Ensenada City Bus
Mark's buddy Peter, "The Brownie Man"
The BEST taco stand in town.
A wall of tequilas
Hussong's Cantina before the party
Lazy harbor seals take over the docks.
Bona fide US cherries for sale.
Farmlands outside Ensenada
Road to La Bufadora
The start of La Bufadora madness
All this for a little blow hole?
We find each other in the crowd
Street performers work their magic
A craggy coastline
La Bufadora itself
Honey for sale.
Ensenada Tourist Fun - La Bufadora
Late May, 2010 - We had been enjoying Ensenada so much over the past few months
that when my mother came to visit for her 80th birthday week we couldn't wait to share
the treasures we had found and do a little further exploring with her. She got a kick out of
taking the bus to town.
Once we got there we were greeted
by a vintage car flying two huge
Mexican flags. We had seen an
impromptu parade of antique cars
and low-riders the week before, but I
hadn't had my camera with me then,
so I was happy to catch this
one on camera as it went by.
We had come across The
Brownie Man a few weeks earlier and still had vivid memories of his heavenly
chocolate brownies baked by his Norwegian wife. What luck to find him once again,
strolling along Gringo Gulch with his tray of baked delights.
Following our tummies across town,
we stopped at Taqueria Las Brisas,
a taco stand that came highly
recommended by all the workers at
the marina. "Go along the Costero
past Hotel Corona and you'll see three taco stands in a row. Go to the middle
one. They are the best tacos in town" We followed their advice and directions
and had a scrumptious meal. The tortillas were handmade on the spot, from a
huge mountain of dough, and the steak and seasonings were sensational.
For $1 a taco we gorged ourselves, murmuring "mmm...mmm" with every bite.
guests is always a
great excuse to run
out and do all the
fun tourist things, so off we went in search of the perfect tequila for
mom to take home to my sister's family as a souvenir. A little open
air liquor store offered tequila tastings, and we soon found
ourselves sampling all kinds of tequilas we'd never heard of (and it
well before noon!), comparing this "reposado" to that "añejo."
Mom found a
tequila that really
hit the spot, and
no doubt Corona
on the wall
approved of her
Of course we had to get photos with each of us
sporting Corona sunglasses, and our moods were
quite light as we strolled the streets of Ensenada
Hussong's Cantina is the oldest bar in
Ensenada (founded in 1881). My first
impression weeks ago was that it was a
tourist trap, filled with cruise ship visitors
getting a taste of Mexico ashore, so we had
never been inside. We poked our heads inside with mom during
daylight hours and saw nothing more than a gaping room filled with
chairs and tables, bereft of any spirit. She insisted we return after
dark to see if it livened up. Being Tuesday, two-for-one night, we
returned to find it packed to overflowing, absolutely jumping with
happy Mexican revelers. We were the only gringos in the crowd.
Mark ordered up a song from a Mariachi band that strolled in, and
soon our toes were tapping and grins flashing as the table next to us
ordered up another half-hour's worth of music. Mom's dance card
filled up, and she easily outpaced us youngsters, protesting that
"the fun was just getting started" when we got up to leave.
Returning to the Malecon (the waterfront boardwalk) the next
day, we saw dozens of seals draping themselves across the
docks. They seemed to feel about the way I did: exhausted.
With the image of their slowly swaying heads and mournful
barks vivid in our minds, we snuck away from the tourist zone
and headed out along the scenic drive to one of Ensenada's
highlights: La Bufadora.
Driving along Estero Beach, we didn't get the perfect day for
a sightseeing tour, but seeing the outlying farmlands and
famed blow hole at La Bufadora were what this drive was all
Mark spotted a guy selling cherries by the side of the road and we quickly
pulled alongside to get some. "Where are the cherry orchards around here?"
I asked in the best Spanish I could muster as he handed me my bag. "There
aren't cherry trees any in Mexico. These are from the US." Oops! So much
for the authentic Mexican farm stand experience. We all got a great laugh,
but the cherries were so delicious it didn't matter where they were from.
Oregon's finest from a Mexican roadside vendor. What next?
We drove through
behind a row of
and we breathed
deeply as the road
swept around towards the point that marks the far end of the bay.
This point drifts in and out of the fog every day as we look out across
the bay from the marina. Driving the road perched on the edge of the
hills, we had a chance to see its rugged, steep cliffs up close.
La Bufadora is simply a blow hole, a craggy tidal cavern in some steep cliffs
where ocean water periodically shoots sky high in great gusts of salty white
spray. However, it is really so much more than that, as an entire cottage
industry of tourism has grown up around it. We got our first sampling a few
miles out when a painted pony posed for us.
In a little closer we walked under a grand entrance that announced
our arrival at La Bufadora. For the next quarter mile or so the road
was thickly lined with vendors selling everything from sweets to
colorful masks to cheerful dresses to swinging hammocks.
Vendors stood outside every
shop inviting the tourists to
come inside and look around.
"Come in and see what
we're selling. It won't cost
you anything." "Would you
like a dress, a t-shirt, a bag
-- look, this bag would be
perfect for you ma'am. We
have it in red or blue or
green..." "Come on in and
buy something you don't
need!" one guy said as I
walked by. It was a little
overwhelming and very
Some of the
Suddenly a busload
disembarked and a
wave of people walked
past in a flurry, like the
first rush of flood water
plunging down a dry
desert wash. We got
swept up and swept
away and separated. I
waited for Mark to
appear in the crowd
and then we spotted
each other, cameras
The busload of tourist surged past, leaving
some small-fry in their wake. The kids
played hide-and-seek among the vendors'
stalls, and a group of squirrels scampered
after food scraps.
Musicians and street
performers pulled out all the
stops while the sea of
vendors finally parted,
revealing the crashing surf
and rugged cliffs of this
Fortunately La Bufadora was doing her thing in style that day.
