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Monday, February 27, 2017

Some Mexicans, an Asian, and an American Go Into a Bar...a Night at a Baja Cantina


We're at our destination, see Part 1 here.

So, we've arrived at our hotel. If I'd have blinked, I would have missed it, but we're here and settled in.

This trip is a bit different. Usually, I'd find a destination then suitable accessible accomodations. This time, I'd found suitable accomodations and knew nothing about the destination other than it was in Baja, close to the ocean.

The room at the Mission Inn is as advertised. It's clean, modern, has an accessible bathroom with roll-in shower, quiet, and comfortable. At $63 a night, it's very reasonable, too.

I walk out to the road while Tim and Letty unwind in the room a bit after dinner. I notice a cantina next door, on the other side of a canal.  I go back to the room to collect the rest of the family and off to the bar.

It's an easy walk with just about 15 feet over that canal that only provides a narrow but accessible path between it and the highway. We wait patiently for a break in the traffic and wander over.

We're reminded why Baja is called the "Outback of Mexico." Beyond Ensenada, it's a pretty wild and sparsely settled region. Walking into the bar, it's like stepping onto the set of a western...rustic, spartan, lots of exposed beams, adobe, and a large fireplace overlooking well-worn tile floors.

The Baja Fiesta serves a varied menu of Mexican cuisine but since we've just had dinner, we head into the bar.

The bartender comes over and pours us shots of Patron. He speaks perfect English...as he should because he used to live in Portland, Oregon, and came back down to help his family run the business.

I notice the selection of tequila is a bit on the paltry side.

"People around here don't know how to drink tequila. They're more likely to order whiskey or champagne."

He tells us of people who come in for parties and order the most expensive bottle of tequila, only to have him make margaritas out of it.


I see some bottles of Baja Fiesta IPA beer in the fridge and ask him about it.

"My mom makes it and we sell it. She also makes the wine."

I have to have a bottle.  It's pretty good and I let him know.


At that point, an Asian man walks in and the bartender calls him over and says we like the beer.


"He helps my mom make it."

A lively discussion of homemade and craft beer ensues with the Asian man, the English speaking Mexican bartender, and us. It's an international beer seminar here on a dusty road in Baja.

After a few rounds of tequila and beer, we ask for the bill and call it a night. Total damage...$12 and it's an easy walk back to our room, even in the dark. Fun times.


Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Side Car

This is one of the classic, old-time cocktails like the martini or a Tom Collins. Made in the classic style, it's also only 154 calories so you can enjoy it without too much guilt. With only three ingredients, it's also a breeze to make.

Watch the Video!

INGREDIENTS (for two drinks):
3 oz. brandy or cognac
2 oz. grand marnier or triple sec
1 oz. lemon juice, fresh squeezed if available

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice. Shake and strain into two cocktail glasses.


Enjoy!

-Darryl

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Road to Ensenada...and Beyond!


I love the Lyle Lovett song, "The Road to Ensenada," and I love the road itself (click on that link to hear the song, it really is a lovely tune).  While the rutted, poorly maintained, pothole pocked road of my youth is still there, these days we don't like to live such a harsh life.

That's why we'll pay the 6 or 7 dollars it takes for the smooth, well maintained, and fast toll road from the beaches of Tijuana to the outskirts of Ensenada, a little more than an hour south.


Watch the Video!



Only this time, we're not stopping in Ensenada. Today, for the first time, we're venturing beyond into unknown territory as we head another three hours south, looking for the twin towns of Vincente Guerrero and San Quintin.

First, we must arrange the proper paperwork. When you cross the border into Mexico, there is a signal. Supposedly, get a green light and off you go. A red light means further inspection. We have found, though, that if you are driving a van, you'll be directed into the secondary inspection bay no matter what color of light you got.



We planned on stopping anyway to get tourist permits at the immigration office, so it's not a big deal today, but it's annoying at other times.  An inspector tells us where to park after he's given our car a cursory search. After getting Tim and his chair out, another guard tells us no, this is not the correct place. Put Tim and the chair back in the van, drive across the road (100 feet or less), park there, and walk into immigration.

Can I just move the van and Letty and Tim walk over? No...you must put everybody back in and drive.

Such is the bureaucratic maze you go through in our neighbor to the south.  To be fair, although it's much more straightforward to come back, getting into Mexico takes but a few moments.  On the best of days, coming back into the States takes hours.

