Fact of the day: Ensenada flies the biggest flag in the world. It isn’t flying right now because the city is in the middle of beautifying the park it flies in but we’ve seen it before and it’s truly gigantic. It’s the size of a football field, literally. Very impressive.
We hoped to anchor for free while staying here but the harbor did away with anchoring a year ago. We believe it’s a way to increase revenue for the marinas which were hurting from a lack of visitors after the federal government boat siege fiasco that occurred a couple years back. So we’re staying at Cruiseport Village Marina which is well kept, has hot showers and is EXPENSIVE at sixty-five US dollars a night. Ouch! Needless to say, we want to leave as soon as possible.
There are a lot of boats here and it seems like a lot of folks end up staying here for the long run (monthly rates are much more reasonable at $400/month). They also seem to be hungry for new faces to chat up because when we went to use the internet at the clubhouse we were inundated by some very friendly folks. They started with the usual questions, “where you coming from?”, “where you heading?”, “How long are you staying?” but quickly moved into their stories.
Fred is an older guy that has been living in Encenada for three years. As he adjusted the thick gold chain around his neck he explained, “My daughter graduates college in June and then she’s coming here so we can cross the Pacific together. She’s worried that only old people do this kind of thing. How old are you… Do you think you can talk to her… oh, thirty-seven, never mind.” I guess we aren’t as young as we look. He has sailed up and down Baja a number of times so we asked him if there are any anchorages he would suggest visiting down the coast, “I wouldn’t stop till you get to Magdalena Bay (two thirds down the Baja Peninsula) and from there just head straight to Cabo, bouncing down the coast is a sure way to end up on the rocks.” Not an encouraging guy. Hopefully it goes well between him and his daughter on the thirty day passage across the Pacific.
We were tied up at the dock for less than an hour before we were whisked off by James to eat “the best tacos in Ensenada.” James is a soft quirky guy. Whenever we saw him he was wearing the same thing, biking pants with his socks pulled up over them, a tucked in t-shirt and a well-loved canvas baseball cap. His interest in us was peaked when we mentioned how important we think having a community is. “I agree, I want to start a cruisers community, like a commune on the water. Everyone would live on their own boat but we would share our resources. Things like water makers, tools and generators would all be shared.” Sounds pretty cool. “It would be a really healthy community too, you know, no smoking or drinking or soda.” We obviously would not make the cut… not sure how many folks would. On the way to tacos he told us about the waste recycling program he is starting, “I’ve been storing all my pee and poop for a couple weeks at a time and I take it up to a farm in the hills where we compost it. I calculated it out, if everyone in the harbor did it we could make a lot of compost. We haven’t grown anything with it yet but we just started.” He’s quirky but he has a good heart. Besides these unusual ideas he also uses a net to clean garbage out of the harbor and takes whatever recyclables he can find to the recycling facility some block away. “There is trash everywhere and no one here recycles. When lots of people do the wrong thing everyone thinks it’s the right thing… I came up with that today. I come up with a lot of sayings like that.” Like I said, he’s got a good heart.
Riley is a young rigger from Washington State. He and a friend sailed down from San Diego in his thirty-two foot Erickson with a dead flashlight and no GPS. “Fortunately, I had a candle. I figured, how hard can it be? You just go out a ways and turn left.” He and our buddy Chris would get along great. He went on to tell us that at two in the morning as they approached what he thought was Bahia Todos Santos (the bay Ensenada is in; translation: All Saints Bay;) he saw stuff in the water that looked like kelp but he couldn’t be sure in his candle light. Thinking they might run aground (kelp grows in shallow water) he did a one-eighty and headed back offshore to wait for daylight. But there was a big lit up building where he thought “offshore” should be. “It was a stressful moment. But the building turned out to be a cruise ship so we were good.” The guy needs a GPS and a flashlight.
On Saturday we visited with Greg, a friend Megan met while at Spanish school in La Paz five years back. Greg treated us to lunch at a beautiful resort that looks out across a grand estuary with mounds of soft rolling dunes on its far shore. Beyond the dunes the deep blue of the Pacific glistened in the midday sun. The estuary is filled with harbor seals sun bathing on its banks, flocks of seabirds diving for fish and the occasional jet skier zooming this way and that. On the far shore families enjoyed a warm Saturday picnicking and splashing in the cool calm water. A lovely lunch setting.
