IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT HOTEL
Ken "The Capn" Babbs
In one of the great tomorrows the border will be breached and the security will be broached and the family will be beached as Capn Skyp and loyal wife and daughter brave the guard dogs of airport lore to hie themselves to the rumored warmths of Ensendada, Mexico for cinco dias but have corazon, mi amigoes, mas reports will be filtering in, smuggled by unknowing mules who think they are carrying illicits when in actualitos they are carrying bits and bytes of Los Grande Adventurosos de la Sud De La Border.
South of the border, down Mexico way. Aie Yie Yie Yie, what was I thinking? Palm trees. Margaritos. Sun bathing on the beach. Body surfing. Deep dark tan to wow the bleached bodies in Oregon. So I threw my sweats, my longjohns, my wooly boots, my knitted cap and gloves in a pile on the floor and packed my bag: huaraches, shorts, tank tops, beach towel; got dressed in my light whites, topped my topper with my sombrero and with wife and daughter aboard, hied in the dim dark of froze four AM to the airport, teeth chattering, but not for long. I thought.
Pit stop, all the amenities, such a cool place. Crossing the border is a breeze, but the lineup coming into the states is scary.
The rentacar was our salvation. Heated, with a CD player, it hugged the coastline at a svelte sixty km per hr and we were all smiles, driving to Ensenada, our first stop. Go to El Captivo Hotel, we were told. At the tip of the beach but turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, ha ha. How will we find this magical El Captivo, we asked. Listen for the roar of the lion, we were told. We laughed. Not knowing the lion was roaring because his hovel had no heat, no blankets, no hot water, no running water at all.
We found the lion, after long drives, after long plane rides, after a long boat ride, after a mule pack trip, after hoofing it, in his hovel on Esoteric Beach south of Ensenada where the temperature had frozen froth on the ocean swells and thick furry coats on the local swells but they were still beating cold hands together in spite of thick mittens.
The bossman agreed to give us each a blanket for the cots but after the chile awoke from her nap in the car and espied said hovel, she had such a sad reaction, there was nothing for old capn to do but trek back to the host and grovel for the return of the room in which he succeeded by offering el host with the most a ten dollar loser´s reward. Outside in a cage the monkey shrieked. The lion whimpered. From inside the rentacar you could hear disgruntled mutterings.
2. BEACH HOUSE HOTEL
So we slunk back to downton Esoteric Beach to find the motel we researched on the internet. We thought it was the Don Juan Hotel, but the pics on the internet called it Blue Dolphin Motel and now the sign out front says Beach House Hotel.
Tom, a UNLV grad, has owned the place for five years. He and his right hand man, Johnny, are fixing it up, a gringo headquarters hotspot in the summertime and they want skypilots biz. We take adjoining rooms, cop extra blankets, for there is no heat but lots of hot water so turn the shower on full blast heats the room but soaks the beds and clothes with steam and then there's a long night of driving to downtown Ensenada through dirt roads and exhaust fumes -- no emission control laws here to bug the people-- and we eat and carouse and humongous Huusongs is the bar the boys and girls in the lookout for good times end up at and I gotta tell skypilotclubber Paul Zimmon I didn´t see his old friend the owner anywhere but now gotta git back to the motel and put on all the clothes I own and crawl to bed.
3. THE BLOW HOLE
Steam up the room, revel in the shower, lather up the shave, let's hit the road; for we have made the major decision to leave for what we hope are warmer pastures. But first, in fulfillment of our tourista requirements as stated on our visa application, we must visit the local attraction and what could be more attractive than the famous blowhole? Yas, La Pompadora, at the tip of the peninsula where crafty nature has created a nifty hole in the rocks and from what we are told, water comes cascading up the niche into the hole and blows out in a massive pufadora causing young girls to shriek, grown men to glower and camera toting visitors to click in unison.
It's a long winding road with heartstopping curves and don't look views and at last the approach to La Pompadora itself: a running of the gantlet of booths and barkers, vendors and foodsellers. Half a mile at a crawl, grinning like delighted Americans, inwardly flinching, recoiling from the toy snakes, surgared pretzels, sling shots, brass spittoons, carved wooden gods being thrust at us through the open windows.
Finally, a parking lot, two bucks a car, don't need pesos in upper Baja, everything is figured in dollars, even the cash registers show American alongside Mexican. NAFTA at work. Succor, we need succor, and heat. But there's no heat no where. Everyone has on their winter jacket, the rich the poor, the downcast, the macabre. Everyone but me. But we find succor of a kind in a restaurant where we scarf down the universal breakfast; eggs. Don't have to worry about them being washed first. They come in their own sterile containers.