Somehow we timed the tides and winds just right for our visit,
and ended up with salt spray on our hair.
Leaving the crazy Bufadora scene behind, we stopped at a roadside
stand on our return trip home to buy some honey. Sold in jars and
bottles of all shapes and sizes sporting familiar labels and bottle
tops that reveal their former contents, each jar of honey was a
different shade of golden brown. We picked a nice dark one and
headed home with plans for a late-night after-dinner tea sweetened
with our new honey.
We retreated into boat projects for a few weeks, but emerged again
for two enduring but contrasting Ensenada experiences: the
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.
We taste a life of luxury aboard a true Yacht.
The roads around Ensenada can be lethal for cyclists.
A frog marks our passage uphill.
The "free road" twists through
Cyclists race down the mountain.
There was no front pack, just little groups of
three and four riders.
I try my best Graham Watson
This ride caters to sleek racers...
...a man wearing a tutu...
...a masked man...
...a little kid gets a wild ride...
...an older kid does tricks...
The Newport-Ensenada Race arrives on a perfect sunny day.
It's OK is a pure racing machine.
The crew of It's OK congratulates each other on a job
Built for speed, It's OK looks fast even tied up at the dock.
Taxi Dancer is a thoroughbred from another era.
100% carbon fiber, this boat dreams only of winning.
The crew of It's OK takes top spot.
Out on the bay we wait for the boats to arrive.
Elixir en-route to a great finish.
A steady stream of boats arrived in the marina.
We find ourselves caught up in the cockpit parties on the docks.
Behind the scenes on a go-fast boat.
The Mexican SAR swimmers take the
mayhem at the docks in stride.
Bandita and Cha Cha are in a party mood too.
What a glorious day for a race.
Rosarito-Ensenada & Newport-Ensenada Races
Mid-Late April, 2010 - Adding a new twist to our Ensenada
lives, a boat arrived flying the Australian flag. Intrigued, we
made a bee-line for it. The owners and their full-time captain
warmly welcomed us aboard, and we were soon relaxing in a
sumptuous main salon whose "wow" factor easily surpassed
any land-based living room I have seen. We learned that they
had just purchased the boat in San Diego (complete with
broker horror stories like those of most California boat buyers
we've met. How shocking that brokers making hundreds of
thousands of dollars on a deal will cheat their customers).
They were headed to points south in Mexico before visiting the South
Pacific en route to Australia. Gazing down on the marina through
almost 360 degrees of enormous windows (a very different perspective
than on Groovy), I realized that in a small marina everyone loves to
show off their boat, no matter the size, and friendships blossom in
moments. The vast disparity of income levels that too often separates
could-be friends on land isn't a barrier when you are camping -- in
whatever style -- on the water.
One of the big events in
Ensenada every year is
bicycle ride, and we had
looked forward to it since we got here. Boasting thousands of participants, the
ride wanders for 50+ miles up and down the hilly free (non-toll) road on the coast.
Rather than fight the logistics of this one-way ride, we opted to ride the last few
miles backwards and join the cyclists as they passed through.
Our goal was to stop and take photos of the
leaders as they began the final descent into
town. The climb up this last hill was
exhilarating as we rose higher and higher
above the twisting road. I staked out a spot at
the top of the hill while Mark rode a little
further to get some more exercise. When the
leaders filtered past, one at a time, lead out by
police cars, I clicked a few shots, waiting for
the main pack to arrive.
But the typical race pack never arrived. I did
my best to emulate the great cycling
photographer Graham Watson, catching the
spurts of three and four riders as they flew by
the wildflowers at 40 mph.
After a while I wondered when Mark would return down the
hill, but I kept snapping photos, figuring he'd
show up sooner or later.
Sleek racers were enjoying the steep climbs and
descents of this ride at race pace, while many
recreational riders dressed up in crazy outfits.
There was a guy in a ballet tutu, Wonder
Woman, some fellows in full face masks, Darth
Vadar, families, kids in trailers and a few bikers
doing tricks. In no time I realized I had been
taking photos for well over an hour.
Not sure what had happened to Mark, I grabbed my
bike to start looking for him and found the rear tire was
flat. Rats. Heaving a sigh, I took out my spare -- and
found it had a huge tear near the valve stem. What the
heck?! I wanted to patch my flat, but couldn't find the
pin-hole leak, so I started walking the 12 miles towards
Yikes, would this turn into a four hour walk?
Lots of people asked if I needed help, but I
knew (with evaporating certainty) that Mark
would be along any minute. Finally a trio of
Mexican racers who were deep into a flat
fixing session waved me over. We found
and patched the hole just as Sponge Bob
Square Pants rode by (where was my
camera?), and we were on our way, cruising
down the hills to the bottom all together.
I finally arrived back at the boat to find Mark
had spent the last two hours sitting on the wall in front of the hotel scanning the
thousands of cyclists going by, looking for me. Arrghh. He had cruised down the hill
hours ago, flying along with the first three riders, glancing at the side of the road now
and then to see if I was there. Not seeing me, he kept on a-goin' as fast as the hills
would let him. Why didn't I recognize him? Well, it's hard to distinguish much of
anything through a camera's viewfinder, especially when the targets are going 40 mph.
Why didn't he see me? Hmmm... when descending a hill with twisty roads as fast as
possible, you gotta keep your eyes on the road. We were both bummed and more
than a little irate, because we had missed the most important part of the event which
was downtown at the Coronado Hotel where several thousand arriving cyclists mingled,
munched, swapped stories in English and Spanish while bands filled the air with music.
Oh well. The following week we made a point to stick close
together for the arrival of the Newport to Ensenada sailboat
race. Once the largest international sailboat race in the world
with some 600+ boats, this year's roster was just over 200,
due to a disgruntled former racer sponsoring a rival race from
Newport to San Diego on the same weekend. But the
festivities and energy made up for any shortfalls in enrollment.
