Trip to Mexico leaves an impression

I am back from my family vacation in Mexico – and apparently the Orange Juice! did not miss me as our team has had a great week in terms of readership and posts. Ordinarily I don’t like to steer away from local politics, but I think that my trip south of our border is worth reviewing given the current heated debate over immigration.

We first drove to Ensenada, a seaport town that has grown a lot in recent years. During Prohibition, a casino opened up in town called the Playa Ensenada. It was rumored to have been partially funded by Al Capone. It was hugely successful, drawing Americans in droves, but after Prohibition was repealed, the Mexican government banned casino gambling. The casino became a short-lived hotel, went out of business and was later purchased and refurbished by the Mexican government. Today it is a museum and cultural center. We paid about a dollar each to check out the museum.

The museum was very well run and it featured a lot of rare pictures of the early missions and native cultures of Baja California. I found out that most of the missions in Baja were destroyed in native uprisings.

Ironically much of the current economic success in Ensenada is derived from restaurants and bars that pretty much focus on drunken debauchery. Not much of a move up from gambling, in my opinion.

That said, there are a lot of great restaurants in town and the food is very reasonably priced. We also drove to a coastal natural attraction called La Bufadora, where the ocean hits an underground cavern, creating a huge spout of water. It was pretty impressive, but very crowded. The area however featured amazing scenery and beautiful clear water.

Elections were going on when we arrived. Political campaign signs were everywhere with ridiculous slogans, such as “I promise, things will get better.” Sounds like Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido! He must have learned how to campaign while growing up in Mexico – certainly his endless reign is reminiscent of how the PRI party dominated Mexican politics for decades, by using union money , corruption and outright lies to keep the other parties down.

We later drove up to Rosarito, where the beach is a lot of fun. We stayed at the Festival Plaza hotel, mere blocks from the beach. Like Ensenada, the town caters to drunken Americans, but the restaurants are great and there is a lot to look at. We had fun shopping in all the little stores and booths on the main strip.

The food was great – you could find a lot of very good restaurants to eat at for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One favorite was a place called El Nido, that was like the Rain Forest Cafe, but with real animals (birds in an ornate wooden cage that took up an entire wall). We also dined at an Italian restaurant, El Portofino, one night when the kids wanted something other than Mexican food.

We also went to a Mexican circus called the “Barley Circus.” For pocket change we sat in the front row and were treated to a very interesting show. We all felt bad for the animals, which appeared to be in good shape but honestly, did God intend for monkeys to ride horses? But my four year old did like the Tigers, who were not forced to jump through fiery hoops. We also enjoyed watching an elephant balance on one foot, and a bunch of talented motorcycle daredevils careening in a metal globe.

Another highlight of our trip was a visit to the Fox Studios located just south of Rosarito. The lot was built to film the Titanic movie, and it includes sets from that movie as well as pools used in the filming. They can pump a lot of water in a hurry! Other famous movies shot there include X-Men III, Master and Commander, Kung Pao: Enter the Fist, Deep Blue Sea, Pearl Harbor and Planet of the Apes (the remake).

We went on the guided tour, which was led by a very capable and knowledgeable young Mexican named Daniel, who is an aspiring film student. He is learning both English and German, and he has already had a film come in second at a local film festival. He personified the Mexican spirit…creative, driven and willing to do anything to succeed.

On the way back we had a heck of a time getting through the big lines at the border. We got routed to the Otay Mesa entry point because there was what appeared to be a bloody shooting in the lane going to San Ysidro. There were a lot of Mexican cops, yellow tape and little numbered placards identifying what I assumed to be the bullet casings. And right in the middle of all that was a huge amount of blood. God only knows what happened, but we can now say we saw the Mexican CSI, and they appeared to know what they were doing.

Now that I have finally visited Mexico again, after many decades of not doing so, I can see that some areas are improving. And it is obvious that the natives have never truly been integrated into Mexican society. It is heartbreaking to see little children juggling balls so that those on the way out will give them a little change.

Mexico is awash in natural resources. The drive down the coast was quite illuminating. The waters were beautiful and the scenery was something else. You could see dolphins playing in the water – which is not something I have ever seen. But development is scarce. I did find out that Americans can now buy property down there, if a bank holds it in trust. That will certainly help, but I am not sure I want to see all that natural coastline get overdeveloped.

It is a shame that so many Mexicans can not find work in their country. But these are not a lazy people. They work very hard to make ends meet. And technology is seeping into the area. Probably the most lasting image for me was a native woman selling churros on the beach in Rosarito, from a small wheeled cart, while talking on a cell phone.

As I noted, the natives have never been truly integrated. There are certainly rich people in Mexico, but they are keeping their people down instead of pulling them up. Things are improving under the new Harvard-educated Mexican President, so there is hope. But in the meantime I expect a lot of people will keep coming to the U.S., looking for opportunities they cannot find in their own nation. And I cannot blame them for that.

About Admin

"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.