Yesterday, I ran into a women who lives in my building. She told me that she was leaving the following day with two friends, a couple of aging BoHo’s who also live in the building, for a month in San Miguel de Allende on the mainland. I made the obvious observation that San Miguel was famous for it’s expatriate community and for it’s colonial architecture. She replied that, yeah, it would be nicer than here. “Rosarito is not exactly a colonial city.” I said. She replied “No, I call it the shit hole.”
My first thought was, long-term leases not withstanding, why would anyone continue to live in a place they consider a “shit hole”. (She had told me earlier that she and her husband had ostensibly retired to Mexico, but that the money wasn’t exactly working out and that her hubby had reluctantly had to go back to work in the ‘states.)
Secondly, I had to ask myself whether I think Rosarito is a shit hole. Sure, it’s not a grand colonial city featuring 17th century cathedrals and fancy tapas bars teaming with American yupsters. And since there is no evidence that Rosarito even has a streets and sanitation department, there’s a lot of broken glass on the side streets and a fair amount of dog poop in the gutters, to say nothing of dozens of strays roaming the streets in packs. . In fact, it appears that shopkeepers, not the city, are responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their stores and restaurants tidy. Each morning they can be seen hosing down, sweeping, and mopping their little piece of walkway before the business day begins, while at the same time a small army of workers is collecting debris from the beach and loading bags of it onto the back of a flatbed truck. But this is a working town and a relatively poor working town at that and I’ve noticed over the years that the working poor, from Appalachia to Guayaquil to the backstreets and markets of Paris, don’t revere antiseptic tidiness like Americans do. Rosarito is not a shit hole; it’s just a little messy and as long as the fork I use and the plate I eat from are clean and the people I meet are fair and decent to me, I can easily live with that.
I have established a few routines since moving here, mostly centered around food. Each Tuesday I head for a place called the Mongolian Grill a couple mile south of town. Tuesday is “Taco Tuesday” at the Mongolian Grill and their Korean tacos are 3 for the price of two ( I am, after all, trying to save money living here.). The Mongolian Grill freely admits that its tacos are a knockoff of the tacos served at the famous Kogi food truck in L.A. and I am addicted to them.
An other routine I’ve established is to head down to the fishing village of Popotla on Monday afternoon for a taste of grilled fish cooked in a style called Zarandeado. I prefer a place called Mariscos Juquila run by a Oaxacan named “Sammy”. You pick out the fresh caught fish yourself from a a big Igloo ice chest out front. The fish is than flayed open, rubbed with garlic and spices, cooked over an open fire, and finally, garnished with orange slices, tomatos, and grilled onions, served whole, bones, eyeballs and all. It’s great. The best fish ever.
On a recent trip to visit Marisco Juquila, I ran into a fellow I
remembered from a few weeks before. At that time I had spotted him fishing from the rocks behind the restaurant and told him I’d buy a cigarette from him for a quarter, an offer he gladly accepted. This time he approached me and offered me a smoke for free, then got me to agree to let him guide me around Popotla for a while. He said his name was Jose (“Joe!”) and that he lived at the beach below one of the restaurants. You live here year ’round, I thought, not bad! He told me that his dog had just had puppies and he wanted to take me back to his place to show me. I said “sure!”
I suppose I wasn’t prepared to see the place he lived in with his wife, because it wasn’t really a house. It wasn’t even a shack. It was cubbyhole built into a rock jetty, three sides of plywood nailed together crudely under a slab of concrete. The door was a blanket hanging from the entrance way. I guess it would have afforded an “open water” view had there been a window cut into the plywood. There was no electricity, no running water, no plumbing. Jose was, essentially, a cave dweller.
Jose lifted the flap door to show me the puppies. There were four of them, surely all cute enough to take home. It dawned on me that Jose and his wife and the four puppies and the puppies’ mother all lived on 35 square feet of dirt floor surrounded on three side by plywood, in the dark 10 hours out of the day. We played with the puppies for a little while. The most outgoing one was called “Lengua” because, when his face relaxed, a tiny tip of tongue protruded from his mouth.
Jose had told me earlier that he had lived in Popotla for over 20 years and that he knew virtually every fisherman on the beach. They were all his “friends”, he said. Since I’d last seen him fishing from the rocks, I asked if he had a boat. He said yes, he had a boat, but that it needed a new engine before it could be taken back out fishing again. While I was playing with Lengua, Jose produced three abalone pearls from his wallet for my inspection. They would have made for a nice necklace had I been in the market for a necklace. And I’m pretty sure that Jose probably was quietly hoping that I would put an offer in on one of the pearls, or all three, or at least take one of the puppies off his hands. But he didn’t push it. Jose wasn’t the kind of guy to push stuff onto someone else, I could tell.
We chatted for a while longer, then Jose escorted me to the edge of town where my car was parked. He told me to come back tomorrow to his wife’s little canopy restaurant in the sand at the beach, that the fresh yellow tail shashimi would be on the house, and that his wife would make it special just for me. He also told me that he did odd jobs, and that if I ever needed any help, that I knew where to find him. We bid our adieu’s. Later I thought about the woman who had earlier made the “shit hole” comment about living in Rosarito. If she thought that living inside a gated luxury high rise condo complex over- looking the beach was living in a shit hole, what might she have thought of Jose’s digs, the place that Jose probably only thought of as “home”?