Imperial Beach (I.B.) is my home. It is a small town hemmed in between two big cities with a life and style of its own. Its reputation has changed over the 23 years I have lived here from a roughneck biker town, riddled with drugs and gangs to a precious piece of undeveloped coastal land.
I.B. still has a distinctive, laid-back flavor that has always been a draw for those of us who choose to live here. Even with the massive population explosion in the past 20 years, you just cannot get the taste of I.B. out of your mouth. Many Southwestern College students, faculty and staff live in this last seaside city on the edge of the America/Mexico border, still mostly undisturbed by urban sprawl and massive construction projects, keeping the quaint feel that this unique community has to offer. It is a magnet for people that want to live here or escape the life of the larger cities that surround it.
By far, the best attraction in I.B. is the Tijuana Estuary. One of my favorite things to do is to take a walk to the mouth of the Tijuana River. Not through the estuary, but straight down the beach. Spectacular views and an abundance of wildlife are your companions.
On any given day, getting to the beach, I can see a crowd of people that flock around the pier. It is always bustling with people fishing, swimming, walking, jogging and surfing or just sitting, enjoying this little ray of sunshine. People of all ages come here and enjoy what this tiny town has to offer.
Many people are completely unaware of the beauty and wonder of what lies south of the pier. On one of my strolls to the mouth of the river, groups of the many species of sandpipers that thrive in this ecosystem year round are always the first to greet me. I find it comical watching them run in and out of the surf searching for food. They run back and forth, as the waves roll in and out, as if they do not want to get their feet wet.
Two lone surfers were catching the waves away from the more popular section of beach closest to the pier. Far away from the lifeguards, they are breeds in themselves. Waves in this section are more powerful, rocks are their landing ground rather than a beach and the riptides more dangerous, but that does not stop them from their desire to experience that oneness with the ocean.
Seeing surfers out on their boards, particularly while waiting on the next set and in a more relaxed state, I can spot their connection with the water and the wildlife that surrounds them from above and below the ocean’s surface. I am not a big fan of being in the ocean, but I have always lived close to one, or in places surrounded by lakes and marshes. As a sailor traveling the many oceans and seas around the world, I recognize this kinship with the sea at a spiritual level.
I was pleasantly surprised in my midday stroll. Birds were flying back and forth from the estuary to the ocean, diving for food. Moving up higher on the rocky walkway that separates the beach and the estuary there is a tremendous view of the estuary, the beach, Mexico and the pier.
Looking towards the estuary, there was a massive flock of birds of all feathers gathered together on a tiny patch of sandy land. Terns, gulls, pelicans, herons, geese and ducks all huddled together, unaware and uncaring of their differences. I have come to call this small aviary airport the estuary’s Time Square.
As you get down to the mouth of the river, you see it all. All you have to do is look around in any direction. Mexico seems a stone’s throw away, the mouth of the river is tumultuous and beautiful and as you look at the ocean there is rarely a time that you do not see seals and dolphins bobbing in and out of the ocean waves.
Forcing itself into the estuary, the ocean is a living bliss at the river’s mouth and you experience first-hand how nature works in balance. The mouth of the river is a great place to sit for as long as you are willing to observe the natural beauty where the land meets the sea. Take a stroll. Like me, you just might find a small piece of heaven on earth that can take you far away from the stressful hustle and bustle of the living we face every day.