Tony at the restaurant tells me go see Lindy and her dad across the street. I've had enough of this cold. Time to grab the Mexican bull by the horns and get me a serape. A poncho. Mexican sleeping bag. What a score. The usual bartering and the usual fleecing but what the hey, I'm warm! Now let's go check out that blowhole. I'm a hit walking along. "Cheaper at Wal Mart," one wag yells. "Never been to Wal Mart," is my snappy retort.
La Pompadora cuts loose. Whoosh. A spurt and a gasp. A psst and a zzzzzt. Pretty feeble. Offerings to the sea gods litter the rocks. There's signs on the roads, No Littering On Highway. Go ten feet away, then litter, to follow the letter. You want to pee? There's a pee hole but it costs 40 P to pee but if you gotta go you gotta go and that's what we're going to do so let's blow this hole. This blow hole.
5. ROSARITO BEACH HOTEL
We've had enough of Ensenada and Esoteric Beach. The plan is to reverse course and go to Rosarito Beach and stay in the pompous Rosarito Beach Hotel where we vacationed some years past with fond memories of the warm rooms the hot showers the free margaritas the big swimming pool the wide flat beach the booming surf the smiling waiters the crowds of gringos. But first, the drive through Ensenada. Parts of the main drag are under construction and still unpaved. No lines delineate the lanes and it is a free for all with pokey cars and speed merchants and I'm wild as any of them, in and out of order, gauging the street lights; they give you two warnings; first the green light flashes on and off and then the yellow light comes on and finally the red light. Otherwise you have to keep a sharp eye out for the alto signs, hidden behind carts and parked cars and after going through a few everyone in the car begins yelling, "Alto," everytime a stop sign comes up and I'm with the law, in the law, am the law.
Bienvenidos. Welcome. Welcome to Rosarito Beach. Welcome to the hotel. It is busy busy busy for tomorrow is New Years Eve and a big celebration is the hotel tradition with the dining room closed for dinner and open for reservations for the party. Lots of people checking in. Not many rooms left but we get a room with an ocean view for two nights for an exorbitant price that makes us wonder if it is worth it after all.
Magnificent view off the room balcony on the fourth floor. Once the Rosarito Beach Hotel was a quiet small bungalow affair unknown to tourists but became discovered by Hollywood types and soon was the place to go in Baja. That was the Forties and these are the O4's and now the hotel is a huge monster and after a day of mingling with the gringos and using up our free drink and dinner tickets we have second thoughts about staying. The pre new years fireworks were blasting on the beach all night. It's time to say adios to the fancy place, the loud place, the carousing place, the putting on the dog place.
3. PARAISO ORTIZ MOTEL
Early morning, New Years Eve. Capn Skyp and his wife slink out of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, leaving daughter sleeping in warm comfy bed. Into the reliable rentacar to cruise the strip, in search of another abode, save some valuable bucks. Our best find is a mere half mile south, just past the ravine and sewage plant.
Sniff sniff, no smells at the office. Yes, two rooms, side by side, facing the ocean, patio out front, swimming pool across the drive. And the price is right. We're happy but will the Rosarito Beach Hotel people be happy? We return to el place de faniciful to find out. The answer is yes. We can get full refund for second day of stay. Now to rouse the chile, pack the bags-- an easy chore, we've been moving every day-- and go to our new digs.
From the side and from the front. Hello Paraiso. And for the first day on the trip the sun is out and warming things up. The beach, the great Rosarito beach is just a hike down the steps away and the steps are a great Mexican adventure, no two the same height and it is a three pound weight loss to walk up and down them once.
The beach is crowded with dune buggies, walkers, joggers and horses, lots of horses. They come galloping in through the ravine, vaqueros at the rear, hie hiein them on, as if those horses hadn't done it a million times and didn't know the routine by heart. There's a roar from behind. Horses whinny. Shrieks from walkers. I whirl around in time to throw ourselves into the sand out of the way of Mad Max regaled in armored suits and visored helmest gringo dune buggy freaks raging past doing wheelies, standing like rearing stallions, spitting sand and fumes.
We get up, dust off, resume our walk and do you know the beach is perfectly clean, not a bit a trash to be seen.
This is Pepe's, a restaurant just south of the motel, recommended by an American couple we were talking to. Good food and an art gallery to boot.
