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From The 90 Day Yacht Club Guide to Ensenada

August 2004

Volume 2 , Number 8

 

 

A true traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arrival®

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  TRAINS, TROLLEYS AND BUSSES

             When traveling to and from the border, a very simple and inexpensive means of personal transfer aside from driving your own car from points north to Ensenada exists. For the return trip the reverse method is employed. An Amtrak train can be taken from points north to the main downtown San Diego train station. There you can transfer to the trolley to San Ysidro and the border for a cost of $2.50. Then walk across the border to a large bus station 2 blocks from the border that has bus departures direct to Ensenada. It is the building with a large white sign reading "Terminal De Autobuses" mounted across the top front of the building. You can't quite see the sign or building as you cross the border, so bear to your right toward the tall mirrored building with a pink box at it's top displaying a sign "Medac Central Medico" 1/2 block south of a McDonald’s restaurant. The bus station is just beyond that mirrored building. If you need to ask directions to the bus station, everyone seems to speak a little English at the border. Do not let a taxi guy slam you in his taxi for another more distant bus station. The bus to Ensenada currently costs $6.50 and the driver will drop you off anywhere you choose en route if you ask him. That will save you the cost of a taxi back from the downtown Ensenada bus station.

           

            Currently we are seeing the introduction of new green and white coaches to the ABC line which is the main bus line serving Ensenada to and from Tijuana. This is a very good thing, as the old buses were getting very tired and watching the driver sawing away at a wheel that would not respond for a half turn at speeds of up to 70 mph could be rather disconcerting to the passenger. As you pass by Mirador and if you are on the right side of the coach, take a glimpse at the piles of cars at the bottom of the cliff which you can’t quite see passing by in a lower profile automobile. Hopefully there are no ABC buses down there!

 

            Around town in Ensenada, those with an adventurous spirit can find the little white and yellow busses stopping every 5 to 10 minutes throughout Ensenada and for 70 cents you can take this bus in either direction, north or south, from the downtown station to destinations in Ensenada. In the northbound direction you can travel to the San Miguel Toll Plaza and back. Or enjoy a ride in the southbound bus to its most distant stop at a rural community approximately 10 miles out of town past Maneadero, up a dirt road to the top of a hill, and back to the downtown bus station. All this for a single charge of 70 cents! This is a very inexpensive means of traveling around the Ensenada area and will enable you to enjoy the scenery and some of the many beautiful faces found in Mexico that will be sharing the trip with you.

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  THE RUNNING OF THE BULLS

             In early July, 1980 I was in Biarritz, France, enjoying my second surfing trip to the country after an 8-year absence since my last trip. I have been to this area of the south of France four times through the years and being primarily French to mix in with my Irish and Cherokee Indian, I have often boasted I drink hard with a lot of class and still can find my way home… Biarritz is the little port town south of Bordeaux and just north of the Spanish border. If you ever have the chance visit this beautiful area of our planet, please do! At the approximate latitude of Coos Bay, Oregon, you will find incredibly pristine beaches bordered by forest enclosed castles and multicolored vineyards.

            This trip included many adventures, which integrated the 24-hour Le Mans car race, the Monaco Grand Prix car race and a running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. The trip to Pamplona was a short drive southeast through the Pyrenees Mountains to a villa that was the property of friends I had met during a previous trip. We arrived at the height of the insanity of the event celebrated every year as a week long excuse to neglect your job and family in a incredible adulation of the bulls, the bull fighters and the many intoxicating local elements surrounding the opposite sex and alcohol. Every morning after the break of day the bulls run through the streets with the neighboring populace and visiting tourists to eventually spill into the arena where later that day they will be fought by brave men who are exalted and hero worshiped by those Spaniards who follow the “sport” and frenzy to see the spectacle. One who attends these events as a new spectator is reminded of the Romans and the awful coliseum events that predisposed the down fall of that culture. One of the signs of a decaying culture was the Roman practice of the construction of myriad sport complexes and their emphasis on sport and reality TV. Pardon me while I digress and distort history a bit…

