Ensenada seemed like an abandoned tourist trap when I arrived in January. The town was sparsely filled with locals, even along the souvenir shops. Large shops would be manned by a single person sitting behind a counter listening to Spanish radio with half of the lights dimmed. it seemed that they were open for business but didn’t care if they did any business. Popular places such as Señor Frogs were completely empty.
Other than the tourism industry, Ensenada is a deepwater port that brings in transport and fishing ships. The fish markets are well known throughout the state for providing fresh catches all throughout the year.
For less than $10 USD, you can get a full fish meal that is cooked to your desire. Along with a salad and tortillas, it can fill you up pretty nicely. A traditional Mexican beverage called the “michelada” is made with Clamato, beer, lime and spices.
The hostel that I was staying at took me into the residential part of town. As you walk away from the town center, the buildings became more dilapidated and you noticed a lot more dogs running through the streets. Families would be walking to get to wherever they needed to go in small groups. Even though I was in an unfamiliar town, the families being out in public put me at ease.
Cantina Hussong (featured above) is claimed to have been the inventor of the margarita. While during the day, this waterfront town is quiet and has somewhat of a lazy feel to it. A transformation happens in the evening where all the drug dealers and pimps appear. I sat alone in the cantina having a beer and watching the people. Groups of locals sat at their respective tables with beers and chips. Everyone seemed to be shouting in order to communicate with their party. A group of singers enter with accordions and guitars while singing twice as loud as the patrons of the bar. Some jump to their feet and sing along in familiarity.
On my walk back to the hostel, several different men approach me one by one. Asking me if I needed any help finding a lady. If I needed cocaine or speed. I wasn’t interested in anything they had to offer so I continued walking without making eye contact. Thinking to myself, I found it strange that tourists would be willing to work with these pimps. Especially since they looked like sketchy meth addicts. Instead of imagining a prostitute, when I looked at these men, I imagined them taking me to a dark alley and stabbing me for my cellphone and shoes.
Pharmacies cater to American tourists because of the high price for prescription drugs in the United States. Lots of drugs that are only available through a doctor’s recommendation can be easily obtained over the counter. Aside from pills for erectile dysfunction, you can get mood altering drugs such as Xanax and Ritalin.
Mostly sold on the weekend, “medudo” is used by the Mexican people to combat hangovers. With my own hangover, I ordered this dish along with plenty of onions and garlic. It is served steaming hot with chilis. My headache slowly faded while sweat was dripping down the back of my neck. I stank like alcohol and onions for a few hours but it was helpful and delicious.
Ensenada in general felt quite safe aside from the meth addicted pimps. As a general rule, if you frequent establishments that house shady characters, you’re going to have issues more often than not. Not a very adventurous town but a quiet place to relax and eat good fish.
Tijuana was exactly how I expected it to be. A cold natured city filled with people who mind their own business while going about their day. Since this was the beginning of my travels, I was a little hesitant in looking for trouble at the murder capital of the world. Imagine getting kidnapped and decapitated on my first week. It would be a pathetic showing.
2011 was the peak of the drug war in Mexico. There would be a news story almost daily about somebody being murdered in a border city. Bodies were being discovered at an alarming place. After discouraging myself from spending a night in Tijuana, I wasn’t willing to waste my time and headed straight for the bus station to take me to Ensenada. Look around, I could see the area around the bus terminal empty. It was odd that I didn’t spot any children while I was there. To me, children are an indicator to the level of safety in a given area.
The bus ride took around an hour and a half along the coastline of Mexico’s Pacific ocean. There were a few dilapidated hotels along the way. Some looked brand new and abandoned as if the business failed immediately after being built. I found it odd that the police at the checkpoints would need assault rifles in their daily duties. From what I learned later, they needed these weapons to combat drug cartels with an equally impressive arsenal.
After getting out of Tijuana so quickly, immediate regret sunk in for not exploring the city more carefully. Being that I was so new, I wasn’t willing to take the more interesting road and took the safer one.