It's hard to get straightforward information on getting a tourist permit (AKA a tourist visa) online. You need one when you go south of the border area (Ensenada, in this part of Baja) or stay longer than 72 hours. Online, the instructions are a mishmash, but basically it said to go to the immigration office, fill out the form, take it to the bank next door, pay the approximately $25 fee, go back to the immigration office to get your permit and have your passport stamped.

In reality, that procedure is just for those who stay more than 7 days in Baja or go into any other part of the country for any amount of time. If you're here less than a week, there is no fee.

We simply filled out the forms (one for each person), had our passports stamped, and we were on our way. The exit of the parking lot goes directly to the ramp for the Ensenada road.



A short but hilly drive puts you at the beaches of Tijuana with its giant bullfighting ring sitting a few feet south of the international border fence.  The first toll plaza awaits here. Today, the toll is $2.25.  There are three toll boothes, so the total toll will be $6.75. The toll varies with the exhange rate. You can pay with either Mexican or U.S. currency but you must choose one or the other (you can't, say, pay with dollars in the first toll booth, pesos in the next one, etc.).

While the extreme northern Baja coast is getting a big dose of urban sprawl, with not a lot of empty land between Tijuana and Rosarito, there's still sections of coastal beauty that rival Highway 1 in northern California. In fact, this highway's number in Mexico is 1.  While hordes of tourists decades ago contributed mightily to this, big industry and moviemaking has put it over the top.

When Hollywood found that they could make big blockbusters for much less down here (it's only a three hour drive south), they transformed the town of Rosarito into a movie town. The large studio on the south side of the city, whose backlots can easily be seen from the toll road, is where James Cameron came to film "Titanic."

It's been a busy studio ever since.

The rest area bathroom stops near the first toll booth are pretty palacial, even by American standards. Beyond Rosarito, not so much. When it's time for a needed break, the first rest area we pull into is closed and has pretty much been taken over by vendors. We keep going.

Another rest area soon pops up. It's open, sort of. The bathroom has pretty much been abandoned by the government but enterprising local men have taken to keeping it up hoping to get tips from stopping motorists.

The college student manning it today keeps it as clean and friendly as he can, even though there's no longer any running water, with a couple of large barrels of water outside. He explains the situation to us and he uses his tips to pay for his schooling.

Letty is impressed with his industriousness and leaves him with a bag of her cookies, along with the tip.  I look over the side of the parking lot and see a lovely campground down below, with cabins for rent (pictured in the video preview, above).

What a beautiful, lonely spot to hunker down for a couple of off-the-grid days it would be.

Back on the road, we soon pass Bajamar, a resort with one of the best golf courses on the West Coast, and then into the city of Ensenada itself. We're not stopping here today, though (see our trip to Ensenada here).  This is just the halfway point.

The cities and towns that make up the bay of Todos Santos (All Saints) have made it a pretty sizeable city.  It's a lot of stop and go for the next 20 miles until we make it past the last stop sign at Maneadero, the last town we can go to without a tourist card.

Since we have ours, we push ahead to the Valle de Santo Thomas.  Gone are the litter strewn streets of the cities and towns, along with the shanty towns of the poorest parts of each town.  The scenery turns from occasionally very nice to spectacular as we wind through Baja's wine country.

It's late December and recent rains have made everything green and lush. Vineyard after vineyard flashes by. We need to do some wine tasting down here sometime but today we're just passing through.

Once we leave the Ensenada area, the road becomes a fairly well maintained two lane highway.  There are two mountainous areas to climb over with some parts having perilous drops down into the chasms below with no guard rail to retard your fall.

The hundreds of small roadside memorials we pass today remind me to be ever-vigilant while driving this road.

I'm doing well but some local drivers can be very reckless and idiotic, passing on blind mountain curves hoping their luck will hold out and a large truck won't be coming the other way.

I see a semi truck going just the speed I want to go and being careful on the road. I tuck in behind him as protection to let him clear the way for me (that's why you see the truck in front of us in several of these photos).

Over the mountains, we come back to the coast and endless fields of tomatoes, strawberries, and other assorted produce. Most of this will end up in the supermarkets of the U.S. west coast.

We go through several towns, almost identical, with shops and dirt parking lots right on the highway. It's the same in every town...small bumps on the road leading to a large bump in the middle of town. It's where the pedestrians are supposed to cross.

Halfway through one town, I almost miss the Mission Inn.  Breaking fairly hard, Letty and Tim are asking "what's wrong.?"

There's our hotel...I almost drove right by.

We settle in.  It's a decent, clean, and modern hotel in the middle of town. The room is good with two queen beds and a bathroom with a roll-in shower.  Quite a find down here in the land of the inaccessible.