Leaving Newport Beach, California at noon on Friday, the first boat
crossed the finish line outside our marina entrance at 2:00 a.m.
Saturday morning. By the time we got out of bed a few hours later, two
boats were tied up at our docks, each a phenomenal racing machine.
(Other boats had turned around at the finish to start the long trip home.)
The crew on the custom 50' boat It's OK was still on board when we wandered
down. They happily sipped their first orange juices of the morning, diluted with
something much stronger, in celebration. They invited us aboard, and our eyes
popped at the sight of a carbon fiber ladder going into the cabin, a carbon fiber
toilet and a no-nonsense command center at the navigation station. There was a
galley, but the interior of the boat was essentially a mixture of sailbags and sleeping
bags, with the sailbags filling the main cabin while the sleeping bags were stuffed
around the fringes. No question what the priorities were on this boat.
At the next dock we got a look at Taxi Dancer, another marvel of
racing machinery. This boat was built in the 1980's and is another
carbon fiber racing thoroughbred. As we walked back, we could
hear and see the crew from It's OK in their corner suite on the top
balcony of the hotel. Their sunrise festivities were much deserved,
after a full night of racing.
Although the winds had been light, they had hit speeds of 12.5
knots at times. But their boat is capable of much more. On an
earlier run near Cabo San Lucas they had seen speeds of 24
knots. This is just a little shy of the folks on Taxi Dancer who
reported speeds of 26 knots on their run from Santa Cruz to
Newport Beach before the race began.
We went out on Elizabeth Too, our new friends' boat, and drifted in
circles at 1 to 2 knots while a morning calm prevailed. Eventually
some boats appeared on the horizon and we wandered among
them, engaging in a slow motion dance as they raced past us at the
pace of a great-grandpa using a walker.
Finally the wind
rose a little and
came out, and
we had the color
we had been
Back at the marina there was
pure mayhem as 50 boats
began a steady flow through the
skinny entrance into their
assigned slips. Exhausted but exhilarated,
most boats and crew were highly
challenged by the narrow fairways and
strong crosswinds and current in the
marina. Dockhands and resident marina
dwellers scampered up and down the docks
for hours, taking docklines and fending off.
And then the party started.
Blessed with a fantastic sunny
day, every cockpit was brimming
with people, drinks and snacks, and
everyone hopped freely from cockpit to
cockpit, meeting new folks, checking out
each other's boats and comparing notes
on the overnight race. Because of the
oddities of sailboat racing and the
handicaps assigned to each boat
according to its make, model and
equipment, no one knew exactly how they had placed. However, the crew on Elixir
could barely contain their excitement when a rival they have raced against many
times didn't appear until three hours later. The disappointment in the rival captain's
voice was palpable when he finally showed up and found out from Elixir's crew that
he had arrived three hours after they did.
Most of the boats were in by late afternoon. With flags flying in
the rigging and most slips full, the marina began to take on the
look of a boat show. There was a feeling of satisfaction among
the sailors that the race was finished, even if all had not gone
according to plan, and congratulations were shared all around.
Below decks on the boats told the real story of the hard work
and fast action of engaging in a race for 24 hours.
Mexican SAR (search
and rescue) swimmers who train in the marina waters every weekend carried on
with their drills, even as the sailboats continued arriving. Meanwhile, up at the
hotel, a beautiful outdoor wedding was underway. The rich voice of the operatic
tenor who entertained the wedding guests by the pool added an air of elegance to
the wild, party atmosphere down on the the docks.
Even our neighbor's dogs Bandita
and Cha Cha got into the swing,
going from boat to boat in hopes of
scraps from the cockpit tables.
Next morning the fog rolled in and the
revelers slept in. The mood was
subdued as the crews awoke to the task
of preparing their boats for the return
trip. Crews carefully laid out their
space-age, hand-crafted sails, folded
them neatly and tweaked and tested the
various equipment that had acted up
during the race. One by one the boats began to slip away. Each faced an initial run to
San Diego to clear US Customs followed by another leg to their home port. Upwind and
into the swells the whole way, most planned to motor home.
We tidied up Groovy too, having entertained more folks in our cockpit in two days than
we had entertained in any dwelling in years. All the liveaboards were sad to see the
boats go, but there was a contentment, too, in returning to our regular routines in
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.
Groovy catches a nice breeze.
Pelicans watch us go by.
A groovy day on the water.
Friends followed us tack for tack around the bay.
Mark hides out in the
The walking path to town.
Stairs near the university.
Waves carve their signature in
Punta Morro Resort Restaurant.
Landscaping at the RV park
next to the marina.
An RV park tenant loves doing
...he has created a lush garden behind the waterfront row
Horses and buggies line up for passengers.
Spring Break is ON !!
Late March / Early April, 2010 - Since our border crossings,
the days having been passing too quickly. Each day we
wake up to a myriad of possibilities of things to do. Try as
we might, they never all seem to get done. We have found
that Bahía Todos Santos, the bay in which Ensenada is
perched, is a beautiful place for day sailing. So we have
taken the boat out for a sail once or twice a week since we
got here. The bay is a very large basin that is about 7 miles
by 10 miles or so. It is defined by a large hook in the land,
and some islands in the distance fringe the outer edge.
There are rarely any boats out on the water. During most
day sails we see a powerboat or two, usually sport
fishermen. So far we have seen only a handful of sailboats
all together, and generally we are the only one. Yet the bay
sports a delightful wind most days and the wildlife is plentiful. One day, while sailing, a
huge whale surfaced just a few feet from the boat, making us both jump. On another
day we came across a clump of harbor seals floating and snoozing together, flippers,
tails and heads intertwined as they drifted on the waves. From a distance we thought it
might be the remains of a bush or a tree, but on closer inspection those things sticking
up in the air were the seals' fins. Their deep, satisfied breathing gave them away.
