Ensenada Gentility (Riviera Cultural Center) and Craziness (Baja 500)

Centro Socio Civico y Cultural de Ensenada

Manicured grounds, Riviera Cultural Center

Centro cultural del Pacifico

Unique architecture

Riviera Cultural Center, Ensenada, Mexico

Entrance of the "Centro Cultural Riviera"

Chinese lions guard the gates of the Riviera Cultural Center.

Given by cities of Pulandia and

Dalian in Liaoning Province, China

Cuautemoc, the last leader of the Aztecs

Cuauhtemoc, last Aztec leader

Arched entrance of the Hotel Riviera Pacifico

Arched entrance.

Hallway of arches, Hotel Riviera del Pacifico

Hallway of arches.

Arched courtyard, Riviera Cultural Center, Ensenada

Back courtyard makes the rest of Ensenada seem

worlds away.

Tiled image of a bullfight, Hotel Riviera del Pacifico, Ensenada History of where the Margarita was invented.

The Margarita was invented here

in 1948...

Bar Andaluz, Riviera Cultural Center

Bar Andaluz

Classical guitar and flute concert, Centro cultural Riviera

Classical guitar and flute concert.

Local politicians get the word out before elections.

Terrible Herbst's Prevost in the marina parking lot.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Mechanics tweek the race machines.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Hoods off -- all the way off!

Team McMillin, Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Team McMillin sets up shop next door.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Vehicle parade before the inspections.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Race vehicles come in all shapes and sizes.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

A souped up VW bug that Mark really liked.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

The throngs were so thick the race cars had to creep past.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Drivers give autographs.

Tecate beer sponsors the Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Beer for all.

Monster sponsors the Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

The Baja 500 is a testosterone fest.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

An all women's team.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Wacky hats were the norm.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

A chihuahua was one team's mascot.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

But I only had1 beer, officer...

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Everyone posed with the hot

promo gals, no matter how

young or old.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

The scene before a lightning fast racer sped past.

Riviera Cultural Center & Baja 500 Race

June, 2010 - Now into our fifth of six months in Ensenada, we took a

break from the local tourist scene and began to zero in on final boat-

related projects to prepare Groovy for cruising.  Our major project was to

install an arch support for three large 24-volt solar panels.  This involved

shipping parts to San Diego, picking them up and hauling them here in

our truck, as well as having a local stainless steel expert design and build

the arch support.  Not a trivial project.

So it came as welcome relief

when our new Australian friends

who had come through the

marina on their way south in April

returned to Ensenada once again

on their way north.  As we

watched their videos of leaping dolphins and exotic rock formations in the more remote

parts of the Sea of Cortez, our appetites were whetted for upcoming Groovy

adventures, making all that work on our solar charging system seem very worthwhile.

At the same time, we had a chance to show them one of our newest Ensenada

discoveries: the Riviera Cultural Center.

This special spot in town is

impossible to miss, as it is

a huge, white, ornate

building with many wings

right on the main drag.  The architecture is grand and historic

looking, and the grounds are meticulously maintained.  However,

it was not obvious to me that the building was open to the public.

Two lions guard one

entrance, gifts to Ensenada

in a spirit of brotherhood by

the cities of Pulandia and

Dalian in Liaoning Province,


A statue of the last leader of the Aztecs,

Cuauhtemoc, graces another part of the front lawn

of the Riviera.  Cuauhtemoc ruled Tenochtitlan

from 1520-21 before it fell to the Spanish and was

rebuilt as Mexico City.  His name alludes to an

eagle diving for its prey, in reference to his

determination and aggressiveness.  Assuming

leadership at just 18, probably no amount of

determination, youth or aggression could have

stopped the Spanish from decimating the Aztecs.

When he would not reveal where the (nonexistent)

gold treasure was hidden, he was tortured by

having his feet put to fire.  He died at 25 when

Cortez deceived him and had him killed.

On a lighter note, the Riviera is a beautiful and

unique property.  The cultural center hosts a wide

variety of events all year long, and there is an art

gallery at one end.  But perhaps its best feature is

the famed Bar Andaluz which not only makes the

best Margaritas in town, but claims to be where the

Margarita was first invented.

After walking through the prettily landscaped

grounds, you pass through an arched entrance into

a wooden ceilinged hallway of arches.

From there you emerge out into a back open air

courtyard of lined with more arches.  The walls are

decorated with tiled images of all kinds.  Many tiles

depict various mission churches that are located

throughout Mexico.  Each mission tile painting is

accompanied with a quote from a famous thinker,

ranging from Confucius to Francisco de Quevedo

(a 17th century Spanish writer) to John F. Kennedy.

The decorative tiles also tell the

building's history.  First opened

as the Riviera Hotel and Casino

in 1930, it was occupied by the

Mexican military in 1941-42.  In

1948 it came under the proprietorship of one Señora Margarita Plant.

After the "Golden Age" of the 1950's, the hotel changed hands several

times and was renovated as a cultural center in 1990.  Back in 1948,

the fussy Sra. Margarita Plant wanted a tasty drink but disliked the

flavor of Mexico's native libation, tequila.  So she asked her bartender,

David Negrete, to create a special drink for her.  Combining the tequila

with lime juice and Controy (a

Mexican orange liqueur like

Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand

Marnier), and rimming the glass

with salt, the Margarita was born.

Looking online for a little more info on the history of the Margarita, I discovered the

drink is attributed to several possible inventors, but Sr. Negrete in Ensenada, Mexico is

definitely a front runner.  Interestingly, most English language histories list this

bartender as "Daniel" Negrete, not "David," while in

Spanish they all point to "David" Negrete.

