Thursday, January 22, 2015

Road Tripping Baja, Mexico - From Tijuana to Ensenada to San Quintin

Another country visited, another flag to add to the count list.  Really fun road tripping filled with food glorious food and adventure!

It should be a shame that I didn't cross the border to Tijuana when I was in San Diego in 2007 - afterall it's only 30 minutes away and so easy to step over!  But this time I was not to be denied!  We drove in from San Diego and hit the so called border without any problems - fast and easy.  Hey, if you want to come to Mexico, just come, we welcome you!
With no plans in mind, we drove straight for food - as recommended for its creative tacos (my god, my taco journey really hit its mark in Mexico!).  Taco Kokopelli was the place we hit first.  Though not exactly hungry we had to try their brand of tacos - octopus, shrimp and someone was being adventurous for cricket tacos.  And their array of sauces to go with.  Their tacos are different, its creative and actually ain't bad! Didn't try their fish tacos so couldn't really compare to Oscars, but I think I still find Oscars a lot better.  But if you are in Tijuana, do hit Kokopelli for tacos!  We had 5 tacos for just under $13!

Taco Kokopelli

Pulpo = Octopus taco

Which salsa do you want

Camaron = Shrimp taco

Cricket! Not for me
We also hit the Centro Cultural Center for a bit of art and cultural infusion.  We took the long walk to get there and acquainted ourselves with Tijuana.  It reminds me of the less developed side of Malaysia in JB, the houses and the streets, and also speaks of Philippines in certain way.  A vast difference stepping in from San Diego to take myself back in time, kinda like a kampung feeling but not exactly kampung.  Along the way, we also passed by Kitchen Boulevard, where several food trucks were parked to serve customers.  Was gonna check this place out for food but we got distracted by other food places after - Too many good food to choose from, something's gotta give!

And of course we took a walk along the tourist street in Centro - Av Revolucion where you will see the big Arch and a lot of tourist shops and bars.  As it was winter, the streets though busy were not as busy as in summer.  Still interesting to walk along the streets and be called out by the shop hawkers.  And also make time to visit Caesar restaurant and bar - apparently where the Caesar salad was invited and magic happens!  Walking into the bar, you get a rather old school feel about the bar, yet new.  They have old machines around the bar, refitted to look old but the machines are pretty new.  And an order or two of margaritas is a must!  The food menu is pretty interesting and according to my partner in crime pretty old school stuff.  But we were not planning on dinner as yet.  Dinner was somewhere else - a check on google and a toss of coin brought us to La Querencia - it was a tough choice as there were a lot of restaurants to pick from.  And we were happy with our final choice!  We stuffed our faces with the seafood selection - scallop cerviche, grilled scallops and grilled octopus!  Portions were huge and the price paid for worth the food.  And with wine to go with, and the mariachi man serenading me.  All in all a great dinner with great food and company.

Callo = scallop cerviche

We didn't know what callo meant and when we realized it was scallop, that was immediately the one we went for

Grilled octopus

And the night doesn't end without a visit to a bar or 2!  Where I tried for the first time Beer mixed with spice - it has a weird taste but ain't bad.  Gotta try something new eh?  The 2nd bar turned out to be a bar-cum-karaoke place, where we just drank pretty good sparkling wine and listened to the locals sing in spanish and some english songs.  Was a night of a lot of drinking and fun and laughter, where the partner in crime probably doesn't remember much of the night :).  It was a fantastic night, one of the best nights of my trip and in Mexico, a great night to remember for me.
Beer with spice, not bad
Karaoke in Mexico
Is Tijuana dangerous? Apparently they cleaned up A LOT and while there I didn't fear for my life, I didn't feel threatened walking down the streets.  Drop by for a visit if you are near!
Next morning, we continued our road trip down to Ensenada, both a little hungover from the night before.  The drive is smooth, going through just pretty much one straight road through a couple of tolls along the coast.  Stopping by one of the beaches for an afternoon nap before continuing down to Ensenada for the night.  Ensenada, upon reaching, seemed pretty tame as compared to Tijuana.  It was winter afterall and not many people were there.  Streets were pretty quiet and the popular bars pretty much empty.  It's huge for cruise ships to stop over at, and when they do, you see more people on the streets.  We settled for Ryerson 51 for our dinner of yet again some tacos.  The deco of the restaurant is pretty cool, and finding the toilet is a matter of "Follow the finger".  And I must comment about the churros we had from a small window shop along the way of the tourist street - Yum Yum, you can choose from a variety of fillings to be pumped into the hollow churro and I chose chocolate.  Which I absolutely loved. 