Besides being a fantastic place to
sail, we wanted to use these months
in Ensenada to learn as much about
the boat as possible. Hunter, the
manufacturer of the boat, kindly put a
little sticker near the stairs going into the cabin advising us to read the
owner's manual before operating the boat. Very cute.
On two occasions
we have sailed
boat. On one
day in particular
we shared the
bay with a Hunter
49, a big sister to
our boat. It was
the ideal sailing day with
modest winds, no waves
whatsoever, and bright
sunshine all day. For five
hours we tacked back and
forth, zig-zagging out
towards the islands. Then
we both slipped home with
the wind lightly pushing us
from behind. We were so
free and happy, soaring on
the air in a light dance upon
These energetic days haven't been
getting their start with a Wheaties
breakfast, however. Mark discovered
that the Mexican equivalent of one of his favorites, Coco
Krispies, can be found with Melvin on the front under the
label "Choco Kripis." It's reassuring to start the day with
something familiar, even if it comes with a slight Mexican
But all that sugar can send you back to bed for a nap.
Where better than in the cockpit, even if you have to pile
on the blankets to keep warm?
The winter of 2009/2010 has turned out to be an El Niño
winter. El Niño refers to the boy child, or more specifically
the Christ child, whom Peruvian farmers always thanked,
long ago, when this unusual weather effect would bless their fields with lots of rain.
Apparently difficult to predict but easy to
identify once it has arrived, this odd El
Niño weather pattern robs Montana of all moisture and totally soaks the
coasts of Southern California and Northern Baja Mexico. El Niño has
other far-reaching impacts around the globe, generally reversing the
usual weather and delivering the exact opposite.
While the Peruvian farmers may have been elated this year, El Niño
hasn't left our rancher friends in Montana or us very happy. The
Montanans don't mind the cold and desperately need the rain, and we
would have liked a nice warm dry season here. However, Mother
Nature has her own, wise agenda, and the southwestern desert hasn't
been this green and lush in ages.
Our weeks get scheduled around which
day looks like it will be best for sailing, as far as temperature and wind strength are concerned.
Of course, weather prediction here has proven to be quite a challenge. We check several
different websites, listen to Duck Breath's lengthy forecast on the VHF radio cruiser's net each
morning, and stand in the cockpit and scratch our heads.
One day that was predicted to have 9 knots of wind turned out to have 25-30 knots once we
got out into the bay, and another series of days that were supposed to inflict a torrent of
storms turned out to be balmy and pleasant. We missed one of the most dramatic natural
events of the season during the week we drove to Phoenix. A large earthquake in Chile
suddenly threatened to unleash a tsunami all the way up the Pacific coast to southern
California. In anticipation, some folks took their boats out to sea, others doubled up their dock
lines and moved to higher ground, and all nervously stared out to sea and waited.
At the appointed hour the wave
arrived. Fortunately it was far smaller
than expected. The floating docks in
the marina rose and fell four feet in 10 minutes, but there was no
damage. Up in San Diego, where the entrance to the bay is much
narrower and the surge is more forceful, there was some damage to
various shoreline structures.
We were blissfully unaware of any of this until the day after it
happened. Casually reading the newspaper headlines in a Phoenix
coffee shop, my heart jumped when I saw the words "tsunami" and
"Baja Mexico" in one sentence. But I quickly realized that the wave
had already come and gone 24 hours earlier.
The event we did not miss was the earthquake that struck just 100 miles inland in
Mexicali, California. We didn't get sloshed around in the hotel's hot tub or get a good
shake-up in their restaurant like so many others here. Instead, we were quietly sitting
below decks listening to the snap, crackle and pop that goes on under our hull all the
time. We have been listening to this noise since we moved aboard, and we had heard it
years ago during sailing lessons in San Diego bay. We had asked other cruisers about it
and been variously told it was marine creatures eating the scum off the bottom of our
hull, it was electrical activity in the water, it was the new-boat fiberglass settling in, or it
was the bottom paint flaking off into the water.
None of these explanations seemed right, but with so many other exciting things going on
in our lives, who had time to research a noise that all the other cruisers seemed to accept
without concern? Not us. Not us, that is, until the earthquake hit.
There we were, quietly relaxing, when suddenly the volume of the snap, crackle, pop
increased to 4-5 times its usual volume. Mark sat bolt upright and looked at me wide-
eyed. We both shot out of the boat and looked around to see what might be causing the
popping to get so loud. Mark thought maybe someone was spraying our hull with a hose,
and I thought maybe something had sent a huge electrical surge through the water. But
everything out in the marina looked just the way it always does.
So we ducked back down in the cabin where the noise soon subsided
and resumed its familiar peaceful crackling. I didn't think anything
more of it until we walked up to the hotel later in the day and learned
about the earthquake. What pandemonium. People had leapt out of
the hot tubs and pools like greased lightning, screaming as they ran
off. The earthquake had hit right about the time our boat was
engulfed in crackling. Suddenly I put two and two together: the noise
must be caused by creatures who were unnerved by the quake.
I had heard the likely noise-creating
marine creature was "krill" eating the
stuff that grows on the bottom of the
boat. But why would the appetite of
krill, a small crustacean, suddenly
increase during an earthquake? Not to mention, how can the tearing of soft, scummy tissues
off the bottom of a boat make such a sharp, popping noise (like bacon frying) that resonates
throughout the hull? Furthermore, why didn't the noise abate for a few days after a diver had
scrubbed the bottom of the boat clean? The crackling was always present, regardless of how
little marine growth our boat seemed to have. Lastly, no diver had ever seen any creatures
munching on our boat's (or any other boat's) bottom.
