Sunday, November 9, 2014

Recent getaways - the CA coast and Tijuana

The fall is often a hunker-down-and-work time for me, but we had two short albeit significant (for us) trips in October and November.  Last month, we took advantage of a long weekend and went on a short camping trip up the CA coast, just north of Santa Barbara.  As I recall, it was a hot weekend, so this was a great way to escape the heat, and it's always nice to be close to the coast.  We didn't do much except tootle around - eating good food, hitting Morro Bay, and stopping in to taste wine at the dog-friendly Alma Rosa Tasting Room (they used to have a great barn outside of Solvang that served as the tasting room - we missed that, but the wine is still good and we appreciated that Gus could hang out).
Gus, sunning himself

Michael, hanging out

Our little campsite

Ooooh - the California Central Coast - hard to beat at times!

And the big adventure for us was going to Tijuana, MX last weekend for Día de los Muertos with a tour group called Turista Libre which offers unconventional tours of Tijuana.  I've been to Mexico quite a bit, especially if you count all of the trips to the Texas border towns, but in the past 9 years, Michael and I haven't traveled south of the border here in California at all.  Most of it, to be honest, has to do with the fact that the situation in Mexico isn't 100% stable, and we aren't comfortable driving and exploring on our own, which is really too bad.  It's such a beautiful country and has so much to offer, which makes me even sadder that we can't (or don't) travel much south of the border.  Given our tentativeness, an organized tour seemed to be the best way to venture south, and on Día de los Muertos?  Major score!  I've never been to Mexico on or around Día de los Muertos, but we certainly talk about it in our Spanish classes, so this was exciting.  

We spent Saturday night around San Diego - just north, in Del Mar - and headed south Sunday morning.  We met up with the group right on the border.  The French teacher from school was actually the person who told us about the tour, and she and her husband also came along.  It was funny because as we were driving through San Diego, Michael kept asking me "Do you feel like we're close to Mexico?", and I kept saying no, no, no.  But once we were right on the border, I got out of the car and it definitely felt like the border (duh, it WAS the border, but there is just that feel that you have).  So, our guide, a US writer who has lived in TJ for the past 7 years, met us on the US side and then we crossed the border, got on a bus and headed to Puerta Blanca, Tijuana's largest cemetery. Before we left for the cemetery, our guide gave everyone on the bus a shot of mezcal.  Now that's a way to get your day going!

Our guide - with face painted for Día de los Muertos.

Hanging out by the bus

The cemetery

At the cemetery, a local folklorist told us the story of Juan Soldado, a local legend, which was entertaining (well, she was entertaining), and we also saw how families celebrated Día de los Muertos - visiting the cemetery, cleaning tombs, bringing flowers, and spending time as a family with their deceased.  

After taking in the sites there, we loaded up on the bus and headed to the Mercado Hidalgo - something like a food court, but better (obviously).  We mainly wandered around and looked at all of the different products - some edible, some more decorative.  

Lots of sugar skulls

The market's altar or ofrenda- to see what everything means, you can look it up here
It is definitely a complex process.

And more sugar skulls to take home.

Post market - on to dinner.

After spending the afternoon in the cemetery and then the mark, we headed to El Taller, a restaurant that specializes in pizza.  We had the mole pizza which was good.  Not quite as much mole flavor as I expected or hoped, but still pretty good.  

And then we had a bit of an adventure crossing the border!  Not really, but we found out that the Tijuana crossing line was a 3 hour wait for pedestrians, and then we still had to drive back to Pasadena, so we took a cab to another crossing which was a shorter wait, and then took a cab back on the US side to our car.  Fun times!  

The one negative about the experience was the sense that we were such tourists.  Don't get me wrong, we WERE tourists, but to go with a group, well, it highlights that touristy feeling.  Also, you can't choose everyone else (or we couldn't), so we encountered a few annoying people.  I had to bite my tongue at least once.  But, in general, we weren't on top of the other people and mainly could explore on our own, but when we were on the bus and at dinner, I couldn't shake the sense that this must be the experience that people have on a cruise ship.  

Despite that, I would definitely recommend Turista Libre to someone who wanted to go to Tijuana as a first time experience.  I wish that we were more confident about traveling in Mexico these days, but the situation there is just so unstable.  I definitely felt that we were in Mexico, so that was fun, and it was great to be there for Día de los Muertos and to experience that, even in such a touristy way.


kilax said...

Wow! What a beautiful place to camp! And how cool you were in Mexico for that holiday! I would totally have that touristy feeling on the bus too, but it sounds like it was the best way to go.

One Crazy Penguin said...

I'm jealous of your camping! We're past camping weather by me and it makes me sad.

And looks like the tour wsa a lot of fun. I've had tours before where some idiots ruin the entire thing, so I'm glad that you were able to avoid them, for the most part, on yours. Even if you did have to bite your tounge a little bit.

Kristina said...

The campground is beautiful, although it's also right by the 101 highway. That seems to be somewhat common for California car camping (we've stayed at another place that had a train going by all night!). It is nice to have year-round camping, although September and October were SUCH hot months. Glad that we have a slight change in weather - it almost felt like fall today!

Michaela said...

Confession: I grew up in Southern California but have never, ever been to Mexico! Man, that's embarrassing.

mindful mule said...

It's been 23 years since I managed to stumble back into California from Tijuana. I hope they still have a lot of leather goods shops and endless tequila - that's about all I remember of it - I should go back soon! Now that I really know how to drink and buy belts. Also, Kerouac (does anyone remember/read him anymore?!) has some great cross the Mexican border stories in his books - I can give you hints of what to read if you're interested…

Kristina said...

Michaela - I wouldn't say that it's embarrassing at all! I always find it interesting to see what experiences people gravitate to, and it just hasn't been a priority for you.
BTW - Hope that IMAZ is/was amazing!

Rob - We did not see the endless belts, unfortunately. That's one of the reasons I'd like to return. And the tequila, of course.