Photo Essay: Abandoned House in the Hills

I've written before that I love taking random drives... turning down streets or trails that look interesting just to see where they lead. Last week, I was driving around an Ensenada neighborhood called Chapultepec. 

My mission that day was to take a picture of myself in the Land Cruiser for a friend's blog about people and their cars. I wanted to use a spot with a scenic view of Ensenada behind me. I thought we could get a decent shot on a little turnout that I saw on a recent hike in Fraccionamento Chapultepec, so we headed up there.

The way to get to Fraccionamento Chapultepec is to drive to the north end of Segunda and go straight up a steep hill, and then left up another steep hill. The turnoff I was thinking of is at the top, in front of a gated development guarded by a pompous little man that threatened to call the police if we didn't move. After taking a look at the angle and realizing there wasn't much of a shot to take, we drove away, leaving the angry little guard to his regular duties. We backtracked down the hill about half a mile before resuming our climb up another hill to see the other side of Fraccionamento Chapultepec. We found a decent spot and took the picture.

Then we decided to do a little exploring.

We saw some beautiful homes. The houses range in styles. Some were Spanish haciendas complete with bougainvillea flowing over the entrances. A few looked like Tuscan manses, tall and austere. And then others were minimalist modern, graced with elegant straight lines. Even the lot sizes seemed random. Some houses were on three lots, while others were squeezed into a leftover pie shaped piece of land at the end of a culdesac. The fronts of the homes were sometimes hiding multiple levels of terraces that traversed the steep hills downward.

We eventually came upon an abandoned property that was so interesting to me. The vegetation was overtaking parts of the house. Piles of debris had been swept up into small mounds. Looking through where the windows once were, we could see murals and graffiti on the remains of the plaster walls. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. The front gate was open, so naturally, I went in.

This is what I found:

Abandoned House - mural hide the bones.jpg
Abandoned House - stairs up.jpg
Abandoned House - room after room.jpg
Abandoned House - spiraling down.jpg
Abandoned House - mural lady in the sky.jpg
Abandoned House - view of the bay.jpg
Abandoned House - yard.jpg
Abandoned House - pool.jpg

Walking through the property, I tried to imagine it in its full glory. Before the fire. Before it was gutted of every copper wire. Before it had been used as a secret party place. We wondered who it belonged to and why they decided that it was just too much trouble to restore. That's the thing about abandoned homes. They beg you to tell their story, but there are so many more questions than answers. Like the mural in the first image says: 

The floorboards hide the bones.

 

All images shot with Nokia Lumia 1520

Translation in Process

My aunt asked me if I'd written anything about Mexico yet. I told her about the post I wrote about the Fish Market and how I attributed our discovery of it to her and my uncle.  

Then I took a deep breath and said, "... but I haven't written anything since then because there's just so much to write!" 

I know this might sound illogical to some of you writers out there, but it's true for me. When there's too much to take in all at once, I need to process, either through photography, being in the environment, or discussions with my husband who isn't really listening, but he says "mhmmm" at all the right intervals. Then later, once I've ruminated over what I've learned or how it compares to life in the States or at what angle to approach the topic, I can get to the business of parsing words. The things I've been processing are partly as a tourist visiting the local attractions, partly as an unofficial social scientist trying to make sense of the social norms, or as a new resident learning how household services are set up and handled here. Just setting up internet and getting cell service was driving me to the brink of insanity!

Not far of a drive, I know...

Just when I think I'm getting comfortable with the language, I have an awkward conversation with someone that is speaking too quickly for me to understand, and I can only catch every third word. It's akin to talking to someone with a bad phone connection. Half the time, I'm asking them to repeat what they said or just flat out admitting, "No entiendo lo que me estas diciendo." Translation: "I don't understand what you are telling me." And then they say it all over again -- exact. same. thing. -- at the same speed, as if they didn't understand "I don't understand." At least they're not saying the same thing LOUDER, like we do in the States. So I string together the words that I do hear on the second (or third) delivery of the question/statement, and I smile like an idiot as I try to respond in a simple vocabulary no better than maybe a fifth grader.

Frustrating. 

Then there are the things that don't need word translations so much as they need behavioral explanations. The one thing I was confused about the most from Day 1 was the "Security" at all parking lots. (FYI: The lots that I'm referring to are pretty safe and I usually park close to the stores and in daylight. I'm also smart enough to lock my car and not leave valuables sitting in plain site.)

SIDE NOTE: Don't EVER park in the lots across the border to keep your car safe. That's like BEGGING to have your car broken into.

Anyway, there are all these old guys wearing hats that say "Security" in English walking around the parking lots with whistles. They guide people in and out of spots, blowing their little coach whistles in some strange code that only they understand, helping drivers out as if none of them has ever parked a car in a parking stall before. I immediately took offense to this practice because, as you might not know, I'm an EXCELLENT parker. I can park on a DIME, bitches! I would come back out of the store to find them standing there, walking up to my car, with that bellman kind of look on their faces, as if I'm supposed to tip them or something. 

Well, apparently I WAS supposed to tip them.  

I pleaded my case to my aunt and uncle. "But I KNOW how to park! And I'm pretty sure that's one of the safest lots in Ensenada." After listening to me, my aunt's voice lowers to a patient tone and responds: "This is how we take care of our old people." 

Punch to the gut.

I'm an asshole.

So now I have a cup holder filled with pesos to hand to the nice old men that kindly watch my car and guide me in and out of my spot and wish me a nice day and "que Dios te bendiga" when I leave the grocery store. 

And then there's my Vietnamese neighbor, who deserves a Lifetime story, I swear.

Yen's mom sent her to the States to go to college. She went into the Navy or Air Force. Not sure which, but I do know she was a military air traffic controller and passed up a hefty salary as a commercial ATC when Reagan canned the union controllers, a lucrative job she could have kept as long as she wanted. But her mom wanted her to finish college, so she stayed in school. She became an American citizen, taught French, came down to Baja for a visit, fell in love, and is now married to a high ranking Mexican military official of some sort that's deployed to Guadalajara or something. Is hard to get the entire story because SHE TALK SO LOUD LIKE VIETNAMESE FROM VIETNAM, so I'm always kind of dodging her dagger-like words.

Yen carries a lanyard of maybe twenty keys around her shoulder like a purse. I only ever see her use two of those keys: One for the villa, the other for the cottage. The house next door is a three story, fully furnished villa (nautical theme, so yeah, maybe she was Navy), complete with the most amazing view from her kick ass terrace. She never goes up there because of her knees. In fact, she hates that whole house because "TOO MANY STAIRS," so she lives in her cottage that's in front of us. That one is also fully furnished, but shabby chic style. Her garage has been transformed into her art studio. There's a small stand-alone casita in between the villa and the cottage with a separate entrance, full bath, and terrace. That's where her houseboy lives.

Oh, by the way... Yen has a houseboy. The word "houseboy" apparently offends people on Twitter, so from now on, I'm calling him her Cabana Boy. And speaking of translation, here's today's second side note. 

SIDE NOTE: According to Wikipedia, a Houseboy is "typically a male servant or assistant who performs domestic or personal chores." That's what he does, so he's a houseboy. But go ahead and be offended, Twitter. It's not like it would be the first time.

Besides the no-comprendo-ing, life could be worse. We could be paying full market price in the U.S. for lobster and shrimp and the catch of the day. But we're not, so we're eating fresh fish pretty much every day, along with lots of fresh cheese, beef, coconuts, mangos, etc. It's like an island vacation, except we still have to hustle and keep work coming in. It really is a rough life. 

KIDDING! 

 

beach at ensenada bay lo fi.jpg

Fresh Fish Market, Ensenada

We must have passed it a hundred times in the last month and a half. It wasn't until my aunt and uncle came for a visit this past Friday that I learned of its existence. I knew something like that had to exist in a town famous for its fishing. But with everything else we've been doing, finding the fish market, among other things, was something we hadn't quite gotten to. Thankfully, my aunt and uncle saved us from going another day without that knowledge.

Entrance to Fish Market Ensenada.JPG

The day after my family's visit, I take my husband to introduce him to what will surely become his new favorite place. Right as you drive into the port area of Ensenada, there's a sign for tourist information. before that sign is a small driveway that is at such a slight angle that if you weren't looking for it, you'd pass right by, completely unaware of it, as we had all those times we drove by. From our place further south, there's a left turn lane that looks like it might lead you straight into a wall. Upon entering the small alley way, we come upon several taco stands and some municipal offices. About half way down, there's an older gentleman with a large straw cowboy hat, whistle in mouth, signaling for cars to come in or back up in a tricky ballet that could end poorly were it not for his guidance. It seems like it would be impossible to park our Land Cruiser in the tiny parking stalls, but in it goes.

Oysters.JPG

As soon as we open the car door, we're hit with it: The smell of freshly caught fish. It's not like nasty fishy smell. It's much sweeter than that. Like the scent of dinner and ocean spray mixed together. Watching our step on the wet tile, we enter into an edifice that houses rows of stalls, each occupied by a different fishing group. For the most part, the pricing of the various fish and crustacea is the same everywhere, but each vendor is a little different in their offering. There's also the way they offer that varies. Although I walk in with my husband, the men address me, the woman of the house. At once flattered and overwhelmed, I try my best not to say anything offensive while also trying to remember how to respond to the barrage of sales pitches. I make my best "gringa" impression and sheepishly smile as I say something to the effect of, "Just looking."

And there's a lot to look at.

Fresh Fish at the Ensenada Fish Market

Fresh Fish at the Ensenada Fish Market

My husband does the peso to dollar math and announces that we are the luckiest people in the world. Wee settle on some "jurel", or as we know it in the States, Yellow Tail. It's about $6 a kilo. "I usually pay $18 a pound," my husband tells me in a whisper, as though we're somehow getting away with something. Later that night, he rubs the fish with some lemon pepper seasoning and grills it to perfection. We all sing "mmmmmmm" in unison as we take our first bites.

Yep. Pretty darn lucky.
 

Harder Than I Thought... Easier Than Expected

Good LORD, moving sucked!!! We're still among boxes, unloading forgotten items as a random need arises. All necessary items have been unpacked. Everything else will be unpacked if (and only if) a spoon, a screwdriver, toilet paper, or Vicks cannot handle whatever it is that needs handling.

The dog misses his 1/2 acre yard and tearing through his one story carpeted hacienda, and so he punishes us for the three stories of tile and wood flooring move by peeing and pooping on the tiled patio right next to the barbecue island. At least it's always in the same spot. He does enjoy the walks on the beach, though. 

 

Sugar Babies and TJ at Sunset on the Beach.jpg

Converting prices at the store has been interesting. So has living without data at all times. I've adjusted to pesos, but not to life without on-demand digital discussions. It feels like quitting a habit like smoking. Now, rather than jumping onto Twitter or Facebook ever time I wanted to share a random thought or see what buzz was going on in the world, I'm reaching for my phone to use my new favorite app: the calculator. If I'm not dividing peso prices by the exchange rate in the middle of the grocery aisle, I'm converting gallons to liters and figuring out the peso to dollar to make sure that I'm getting the right amount of gas. It's just as fun as it sounds. I don't know why I decided against the Global Data Plan from Verizon. That's a mistake I'm rectifying today.

My morning coffee habit is suffering. My regular Grande Vanilla Americano has become an irregular tasting concoction. I figured out right away that I need to say "Espresso Americano", but I figured I could just leave the rest to the baristas. Nope. Each time, I get different levels of sweetness or bitterness. Once, the vanilla was so overpowering, I thought I was going to go into a sugar coma. The next time, I asked for three "pompas" instead of four. I doubt "pompas" is the correct word for "pumps," but they got the gist. The next time I asked for the same thing, I watched them add it in, but then the espresso itself was super bitter. It didn't even taste like the same one from the day before. So now I'm just getting used to chai lattes. They know how to make those really well.

Wah. Wah. Wah. 

You'd think I was having a miserable time. The truth is, I love that we made the move. Every morning, I wake up and sit in our Sunset Room (aka: chill out zone) and watch the waves crash just beyond the sand dunes.  A little while later I'll walk the dog and one of the kids or the husband down the bay a mile and back. Last Sunday, we walked over to the beach with a day's worth of water and lunch and hung out for the afternoon, taking in the warm sun, the smells of the ocean, and the sounds of the food and snack cart vendors ringing their bells and announcing their menu. We decided that this weekend, we would go with water, but rather than pack a lunch, bring a handful of pesos to munch on whatever looks good.

We've had to come back to San Diego more often than we expected over the last couple of weeks. Still tying up some appointments and picking up random packages. It's getting to be a drag having to make the drive and also having to leave our new home behind, even for a day.  I find myself wanting to just be there... to soak up more smells and sounds... to figure out the best way to get mosquitos to stop biting... to taste more foods from my childhood... to watch my kids eyes light up as they begin to understand the words that were so foreign to them just one month ago. That's been the easy part. Getting back to being in Baja. The first home I ever knew. The place where my cousins and aunts and uncles are. Where there's a party every weekend and no one calls first, they just pop in to say hi. I hate that in the U.S., but I really love it in Baja. It seems so normal and natural.

Like squeezing lime on everything. Except ice cream.