Monday, June 29, 2020

Ensenada After Dark


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Mexico turns into a different place after dark. Check out this video as we go in search of some street food after the sun goes down.


We find a taco shack at the edge of an empty lot doing big business.



It's where we find this taco de al pastor.

Also, here's where you can find all of our Ensenada reports, photos, and videos (link below)...

The World on Wheels Visits Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

Darryl

Sunday, June 28, 2020

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Placerville Brewfest


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) As a retirement present, I received three VIP passes to the Placerville Brewfest. Placerville an historic Gold Rush city in California, east of Sacramento. It's also the county seat of El Dorado County. The brewfest takes place on the streets of downtown here on a Saturday late in June each year.

The VIP passes get us in an hour early, a large glass for tasting, and a bag to collect swag from the brewers on site. We get a taxi to take us from our hotel so there'll be no inhibitions here tonight...we have four hours to drink as many samples as we can.

After checking in and getting our wristbands, we on the prowl for brew...


Watch the Video!



It's in the mid 90's today on Main Street. The buildings on either side of us date back to the Gold Rush. In fact, we can drive 30 minutes and stand on the little piece of sand where James Marshall found the nugget that started it all. Today, the gold is liquid. Well, most of it is. Some is red and some of the porters are brown.

We've got three blocks ahead of us, lined with people ready to give us free, ice cold beer.



There are a few big guys here like Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, and Gordon Biersch but the vast majority of the booths are from little, local microbreweries with names like Hangtown, Thin Line, Placerville Brewing, and Amador Brewery.

The best I tasted were the red ales from Placerville Brewing and Campbell Brewing. Hangtown had a very nice Saison and Alamador a very good Kolsch.

There were also a few cider breweries, a mead stand (a little sweet for me), and a high-alcohol kambucha stand called Booch Craft that was very interesting, sweet but dry.

The local homebrew club was also pouring a very good black porter.



Food was provided in samples by Round Table Pizza and the Farm Table Restaurant. Tim liked the bratwurst from farm table. Plus, giant pretzels to hang around your neck while you wandered through all that beer.

See the video, above, where in 12 minutes you can get a very good sense of what it was to be there plus see the gunfight erupt between rival breweries where I get caught in the crossfire.



It was a very fun fest and we just might have to make it an annual tradition here.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Rare Family Treat in Baja - San Quintin and Ensenada


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  After a fun-filled and relaxing day at Bahia de San Quintin, we're relaxing in our room at the Mission Inn in Vicente Guerrero when my wife announces that her brother just posted on Facebook that he, his wife, and their two kids are at Estero Beach Hotel in Ensenada.

While we'd had some other plans, mostly of the shopping variety, for tomorrow, this changes things.

The wife and kids live in Mexicali so it's a rare day when we get to see them. I haven't seen the boy for five years and I've never met the girl.

We quickly rehash the itinerary. Third night at the Mission Inn is cancelled and a quick call to Estero Beach gets us a reservation for tomorrow night.

Bags are repacked and we bed down to get rested up for our impromptu family reunion the next day.

We have a final breakfast at the hotel restaurant, shower up (which will come in handy for what's ahead), check out, and hit the road.



On the way down, Letty saw a guy selling copper pots on the side of the road. I said we could stop and take a look on the way back if he was still there.  He was so I have to honor my promise.

She checks out the dozens on display and shows me the pot she wants and tells me the guy wants $180 US for it. I start back towards the car.  She tells the guy that I won't spend that much money.   He drops the price to $120. I show him the $80 I have in my wallet and tell him he can have that for the pot because that's all I have.



Deal. Now just to find a spot in the van for a rather large copper pot.

We chat with the guy for a few more minutes before continuing on to Estero Beach, which is nearby. 



After checking in, we find our room is just three doors down from Letty's brother's room. It's large and the hotel has been upgraded since we've last been here.  A spacious room with two queen beds, flat screen with a whole lot more than the three, barely perceptible channels we had last time, and the same patio with the great ocean view.



Families come together on our patio. Tim, my brother-in-law, and I kill a bottle of tequila together while chatting in the ocean breeze.



My nephew and niece are two very sweet kids with the girl being a little more of an extrovert than the boy.  I take them over to the nearby beach.



Between their very basic grasp on English and my similar skills in Spanish, I'm able to at least teach them the joys of building sand castles.



We spend the rest of the day just catching up on the patio before having up to a great steak dinner at the adjacent restaurant and calling it a night.