One of the pictures on the wall. The owner, I presume, or at least one of the regular customers. Outside, guarding the approaches to Rosarito Beach, the stalwarts of the Mexican army with one of their young admirers. They wanted me to get in the truck so they could take a picture of me sitting there but I convinced them in fractured Spanglish I had already done me military duty.
Hovels and haciendas, side by side and out of habit I pick up the chewing gum wrapper I dropped on the ground and put it in a trash can; surrounded by litter as far as the eye can see and the eye can't see very far; too many condos in the way.
Comes now the surfers. Drove down from Encinitas, just above San Diego. Scott on the left. Jared in the middle. Corey on the right. They hit the water with boards in hand while I hit the chaise lounge next to the swimming pool to pick up a tan; gotta git it while you can. It's warm and sunny; nap time, then get sharp, get mental, get ready. New Years Eve. Hoo boy.
Getting dark. Getting close to party time. Gotta eat first. We go to Rene's Sport Bar and Restaurant right next to the motel. Hand printed crude sign on the door says, Recreation Only. Okay. We go in. The party is in full swing, place packed with gringos dressed in their finest with leis around their necks. Head man, has to be, he's got two leis around his neck, sees us and says, "Reservation only, sorry." We look at each other. Some kind of spelling problem going on here but we are happy to leave, being more into recreation that reservation.
It's back to Pepe's where we had lunch. Place is empty but has a guitar player strumming and singing and after supper we jump in the car and cruise the gut. All the action takes place in three blocks of town, revelers packed on the sidewalks in front of the clubs; loud loud loud music duking it out, who can be louder. Rest of the town is quiet, few people on the streets.
We go back to the motel and hit the hay. The ghost freighter slips in and out of the dark, quarantined to remain always at sea, crew skeletized. But no sleep for the Capn. He listens to the desultory fireworks and at five till midnite goes out and watches the new year come in with lot of bangs. Fireworks going up all over town, individual efforts, nothing organized. Up on top the big moon beams down, the stars twinkle, the clouds swirl; what are those humans up to? It's not a stellar event, nothing universal, a made up thing: a calendar, scratches on paper, little marks keeping track of time. Out on the fringes of the lawn a frog speaks. "Too deep. Too deep."
4. THE MOONLIGHT BEACH MOTEL
Say adios to Rosarito Beach, adios to the Paraiso Ortiz motel. We are up early to hit the road for the states; plan is to go north of San Diego and find a motel in Encinitas, upon the recommendation of the surfers. One last stop in Rosarito, one last look around, and this time the Capn ventures off the main drag, walks a couple blocks East and wanders the back streets, reluctant to leave, for now he is in the Mexican groove, has slowed down to a comfortable pace, has conquered the language barrier. But he can't enjoy the comfort zone for long because we have to hit that border crossing. There's been reports that some people have had to wait up to four hours to get across.
It isn't that bad. Fifteen minutes from approach to passing through the barrier. Stiff, unfriendly dude asks us what country we are citizens of, wants to know if we bought anything in Mexico. Serape, dude. Waves us through, ignoring my happy new year greeting. Ah, who would want that job, anyway? And we've got important doings ahead of us; most important of which is to find that American cafe, that American food, that American cheesburger. Then the motel. The perfect motel. On a hill overlooking the ocean, a couple blocks from the beach. A suite with a kitchen, two bedrooms, a working TV, and a better price than anything we found in Mexico.
Off to the beach we go. What's this? Something familiar in the air. Be damned if there's not a sewer plant in the ravine alongside the road, wafting its familiar fragrance. The good old U.S.A. has a few south of the border amenties after all, including large labor pools gathered on the street corner hoping for someone to come along and offer them a job for the day.
Let's do Italian for dinner and go to Japan at the movies: Lost In Translation, which I thought was going to be talk talk talk in a hotel room but turned out to have great Tokyo streets and clubs action. Hit the hay and up the next day for the customary packup and checkout and on the road to the San Diego airport, a quick easy check in and we're off for home.
Listen up, make sure those engines are humming, hmmm, nice soothing sound, makes the time in the plane go quickly, hey, who says I was snoring? Purty soon, touchdown, pile into the car and zoom through the rain to arrive at long last . . . be it ever so humble there's no place like . . .
Lesseee, is there some kind of conclusion we can draw from these random and rambling accounts of traveling in a foreign though neighborly country? Yas, travel is good for the soul. Family vacations draw the members closer together, after all is said and done, sometimes with fervor and verve. And it affords one a fresh look, a better look, at one's own place, one's own town, one's own neighbors. This is good. This is worth while. This makes one appreciate one's life. Nuff said, ahem, cough cough. Now let's have a beer.
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