Wednesday, November 21, 2012

OMG…..Another Border Crossing

Okay, I have another story on my latest border crossing “mis” adventure.  Well, it was time to make the monthly pet food run and food shop for the Thanksgiving dinner party and as luck would have it my new friend was already planning to spend the weekend in San Diego, so invited me to come along. Now we had just one little problem. She has a Senti Pass, which allows her to go in a special lane and make the border crossing in minutes instead of hours. This pass is issued by the Homeland Security and is good only for the person and their vehicle, every person in the vehicle must have their own Senti. So, what people do is get close the crossing and then drop anyone who doesn’t have the pass off to walk across the border. Now that sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it? I’ve read about it online and it is a standard thing to do. So, we have a plan and off we go.  It is a beautiful sunshine afternoon and a joy to be able to watch the scenery along the coastal route to the border. Within the hour we are in Tijuana. Here is where the craziness begins. First it with cars, buses and trucks cutting you off and people playing dodge the vehicle as the run across the lanes of traffic. Finally, we get up to the Senti on ramp and it is closed. The police wave us away. We need to go to the other location which has us driving in more congestion,  now the sun has started to set. Our plan was to be well across the border before dark and now it looks like we won’t even get to the border until dark.  At long last, we are nearing the place to let me off and it  has become dark. There is a long line of people standing in this little mall area.  I decided I won’t take my purse leaving it in the car. I said, I’ll take my cell phone and ID’s. Stuff the passport and a $20. bill with my drivers license in my front jeans pocket, just as it is time to jump out of the car. She stops and I jump out. I start looking for the end of the line, I walked about a block, it is dark, I am feeling very alone and unsure of the situation. I think I will call her, then I realize I don’t have my cell phone. I turn and go back, but I don’t see her car at all, she has already gone across the border. I am alone!

I turn and start walking back to find the end of the line, it wraps down around the corner, no end in sight. Now I have different men approaching me saying “bus $5.00”. I just shake my head no. I don’t know what they are offering me.  I continue walking a long side the line it has been a few blocks and still I have not found the end of the line. At this point another man asks someone walking near me also, looking for the end of the line “bus $5.00”. I think maybe this is a good idea. I walk back to where my friend dropped me off and the first man again says “bus $5.00”. I get the twenty out of my pocket and offer it to him. He has a roll of US dollars that he can almost not get his hand around, he peels off a 5 and a 10 and hand them to me. He then motions me toward the curb, as well as the other three unsmiling skinny disheveled Mexican men, who are standing nearby. These guys look like the type I really won’t normally come in contact with…I start wonder what kind of bus have I just paid for…am I getting on a bus that is smuggling people across or what….many silly and nervous thoughts like this run through my head. Now the guy has us out in traffic walking in the same lane as the moving cars. We stop to wait for the bus I guess. Then a policeman comes along and speaks Spanish to the guy and he motions us to start walking. We walk tight against this temporary wooden wall , where a curb should be as the cars move past us. Then there is an opening past the wooden wall and he has us stop and wait. My imagination is at this point is totally running away with me, part of me is in fear and part of me thinks that is silly and everything is okay. 

Soon a white unmarked commercial van pulls up. The guy opens the side door and motions us to climb on in….a wave of English rushes out to greet my ears as I start to climb up into the van, can’t really see that much in the dark, but the voices are chatting to each other in a friendly way…..whew this is all going to be okay! So, the van already is totally full with a dozen people, but I mange to almost fit in a middle seat next to three other women.  The women in the seat assured me that they take this “bus” all the time. They park on the other side and walk over to shop or go to the dentist. There are very cheap and good dentists in Tijuana.
So, after riding along for a few blocks the van stops the driver gets out and opens the side doors, but he doesn’t want us to get out, it just that we are now in a bus line and have to wait. He is just giving us some air in the overcrowded vehicle.  So, we all continue to chat. Next thing we know the van starts moving and the one door is swinging around wildly almost hitting a parked car. The women in the seat in front of me and I grab it as it swings back toward the van. We are holding on to it while the bus is now driving on toward the border. Then it pulls into a bus parking lane. The driver gets out and comes back to the open door and counts how many people are in the bus. At this point I think great it is only going to be a few minutes and I will be walking into the border crossing inspection station. Wrong, we continue to wait. Finally a Homeland security guard comes around and directs us to the open side door of the building, where another armed guard is holding the door open. So we enter the inspection area just as they are taking a man away in hand cuffs’ from the next line. It is an unnerving sight. We stand and wait. The line doesn’t move. There is no one in the booth at the front of this line. We wait about a half hour and finally the line moves and it is my turn. I am greeted by the agent , passport checked and then I am on my way out the door. I get out the door and realize I have never seen this area before. It is a plaza with the San Diego trolley, fast food restaurants all around glowing neon signs in the dark. I blink and wonder what to do just then my friend is a few yards in front of me waving and calling me with her cell phone to her ear. I have never been so happy and relieved to see someone. She said she had been trying to call me, she had not realized that the phone was ringing in my purse that she now had over her shoulder.  “OMG” is all I can say about this border crossing. Anyway, off we went for our evening Art Gallery Open and other San Diego adventures.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful

Well our first month has pasted ever so quickly here in La Mision. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had the time to set down and write this blog or ponder all that I have seen and done. That’s the good news, so busy meeting new friends and seeing new things; everyday is like a vacation and seems to pass quickly. Just the way retirement is suppose to be….how cool is that. I’m so lucky not to be facing a cold winter, but enjoying this very mild cool nights and warm days. The one thing that just doesn’t seem right, once we went off daylight savings the sunsets at 5:00, which means that if you go out to dinner like we did last night it is driving in the dark….much harder to see the potholes in the road. Last night we had dinner at the La Fonda Hotel; this is a famous landmark place, built in 1962. It is a very short drive down the road from us. The La Fonda sets on a bluff overlooking the ocean with an old tile patio where tables half-hidden behind dense potted palms and flowering magenta bougainvillea are shaded with thatch umbrellas for cozy dining, the evening menu written on a very long chalk board that the waiter sets by your table along with a tall candle to shed light on it. Then he sets other tall candles on your cloth covered table as well. The candle holders we found very amusing, that are like so many things around here, very inventive. A long tapered white candle put in a wine bottle then a clear plastic drinking glass cut at the bottom so it could slip over the candle and rest on the lip of the wine bottle…thus making a candle holder that a laminates  the flame. The lighting all around is from the candle holders making it very warm and inviting ambience. As we focus our eyes in the dim candle light we realize the music is being performed by a musician with his guitar and fine voice. He is performing the Spanish Oldies from the sixties, this is what my friend said about the music when I ask her. Looking around the patio I see it is filled with expats all speaking English to each other. There was the retired group who looked like they may have been drinking quite a few margaritas since happy hour and then the biker couple all black leather; we parked next to their motorcycle and right across from us very large group who seem to be celebrating something. I enjoyed the mix  of language and culture as the stars came out, and the breeze off the ocean cooled the night air, so I wrapped myself in serape blanket that had been placed on the back of my wicker chair and the streaming hot food was set in front of me,  Ah, welcome to Baja.

What’s a challenge or the “bad” here of course is my in ability to speak Spanish, next comes driving with the way the locals drive cutting in and out were there isn’t space to do so,  then there is the potholes that all roads seem to have, even the paid road. Finally, I guess on that list how odd it is to go through Mexican Army check points all the time, which you have to do to go to either of our local cities north or south, Rosarito or Ensenada. They always just wave us through, they mostly check any kind of truck and when we were at the Ensenada one time, they pulled the car in front of us over  it was a group of young Americans with surf boards and long hair. The soldiers started totally go through their vehicle as we were waved on. I have always thought it would be fun to photograph these young soldiers with automatic rifles hung on their shoulders, but know it may not be a good idea. Their weapons are almost bigger than they are…for me it reminds me of some kind of silly cartoon, but I do know it is very much for real.

As they say, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” I am coming to see more beauty around me than I first noticed. Of course, the beach and magnificence sunsets are still at the top of my list…have been right from the start by now it is the smaller things that I am noticing….the giant flower starting to bloom on the cactus in front of the house… the child riding by on their horse…the mountains around us and then of course all the wonderful, generous people we are meeting and the gentle energy that you can feel all around you. There is something very magical about being here that is hard to write about or explain, yet be here awhile and you can feel it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ah, Baja

Last weekend I went to an art show and met some local expat artists. It was fun to meet them and I enjoyed the show. I made a wonderful connection with one of the artist who has a weekly after school art club at the local children's shelter. She invited me to join her and help with the art creations of the children. so on wednesday afternoon, I shifted from beach bum to art teacher. I found out just how common a language art expression can be....the children and I got on just fine even though they spoke only Spanish and I only English. We could still understand each other....interesting how that works. I will continue weekly visiting and helping with the art club...what fun!

Friday, went to a wonderful event of mostly expats at a very nice seaside community near by called BajaMar. After I went through the guarded gates and into the community I felt  transported into another time and place was so reminiscent of a Southern California Community. Very beautiful with lawns, club house, swimming pool, mature palm tree line drives and tons of flowers everywhere. We had a lovely garden party in honor of Dia de los Muertos, with music, altar building or making an Ofrenda, we shared remembrances of family members who have pasted. Then heard stories of the tradition of Dia de los Muertos and the parts of the traditional Ofrenda and Celebrations. Followed by making of some traditional crafts. I made a corn husk flower that came out well. In the late afternoon sun we enjoyed some really yummy traditional foods and interesting conversation. Ah, Baja!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tricky, tricky, Holloween

Tricky, tricky, Halloween the children chanted in a chorus, like Christmas carolers in front of each house and dressed in costumes. Then you went out and gave them candy. This is the Baja Halloween we had last night. Today and tomorrow is the celebration of El dia de los muertos or Days of the Dead. On these days you celebrate and invite the spirits of your deceased relatives. November 1 is for the adults and November 2 is for the children. The ghosts and skeletons aren’t the ones of Halloween all evil or scary, they are your loved ones to be invited back to share the day with a colorful celebration featuring bright orange marigolds, colorful paper cut-outs and sugar skulls and pastries that are meant to be eaten.  You place on a table on the favorite treats of the deceased and photos of them, making the table colorful and inviting.
Tomorrow, Nov. 2,  I am going to an artist event at a local women’s home and we are going to learn all about the celebration and how to make the paper cut outs. I am pleased that I found out about it and can join the group.