Make it past the misconceptions about traveling in Baja, and you'll find no shortage of options for fresh-off-the-boat seafood.
  • Make it past the misconceptions about traveling in Baja, and you'll find no shortage of options for fresh-off-the-boat seafood.
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We drove through downtown San Diego in a state of anxiety, paranoia and excitement. It’s hard not to be affected by the constant media deluge of horrors from south of the border: decapitated heads, mutilated bodies, ritual retaliation killings. Watching Season 3 of Breaking Bad before our trip didn’t help either.

As we approached the Mexican border in our inconspicuous Ford Focus, we opted for a quiet hope in humanity rather than buying into the drama of pointless sensationalism.

The crossing into Mexico was quick and easy, and after a terrifying detour through the poorly signed urban mess of Tijuana (no worse than L.A. in rush hour, it has to be said), we found our way onto the toll road.

"Scenic" is a fairly accurate description, but I was quickly distracted from the azure ocean by the truckload of soldiers armed with assault rifles that pulled out in front of us. Although they smiled at us, I was terrified. After three years of living in California, I still haven’t made my peace with police handguns – but assault rifles? I don’t think anyone should feel comfortable around that kind of artillery.

Despite my anxieties, the soldiers turned off and we quickly drove through the tolls and into Ensenada.

I had a few days to explore this small coastal city on my own, and I was surprised at how safe I felt, even as dusk started to fall. The Civic Plaza (left) and marina boardwalk are patrolled by security personnel on bikes, and although several people tried to engage me in conversation ("lo siento, no hablo Espanol" is the best response I could manage, shamefully, but no one seemed to mind), I felt remarkably unpestered considering it is a tourist resort.

The cultural center (left) is an especially lovely place to wander when the midday heat calls for shade and the fish lunches at Mariscos Bahia or Mahi-Mahi were a different world from the fish tacos of La Jolla.

What struck me most about Ensenada was its peaceful, laid-back attitude. The locals were friendly and quick to recommend a drink or tapas or place to see. When it got too hot to explore, I whiled away a few peaceful hours reading by the marina, watching the cruise ships dock and the lobos marinos chase each other through the waves. My only concern was whether I’d brought enough SPF 50.

No one hassled me to buy trinkets or hit a line of tequila slammers, I wasn’t followed through the streets by gangs of mariachi musicians. My favorite find had to be the excellent frozen margaritas at the quietly classy El Patio, and I ended up there most nights (a favored haunt of Keanu Reeves and Matthew McConaughey, allegedly. We must have just missed each other).

El Patio is a far cry from the frat fest of Papas & Beer or Mango Mango, and unless you are unfortunate enough to be staying on the shabbier end of Calle 1a, these establishments aren’t a concern.

Sadly, crossing the border back into the USA was less relaxing, especially the gauntlet of hawkers and food stalls that jumped in and out of the crowded lanes of traffic. When we did reach an agent, they barely looked at our visas – almost an anticlimax after tales of the "horrors" of border checkpoints – and soon we were back on the freeway home, driving past exits of identical Denny’s and Taco Bells and wondering what all the fuss was about. My only regret is that it was such a short trip.

So, take the media paranoia with a dose of salt and risk the 90-minute drive to this charming pocket of Baja, where even the heavily armed soldiers will smile and offer you a wave. You don’t see that in the U.S. of A.

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Comments

Bellini Jan. 29, 2013 @ 1:27 a.m.

I so want to go to this place. If there is such an entity as a Mexican Tourist Board, they should hire this lady as their publicist! Loving your photos too, by the way.

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aochoa June 13, 2013 @ 1:52 a.m.

Thank you Amy for your charming story regarding "Truth and/or Consequences" (HA!) when traveling down south to Ensenada, BC MEX! My family has been traveling there since 1971, with NEVER an instance of theft, legal trouble or otherwise "horrifying" experiences. Now, I always tells friends, that if you're planning on traveling there, "If you're 'looking' for trouble, you'll probably find it!" (Just like here in the streets of L.A., huh?) But if you're literally going there to have 'legal' fun, eat the great food, buy a million or so trinkets & souvenirs ya probably dun't need...then you'll have a blast! The Mexican Government LOVES the almighty "George-Green-Back" and they'll do anything to keep L.A. & San Diego folks streaming on through, spending their wampum! So, travel there, spend yer hard-earned loot...BUT...always do that little bit of extra planning ahead for your safety...common sense things...don't make yourself out to be a target, don't get drunk in public and make a foolish spectacle of yourself in the streets and NEVER, just NEVER try to either buy or push illegal drugs...if so, more than likely, you will come up against the worse days of your life. (Don't even think about it! Our hilarious country has already 'relaxed' our POT laws...so be smart...if need be, SMOKE IT HERE...rather then there!)

In closing, Ensenada, BC MEX is, I feel, one this world's most beautiful places to visit and truly fall in love with, as I am fortunate to be counted as one of those 'lovers' for almost 40 long years! - Anthony O.

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