Yesterday was our big Ensenada day. It did not feel so big—maybe because I’ve been before, maybe because I’m so distant from my writing these days. I kept waiting for that tickle of inspiration—for the words to start arranging themselves like dominoes in my head as I saw things I wanted to describe. And eventually it started—just a tiny bit at the end of the day when I thought, Pelicans: graceful and awkward at the same time. The rust is just beginning to fall off the gears.
There was a lot more security getting on and off the boat than I remember from last time. They checked our room keys against our photos as we went out. There were armed guards, two metal detectors and a bag search on the way back. Terrorism or drug stuff? Both?
The city smelled like ocean. It felt nice to have some elbow room. The air was balmy, which is my favorite kind of air. My ears adjusted themselves to Spanish.
A guy on one of the little boats in the harbor called out to the tourists.
“He said something about ‘five.’ That’s all I know,” said Stephen, who didn’t take Spanish in high school.
“He said, ‘Only five pesos per person,’” I said, feeling proud of myself. “That seems like a good deal.”
I did not know.
Mostly we walked. My friends were happy to be enlisted as my research team. “How do you say, ‘If there were a circus in town, where would it be?’” I asked Pedro. It seemed to involve an awful lot of subjunctive clauses.
“Well, first, I wouldn’t open with that.” Pedro is fluent in both Spanish and social interactions. An hour later, he was chatting with a shopkeeper: “Cuando el circo viene, donde está?”
About a quarter mile from the naval base, we learned, but I found an empty lot I liked better, just east of the main drag, surrounded by a low brick wall with an anti-graffiti message that had been tagged over.
The main drag: a fish market with bloody marlin steaks and wheelbarrows full of arm-length silver-gray fish; stands selling churros rellenos, hot and cinnamony; stands selling Dora the Explorer wrestling masks, made-in-Ensenada souvenirs with a distinctly made-in-China look, silver jewelry, “silver” jewelry, luggage, shoes and Mexican jumping beans in little plastic boxes.
We had mid-morning drinks at a bar with an outdoor patio and a waiter who wanted to add tequila to everything. We ate chips shiny from the deep fryer with guacamole and pico de gallo. The woman at the table next to us ate with a well-behaved Chihuahua in her lap. Every five minutes, people tried to sell us bracelets embroidered with our names or “I’m on a boat, bitch.” A trio of skinny buff boys in flannel shirts did some amazing double-jointed breakdancing that topped the not-shabby duo from the previous night’s Welcome Aboard! show.
Back on the ship, we attempted to lounge by one of the lesser populated pools, not the big fratty one on the Lido deck, which a guy in the elevator dubbed the Guido deck. Later, I dragged everyone to the generically named Showtime for more research. But this time it was awesome.
There was a western theme. There were glittery chaps and whorehouse dresses and Dolly-esque hair extensions and many costume changes. At the end, a couple dressed all in white glitter sang a romantic rendition of “Stand by Me.” Then the cloud-like curtain behind them lifted to reveal dancers in red, white and blue against a stylized American flag backdrop that looked a bit like the Confederate flag, thanks to some unfortunately placed diagonal stripes.
“Stand by Me” segued into “God Bless the USA.” There was saluting, and a song I didn’t recognize, but whose lyrics quickly got stuck in my head: “America! America! I love you!” I can’t wait for tonight’s show.