A little more research and I finally discovered
who our creatures were: "snapping" shrimp, or
"pistol" shrimp, from the family Alpheidae and
genus Alpheus of which there are some 250
members. These little guys sport a large
asymmetrical claw that they cock and then snap
shut to stun and kill their prey. But this is no ordinary claw snap. These guys
aim the claw between the eyes of their prey and snap it shut at such lightning
speed that an air bubble is emitted and bursts with a huge POW. This releases
a blast of light and heat that is equivalent to that found on the surface of the sun.
The noise of these pistol shots ranks these little half inch shrimp among the
noisiest of the sea's creatures, right up there with sperm and beluga whales.
These crazy, noisy
feasting on the
underside of our
boat. Instead, they live in the nooks and crannies of the seabed
floor below us, and they snap their way through life,
communicating with each other via snap language and killing their
dinner as it crawls by. They form male/female pair bonds, sharing
a home and food, and some species even take up communal
residence in sponges, behaving much like bees in a hive.
Sound a little unlikely? I discovered a wonderful website of a
biologist who has studied these fellows in depth. We had a
delightful, lively exchange of email messages about these shrimp.
She explained that they live among the rocks below us in little
burrows they build for themselves, but their noise is so loud, even
15 feet below us, that we hear it as if it were right outside. During the earthquake, she explained, they not only felt the earth
move, but they probably saw their burrows crumbling all around them. No wonder they started snapping like mad. They were
reacting just like the folks did in the pools and restaurant up at the hotel.
The website pointed me to two terrific YouTube links where you can see what these guys are all about: A Brief (cute) BBC
Before all the excitement surrounding the earthquake, Holy
Week brought lots of Mexican Spring Breakers to Ensenada
and the area's beaches. Easter Sunday the town was hopping
and the horses and carriages were lined up to take tourists to
see the sights.
We went downtown to see just how Spring Break was progressing.
The energy was high and the mood was a party. Several young
boys were break-dancing and doing crazy gymnastics moves
outside a street-side bar. It's an unusual kind of grace, but their
strength and coordination were impressive.
On two subsequent April weekends we
watched another kind of strength, agility and
sportiness in action during two long-running
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.
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
Clever wooden children's desks.
Snacks clothes-pinned to a makeshift
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
A happy girl in a boat.
Mark goes up the mast.
...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
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
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
thing, there was
last minute pills
Two young kids
were running from
car to car washing
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
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.
Ensenada Carnaval 2010
Mid-February, 2010 - Over Valentine's Day weekend the city
of Ensenada swelled by 600,000 people as visitors from all
over came to take part in the pre-Lent festival "Carnaval." It
was perfect sailing weather all weekend, bright and sunny
and windy, and we were completely torn between heading
out into the bay on Groovy or going into town to see the
crazy Carnaval scene. Events ran from 2:00 pm until 2:00
am everyday for six days, and we could hear the roar of the
crowd and the beat of the drums until the wee hours of the
morning from across the bay in our marina slip.
Sailing won out on most of the days, as it was the
first really great sailing weather we had had since
we moved aboard. This part of the Pacific coast
had received more rain in the month since we
bought the boat than it had in the entire year of
2009, and we had begun to get a little antsy as we
waited for weather that would be fun for sailing. Yet
Carnaval is one of the biggest local events of the
year in Ensenada, and we didn't want to miss it. In
the end, we got downtown for one day and quickly
found ourselves swept up in a wild parade scene
that was like nothing we had ever witnessed.
People were milling around the tourist district before the parade started. All sorts of vendors
were out and about selling all kinds of things. The crowd was quiet and we found a spot in
the main square to sit and wait with everyone else. Gradually the crowd began to move and
reassemble along the edge of the main street. All of a sudden we heard the beeping horns
of antique cars and then their funny shapes came into view. These were followed by some
crazy cars, one of which drove up on two wheels and many of which were souped up with
wing style doors.
The parade was off to a good start,
and after the last car went by we all
waited patiently for the next part of the
parade to come through. We waited
and waited. The kids began to grow
restless. They would dash out in the
street just to be
called back by
their parents. We
all craned our
around the folks next to us, as we looked down the street for any signs
of the parade, and we quickly found ourselves moving into the middle
of the street as a group. Soon the whole street was full of spectators
with no parade to be seen. After about 10 minutes it seemed that
nothing was going to happen for a while, so Mark and I began walking
and decided to hit the supermarket a few blocks away and do a little
The Sol Beer gal caught Mark's attention and posed with him for a quickie pic as we passed.
There wasn't a soul on any of the streets away from the parade route, and the supermarket
was ultra quiet. Some 20 minutes and a few bags of groceries later, we emerged back onto
the main drag and found the parade in full swing once again.
One look at the crowd that had formed
around a group of mimes explained
what had taken the parade so long.
Rather than marching and walking in a
straight line like all the parades I have
ever seen, this Carnaval parade was
all about performing for the crowd.
Each "act" would stop every 30 yards
or so and put on a complete show for
the audience at that spot.
A large marching band was
deep into their show when we
first caught up with the parade.
One group of kids in the band crouched down while the others marched up and back
and in circles, playing their hearts out. Adults wearing masks that matched the kids'
outfits supervised their movements from the sidelines.
After a good 10 minutes the band finally made its way
beyond us and another group of dancers took their place.
The costumes were elaborate, the dance steps were
intricately choreographed, and the music pulsed with
energy. Every dancer was fully caught up in the moment.
I found myself caught up in the moment too. Busy looking
around, I didn't notice a funny clown on a bike who stopped to
pose in front of me for a minute or so. Then I spotted him and
realized he had seen my camera and was patiently waiting for
me to take a photo.
The theme to this year's
Carnaval was "A Mythological
Party of the Gods," and the
floats and costumes were
colorful and fantastic.
Many floats tossed candy into
the crowd and the kids all
around me scrambled about to
gather it all up. Rather than the
stylized and somewhat bored
wrist-turning hand-wave I am
accustomed to seeing on parade
floats, these floats were alive with energy as the people on them called out to friends in the
crowd, wound up for big candy throws as if they were throwing world series pitches, and
laughed all the while.
