Mercado Mariscos and Border Madness

We both crash hard and sleep well. In the morning, I awaken early with a nagging headache (no big surprise there) that is threatening to be a migraine. After popping Tylenols, I’m soon standing outside on the hotel porch, deeply breathing the air to get as much oxygen as I can.

We head out for breakfast, but the thought of it doesn’t appeal to me, so Linda settles for a nearby coffee shop. It’s a cool little place with lots of locals and a trendy interior. I start feeling better and enjoy sitting there with Linda.

Our last stop before heading home is the fish market. Linda and I are ready to buy. We make 2 full passes of the market tables before settling on one manned by a fellow named Mario. Mario explains to us that the “SWORDFISH” isn’t really swordfish at all, but actually mako shark, with all the fins and features cut off to mask identification. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise to us, and we enjoyed the eating the last time we had it, so we have him package up two kilos of it ($2/lb). Mario also has a big piece of opah – it looks like the dark red underbelly meat that’s supposed to be good for stews, and so we get a kilo of that as well (also $2/lb).

I want to try the corvina, and Mario has a row of whole fish. We ask him to fillet one, and he offers the bones, fins, and head to us for caldo (broth) which we accept as well (about $1.25/lb). After all these purchases, we can’t very well leave the market without shrimp, so we find a good supply of them and buy 3 kilos or so.

We leave the market with all our fish wrapped in paper and in plastic bags. The market has again made us a bit hungry, and this time we stop at a stall selling fish tacos. We each get one, with a battered and fried fish piece inside, shredded cabbage, plus a nice assortment of accompaniments on the table. Excellent stuff – we should have eaten here earlier.

The next stop is a walk to OXXO for bags of ice. We pack all the fish sandwiched between two unopened bags of ice in the cooler.

We hit the road, heading back up Mex1d, then turn onto Mex 3. The ride is a lot better in the daylight winding up through the vineyards. It takes us about an hour to reach Tecate, and I’m starting to feel like myself finally.

On the outskirts of town, we see a few small outfits selling flower pots, and stop to check it out. We see some pretty 10” terracotta ones we like, and when learn they’re only about $1 each, we buy 9 of them.

We’re expecting only a brief delay in Tecate but we encounter a long line of cars at the border. We’re forced to make a left turn right into the line, and no cars will let us in. People always seem to get pissy at the border. We check the time, and start the long agonizingly slow crawl toward the border gate.

There are a few vendors tapping our windows, but nothing like at the Tijuana crossing. Still, the wait is about the same, over an hour. We finally think to get out the cribbage board and start up a game, but a third of the way through we reach the gate. I tell the patrolman I have about 8 lb of fresh fish, and he tags me for secondary inspection. Shit – that’s never happened before, and I always declare fish when I bring it back from Mexico.

We pull into one of the inspection stalls, and a young officer comes to tell us we’ll have to wait on the agricultural specialist. Great. The guy finally comes over, unfriendly and all business, and asks us some inane questions, gazing intently into my eyes the whole time, which immediately pisses me off. I just gaze intently back into his and coolly answer. I tell him we’ve brought back fresh fish and some ceramic pots. He gets interested and asks pointedly, “What was that second item?” Geez, did he think I was declaring my dope?

He asks me to show him the fish, so just to annoy him I ask if it is OK if I get out of the car. Touché – I think this sort of pisses him off. I show him the fish, and he mutters, “Is that it, is that all you have?” He glances around the SUV and spies a white plastic grocery bag. “What’s in the bag?” I raise it up, full of secondhand golf balls. He rolls his eyes and walks away, saying, “OK, get back in the car and wait here for me.”

Cripes. We sit and sit and I’m eventually starting to get impatient. Linda is telling me to calm down, but I can’t help loudly calling out my window, “C’mon guys, let go.” After about 10 more minutes of waiting, the young officer finally comes over and asks us if we’ve been helped . We tell him the situation, and he goes off to find the Ag Inspector again. A few minutes later he comes back and tells us the Ag guy has gotten tied up and it is OK for us to go. Either the operation is all bumbling idiots or the Ag guy has gotten the last laugh on us (probably the latter).

What a monumental waste of time, tax dollars, and manpower! Although I half-understand the need for it, I just can’t help thinking that the price paid by everyone hugely outweighs the threat posed. What a waste of our resources!


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