Manhattan

The Village. The Lower East Side. Bleeker Street.

They had always been words to me, words that conjured up vague images of coffeehouses, art galleries, open mic poetry.

And here I was I the heart of it all.

Washington Square

Step outside. Just a few blocks to Washington Square. A lovely park, grass and trees already turning green, about two blocks square. It was full of people walking dogs, mommies and nannies pushing strollers, and some just sitting on park benches. I sat and took in the people, the buildings. When I walked, pale peach blossoms swirled at my feet.

On the north side of the Square was a tall building, wedding cake shaped like a smaller Empire State Building. The upper floors had broad patios complete with trees. It was so odd to look up seventeen stories and see trees spouting from what I’d thought was simply a roof.

The new Freedom Center rising in Manhattan

Step outside. Just a mile south, straight down the street, the new Freedom Center rises from the ashes of the old Trade Center, built atop the souls of those who died there. To me, an obscenity. It is a place that should have become a memorial to the thousands who died, as did the Mura Building in Oklahoma City.

Step outside. Look for a cup of coffee. There were probably a dozen places within a block and a half. Everything from what I was warned was absolutely awful coffee to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and small delis spilling delicious aromas out their doors and down the streets. How could I not? For under three dollars, I had egg and cheese on a Kaiser roll. I hadn’t thought that kind of price was available anywhere in Manhattan.

The small apartment I was staying in was a second-floor walkup.  Thankfully, not the sixth floor. I learned that without rent control, this little place could go for up to $3000 monthly.

Bars on the east windows because the fire escape was there. No bars on the west windows that gave a view across a small courtyard toward a hundred other windows.

Night in the city was surprisingly quiet, only an occasional siren in the distance. And it was warm. I had no need of blankets at night or my jacket in the morning. It was in the eighties yesterday when the plane landed.

Step outside. Leave this small apartment and head down the marble slab stairs, worn in the center from nearly one hundred years of shoes. The buzz of the city charged the air. People, cars and buses at all hours. There was a vibrancy I am not familiar with. The subway just a few blocks away. No sunlight on the street because the streets are really the bottom of deep canyons formed by concrete, brick, or cut stone. Trees somehow grew in these deep man-made canyons.

Peach trees in full bloom

Fruit trees were in full bloom, whites and shocking pinks almost every direction I looked. Iris and crocus peeking up from spring soil, in full bloom. All this vibrant color was about a month early.

In just a few days, it was time to leave. As we waited for the van that would take us to the airport, a man in an old Mercedes pulled up and jostled his way into a parking spot I never would have tried to get into. He then hopped out and opened his trunk. Pulled out a collapsible bicycle, opened it, and pedaled off.

 

 

Advertisements

The Last Day

Last day.
I wanted to turn around and head south, but guess I’ll have to wait.
Both of us are such early risers that we were up, showered, packed, and coffee made before six. Arizona time. It was an hour earlier on the coast. So why wait? We hit the road.
Usually I don’t like to drive in Mexico at night, but at this early hour I expected very little traffic. We took it nice and slow off the mountain then met a few other early risers when we got into Ensenada. It felt great to be through the city before it got busy. We cut northeast and did the wine country route. We were a bit regretful that it was so early and we couldn’t stop for samples. 
Tis is a beautiful drive and through the wine area itself the lanes are wide and smooth. We knew we were out of wine country when the road narrowed and was filled with potholes.
We soon came to a hilly area set in with fog. Most of the fog was a bit west or north of us, but we hit a little. Seeing the fug snuggle in the valleys made for a beautiful drive.
To Tecate where we sat in line at the border for almost exactly one hour. Zipped right through – one of the benefits of gray hair.
There is nothing much to say about the drive once we got back into the states. The area around Tecate was hilly and green, and we passed through a small piece of tribal land, the Campo tribe. After that, interstate.
After more than two weeks driving in Mexico, our highways seem so large! And so smooth! Four lanes, divided. The right hand lane in each direction has a shoulder wide enough to be used as a third lane. These two lanes plus the shoulder are almost as wide as four lanes in Mexico.
So, what stands out from this trip?
The narrow roads and the  malfunctioning bathrooms.
The kind, helpful, and generous Mexican people.
Friends, both old and new.
The crazy signs and/or lack of signs, right when you need on the most. 
(However, this is more than balanced by the wonderful people.)
The beach and the sand between my toes.
Islands in the distance.
La Bufadora.
Sunrises and sunsets.
A good traveling companion.
The food!!
And of course, most of all, the whales.

