Friday, June 22, 2007

Ensenada, Mexico Tour

We just came back from an overnight tour to Ensenada, Mexico. It was a relaxing getaway. To those of you who have not been on a bus tour, this would be a great way for you to "break into it". We have been on plenty of trips, getaways and road trips by ourselves. It's always involved a lot of time doing our own research, mapping out routes, and booking hotels and tickets. This was a different experience.

For those of you who have never taken a bus tour, this is basically a non-stressful way to go somewhere, visit a new place, but with none of the hassles of driving, calling, researching or even any planning at all. You just book the tour, make sure you are available on those days, and show up by the time the bus is leaving with change of clothes, and you are on your way.

We booked our getaway through It's the 2-day Ensenada, Mexico tour. Since we live nearby, we just showed up in person, paid for the trip in advance, and were told where and when to board the bus. All we needed to do then was bring our clothes and toothbrushes. The trip cost us $95.00 per person, not the $89.00 the website says. But still a pretty good deal, since it includes the one night hotel stay in Ensenada.

After a brief stop in San Diego's old town and a casual lunch, we headed to our first Mexican destination: Tijuana.

To us, Tijuana was just that one street. We don't even remember the name, but it's that one street where all tourists apparently go to for shopping. There are a lot of pharmacies, leather-goods shops, restaurants, and colorful photo op stations with burros and sombreros, waiting for tourists. By the way, those of you that are worried about the language barrier, the locals that work in the area speak much better English than a lot of immigrants in Southern California!

Next, we drove by Ensenada. This was the first time in Ensenada for both of us. Our first impression of the place was not that great. There was dirt everywhere, and poorly constructed little shacks that looked ready to tumble down the hill.

While on the bus, going through winding hill-side roads, Eddie even looked up at the hill side and commented on how scary looking the loose dirt on the sides of the hill were. (Not long after we came back from the trip, we saw on the news that there was a landslide in Mexico, which buried a tour bus, killing everyone aboard!) But we are sure that was just one incident, nothing to worry about. There are millions of tour buses going all around Mexico every year, and this was a fluke. We hope. Needless to say, we made it back safe and sound.

Even though our stop for the night was Ensenada, we had another destination before retiring for the day: La Bufadora. Translated, it means the "buffalo's snort". Along the highway, on the way there, we saw a lot of big, beautiful mansions on the top of the hills along the ocean. A huge contrast to the poverty we saw not far behind.

If you are even in La Bufodora, allow yourself some time to not only look at the "snort", but also to shop a little along the interesting little shops stationed along the walk down to the main attraction.

There were souvernirs, silver jewelry, and of course, leather goods. Julia was drooling over the sweets that they were offering, but was chased away by the bees that showed equal interest...

The "Bufadora" itself was a semi-under water cave formed by the crashing tide. And everytime a wave came in, the water would hit the rocks and come up in a mist, thus forming the "snort".

We gave in to the temptations, and bought two small bottles of tequila covered with leather and branded with "Mexico". We know, these are tourist traps, designed to make money off of tourists who don't know better. But we were tourists after all, so what were we supposed to do?
We also gave in and bought keychains to add to our collection. Those of you who have been to our office, have seen our collection of keychains hanging on the wall. Everytime we go somewhere, we try to get a keychain of the place we visited. We have some very interesting keychains, if we do say so ourselves. One of Eddie's favorites is the little Space Needle replica, that we got on a 9-day road trip to Seattle last October. One of Julia's favorites is an angry, but silly looking tikki that we got on our honeymoon in Maui.

But, back to the story. La Bufadora, was a beautiful, sunny place, not too different from what we expected to see. But around every corner, there were things that reminded us that we were not in the luxurious surroundings that we have grown used to in southern California. Which, we suppose was not entirely a bad thing.

The stop in La Bufadora was not very long, and soon we were back on the bus to make the 2 hour drive back to Ensenada, where we would stop for the rest of the day and spend the night. After we were checked into the Hotel Santo Tomas by our tour guide, Phillip, he told us that those of us that wanted to go have a seafood dinner at a local restaurant were welcome to meet him at the lobby in half an hour and walk over together. We decided that we would skip it.

We were not that hungry, and having heard that it's not safe for tourists to wander the streets alone after dark, we wanted to go out and explore before it got too dark. We figured we'd get the most out of our time by going out and nibbling on local street food while we looked around the port city of Ensenada. And of course, we had to go to a local bar and have a genuine Mexican margarita.

Ensenada was like many other port cities. Cruise ships, restaurants, bars, and plenty of gift shops. We do want to emphasize that while we walked around and went back to the hotel safely, it is not to say that tourists should wander around and forget their surroundings. If you find yourself walking around Mexico after dark, do be smart and aware of your surroundings.

The hotel room was simple, nice, and clean. We slept with the air conditioning on all night to fight off the Mexican summer heat. We got a good night's sleep, and were rested for the next day.

The next morning, we headed for our only stop before we would cross into the US again: Hotel Calafia. On the way to the hotel, we passed by a Fox movie production site that was built especially for the production of the movie "Titanic".

Our tour guide informed us that this sea side hotel was the site where the dinner scene from Titanic was filmed. Eddie had his doubts and was not entirely impressed with it... The breakfast buffet was average. Not too shaby or too impressive, but there was one interesting item that we never had before, which was a tortilla topped with some kind of stew that we were informed was "nopalitos", which was cactus strips. The best part of the experience, was that the manager kindly allowed us to eat in the "Titanic Room", which was usually off-limits. But that day was unusually chilly, and we didn't want to sit outside, which is where half of the seats are.

After that, it was time to head back to the US. Crossing the border took quite a while, but to us, it was all part of the experience. Those of you planning on going, please remember to pack your patience. Luckily, nobody in our tourbus decided to bring anything suspicious back!

The rest of the day was spent driving back to LA, with a brief stop for lunch in San Diego, and another brief stop in Hotel del Coronado.

This trip is not a wonderful, magical and unforgettable place that will leave you in awe. That is not what this trip is about. This trip is about relaxing, not having to plan anything yourself, and still being able to go and enjoy the beautiful scenery, look out at the ocean, feel the vibes of the local people, and just take in something entirely different.