Greg and his wife, Patti, run a non-profit that works with orphans. Amongst other programs, they run an orphanage for children with severe physical disabilities and a summer camp for local orphanages. In the last couple years Greg and Patti have had enough funding to build a new facility with the space to provide care to more children. On the day we visited his staff was assembling wheelchairs for children in another local orphanage. “A lot of times the wheelchairs these kids are using are very old with sunken seats and no padding left at all. When we sit the kids in a new chair with padding and seats that hold them upright it’s not only physically more comfortable for them it’s also a real confidence booster. They sit two feet taller and their eyes sparkle.” What a fulfilling task.
Greg’s orphanage currently has three children in its care and he is madly in love with each of them. When he looks at them he has that glimmer in his eyes that is often reserved for parents looking at their children. His words to them are filled with love and compassion and he touches them with the gentle caress of a father. All day he told us stories about how hard and fulfilling his work is. His passion and dedication is infectious and so often that day tears of joy and sadness filled our eyes. “It’s hard work. We see so much suffering but I can’t help but love it with all my heart.”
At the summer camp Greg runs groups of orphans from around Baja go and stay for a week at a time. While there they are paired up with people that come from the states to help. “It’s a way for the orphans to get some real one-on-one connection and love, something that’s not always available at the orphanages,” Greg explained. He told us that it takes a lot of planning and energy to put the week long programs together but there are always moments during the week that make it all worth the effort. He told us one story that touched his heart deeply. “We paired up a boy named Jose with a young man about fifteen years old. Jose was not going for it. He kept a stern face and wouldn’t show any signs of friendship.” A couple days into the program the young man went to Greg and asked for help finding Jose, he had wandered off. They found him sitting behind one of the houses. Over the next week Jose wandered off a number of times and each time Greg and the young man went and found him. The seemingly indifferent attitude Jose portrayed frustrated the young man. “He couldn’t seem to find a way to connect with Jose but he kept trying.” At the end of each week the group circles up around a fire and shares the moments that touched their hearts. “It seemed like everyone who was going to share something had shared it. I was getting ready to move into the next part of the evening when Jose spoke up. I was surprised, he is such a quiet boy.” Greg’s eyes began to water, “Jose looked at the young man and began to cry. He said, ‘I ran off three times and each time you came and found me. No one has ever done that for me, no one.’” Tears filled my eyes, the story touched my heart. It reminded me that when we come from a heartfelt place our love always shines through, often without even knowing it. We are grateful that there are people like Greg and Patti in the world, opening hearts and spreading love to those in need.
That evening Greg and Patti took us to a barbeque at their friend’s house on the hilltop of Punta Banda, the point that makes up the southern rim of Bahia Todos Santos. The scene was spectacular, a bird’s eye view of the whole bay. In the foreground sat the estuary we had overlooked at lunch with its calm sparkling water and rolling white dunes, next to it was the harbor where Orion awaited our return with the city unraveling behind it, and, beyond the dry desert mountains that surround Ensenada, the sky stretched to infinity. As the sun set we watched flocks of pelicans dive for fish and the fading white wakes of fishermen in their pangas heading home for dinner. The sea slipped from a deep blue to glistening black and one by one the lights of Ensenada blinked on as the stars filled the sky. It was the perfect end to a day filled with heartfelt words and overwhelming generosity.
Ensenada has been good. We had dinner with Eric and Patti, cruising friends that are also from Santa Cruz, we bought a sim card so we can have a phone while in Mexico (emergency use only ;), we strolled the boardwalk marveling at the number of people enjoying the cool sea on a hot day and smiled at the folks dancing to locally hired bands playing music in the sand. In short, we enjoyed ourselves. From here we are heading to Turtle Bay, 367 nautical miles south and the halfway point on our way to the tip of the Baja Peninsula. It will be our longest passage yet.