On the way home from their own cruising adventures in the Caribbean, Erik’s parents made a pit stop in San Diego and bused themselves down to Ensenada for a quick visit. Unfortunately the anchorage prominently displayed in two of our three outdated guidebooks was no longer accessible, as it happened to currently lie in the heart of Ensenada port traffic. A diverse assortment of vessels transited the proposed anchorage, including speedy sightseeing boats with only the tiny heads and flashing cameras of tourists visible above a sea of bright orange life preservers, and slower, but significantly more intimidating cruise ships whom mysteriously appeared in twos (the ultimate form of buddy boating) and never stayed long enough to facilitate growth on their underbellies. Finding the anchorage non-existent and feeling less than inclined to take part in another bout of extreme anchoring at Islas Todos Santos, we decided to once again make Baja Naval Marina our home away from home. This time basking in the easy living they supplied (internet, showers, and phone, oh my!) for well over a week, a long time for two people who thought San Diego would be the “last time” they saw a dock.
Our first day back in Ensenada we set to work checking off the single task from our lengthy to do list that demanded immediate attention. No, it was not our finicky fuel system that starved the engine of diesel a mere 30 minutes into our trip, leaving us bewildered and bobbing in the Alameda Estuary, and has continued to plague us at every rocky, narrow, shoaling, topographically inopportune moment ever since. Nor was it the bracket on the pulpit which sheared in heavy seas outside of Monterey, causing (prior to Erik’s mad rope skills) our starboard lifeline to flail wildly. No, the task that vaulted itself out over the page, skidding to a stop at the base of our twisted tongues every time we tried to communicate with anyone other than a fellow cruiser, was our desperate need for some Spanish instruction.
We found Señora Aguipa through her flyer which she astutely stapled to the bulletin board of the marina lounge, displaying directions to her office in bold black letters, and given in relation to, like all of the directions we received in Ensenada, the McDonalds. Her modest office was tucked, “six doors south from McDonald’s” along a tidy street lined with sidewalks of bright orange brick and peddlers selling colorful trinkets and pharmaceuticals. The clean, continuous sidewalks and endless supply of stuff to buy at exorbitant prices was an immediate indication that her office was smack dab in the heart of tourism, however, her prices were astoundingly affordable, working out to approximately $2.50 per hour in U.S. dollars. On the morning of my first lesson, I found Señora Aquipa hunched over her desk, a slender woman with dark curly hair and kind eyes hidden behind a pair of chubby glasses. Her torso wrapped in a cozy knit sweater, as if she was somehow insulating herself against the sweltering Ensenada heat, the same heat simultaneously consuming Erik and I in our shorts and t-shirts. Through her exceptional and quirky instruction I was quickly becoming confident in the most basic and useful of situations, “I am…”, “I want…”, “I need…”. On my 5th session, she surprised me with the popular phrase, “no me odies por ser bonita,” or in English, “do not hate me for being pretty.” She never explained why she was teaching it to me, but there it was written down in the notes she had prepared that day, right below ser and estar conjugations. As she told me the phrase her face cracked into an infectious smile while a small uninhibited giggle escaped her lips. She averted her eyes down to the notebook in front of her whispering in a barely audible escape of breath, “you never know, you might need it one day.” In the 7 days I spent under her adept tutelage I learned far more than just vocabulary and verb conjugations. She educated me in the intricacies and curiosities of Mexican culture and history, and through her gentle feminism in the heart of a machismo culture, she inspired in me a unique confidence in my own femininity and ability to one day let Spanish glide effortlessly off my tongue.
Emboldened with our shiny new Spanish skills, we searched our overcrowded to do list for the next unsuspecting item to boldly strike-through. First, we decided to tackle the pesky pulpit bracket, and within 12 hours of describing our dilemma to Jugo, the yard manager at Baja Naval, the bracket was fully restored, complete with beautifully executed welds (which the welder precariously tackled with a portable welder from our unsteady bow) and affordable price tag. Strike that one off the list. Then, Erik put his father to work helping him troubleshoot our continued engine woes, and although they were not able to fix anything, they did discover, much to our dismay, that our toddler of an engine (less than 5 years old) was installed improperly and would take a lot more than an afternoon in a cramped engine compartment to get it straightened out. I suppose it’s better to know, add engine bed rebuild, new engine mounts and alignment to the list.
While Erik’s parents were in town we decided to take a break from the boat life and venture inland by bus for the day. Braving Ensenada’s confusing bus system with their erratic scheduling and abundance of seemingly similar bus stations was made infinitely easier by his parent’s fluent Spanish, and so we scooted along the two bus, 45 minute route south to La Bufadora with relative ease. Upon arrival, we were instantly hustled down a long gang plank of homogenous tourist shops culminating in the anticlimactic blow hole coined La Bufadora. As with most things in life, however, it’s all about the journey, and our little adventure inland awarded us sweeping views of active farm lands rising up into verdant hills before dropping again into a jagged cluster of sea and rock, delectable late afternoon snacks of Ensenada’s finest seafood washed down with cold cerveza and horchata, and along the walk home from the bus station, a chance encounter with a quaint bakery whom we helped to offload a significant quantity of pan dulce.
Minutes before sailing back out into the open ocean we took Nikka for a brisk last minute walk through the food scrap lined sidewalks of her favorite nearby park and were delighted to stumble upon a taco vendor digging greasy strips of fish from a vat of frying oil. We decided from the heft of the coins jiggling in our pockets we had more than enough pesos for a couple tasty tacos and hastily sprinted over to the stand to order four tacos “con todo” or “with everything.” I look back at this moment with a feeling I would not exactly describe as regret, but more a simple curiosity of how it was possible that Erik and I could have thought eating greasy street tacos mere minutes before heading out on a multi-day sail in the merciless Pacific was a terrific idea. (Spoiler alert for our next bog) It wasn’t…