Ensenada – Crossing fom Mexico into the US at Tijuana and Tecate

Mexican wine country

Rugged terrain north of the Tecate border crossing.

The new US/Mexican border wall with frontage road and border patrol truck (left).

Vendors work between the lanes at the San

Ysidro crossing.

Clever wooden children's desks.

Snacks clothes-pinned to a makeshift

wheeled scaffold.

Selling snacks and freshly made fruit drinks.

Model ship, anyone?

Real booths set up along the border.

Vending to cars stuck in line is big business at San


For last minute drug purchases.

Any souvenir item you could want.

When business is slow, play cards.

Boys washed windows -- not very well.

A flame thrower entertained us.

Spot checks as we near Ensenada on the

toll road.

A happy girl in a boat.

Mark goes up the mast.

Looking down...

...just don't think about it.

Mark hosts the VHF cruiser's net.

A scenic walk to Punta Morro Resort.

Pretty walk near the marina.

Punta Morro Resort.

A glance up the shoreline.

Fresh in from a South Pacific cruise.

Pacific High sails to a new engine.

A dove catches a ride from Mexico to San Diego

aboard Pacific High.

Borders & Marina Stories

February/March, 2010 - As Carnaval weekend drew to a close, we realized it was time for us to wrap up the long trail of loose

ends that had begun to form in our wake.  Projects, errands and obligations took us to southern California twice and Phoenix

once, adding up to 1500 miles of driving in just a few exhausting weeks.

With all this driving, we inadvertently became quite familiar

with three of southern California's US/Mexico border

crossings.  No longer an easy drive-by affair where you

blithely wave your driver's license as you pass, the borders

are now formidable, intimidating, and very time consuming.

California's I-5 interstate goes right through San Diego to

the biggest border crossing at San Ysidro, delivering you

into Tijuana, Mexico and onto the beautiful, scenic toll road

that runs along the Mexican coast to Ensenada.  A few

miles east of that crossing is a newer crossing at Otay

Mesa.  Some 20 or so miles east of that one is another

crossing at Tecate.

Each crossing has its own peculiarities.  Tecate is the most remote and least busy, and we crossed there twice.  The drive

from Ensenada to Tecate runs along a beautiful, winding road through the mountains.  The valleys are filled with vineyards

and pretty winery estates, and the hillsides are strewn with huge boulders that were scattered across the land long ago.  The

recent El Nino storms had delivered torrents of rain, and the grass everywhere was bright green and lush.  Just as we drove

under the "Thank you for visiting Wine Country" sign and said to each other, "That was really nice," we were stopped by a

group of camoflage-clad soldiers sitting amid sandbags, machine guns at the ready.  A young soldier approached us and

rattled something in Spanish that we didn't quite catch.  While driving, we had been practicing a Spanish vocabulary worksheet

for a Spanish class Mark was taking, and we showed the young men our word list.  "Pencil," "pen," "desk," "door," "window."

He handed the silly word list to his friends and they all got a chuckle as they passed it around.

A few miles further was the actual border crossing.  The

advantage in Tecate is a shorter wait going into the US.  It was

just 45 minutes.  We snaked along the newly erected wall that

separates the US and Mexico.  The wall was brightly painted on

the Mexican side with ads for services of all kinds that could be

found on both sides of the border.  Whether you wanted pizza,

tire repair, or legal advice, you could find it among the ads on

the wall, usually with a hand-drawn map to the exact spot.

On one of our Tecate crossings we got pulled over after we had

cleared into the US.  We were asked to step out of the car.  Our

truck and two other lucky cars had been chosen for an x-ray

scan.  We all stood to one side while a large windowless truck

drove slowly alongside our vehicles.  On the top of the truck a

light flashed "x-ray scanning" as it passed by.  I wondered if 20

years from now a high incidence of cancer would be linked to

those unfortunate souls who got picked out of US border crossing lines and told to stand off to one side while their vehicles

were x-rayed.

Once we were free we looked back at the "Entering Mexico" sign.  Not a single car in line.  We drove east towards Phoenix,

watching the new border wall take its own path across the mountains and valleys in the distance.  Not as lush as the Mexican

side, this area is rugged and remote.  As the wall disappeared and reappeared in the distance I couldn't help but remember

my walk along the eastern side of Berlin wall in 1982.  A visit to the Berlin Zoo and a drift down the Rhine past the many

medieval walled castles had gotten me thinking a lot about walls back then.  There is a fine line between a wall built to keep

folks out and one that ultimately pens people in.  Most walls don't last, even one as frightening as Berlin's.  But in 1982, with its

machine gun turrets, tanks and a double wall enclosing a minefield, who knew

anything would change?

