Into the Baja

We left San Diego early, after a quick walk through the neighborhood that afforded views into the Pacific. 
Unlike the crossing at Naco, there were no customs agents on the US side checking our credentials and asking absurd questions.
For over a year now, US Customs has had a presence at the Naco crossing. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Do you have more than $10,000?
Now, if I had more than $10,000, would I tell them? If I were headed to buy drugs, would I admit it? The questioning is frustrating, and if one dares to challenge the absurdity, it’s a quick trip to secondary, where three to five agents look through the car and one or two others point their guns and toss out menacing looks. They claim this is done at all border crossings,
Not true. In recent months I’ve crossed at Nogales and El Paso without any questioning, and now I’ve crossed into Tijuana with nary an agent in sight. so why do we have to subject ourselves to ridiculous questions and secondary inspections in Naco, merely to LEAVE the US? And then, of course, we have to go through it all again when when we re-enter the US.
In any event, we crossed with absolutely no incident into Tijuana. With Cinda carefully reading the instructions, and with Her Majesty in the “off” position, we immediately missed the first turn. 
Actually, we didn’t miss it! I thought I had missed a turn, but the angels were hovering right above us, and the “miss” was the right thing to do. We we on the road south to Ensenada! 
I had read that the drive was scenic, but it was more than that. We both oohed and ahhed all the way down. Glistening green cliffs dropped into the surf. Waves slid onto the shore and smacked into rocky outcroppings. Sadly, not a whale nor dolphin in sight.
We stopped in La Misión to have a light breakfast and wait to meet a friend. 
We arrived earlier than expected and had to wait, but it was worth the wait. Our wait-spot was the restaurant of Hotel La Fonda, with expansive sea views and a small chiminea cranking out the only heat. Each comfy chair held a blanket to wrap up in.
Our friend arrived. we were headed south wile he was headed up to San Diego (he lives in La Misión) to buy a sailboat. We heard about it and dreams for the future.
South, south to Ensenada. Big city! Then we came around a curve and THERE was Ensenada!  Very bigh city!  And, of course, there was a detour and we got rerouted through town. 
South, south. Steep brilliant green mountains to the west folded down into a narrow valley. Steep desert mountains to the east. Cattle and horses grazed in the valley, and fields of hay or grapes came right to the road. There were even rows of olive trees, and little roadside stands had fresh squeezed olive oil for sale. 
We then climbed out of this lush valley into a desert valley. More road work meant we had to drive off the road onto marginal dirt rutted tracks. The little RV in front of us rocked and rolled so much we briefly feared it would tip over. But we all made it.
San Quentin! A wide spot in the road. A bustle of small stores, a big store selling tractors, a few Pemex stations, and a string of fish taco stands. We drove on through to the hotel several folks had recommended, but it was full. We had planned to camp, but the evening sky was full of rain, the wind was up, and it didn’t seem like a good time to wrestle the camp gear out.
We ended up in a cheap motel – on the bay! It’s called Don Eddy’s($400P), and though it had been specifically not recommended, we found it adequate.  We even had a tiny room off the bedroom that gave a bay view. Dinner looking out over the calm waters. 
The whole drive, from slightly north of downtown San Diego to San Quentin, was about eight hours, including more than ninety minutes hanging out in La Misión. 
The night was chilly, and in the morning, dew covered the car.