Between the floats we were
treated to some terrific
dance groups. From Aztec
looking costumes to
Egyptians right out of King
Tut's tomb, these kids were
totally into their dance
moves. Each group was
preceded by a truck or a
float carrying enormous loud
speakers, and the air throbbed with music of all types as each group paused to perform for us
and then walked a few steps further to entertain the next folks.
And the dancers weren't just kids. A group of older ladies came jigging
along too, and they pirouetted past, hips swaying and blissful looks on
A group that must
have come down to
Mount Olympus in
Greece did the
wildest dance for us.
Purple hair flying,
there were two young men who stole the show
with their unbridled energy and charisma.
As much as
got the crowd
hollering about their dances, the
elaborate costumes wowed us too.
Large headdresses, swooping
feathery things and more sequins
than I've seen in a long time drifted
past. Adults and children alike were
adorned in fantasy-wear.
It seemed there was a place for
everyone in this parade. Many floats
featured little girls in wonderful
costumes, and one little boy got to drive
a really cool little buggy the whole way.
even made a showing, coming up from his underwater domain to
join this mythological party of the gods.
In case the party got a little out of hand
and turned into something more of an
orgy, the Safe Sex van was on hand. I
couldn't figure out what this act was all
about at first, as it was headed up by the
Grim Reaper and several walking
skeletons wearing black hoods. Then I
saw the happy condom painted on the
side of the van and the row of XXL condoms walking along behind. What a surprise it was when
some real condoms were flung in our direction. A little boy next to Mark excitedly scooped one
up, only to have his dad shake his head at him, "No." Just the adults were supposed to
scramble after these goodies.
A caballero on a
beautiful white horse
came prancing along
and then an acrobatic
troupe did some stunts
2010 marks the 100th
anniversary of the
which started in 1910
with the ouster of
Porfirio Diaz from 30
years rule and ended in
1920 with the formation
of a new constitution.
There is a lot more to Carnaval than just the parade, but the wind and
the sea called us back to the boat and we never made it to the other
events. The little we had seen had put huge smiles on our faces,
though, and I came home that night with confetti clinging to my hair
and clothes. It was over a week before I had picked all the little colorful
bits out of the carpets. As the revelers subdued themselves for Lent,
we began a three week long series of jaunts back and forth to the US,
learning a bit about the changes along the southern border of the US.
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.
Ensenada's huge Mexican flag.
Ensenada can be a party town.
Hussong's Cantina in the tourist zone.
Papas & Beer
One small stall in a fairly large fish market.
These guys have teeth!
Soriana, the local supermarket chain.
Frosted Flakes, Mexican style.
Hot sauces for every taste.
Get your chicken here!
Ensenada even has Starbucks!
Big box stores have moved in.
Views on our scenic walk to town.
The Pacific ocean lands right here.
A path runs along the waterfront.
More or less: "The cleanest city isn't the one that is
cleaned up the most but the one that is dirtied the least."
Valentine's Day photo op
Streetside dining, out of the elements.
A cozy spot for a bite.
Mexican heroes Juarez, Hidalgo and Carranza
A band poses before the parade.
Ready to march.
Ensenada, Mexico (1)
Early February, 2010 - After our voyage to Mexico, our first few days in Ensenada were a
whirlwind. Every time we set foot on the marina docks we met new people, both boaters and
marina staff, who were all unbelievably friendly and welcoming.
We caught a ride into town with new
friends and they gave us a wonderful
tour of the main city streets. Locating
good drinking water and restocking
the pantry were top on our lists, and
they graciously drove us around to
replenish our supplies.
Ensenada is a delicious mix of North Americans from all three
countries on the continent. Mexicans, Canadians and United
Statesians (as they so accurately refer to us in Spanish:
"estadounidenses") all fill the homes, streets, hotels and boats. As
we walked through town we heard snippets of English and Spanish
conversation float by. Scanning the street signs, we noticed many in
English, even the road signs and driving directions. Of the 400,000
or so residents, I've heard that some 20,000 are ex-pats from north of the border.
A university town, the arts are valued highly and a youthful air abounds.
The tourist zone is also party central, as cruise ships full of vacationers
make regular stops here and it is an easy weekend destination for San
Diegans looking for something a little different. Many locals speak
English extremely well, and we were shocked to find that American
dollars (and quarters, nickels and dimes) are all happily accepted, even
on the local buses. The exchange rate is currently just under 13 pesos
to one US dollar, but the banks we stopped at wouldn't exchange money
unless you had an account with them. So tourists are left to the ATMs
(and their fees) and the money changing vendors (whose exchange
rates are not as good as the banks) if they want to put a few pesos in
The main tourist area sports signs in both English and Spanish,
and we enjoyed strolling along the red brick sidewalks of the
area affectionately known as "Gringo Gulch." Two bars anchor
one end of Gringo Gulch: Papas & Beer and Hussong's
Cantina. These have been here for decades, offering tourists
tequila and beer in abundance every night. Outside their doors,
the once shabby streets of this part of Ensenada have steadily
cleaned up to the point of being just shy of trendy.
We stopped at the fish market and were amazed at the quantity and
variety of fish being sold. We heard from many sources that the fishing
is far better here than just a few miles north in California.
We bought a delicious, thick Ahi tuna
filet for $3.80/lb. That was the official
price, but we were still unfamiliar with
the Mexican coinage, and when we
studied our change a while later we
discovered we had paid a Gringo
price of $4.60/lb. Oh well. Still an
incredible bargain by US supermarket
One of our favorite travel activities is
to wander through the grocery
stores. Soriana is the local
supermarket chain, and fellow
cruisers made sure we knew about
the discount card they offer. Our
wallets are loaded with discount
cards from supermarkets all over the States, and now we have a
Mexican one in the collection.