In the morning, I go to take a shower but when I turn the spigot all the way on, nothing comes out. I call the office but there's no answer.  It's about a quarter mile walk to the office so I wait a bit.

After about an hour, the phone rings. It's the front office apologizing that there's no water. There won't be until noon, they say. I'll be out by then, I say.  

"How about a free breakfast on us?" 

"Won't the restaurant need water too?" I ask.

Probably, the lady at the counter admits. I ask for a room discount which they are not too keen to give.

Hanging up, I thank God that I took one last shower in San Quintin, along with Tim taking one too, so we can get by if we needed to.  A half hour later, two water trucks arrive to fill up the hotel's cisterns. Water is now available and all talk of discounts are off the table.



With that, it's one more plate of chilaquiles in the restaurant and it's off to endure the border crossing back into the states.  It's a complete pain but at least today it only takes us 68 minutes to cross compared to the almost three hours of our last trip.

That's it for this trip into Mexico. For us, and you, this will wrap up our Month of Mexico.



Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos copyright 2015 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: The Rickety Van Lift


For anyone who has a disability, going out to your local surroundings is very important, whether you're going to work or just exploring the sights around town.  For us, we have a van equipped with a wheelchair lift.  Correction.  Our van has had two wheelchair lifts installed in it since we've had it.  One that folded up in three stages in order to be all stowed away and the new one which folds up the more traditional way.



  • The first one was a Vangater II, made by Braun, which was handy as hell when it worked properly but having all your weight on one post is not a great engineering marvel. Over time, the lift sagged to one side under that weight. Braun no longer makes it.


The first wheelchair lift started giving us problems at the beginning of last year when we came back from a road trip to San Quintin and Ensenada in Mexico.  During that time, we were without the lift and van for a three week period.


  • Next came the time when the lift would not fold up properly and we found a bolt sheared inside. We took it to the mobility dealer who fixed it at no charge.


I can't really remember all the things that ended up being repaired on the lift during this time, but I do remember it wasn't functioning very well after taking all kinds of punishing abuse from the dirt roads down south.




  • A little while later, while we were getting ready to leave on another road trip, another bolt sheared. As we headed out of town, we stopped again at the mobility dealer, who did a spot repair and said a bunch of (expensive) parts needed to be ordered. We jury rigged the lift with c-clamps and bungie cords to get us by in the meantime.
  • I asked how much a complete overhaul would be and the dealer said it would cost thousands but that since Braun didn't make the lift anymore, they probably wouldn't even be able to get the parts needed.


After that trip to Mexico and the initial repairs to the lift afterwards, we would still have to take the van to Mobility Specialists in Pasadena every now and then for routine maintenance or if there was a loose bolt or screw here and there or even if a blown fuse had to be replaced.


  • After the trip, I called Steve Causus at Mobility Works in Pasadena. We negotiated back and forth a little bit and we decided to go ahead and replace the Vangater II with a Century lift, also made by Braun. It was around $7,000 for the whole thing.

  • Once installed, we found that the lip of the lift was too high to close against the wheelchair footplates.  We asked if we could take it to a metal worker to cut it lower, Braun said no dice...that would void the warranty.



  • So, Letty and I set to work on Tim's wheelchair, moving the seat and footplates back a bit
  • Now, the chair fits on the lift...barely.

It's been a little over a year since that fateful trip to Mexico and the the first rickety van lift has now been replaced with a different one.  Oh and did I mention that a fuse has already been replaced on the second lift after a couple months of use?  Here's to keeping our fingers crossed in the continuing adventure of The Rickety Van Lift.



  • Let's hope so, Tim. The new lift is rock-solid but barely fits in our van. It has two posts, instead of one, so it shouldn't start sagging like the old one.  It's a bit more difficult to get in, since it doesn't fold up, but at least it works.


Tim Musick (with bullet points by Darryl Musick)
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Bajo en Baja: San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  It's morning in San Quintin. Actually, Vicente Guerrero, the city right next to San Quintin. That where the Mission Inn, our hotel, is.  There are two here. This one with two accessible rooms with its English spelling and another one on a nearby beach, Mision Inn (notice the Spanish spelling) that is not accessible.

We've come simply for the proposition "what if we kept driving past Ensenada? What would we find?"
Watch the Video!


San Quintin is the next town of any size south of Ensenada. It's around three hours driving time further down from that large, port city.


