had to negotiate for everything down to buying cut-up fruit in the street. My, how things have changed.
Here I am super happy with the best purchase of the trip:
Along the main drag is a large plaza where there's never anyone. On one side are three giant golden heads of historically-important figures. There's nothing else. Just concrete and heads.
The half-way point of our quick tour around town was at the Riviera hotel also located along the main drag. It's a scenic, old-fashioned hotel where locals sometimes hold weddings and local businesses meetings. The bar below, like probably 50 other places in Mexico, is said to be where the margarita was invented. I'm not too sure about that one but it is exceptionally beautiful and a nice place to take a break.
On our way back to meet up with Eduardo, we walked along the main local's shopping street, which gives you a much better feel for "real life". Diana, of course, couldn't resist feeding her addiction by eating the local-delicacy, an elote (corn on the cob) with cheese, mayonnaise (yes, mayo!), and spices. Yummy!
Back when I worked with Eduardo, we worked crazy hours. It wasn't unusual for us to work from nine in the morning until like 1 am, go home, and do it again the next day. Oh, and the place we worked was 7x24 so we'd be there on Saturdays and Sundays too. It wasn't all work though. We'd sometimes slip out during the day to go mountain biking in the hills behind work. Other times, we'd go for a late dinner in town at some place that only Eduardo knew. But, what was probably the most memorable for me was the times we'd go to his parents' house, hang out, and sample local wines in his dad's wine cellar. I can, with 100% certainty, "blame" Eduardo for introducing me to wine drinking. Thanks Eduardo. No, seriously, thank you very much for teaching me and enabling me to enjoy wine!
Later on during the day, Eduardo and Natalia took us to Ensenada's nearby Guadalupe valley to visit a couple of wineries. We stopped at two places. The first is the well-known Santa Tomas winery, which is well respected, and the wine and snacks were excellent. (For those who are familiar with the wineries around Catalunya, the scenery looks pretty familiar, doesn't it?)
Our second stop was at Liceaga, which is a little bit farther up the road. Diana and I enjoyed both places and it was a great opportunity for us to catch up with Eduardo and Natalia.
It's funny but I've known Eduardo for a long time and I consider him one of my close friends even though we don't see each other much. We spent a LOT of time together back in the day and I learned a lot from him. I remember the night when he had to leave work at the "early hour" of around 8 pm to go to a party up in Tijuana. The next day, he told me about a girl he met while at the party. It turned out to be Natalia. Kids grow up so quickly, don't they?
Dinner that night was at a local food-truck-style place. We enjoyed great food, maybe a bit of wine, and fun conversation before heading home to crash into bed.
The next morning, we woke early, ate breakfast, kissed everyone goodbye, and Eduardo kindly drove us to the border. But, before we left Ensenada, we stopped on a hillside and took photos looking out towards the ocean and famous Todos Santos in the distance. If you know surfing at all, you'll know Todos Santos as one of the world's big-wave surf spots. When the swell is right, surges enter the area between two islands and form giant waves. From where we were, though, it just looked so peaceful.
As anyone who's crossed the border from Tijuana into San Diego knows, the fun doesn't stop until you're happily through the immigration check point, whether in car or on foot. I can remember spending up to THREE hours in my car waiting to cross on some days.
When we got to the line, it was, as usual, very long. Nearby, some guy came up to us and offered us a trip in his bus, which he said would get us through quicker as he got to use the carpool lane. What the heck, I figured. It was cheap and I had never done it. Diana and I paid the guy, got in with about ten others, and off we went right up to the front of the line. The trip took all of 30 seconds but probably saved us 30 minutes of waiting in line. What a hoot!
Diana selfie just after exiting the van and before going into the immigration building:
Part of why I write this blog is so I have time to reflect on the things I do so I can remember them. Thinking back while writing this story, I'm reminded about how great the time I spent in Mexico was and how formative it was for who I am today.
A giant abrazo to Eduardo, Natalia, and familia for welcoming us into your home and sharing some time with us. We had a great trip "back" to Ensenada. Hopefully we'll see you soon in Barcelona to return the favor!