            The 7 am hour is an ominous one as the hospital personnel, ambulances and doctors are all assembled in their strategic places along the course the bulls will take though the town. The fierce and entirely pissed off bulls are released from a little paddock at one end of town at the top of a very narrow corridor comprised of a street bordered by tall building. There is absolutely nowhere to escape the bulls at this location and only the bravest and well known participants of the local area are at his extremely dangerous part of the bull’s trip through the streets of town. Tourists are not allowed here and only videos and photos of the area are any record of what happens, as there is no room for spectators. The entire length through town is covered by photographers, which later that day collect in various parts of town to sell you a photo set of your run with the bulls. In these photos, you will be a fraction of a group of local men and women dressed in the traditional garb of all white with red bandanas and red berets. The scuffs on these white articles of dress caused by the bulls passing or falling on the street are the badges to be discussed over drinks later that day and during the week. No one dare wash their outfit or change clothing all week as these stories are recounted and celebrated repeatedly during the 7-day event.

After the running of the bulls each morning, the entire town takes a nap, as the last 18 hours or so were spent generally drinking and reveling in each other’s drinking. As the sun rises and the day becomes hot, the party begins anew just after the lunch hour as the sound of ticket hawkers for the afternoon bullfight begin to fill the town square and city streets. The bulls that were encountered in the run that morning will be the snorting stars of the 4 pm event that afternoon at the coliseum. As the afternoon bullfight draws near, the city is filled with the sound of many bands playing in all corners of town now stimulating your reawakening sobering senses. It is at this time of the day that my friends and I purchased our tickets for our first bullfight. Lucky for us, we got tickets on the sedate side of the arena, as there is a marked contrast to where you sit at a Pamplona bullfight. Either you are seated with the refined and somewhat sober aristocrats or you are among the beer-throwing scoundrels. But all around the assemblage is an interesting array of bands, playing all the time in their little cheering area various songs and um-pahs to fuel the crazed and sun/cerveza-intoxicated crowd.

That day we did two things that are very rare in the tradition of bullfights through the years. The first bull came out and was the epitome of your neighbor’s pet poodle. No matter how he was prodded or encouraged by the picadors and other pre-fight personnel, the bull would not perform. As the many seat cushions rented for the event streamed out on the arena floor thrown at the bull in a show of disgust for his behavior, the bull proceeded to prance daintily around the now littered dirt pitch sniffing at the cushions as if looking for the special scent of a past acquaintance. The crowd erupted with a sea of twirling white bandanas and a chorus of ah-yah-yah-yah to summarily dismiss this reject to an instant conversion to that evenings steak dinner.

The offending wimpy bull was whisked away to his fate and the cushions were collected and the crowd, even the sedate side, were entirely now out of control with the occurrence of this recent past event. As I intimated, this saving of the bull does not happen often in bullfighting lore. As the Spanish sun beat down in its mid-summer late afternoon intensity, the next bull came into the ring as if a golden characture of what a truly noble beast of any description should in folklore ideally be. Slim wasted, tan colored, broad shouldered, and multi-ripped muscles made all in attendance draw a deep gasp at the sight of this seemingly 10 foot tall beast. No bullfighter emerged as the bull paraded around the arena and faced all in the crowd as if to say, “you want some of this?” Without more than a breath of hesitation the crowd looked at each other in awe and again erupted with a sea of twirling white bandanas and a chorus of ah-yah-yah-yah, this time in gleeful respect rather than distain. After the events the bands poured into the street in a parade with their respective followers dancing and singing into another entire night of wild drinking and partying, and we all shared in the amazement of what had happened that day at my first and probably last bullfight.

Bullfights can be attended at the Bullring-by-the-Sea as you leave Tijuana on the toll road or at various other small provincial rings in the Tijuana to Ensenada area.

 

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I never met an author who is sorry that he or she wrote a book. They are only sorry that they didn’t write it sooner.

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WHAT IS A TAMALE?

