Ensenada is the third largest City in Baja California, 110 kilometers south of Tijuana on Transpeninsular Highway 1. It’s a beautiful drive down the coastline, Ensenada is situated on the Bahia de Todos Santos, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, and is locally referred to as La Cenicienta del Pacífico, “The Cinderella of the Pacific”.
Ensenada was one of the first settlements founded on the peninsula, and a homesteading destination to many ethnic groups and nationalities. It has since grown to a major cruise ship destination, aerospace center, and home of some of Mexico’s most prominent vineyards on the nearby “La Ruta del Vino y Queso”. The first vineyards in the area can trace back to 1703, when Jesuit Padre Juan de Ugarte of the San Ignacio Mission introduced grapes into the region.
The area was first settled in 1542 under the name San Mateo by the Portuguese, then was rediscovered and renamed Ensenada de Todos Santos by the Spanish in 1602. Ensenada means ‘bay’ or ‘cove.’ The city was settled subsequently by the Jesuits in the mid 1600s to 1768, who were then expelled, resettled by the Dominicans, established as the capital of Baja California by José Manuel Ruiz Carillo in 1805, and briefly taken by William Walker, the self-declared President of Baja, in 1853-54.
Throughout this tremulous history Ensenada never grew beyond a small population of a few thousand until the growth of the US West and numerous migration waves in the 1930s and 1940s, and today Ensenada has over 500,000 people. Interestingly, Ensenada municipality is the largest in the world by land mass. We even spoke with someone who worked with the mayor’s wife coordinating different communities in the municipality, and her job took her hundreds of kilometers.
When we woke up in Ensenada on Friday we decided our first stop should be the History Museum, Museo de Historia de Ensenada. The museum is in a beautiful old building whose construction dates back to 1930. The History Museum, much like many of the others we have encountered, had various displays which mostly centered on the history of European explorers and Catholic Missionaries and a room dedicated to mining in Real del Castillo. One resident we talked to stressed the importance of immigration to Ensenada in particular. As we’ve seen with other northern Baja cities, various waves of immigration from Europe, Russia, and Asia arrived and settled, creating a very diverse culture. The tragedy of this immigration, of course, is the often decimating impact on existing native peoples and cultures.
The museum had a very small gift shop where we purchased postcards and went exploring for another museum.
We didn’t have to go far, as right across the street from the history museum is the Ensenada Arts Center, or Centro Estatal de las Artes de Ensenada (CEARTE). The museum is mostly devoted to modern art. Different content and styles of art ranged from tactile creations, multi-layered cut out paper, photography, paintings on various mediums, and recreation of important tweets. While we were there we met and interviewed a young lady named Circe who worked at the museum. We asked her about Ensenada and the importance of artistic expression in the community.
We learned that the oldest cantina of the Baja Peninsula still in operation was in Ensenada, so we thought we’d have to check it out. Cantina Hussong’s is in the thick of the loud and overdone tourist area, but it is much more reserved and tranquil than most of its neighbors. With a basic wooden bar and tables, peanut shells on the ground, and a mariachi band wandering in to play a few tunes, this quaint little bar was alright.
Later in the evening we met up with some residents at a nearby microbrewery where they introduced us to some local beverages. The brewery, Agua Mala, is in a building completely constructed from shipping containers and has a large array of beers from local brewers and a tantalizing food menu. While Agua Mala literally translate as, “bad water”, it is also one way to call Jellyfish in Spanish. This spot is greatly recommend to the traveler avoiding the downtown cruise ship tourist scene.
One of the residents we met, Andrea, works closely with some of the orphanages in and around Ensenada. She took us to an orphanage called Rancho de Los Niños, located about a half hour outside of downtown Ensenada. In order to get there you need to drive through Ensenada’s ever increasingly popular winery region. She explained to us that until recently many people in other parts of Mexico had never heard of Ensenada, but in the last few years the popularity of the wines produced there has given the area quite a bit of notoriety.
Rancho de Los Niños has been around for about 75 years but was officially licensed by the Mexican government in 1968 and is about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary next year. The orphanage currently cares for approximately 80 children from the ages of about three to seventeen. The children have sometimes been abused and neglected and some have special needs. The orphanage is on a large plot of land, with separate living space for young children, teenage boys, teenage girls, as well as for special needs and disabled children. It was bright, colorful, had a garden, a playground, dogs, livestock, a stage for shows, and a general aura of happiness.
When we first arrived we were introduced to three girls named, Alondra, Fernanda, and Lupita, the youngest of the three. Even though they were young and shy, they were happy to discuss the community they lived in. Though very camera shy, when we told them we wanted their help painting a representation of their community, they lit up. We broke out our paints and canvass board, and some of the boys playing nearby joined the girls to help paint a picture of their community. Everybody had fun and it turned out great! Chatting with the children as they painted, we found that some had been there a few years, and one quiet boy just a week or two. It was nice to see the other children welcome him so quickly and tell us that he was a part of their community as well.
We talked with some of the staff and got to interview some of them while we were there. One of which was the director, Jorge Fonseca, who jokingly told us he had been the director for twenty-five years. He laughed and said of course he’s not that old, he’s been the director for just a few years. But after talking to him a bit longer, we found that his answer was truthful in a way. Jorge was raised at the orphanage from the age of two, where he met his future wife, was given enough education and head start to leave and attend university, and ultimately came back to be the director of the facility.
Jorge was incredibly grateful for the opportunities he had because the orphanage helped provide a safe home and community, as well as an the chance to attend school in the nearby village. When we asked if everything was going well in the orphanage, he said they got by, that they had more children than they probably should try to care for, but they found it impossible to turn any away. We asked what they could use for assistance, and without hesitating he responded “school supplies.” Jorge simply wants the children there to have the opportunity that he had, to attend school and become educated. If you would like to help raise money for school supplies for the orphanage, please visit our fundraiser Here on YouCaring.com.
The next day we had the good fortune to meet with a local artist named Esther Rubio. Coincidentally we had seen her work in two different places before even meeting her. Murals in Bahia de Los Angeles, as well as the art on the outside of Agua Mala. Besides being an incredible artist, Esther is a beautiful, amazingly genuine human being. She teaches drawing and art history at CEARTE. She graciously invited us into her home where we took the opportunity to interview her about the community she grew up in, Sonora, and her new home in Ensenada. We are thrilled with our good fortune that Esther will also be contributing a piece of her art to our project.
You can see more of Esther’s work on her Facebook Page or on her Instagram account: @negricita
Esther even took us out on the town to see a local jazz fusion band at Ultra Marino, a live music and DJ bar downtown. We also greatly recommend Ultra Marino if you are downtown and trying to avoid the tourist traps! The atmosphere was relaxed, the locals friendly, and they have a large variety of music throughout the week.
On our way out of town, Esther showed us her favorite local taco shop, and probably the best fish and shrimp tacos I’ve ever had! Another great spot away from the typical tourist shops, 16 and 18 pesos for large fish and shrimp tacos. A great way to end our trip to Ensenada!