ENSENADA, MEXICO: HUNGER (Woman album) – Rhye
Sorting the logistics of paradise…
Parking a vehicle for the first time in Mexico is the closest I think I’ll ever feel to dropping a child off at their first day of daycare. Every horrific scenario that could possibly go wrong sets up camp in your brain and festers, permeating its way through every second of time until you return and (hopefully) find it unscathed.
I stood outside Van Morrison on a random street in the middle of Ensenada. I had checked his locks several times. I had bolted his doors. I had stashed my precious valuables in the most absurd places.
I had done everything I could possibly do to ensure the safest abandonment, but despite it all, I was still leaving an audaciously evident house on wheels on an unknown street in a Mexican neighbourhood; its innards covert only by naively feminine flowery curtains and a Canadian flag hanging from the back window that might as well have been a sign that read, please come rob me.
But I left. Undeterred by the near paralyzing fear that we may never see each other again, or at least not in the singular piece we were now, I walked away from my one and only. Before turning the corner, I looked his way one last time and whispered my undying love.
Not five seconds later, he was still there and untouched. I know this because I had taken a wrong turn and had to backtrack (how I had just successfully made it through two countries is still beyond me).
But seeing him holding his own, like the ferocious champ that he is gave me faith to carry on, down the proper street, in search of the elusive immigration office. Which, when finally found, was not the correct place to be for the specific resolution I was after.
I was guided, in very poor english, to another location in another part of town where I’d again have to leave Van Morrison to fend for himself. Only this time, I managed to park in a loading zone and somehow convinced the security guard I’d be back in a flash if he would just let me stay. I was given two hands up, ten fingers splayed.
“Diez minutos! Si! Muchas gracias!”
The immigration office was located in the port where all the cruise ships dock. Luckily it was fairly empty and I was in and out, stamped and rendered legal within the allotted ten minutes that were so generously provided by my security guard. Crisis averted.
Before I reached Van Morrison, an American accent stopped me,
“That your van?”
“I heard what you’re doing inside the office. Pretty fricken cool.” I turned to see a middle aged man with blonde hair wearing a t-shirt celebrating some sort of baseball team.
“A lot cooler now that I know I’m officially here.”
“Did you drive?”
“Nah we fished. From Cali.”
Suddenly, there were five of him, all in a row like some display of the Stand By Me characters, all grown up.
“So we’re all heading to my friend’s pub later to watch the Dodgers game. You should come. My buddy’s a local and has driven the Baja a million times. He’ll give you all the info you need to know.”
“For sure. Tequila’s Sports Bar.”
Getting the Baja low down in a tequila bar…
Three hours later, and because I didn’t have it in me to walk away from a parked Van Morrison for a third time, an uber dropped me in front of my first, and last, Mexican sports bar belonging to a man named Louis.
While I waited for the arrival of my fishermen friends, Louis and I sat over a large, framed map of Baja Californa; him spewing a multitude of do’s and don’ts, me fiercely taking notes, both of us breaking only for sips from our coronas.
Fuel up in El Rosario, don’t go to Guerrero Negro, be careful in CD Constitution, there is nothing between Loreto and Todos Santos. Join the facebook group, Talk Baja.
My napkin notes had swiftly become a novel. I was both raring and terrified. I wanted to hop in my Van and soar away immediately, but also vomit on my shoes, simultaneously.
When the fishermen finally rocked up, my head was spinning, and for once it wasn’t to do with the empty bottles on the bar. I listened to their fishing tales and let them go on about the size of their catch as though it somehow directly correlated to the length of their private parts.
I looked at photos of their big man toys, their 45 foot motorhomes and their vintage Corvettes and even refrained from making mention of what they could possibly be compensating for.
For now, all that consumed my mind was the road that lay before me. Louis’ do’s and don’ts. San Quintin to Catavina and beyond.
I said my farewells to the boys, and hopped in another uber, anxious to set sail bright and early. But as I rode through Ensenada, the sun setting over the city square, its intimidating unfamiliarity fading with the day, I wondered why the rush?
A large Mexican flag swayed softly in the evening breeze in tandem with the crashing waves as people wandered, and music played. The city was beautiful and there was no where I had to be.
So why not stay a while…?
I woke with the sun, ready to get lost in the city.
