There are some destinations that inspire travelers to make the most daring sacrifices to reach them. But there are others nobody wants to visit because of its bad reputation. I am talking about dirty, ungraceful and gritty cities. Places full of tacky souvenirs, harassing vendors and cheap alcohol. Add to those characteristics a dose of nearby kidnaps and murders and you end with every traveler’s worst nightmare. No soul. No culture. No nothing.
Judging for what I experienced the last time I visited Baja California, the city of Ensenada fits the description I provided in the first paragraph. Let me tell you why.
At the beginning of the year, I arrived at Ensenada aboard one of Carnival cruises. Way before disembarkation, a lot of people were discussing how they were going to spend their day. A lot of the fellows we talked to were not planning to exit the ship at all. They were too worried about the continuous violence in Mexico (like Mexico is so small). Plus, they were describing how ugly and disturbing the place is (just the obligatory international stop in the cruise itinerary).
I have been to Ensenada before. However, I have to admit we stop in town to eat (a lot) and then move on to visit friends. This was my first visit to the “touristic” side of Ensenada. I am not going to lie. The main drag is not necessarily a walk thru Rome or Paris or New York. Yes, there are tons of cheesy restaurants and shops around. Yes, there are a lot of aggressive vendors. And yes, a bus full of soldiers with their long weapons passed next to me (some cruisers screamed when they saw this).
You know, this place may exhibit a lot of negative facets but, so what?
This is how I elected to see Ensenada. In the morning, we visited the exciting Guadalupe Valley (more of that on a later post). Then, my husband and I headed to main drag. I decided to look for beautiful things in the area. The things that remember me I was in Mexico.
We started by trying to find out the spot of our favorite seafood street vendor, Mariscos Navolato. It was difficult to remember the exact corner where they stop. We asked around and the gentle residents pointed to the place. I had two fish tostadas and a shrimp cocktail. My husband had a black shells cocktail (almost impossible to find in the US). What to like: super cheap prices for seafood, good food and nice people.
Some stores were offering attractive products. A Chicken Little piñata anyone? What about a dress with tropical accents?
It was interesting to discover buildings constructed in beautiful styles.
I also saw peculiar mailbox. It was identified with the words “Coreos Mexicanos” (Mexican Postal Offices). The emblem is a dove holding an envelope (like a messenger dove). Isn’t that cute?
We continued walking towards the Centro Social, Civico y Cultural Riviera (Riviera Social, Civic and Cultural Center). This is probably one of the most beautiful buildings in town. Inside this place, you can take a look at artistic and historic exhibitions.
From the bottom of my heart, I can say I enjoyed Ensenada that day and I will continue enjoying it every time I visit. What is the moral of this story? I am not saying you should like overdeveloped and soulless places (defined like that by some). I am saying you should make sure your preconceptions and judgments are not stopping you from discovering what a place is all about. Also, people talk a lot and want to establish themselves as experts in certain things. It is your job to investigate if they are real experts or if they are just making conversation and trying to be interesting.
Additionally, we should recognize some places are trying to change for the better. I believe Ensenada is trying hard to improve its offerings. The area has been gaining a lot of attention lately. Last year, the Travel and Leisure Magazine wrote an article about how to do a culinary tour of the cities near the US border (http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/culinary-tour-of-baja-mexico, http://www.travelandleisure.com/trips/eating-through-baja-mexico). The Budget Travel Magazine chose Ensenada as one of the places to have some of the best street food in the world (http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/worlds-best-street-food,4257/). I saw tons of projects developing around the city last time I visited.
I want to end this post by sharing a quote I saw while walking around town. The quote goes like this: “El que no hace nada por la ciudad donde vive, no merece vivir en ella” (The person who does nothing for the city where he/she lives, does not deserve to live in it). John F. Kennedy said that. Well, I like to see Ensenada as a town where people are doing something for their place. I elect to see it like that.
What overdeveloped, gritty or ugly places you enjoy? Do you believe these places are moving towards improvement? Let me know in the comments section below.