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From The 90 Day Yacht Club Guide to Ensenada

May 2004

Volume 2, Number 5



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










            Conflict between the traditions and cultures of Mexico and the United States is not generally commonplace knowledge of those traveling south to Mexico. The melting pot which we have been blessed to be a part of in the states has developed unseen lines of demarcation between the barrios of Los Angeles (as an example) and the other areas of L.A. that do not have a high percentage of Mexican inhabitants. Those differences in culture that you may find during a casual visit to Mexico may not be obvious. But if you are True Traveling to your boat or vacation home on a continual basis there are some general travel tips that will help your stay remain trouble free and more enjoyable. A prolonged stay will demand that you be aware of a different set of manners in your approach to the local population.

            The isolated stories you have heard or read of misfortune experienced by others have been the result of bad judgment, poor preparation, and/or a bit of bad luck. Driving in Mexico after consuming alcohol or drugs is not advised. In addition, any possession of firearms in Mexico is strictly prohibited. Your drive to and from Ensenada may include a checkpoint for firearms and drugs search and seizure. The majority of times through these checkpoints you will be waved on through, however, at times a search may be performed.

            The first axiom to remember-attitude begets attitude. Your attitude is very important when dealing with any form of authority in Mexico. A smile and an attempt at what little Spanish you may speak will go a long way toward determining the treatment you receive from the Mexican authorities. Regardless of how good or bad your Spanish speaking attempts may be, the mere fact that you made the attempt is the important factor. Also, your clothing is the first impression that will be evaluated by governing officials. Be aware they have seen it all, from hippies to hotshots, and you are entering their country as a guest and should dress respectfully. Barefoot and barely clothed is OK in the marina, but in town you are in an entirely different environment, governed by a Catholic mentality, so dress accordingly. This also applies to your dealings with those friendly common Mexican citizens that you will encounter. The ugly American image is not wanted south of the border and Mexican citizens can sense that attitude immediately.

            In addition, learn these simple rules before you become too friendly. American casualness easily offends Mexican formality of every social class. And a condescending attitude toward anyone is a mark of “poor breeding” that Mexicans at every status level are quick to note. The exception is, of course, if you are the employer of a Mexican national then a kind courtesy devoid of real close relationship is the accepted norm. But take the time to cross the border completely and embrace that employee and his or her family and you will find yourself greatly rewarded.

            So an American traveling to Mexico has choices to make, within the structure of Mexican tradition, and the Mexican perception of our cultural approach. Again, be aware that the old Catholic precepts and strong family infra-structure prevail. You will be accepted according to initial impressions of manners and appearance. Do not criticize the Mexican ways of behavior. Patriotism is extremely strong and Mexicans are distinctly proud of being Mexican. Even if you are right in pointing out how things are wrong and could be improved, Mexicans resent being told by foreigners.

             As humans, we possess a natural fear of that which we do not understand. Also, as humans we often do things we would prefer not to do if the money is good enough. Those spending time at the 90 Day Yacht Club would be wise to spend some “quality time” with the local population, whether it is with employees that you may take on during your stay, dock or hotel workers you may encounter, or restaurant personnel. A night on the town will afford you the chance to meet many fine Ensenada folks, many speak English, or you may both be able to improve your attempts at speaking each other’s new language.

            While in Mexico, learn and study these differences and your understanding of this entirely different culture will be greatly enriched. Many Americans assume that their ways are best and have a tendency to be arrogant about the way they conduct their business. The Mexicans are content to retain the system they have lived within for centuries and your visit is just a temporary one, so treat this beautiful country that you are visiting with a friendly mutual respect.

            The temporary visitor may never see or talk to the elegant upper crust of Mexico. The women of Mexico can be an aristocratic reminder of the past when las damas only dabbled in charities and the arts, leaving commercial concerns to the patriarchal heads of the family. Patterns of social change have emerged as the modern day Mexican female gains her independence and her fiery Latin temperament and lady-like persuasion learned from her mother take on a new form of leadership in the country. This will undoubtedly introduce a new awareness in business morals and reinforce the Catholic standard of life that has been diluted in recent generations.

            As times have changed, the youth have discovered contemporary new world clothing, music trends and behaviors; much of this due to the greater communication through media in the current world experience. Indeed, you may find the cultures are merging as our world evolves into a common sphere of knowledge. But a measure of understanding of the intrinsic cultural history of this unique and interesting new area prior to your visit will make your stay a wonderful enterprise as you reap the benefits of your 90 Day stay.



              Ensenada is usually associated with its huge bay, the Bahia de Todos Santos, its beaches, and its gateway to the sea to all points south. Just inland you will find another side of the areas beauty at the foot of the Juarez de Sierra mountain range, which reach toward central Baja California, dividing the Baja geographically from the Sea of Cortez. This area of hills, arroyos and ravines offer an incredible diversity of topography, and if you have the time, should be explored while you are in the Ensenada area.