The crossing at San Ysidro is a totally different experience.  Driving up the

scenic oceanside toll road from Ensenada, traffic slowed to a stop as we

neared the border.  Suddenly all the cars approaching the border were

surrounded by street vendors, and a party atmosphere filled the air.  I

couldn't count all the lanes

of traffic on either side of

us, but not one car was

moving.  The vendors

moved nimbly between us,

watching hopefully for signs

someone might be a buyer.

A vendor approached us

selling Jesus-on-the-cross

statues.  No, gracias.

Another had wooden

children's desks, cleverly

made with opening tops and

fold-out seats and Barbie

painted on the top.  Very

cool, but no, gracias.

Lots of vendors had

refreshments.  Bags of

snack foods were

clothes-pinned to ropes and mounted on makeshift scaffolds with

wheels.  One guy was selling soft drinks from a cooler.  We eased on

through the traffic, windows down, trading quips with the vendors.  No

one was forceful or aggressive and we had some good laughs as Mark

tried laying his newfound Spanish on them.  "Three years and you'll be

able to speak Spanish," one fellow said encouragingly.

We turned a corner and instantly the scene intensified.  Booths of

all kinds were set up along the edge of the road.  Any souvenir item

you forgot to get down at Gringo Gulch in Ensenada was available

here, haggling and all.  A few daring souls set up taco stands

between the lanes and the smell of frying meat made our tummies

rumble.  Suddenly ahead of us we saw a guy rushing between the

cars with two huge umbrella drinks in his hands.  He stopped at a

car window and passed them in, grinning as he got a fistful of

pesos in return.

And if food or


wasn't your

thing, there was

an express

pharmacy to

dispense your

last minute pills

before leaving


Two young kids

were running from

car to car washing

windows.  They

weren't doing a

very good job but

they didn't seem to

care.  They weren't

asking for money

and no one offered

them any either.

We laughed long and hard as we drove through this crazy spectacle.  In what seemed like no time at all the border booths

came into sight.  Checking the clock, we had actually been sitting in this wacky traffic jam for an hour and a quarter.  One final

tap on the window got Mark's attention.  "Are you American?  You look American!"  A young blond (and obviously non-

Mexican) kid asked, staring in the truck window.  Mark batted his baby blues at him.  "Hey, my wallet was stolen here last

night.  Can you give me some money?"  Mark rolled his eyes, closed the window and pulled forward.  That kid was missing the

whole enterprising spirit of the game.  He needed to go make something cool and sell it between the lanes like everyone else.

Coming back towards this main crossing at San Ysidro a few days later, the line going into Mexico looked almost as long as

the one for the US.  We drove down some side streets to where we could get a better view of the actual border booths, and

sure enough, the Mexican officials were as busy pulling people over to check them out as the Americans officials were on the

other side.  So we thought we'd give the third crossing point, Otay Mesa, a try.  Once we wound our way around to get to that

border crossing point we found the line was just 45 minutes long.  Finally emerging on the Mexican side, we found ourselves in

a regular Tijuana rush hour

traffic jam, with no map to find

our way across the city to the

scenic toll road to Ensenada.

To our surprise, a stunt man

was entertaining everyone at

an intersection by swishing a

mouthful of gasoline and then

blowing on a match.  He

produced some amazing

flame balls, but what a lousy

aftertaste that must have


We were really glad when

all the driving trips were

finished and we could get

back to our simple life at

the marina, learning about

our boat and getting ready

for new aqua-adventures.

I tested out the dinghy and

felt like a kid again, rowing

around in a little boat.

Mark went up the mast to install a spinnaker halyard.  Our

new friends Bob and Dan manned the winches and slowly

hoisted him to the top.  Once there the view was spectacular

-- if scary.  Looking at the photos later, I was relieved Mark

hadn't taken me up on my offer to go to the top of the mast

instead.  He said he just tried not

to think about it all too much once

he got up there, some 60 feet

straight up in the air.

