The expansive Plaza Cívica is sun washed with light bouncing off gigantic golden heads. The locals call this La Plaza de Las Tres Cabezas (Three Heads Plaza) and the sculptures are honoring men from Mexico’s historic past. The easy walk to the malecón from here will take you on a stroll of the waterfront. There are taco stands galore, bright colored outdoor booths with souvenirs and the largest fish market in northern Baja California. Flying high overhead on the Pacific winds, the majestic Mexican flag on a 350 foot pole, unfurls in long undulating folds of red, green and white.
The three golden busts are a startling display of pride. To get to know who these men were helps the traveler to understand Mexican history that honors these men. On the right is Venustiano Carranza. He is not nearly as striking in gold as he was in his early pictures with a wild and untrimmed beard and mustache, standing very tall and military proud in his uniform. He is known as the “Primer Jefe” or the First Chief. He was one of the main supporters of the Mexican Revolution. And with the advent of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 he was elected president serving until 1920. The dashing Emiliano Zapata did not like Carranza much and was a constant thorn in his side, continuing his own private raid in the mountains. In the center is Miguel Hidalgo, a Mexican Catholic priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence. He is known for gathering together 90,000 poor Mexican peasants who were in servitude to the wealthy Spanish. His famous “Grito,” or shout, can still be heard in Mexican festivals. It is a famous cry for justice and known as El Grito de Dolores. The people joined him in a rebellion against the European-born Spaniards. For all his passion to liberate the poor, he was executed by a firing squad on July 30, 1811. On the left is Benito Juárez, one of the most powerful figures in history. He was dedicated to democracy and equal rights for his nation’s indigenous peoples. He was not a military man, but a lawyer and politician. He had an aversion to organized religion, as he was a Freemason, yet he was still elected president of Mexico for five terms, from 1861 to 1872. Today Benito Juárez is remembered as being a progressive reformer.
Leaving behind the walk down memory lane, you cross the street on your right and enter the main entrance to the malecón. Walking through and out the other side you find your first temptation, a whole line of taco stands. Which one to choose from becomes even harder as you turn left and see another block of small busy stands all with steaming pots on the stove, music playing and conversations thrown back and forth like a Spanish ping pong game. The smell of fresh sea life permeates the air; a gull flies over cackling, sounding just a little bit crazy and a sea lion barks off in the distance. By this time, you might begin to feel as if you are caught up in a time warp and plunked down in an honest to goodness fishcamp.
Walking by the stands, you see huge glass jars filled with sea life ready to become a taco or tostada. The jars are lined up like a marine biology lab holding thick octopus tentacles, caracols, calamari chunks and more unidentifiable. But don’t be scared off! These women cooking are true specialists. Try something new or stick with the best shrimp tacos ever. You can’t choose the wrong stand, the one you pick will be the right one as everyone gets the fresh catch of the day.
Now get prepared for an adventure. Walking into the open barn-like market is an experience that promises to be one of the highlights of the trip. First, the fishermen are all wanting to sell their fish and hawking good-naturedly in Spanish. Consequently, if you go in with the idea of having fun, you most certainly will. Just play around selecting from the beautiful displays of shrimp, hunks of yellow tail, smoked red snapper and so much more. It is quite amazing that there is not one whiff of old fish smell that one might expect for such a huge operation. This has been a favorite stop for people from all over the world and was a brilliant idea that began in 1958 with an official name of Mercado de Mariscos.
On the far side of the market are several restaurants near the harbor where you can order margaritas with your seafood lunch. It is rustic dining right on the malecón and you can watch the boats dock and the men bringing in their catch to market. The men weigh the whole fish, some too big to fit on the scales. You will enjoy the lively quibbling and laughter over the market price. There is a sense that this is a true family event. Everyone knows each other, everyone is thrilled with the size of the catch and it is a team effort that supports all the families. The mariachis and other musician saunter through, hoping you will want to hear what they have to offer for a few pesos. Two men take time out in an incongruous display of texting coupled with their customary ensemble. You will be asked for a small compensation for singing their hearts out. Their songs carry out the Mexican traditions and will fill your Baja California experience to the brim.
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com