Follow the hand

Our road trip continued on a coastal drive to La Bufadora where we stopped in the middle of the journey to venture down the canyons and basically look around.  The drive along the coast is amazing with the amazing view of the coastline and the blue blue sea.  At La Bufadora, the main attraction is the blowhole, of course you have to pay to see it from the viewpoint, but we hiked the canyons and viewed it from the other side for free.  And we continued the hike over to the further out canyons, where no one hiked and were rewarded with an amazing view of the coast line and ocean and a perfect place for some peaceful meditation.  And onwards drive to San Quintin was through inland road passing through mountains and deep canyon/valley.  The view is amazing with all the mountains surrounding the road, and the drive is easy till it wound around the mountain road.  However, San Quintin was a disappointment. Maybe because we arrived at night and we had no information whatsoever about San Quintin.  The town is small and pretty much dead and we could not find a paved road to the beach - had planned to camp on the beach but that pretty much fell through and we drove all the way back to Ensenada again.
I felt like I was back in Australia
I love rock formations, canyons and mountains
Blowhole at La Bufadora
How amazing is this view!
Our next day itinerary was supposed to be heading to Guadalupe hot springs and canyon but the weather was rejecting us and we decided against it.  Wanted to head to the sand dunes to do some ATV riding but again the weather was against us (the sand dunes we spotted on our drive from TJ to Ensenada).  So it was back to San Diego where the road signs frustrated us to the extreme.  And the wait at the customs took about 2H. Easy to go into Mexico but as usual with the US, getting in requires long interrogation and checks because that's what they do! 
Baja, Mexico road trip was fun!  Wish we could have gone to the hot springs but sometimes in life you can't have everything!  I really liked the drive along the coast and through the mountains and food in Mexico is really something else.  And I would like to believe that the waters there should be really awesome for diving.  And I mean the food? I'm pretty sure I had maxed out my calorie intake for a week just in one day in Mexico.  Yet my fat pants got looser while my partner in crime got fatter
Fish and prawn taco from a random roadside stall. Awesome cos we get to put any toppings we like though I wished the fish/prawn weren't deep fried

He ordered Mexican coffee turned out it's spiked with 3 types of alcohol and burnt with flame! Almost 3 min prep for a glass

Typical Mexican breakfast  HUGE portions, CHEESE and sauces and beans

Sunday, January 11, 2015

San Diego - The exploration series of adventure, road trips, canyons, secret caves and food

San Diego, I first visited in 2007 as a short 3 day trip while I was in LA for a business trip (my previous blog post on that trip HERE).  Reading it, it made me even more sure that I fell in love with this city the very first time I visited 7 years ago!  La Jolla was the place I really really loved the very first time I visited and made me go "This city is awesome!" and that feeling still exists now that I re-visited San Diego.  The feeling of deja vu lingers everytime I visit some places I've been to 7 years ago, and then coming back to look at the photos I took in 2007, I realized I've been to more of the places I re-visited than I thought so, but the feeling now is not one of "Oh I've already done that" but more of "Wow, I love this still".  More of that later.  This post is about my exploration of San Diego in 2014/2015, a new found admiration and love for the city, a heightened sense of adventure, a great partner in crime for exploration and a deeper discovery of the city.  Afterall 15 days is 12 more than the 3 days I spent 7 years ago.  And this time, I also got to go on the Mexico road trip!
La Jolla stretch and Windansea Beach
La Jolla
You have not been to San Diego if you never ever visited La Jolla.  I mean it. Like for real. I'm not one to say that it's the best beach, but definitely it's the most known beach in San Diego.  Talk about San Diego and you talk about La Jolla.  La Jolla Cove as well.  The place where a lot of rich people live. But for sure, that area is beautiful.  It was on my top list when I visited in 2007 (remembered I rushed down to catch the sunset by the cove), and this time round, still had to visit.  And I've got more time to explore this time round, an entire day of walking along the beach, the tidepools and exploring with my partner in crime.  Weather was not a bitch either and I really really enjoyed the place.  It is also a good surfing spot, and I wished I had the opportunity to surf (and also be a better surfer)



