Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Story Behind The Story

Funny how you drive by something, year after year, without gleaning even a hint of its existence. To wit: Popotla, which turns out to be a small fishing village just five minutes south of Rosarito Beach, Mexico. In all my trips across the border, I’d never stopped there, let alone noticed it. Oh, I’d seen the white archway just off the “free road.” But there are tons of ‘em along Mexican roads—and they signifiy…um…well, they signify that someone once had a plan—maybe even a muy grande plan—but nothing ever came of it. Except for the arches. So you see all these elaborate entrances…to nada.

Anyway, these particular arches come right after “Foxploration” which is the Fox Studio complex where they filmed a lot of Titanic (more on that later). We missed the turnoff the first time, necessitating not one but two trips through Mexico’s crack security checkpoint (they’re looking for guns, not drugs), then headed down a bumpy dirt road. Said road is bordered by a wall that seems to go on forever, and we noticed the interesting way it was decorated. Colorful, of course, since this is, after all, Mexico, but also, I dunno—quirky in a way. Bits and pieces of tile in oddly shaped mosaics…other unidentifiable “stuff” seemingly stuck to the wall in random fashion. All in all, it looked like a grade school art project that had seen better days (more on this later).

So, we get toward the end of the road and, uh-oh, cars are leaving and we’re in the way. Back-up. Go forward. Back-up. Go forward. How the HELL do we get to that parking lot we can SEE but which there doesn’t seem to be an entrance to??? Finally, we swing around a curve and end up in front of all these shanty-type restaurants perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Outside, young guys, old guys, and really, really, old guys are yelling at us to PARK AQUI. PARK ACQUI.

What if we don’t want to eat at their restaurant?

Well, Kathy gets a bit frazzled at this point, so we park, sealing our restaurant choice, if ya know what I mean.
Now, I don’t wanna say the place was funky…but how often do your dining establishments have NO SINK in the restroom? (Guess it goes without saying there also wasn’t a sign reminding employees to llave los manos before exiting.) Oh, well. When in Rome…

So, we decide to have a beer and a snack, just to warrant the parking spot, and order two plates of fish tacos. Maybe we would’ve ordered more, but the Mariachi group was so loud (we really are getting old) that we figured we’d make it quick.

Next, we wander back outside and, after much pleading, convince Parking Guy to let us lea
ve the car while we browse the rest of the “town.” I say “town” because it’s just a bunch of restaurants serving fresh fish right out of the ocean. And, ya know, gross stuff. Like giant crabs. And whole fish with their heads still attached and their eyes still winking at you.

A cute local guy waves us toward some stairs that disappear out of sight and for some reason this appeals to me, so we make it our next stop. We descend the windy, stone steps and end up in a cute little restaurant right on the sand, overlooking the beach where the fisherman drag their boats up on shore and sell their wares right off the stern. This is where we negotiate the purchase of a red snapper (although from the restaurant). Kath instructs the guy to ditch the head, the guts, and the bones. Next thing we know, he’s about to throw it on the grill, but we get him to foil it up instead. Pretty cool, cuz he’d already seasoned it. I don’t know how much it weighed, but we had plenty of fish for four people and it only cost 16 bucks.

There’s another (more famous) fishing village down the coast, about halfway between Rosarito and Ensenada, named Puerto Nuevo that (I’m told) started out like Popotla. Just a place for local Mexicans to make some money or buy something for dinner. Well, of course, we Americans discovered Puerto Nuevo and pretty much turned it into a tourist trap, complete with restaurants that have numbers for names (Restaurant No. 1, Restaurant No. 2). And, trust me. They have sinks in their restrooms. Not that I’m saying sanitary facilities are a BAD thing, but I dunno. One “improvement” seems to lead to another. Under the dreaded gringo influence, the next thing you know, they’re taking reservations, using sweet ‘n’ sour mix in their margaritas, and putting things like “fajitas” on the menu (Fajitas are an American invention, not Mexican).

So, I really enjoyed Popotla and put it on my “to google” list for my return. Which brings us to the rest of the story. Apparently, Fox Studios sought someplace “cheap” to build their Titanic sets and came up with the land right next to Popotla. Then they built that wall to shield what was going on from view. (In fact, I don’t know what the layout of the town used to be, but according to what I’ve read, the wall cut the village off from the sea—if so, they’ve since somehow re-routed.) Anyway, they (Fox) also managed to chlorinate the seabed where the locals have been harvesting sea urchins for decades. In response, the villagers gathered garbage, junk, and other bits of refuse which they used to “decorate” the wall (hmm…or was it a protest?). Go here, to see the art.

So, that was our Saturday afternoon excursion. More later on the rest of the trip. Oh, and by the way, the fish was fabulous and no one’s gotten sick.


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