             One of these is Dona Petra Canyon located at the end of Avenue Ruiz, an area of recreation for many years for many generations of Ensenada residents. Here you will find an interesting array of white sculpted granite rocks formed as the Baja separated from the continent of mainland Mexico. These multi-million year old stone effaces would tell quite a tale if enabled! The vegetation is comprised mainly of evergreen oaks and alder trees. The huge oaks that are perhaps 200 years old provide shade to the heat of the hot afternoon sun. The alder trees rise taller than the oaks and shed their leaves beautifully every fall, enhancing the hues of the light bark on their trunks.

             This canyon was home to the proud Kumiai Tribe that lived here long before the city of Ensenada was established. The remnants of the tribe can be found evidenced by small mortars carved in the stone grouped together in frequent locations within the Canyon. These were the gathering places for the tribe, an area of sharing of daily life events and problems. Here they would grind one of the main staples of the region during that era, oak acorns. The acorns would be ground into a heavy liquid to provide sustenance to be shared at the many feasts and ceremonies enjoyed by this primitive tribe during times of harvest. These feasts were described in the 1794 publication “News from the California Provence” written by Fray Luis de Sales. This way of life still can be found by visiting the current day Kumiai Tribe that resides at San Jose de la Zora and San Antonio Necua. A visit to the Dona Petra Canyon area will provide an interesting contrast to the life found along the coast and in the city of Ensenada.




 Book buyers are less influenced by price differentials than almost any category of customer.



               This little restaurant is located at Ave. Alvarado (the flag street) and 7th street on the northeast corner easily recognizable by the large tree stationed at the corner of the building. Asadero La Chispa (# 28 on our books site maps and featured in our last newsletter) occupied this location for one month and re-modeled the establishment to look just like their other location with a tile counter and a separate tile serving table. The counter faces the cooking area where the friendly family of cooks and servers works to prepare your meal as you watch the cooking process. Fresh salsas and guacamole dip line the counter and corn chips (totopos de maiz) are served as you wait for your meal. You will find that most Ensenada restaurants prepare your food fresh out of the reefer after you order, as wasted pre-prepared and un-served food is not a luxury that these humble establishments can afford. This little place was almost full with our lunch party of 8 people that visited last week from our marina. This made our service a one-on-one experience and we were treated as guests in the family home. Great prices with a quaint, clean and down home atmosphere. Delivery available, see Victor at the Marina Coral in the Marine Store to view the menu to help you facilitate an order to your yacht.  Say holla to the owner, Ivette Garcia Tolosa, the nice lady that will fill your order and plate with delicious food.

E-mail: KOIJO@TELNOR.NET    TEL. 175-78-50  

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            The bay of all saints or Bahia de Todos Santos, has evolved into the best port along the entire Baja west coast after its discovery by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. It soon became a harbor for both the Manila galleons navigating the coast from San Francisco to the East and the pirate ships that lay in wait for them. The actual development of Ensenada did not begin until the early 1870’s, then largely as a result of the gold finds in the mountains to the south for which Ensenada served as the port. In 1877, the status of port of entry was made official, and in 1882, owing to its continued growth and importance, Ensenada replaced the by-then declining Real de Castillo as the capital of northern Baja California. The town then consisted of 5 or 6 houses, and some 25 to 30 residents, plus about 25 soldiers that were garrisoned there. 

            Ensenada is situated on what was once known as the Rancho de Ensenada which was titled to the late Don Pedro Gastelum in 1878 by the Supreme Government of Mexico. He sold the ranch to Senor Maximiliano Berstein in May, 1886, who sold it to what was then known as the International Company of Mexico. The land was then parceled into blocks of 100 meters per side, and lots of 25 by 50 meters, for town site and settlement. The remaining lands were divided into portions and within these was founded the Carlos Pacheco Colony south of town, which was further divided into the ranches of Cipres, Maneadero, and Punta Banda, purchased in the most part from private individuals with previous land titles.

            Ensenada was the largest settlement in the district. The areas climate was and is unsurpassable in climate, fronting the beautiful bay of Ensenada, the Bahia de Todos Santos. The area established communication with San Diego, by sea and by land two or three times a week. The areas sole support at this time was agriculture, livestock and fishing. Crops and plants were reliant on rain watered lands to survive. Beyond that there was no important industry yet established.

            Rimming the bay is a flat coastal plain that was situated about midway between the missions of Santo Tomas and San Miguel (now known as La Mision), approximately 30 miles equidistant to the southeast and northwest, respectively. At the turn of the 1800’s, these coastal plains were inhabited by rancherias of indigenous Indians, and were passed over for consideration for a mission site due to the areas lack of natural adequate water table irrigation. It was well suited for grazing, and since Mission San Miguel possessed rich grazing land, the Mission Santo Tomas used the area for the raising of their livestock. In 1804, with consent of both missions, the plains were divided into two parcels for development into two cattle ranches to the north and to the south. These ranches remained in control of the areas lowlands until dissolution of the grants in the mid-1800’s.