It's dinner at the hotel's very good restaurant then we'll settle in for the next part of our adventure.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: The Musick Family Sunday Day Of Rest-Enjoying The Great Indoors And Outdoors


Sundays at the Musick Household are usually known as The Day of Rest for all three of us as it gives us a chance to unwind from the daily grind of a busy stressful week Whether it's my Dad needing to unwind from a busy week at The Office or my Mom needing a break from her daily caregiving duties for my needs, Sundays are a time when we come hang up the virtual 'Do Not Disturb' sign, get together and relax to spend some quality time alone as a family and recharge our batteries.

The first part of that Sunday relaxation ritual consists of a leisurely walk and roll between me and my Mom.  I say walk and roll because while my Mom does the actual walking, I go out in my wheelchair to face the elements of a hot sunny day or a cold and windy one.

We are fortunate enough to live in an area that has a walking trail outside directly behind our backyard wall.  This way, we already know there is a great place for us to walk that is within walking distance from our house and we don't have to get into our van to drive to it.


Once my Mom and I make our way outside, we use this time to greet our other fellow joggers and friends on the trail.  We do have to be careful though when leaving our house that we don't get hit by any cars since we live on a busy street.  We also make sure that we are fully equipped with the appropriate pieces of clothing depending on what the weather is like when we get up in the morning. If it's a hot a sunny day, I usually have to put a hat on to protect my head and eyes from the bright sunshine.  On the cooler days and months, I usually have to wear a jacket and a pair of gloves to keep my hands warm.


The length of the walking trail is about one and three-quarters of a mile and starts at Buena Vista Street at one end of the trail and finishes at Royal Oaks Park at the other end. As I mentioned above, going out on the trail is a great opportunity for my Mom and I to go out and just simply get some exercise, socialize with the other people out there and enjoy some fresh air. My Dad also uses this time that my Mom and I spend on the walking trail to cook breakfast for both him and her and then to get my weekly lunch of chicken nuggets that he wrote about in a previous edition of Caregiver Chronicles.

After my Mom and I finish up our walk on Sundays and after we have our breakfast and lunch, the next part of our family's Day of Rest routine involves a usually smooth transition to our outdoor patio in our backyard. I say usually smooth because sometimes during the Fall and Winter months, we do get some rainy and stormy weather that pops up every now and then which forces us to enjoy our time and make the most of our Sundays from the comfort found inside our house in the den area known as the Family Room.


On those days when we do get to enjoy our Sunday family time outdoors, (which is most of the time), we have our fun by taking my iPod Classic for musical entertainment and background noise purposes. Fairly recently as well, my Dad and I have been taking a small collection of board and card games such as Sorry!, Checkers or Uno to keep the good times going and keep ourselves even more occupied and busy on a Sunday morning/afternoon.


Another staple of the Musick Family Sunday Day of Rest are the multiple round of drinks that my Mom and Dad have either from a selection of  one of our famous Cocktail Hour recipes or sometimes it's  simply just a glass or bottle of beer or wine. During the cool Fall or Winter months, my Dad will also use this time on the backyard patio to light a fire in our outdoor wood burning chimney to keep us all warm and toasty.


Finally the last part of the Day of Rest for us Musicks' involves my Dad continuing to take his weekly turn of being in charge cooking a dinner selection of some sort either on the grill outside in the backyard or the stove inside the kitchen of our house.

After we finish our Sunday dinner, we wind down the end our week with some very nice and well earned relaxation time in the Family Room watching TV from the comfort of our nice leather recliners we affectionately like to call "The Cloud." The only bad thing about enjoying our Day of Rest is knowing they all have to come to an end. That is until the next rolls around and we can begin to look forward to the next one and let the Sunday rest and relaxation cycle begin again.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2017
All Rights Reserved.

  


Monday, February 20, 2017

Now I Know Why I Don't Drive to Mexico: Ensenada, Mexico - Part 4


Three days south of the border on the beach in Baja. Relaxing, relatively stress-free, soothing, and fun days. I’d better built up a reserve because I will need all of it on this last day.


Starting off the day with breakfast at La Terraza, the hotel’s restaurant and bar, we have another quite good dish of chilaquiles and eggs. Not quite as good as Garibaldi’s a couple of days ago…the hotel only uses one egg where Garibaldi’s gave us two…but still quite decent.


Watch the Video!

Check out is smooth, one more wave to the entrance guard on the way out, and we’re on our way.

