So...I've gotten on the plane and landed in San Diego. I believe I ended the last post with us crazy Canadians taking pictures of palm trees and tropical flowers with great enthusiasm. After we collected our baggage, there was about a thirty minute wait while the drivers fetched the rental vehicles. At first we were content to lounge in the sun and take pictures of the local fauna. But eventually we started getting antsy. Having lost two hours in Toronto, we were in a hurry to get our shopping done and cross the border before dark fell. To save space travelling, we planned to purchase certain items(like pillows and shampoo) in San Diego that would be either used up or left in Ensenada. Unfortunately, the lost time caused our shopping trip and stop for dinner to be much quicker than planned. Instead of a sit-down dinner, something desperately desired after all those hours of travelling, we ended up with McDonald's.
By the time we ate "lunch", I was tired, hot and coming down with a migraine. I was also feeling very frustrated. Getting 18 people headed the same direction is an awful lot like herding turtles. However, I have lots of practice doing this regularly, so I took lots of deep breaths, found my advil and sat quietly. Eventually pillows were bought, everyone was fed, potty breaks had been had by all and we were on our way to Mexico!
I was going to write that the culture shock started at the border, but for me it started driving through the city. Although I have read quite a few articles on the situation in California, I was not prepared for the homelessness I saw. While we were at a stoplight, I glanced over to see some homeless people hanging out in a courtyard. There was a man, looking in rather rough shape, sitting on a retaining wall. He may have been missing an eye. Lying just inside the shrubbery, was a woman, passed out. Although he appeared to be mostly asleep, the man kept glancing over to see if she was okay. Further in was a table, with another man sitting there sleeping. My heart broke to see such poverty and desperation. Possibly because it's much colder here, I don't see as much homelessness where I live. It is there, just not as prevalent. While I was still processing this, we passed a tent city. Again, my heart was shaken by the reminder of the great need in our world. The other kids seemed to be fine, even brushing it off, but my heart hurt. A lot.
The border was another piece of different. Instead of uniformed custom officers, there were military men carrying large rifles. Instead of many scanners and electronic devices, there were spring-loaded spikes that would blow tires if someone tried to back out. And once inspection was passed, there were more men with guns standing inside a barricade made of what looked to be steel pipes with spikes. Apparently this wasn't so much to keep people out as it was to ram vehicles and keep them from leaving. Although the noise level in the van had climbing, the sight of men with guns quietened things down a bit.
We immediately saw the difference after crossing the border. Houses were significantly smaller, closer together and everything was walled, fenced and/or gated. There was also a lot more graffiti, although some of it may have been officially sponsored. Beautiful murals covered some of the walls along the roadway. To our left ran a large wall, topped with barbed wire. This marked the divide between the United Mexican States and the United States of America. Someone commented that it reminded him of the Berlin Wall.
Soon we were out of Tijuana and on the road to Ensenada. We passed through three toll gates, at least one of which had a military presence. Interestingly enough, some of my girls were freaked out about this while another didn't notice until the way home. When she saw the guns she commented "But they won't use them, right?" I'm not sure how reassured she was by my answer. "Ummm...of course they use them. But we're not smuggling drugs, so they won't shoot us". I'm such a good youth leader! (HA!)
The road we were on wound its way between the mountains and the coast. What scenery we could see was gorgeous, but dark was quickly approaching. Unfortunately the most scenic views were the ones we passed in the dark. Our ride was rather uncomfortable as we had been sitting for most of the day already. My tailbone was complaining, as were many other backs and shoulders. As it was a hot day and a 15 passenger van, it was a struggle to properly regulate the air temperature. As the drive wore on, we were all tired, and grumpy. Driving through Ensenada, observing the nightlife was interesting, but even people-watching barely took the edge of my exhaustion. As we finally arrived at the resort, all I wanted to do was go to bed.
Gathering in the gravel parking lot, we were quickly given room keys and broken up into our groups. There was a fair bit of whining. Even though we hadn't eaten properly, everybody was pretty miserable and just wanted to sleep. But Toe, the youth pastor, decided we would meet by the pool area in 15 minutes. Until I opened the door to our room, my plan was to put on jammies and go straight to bed after the meeting. But then I opened the door.
Our room was spacious and appeared to be tiled in marble. Upon later reflection, it may have just been nice ceramic, but oh did it look nice! There was a large bathtub, also tiled the same way. And the large patio door opened up facing the Pacific Ocean. Confronted with such beauty, we all suddenly found new energy. Instead of jammies, bathing suits were put on and we raced off to the pool. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the hot tub was actually hot. (I take very hot baths, so often find hot tubs on the lukewarm side). We hung out in the hot tub for quite awhile and then some of us jumped into the pool. Even though I was recovering from pneumonia, I decided to swim in both pools. It was lovely! This was an interesting experience, because we were swimming after dark. The area was well-lit, but it was still unusual for me. My former-lifeguard husband frowns on swimming after dark. I sometimes horrify him with my childhood stories of swimming in the Great Lakes after midnight. Consequently, swimming after dark felt slightly naughty and wonderful all at the same time.
Swimming revived me enough to be hungry. I really wanted vegetables, having not eaten much of them, but ended up having a tortilla soup instead. It did come with avocado and some other vegetables, along with queso fresco. The cheese was the real reason I ordered it. I have to be honest, the cheese in Mexico was fantastic! I'm not sure what everyone else thought, as not only did I thoroughly enjoy the cheese, I raved about it to everyone in earshot. Many times. With great passion. Unfortunately, there was something in my soup that didn't agree with me, so I ended up not finishing it. My flan, however, was creamily delicious. The food wasn't the only exciting thing about our dinner experience. I was also enthusiastic to note that I could accurately translate a large portion of the menu. It was a good sign that my three years of Spanish weren't entirely gone to waste. As the week wore on, more and more of my Spanish skills would return. Some people may have complained about that...
Refreshed and with full tummies, our group headed off to bed. My girls settled down fairly quickly. As soon as we quieted, it became obvious that there were rooms overhead. The chandelier rattled each time our upstairs neighbour walked across the room. After what felt like forever, he/she went to bed and so did we. The next day promised to be busy as we were to visit La Bufadora and head to EOC, where we would spend our week.
I apologize for the delay in presenting this installment. It's taken me two days to write. Hopefully the next one will come faster.