I ‘m finally across the border! After endless delays due to mechanical issues and sponsors, I’m in the fabled land of Mexico.
The poverty is apparent the moment you cross the border. The people in the street, the men running back from a failed attempt to cross the border fence, the dilapidated houses, all came at the snap of a finger. Surely not everyone is poor, or at least not that poor, but the contrast came so quickly that it was hard to ignore.
The first thing I did when I got to Tijuana was drop Georgia, twice, both within 2 minutes. The second landed me in front of an oncoming car – which, thankfully decided not to prematurely terminate my journey, and life. Both times I was instantly surrounded by half a dozen men who helped me get my tires back on the pavement. though my leg was bleeding and Georgia’s engine flooded, I felt very welcomed in Mexico.
This latest drop further shook my confidence in being able to ride off-road,e specially when fully loaded. The bike is heavily laden, way too tall for me, with overly aggressive off-road tires – which make my ride unstable whenever there is a gust of wind or a change in pavement. I keep thinking of what I can get rid of, and still cannot bring myself to part with anything. It all seems vital, or at least tolerable. After all, my entire life is on the bike, there is a limit as to how little I can have. Right?
Within a couple of hours of arriving in Ensenada, Carmen, my host from couch surfing, and I, had dinner with her entire family. We then went dancing for 4 straight hours. The women were beautiful, the beer cheap and good, the music an excellent variety of cumbia, bachata, merengue, salsa, blues and punk. Carmen is a professional Arabic style dancer, so she knows how to move to say the least. It was the perfect way to start Mexico.
A few days later Carmen and I went to Mexican Wine country. The landscape reminded me a lot of northern Israel – boulder studded hills, dark green shrubs, and endless rows of olives and grapes.
Who would have thought that Mexico has delicious wines!? We began at the La Cetto winery, with the intention of visiting others…
The Tempranillo was not very good, the whites and rose’s were bland as well. However, the Petite Syrah was excellent – simple, dry, not a varied palate but very good in the flavors it had. The Bordeaux blend was off the charts! Cab, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cab Franc. Dry and aromatic, juicy and fruity – but not jammy or sweet. It was a 2008 so still very young, but you could tell it will be an excellent wine in a few years. There was a little smoke, a little wood, some dried fruit – pronounced in a hearty palate and lots of cherry and plum at the top – extremely well balanced, nothing screamed over anything else. We then tried the straight cab, which was very good also – not on the same charts as my favorite Cali cabs, but very good indeed. The Nebiollo was also excellent – dark fruit, a little pepper, a little smoke, a rich, full mouth feel with a balanced dry finish.
We went on a small tour with two other visitors, cousins from far flung parts of Mexico. This turned into a multi-hour festival. After trying the first few wines, Carmen’s friend came with the special wines that are not normally available for tasting (the blend and Cab mentioned above), and we proceeded to talk and taste for a while. Then the two cousins invited us to drink a bottle of the Petite Sirah. A bottle turned into two, with bread, aged cheese, olive oil and olives. We sat for hours talking and laughing on the veranda outside the tasting room. A famous Mexican singer, Reyli, came by for a few toasts, photos and insults. Mexico just kept getting better and better!
We spent the following night at a ranch, about an hour outside of Ensenada. In the mountains there are no lights, the nearest Pueblito has not more than 100 residents, which brought a snugness to this gathering of strangers. Olive oil and olives, cheese, bread and wine – all made on the ranch – were served on tables normally used to feed the many ranch workers. There were a few bare bulbs giving us light, and we sat close to each other for warmth. In this tiny space there were two groups of musicians, neither professional, just people who knew how to sing and how to play. Something about the moment reminded me of Russia – the tiny table in the tiny apartment with 2 dozen people miraculously fitting in, singing, reading poetry, laughing. It is the best part of Russia, and it felt so good to experience it in Mexico. Upon request (which I receive every time people find out I am from Russia), I sang Katyusha (accompanied by a northern Mexican guitarist – the contrast was not lost on anyone) and gave a few steps from a Kozachok.
My birthday followed a few days later, with 3 nights of parties. Carmen threw a party for me at her mother’s house. We knew each other for not more than a week, and yet I found myself surrounded by family. They cooked and baked and decorated the yard. One of the brothers came with band mates to sing for us; the girls wore traditional outfits. We sang into the wee hours, full of delicious food, hibiscus water, cake and joy.
My streak of nights dancing for more than 3 hours began on my first night in Mexico, went right on through my birthday, and continues to this day. On the first night of my birthday Fabricio, my second host, and I went to hear a Cuban salsa group. I was lucky enough to be snatched up by a girl with whom I could dance as though we had been partners forever. Though I still make the occasional mis-steps and know only a few spins, we tore up the floor! What a difference it makes to dance with someone for whom dancing is as natural as breathing. When the band found out it was my birthday (and that I was a Ruskie), they got the whole place to sing me happy birthday, after which I had to return the favor by showing some Russian dance moves and teaching them a few words.
The very next day I went out with all of my hosts and we spent another night dancing until the sun came up. Salsa and Cumbia, Irish and Jewish and Russian, we threw it all down. I was plied with beer as though I were in Russia – in that Mexican’s understand the word “No” about as well as Russians. By the time we got to the next bar, I was more light footed than usual, but at last I was confronted with a dance I just could not pick up. I don’t remember the name, but it is typical of northern Mexico.
With a trip to a 4000 acre ranch which stretches from mountain to sea, I concluded my stay in Ensenada. It was a time of passion and learning, singing, dancing, eating and the setting up for an unforgettable trek through the incredibly varied places and peoples of Mexico.