Driving by El Sauzal, the site of a notorious cartel execution 15 years ago, I’m reminded that in no way did I ever feel unsafe, worry, or feel the need to keep looking over my shoulder while we were here. The people were friendly and always ready to help.

Ensenada was like visiting an old friend from way back…you might have done some wild things together in the past but you’ve both grown up, can sit back over a drink, relax, and wonder how you two have got to this point in your life.



One thing about the drive from Ensenada to Tijuana, it's a lot like highway 1 in California. The road hugs the cliffs over  some of the most spectacular ocean scenery in the world. 


Traveling up the toll road, we stop at the last rest area just as we get into Tijuana and the border crossing. Fearing the worst in a Tijuana rest stop bathroom, my mind is put to east as I step into the spotless, marble Taj Mahal of a bathroom. Unlike many public restrooms down here, it is also free.

Rested and ready, we head into Tijuana proper where the highway abruptly ends in a detour sending us through several side streets in this not-attractive city.

The Customs and Border Service maintains border crossing times on their web site. The main crossing…the busiest in the world…shows a three hour wait. Otay Mesa, on the east side of the city shows a 45 minute wait. Tecate, another hour to the east, also shows a 45 minute wait.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Francisco Santos under CC BY-SA 2.5 license

We thread our way along the border to Otay Mesa and park ourselves in the left lane of the regular crossing. There are also “Ready Lanes,” 8 of them, for holder of the RFID embedded passport cards (not us and everybody in the car has to have one) and one SENTRI lane for people who go through a background check to get a special card.

The lane crawls along but I can see the border not too far ahead. The Ready Lanes to my left keep whizzing by. An hour later, we’re halfway from where we started. So much for accuracy on the website.

Then, they close our lane and open it up to make another Ready Lane. This means I’ll have to merge into the lane to my right. In the one inch gap the driver there, who has been waiting over an hour too, has left to prevent people from merging in. They don’t know and probably don’t care that our lane has just been closed. They only know that all these cars to the left are suddenly trying to cut in front of them.

It’s heated. Tempers flare. I tell Letty to ask the driver next to us as nice as she can if they can let us in. “We’ll manage,” is his cryptic reply.

Another 20 minutes and there’s still a one inch gap. Letty looks back to the driver and shrugs her shoulders.  Finally, he waves us over. Only another half hour and we’re finally at the guard booth.

The border guards looks over our passports, goes into the back of the van, comes in the side door to see if Tim matches his passport, gives our van another stink eye before finally handing over our passports and waving us on.

Only two and a half hours. Probably would have been better to drive to Tecate.


The rain is starting up and the Southern California drivers are not handling the slick roads well.  Another three and a half hours and we’re home. Driving down? 4 hours. Driving home? 7.

I really like coming down here, it’s coming back that’s the nightmare. I’ve got to look into getting those passport cards.

With that, this great trip is over and we’ll spend some time recharging our travel batteries for next time.

Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 19, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Margarita Lite



I know we've done a margarita recipe before but this is special.  


We wanted to adopt a healthier lifestyle, lose a little weight, and get into better shape.  So far, it's been working.  The bad part is that cocktails are usually full of empty calories.  Hey, we like to drink too but we need to retool.


Watch the Video!


So, we've cut way back on the heavy drinks, switched to wine for the most part, and experimented with making a lighter cocktail.  Here is the first result of that retooling.
(Note:  In the video, I miscalculated a say it's about 125 calories...it's actually about 150, see below)




Our new margarita lite recipe is just as good as our original margarita recipe but with about 80 less calories.  The alcohol is the same, 3 parts tequila, 2 parts triple sec, and 1 part brandy.  The difference is the mixer...we're using Sunkist Diet Sparkling Lemonade instead of sweet 'n sour mix.


Here's the recipe (two drinks):


2 ounces tequila                                   - 140 calories
1.25 ounces triple sec                         - 120 calories
.4 ounces brandy                                 -    40 calories
juices of 1/2 lime                                   -    5 calories
4 ounces Diet Lemon Soda                -    0 calories


Total Calories                                       - 305 calories
Calories per drink                                - 153 calories


(A Cadillac margarita at most restaurants, which this closely resembles, is about 325 calories per drink)


Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice.  Put in all ingredients except for lemon soda and shake.  Pour lemon soda over ice into margarita glasses or cocktail glasses rimmed with salt (about half the depth of the ice).  Pour ingredients from shaker over that.  Enjoy the results - beware, these are still strong drinks.


Cheers!




Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Friday, February 17, 2017

In Search of the Original Fish Taco: Ensenada, Mexico - Part 3



Missed Part 1? You can view it at this link: Ensenada, Mexico - Part 1 or you can see Ensenada, Mexico - Part 2.

Earlier in my life, Ensenada was a frequent destination for family getaways. When I got old enough, it became that way for me when friends and I would shoot down across the border where the prices and drinking age were both lower than they were in the states.


Watch the Video!

Many a day, or night, was spent setting off firecrackers on the beach, drinking cases of Tecate, and enjoying the food that locals cooked right there on the beach.

I loved the dough that the old man squeezed into a boiling pot of oil over a make shift fire on the beach and learned the joys of a treat called churros when I was a boy. The tacos from a street-corner stand where the vendor would ladle a spicy, watery, and creamy guacamole over the meat. My dad would drive south of town, into the countryside, on highway 1 looking for roadside vendors selling that most known of Ensenada cuisine, the fish taco.

Street life, and street food, in particular were so savory in this Baja seaside town. Today, we’re on a mission to see if we can still find some.


After a midday rest at our room at the Estero Beach Resort, we head south of town to Maneadero. Formerly a tiny village, it’s now a growing town. Along the road where many taco stands would abound, there are several restaurants but the roadside kiosks are gone.

I turn down the road to Punta Banda. La Bufadora, the blowhole, is one of the most famous attractions in town. The hole in the rocks where wave shoot water spray hundreds of feet in the air has been drawing people to see it throughout the town’s history.

We’ve seen it before and we’ll save that for another trip. We’re looking for something else.

A little way into the countryside, we see what looks like an abandoned waterpark. Out front is a blue and white taco stand advertising fish tacos. We put that in the memory banks for the drive back and continue on.  Not much else to see as we keep driving along the estuary towards the point until we reach the village of Punta Banda and see another taco stand on the side. We decide to pull in.

As we unload Tim and his chair, an American lady comes out to ask us if we want pizza. No, we tell her, fish tacos. She apologizes and says the taco stand is closed on Thursdays (this should tell you what day we got there) and explains that she runs the pizza shack on one end of the building and another lady runs the taco stand.

We load Tim back in and head back to the other shack next to the closed waterpark. This is Lupita’s.  I tell my wife that this Lupita must be very wealthy because every other restaurant in town is called Lupita’s.

My wife (a native Mexican) patiently explains to her gringo husband that they are named after the Virgin of Guadalupe, kind of a good luck thing, and Lupita is the nickname for Lupe, which is the short version of Guadalupe, so…yeah…you’re going to see a lot of Lupitas down her, a whole LOT of Lupitas.

We unload, take up residence at one of the flimsy tables next to a group of local truck drivers and order some tacos.


Battered filets sizzle in the red hot oil as we pop open some bottles of Mexican Coke. A few minutes later, the blazing filet is placed in a hand-made tortilla and given to use. A two by six board running along the side of the shack holds the condiments…shredded cabbage, cream, several salsas, radish, guacamole…and you help yourself to whatever you want.

I’m not a fish lover but committed to eating a whole taco in the land where the fish taco was invented. It was light, tender, juicy, fluffy, and very tasty. Although very hot, it was delicious and the Mexican Coke was perfect to wash it down with. Letty still says the fish taco at Los Tacos de Huicho in Bakersfield is better, but I thought this was just outstanding.

Why is Ensenada so famously known for inventing the fish taco? Probably because it has historically been a fishing town, and still is.



After this treat, we head to the waterfront and find a secure, guarded parking lot where we can leave the van all day for 50 pesos, around $5, at Plaza Marina, just north of the giant Mexican flag. Here, after you park, you can walk through the building to get to the waterfront, the best wheelchair accessible route to experience the Malecon and other waterfront attractions.

(NOTE: wherever you park, go to the Malecon for access. On the street side, a few corners are missing curb cuts and you will be forced into a narrow, traffic filled street now and again. You can access it from the river next to the cruise ship dock, through Plaza Marina, and also through the mall where the Cineopolis Theater is.)

Before we get our next meal, I decide to look up an old friend. In the old days, I’d come to Ensenada with friends looking for watering holes and adventure. One of our favorites was the bar in the San Nicolas Hotel, two blocks south of downtown.

We walk past the Federal Police station and make our way in.

At the very quiet bar, we take seats outside, the only place where the wheelchair will fit. The giant pool is empty, waiting renovation. The only three customers today are named Letty, Tim, and Darryl.

It’s extremely quiet and empty. What used to be the liveliest place in town is now a morgue.  Quite telling how hard the tourist crash has hit.