San Diego Dawn

San Diego Dawn
Pale rosy-pink. Then it went to gray. Then soft blue clouds appeared in the deep sky. It changes minute by minute, almost moment by moment, and I’m fortunate enough to have a front row seat.
We are in the home of Cinda’s cousin and cousin’s husband. It was a welcome stop after lots of driving that included one wrong turn, several stretch breaks, a cheap and lousy lunch, and serious harassment from my new GPS system which I have unceremoniously named “Her Majesty.”
Her Majesty, although loaded with the Cousin’s San Diego address, was most insistent that we head south somewhere around El Centro. Common sense overrode her demand, but her chronic nagging forced me to turn her off.
As we approached San Diego, Cinda programmed the beast once again, and, possibly because she’d been banned and shut down after her last outburst, she guided us quite perfectly to Cousin’s. She barely winced when I overshot the house by a quarter block in order to make a u-turn and park in front of the house.
Has she learned her lesson? Will she get us across the border into and out of Tijuana? Stay tuned. Thankfully, we are armed with step by step instructions from someone who has crossed numerous times. I believe Her Majesty shall remain in the “off” mode.
But back to dawn. I am delighted to see that it is clear overhead while the clouds hug the eastern mountain range. I think we’ll make it onto the Mexican tollway without the downpour that greeted us at the San Diego city limits yesterday.
Yes, pleasant sunny drive until we hit the mountains, where the temperature dropped 20 degrees and the low hanging clouds spit on us occasionally. The spitting stopped, but I swear the rain began just as we hit the city limits. During rush hour. With a passive-aggressive GPS at the helm. So today I’d like some clear sky, thanks.
When we got here last night, we we greeted with glasses of lovely wine. We chatted and watched the ever-changing sky, through the patio doors, out over the San Diego Bay. We are set high on a hill, and although there are some obstructions (damn those others who choose to build out here!), I can see water less than a mile away.
Wine, a dinner of lamb that fell apart when touched by fork, and a pile of fresh green beans. It was a Moroccan dish called lamb tagine, and it was served in a ceramic bowl with a tall, tall top called tagine.  A French pie, clafouti, topped with fresh berries. All home-made. Fun conversation. The stark realization that I had left my coffee-making equipment at home! The loan of a French press.
So here I am at dawn. Hesitant to leave this lovely place, anxious to get down the road.
And down the road we shall get, right after a little walk, because a friend in La Misión, just north of Ensenada, will be waiting for us mid morning.

Another Wonderful Day

Sitting on the plaza, sun to my back. Morning air was just beginning to get warm. The day started chilly, as usual, but by ten it was absolutely perfect sitting outside listening to clusters of conversation and children laughing. From across the plaza came pan pipe music. Could any morning be better?

Cinda and I have walked almost every road in Alamos. Many have concrete pavers, but the cobblestone ones are killer. I’ve done them and even climbed through rocky washes. We’ve seen more of the town than most locals.

a beautiful doorway to . . . what?

Days have drifted into a beautiful pattern. Coffee, light breakfast, lots of walking. Stop for coffee and/or lunch. Walk. Listen to street music or watch street events or head to the cathedral for a concert. Walk. Dinner or snacks followed by street music or simply returning to the house we’re staying in.

Today was different, though, because we went on a tour of mansions.

The houses were huge. Massive. One had 7,000 square feet of house and another 3,000 feet under roof outdoors. The outdoor living room was approximately 42 feet by 28 feet. Each room had a fireplace, the only heat. Pool. Views.

One house had a staff of seven to keep the place functioning. I figured that the others needed a minimum of four but likely had more.

My favorite bathroom was quite large. A wall split the room into two parts. Each side had a closet about ten feet long. Against the common wall were back-to-back toilets and large showers with views out onto a private patio. The broad counters and backsplashes of the sinks were tiled, as were the curved, walk-in showers. In addition, one side held a lady’s soaking tub, tiled, again with views into the patio.

The house with the fabulous bath had four other full baths and one half bath that I saw. And an outdoor shower by the pool. Who knows? I suppose there could have been more. No photos allowed, so I can’t pass them on.

The kitchens in each of the four houses were large enough to accommodate a staff of three or four to prepare a meal for thirty. The dining rooms had formal seating for ten to twelve, and of course the huge patio spaces could be set up to accommodate dinner for the aforementioned thirty.

One home had a large entry topped by a dome with a brick ceiling. The patio had all the appropriate arches draped in bougainvillea with views of the mountains beyond. It was stunning.

I loved this tour. I have never been in such homes, seen such furnishings. But as much as I loved it, I have to say one thing: some people have entirely too much money.

