Margie has a floor to ceiling wine cellar larger than her walk-in closet with a wine collection that makes her shoe racks pale in comparison. We go down and pick out a nice bottle of Shiraz to share. While sitting across the bar from pistachio-eating husband Chris, he asks, “So where you headed?” “I have no idea. I was thinking about Rosarito.” “hhhmmmm….I don’t think you would like that. It’s full of drunk college kids. Better keep going on down to Ensenada. It’s a nice waterfront. Great food. I think you’ll like it.”
The “Tijuana Trolley” ends within a few feet of the border. One can take a shuttle across for $5, but I want to walk it, as it seems less overwhelming to take it in slowly. The cab drivers on the Tijuana side are fast, slick, and relentless. Thank goodness my trusty Moon Travel Guide (I usually prefer Lonely Planet, but their last Baja publication was 2007) tells me the ABC Bus Company has a small satellite terminal just a block across the border, where buses run to Ensenada about every half hour. “Asiento ventana, por favor?” For 180 pesos ($11) I am on my way in my window seat for the two hour ride to Ensenada.
Immediately after leaving the city of Tijuana, the scenery out the right side of the bus unfolds dramatically, hugging the coastline. I am not exaggerating when I say I had to go for the Advil because my neck was hurting from gawking out the window.
Arriving in Ensenada is easy, as I quickly come to realize is the case about all of about Baja, as the bus stations are mostly located along the central Highway 1, which typically runs through the heart of the downtown area. Only a few blocks walk is required to find a centrally located, reasonably priced hotel. I drop my bags and head out to explore the waterfront.
Ensenada is a very “walkable” city, as the streets are laid out in grid fashion, with “Calles” running parallel to the waterfront in most cases, and “Avenidas” (avenues) running perpendicular. I am surprised to find that drivers are extremely courteous, stopping consistently for pedestrians. Being a bit of a seedy port city, there does seem to be a lot of prostitution in full swing. If this sort of thing bothers you, stay around the tourist areas….or at least stay off Miramar Street.
The waterfront is fresh and breezy, with sounds and smells of the sea that feed my soul. There is a Carnival cruise ship in port, but thankfully the entire shore excursion seems to have congregated in one bar, “Papas and Beer” a place I quickly vow to avoid as I watch what looks like “date rape” taking place by the waiter when a young woman orders a shot of tequila.
The Number 2 and 3 rated restaurants in Ensenada according to TripAdvisor are not “restaurants” at all, but rather a pair of dueling food carts selling nothing but ceviche. Who says I’m not a risk taker when I make my first meal in Mexico raw fish, eh?? But the shrimp and octopus tostadas are so out of this world fresh and delicious that I can’t stop at one. The sweet and salty taste of the raw seafood “cooked” in lime tastes like the sea, and I savor every tender morsel.
I realize with this post, the blog is rapidly turning into a “foodie” blog, but asi es la vida en Mexico! My two favorite Spanish words are disfruta (enjoy!) and Provecho!, (the shortened version of Buen Provecho that begins every meal when the dish is served,) meaning “Bon Appetite!”
Another reason to love Ensenada is it holds one of many reputed claims to be the “birthplace of the margarita,” created by bartender Don Carlos Orozco, for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico in Hussong’s Cantina, est. in 1892, Baja’s oldest bar. What are the odds that margaritas are 2 for 1 at Hussong’s on the first night I arrive in Baja? The thing I love about Mexican margaritas is the simplistic purity of ingredients; tequila, Controy (Mexico’s version of Cointreau) and lime. And if you order it frozen? They just throw it in the blender. No sugary slushies coming out of an ice cream machine here! At only 45 pesos, the 2 for 1 special netted out at about $1.25 USD apiece. With my hotel only a block away, I am not admitting to how many I had!
Listen to your heart that beats
And follow it with both your feet
And as you walk and as you breathe
You ain’t no friend to me
“The Road to Ensenada” ~ Lyle Lovett