            For quite awhile the area around the Bahia de Todos Santos remained undeveloped. In 1849, a visit to the huge cattle ranch owned by the Senor Francisco Gastelum, an elegant Spanish man who had many of the conveniences of what was then considered civilized life of that era, would reveal clean tables, with table furniture and the first knives and forks to be seen in this country. In 1867 visitors to the area passed Ensenada unnoticed and arrived at El Sauzal 7 miles to the northwest at a landing for small vessels. Little wonder Ensenada was missed as Ensenada reportedly only had 3 inhabitants in 1870, and El Sauzal had a population of 10!

            The next decade saw the development of huge tracts of land charter in the south near San Quintin by British and American holding companies headquartered in Ensenada. Large-scale agriculture was undertaken, a number of little workshops and mills established, and hotels and various businesses began. A telegraph line was extended to San Diego and south to San Quintin. The wagon trail to Tijuana was rebuilt, and a pier constructed at Ensenada and Punta Banda. Three small steamers offered service to San Diego, San Quintin, and to the Mexican mainland city of Manzanillo, touching various points in between. The population of Ensenada swelled to about 1500, which by the standards of the rest of the frontera, made Ensenada a virtual metropolis! In 1889, the name, Ensenada de Todos Santos was shortened to just Ensenada.

            Unfortunately for Ensenada’s spectacular growth in the 1880’s, it was related to several conditions that would soon prove to be short-lived. The gold rushes that brought many from the north in search of quick riches soon fizzled as the gold claims in the mountains south of Ensenada ran dry of any consequential yields. Furthermore, the Boom of the Eighties north of the border in California, which had driven up land values and land speculation in northern Baja California, had collapsed by mid-1888. This meant that the economy of northern Baja remained stagnant for the next decade into the 20th century. To make the situation worse, a several year period of heavy rain fall ended, and was followed by a period of below-average precipitation. Ensenada’s population had dwindled to 850 inhabitants by 1900, of which less than half were true colonists, the remaining inhabitants consisted of mostly out-of-luck gold miners.

            At the turn of the century, the capital appointment was lost to Mexicali and the Mexican Revolution of 1915 annulled these land charters. Even though by 1921 the population had climbed to 2,178, Ensenada remained for many years a sleepy little picturesque town. Gradually the harbor grew into a major seaport and became an export center for the agricultural goods of Valle de Mexicali. Being the closest foreign port to California, the town and surrounding ranches and farms enjoyed a renewed period of growth and wealth. Throughout the 1940s and '50s the port gained a reputation as one of the finest sport and commercial fishing areas on the west coast, having at one time been known as the "Yellowtail Capital of the World".

            When the 1930's emerged as the era of bootleg liquor, smuggling activities and gambling establishments became a staple of the economy.  At the corner of Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas and Ave. Riviera is the former Casino Riviera del Pacifico, built in the late 1920's. In it's heyday it was a famous gambling house, once managed by the boxer Jack Dempsey. The opening act in 1929 featured Bing Crosby backed by the Xavier Cugat Orchestra. The orchestra included a singer named Margarita Carmen Cansino, a Baja native later to be known as Rita Hayworth. It now can be visited in its current incarnation as a cultural center.

Note the building (which still stands to your left just as you cross the new bridge entering Ensenada) at the left of the below mid-20th century photo offering rooms for $2!!! 


 Before you can sell a person anything, you have to make them want it more than it costs.





                When crossing the border there is the famous red light/green light system determining whether you are subject to search for imported goods or allowed to cruise through. A red light and loud bell will be your cue to pull to the right and into the inspection lanes. Again, attitude is important if inspected. If you are returning to your boat, have the original copy of your importation document issued when checked into the port of Ensenada with you. If you are importing a lot of boat gear, this may allow you through without paying importation duties. But that document is not a guarantee of you not paying importation duties; this is subject to the mood of, and interpretation of the law, subject to the discretion of the inspecting official. Our best advice is a friendly greeting by you and a willingness to open every door when asked. Don't willfully offer information about what you have, your destination, or your possession of the importation documentation, except when asked. Also, try to keep importation of new gear to a minimum. The Mexican border officials would have you pull into the "Declare" lanes automatically, but this could be costly in time and funds. A part of your pre-trip planning would have all that great new stuff from your local marine store already on the boat when disembarking from the U.S.. But forgotten or upgrade items may have to be transported during your Ensenada stay. Remember to smile and learn to say “Holla, como esta usted?” (“hello, how are you”), etc… in Spanish to lessen the tension and put you back on the road to the Ensenada (see our Spanish glossary for more useful phrases).

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 Please e-mail us with your experiences, good or bad, using our books on our feedback page. Thank you for purchasing our books and we wish you many safe and happy True Travels.


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(619) 857-0368




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