Tony the Tiger is drawn just a little differently on the Mexican Frosted
Flakes boxes, and we found an aisle loaded with little bottles of hot
sauces that were all about a buck apiece.
The piled up "reach-in-and-
grab-it" chicken display was
quite a surprise. Some things
are very different here.
But other things are much the
same, including Starbucks on
the main drag.
McDonalds, Home Depot,
Costco and Walmart have
also taken up residence here.
Hotel Coral & Marina is a little over two miles from
town, a brief bus ride or easy walk. After walking to
town along the busy highway a few times, we discovered there is a
gorgeous path that runs along the waterfront instead. The trail is
mortared stone in places and dirt in other places, and it winds past
the fronts of all the homes.
The houses, many of them vacation rentals, have stunning views of
the bay. The surf comes in from the open Pacific here and crashes
relentlessly on the shore.
One of the thrills of this new lifestyle is being surrounded by the
Spanish language. I took some community college Spanish classes
before we started traveling in hopes that we would get to places
where I could use it. Deciphering signs keeps my head spinning,
and I've been grateful for the little electronic Spanish/English
dictionary Mark got me years ago. Some signs take a little longer
to figure out than others.
On Valentine's Day as
we strolled around Gringo
Gulch we saw at least six
or seven different Mariachi
bands walking around
carrying their instruments
on their way to work at the
restaurants. Mark stopped
one group to get a photo
with me. These guys love
a photo op, and the fellow
on the left who had been
straggling behind his
friends came running up to
make sure he got into the photo too.
Other guys begging for a photo
were the cartoon characters in the
Viagra billboards outside the
pharmacies. These guys weren't
shy, and Super Viagra Man's red
shorts were anatomically correct
(after taking the little pill).
My favorite was the old guy with the
cane. He was a little bent over but
obviously very happy.
Ensenada is a year-round destination but has many chilly months.
Lots of the streetside cafes have little enclosures around their tables
and chairs, making a cozy spot to share a bite on the streets.
The waterfront boardwalk lies two streets away from the tourist
shopping district, and the main plaza has three enormous
sculptures of the heads of the men who shaped Mexico.
Benito Juarez brought about democratic reforms in the mid-1800's
and reduced the political role of the Catholic church; Miguel
Hidalgo, "Father of the Nation," initiated the Mexican War of
Independence in 1810; and Venustiano Carranza was a leader of
the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and drafted the current Mexican
On a lighter note, Ensenada's largest event, the six day Carnaval
celebration, was getting underway. Similar to Mardi-Gras, this is a
huge festival in February that is the last chance for everyone to let
their hair down and get wild before they have to straighten up and fly
right for the forty days of Lent.
Many marching bands were gathering in the main plaza under
the enormous Mexican flag. Not wanting to let a photo op slip
by, one group quickly gathered around me so Mark could get
Another group was already in formation, ready for the festivities
to begin. Ensenada's Carnaval celebration includes all kinds of
merry-making, but the Carnaval Parade was the true highlight
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.
We spot Puerto La Salina on the horizon.
The surf at the entrance is a little intimidating.
Many empty slips - lots of space for visitors.
Machine gun toting guards
keep an eye on things.
Mark checks out the surf at the breakwater up close.
A pelican is oddly tolerant of our close approach.
Leaping dolphins rush over to welcome us to
Ensenada's huge bay.
They swim alongside the boat.
We approach our final waypoint.
Hotel Coral & Marina has a skinny entrance.
Hotel Coral & Marina
Elegant nooks and alcoves around the hotel offer
views and privacy.
Every hotel room has a private balcony
overlooking the marina and ocean beyond.
There are swimming pools and hot tubs inside
This will be awesome once the weather warms up.
Groovy in her new slip, home for six months.
Puerto La Salina & Hotel Coral Marina
Late January, 2010 - The trip from San
Diego to Ensenada is just 65 miles, a long
one-day sail. However, winter days are
short and our boat Groovy was new to us,
so we were extra cautious and charted a
route that included an overnight in Puerto
La Salina, about 45 miles south of San
Diego. We slipped between the bouys
marking the outer channel of San Diego
harbor in the early morning mist and headed south
right out of the mouth of the harbor. Soon the
ocean swells were upon us, and we heaved and
rolled under power, letting the autopilot do the
steering while the GPS and chartplotter did the
thinking. Whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds kept
us occupied with their antics.
Puerto La Salina gets a brief mention in the
guidebooks, but solid information about this small
marina is scarce. One guidebook mentions it twice
but locates it in two positions about four miles apart. The
marina's website gave GPS coordinates for their channel
entrance, however, and we hoped that would be all we
needed. As we approached the GPS position, we could
see a very small cut between two breakwaters, with surf
pounding at the entrance. The marina staff were slow to
respond when we hailed them on the radio, but that might
have been because we didn't realize yet that the VHF
radio had two settings: long range and short range
communication. Oops. This was one of many new things
we needed to learn as we faced a very steep learning
curve with this sailing life. But acquiring new skills is a
large part of why we undertook this adventure.
What a surprise it was when a launch boat from the marina came out to greet us. He was bouncing all over the huge waves at
the channel entrance and kindly escorted us down the narrow channel and through the quick turns to our assigned slip. We
surprised ourselves and docked like pros and congratulated ourselves on arriving intact without sinking or dying or having any
mishaps. This had been only our fifth time out in the boat by ourselves.
Puerto La Salina Marina and the ritzy neighborhood around it have great potential: dramatic ocean views, fancy construction
and close proximity to San Diego. However, many slips were empty, skeletons of unfinished buildings ringed the
neighborhood, there was no running water in the bathrooms that day due to recent storms and the advertised wifi had "never
worked" according to the disgruntled marina resident in the slip next to ours. Oh well - not a problem for a brief overnight stop.