Am I jealous? Envious? No. There is no way I want to have all of that. I don’t want to be responsible for maintaining such a size nor employing a staff of seven. I wondered, too, what the staff salaries were. Wages for such work in Mexico is often about $15 a day. I certainly couldn’t ask someone to work in luxury like I saw and then offer such wages. And on the other side, what would it feel like to work in such a place and then go home with wages so minimal?

Now, I don’t know if that’s the case for these households and these workers. These workers may receive a very fair wage. But that whole idea of the poor working to care for the very rich and their belongings is abhorrent to me.

When we left the last house, just like the help, we walked back into town. Cinda and others headed to the cathedral for music while I went to the tourism area for a painting class. When the instructor finally arrived (late) and pulled out the paints and easels, I realized it was a class for children. I asked if I could join, but he had limited supplies and wanted the kids to have access to what they wanted, which I understood.

Barred from painting, I dashed back across the street and slid into a seat near Cinda just a little while before the program began. Violin and piano. Yum.

More walking, beer and guacamole, more walking, a cup of elote. Elote in a cup is corn off the cob with butter, cheese, and lime. Then we wandered the market area a bit and walked home.

Could I live here? You bet. In a heartbeat (except for summer!). Lots of good people, lots of good food, lots of wonderful places to walk. One woman told me about someone who came to town and complained that there was no theater, there was no gym, and there was no whatever else she wanted. They suggested she move to Tucson.

I am quite accustomed to no gym and no theater. The only gym necessary is the out-of-doors, and there’s plenty of that. Theater? Who needs it with birds galore including a variety of hummers and falcons, the trogon, and the jay magpie. We saw the magpies daily around 7 AM except for the last morning. Cinda figured they didn’t like to say goodbyes.

Alamos: Day Two

Cinda and I were up again before dawn and outside with the roosters. Today we headed west. We passed by the home of the Urrea family. Tomas was the father of Teresita, a famous healer and known now in the US because of books written about her by Luis Urrea (Hummingbird’s Daughter and Teresita). A modest home. I had hoped for some kind of plaque, but there was none.

Our morning walks have yielded many surprises. One is that here, roses bloom in January. This is in addition to the bougainvillea and the jamaica, or hibiscus. We wandered until we found ourselves back at the sweet cafe we’d been to yesterday, where we sat, had breakfast, and lounged for hours talking with friends. Then, more walking.

The heat was on. I can see why people leave in summer. The houses with their thick walls are cool, but the January sun baked us us we wandered town.

In early afternoon, a musical treat. Baroque music inside the main church on the plaza, the Templo de la Purisma Concepcion. Violins, viola, cello, keyboard. The music soared up into the dome, slid down, and reverberated off the walls and arches.

But then the soprano began. I can’t stand sopranos, especially classical or operatic. But I have to say this young woman’s voice was clear and rich. Even I could listen. I slid to the back of the church, and eventually out the door. But while I was inside, for more than half the concert, I actually enjoyed it. The music, even the voice, so perfectly fit the cathedral. For a moment I could almost believe I was in Alamos in the 1700s.

While friends stayed in the church for the last twenty minutes or so of baroque, I stayed outside and listened to street music. This was followed by a walk. It was supposed to be a short one, but the twisty roads conspired against us and we turned down many a wrong street on our way to El Pedregal. Pedregal means rocky terrain, and it certainly was. Not so much at El Pedregal itself, but on the way there. After numerous wrong roads and about an hour of wandering, we made it.

What a place! Twenty or so acres of countryside, trails, and views. The whole property has five little casitas, a main house, and a straw bale building now used for yoga and massage. We had a lovely tour and then followed the correct road back to town, getting there in about fifteen minutes.

We hit downtown just as the kids’ program was getting underway with the same festive characters playing music and dancing on stilts. Like the adults with the burro and wine, there would be music and festivities followed by a walk through town, musicians in the lead and about half a block of children trailing along behind. The party/parade went on for over ninety minutes.

The parade begins!

