As Kristian Beadle continues his journey, he learns that the meaning of conserving of coastal resources differs in Mexico than it does in the United States.
Location: The melon-colored Hotel Hacienda, in downtown Ensenada, the last commercial center in the northern part of the Baja peninsula.
Conditions: A hazy fog bank is starting to evaporate on the sprawling port city. A sea breeze begins to flutter, 10 a.m.
Discussion: A huge cargo freighter and an equally oversized cruise ship lay in the harbor, dwarfing the city except for its obscenely tall Mexican flag; this is Ensenada. The thrill of doing city-chores wasn’t the only reason we came here. Mexico’s premiere coastal-marine university and a number of conservation groups are based in town. And naturally, we couldn’t wait to eat some good ceviche.
After camping by the beach and river, the costs of a “big city” concerned my internal accounting. The downtown RV park was inspected but was a waste of time: It featured an unkempt dirt lot with scraggly trees, overpriced and managed by a dodgy fellow. For a few dollars more, we got a room with a “plasma” TV (a major selling point here), and such amenities as a sink and shower — that is, direct access to the pipes that led back to Valle de Guadalupe. I felt a little naughty when I turned on the water, but the hot shower subdued my concerns quickly.
The hotel attendant looked unperturbed as we unloaded our bikes from El Hippo’s rear hatch and rode away. There is no better way to tackle city-chores than by bicycle. Visits to the cell phone store, bank and seamstress are free from the traumatic experience of trying to navigate and park a large vehicle in chaotic streets. The only danger is, of course, being run over, but that seems like a minor inconvenience when one is stuck in the city for a few days.
As I hold the fancy title this year of “Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar,” I rode my red bike at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night to meet a local Rotary Club, Ensenada Centenaria, at the Hotel San Nicholas. Instead of a lobby, I found blinking lights and a cacophony of slot machines. Geez, I thought, wasn’t gambling made illegal a short decade after Prohibition, when border cities like Ensenada opened casinos and fed the booze lust of America? I realized I was in the wrong place — and possibly the wrong era.
Around the corner, I arrived at the actual meeting and quite enjoyed the group of businessmen who saluted the Mexican flag with ardor; then greeted me with a round of heartfelt introductions. Similar to a Rotary meeting in the U.S., but slightly more out of control, they had a heated discussion about supporting a local clinic that treated patients with cleft lip. At the end of the meeting, the gentleman sitting next to me, Felizardo Palacios, told me he works in the department of gastronomy at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Ensenada and would introduce me to professors of coastal resources the next day. Bingo!
At the campus conference table the next day, across from Professor Ileana Espejel, I could see the blue shimmering ocean through the window. Espejel currently researches two topics on a Mexico nationwide level: coastal dune management and the sustainability of port cities. I mentioned that we spent a night on the bluffs north of Ensenada (at K-58), where a number of hotels were built on cliffs and dunes. “This September, the federal government should be ready to establish the norms for coastal dunes,” she started. “Even though building on dunes is illegal on a state level, cities get their money from land taxes, so there is a perverse incentive to skirt laws and allow poor development practices. The federal norms should have more teeth.”
I wondered about her research on port cities and whether officials were concerned about climate change. She explained: “Yes, but it is different here in Mexico. We are not as industrialized, so emissions are a smaller issue than in the United States. Our main concern is adapting to climatic shifts — mostly the changes in rainfall, strength of storms, and sea-level rise.” What does “adapting” mean in Mexico? I asked what she thought of using protected areas as a tool for adaptation — to increase the resiliency of coastal ecosystems. “Sand dunes, mangroves and other buffer zones need to be protected; it just makes sense,” Espejel said. “But in Mexico, a protected area doesn’t mean it is for conservation only. It doesn’t mean, ‘don’t use it.’ It means, ‘use it well.’ Manage the resource well.”
The same words, different meanings. These cultural differences aren’t taught at school, or reported on the news. It was time to head south and see these protected areas for myself.
P.S. As for the ceviche, we liked the small stand called Tacos Don Zefe’s, next to the fish market. We ended up buying 2 pounds of the delicious fish and lime concoction.