Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel under the pen name, Elizabeth Rose. Chris is known as “Jason” in the I Heart stories.
Our last month in California before heading into Mexico was pretty action-packed.
After spending a few days at Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Santa Barbara, we sailed to Catalina Island to play around in a remote anchorage then moored in town for a weekend.
We shot over to Dana Point (just south of Laguna Beach) for a week then decided to take a last-minute plane ride to South Carolina to surprise my family. After a couple of weeks, we returned to Dana Point and sailed to San Diego for our last stop in the U.S.
We ran around San Diego for a few days, gathering last-minute provisions of things we needed and things we weren’t sure we needed but bought anyway.
At times, I’d glance toward Tijuana and watch the smog loom above the city, an indication that the start of our next adventure was just miles away.
And Then We Took Off
We left at four in the morning on a Thursday, anxious and ready to cross the border into Mexico.
But the border crossing came and went without pomp and circumstance or drug-sniffing dogs as I imagined.
Instead, it was like any other passage.
We had coffee and breakfast and watched the city lights of Tijuana fade to morning in the wake of our boat.
We filled the time with snacks, some reading, and a nap or two. Every now and then a fishing boat passed by and we’d wave hello.
Exactly twelve hours after leaving San Diego, we entered the Ensenada harbor.
The gargantuan Mexican flag at the waterfront was our first indication we weren’t in familiar territory anymore.
Jason nervously radioed the port captain in broken Spanish, a string of words which took ten minutes to put together, thirty-seconds to spit out and, I’m sure, was a struggle to understand.
With our first little victory under our belt, we tied into a slip at the Baja Naval marina, checked in, then changed out of our gear into land clothes.
What We Found On Land
Hand in hand we zigzagged through town, wandering the streets with smiles on our faces, ears perked, excited to explore.
As you may know, to be in a foreign country is to embrace anonymity, the ultimate fly on the wall experience.
The feeling reminds me of how a pre-teen must feel the first time their parents drop them off at the mall by themselves with friends. You’re a little vulnerable without the comfort of your family to rely on but the freedom to roam where you feel pulled becomes your guide.
We perched ourselves at the bar of a small taco place tucked at the end of an alley, devouring tacos de calamar (squid), camaron (shrimp), fresh ceviche, and bottles of Topo Chico.
The owner was welcoming and we practiced a little Spanish, to feel more at home.
As I chewed my last bite, I watched as the restaurant owner placed fresh rosemary atop smoldering coals in a cast iron bowl. He fixed a metal fan above the bowl, pointing the swirling blades upward to guide the smoke to the ceiling. I looked at him with questioning eyes. “For flies,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. I nodded, mesmerized by the simple and aromatic solution to keep pests away from food, a technique I’d never learned in the States.
At that moment, I thought back to the beginning of our trip and how we literally sailed our boat from Washington to an entirely different country.
A lightbulb came on in my head and I turned to Jason, excited to share. “Just think how much we’re improving our lives just by being here!” He smiled and nodded in agreement.
We had been in Mexico for less than an hour and already I couldn’t get enough. I yearned to speak Spanish and learn how the local people eat and celebrate with each other. I wanted to know how their formula for a satisfied life differed from my own.
Then I listed other places I long to visit (India, Asia, the Middle East to name a few) and felt anxious that I wouldn’t have enough time in one lifetime to visit them all.
Already, I felt behind.
Luckily, I became distracted by the music playing through speakers overhead.
An electronic beat fused with Salsa from a playlist on the chef’s phone.
Jason grabbed my hand, helped me down from my bar chair to dance.
And as comfortable as we became making friends with people at this corner cafe, just a few steps away existed a different world. One I couldn’t fully understand with my ears quite yet but a place I fully embraced with my heart.