Baja travel guides note that this is the last chance for a few hundred miles to access major services for drivers on Mexico's Transpeninsular Highway like gas, car service, ATM, supermarkets, and decent lodging.


While the town is sizeable, it's not large. The highway is the only paved road in town.  It's a dusty, muddy, and basic place. I have to wonder why they even have car washes here like the somewhat inapprotriately named business we see across the street from the PEMEX gas station above.


The town is nice. There's no drunken tourists clogging the streets or drug cartels shooting it out in the background. It's main business is farming...this is the tomato capital of the world with thousands and thousands of red fruit ripening to send north to supermarkets on the other side of the border.


Just because there are few, if any, tourists around doesn't mean there is nothing to see.  Strapping Tim in tight, we head west down an unpaved dirt and gravel road. Signs say we have three miles to go.  After a very bumpy few minutes, another says two miles to go.  Tim's complaining mightily about the beating he and his chair are taking when we see another sign..."Yeah!! You made it!"


Finally, we pull up to the bay where a gentleman waving a flag directs us into a small parking lot. We find nowhere to park with a wheelchair van so we go back out, explain it to him, and he puts us in a spot right next to the boat ramp where there's also a wheelchair ramp to access the facilities.


We're at Bahia de San Quintin and the Molino Viejo (old mill) restaurant and bar. At the top of the bay, you'll find this large restaurant, larger bar, an ocean front plaza to relax it, boat ramp, parking, small history museum, fish cleaning sink, a couple of spartan motels, and another restaurant and bar next door.

The plan is just to spend the afternoon exploring, eating, drinking, talking to people, and unwinding.

A small flea market is set up between the restaurant and neighboring Old Mill Hotel. Letty goes browsing there while Tim and I set up at a waterfront table and enjoy a bag of chips and some Mexican Coke.


Dozens of pelicans fly around, dive bombing unfortunate anchovies, and pose for pictures on the pilings. I walk over to a rock-protected depression at the narrow neck of the bay where kids are pulling in fish and clams.

This used to be a large wheat mill. An English company was granted a concession to grow and mill wheat in the area.  Remains of the millworks litter the area. Ships were loaded with flour and sent out to the world.


Now, it's a sleepy but beautiful little fishing village where fisherman line up at the boat ramp to head out to the abundant waters. At 3:00, the boats come back in where loads of large fish are taken to be cleaned at the sink.

We visit with the manager of the Old Mill Hotel and she shows us one of the four accessible rooms here.  It's a large room with a large bathroom. A queen size bed shares the space with a twin bed giving plenty of room for 3 people. I imagine there'd be plenty of room for a roll-in bed if needed also. The shower is big and barrier-free. It is a very accessible room.


Beyond that, however, it's not much. No TV (but that would be a feature, not a bug for some people) and no air conditioning. Here in the fall and winter, that's not a big deal but those hot Baja summers would present a challenge even if it is on the ocean.

Outside is a nice sized patio with a large fireplace and grill. At around $40 per room per night, this would be an ideal place for a family reunion or get-together. I'm already planning one in my mind...


We go back to the Molino Viejo and have a few drinks...Tim and Letty with their Pina Coladas while I try the Cadillac margarita.  After, we visit the small museum next door.


Dioramas depict the areas history while a few artifacts, such as a mammoth tooth and some native tools, illustrate a more ancient history.


Over across the driveway, we find the remains of a boat on the beach, another little plaza, and some informational signs about the bay. Tim and I go to the water at the edge of the boat ramp to get our toes and wheels wet.


We end the day having dinner back at the restaurant, filling up on steak, burgers, and fish before bumping our way back to town and the Mission Inn. It's delicious food and very budget friendly. Where else will you get a great ribeye steak dinner with all the trimmings for less than $15 these days?

Tomorrow, we have more plans for San Quintin but those will be interrupted for a more important mission. Stay tuned for that.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 21, 2020

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


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  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

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Road to Ensenada...and Beyond!


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  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

Monday, June 15, 2020

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


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  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, June 14, 2020

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Tequila Tasting with the Tios


Rudy, one of the bartenders in our "Southern California's Top Three Margaritas" video, told me this is his favorite Cocktail Hour video. For Rudy - Ed

Welcome to a very special Cocktail Hour here on The World on Wheels. We’re on the road for today’s episode, crossing the border into Mexico and bringing some premium tequilas back for our own little tasting party. As you may know from previous cocktail hours, I’m a big fan of the blue agave spirits.

