Louise Speaks: Another stop on our Baja cruise is Ensenada Mexico. Now again, since I have been on this cruise many times before, and I lived just outside of San Diego, I have experienced many times before, but Thelma has never been here. Ensenada is a coastal city, the third largest city in Baja California. Ensenada is just 78 miles south of San Diego on the Baja Peninsula. It is locally referred to as La Cenicienta del Pacífico, “The Cinderella of the Pacific.” And if you visit the Ensenada coastline you’d know why. The only thing I could compare it to would be some of the richest coastlines in northern California like Big Sur or Monterrey. I spoke at great lengths with our tour guide about coastal beach living. I was told that when you hear of people spending at least a million dollars for a small beach house in California, you can get a mini mansion in Ensenada for about $25,000. Makes one think about moving to Mexico. In fact many people working in San Diego, make that 78 mile trip everyday so they can live on the beautiful coast of Ensenada while earning the American dollar in California.
The cruise lines are pretty good about having you in port long enough that you can take enough excursions to really get a feel for the port. During the morning we were given a tour of the Riveria Culture Center, formerly the Hotel Playa Ensenada. The Hotel is now used as a culture center and a popular venue for major events. The main objectives of this center are to preserve the cultural, historical, artistic, archaeological and architectural heritage of the state. The city wants to encourage the citizens to promote, foster and spread their cultural values and strengthen the fine arts. They are hoping to develop social communication as well as every activity that favors the spiritual and intellectual harmony among the citizens. I took my grand daughter here many years ago for a folk lore celebration where folk dancers in their native costumes entertained us while we had an authentic Mexican lunch.
Its history dates back to 1930, when it opened under the name, Hotel Playa Ensenada; very popular for its lavish décor and casino. Our guide was very informative of the decor especially the chandeleirs. The rooms and buildings that made up this beautiful recreational complex, of Californian and Neo-Mudéjar style, are now two event venues: a theatre and a bar. Today the lavish bar offered Margarita tasting as part of the tour, and they were very tasty Margarita’s . The Margarita is claimed to have been invented in several different places and at several different times. However, Ensenada takes claim that it was invented right here at the Hotel Riviera del Pacífico for Marjorie King Plant at the time when she was the joint owner. Margarita is a Spanish version of the name Marjorie. Our guide had a very interesting explanation of this find, but you’re going to have to go to Ensenada yourself to hear the story.
In the patio outside the bar, local venders were selling their goods. Many of them were making their goods right in front of us. To see them crocheting, or doing basket weaving, or painting plates, you could see how talented these people are. The prices were so reasonable, you just wanted to tell them to charge more. No two items were the same, and the colors were brilliant. What a fun stop and did I mention how good the Margarita’s were?
From the cultural center we took a Coastline tour along the Gold Coast, that pretty much showed us all Ensenada has to offer. One of our stops was the Fishing Farms, where they use breeding rings for the blue fin tuna. We were high up on a cliff, so we could easily see the fish rings below. The practice of catching blue fin tuna and hauling them inshore to be fattened in a pen was developed during the 90’s. Turns out the blue fin tuna has been fished for in Ensenada for many, many years. Before, instead of taking the fish and bringing it to the farm and feeding it, they used to catch the tuna, load them on the boat, and take the fish to the cannery. But since 1997, they tow the live fish in the net in a very smooth way, bring them close to the shoreline, and then keep them there for a month, or up to four or five months. During that time, they feed the fish sardines. They don’t use any artificial feed. They feed the tuna sardines that are caught in local waters close by the shoreline. They actually use fresh sardines, They catch the sardines today and give them to the tuna tomorrow…now that’s pretty fresh. You are able to see the fish rings from the coastal area, and there are hundreds of them. Most of the tunas are headed to Japan, where they will become sushi. When an order comes in from Japan, the divers take the fish, alive, from the pen one by one. They then sacrifice the tuna on the boat one by one using a Japanese technique that guarantees that the flesh is not damaged. They then bring the tuna from the fish farms to the port in Ensenada. From the port they go to the plant. At the plant, they clean the tuna, pack the tuna, and put the filleted tuna in a box. From the plant, the boxes are trucked to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles are shipped to Japan by air. In Japan, the tuna is auctioned on the Japanese market. From the time you kill the fish until the time it is in the auction market in Japan and to the consumer, is only about 72 hours.
While on our morning tour we stopped for a quaint lunch at La Fonda’s. A cute grass hut restaurant right of the gold coast of Ensenada. There were homes on each side of the restaurant because in Mexico, when you have property you can do what you choose with that property. So this home is now a restaurant and a small motel…but the views were unbelievable. While waiting for lunch and taking in the view, our tour guide was just a book of knowledge telling us all Ensenada has to offer. I think he was recruiting for new residents. Reading the menu was quite fascinating when you think of the money exchange. We ordered a taco dinner and on the menu it lists a price of 160 Pesos….seems expensive for a taco dinner, but in actuality that is less than $8.00.
We made it back to the ship, just in time to board the bus for our afternoon excursion to La Bufadora, “The Blow Hole“. This is probably the most popular attraction in Ensenada. La Bufadora is about 17 miles south of Ensenada all along the southern coastline of Baja. Driving to the Blow Hole, you will see many of the agricultural fields and the cardboard homes the workers live in. It is a chance to see the poorer side of Ensenada in comparison to the richer side we saw this morning as we drove along the Gold Coast. La Bufadora is a marine geyser or blowhole located on the Punta Banda Peninsula. The spout of sea water is the result of air, trapped in a sea cave, exploding upwards. Air is forced into the cave by wave action and is released when the water recedes. This interaction not only creates the spout, but a thunderous noise as well. like Boof, hence the name La Bufadora. The phenomena repeats every minute or so with its volume depending on the strength of the waves. La Bufadora is one of the largest blowholes in North America, often shooting upwards more than 100 feet above sea level. The exhibit hall roof top is approximately 80 feet above sea level and the blowhole frequently sprays above it. We didn’t see any sprays quite that tall, but it was still pretty tall.
As you walk to the blow hole you pass 100s of venders selling their goods. Here you will find anything from leather, to silver, from blankets to clothing. You will also find nuts, and dried fruit, and even margarittas and cuban cigars. The vendors are shouting back and forth along the streets trying to earn your business. Our tour guide was pointing out to us where we would get the best deal…and who was selling the real silver etc. I’m sure she gets a cut for recommending certain venders, but she truly was a sales person. Thelma bought silver and nuts and there was quite a selection for both.
At the corner where the bus was parked is a taco stand. Not just any taco stand but the one everyone was talking about. When I was here years ago, this taco stand was being run out of a van. Prior to arriving in Ensenada I told people make sure you get a taco from the van right where the buses park. That business out of a van, is now a large building, with about 8 workers and a patio outside with about 10 picnic tables. I knew the tacos were good, but this young gal has really made a business for herself. So of course we had to help the cause and order two large plates to take back to the bus. The tacos are just as good as they always were. I guess next time we come by she’ll be in a two story restaurant with indoor seating.
Although we are only 17 miles from Ensenada it was a good hour drive back to the ship. Now we are in rush hour traffic for Ensenada but we made it back to the ship in time for sail off. Today was a fun day. There are many excursions to choose from, but I was trying to show Thelma as much of Ensenada as possible. I think Thelma got a good taste of Ensenada, and saw some interesting things along the way. It had been a few years since I have been on tours in Ensenada because usually I just stay on the ship, but today was fun seeing old stuff and seeing Thelma enjoy the new sites. Next time we come though, we might just stay on the ship and drink.