The more we settled into this new

home, the more we liked it.  The

surrounding area is very pretty, but

it is the community of liveaboards

that has really made us feel at


All the boats are equipped

with a VHF radio for safety

purposes.  These are radios where one person talks and the whole world nearby

can listen.  This is very helpful in emergency situations where a boater in distress

can call out for help, but cruisers use it for social purposes as well.  Every morning

at 8:00 on channel 21a the cruisers at the various marinas and anchorages in

Ensenada all get together on the radio.  One person moderates the conversation,

inviting each boat to identify itself at the beginning (the "Cruiser Check-In"), and

then guiding the conversation through various topics:  people looking for help on

boat projects, people driving into town who can offer car-less boaters a lift, people

crossing the border who can take mail and/or passengers to San Diego, etc.  This

is then followed by an in-depth weather report from a retired airline pilot who lives

locally ("firmly bolted to the hill") and has a passion for weather.

The whole process takes just 15 minutes or so, but it gets the day off to a

nice start and bonds everyone regardless of boat size or type, level of

experience, or even which marina they are currently calling home.  This

radio net gave us a sense of community from our very first day in the

marina, and instantly transformed us from being mere new boat owners to

being "cruisers."  Within a few days of our arrival we got volunteered to be

hosts of the cruisers' net on Wednesdays.  The very first Wednesday

happened also to be my 50th birthday, and Mark decided to announce it on

the radio.  We were both in stitches as one boat after another checked in

and then wished me a happy birthday.  Few people knew who I was, but

those two little words, "happy birthday," repeated over and over by as-yet

faceless radio voices, made me feel very much at home.

One morning this

cruisers' net came to a boater's aid as well.  The net always starts with a

an open query regarding emergencies where folks need immediate help.

Our host (and comedian) that day, Dan, had just made a smart remark

about how there were no emergencies, "as usual," when a new voice

piped up that a crew member on his boat had just collapsed and needed

help.  You could hear the collective gasp across the net.  The voice then

identified his boat as being on D-dock at our marina.  That is our dock.

We popped our heads

out of our boat just as

ten other heads popped

out of theirs.  Suddenly

the whole marina was

swarming with cruisers

looking for a boater in

need.  After massive confusion, we discovered the boat was actually on F-

dock, and quickly a (very sleepy) retired paramedic cruiser was on his way

to help.  The boat had just arrived early that morning.  What good fortune

for the crew member that the radio net existed and a skilled paramedic was

part of the community, as it was nearly an hour before the ambulance


In our search for a boat I

followed the blogs of several cruisers who were traveling on a boat similar to

the one we wanted.  One I had read periodically was by Allan and Rina

aboard Follow You Follow Me, a 2003 Hunter 466 that had crossed the

Pacific from Puerto Vallarta to the Marquesas islands in 2008.  What a

surprise when I heard our marina manager on the phone making

arrangements for them to berth here for a few days.  It turned out that they

had chosen to ship their boat back to the west coast via the transport

company Dockwise, as they were under a time constraint to return to work

after their two year sabbatical at sea.  It was quite a thrill to meet

them, hear about their travels, see their boat, and discover the real people

behind the blog.

The Dockwise ship

came from New Zealand to Ensenada and was headed on to Florida

via the Panama Canal.  Several boats came into our marina from the

Dockwise ship, and we enjoyed many interesting tales of life in the

South Pacific.  Most Ensenada cruisers we had met so far were on the

beginning leg of their adventures, having sailed down from points north

and stopped here on their way south.  But these folks coming in from

New Zealand had all just spent a year or more traversing the exotic

tropical Pacific isles.  A mega power yacht at the end of our dock was

headed to Florida via the same Dockwise ship, and they boarded once

the arriving boats had been floated off.  Chatting with a crew member,

we learned that the bill for the owner to ship his 94' yacht from

Ensenada to Florida was going to be $84,000.

The same day that the boats arrived on the Dockwise ship, Gracie & Jerry aboard Pacific High left our marina for San Diego

on a different kind of adventure.  Their engine had died completely and they needed to go to San Diego to install a new

engine.  Friends on two inflatable dinghies pushed the boat out of its slip and into deep water outside the marina where they

could put their sails up.  We decided to go for a sail ourselves a little later that morning, and because the wind had been

almost nonexistent, they were still nearby when we got underway.  We sailed with them for a while up the coast.

They emailed us a few days later to

say that they had arrived in San Diego

safely and gotten a tow in.  During

their trip they had passed the towing

favor on: a little dove landed on the aft

rail of their boat when they were about

30 miles into their trip, and she stayed

with them until they reached the

mouth of San Diego harbor.  She

didn't appear to have a passport

under her wing, so she must have

bypassed the authorities.  Or perhaps

her plans were to return to Ensenada

one day.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.