Dinner of papas – baked potato topped with cheese and grilled beef and salsa and guacamole and . . . and whatever else you want. A margarita on the patio overlooking the plaza. Musicians, young folks twirling batons of fire, and more. An excellent ending to the second day.

First Day in Alamos


It’s been on my “go-to” list for more than thirty years, and what do you know, I finally made it. And during the annual music festival, no less!

My friend Cinda and I arrived late Tuesday and though she went to an evening performance, I just settled in.

Then in the morning, we were both up early, dined on bean burritos, and headed out the door just after dawn. Distant roosters and one burro called up the sun. Policemen, and women, clustered around small fires in an attempt to keep the chill away.

Cobblestone streets, sun glancing off the church tower, bougainvillea spilling over fourteen-foot adobe walls. Houses of tan, buff, and screaming pink. We peeked around corners, into shattered windows of empty buildings, and through fences. Every sight was a potential photograph. I felt memories of Antigua, Guatemala, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. All three places are old colonial cities. Houses share side walls. There are no front yards. Beautiful doorway abound.

The oldest houses have wide double doors, large enough for carriages and horse-drawn wagons to enter. In some of the wide doors there are smaller entry doors. Doors within doors, leading to courtyards of fountains, flowers, and benches under ancient trees. All the old (or restored) doors are wood, often carved, while newer ones are wrought iron. It seems no two are the same.

Near the end of our long walk, we passed by a little orange juice stand. For fifteen pesos, a little over a dollar, I god a good sized glass of freshly squeezed juice.

Calle de la Paz

We got back to the house we were staying in, sat down to relax, and found it was time to head to a cafe to meet friends for coffee. And of course the cafe was across town.

Delicious coffee, muffins, baguette. Good conversation. Beautiful setting.  Teresita’s is a fairly new cafe with outdoor seating clustered around a small pond and water spilling over a rock wall. Then it was time to walk to a different area of town, wander some shops, and learn about birding walks. By this time, the streets we filled with residents, visitors, and musicians. Tubas and accordions. Drums and flutes. Guitars and trumpets. Mexican hippies in dreadlocks. Music spilling across the plaza and down alleyways. We wormed our way back to the house.

After a rest, it was time to hit the streets again and head to a cafe for dinner. We left for the house after dinner but were immediately sidetracked by the beginning of a small parade heading toward a crowd of young children. Time for the kids’ program.

Musicians in costumes were led by three people on stilts and a young man on a unicycle. Juggling, singing, and dancing. One of the people on stilts actually skipped across the road, and remember, it’s a cobblestone road! The musicians wandered on down the road after a bit, trailed by a crowd of children and parents. We headed back to the house for a rest.

I again skipped the evening concert but headed out a little after nine for some of the evening festivities. Four men were gathered around a little donkey who had been nicely groomed with trimmed hair except for little furry tufts around his knees. He carried two crates. Originally, years ago, I suppose he would have carried handwoven baskets, but this night he carried plastic storage boxes. Each box held several gallons of wine.

The street near the Palacio where the evening concert was being held was swarming with people. Most were musicians, men. They were dressed in black, with short pants gathered just below the knee and tall white socks. They all wore either a cape or jacket, the backs of which were decorated with ribbons of all colors, some with writing on them. I believe the ribbons represent music festivals, competitions, and other performances along with ribbons for prizes won at different events.

When the doors of the concert hall finally opened, the street burst into song. The musicians started and soon the crowd joined in. The men with the donkey began passing out little cups of wine.

After a few numbers, the musicians wandered down the street followed by the donkey, the wine, and a crowd of revelers.

I followed a short while then cut over to another street to watch a program called Tango en Mexico. A good tenor and a couple dancing a variety of tangos. Wow!! They could glide and she could kick! I was envious.

Back home around 11:00. Now, those who know me well must be amazed. I’m the one who hates crowds and settles in early, refusing to leave the house after dark. And there I was, swarming with the masses, following musicians and a little donkey, and staying out hours past my bedtime.

It was delightful.