In my first glance around the marina, once we finished tying up the boat, I caught sight of a
machine gun toting guard in camouflage gear. Huh? Nearby Tijuana has had a lot of drug
related violence lately, but what was this all about? We found out later these guys (there
were several) were also involved in search and rescue efforts at sea as well as occasionally
chasing drug runners. They set up a tent at the gated entrance to our dock and apparently
slept there overnight. If nothing else, we felt very secure!
The homes that have
been built around the
marina are lovely, and we
had a pleasant walk
surroundings. It slowly
dawned on me that not
only were we not in
Kansas anymore (or San
Diego or the Caribbean
for that matter), but we
were in a new country I knew little about.
The dock master's English was very iffy, but my Spanish was even more
so. I mentally made a note that not only did I need to spend the next six
months studying all aspects of sailing so we could cruise safely throughout
the rest of Mexico, but I needed to dust off my Spanish textbooks and
study that as well.
Out at the end of
the breakwater the
against the rocks.
The wall had been
breached on the
other side during a
storm last year and
the rocks were
A lone pelican lay dozing along the breakwater wall. He was so
passive we walked right up to him to get some close-ups. I bent down
next to him and looked him right in the eye and he even didn't blink.
There was a strange air about this whole place. Even the wildlife was a
Out in the ocean the next day the wildlife was anything but off -- it was
jumping. A huge whale crossed our path. He was on a mission to get
somewhere and he never swerved, ducking under our boat as he
made his way steadily out to sea. Then, as we approached
Ensenada's large bay, we spotted a group of dolphins out fishing. We
had heard that they fish cooperatively together, encircling their prey
so there's no escape. Sure enough, these guys were very intent on
the job at hand and fins and tails were flapping like mad.
All of a sudden they
stopped what they
were doing and
came flocking over
to our boat.
Leaping along, the
whole gang made a
bee-line for our boat
and then swam
alongside us for a few
minutes. Wow. What a
Then, as quickly as they had arrived, they turned and leapt away,
returning to the spot where we had found them, and resuming their fishing
efforts. Fantastic! Their joy at seeing us felt like a warm embrace from
Ensenada began to
grow ahead of us.
We were grateful for the newfangled chartplotter system that modern
boats have these days. I had laboriously charted every aspect of this
brief trip on paper charts, using the old fashioned plotting tools that got
ships safely around the world for ages. But the electronic chartplotter,
GPS and autopilot had been the real navigators. Before we left, in just a
few minutes, I had entered all the information I had deduced from our
paper charts, and throughout the trip this electronic whiz-bang machine
had done everything after that, visually showing us our progress while we
hung over the rails and watched the world float by.
Marina was our destination, and what a glorious spot that turned out to
be. Like La Salina the night before, the channel entrance was scary-
skinny, but once through and into our assigned slip, we were stunned
by what we found.
No machine gun armed guards and no disgruntled neighbors.
Instead, we were welcomed into a warm, happy community of fellow
boaters who, like us, have discovered that Ensenada is a little, unsung
piece of paradise. The staff at the marina knocked themselves out to
make us feel at home. First things first, we needed to get to the
customs office the next day to check into Mexico officially.
This proved to be quite an adventure. It was a Tuesday after a long weekend, so the Customs office was busy with lots of
people in boats and RVs who had arrived in town over the weekend. We had to get paperwork stamped not just for ourselves
but for the boat too. Boats are given a 10-year temporary import permit, but this is not given out lightly. We stood in several
lines for over two hours. At one point we ended up behind a mega-yacht captain holding a stack of passports and waited while
he checked in all ten of the people on his boat. Then we were suddenly asked to press a button on what looked like a traffic
light. An alarm sounded and a huge red light flashed. We had flunked our check-in! The customs officials wanted to inspect
our boat in person.
Alfredo, the marina's staff person who was helping us
through the check-in process said just one in 100 boats
flunks and gets a personal inspection by the customs
offices. Great! Two crisply uniformed and badged officers
bearing clip-boards hopped in an official government van,
and Alfredo loaded us into another van and followed them
back to the marina. Once there, they marched down the
docks to get a close look at Groovy. The boat had been to
Mexico under another name, and our Coast Guard
documentation papers were not yet fully completed in the
US, so that might have been the red flag that brought these
folks onto our boat. Or perhaps it was just random luck. No one could tell us for sure. But in the end it was simple. They
verified the hull number on the outside of the hull and had a look around inside. (We hadn't been expecting guests, so it was a
bit messy!) One fellow opened the fridge and asked if that was all the alcohol we had. Mark noted that he kind of smirked at
the two lonely beers inside, as if to say, "That's it??" And then they were gone. We stood watching them drive off, clutching
our hologram-decorated ten year import permit for the boat, with our new six month tourist visas tucked into each passport.
The marina itself is like a resort, and we wandered around with
our jaws hanging open. The hotel restaurant offers very fine
dining, and we discovered it is a favored spot for both
townspeople and tourists alike.
The hotel is luxurious, with several little private alcoves looking out over
the property, offering peaceful spots to read or chat with friends.
There is a small, well-appointed gym overlooking an indoor
swimming pool and hot tubs with views of the boats in their slips
Outside there are two more swimming pools, another hot tub, and
some tiki bars that were begging for some warmer weather when
local bands come play.
A spa, sauna,
steam room and
offer all the
We clamored back aboard Groovy and shook our heads in
disbelief. We had had a very different impression of Ensenada
before we got here, and friendliness and cleanliness were not
things we expected to find. Our fellow boaters gave us endless
tips, from making sure we got a discount card for all hotel services
to explaining where the big box stores were located in case we
needed a Home Depot or Walmart to get things for the boat.
Waking to some gorgeous sunrises, we found ourselves quickly
falling in love with our new home and new lives in Ensenada.
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.