Popotla

It feels like it was a million years ago but, really, it’s only been about 35.  I used to date a guy who was part owner in a house at Cantamar, which is a little beach community about 15 or 20 miles south of Rosarito Beach in Baja. One year he happened to get lucky and draw the New Years holiday as his time to have the house.  On December 31st we’d gone up to the Rosarito Beach Hotel for lunch and some pre-New Year celebrating and were taking the free road back to his house.  We weren’t particularly hungry as we headed down the road, but as we got close to a tiny little cluster of houses on a cliff, he turned to me, pointed and said…

“I hear the families there do really good lobster dinners out of their homes, I wonder if they’d be willing to sell me a couple of lobsters.  We could have them later on tonight”.

Why not?  So he turned off onto a bumpy dirt road that led out to the houses, disappeared into one and came out a few minutes later with 2 good-sized lobsters.  Score!!

We left Puerto Nuevo, headed home and had a wonderful New Year celebration.

That was 35 years ago and Puerto Nuevo is no longer a handful of small homes and trailers.  It’s a bustling enclave of restaurants all selling the same thing…lobster, rice and beans, augmented by trinket vendors, liquor stores and some enterprising artists, bakers and other trade and crafts people.

But now it was my turn. I’d been hearing for the last couple of years that Popotla, a small fishing community about 7 or 8 miles south of Rosarito Beach, was the “new” Puerto Nuevo.  The place to go to get fresh fish or seafood right off the boat at reasonable prices. My friend Suzanne and I were headed down to Rosarito, so we made a pit stop to pick up her cousin Elaine and set out for Popotla. A hard right along the southern wall of the now closed Foxploration studios and down a bumpy dirt road and we were there.

The restaurants are all built on the edge of the ocean and hawkers for each of them did their best – in English, Spanish and even Spanglish –  to convince us they were the place to eat. They showed us lobsters, clams, gigantic spider crabs the size of my head and, of course, fish in all sizes and varieties. We were offered free margaritas, or free piña coladas and even free ceviche.  And then there was the option to go down onto the sand and eat among the fishing boats. Eventually we chose a place with a killer view

Popotla Seagull

Oh, and a seagull for company

The dish of free ceviche hit the table along with crunchy tostadas. And, yes, it was good.  Not as good as the ceviche Suzanne’s husband Jim makes, but still flavorful and a good appetizer.

Popotla Free Ceviche

A fairly incendiary house made hot sauce joined the bottled sauces on the table. I am pretty partial to Salsa Huichol, it’s hot but it doesn’t lacerate the taste buds.

Popotla Salsas

 

The menu listed 7 or 8 varieties of fish that could be deep fried…only one was available…blanco.  That’s pretty generic, so I have no idea what this fish actually began life as

Popotla Fish

It was good, and there was plenty of meat on the bones, but both Suzanne (who also ordered the fish) and I have had far better whole fried fish in Mexico than the ones we were served.  The beans had a nice kick to them, but an oddly chary after taste that wasn’t really all that pleasant after several bites.

Lunch was fun, the food good, but the company much better.  I think we chose the wrong restaurant and I think we chose the wrong thing to order. And it may have even been the wrong day. Typically places like this are best on the weekend when they’re busy and the energy is flowing. On the Friday afternoon we were there it was decidedly kicked back and relaxed.

While the Popotla experience didn’t transcend the way the one at Puerto Nuevo did 35 years ago, there are a whole lot more places to try, and I’d be more than willing to go back and keep trying until I find the one that works for me.