Date day with my first Mexican city…
My first stop, Mercado Negro. Translation: The Black Market. I wasn’t after questionably sourced human kidneys or underpriced prescription narcotics, however. This black market was for fish. Fresh, succulent seafood. Row upon row of narrow shops and tiny restaurants lined the pier, their colourful awnings all promising the best seafood in town.
Being one to stress over the slightest of decision making, I closed my eyes, outstretched my arm, spun twice, and stopped; my finger landing on Mariscos El Norte. I sat at a small table with a neon, plastic table cloth. Several types of hot sauce and a bucket of lime slices filled the centre of the table.
I perused the menu. Ceviche de cameron con pulpo. Shrimp and octopus. Though my mouth, it did salivate, I thought of the poor eight tentacled prisoner I couldn’t rescue in San Diego and my heart sank. I just couldn’t do it. Pescado would have to do. Sacrifices had to be made for the injustice of our cruel world.
I placed my order along with an ice cold beer and sat back in the warm sunshine.
“Your Spanish is very good.” A man sitting alone at the table next to mine nodded in approval.
“Ha. Only if I’m ordering alcohol.”
“You’ll get there. You have the right pronunciation.”
I gushed. Hard.
When my mountain of citrus marinated fish was brought to me, I gushed even harder. Never had my taste buds waltz with such elite. I wanted to cry into my tortilla chips, tears of elation and satisfaction. I wanted to do a little dance, make a little love, then climax while lapping the juices remaining on the bare plate.
Instead I paid the bill. It was three dollars. I’m never coming home.
Mexican history and light swordplay…
Happily fed, I began to wander. Across from the water, and over the highway was a series of large, white buildings, beautifully landscaped with lush greenery and towering palm trees. The first building I came to was the Museo de Historia de Ensenada. I climbed the stairs, entered the ornate doors, paid my pesos and instantly lost interest.
The set up seemed to have no rhyme or reason; small hallways leading to dead ends, sporadic information that was neither lead by or lead to anything. If asked, there’s not a single fact I could relay to you about the history of Ensenada apart from having become one of what I imagine to be millions of souls throughout the ages who lost twenty minutes of their life inside that museum.
But upon exiting, things suddenly got exciting. Out on the lawn stood a man, head to toe, in medieval armour wielding a wooden sword. Across from him, in denim jeans and a grey hoodie, another man was armed with the same sword. Though no one else around, the fight had already begun.
If I admitted to how long I stood and watched these two mismatched opponents, I would have to describe how the the duel smoothly transitioned to a challenge of archery skills, with small, pastel balloons as their targets, and ended in a celebratory dance. But I won’t waste your time on that nonsense, for there was more food to be eaten…
La Guerrerense. The most famous taco stand in all of Ensenada. With Lonely Planet’s stamp of approval, it has been the star of many a blogs, a must eat according to every internet source. For me, it advertised caracol and erizo. How could I not?
Foreign street food…
Caracol is sea snail. Erizo is sea urchin. Never being one to shy from the world of alternative cuisine, I ordered both bottom feeders. I devoured them while standing on the street then ordered two more.
I could have ordered ten but lunch hour had arrived and the stand was surrounded. I savoured my snails, their heavenly juices dripping down my arm, my tongue hastily following, and continued to wander the burning streets of my favourite Mexican city.
Oddly enough, my rambling brought me back to the string of white buildings. Though my medieval entertainer and his new age counterpart were nowhere to be found, Bar Andaluz was. At the far end of the pristine property bordered with sparkling tiles was a very Mexican bar dated back to 1930.
I ordered a margarita, practiced my Spanish with the kindly bartender and waited impatiently for hunger to rear it delectable head for a third time. If Ensenada had taught me anything so far it was that the rest of this trip was going to make me fat. And absolutely happy.
Mahi Mahi was the blessed restaurant I chose to nourish me for my last Ensenadian supper. More fish, mucho vino tinto, and to finish a most erotic pastel de dulce de leche.
After leaving a larger than necessary tip to compensate for what followed, I smuggled a Mahi Mahi signature wine glass out of the restaurant under the layers of my dress for two reasons: one, I don’t believe in paying for your own souvenirs and two, I suffer from a mild, yet casual case of kleptomania.
With my long, yet lustrous date with the most delicious city at its end, I was happy to return to Van Morrison. It had been the longest we’d been apart in almost a month and I could feel it. As I sat on his step, cosy in his embrace, breathing the warm ocean air, I poured myself a generous helping from the bottle of tequila I had purchased for six dollars and rubbed my Mexican food baby.
I could get very used to this…