I ask the manager, “I seem to remember the bar being below ground and had an underwater window to look into the pool.”

“Yes, it was quite beautiful and fun but it was torn down to build the new casino (next door),” he said.

Too bad, it was quite a sight and now it’s just history. The drinks are still quite good, though.


Along the waterfront, many vendors are selling churros that they cook on the spot for you, ice cream, snow cones, tacos and more. Boat captains will be handing you their card, hoping to book a fishing trip for you and your friends (great fishing down here, by the way). Curio stands mark the north end of the seawall and our next destination.


Ensenada has a fish market that has been here forever. It’s not huge, just two aisles with around 20 vendors crammed in selling the day’s fresh catch. There are ramps at each end of the building, put there so the mongers can wheel there fish-laden handtrucks in, that work well for wheelchairs.  One aisle is outside, while the other is in.

We wander along, eyeing the fresh octopi, barracuda, tuna, shrimp, lobsters, and many more creatures of the deep.


A giant fish head at one of the stalls makes a good photo opportunity.

The vendors are vocal, trying to get you to take a filet or two home. It’s all very fascinating and I was surprised at how clean, smell-free, and fly-free the place was. I’m not a seafood lover but, if I was, this would be the place. It’s still a fascinating place to see.


Just outside the market, about another twenty food stalls exist with very aggressive servers vying for your business. Most have a step or two to get to the tables but the row of stalls just across from the market on the north side have a patio around back that is wheelchair accessible. This we know because several of the hyper servers tell us so.

My wife picks the one that promises her a free piña colada with her meal.

We make our way to the back patio and the staff finds us a nice place to sit, next to the Christians from Canada…

We’ve been seeing these people all over Ensenada and in fact a few are staying at our hotel. They look like Amish and the men keep separate from the women but they use smartphones, are driving cars, and otherwise not eschewing modern technology at all. 

I have to ask.

“Are you Mennonite?”

“No, we’re Christians.”

“So am I…what denomination are you?”

“Christian.”

“I know but there are many different flavors and you guys look Amish or Mennonite.”

“We know, we don’t have a formal structure. We just call ourselves Christians.  We come from Quebec and we’re in town for a ministerial conference. We also run an orphanage here.”

…you learn something new every day.


While I’ll just shoot video and stills, Letty orders the Caldo de Siete Mares (seven seas soup), a steamy broth filled with scallops, crab, cod, mussels, shrimp, clams, oyster, and octopus, and Tim gets a plate of fish nuggets.


I do taste each one and confirm that they are very good, but a tad fishy for a non-seafood eater like me. Letty and Tim assure me that’s what it should taste like and the seafood here is a fine example of what ultra-fresh seafood should taste like.

And, yes, Letty did get her free piña colada.


There’s only one part left of this trip and it entails one of the most nerve wracking things you can ever do on a driving trip to Mexico…returning home.  Stay tuned for that.

Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 13, 2017

Old Memories, Fresh Tears: Ensenada, Mexico - Part 2



Missed Part 1? You can view it at this link: Ensenada, Mexico - Part 1

The morning is chilly and the tide high. Even though our room faces the estuary, we can see big rollers breaking on the sandbar that is now submerged. A cup of coffee to warm our bones and then it’s off to explore downtown Ensenada.


The drive into town is uneventful and traffic is mercifully light. Since the tourist boom has drastically subsided here in this Baja bay town, the main tourist zone is quiet and we have our pick of curbside parking along Avenida Lopez Mateos…the main drag the most visitors are familiar with.

Watch the Video!

Parking is free for two hours…some vendors along the street will also protect your spot for longer if you buy something.


A few cruise ships still spend a day in port here and a big Princess boat is docked but has yet to disgorge its load. Shops along the street are slowly coming to life as we start off at nine in the morning.

It’s been over a quarter century since I’ve walked this block. Back then, it was like any other shopping street in any Mexican town. Functional, not really pretty, with aggressive vendors vying for our businesss.


There’s been a makeover in the intervening years. Pretty pavers widen the sidewalks. Restaurants have European outdoor dining areas every block. Coffee bars, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, boutiques, and ice cream parlors now share space with the curio shops, pharmacies, bars, and liquor stores of old.

You can still find some pretty wild nightlife here when the sun goes down at staples like Hussongs, Papas and Beer, and lesser known watering holes like El Pescador.

Right now, we’re looking for a place for breakfast. Of course, I used to know a great coffee shop at the northern end of the street but when we get there, the old hotel…coffee shop and all…is closed, the building empty, waiting for someone with money to bring it back to life.