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The Rosarito Beach Hotel

Before the violence…

Before the influx of ex-pats…

Before the surfers…

Rosarito Beach had Hollywood…

And before Kevin Costner added the catch phrase “build it and they will come” to the lexicon of popular slang, that is exactly what Manuel Barbachano did when he purchased an old hunting camp and turned it into the Rosarito Beach Hotel on a strip of land where nothing existed. In 1925 he opened his dream hotel with 12 rooms. Don Manuel was not without resources having established both the telephone and electric companies in Tijuana and gradually expanded his hotel to 50 rooms, an astronomical number in the early 30s. In order for his friends and guests to get to his hotel, he also built a road from Tijuana to Rosarito as well as a small airstrip. He eventually met and fell madly in love with a young actress from Tijuana named Maria Luisa Chabert. After they married, she discovered she preferred living in Rosarito to Tijuana, so Don Manual built a mansion to house his wife and family.   By this time the hotel had grown to include the Restaurante Azteca, the Mexicano Ballroom and a grand reception foyer.  In addition to being beautiful, Doña Maria Luisa also happened to have a good eye and good taste and began decorating the hotel in the 1920s/early California style. Much of her handiwork is still very much visible and on display 80 years later. It is well worth a stop at the hotel just to check it out. The foyer walls she commissioned murals to reflect scenes of Mexican life

 

RBH Lobby Mural   RBH Mural

The floors were laid with beautiful pasta tiles

RBH Pasta Tile Floor

No, these aren’t made of noodles.  Pasta tiles are actually very common in the hot and humid areas of Mexico.  The early Spanish colonial settlers discovered rather quickly that the woven and pile carpets and rugs that they were used to on their floors in Spain were not suitable for the heat and humidity of New Spain. The carpets and rugs were rolled up and removed and tiles with designs reminiscent of the former floor coverings put not instead. Pasta tile work is not common in Baja  and the floors in the Rosarito Beach Hotel are not only a good example of the genre, they have been well cared for over a lot of years.

Extensive use was also made of the famous Talavera tiles in a lot of the common area.  These blue Talavera tiles are gorgeous

RBH Tile Work

For some reason, the design and color of the pasta tiles and the design and color of the Talavera tiles do not clash.  In fact, they complement each other very well.

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The hallway leads to several small conference rooms and the Mexicano Ballroom.  Each conference room is adorned with these stylized room identifiers

RBH Salon Maya Door Ornament

The back lighting creates a rather eerie effect

The ballroom, on the other hand, has no eerie effects. It is loaded with charm, wood and many artistic touches, like the ceiling, for instance

RBH Ballroom Ceiling

The ballroom was too dark for many photos, but there were some unique bas-relief figures on some of the columns. Bas relief is a style of sculpting where the design is on slightly raised from the flat surface or background onto which they are sculpted. In addition to this one done in wood, there were also several very large wood bas reliefs in the restaurant

RBH Wood Bas Bas Relief

The China Poblana, Son Jarocho and Mexican hat dancers were done in either cement or plaster and most likely attached after the fact. They are primitive, but they do make it clear what the function of the room truly is.

RBH Ballroom China Poblana   RBH San Jorocho Dancers   RBH Ballroom Dancers Bas Relief

The ballroom didn’t have many walls, but on the one facing out towards the lobby was this lovely mural, partially obstructed by an ATM.

RBH Aztec Mural

I strongly suspect the mural is telling the story of the star-crossed lovers Popo and Itza for whom the 2 famous volcanos just south of Mexico City are named.

And the Hollywood glamour?  The Rosarito Beach Hotel had it in spades.  The list of stars, celebrities and royalty that graced the hotel reads like a Who’s Who of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.  Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn…Lana Turner…Robert Stack…Gregory Peck…Marilyn Monroe.  Burgess Meredith and Paulette Goddard enjoyed the hotel so much they chose to get married there with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gregory Peck and Vincent Price in attendance.  Ali Khan, the son of the Shah of Iran, arrived with Rita Hayworth and an entourage of 17, took up a whole floor and stayed for 2 weeks. The son of the notorious dictator of the Dominican Republic wooed Kim Novak there.

One day as Don Manuel Barbachano watched his wife walk through the property he reflected on all the grace and beauty that passed through the front doors of his hotel and commissioned a piece of stained glass to be installed above the doors

RBH Stained Glass

POR ESTA PUERTA PASAN LAS MUJERES MAS HERMOSA DEL MUNDO

(Through these doors pass the most beautiful women in the world)

He wasn’t wrong.

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Alvarado

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He came…he saw…he conquered…and then named the place after himself.

