Ensenada’s “La Bufadora” – The Blow Hole

Ensenada City Bus

Ensenada City Bus

Ensenada vintage car with Mexican flags flying The Brownie Man

Mark's buddy Peter, "The Brownie Man"

Taqueria Las Brisas - best taco stand in Ensenada

The BEST taco stand in town.

Inside Taqueria Las Brisas - best taco stand in Ensenada Shelves of tequila in Ensenada

A wall of tequilas

The Corona Macaw Corona sunglasses Inside Hussong's Cantina, the oldest cantina in Ensenada, MX

Hussong's Cantina before the party

Harbor seals on the Malecon

Lazy harbor seals take over the docks.

Waves crash on Estero Beach

Estero Beach

Oregon cherries for sale on an Ensenada Mexico roadside

Bona fide US cherries for sale.

Farmlands on the outskirts of Ensenada

Farmlands outside Ensenada

Scenic road to La Bufadora

Road to La Bufadora

More coastal scenery driving to La Bufadora A pony painted like a zebra for tourists

Painted pony

La Bufadora tourist zone

The start of La Bufadora madness

Vendors sell anything and everything at La Bufadora

All this for a little blow hole?

Masks for sale at La Bufadora, Ensenada Dresses for sale at La Bufadora, Ensenada Hammocks for sale Intriguing painting of lovers, young and old Crowds at La Bufadora

We find each other in the crowd

Spotted in the crowd at La Bufadora little girl little boy squirrel Street musician at La Bufadora

Street performers work their magic

Street performer in exotic garb at La Bufadora Beautiful rocky coastline

A craggy coastline

La Bufadora (the Blow Hole) erupts

La Bufadora itself

Buying honey at a roadside stand

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.

Having house

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

macaw painted

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

all afternoon.

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

farmlands nestled

behind a row of

oceanfront mountains,

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

artwork and

crafts were


but we'd

need a

bigger boat

to indulge.

Suddenly a busload

of tourists

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

popular landmark.

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

Riviera Cultural Center and Baja 500 off-road race.

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Ensenada Races – For Bicycles and Sailboats

Yacht at Hotel Coreal & Marina

We taste a life of luxury aboard a true Yacht.

Cyclist's memorial near Ensenada

The roads around Ensenada can be lethal for cyclists.

Frog-painted rock

A frog marks our passage uphill.


The "free road" twists through

the mountains.

Racing cyclist

Cyclists race down the mountain.

Bike racers descend

There was no front pack, just little groups of

three and four riders.

Cyclists sweep around a grand descent

I try my best Graham Watson

style shot.

Female bicyclist

This ride caters to sleek racers...

Male bicyclist in a ballerina tutu

...a man wearing a tutu...

Wonder Woman cyclist

...Wonder Woman...

Cyclist in a wrestling mask

...a masked man...

Kid in a Burley trailer

...a little kid gets a wild ride...

Cyclist does tricks coming down the long descent

...an older kid does tricks...

Newport-Ensenada Sailboat Race

The Newport-Ensenada Race arrives on a perfect sunny day.

One of the top raceboats, It's OK

It's OK is a pure racing machine.

One of the top raceboats, It's OK The crew of It's OK

The crew of It's OK congratulates each other on a job

well done.

It's OK - racing sailboat built for speed

Built for speed, It's OK looks fast even tied up at the dock.

Taxi Dancer, another race boat built for speed

Taxi Dancer is a thoroughbred from another era.

Taxi Dancer racing sailboat

100% carbon fiber, this boat dreams only of winning.

Crew of It's OK looks out over Hotel Coral & Marina

The crew of It's OK takes top spot.

Waiting for the Newport-Ensenada sailboat race

Out on the bay we wait for the boats to arrive.

Newport-Ensenada racing sailboats arrive Newport-Ensenada sailboat race Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race Newport to Ensenada International Race Newport to Ensenada International Sailboat Race

Elixir en-route to a great finish.

Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race

A steady stream of boats arrived in the marina.

Joining a crew aboard

We find ourselves caught up in the cockpit parties on the docks.

controlled chaos below decks on a raceboat

Behind the scenes on a go-fast boat.

Mexican SAR swimmers train at Hotel Coral & Marina

The Mexican SAR swimmers take the

mayhem at the docks in stride.

Local dogs Bandita and Cha Cha want to join the party

Bandita and Cha Cha are in a party mood too.

Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race

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

the Rosarito-Ensenada

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

the finish.

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

the spinnakers

came out, and

we had the color

we had been

hoping for.

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.

Amazingly, the

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


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Ensenada Bay – Day Sailor’s Delight

sv Groovy catches a nice breeze in Ensenada, Mexico.

Groovy catches a nice breeze.

Pelicans watch us go by.

s/v Groovy in a groove in Ensenada Bay, Mexico. SV Groovy - a groovy day on the water.

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

the beach.

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

of RVs.

Horses and buggies line up for passengers.

Spring Break is ON !!

Ensenada (2)

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

with another

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

the water.

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

shrimp aren't

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

Documentary shows the shrimp in action, and The Snap explains the physics and biology behind the shrimp's lethal claw.

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

Ensenada races.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.





























































































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.



















































































































Ensenada’s Carnaval – One Wild Party!

Ensenada Carnaval - horse & buggy rides Ensenada Carnaval - street vendors Ensenada Carnaval - street vendors Ensenada Carnaval - street vendors Ensenada Carnaval - crazy cars Ensenada Carnaval - crazy cars Ensenada Carnaval - Sol Beer model Ensenada Carnaval - band Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - clown Ensenada Carnaval - float Ensenada Carnaval - clown Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - dancers Ensenada Carnaval - floats Ensenada Carnaval - floats Ensenada Carnaval - floats Ensenada Carnaval - floats Ensenada Carnaval - kids Ensenada Carnaval - Sponge Bob Ensenada Carnaval - Condom van Ensenada Carnaval - Condoms Ensenada Carnaval - Caballero Ensenada Carnaval - acrobats Ensenada Carnaval - Mexican Revolution float

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

necks, peering

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

grocery shopping.

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

their faces.

A group that must

have come down to

Ensenada from

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

the dancers

got the crowd

whooping and

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.

Sponge Bob

Square Pants

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

for us.

2010 marks the 100th

anniversary of the

Mexican Revolution

which started in 1910

with the ouster of

dictatorial President

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 – A Vibrant Mexican Town

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

their pockets.

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

a picture.

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

for us.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.





























































































Puerto La Salina & Marina Coral – Maiden Voyage South


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.

Waterfront condos.

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

Hotel entrance.

Fine dining.

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

and out.

This will be awesome once the weather warms up.

sv Groovy in her new slip in Ensenada, home for the next six monthgs

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

exploring our

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

surf crashed

against the rocks.

The wall had been

breached on the

other side during a

storm last year and

the rocks were

strewn about.

The Pacific

Ocean is

anything but


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

bit off.

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

welcoming committee.

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.

Hotel Coral

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.

Home free!!

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

massage area

offer all the


anyone could

ever need.

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.