ENSENADA – LA PERLA DEL PACIFICO (THE PEARL OF THE PACIFIC)
I have traveled throughout Mexico. Not as a tourist but a working journalist reporting on ex pat enclaves. In the state of Jalisco : Lake Chapala, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, and the entire west coast of Jalisco. Manzanillo, Colima is Jalisco’s southern neighbor and Nayarit to the North. San Miguel De Allende in Guanajuato, Mazatlan Sinaloa and Cuernavaca, Morelos. Most of these towns have become too expensive for the native population. San Miguel’s haciendas start at one half million dollars. Cabo San Lucas natives call it Caro (expensive) San Lucas.
These popular gringo and Canadian ex pat communities have become saturated with retired white folk. For my taste, they have lost their native culture appeal. Recollections of South African Apartheid. The natives come to work during the day. And, go to their affordable residence, outside of town, at end of day. The result – You don’t see Mexicans on their own streets. Kind of spooky, don’t you think?
In Northern Baja. The U.S. consulate in Tijuana is the busiest consul in the whole world. It attends to the needs of 365,000 Americans living in Baja. Yet Baja towns and cities remain predominantly Mexican. The Anglos are spread over the 1000 mile long, 110 miles wide Baja peninsula. Yet many of my U.S. friends and neighbors are angry with me for promoting Baja. They are afraid too many of their kind will move here and spoil it for us. This huge expanse of desert and fertile valleys has plenty of room. For future development of retirement and second home communities.
The climate in Baja Norte is the best in the world. Seventy five degrees year round. No air conditioning or central heating required. It does not get suffocating hot like Baja Sur in the summertime. And, with climate change, I now swim in the normally cold Pacific Ocean in the winter. A Beach house in Baja Norte is affordable at $150 -200,000. Property taxes on my beach house in Ensenada, last year, were ninety dollars.
Ensenada has always been a melting pot: Japanese fisherman, Russian farmers, Lebanese haberdashers, Italian hotel owners and Chinese farmers turned restauranteurs. Our federally financed think tank CICESE has 110 scientists from all over the world. Sharing their knowledge – Mexican and foreigners all speaking English. The most predominant scientific language. Ensenada with its fifteen universities is the closest thing to a U.S. college town in all of Mexico. A young population full of energy, intelligence and artistic creativity. Ensenada boasts having the highest per capita number of Phd.s.
Our symphony orchestra is made up of all Russian musicians. Whose musical director is Mexican. A child prodigy, he studied music in Moscow, and married a Russian lady. He led an orchestra in Russia at age twenty one. Our international jazz festival is now in its sixteenth year, attendance is free. Ensenada residents love jazz. Young musicians, including my piano playing son, have a wonderful benefit. A superb jazz education program at the state university. Our youth jazz orchestra is directed by a world class musician, composer and arranger, Maestro Sixto Rosas. As a jazz freak, I am blessed to host a weekly jazz and blues program. Thanks to Rommel Arvizu, owner of 92.9fm. I do the program in Spanglish so both English and Spanish speaking residents – CAN DIG IT!
ENSENADENSES, (Ensenada natives) are friendly to foreigners. Our proximity to the U.S. border allows most Mexicans to learn some English. With English speaking people, Ensenadans will make an effort to communicate in English. No matter how broken their words or grammar. Their efforts are enduring.
Hussong’s Cantina was founded by Jon Hussong. A German immigrant in 1850 who saw the need for a stage coach stop. Hussong’s is now a major cultural attraction. On any given day, wandering minstrels take turns serenading tourists and locals alike. Norteno, Mariachi and Cumbia bands create a wonderful mix of Mexican music. You can dance in the aisles and the ambiance is pure fun. Laughter echoes from all the tables. It is hard not to, at least smile. When you are at the Cantina where the margarita was invented.
Ensenada is famous for its Mariscos (seafood): tacos, burritos, chowders, filets, steamed, fried, broiled or barbecued. Delicious delicacies found in restaurants, numerous carts and roadside stands. Baja has become a culinary capital famous for its seafood creations. By doubling the number of entry gates border crossings are averaging fifteen minutes. So more Northern tourists are returning to enjoy offerings from our gallery of great chefs. Preparing dishes made with local organic vegetables, fruits, olives, cheeses and free range animals.
Fishing, sailing, surfing, kayaking, cycling, off road, golf and tennis are all popular sports in Ensenada. if you want to change oceans, climate and general topography. San Felipe is just two and one half hours away. A quiet fishing village, on our bordering Sea of Cortez. With a great boardwalk, full of minstrels playing under San Felipe’s starry night skies.
The dress code in Ensenada is definitely casual. Lawyers wear suit coats and ties. But, most often, with jeans. Or maybe just a pair of jeans and a Wrangler shirt and no tie. Cowboy hats, straw hats, fedoras or newsboy caps. The preferred head gear – a baseball cap. Ensenada’s farm club baseball team and cheer leaders. Make our American “pastime sport” a helluva lot more fun. And affordable, with ticket prices at seven dollars. Our state supported arts center charges about the same to see visiting international musicians and dance troupes. The cost of living for me here is about a third of what it was in the San Francisco Bay Area. And, medical care is free for foreigners who are permanent residents.
Don’t get me started talking about wine. I grew up buying wine grapes in nearby Napa Sonoma Valleys. With my Spanish immigrant grandfathers who were both wine makers. So, like finding jazz musicians in Ensenada. When I found out about the eighty quality wineries in the Valleys of Guadalupe and Santo Tomas. I knew that I was truly home.
Relaxed, kickback, casual and friendly. These are the words that come to my mind when I think about my town – ENSENADA, BAJA CALIFORNIA. For thirty five years we have had a wonderful love affair. Come join me, you won’t want to leave.