That would be none other than the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado. He arrived in the New World around 1510 along with a number of his brothers and uncles and quickly found success in the Conquest of Cuba. He sailed with Juan de Grijalva’s exploratory voyage to the Yucatan before ending up as the 2nd in command to Hernan Cortes on his fateful trip.  A particularly cruel conquistador, his actions led to the death of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma and, ultimately, Noche Triste. Whether to get rid of him or reward him, Cortes sent Alvarado south to explore and claim whatever he could. Things haven’t changed much in 600 years, money and power are still primal forces and they were definitely motivators for Pedro de Alvarado. Ultimately, he ended up discovering El Salvador and Guatemala and managed to amass a fortune in the process and become governor of Guatemala until he died.

On his way out of Mexico he stumbled into Atlizintla and promptly renamed both the city and the river upon which it was situated, Alvarado. The city name stuck; the river reverted back to its’ original name, the Papaloapan. Today, Alvarado, located only some 40 miles south of Veracruz City, is one of the major shrimping ports on the Gulf of Mexico. The day we passed through the harbor master had closed the port due to inclement weather so we had a rare opportunity to check out some shrimp boats up close.

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Yes, most of them were pretty rusty. Here’s my friend Suzanne reeling one in…

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They did, however, make for a nice photo-op 😉

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What Alvarado took to be the river was actually a lagoon.  A very large lagoon…some 60 miles in length from north to south. In fact, the Papaloapan river basin is massive covering somewhere around 17,000 square miles! The river itself is comparatively short. It rises high in the wild and rugged mountains on the border of Oaxaca and Veracruz states and then flows about 75 miles northeast to the Gulf.

Laguna Alvarado

Laguna Alvarado

Normally the water would be a lot clearer and a lot more blue, but the storm passing through had kicked up the sand, silt and gravel and turned the water a rather unappealing shade of tan.

But with bigger fish to fry we left Alvarado behind and plunged into the ever lusher, ever more green countryside…

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Who knew you could get a half way decent photo shooting out the window of a van whizzing down the highway!

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Volovanes!

Travel down any road in Mexico and someone is sure to be selling something. I am convinced that you can buy just about anything – and I mean ANYTHING – somewhere along the road.  10 pounds of oranges and jumbo bags of roasted peanuts…in the shell? Of course.  Coconuts and pineapples?  Naturally.  How about a set of wooden patio furniture?  Sure.  A new pet iguana?  Why not. So it was no surprise recently when we pulled into a Pemex station to use the restrooms that we also found a vendor selling still-warm-from-the-oven volavanes.  If you’ve never heard of a volovane, you will recognize them in a photo.

Volovanes!

Volovanes!

Yep, that’s right, puff pastry turnovers. The ones on the left were ham and cheese, the ones on the right were chicken tinga. The chicken ones were better. They cost 8 pesos, which is about $.65.  Little did we know that when we purchases these as a quick snack that they’d end up being all we had to tide us over during an unusually long and grueling travel day. Luckily volovanes can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature.

They come in all sizes and shapes, and, with as many fillings as the cook has imagination for or leftovers. But the filling most often associated with volovanes is Minilla,  a mixture of cooked fish, capers (which can be optional), olives and raisins (which are not optional). The food in Veracruz is clearly Mexican, but it is probably the easiest city in which to see the Spanish and Moorish influences on the cuisine equally clearly…and capers, olives and raisins are certainly that. Vendors carrying large baskets of Volovanes de Minilla around the downtown core, the waterfront and the beaches of Veracruz are not an infrequent sight.  With the holiday season fast upon us, you too can “wow” your friends and family with a tropical latin appetizer. They’re not complicated.

Volovanes de Minilla

Canned tuna is the most common cooked fish used in minilla, so make sure you use a brand of tuna you like.  If canned tuna isn’t an option, use your favorite white fish…seabass, halibut, grouper, fluke, flounder…I think you get the picture. You can even substitute shredded crab or finely chopped shrimp for the tuna as well.