La Jolla Cove

Seals lazing around

The Cove. I actually took the exact same photo back in 2007!!
Spent a couple hours also at Windansea Beach, just south of La Jolla Cove.  Loved it there as well, it has a lot of rock formations and jutting rocks on which you could sit and enjoy the ocean view, read a book and wait for the sunset.  That would be what I would do if I lived near such a place - drive out there in the afternoon, surf a little, and then prop myself on a rock and read and waste the day away.  Live the life.

Windansea Beach

I left my mark on the beach
Cabrillo National Monument and Tidepools


Small cave

Adventure boy getting excited
I visited the Cabrillo National monument in 2007, but never went to the Tidepools (no time for that) and damn that I didn't because the Tidepools were AWESOME and amazing! Why would Americans want to visit Australia when they have the Great Ocean Road right here in San Diego!  All the while looking at the coastal area, canyons and cliffs, I kept thinking about my time in Great Ocean Road - exactly the same!  We read about a great tip from the Internet and went in search of the secret cave at the tidepools - only accessible during low tide.  It was great that my partner in crime is as into adventure and doing crazy exploring (or even more so into) than me, makes it easier to jump off the cliff and walk into untreaded territories while others stay on paved path.  We went into caves, got washed by the tide and walked through slippery rocks along the coast where tides and waves rushed in every now and then.  Just when we thought we were not gonna find the secret cave (tide was not low enough), we found it, or rather my partner found it first.  I was busy taking pictures.  You heard it here and I'm exposing this secret cave to more people.  You would need to really walk along the coastal area (get down from the top!) and walk to the far far end, further than you think you can do.  Pass the flat plain of water, until you see an area of just rocks. And when you thought this is it, the entrance to the secret cave is staring right in your face.  It really is awesome! Nobody really got that far but if you do, it is worth it.  Enter the cave and you discover  a secluded beach (not so much a beach as it is laced with rocks) but you get the idea.  There are small openings to the ocean and I suppose you could actually kayak in from outside at low tide (just like what I experienced in Koh Mut in Thailand).  You really do discover new things every day! I absolutely loved it! And totally would go back again.  At low tide.

The secret cave
The secret cave
Potato Chip Rock

I'm sitting on top of the world looking down on creation...

So called because there is just a chip jutting out over the edge of the mountain, almost like you could break it but it's not that fragile.  The start of the hike is about an hour out of San Diego (Mt Woodson Trail) close to Ramona.  The hike up was via a service road, for vehicles up to either fix the antennas or service).  Wasn't a difficult hike and the view was amazing, with loads of gigantic boulders and rock formations and overlooking the mountain ranges in far view.  The morning wasn't the greatest of morning as it started to rain halfway through and we had to seek shelter under a rock, but after that it was a quick hike up to find the potato chip!  Was freezing cold though but once you get up there, everything was worth it.  Getting up to the chip is not for the faint hearted but standing up there, you really feel like you're on top of the world and looking down at the view - no words could describe it.  Literally because of the cold as well.  I wanted to stay as long as possible, but the cold was a little unbearable and there was a line of people waiting.  Definitely have to do this man! Go crazy when standing at the edge of the chip. It really is amazing!  Hike up and down took only about 2H or slightly longer.
Cowles Mountain

