By: Jose Amate  |  MexicoMatters.com

“Why Ensenada?” Is the question I asked myself in the late 1980’s, when I began writing about moving from my home in “very hip” Berkeley, California to live full time in Ensenada. And now, 26 years later, a lot has changed. It is no longer the quiet village I found upon my arrival.

There were very few electric typewriters, much less the existence of computers back then. The clack of manual typewriters and the tearing of carbon paper were the most familiar Ensenada office sounds in the mid 80’s. My old IBM PC, I used only as a word processor, marveled my friends and colleagues.

A mule driven wagon brought fruits and vegetables to neighborhood streets. My favorite Cabernet – Cavas Val Mar, was delivered to my home by the vintner, Fernando Martain, at $50.00 a case. That same Cabernet now costs $25 a bottle. Freshly caught lobster, at ridiculously low prices, was offered by fishermen who knocked on my door.

Now everyone is wired to the internet. It has replaced T.V. as the gathering place of young “Ensenadenses”. Whether on the home laptop or at the internet café. Youtube and Myspace occupies our young, including my 16 year old. COSTCO, Walmart and Home Depot now cover once open fields adjoining the beautiful white sand beaches of Ensenada. Traffic and parking problems began surfacing only four years ago. The city is no longer a mix of urban and rural. It has been fully urbanized and “I dig it”. Ensenada has grown up nicely for my: port city – urban tastes.

Chilangos (natives of Mexico City), Cachanilla (Mexicali natives), Asians, Europeans and Gringos (Gabachos) have migrated here, in ever increasing numbers. They have brought new vitality and energy to Ensenada. It is more diverse and the results are, in my opinion, an improvement and augmentation in: music, food, art, literature, dance and dialogue. And with all of its new found sophistication (sushi and hip hop), it is still a village.

I walk down the street, enter a restaurant, store, office or bar and folks still greet me by my name. Like neighbors and old friends we poke fun of each other and ourselves – Like “playin the dozens” on a street corner in my native Oakland. Except “we be trash talkin” in Spanglish. Waiters, bartenders, merchants’ professionals, politicians and bureaucrats take time out for me. Recounting when and where we first met.

There is warmth to the folks, in this Pearl of the Pacific that is missing in most urban centers. An acceptance for people based on who they are. Not their: occupation, age, skin color, automobile or clothes. I was blessed growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the bastion of free America. And equally blessed living out my “very hip” senior years in Ensenada.

Why hip you ask? Cause Ensenada, like me, is hip. Check out the new Bella’s Arte, state art museum. It is located on Costero Blvd adjoining, to the South, Riviera del Pacifica. It is filled with genius. The art museum property also houses a large performing arts theatre. Presenting world class performances at prices the average Ensenada family can afford.
New restaurants have changed the dining landscape in Ensenada, with more high cuisine alternatives from the interior and Southern regions of Mexico (see the Ensenada gourmet) . A wonderful supper club called “El Bodegon del Arte” (The warehouse of art) combines great food, live music and art in a funky bohemian environment. Also found on the website. Minors are welcome.

And of course, Ensenada has the Valle de Guadalupe wine country; which I describe as Napa – Sonoma 50 years ago. I’m old enough to make that comparison. The valley boasts a total of 80 wineries including artisan “home made” wines. A wine lover’s paradise, without the commercial trappings of Northern wineries.

In Ensenada you actually meet the winemakers. Our annual wine festival runs the entire month of August, with internationally acclaimed artists performing in vineyards, under the stars, on balmy Ensenada Valley nights. Enhancing the experience – of course, great local wine and food. Over a hundred thousand visitors, from all over the globe came to celebrate the righteous grape this past year.

I love the fact that I can go to Hussong’s Cantina and hear great live mariachi, move three doors down to Mango Mango for Cuban Son and Salsa. Then cross the street to Las Palmas for Banda de Sinaloa music. Six blocks East, some great Jazz or Latin Jazz. And cap the night off at any one of many bistros featuring soft guitar accompanied balladeers.
I am proud of the city that for nine years has presented an International jazz festival, the last weekend in September that is free to the public. Grateful, that my piano studying teen has the best of musical influences and teachers who are friends of mine.

I am humbled that mi amigo, Rommel Arvizu, owner of XS 92.9 fm, let’s me satisfy my “Jones” for presenting African originated music on the radio. America’s only indigenous, classical art form – Jazz, Blues, and all its derivatives: Sunday nights at 8:30 pm.

I am supported by “Ensenadenses” who are excited about my bringing Oakland style Blues to Ensenada for a Jazz and Blues Festival. Ensenada Jazz is a world class ensemble led by Maestro Sixto Rosas. They will be sharing the bill with The Delta Wires of Oakland, voted the best band in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ensenada jazz is incredibly generous to me. They committed to performing without asking how much they would receive: “Pay us what you think is fair”.

Contrary to press reports, I feel safe in Baja California and especially Ensenada. I don’t worry about my wife or my son’s safety on our streets. I am proud of our police leadership and city officials who do not tolerate “shake downs”. Nor do they tolerate bad behavior in public. I have lived in the East, West and Midwestern United States. Emergency response time in Ensenada is the best I have known.

If I need to escape the “hustle and bustle” of newly urbananized Ensenada, I seek refuge at my beach house. It is Located on the Punta Banda Penninsula, 30 minutes South of downtown. Estuary, white sand beach, thermal springs, mountains, an island and a wide array of migrating birds helps me do serious (as the Hawaiians say) “chillaxin”.

I’m going to take poetic license on a tune by an old Oakland R&B group – “Tower of Power” ya’all. And say: “Is it hip? Ensenada is more than hip – It’s hipper than hip”.


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