        Tamales are about as basically Mexican food as you can get. They are sold as street food. They are welcomed as fiesta and holiday food. They are everyday family food. Tamales are to Mexican culture what Chicken and Matzo Ball Soup is to Jewish culture. Mama made tamales, therefore, Mama loves me. Tamales have always been loved by the Hispanic people and in the 1900s they have become known and loved by all cultures as much as sushi and dim-sum, which were in the past also holiday and celebration foods. The packets are steamed and eaten traditionally served with Atole (masa drink). Contrary to what is found in most American-Mexican restaurants, most tamales are not served with a sauce, but rather simple and plain. Making them isn’t rocket science, however it is a learning process and it will take some practice.  You may put just about any good tasting filling in your tamales that you want.  It’s the filling, wrapping and steaming that demands the time necessary to perfect the finished product. 

            The tamale is recorded in history as early as 5000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. Initially, women were taken along in battle as army cooks to make the masa for the tortillas and the meats, stews, drinks, etc. As the warring tribes of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan cultures grew, the demand of readying the nixtamal (corn) itself became so overwhelming a process, a need arose to have a more portable sustaining foodstuff. No history of the tamale would be complete without discussing the process of "nixtamalization".  This interesting term refers to the processing of field corn with wood ashes (in the Pre-Colombian era) or now with "cal, slaked lime".  This processing softens the corn for easier grinding and also aids in digestibility and increases the nutrients absorbed by the human body. Nixtamalization dates back to the southern coast of Guatemala around 1200 - 1500BC where kitchens were found equipped with the necessities of nixtamal making. This requirement demanded the creativity of the women. The tamales could be made ahead and packed, to be warmed as needed. They were steamed, grilled on the comal (grill) over the fire, or put directly on top of the coals to warm, or they were eaten cold. We have no record of which culture actually created the tamale but believe that one started and the others soon followed. It is well documented by Friar Bernardino de Sahagun in the 1550's that the Spaniards were served tamales by the Aztecs during their first visits to Mexico.

            Spanish priest and chronicler Bernardino de Sahagun observed that the first thing Aztec women did when preparing a festival was to make lots of tamales: tamale with amaranth leaves for the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli, tamales with beans and chiles for the jaguar god Tezcatlipoca, shrimp and chile sauce tamales for the ancient deity Huehueteotl. Besides tamales stuffed with turkey meat, beans and chiles, the Aztecs used what they harvested from the shores of Lake Texcoco, including fish and frogs, to fill tamales. Sahagun tells us that pocket-gopher tamales were "always tasty, savory, of very pleasing odor." Etiquette dictated that tamales, which were passed around in a basket at banquets, were held in the left hand.

            The Maya also produced artistic, elaborate tamales, some rolled out and filled jelly-roll fashion, cut to show the spiral designs thus produced, which can be seen in the banquet scenes depicted on Classic Maya vases. The spinach-like herb called chaya, still very much used in the Mayan regions of Mexico, was one of their alternatives to using corn husks and banana leaves as tamale wrappers. Toasted squash seeds and flowers, meat, fish, fowl, and beans were all used as fillings. Deer meat, especially the heart, was favored for special offerings. Besides being steamed, tamales were roasted on the comal or baked in the pib, or pit oven.

            The great variety of tamales has carried over to this day; ethnographers have counted forty two different kinds, including the famous zacahuil prepared by the Huastecan people. This tamale is 3 feet long, weighs about 150 pounds, and requires most of the leaves of a banana tree to wrap it. The zacahuil and the muchipollo of the Yucatan are exceptions to the tamale-making rule in that they are baked either in the ground or in a bread oven rather than being steamed. Other unique tamales are the pastel-colored versions prepared by the Otomi people near San Miguel de Allende and the fresh fish clapiques of the coast, which have been prepared since the time of Moctezuma II.

            The tamale caught on very fast and eventually grew in variety and diversity unknown in today’s culture. There were plain tamales, tamales with red, green, yellow and black chile, tamales with chocolate, fish tamales, frog, tadpole, mushroom, rabbit, gopher, turkey, bee, egg, squash blossom, honey, ox, seed and nut tamales. There were white and red fruit tamales, white tamales, yellow tamales, dried meat tamales, roasted meat, stewed meat, bean and rice tamales. There were sweet sugar, pineapple, raisin, cinnamon, berry, banana and pumpkin tamales. There were hard and soft cheese tamales, roasted quail tamales, ant, potato, goat, wild boar, lamb and tomato tamales.