The highest point in San Diego at 486m.  This is easily accessible by public transport (the nearest bustop is serviced by 115, but do check the schedule as it doesn't run as often on weekends) I started my hike at the trail entrance by Navajo and Golfcrest road.  The hike up is only 2.4KM, and is well paved and marked and visited by PLENTY of hikers and runners.  It is an easy hike/walk that took me 30mins to get to the top.  From there, you get a really great bird's eye view of San Diego and the Lake.  Because it was such a short hike, I took another walk to the opposite peak - Pyles Peak.  That's about a 40min walk from Cowles, and not at all difficult.  The only difficulty is when I got to somewhere near Pyles Peak (or so I thought), there was no post to indicate direction and plenty of crossroads to choose from.  I picked the short cut - an uphill hike up to the top instead of the roundabout hike.  Which I kinda assumed would take me up to Pyles Peak.  I did eventually arrive at the top, which yes I assumed to be Pyles Peak cos there was no other peak.  No signpost as well. But well that should be it cos the trail ended there.  So I made it.  All in all it took slightly more than 2H to get all the way to Pyles Peak and back to Cowles Mountain and down to catch the bus back.  It's an easy hike within the city limits that I would recommend if you want to do some hiking and a workout.
Anza-Borrego Springs Desert State Park
What can I say about this place - I love love love it and couldn't bear to leave it! So much to explore!  I had actually googled about this place before we actually decided to go and was already amazed and intrigued by this park and the opportunity to camp there but I also knew we didn't have the time to do so much.  But on the last full day we had, we decided to go hiking and my partner in crime googled and found "SLOT CANYON" located in Borrego Springs.  Hell yeah! One look at the picture and hearing CANYON I immediately said YES! We are all SLOT CANYON Bitches.  Who would say no to exploring slot canyons? Tidepools or slot canyon? Slot canyon! Hike down to water-less waterfall or slot canyon? Slot canyon! So it was unanimous.

Snow capped (bits) mountain along the way

How amazing is this view
The drive there was long, like 3H long.  I was not the driver so I can't complain, but it really was a long long drive.  I'm sorry to the driver, my partner in crime, really am.  Who had to concentrate on the drive while I marvelled at the fantastic drive through the mountain ranges, valleys and canyons that went on and on and on.  The snow spotted mountains from the week before.  I couldn't close my eyes when met with such beauty and nature.  Makes me feel like I'm only a small insignificant being on earth, surrounded by such marvelous nature.  Growing up in the city, living in the city my entire live, I'm a nature freak, I love nature and can never get tired of seeing such picturesque portrait in front of me. EVER.  Cities are great, I don't contradict that.  But nature makes me happy, relaxed and free.  I want to climb that mountain, camp that desert, slide through those canyons.  And I know that I was being selfish to my partner who was driving in silence as I just immersed myself in the beauty.  I should have been a better passenger, but I was distracted by the sights. 
The drive was worth it, not only because of the sights along the way but for the slot canyon we came for.  The place is HUGE! You don't need a four wheel drive to get to the start of Buttes Pass, we did it in his old BMW and it was fine.  But I read that for exploring the entire Borrego Spring desert park, a 4-wheeler is recommended to reach some other viewpoints.

Overview of the canyon

Slotting starts!

Back to the slot canyons.  Once you park, just jump right into the action! Weaving through the slot canyons was fun!  Of course, it may not be as majestic as the one in Utah, but it was still a lot of fun.  We got there after 3pm, so there weren't a lot of people visiting (and in winter sun sets close to 5pm so most people were done for the day).  Which made exploring even more fun!  The slots started wider, then it got narrower and narrower and the fun begins!  The monkey was climbing up and down up and down the rocks, there are the things I would do when I'm alone on a trip exploring.  At one point, we got up to the top of a rock balanced at the top of an opening!