We passed a bar on the way that was serving breakfast…let’s backtrack and eat there.
Restaurant Garibaldi looks like you’d expect a bar to look like first thing in the morning. Empty, quiet, with staff slowly cleaning up to get ready for another day. We’d like some coffee but the machine is broken. Letty settles for some hot chocolate while Tim and I have Mexican Cokes.

Side note…if you’ve never had the Mexican version of Coke, you need to try it. Much sharper taste than the American version, which uses corn syrup instead of cane sugar like they do down here. It’s available in the states…usually at Mexican restaurants or Latino supermarkets.


We all get chilaquiles. Mine with over easy eggs on top, Letty with scrambled, and Tim with just cheese. As we sit facing the morning sun out the big open doors, we feast on these incredibly delicious fried tortilla strip covered in a red chile sauce and fresh eggs along with refried beans the likes of which we just can’t get at home. No coffee, but it’s as close to a perfect Mexican breakfast as I can think of…outside of the time we ate our morning meal literally over the waves in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago.

Our server shows me their cage of parakeets up against the wall. 14 of the colorful little birds flit around giving us background cheeps to our meal. He points out a blue one and tells me that’s a bad one.

“We just had a baby bird and he killed it.”

On that note, we finish up and stroll down Lopez Mateos. A gentleman comes up and tugs at our sleeve. He wants to know how much batteries cost for Tim’s wheelchair in the U.S.

It seems he’s got a friend with no legs and his chair is running out of juice. We tell him the price…around $400 each…and suddenly those Mexican prices don’t sound so bad to him.

We chat a few minutes and my wife gets an idea. She spent a year here, around forty years ago, living here as a child. She asks the man how we’d get to her old neighborhood. He gives us directions.

With that knowledge, it’s back to the van…which is now blocked by some paintings the artist in the gallery we parked in front of put on a display on the sidewalk. No problem, the gent…who speaks better English than I do…tells us he’ll move it and, by the way, why don’t you stroll some more and he’ll keep our spot and watch the van for us.


We take him up on it and shop a little more where my wife finds a nice blouse at a boutique and we find a Thrifty ice cream parlor.

Back at the van, we load up, and the artist is a true gentleman…does not expect anything in return for watching our car for us. In fact, Letty is remarking about how unaggressive the vendors here are now…truly, it’s not the same bazaar atmosphere that used to rule here…and still does in border towns like Tijuana.


Relying on my wife’s memory of the directions, we find Boulevard Reforma…the biggest street in town…and hang a left until we see the “la ley”…the Ley supermarket the man told us to look for. Up Bronce where we look for Iglesia La Luz Del Mundo, the church in my wife’s old neighborhood, and turn right.


As her throat tightens and tears appear on her cheeks, we find a park and then realize this is where she used to live. Forty years ago, this was in the country. Now, it is completely urbanized…just another block in town. We take a few pics and shoot some video. The family back home will surely want to see what the old ‘hood looks like now.

With that, we head back down the hill, along Reforma to look for an ATM to get some cash. We also take advantage of the “Americanization” of the town and stop in the local Costco to grab some snacks and local wine…which is very good by the way…for later tonight. Then it’s back to our room at Estero Beach to take a little break before the next chapter of this trip, which is coming soon.

Stay tuned!

Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Ruby Margarita



It's a pleasant Sunday afternoon, temps in the 80s and edging toward 90, and I'm trying to think of something good to drink. Browsing the web, I see it's Nationa Tequila Day (last Sunday, July 24th).  Well...I must celebrate.


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A little more browsing and I find an intriguing recipe...the Ruby Margarita.  It turns out very good, is only about 150 calories, and loaded with anti-oxidants so I can feel relaxed and good about myself during this afternoon's Cocktail Hour.


Here is the recipe...


INGREDIENTS (two drinks)


Juice of 2 medium limes (or 3 small limes)
3 oz. tequila
1 oz. agave syrup
1 oz. brandy
4 oz. pomegranite juice or cocktail


In a cocktail shaker half filled with ice, mix all ingredients. Pour pomegranite juice in last...fill to the top with it.  Strain into two ice filled highball or pint glasses.

Cheers!


-Darryl

Friday, February 10, 2017

Tempting Fate? Ensenada, Mexico - Part 1



It’s New Year’s Eve, 1979. I’m here in Ensenada with my friend, Frank, trying to get into just the right amount of trouble before the big hair era of the 80’s begins.  We’ve been drinking our way northward on Avenida Lopez Mateos steadily and the hours are getting late.