            The sizes, colors and shapes varied almost as much as the fillings. They were steamed, oven-roasted, fire-roasted, toasted, grilled, barbecued, fried and boiled. The wrappings were cornhusks, banana leaves, fabric, avocado leaves, soft tree bark, and other edible, non-toxic leaves. The most commonly used were corn husks, banana and avocado leaves.

            Over the millennia, the varieties were minimized to the most common now being red and green chile, chicken, pork, beef, sweet, cheese, and of late, vegetables. Also changed was the every day occurrence of making the tamales. With the preparation being so labor and time intensive, tamales became holiday fare, made for special occasions. This tradition remained for thousands of years, with the women of the family working together to make the sauces and meats, preparing the masa, and finally assembling and wrapping the tamales before steaming them in large pots on the stove. The process takes all day, the preparation often starting one or two days in advance. It is virtually unheard of to make a few tamales. In most cases, when they are made, hundreds are made at a time. Everyone, young, old, family and friends, are invited to tamale feasts where they are enjoyed, savored and loved by all.

            One may wonder why, since they are commonly eaten on an everyday basis, tamales are an essential feast day food, and the answer lies in the sense of ritual that has been part of Mexican life since pre-Hispanic times. Each important celebration, whether a rite of passage through life or a feast honoring one of the gods, had its own distinct type of tamale filling and form, including those decorated with designs of seeds and beans. Tamales of various shapes and flavors were prepared by nearly all the groups of original inhabitants of Mexico.

 

 Tijuana Jai-Alai

           Ever since Fronton Palacio Tijuana Jai Alai first opened in 1947, many different players have come and gone; changes to the building have been made; fires, player strikes, closings and other events have occurred over the last 57 years. Known as the hangout of many southern California icons, including actor Mickey Rooney, former San Diego Padre Dave Winfield, former "Leave it to Beaver" star Tony Dow, "The Duke" John Wayne, Clark Gable, Victor Mature, Jack Palance to name a few; the arena has had a varied and colorful history. Though almost entirely razed by fire in 1956, the tradition of wagering and enjoying the speed of perhaps the fastest sport in the world has endured as an important Tijuana attraction. The exiting game of jai-alai (hi-a-lie) is enjoyed in only 4 palaces on this continent. The others are Miami Beach, Mexico City, and Acapulco. Of ornate Moorish design, the jai alai establishment in Tijuana has become a landmark for True Travelers and direction givers.

            The Basques of northern Spain originated the game some 300 years ago. Although today there are many Mexicans who play jai alai, the game is still dominated by Basques. Jai-alai is a death deifying game requiring split second reaction. The ball has been clocked at more than 125 miles per hour. Similar to handball, the ball is thrown against a wall. Played by either single or double players, the betting is determined by shirt color. The ball is caught in a cesta (a long curved basket laced to the player’s arm) and then flung against a granite end wall to rebound to another player in one continuous motion. A jai-alai court consists of three solid walls 40-feet high, with the forth wall screened for the spectators. Jai-alai players begin the strenuous game during childhood and usually retire from competitive play while in their thirties. Aside from monthly salaries, they are paid bonuses for their wins.

            The game is difficult to understand, and it is suggested that you confer with the red capped ushers about the rules. The establishment contains restaurants and dance facilities and a music bar. Jai-alai is played Thursday through Sunday nights thought the entire annual calendar.

A FALL EVENT YOU MAY ENJOY

              It’s not too early to plan to join the 22nd annual family Fun Bicycle Ride this coming fall which covers 50 miles on the free road between Rosarito and Ensenada. With the participation of over 8,000 bike riders, the event starts on Blvd. Benito Juarez in Rosarito Beach and culminates at a huge fiesta at Manzana 8, in front of the Riviera Pacifico Convention Center in Ensenada. Last year’s cost per participant was 200 pesos for Mexican Nationals and US $26 plus tax for foreigners.

 

The Tamale Lady and her family visit the Coral Marina every weekend with delicious tamales and burritos for the weekend visitors and local marina workers.

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