The bar is small but cozy, and the back wall is

covered with a dramatic mural depicting all kinds of

Spanish icons, including a lovely Flamenco dancer.

The Margaritas are truly the best

I've ever had, made with lime

juice so fresh it is squeezed into

your glass.  We returned yet

another night to watch a free

classical guitar concert put on by

local university students.

Ensenada boasts five universities

in and around town, and the bar

room was packed with university

people.  As we sat

there listening to

guitar and flute

duets by Bach, I

felt that we had discovered yet another side to Ensenada, one that has

nothing to do with the tourist party scene or the boating, biking and off-road

racing scene.  Our musical evening at the Riviera was enchanting.

Back out on Gringo

Gulch one day, we

heard a commotion

ahead and saw an

open air double

decker bus coming

towards us beeping

its horn loudly.  It was

decorated with posters and filled with people wearing matching hats and

waving flags.  As they went by we realized it was a local politician out

campaigning, Mexican style, for the upcoming elections.

Not long after that, the Baja 500 Boys showed up in the Hotel

Coral & Marina parking lot for their annual 500 mile off-road

race through the desert.  In just hours the marina parking lot

was transformed from a ho-hum dirt lot partially filled with

boaters' cars to a high intensity, high profile, home base for

the two major teams that were in contention for overall race

honors this year.

We watched in awe as the two million dollar Prevost motorhomes owned

by Terrible Herbst (the same folks who own the Terrible's casino and

convenience store chains in Nevada), circled each other in the parking

lot and made space between them for coolers, barbecues and camp

chairs, not to mention exotic race cars and mechanics to work on them.

Hoods went up, wheels came off, and many pairs of hands reached into

the bellies of these vehicles to tweak them to max power.

Just moments later

the McMillin team

appeared and set up

a large tent for their

racing fleet and

mechanical wizards.

I knew we were in the

presence of the titans

of this sport when one

fellow I'd been talking

to suddenly told me in

hushed tones, "See

that guy over there in

the blue ballcap

looking at that

engine?  His

name's Larry

Roeseler and he

won the Baja 1000

a bunch of times."

But this visiting crowd of desert speedsters weren't the only new kids on

the block.  As I looked around at my cruising friends who had joined us

in the parking lot, I suddenly I saw them metamorphose.  Men whom I'd

known only as sailors outfitting their boats with Single Sideband Radios

and heavy duty ground tackle while comparing notes on how to read

the weather offshore, suddenly began to ooh and aah over custom

steering linkages, big lobe cams and long travel suspensions.

Throughout the week leading up to the race we heard the rumbling

thunder of race cars coming and going from the hotel all day and

seemingly all night too.  A small portion of the racetrack was open

for practice runs, and the teams took full advantage.  The gates

leading out of the marina hotel are on an uphill, and the drivers

would rev the engines to max volume in salute to their friends each

time they left through those gates.

The Baja 500 is definitely a testosterone fest.  The day before

the race all the vehicles (cars, trucks, buggies and motorcycles)

paraded through town on their way to the inspection area.  The

crowd was so thick you had to bump your way through to get

anywhere.  People hung over the cars, patting them, posing

their kids in front of them for photos, and asking the drivers for


Beer was stacked in front of every bar in anticipation of a rowdy

weekend, and the all the sponsors brought the hottest gals they could

find.  All the vehicles were exotic looking, tricked out to the max and

ready to take on the challenging dirt roads of the desert.

Checking out a friend's

photos from the Baja 500 on

his cell phone a few days

later confirmed my suspicion

that the guys there took as

many photos of the leggy,

scantily dressed promo gals

as they did of the cars.  They

were everywhere, and they

posed with everyone, from

tyke to teen to grandpa.

One all pink race car bore the

license plate "Alotta" (in

reference to the first name of

Austin Powers' hottie?) while

lots of folks paraded around

in crazy hats and getups.

One of the race cars

had a chihuahua atop

as a mascot, and Mark

found a Tecate can he

couldn't quite lift.

The race featured 289 entrants from 26

states and 13 countries.   Starting in

Ensenada, the course took a loop through

the interior of the northern Baja peninsula,

returning to town after 438+ miles.  The

motorcycles left at 6:00 a.m. followed by

the four wheeled vehicles in various

categories a little later.

I had hurt my knee so I decided

not go to the race start, but Mark

put his camera into video mode so

I wouldn't miss a thing.

Unfortunately, he didn't check the

camera settings before he started

shooting.  When he sat down to

show me his very cool videos, all

he had were still images of the

empty track before and after each

car zoomed pass.  Oh well.  He

said it was truly awesome, rockets

on wheels flying by in thunderous

clouds of dust.

The first motorcycles could be

heard screaming back to town a

few hours after lunch, while the first

four wheelers didn't get back until

dinnertime.  Slower buggies and

trucks could be heard roaring

across the finish line in town all

night long.

Walking by the McMillin tent near

sunset we suddenly heard their

radios crackle to life with chatter.

Their car had just won the main

event of the race.  Drivers Scott

and Andy McMillin, father and son, are the 2nd and 3rd generation of desert drivers in this

legendary racing family.  They finished in just over 9 hours, averaging 47+ mph.  When

the pair returned to the hotel, we heard the distinct roar of their triumphant, tricked out

850 hp Ford 150 truck as it took a noisy victory lap down through the entrance gates and

into the marina parking lot.

The next few weeks found us in constant motion as we ticked down our "to do" list of boat

projects that we wanted to finish before leaving the luxury of Hotel Coral & Marina.  But

friends finally swept us away to a delightful day

in Ensenada's Wine Country.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.