We find ourselves at a bar that’s not my favorite but is the oldest and most famous here, Hussong’s.  After another strong shot of some forgotten cocktail, we wander outside onto Avenida Ruiz.


Hundreds of people are milling about and as we wander down the street, as if a light were flicked on, everybody starts fighting. Frank and I do not know what caused this, only that we don’t want to end up in jail or worse on this night due to rioting.

Ducking down the first side street we see, we find a quieter area, then down another side street where we see a half dozen policemen standing around a car, shining their flashlight inside where a dead body is sitting up in the back seat.

Welcome to  Baja…


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It’s been twenty six years since I’ve driven down to this port city. American tourism has suffered a great crash due to the news coverage of the drug wars going on in Mexico. In Ensenada itself, cartel violence hit when 18 people were murdered in El Sauzal, the small town just north of Ensenada, in 1998. 

It’s been 15 years since that nadir in the drug wars here. Although I’ve always felt safe traveling down here, the sensational news still gives one pause, incidents like the New Year’s Eve riot linger in the back of my mind, and some friends and relatives think I’m out of my mind to even think of a trip like this.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some trepidation but after an hour on the road after crossing the border, I feel like I’m stepping back into a comfortable pair of old shoes. I almost feel at home and completely safe.

Frustration occurs when I try to book a wheelchair accessible room. I had called the San Nicolas, a nice hotel with old memories for me, and asked. They said their 30 inch doors were too narrow. When I said Tim’s chair was 26 inches wide, they said the bathroom door was too narrow. When I asked if someone could measure the door, the answer was “perhaps you’d be happier somewhere else.”

That went on with about a half dozen hotels before one finally said yes but they wanted me to send my credit card information via e-mail, which made me uncomfortable.  I had wanted to stay in the heart of town but finally decided on Estero Beach Resort, six miles south of downtown, because I know it’s nice and they were happy to provide an accessible room.


Fighting the local traffic in this town that has grown much in the last quarter century, I’m waiting to get south of town to where I know Estero Beach sits well past civilization. Past the Sam’s Club, the Wal Mart, the Home Depot, and even the Costco…Ensenada has come a long way.

I’m still waiting in this hectic drive to get out of town when I just see the sign…Estero Beach, turn right at next signal.  Wow…It used to sit out in the country…well south of town, now it’s right in town.

I make the turn and drive through a rough-hewn neighborhood with hotels that charge low rates for 3 hour blocks.  I get to the end, turn left, and there’s the arch to Estero Beach with its guard shack and barrier.

We get to the front office and registration. The manager asks if I’ve stayed here before. “Around thirty years ago,” I answer.


“I think you might notice a few changes,” he deadpans.

He says the room is accessible “only a couple of steps.” Really?  I can’t have one step I assure him.  He sends an assistant with me to the room (which is still a quarter mile drive away) to explore “options.”

We get to the parking lot, go up two ramps, and there’s the front door. “Where are the two steps?” I ask. There are none…the manager was just a bit confused, I guess.

The room itself is huge. Two queen beds in a 400 square foot space, large dresser, dining table and chairs, and great Mexican artwork.  Add in the large bathroom…which is accessible only in that a wheelchair can roll in and access everything (no grab bars or roll in showers here)…and the foyer/closet and you’ve got 500 square feet.


A floor to ceiling patio door window gives a great view of the ocean with a nice little patio outside with the most uncomfortable Adirondack chairs I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in.

Just a few feet outside of our room is a malecon, a seawall, which we can stroll along the bay. Tim and his chair have to detour around the building but it’s still not a long way. 


We explore the seafront of the resort and the fun looking free-form pool with the swim up bar. It’s way too cold for us (in the 40s and 50s) to think about taking a plunge but several kids staying at the resort are still in the heated waters.  It’s nice to know that there’s a ramped entrance into the water for another time when we can come when it’s warmer. No lift, but we can handle a ramp.


For now, our bright yellow pool access wristbands will just go to waste but others are not so easily swayed. About a half dozen kids make their presence in the pool known.


After a four hour drive from L.A. and unpacking, it’s over to La Terraza…the resort’s restaurant and bar…for dinner. We have some average margaritas, chips, and salsa along with some superior chile rellenos and deep fried tacos.

A relaxing walk along the malecon in front of our room, and then we retire to watch some scratchy Mexican TV and get a good night sleep before we explore the town tomorrow.

Stay tuned...




Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved