Born in Tijuana

I was born in Tijuana.

Because every little Mexican kid took a picture on a burro

Because every little Mexican kid took a picture on a burro

That’s something I posted in a comment last night. I flinched when I went to publish it. I don’t normally tell people because it’s really none of their business.

Oh, and…

it can be embarrassing to admit.

I'm not embarrassed of the city I know. I'm embarrassed about the city others think they know. Of the city people immediately picture when I tell them that it's where I'm from. Tijuana is a beautiful city with a rich history, but nobody knows or cares to know. It's easier to believe that it's just the place that has been blemished by an unfortunate era and lots of bad press. 

I love her the way you love a grandmother, but I'm embarrassed of her escapades, like those of a drunk uncle that you don't want to admit you’re related to. 

When I was a kid, my answer to “Where were you born” was always me with “Did you live in a cardboard house?” People expect you to be a certain person. They expected to hear that we lived in poverty. That my parents didn’t have a good upbringing. That we all snuck across the border for a "better" life. They would never expect that my father was an attorney. Certainly not a district attorney. They wouldn’t expect that my mom went to the best private schools and had maids growing up.

They couldn't understand why I wanted to go back to visit every weekend.

As an adult, I thought I might be able to share, but the cardboard box questions turned into responses filled with stories about getting wasted and throwing up all night from bad tequila. I had those stories, too, so I was happy that we at least had some connection that wasn’t just cardboard boxes and poverty. Then the War on Drugs started, sparking the turf wars... and well, we all know the rest.

I got tired of defending the city and describing how great my life was down there, so I just started lying. I don’t know when it happened or why I chose it, but at some point, I started telling people I was born in Marin. I even wrote that down on my boarding documents for a cruise once. I didn’t have my passport and this was back in the day when you could just pinky swear and be able to get on board. I did eventually get to live there, but only for a few short years. 

I’m ashamed, but not for the reasons you might think. I’m ashamed that I was ever embarrassed to say that I was born in Tijuana. I want to play the memories in my mind for you to show you what a great place it is. The noise, the sites, the smells, the food, the people… it’s such a beautiful city! But people only know the poverty, the drug wars, the shacks on the hill. I’m sad that about that. I’m sad that I didn’t keep defending her.

The city I love is a beautiful place that you may never get to visit because you believe that you'll be shot dead if you come down here. At least some good came from the continued sensationalization in the media: the riffraff have left and our city has been returned to her children. And her children are bringing her back to health.

So now you know.

I was born in Tijuana.

And I couldn’t be prouder.

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

Sunday Driving: Santo Tomas Winery

Sunday is the day we reserve for exploring. Sometimes, it's on foot or on bikes. Other times, it's a long drive, seeing what we can see. This past Sunday, we actually pulled out a map and decided on a place we'd been wanting to go check out: Santo Tomas.

Bodegas Santo Tomas #ensenada #mexico #wine

When we first moved to Ensenada, we thought all the wineries were in the valley northeast of the marina. In doing a little research, I found out that the Ensenada wine region is actually made up of three wine regions: Valle de Guadalupe, the most well-known and closest to town, as well as Santo Tomas and San Vicente, both south of Ensenada on the Transpeninsular Highway, or Hwy 1. While I'd love to go to the Valle de Guadalup EVERY Sunday, I wanted to explore. I also wanted to see the winery that started it all in the Californias. 

A Little History

In 1697, Jesuit priests were given consent by the Spanish crown to enter into the barren, unattractive peninsula at their own risk and expense. The Spanish needed a post on the peninsula to protect trade, but had until then been unsuccessful. The Jesuits did what they could not and were left alone. And, being quite enterprising and not afraid of work, they eventually were able to support their existence in the foreign land. Unfortunately, after nearly 70 years of faithfully working the unforgiving land, they were rounded up and expelled from the country. It seems that they had a some opportunists and royalty against them.

The Franciscans and Dominicans took over the enterprises after the Jesuits left, but with the new Constitution and Reformation Laws, all lands once held by the Catholic Church were expropriated by the Mexican government. Santo Tomas was handed over to Don Loreto Amador.

In 1888, a former gold miner and his friend purchased the winery from Loreto Amador and officially established Bodegas de Santo Tomas. In the 1920's, the Bodegas was purchased by former President of the Republic of Mexico, Don Abelardo L. Rodriguez, under whose hand the winery went through major expansion, including moving the bottling to its current location, Miramar 666 in the heart of Ensenada.

Fast Forward to Our Afternoon at Santo Tomas in 2013

We drove past the winery the first time. I told Mr. Jones, "Hey, that sign said Santo Tomas!" He looked around while continuing to drive and said something to the effect of that couldn't be it, too small, let's keep driving. About a half an hour later and a few miles of off-roading where the highway was under construction, we reached San Vicente, which is south of Santo Tomas. We turned back, drive through the dirt road detours and finally ended up back at Santo Tomas. I tell you this for two reasons:

  1. No matter how much it annoys my husband, I will continue my horrible habit of being a backseat driver because things like THIS happen, and
  2. If you blink, you'll drive right through the town. 

The campesino at the gate scribbled our names in his log clipped to his board and then manually lifted the gate to let us in. Along the drive up to the tasting room were signs that invited us to mingle our senses... taste the air... breathe the sun. Essentially, live life fully. After easily finding a spot in the unmarked lot (there were only two other cars there), we walked past a wine cave, a fountain that wasn't fountaining, and some picnic tables where a group of people were enjoying a bottle. As we entered, we saw two couples at a table near the windows enjoying some wine and cheese and, across the room, a young lady at the counter wearing a panda beanie with tassels and pom poms. It was an elegantly decorated room that clearly didn't take itself too seriously.

Perfect for The Joneses.

Sipping and Noshing

Tasting Room at Bodegas Santo Tomas #ensenada #mexico #wine

We picked out a meat assortment and some cheeses from the deli case next to the main counter and asked for a wine recommendation. The young lady with the panda beanie said that for our meats and cheeses, she thought the Tempranillo would be best. While we were making our purchase, another employee appeared out of thin air, and just as quickly, disappeared with our food. We went to our table with our glasses and bottle, and within a few minutes, the disappearing employee reappeared with our cheese, meats, and crackers beautifully placed on boards.

We sipped and noshed and laughed and talked, all the while, watching a stream of small groups and couples come and go. It's definitely not as busy as the location on Miramar, it does seem to enjoy its share of foot traffic.

We finished our afternoon snack just in time to walk about the vineyards and take some pictures before the sun set. Waving goodbye to the campesino as we drove out the gate, we promised each other to come back and try another bottle on another Sunday very soon.



No recycling in our neighborhood... yet another thing about living in Mexico that we have to get used to. Being someone that is used to having a separate receptacle for glass, plastic, cardboard, newspaper, etc., this situation sent me into some serious hand-wringing fits trying to figure out a solution.

Then I noticed how others were doing it. 

It was early in the morning. Neighbors were handing people bags of items as they walked up the street, or they had already left separate bags out the night before, off to the side, far enough away to not get taken with the garbage. Great idea, I thought! So I held my recycle items in an egg crate in the garage and waited until the night before trash day.

Before I put them out, I found a woman going through my trash. She looked startled when I walked up on her... as startled as I was, I suppose. I told her that I had my recyclables in the garage and had her wait while I went to get them. She thanked me and smiled and went on to collect more items.

This has happened a few times since then. A few people have come by on other days of the week asking for recyclables. They call into the house from the front gate and I come out with my box of glass and plastic. Ocassionally, they ask for a glass of water, which I'm happy to oblige. 

We could always just toss everything into the garbage can and let them rifle through it at night or in the early morning hours, but there's something more dignified and co-op-y about handing another person your items.

There is no recycling in our neighborhood.

There's just people helping people.

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.


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. 



beach at ensenada bay lo fi.jpg