Too in awe of the surroundings

The partner in crime is a happy boy
After the first section ended, we went further around to explore, where no others ventured. Found small caves, uphills and rocks and waterfall edges.  Got high up and waited for the most amazing sunset ever!  The yellow and the pink blanketed the sky.  And that was when we finally decided to head back to our car for the long drive back.  After the exhilaration, the drive back was suddenly solemn and cold.  And on the way back to San Diego, do stop by Julian for the best apple pie (Julian is famous for its apple pie).  And it was really great!  Driving back through the winding mountain roads may not be the favourite for many, but the speed demon that is the driver really wanted to race and it was fun for a bit before I got a little queasy (snacked too quickly on Cheese-it).  The night was littered with stars shining bright and an awesome moon.
Amazing sunset
Love the pink
Wished we had more time to explore the place, camp overnight to play around more, climb and hike the other awesome trails.  This is definitely the best place I've explored in California during my trip.  Absolutely loved it.
And others
So many adventures to explore but also so many good food to taste!  December is the whale migration season, so we went whale watching and were rewarded by 6 or 8 whales performing in front of us!  For only a price of $21, the 3H whale watching trip was great!

View from Mt Soledad
Went to Mt Soledad for the view of San Diego in the evening.  The view is actually quite awesome!


I love weird dark art
As usual, Balboa park is also a must visit.  There are tons of museums there.  I went to the Natural History Museum (where the shows are included in the ticket price of $17).  And I sat through all 3 of them one after another.  I liked the museum as well.  The other I really liked was the SDAI Museum of the Living Artist.  They have works of current artists in San Diego and also other creative stuff (even by kids).  The art pieces they have are kind of modern art or even sculptures, creativity looms and I love those shit.  Different creative and interesting.  And the best thing - the lady gave me a student discount even though I told her I'm not a student, just because she thought I looked like a student and it was New year's eve. 
And also do take a walk along the Embarcadero - it really is a nice walk along the marina and for a beautiful sunset.

Iconic kiss. Too bad I didn't have anyone to do this with...

Oh did I say Food?  My fish tacos tour started on my first day in San Diego - where I had still the best fish tacos ever! Not even Mexico beat that fish tacos.  Oscars Mexican Seafood - remember this name.  The original is at North Pacific Beach, but they have other locations as well.  And mamma mia! My search of the best fish tacos started and ended there.  Still have not found one that beats this location!  We tried the tacos at South Beach Bar & Grill, they have a lot more fancy tacos (like the lobster tacos which was pretty good), but still I love Oscars!  Their taco shells and toppings just killed it.  And the amount of fish they put in their tacos - at about $5+ each, you get like huge chunks of fish!  What else - but CRABS!! We had crabs for like $7.99/lb and we cooked almost 2lbs of that shit and stuffed ourselves full on the first night!  Man, those crabs were sweet and delicious and cheap!  Crabs and fish tacos - I love them all!  And did I mention the wine, cheese and black truffle oil? And that thing called Bitching Sauce (only in San Diego)?  I'm already missing all these.. Oh San Diego, why do you have so many good stuff!
The best fish tacos from Oscars! Mahi Mahi with cabbages, avocado and salsa. I can still taste this now..

Crab legs! And so cheap! And we stuffed 2lbs of them into our stomachs

Huevos Rancheros - Mexican breakfast of eggs, rice and beans and cheese!!!!!

American breakfast at a diner's - HUGE! Eggs with vege and potatoes and toast and fruits.
Just as I've started the post with how much I loved San Diego when I first visited, I end this post with how much I still love the city after this visit.  Sure, maybe not for everyone, but who doesn't love a place where you have the ocean and mountains within reach?  And I heard you can even get to ski/snowboard close enough!  Oh and I got to sail! For the very first time, and it was so fun!  I love sailing, though in that racing context it was too intense for me, but I definitely love the feel to be out in the ocean, sailing through and being free with the wind. 
The only thing I regret was not getting to play more with the ocean.  To dive there would have been great and different.  To be able to surf would also be awesome.  Bummer.  I guess you can't do everything you wanted in a limited time period.  But I sure did a whole lot of stuff, courtesy of my partner in crime, who also was a great cook throughout, feeding me with calorie-laden but delicious food.  I never went hungry, yet I didn't gain weight with the amount of food I ate throughout the trip!  Apparently, I couldn't say the same for my dearest cook who complained about getting fat.  I do apologize, it was my fault.  I think I ate so much better there when I'm back home, but it was a good change, though not really sustainable for long.