North to Ensenada

We left Bahia de Los Angeles early and went straight to the Pemex for gas. It wasn’t open.
Soon a man arrived in a van, went to a pump, pulled out a key. He turned on the pump and filled his van.
I wandered over asking when the place would open. He thought it should be open, checked the door, hollered for someone and gave up. He assured me it would open soon.
We read awhile, then I went to check the man’s pump and see if it was still on. No luck.
Then someone else came in. I dashed right over and asked if here were any other stations. Felt like a fool. There was one about a block away! The other driver and I zipped right over and filled up.
Back through the gorgeous desert. In forty miles we saw no other vehicles. And we made a few stops to wander this glorious desert and take photos. We were on that road well over an hour and saw no one after we left the Pemex. We did see a few cows, though, and a cluster of burros along the side of the road.
Back to Highway 1 and north. We’d had to get gas in Bahia de Los Angeles because we knew there wouldn’t be a station for nearly 200 miles and we already had quite a few miles on the previous tank. Do NOT pass up a gas station in the Baja unless you’re certain another one is coming up soon!
We stopped near Catania to look at petroglyphs but our guidebook didn’t get us quite there. There is a petroglyphs site just north of Catania, but it’s an official government site, guide and fee required. Just like not passing up a gas station, don’t break laws in Mexico. I don’t even want to think of the fines or the insides of a jail.
Eventually we got to the twisty turnies. This is a stretch of highway maybe forty miles long that goes up and down, twists and turns, and each lane is only about nine feet wide. Oh. And there are drop offs, sheer rock walls, and no pullovers. 
I have spoken to a number of people about this stretch of road. There are stories upon stories of people driving RVs who lost a driver-side mirror because one or both vehicles headed toward each other don’t scrunch over to the right side quite enough, and mirrors collided.
This is  not a stretch of road for the faint of heart.
Headed north, after the worst of the road, comes the town of El Rosario. At one of the curves in town on the east side of the road is a restaurant called Mama Espinoza’s. Eat there. No matter the time of day, stop and eat. Heading south, El Rosario is about twenty-five miles or so south of San Quentin, and Mama Espinoza’s is at the first curve to the left.
After a hearty lunch with Mama, we headed on through San Quentin and eventually into the lush agricultural area south of Ensenada. Green the color of a golf course spilled down hillsides and out across the valleys. Some areas had acres of greenhouses of tomatoes and lettuce while other fields were planted with grapes and nopales. 
Just inside the south edge of suburban Ensenada we cut west to see La Bufadora. La Bufadora is a spot on the coast where the incoming waves enter a cave and blow out a hole in the top of the cave. Water shoots out the hole, sometimes as high as about one hundred feet. That water splashes for quite a distance, so it’s best to go on a warm day. Trust me. 
After enjoying La Bufadora, we headed just a short distance down the road and took the one and only motel, Motel La Bufadora.
I heartily recommend seeing La Bufadora. The motel, not so much. It was a bit worn and all rooms are on the second or third floor.
But I’ve got to say we had a view. We were high on a hill looking northeast across the bay at Ensenada. It was beautiful and it was quiet. Perfect for a good night’s sleep. Oh – and no water on the bathroom floor, and lots of hot water!

North – and East to the Sea

We awoke early and soon slid the window open. Cool air and the sound of singing birds rushed into the room. Soon the man next door cranked on his TV so its sounds could accompany the birds. Thankfully, he turned it off after a short while.
Cinda braved wading through the bathroom to the shower. Its floor, ironically, was dry, but not for long. She turned on the shower full blast, trying first the hot and then the cold knobs, but neither gave out hot water.
This little motel has wi-fi, and it even reached our room (it didn’t reach our last room). Presumably they offer it because more and more patrons want or need wi-fi as they travel. However, I guess the owner of this establishment doesn’t think travelers want or need dry floors,flushing toilet, or hot showers. Wi-fi should clearly be enough.
We headed out later than usual, close to eight, and zipped right through the checkpoint between Baja California  Sur and Baja California. Then through the military checkpoint a short time later. There, as before, I had to present my passport, and tell them where we were coming from and where we were headed.
We’d decided we weren’t done with this road trip yet so we cut east across the peninsula yet again to Bahia de Los Angeles. A beautiful stretch of desert with boojums sprinkled throughout. We were there in under three hours, but due to the magic of time zones, it was only around ten.
The approach was stunning. Down out of the hills, and out across the water were islands and islands, all of them desert rock jutting up. No tour ship will ever reach these shores. It’s fine for little boats but surely impossible for large ones.
There was no actual town. It was more like a strip of services stretching for a mile or so along the shoreline. I can’t think of another Mexican town I’ve been to that didn’t seem to have an actual downtown.
We found the city buildings a block up from shore, and there was a park across from it, but it was more of a playground park. Around the corner was a little museum.
We roamed the entire stretch of shoreline from the southern edge to miles out of town at the area called La Gringa which was a camping area with seemingly no services. There were a number of hotels and motels along the northern shore, all priced high. One was quite fancy, with suites on the ocean, a swimming pool, and a seaside restaurant. The rooms off the lobby were affordable but a bit blah. This place was also offering beachfront lots for sale to no avail.
We found a great little campground, overpriced. But if the wind hadn’t been blasting and swirling sand everywhere, we may have taken it. The owner, Antonio, had been involved with turtle rescue, and we liked him. 
The northern shore was overpriced because electricity isn’t there yet. Every place we visited had solar panels, a generator or two, and maybe even a wind machine. We stopped in one place two different times, and although the motel rooms were open, no one was there.
Most of the north shore was rocky, not sandy, so there is no beach. Tide was at its lowest and flattest, so there wouldn’t even be much good splashing going on. We headed back south, into “town” and checked into La Hamaca for $450P, and it was probably the nicest room of the whole trip, barring, of course, the fabulous room with friends in El Sargento. Nothing beats that!
We had lunch on the beach and headed to the museum, but of course it had just closed (open 10-1 only). We did some beach wandering and when we found a small area sheltered from the wind, I soaked up some rays.
The night was absolutely quiet. There were several  lights in town plus a string of weak streetlights running along the highway, and unfortunately each room of our motel had a light over the doorway. Ours was off but the others blazed. No stargazing from the porch or even from the beach.
This is a sweet, sleepy little town, but there are few tourists. I can’t imagine it will survive without a tourist resurrection. Some of the camping areas north of town were busy, and one camping area in town was busy, but the motels, for the most part, were fairly empty. Actually, the camping areas held a number of trailers, but they appeared to be there year round and many were closed up.The only other gringos we ran into who weren’t in their own little trailer or RV had sailed in from Vancouver and were staying on their boat.
This is a good place for an escape, for quiet. Expect to walk the beach and fish and maybe do some hiking in the surrounding mountains or charter a boat to tour the islands. 
Oh – and you can assist with the turtle rescue, which is a catch and release type program. But even the turtles weren’t around. They are hibernating this time of year.