With us today is Heliodoro, Hector, and Lupe…our aunt and uncles from my wife’s side of the family. The two uncles are pretty serious tequila connoisseurs, and I take their opinions and recommendations seriously when I’m looking for good tequila.



With that, it’s on to the tasting which you can watch in the video above. In the morning, we crossed over into Mexico at Los Algodones, which is about 7 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. We acquired around $300 worth of tequila, all but one of which I would consider premium or ultra-premium. Each person is allowed to bring back 1 liter, so the little bottles you see in the video were taken to add to our 750ml bottles to get as close to the limit as possible.

Back across the border, we had our tasting session at our hotel, the La Fuente Inn and Suites in Yuma. Here are our opinions on each of the tequilas…


Corralejo Reposado – This is made in Guanajato by Hacienda Corralejo. You usually see this in oversize blue bottles at your local liquor store. It’s not bad, definitely better that Cuervo Gold or the supermarket generics, and has a pretty good agave flavor. There is a tinge of harshness to the taste that keeps it from being a truly premium spirit. It’s along the lines of Cazadores…a good, solid tequila that is a superb mixer and a decent shot maker if you cut the taste with lime and salt. That right there is my line in the sand between a really good tequila and a superb tequila…premium tequilas need no help from limes, salt, etc. to be enjoyed. They taste too good by themselves to be adulterated by other ingredients.

1921 – Next is a trinity from 1921, another distiller from Guanajato. First is the plata, or silver, tequila. Plata is not aged. Just distilled and bottled. Right off the bat we can tell there is a big jump in quality from the Corallejo. Smooth. Great agave flavor. No harshness at all. An excellent, premium silver.

The 1921 Reposado – reposado is Spanish for rested. A reposado usually means that the tequila has been aged in wooden barrels for at least 6 months. 1921’s version is another smooth entry but the wooden aging overtakes the agave flavor a bit. It’s really good but not quite as good as the silver.

1921’s Añejo – aged at least a year – picks up where the reposado left off. Many añejos are aged in old whiskey barrels and the result is an overtone of whiskey flavor along with the agave. Some distillers are masters at this blending of flavors, others not so much. 1921 is a master at this. It’s one of the best añejos out there. This morning when we were tasting samples, we had a taste of Hacienda de la Plata añejo. It wasn’t bad. Then we had a taste of Hacienda de la Plata ultra añejo, which is aged for several years instead of one. It was very delicious and $56 a bottle. The 1921 añejo has an almost identical taste to the ultra añejo but is $30 less per bottle (note, these are Mexican prices – they are much higher in the States). This is where the difference in experience comes in. Nice, deep agave flavor with just a hint of whiskey hovering around your palate.


The guys will take a little break from tasting here so the women can try a tast of 1921’s delicious tequila crème. Think Bailey’s Irish Crème and you get an idea of what this tastes like. Letty and Lupe both like it and it tastes just like Bailey’s with just a hint of agave overtones. I’ve had this before, and if you’re in the mood for a sweet, chocolaty, coffee tasting drink, this is very good. Would make an excellent Irish coffee.

The guys will now taste another ultra-premium añejo by Degollado. Made in the town of the same name, south of Guadalajara in Jalisco, this is really rare in the States. An online search showed only one ABC store in North Carolina that sometimes stocks this. Bottles on EBay go for north of $150. In Mexico, I grabbed a bottle for $26. This is another ultra-smooth añejo with a bit of stronger whiskey influence than the 1921. I like it, as do the other guys.

We’ve got one more to taste tonight. As the sky darkens, I bring out one more bottle. This time, it’s the white and blue porcelain bottle of Clase Azul Reposado. Made in the highlands, north of Guadalajara, this is truly a special tequila. Smooth, deep agave taste, a slight hint of syrup. As incredible as the taste of this tequila is, the aftertaste lingers with a sweet, almost amaretto, taste on your lips and tongue. What a truly fantastic tequila.

We saved the very best for the last of a stellar lineup of tequilas. What about the calories, you may be asking (since we’re focusing on healthier, lower calorie drinks this year)? Each shot of tequila (1 ounce) has 69 calories. Since these tequilas are made for savoring, you can have three shots over an evening, slowly enjoying the warmth and taste, for only 207 calories.
 
Cheers!

Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 12, 2020

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



(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  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 here, 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