For the Puff Pastry

1 – 1 1/2 lbs of puff pastry, thawed if frozen

1-2 eggs beaten with 1-2 tablespoons of water or cream

For the Minilla

3/4 Cup of white onion, finely chopped

1 Tbl. of garlic, finely chopped

2-3 Tbls. Olive Oil

1 1/2 lb. tomatoes (Roma or globe, it doesn’t matter), peeled, seeded and finely chopped

2 Bay leaves

2 tsp. Brown sugar

2 – 7 oz cans of tuna, oil packed if fine, just drain it well and rinse, (or sub in 3/4 – 1 lb. cooked fish or seafood of your choice)

1/4 Cup Raisins, finely chopped

1/4 Cup Green olives (stuffed or not), finely chopped

1/4 Cup Pickled jalapeños, finely chopped

1 Tbls Capers, drained, rinsed and finely chopped

2-3 Tbls. Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1/2  tsp dried oregano (Mexican or non-Mexican)

1/2 tsp dried Thyme

Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350*

1.  Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat until the onion is translucent.

2.  Stir in the tomatoes and continue cooking until the liquid from the tomatoes has been rendered and cooked off and the tomatoes are almost paste-like. this will take about 10-15 minutes.

3.  Add the brown sugar, bay leaves and tuna (or other fish if using) and stir well to combine. Cook for about 2 minutes to heat everything through. Then add the raisins, olives, pickled jalapeños, capers and seasonings.  Cook for 5 minutes more, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and scortching

4.  Remove from the heat, remove the bay leaves, add the salt and adjust the seasonings to your taste. Set aside to cool.

5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of about 1/4″ – 3/8″. To make triangles, cut the puff pastry into 5″ x 5″ or 6″ x 6″ squares. For half moons, cut out rounds using a 5″ or 6″ cookie cutter.

6.  Place a generous 1 Tbls of minilla filling in the center of each piece of puff pastry. Dampen the edges with a little water and then fold the pastry in half and press tightly to seal. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork.

7.  Place the volovanes on an ungreased baking sheet and brush with some of the egg wash. Let rest 20 minutes. Brush again with more egg wash and let rest 10 more minutes.  Then bake them.

8.  Approximately 15 minutes, or until they are browned.

Serve hot or at room temperature

If a fish filling of any kind isn’t your idea of a tasty turnover, then use your imagination, or your leftovers. Almost any taco filling would work well. So would shredded pot roast mixed with a little gravy. Rotisserie chicken has become everyone’s best friend. Shred up some chicken, toss with jarred salsa – red or green – add a little onion and a little cilantro and you’ve got instant filling. Or mix it with BBQ sauce and cheese. Or go sweet with marshmallows and chocolate chips, or go Cuban with a little hunk of cream cheese and a slice of guava paste. The possibilities are endless.

Volovanes are called vol-au-vents in French, and most Americans think anything with puff pastry must be hard and complicated. It’s not. Puff pastry is in the freezer section of almost all grocery stores, and many bakeries will sell it to you fresh. If it’s easy enough to be an inexpensive treat purchased at a gas station along a road in Mexico ( cottage industry not withstanding) it’s easy enough for you to convince your family and friends that you’re a wizard in the kitchen.

Inspiration

Inspiration

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Veracruz

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The more time I spend in Veracruz the more I like it; it’s beginning to feel very familiar…in a good way.

It’s hot, often humid, tropical…in a word…sultry.

It was the spot where Hernán Cortez embarked on what turned out to be one of the greatest adventures and conquests in modern history.  Well, actually, that spot is about 30 minutes north of the city of Veracruz across the highway from the Totonac ruins at Quiahuiztlán. Stand on the beach there and you can still see the rocky islet where Cortez – who had left Cuban illegally and without permission from the Spanish Crown – ordered his ships stripped of supplies and burned. Thus began the conquest of the pre-Colombian empires…marooned on the shores of a seductive tropical beach.

Barbara, Suzanne and I had no such illusions.  The only thing we were interested in conquering was breakfast, so off we headed to Samborncitos  for coffee, freshly squeezed juice and some picadas, which are the Veracruz version of sopes.  Since we were not exactly firing on all pistons, no one remembered to take photos of what we ate :-(. So just to whet your appetite, here’s what I ate last time I was there 😉

An simple but utterly delicious cheese quesadilla

A simple but utterly delicious cheese quesadilla

Infladas...called Gordas on the menu...puffy, hollows of masa goodness just begging to be filled with something

Infladas…called Gordas on the menu…puffy, hollows of masa goodness just begging to be filled with something

We did, however, remember to take a photo – through the window, no less! –  of the fountain in the front of the palapa restaurant…go figure

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Properly fortified we thought we were headed back to the hotel and some much deserved rest.  Instead, some how we ended up at the Mercado Hidalgo to check out guayabera shirts… of all things. The market is also the site of the epiphanous chile relleno taco; the object of affection of Macon, the fourth member of the traveling Amigas who had yet to arrive in Veracruz.  So, Macon, this one’s for you, unfortunately, you’ll have to enjoy it vicariously

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Chile relleno taco at the Mercado Hidalgo in Veracruz

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Top the taco with any – or all – of these condiments. YUM!

What else is there to do in Veracruz?

The Acuario de Veracruz is definitely worth a visit. Coming from the home of Shamu, Sea World and the Birch Aquarium I couldn’t imagine that something in Veracruz could be so enchanting. It’s bigger than it looks and definitely belies its entrance in a small shopping mall!  When you’ve finished with the aquarium, head a few feet south to the row of palapa restaurants and enjoy a shrimp cocktail right on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Forteleza San Juan de Ulúa sits out on a spit of land pretty much in the middle of the active Port of Veracruz. Through it passed all the booty from the interior of Mexico during the Colonial era as well as the goods from the famous Manilla Galleons that disgorged in Acapulco and then transported overland to Veracruz to be shipped back home to Spain. An arduous trek to say the least! And let’s not forget Pirates…real pirates who plied the Caribbean plundering whatever ship they could. Veracruz (along with Campeche) was often the target of pirates. When the Spanish Colonial period came to an end the fort saw use as a prison and the list of incarcerated reads like a Who’s Who of Mexican politicians. Today the fort stands guard over a very active commercial port creating a rather disjointed picture of modern super cargo ships docked mere feet away from a fortress built in the 1500s.  But that’s part of Veracruz, and, in fact, most of Mexico.

The old

The old

And the new...

And the new…

Side by side. This view was taken from the fort towards Veracruz

Side by side. This view was taken from the fort towards Veracruz

To get the most out of a tour of San Juan de Ulúa hire one of the guides (available in multiple languages) who will take you through the fort and explain in detail how the place operated, what passed through it – trade and people – as well as some of the gory details of prisoner life.

Feeling lazy?  Head down to the port and take one of the open air bus tours. It provides an orientation to the city and help you get your bearings.

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For me no visit to Veracruz is complete without 2 things…a lechero at Gran Cafe de la Parróquia and a Huachinango Frito

Lechero is coffee.  Gran Cafe de la Parróquia is an ancient, but much-loved, restaurant institution in Veracruz. For the lechero, strong coffee arrives at the table in a large glass. You tap…not so gently…on the glass with your spoon to summon a waiter with a tea kettle over to your table. He then pours hot milk into the coffee from a height of about 2 feet. It’s a great show and the resulting latte is respectable.

Me and the old - REALLY old - espresso machine

Me and the old – REALLY old – espresso machine

Fill 'er up

Fill ‘er up

Lechero

Lechero

Huachinango is true red snapper and for some reason I love it fried.  Veracruz is the mothership for the iconic Huachinango Veracruzana, which I adore. But I also adore frying it as well. Not muss, no fuss, just me, the fish and a plate of limes.  Most restaurant will take a whole fish, slash it and toss it in the deep fryer. It comes out with a remarkably crisp skin and moist tender flesh.

Before

So much to do, see and eat, too little time.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane…Part 2

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Little more than a month after my culinary adventure in Morelia I was back at the Tijuana airport about to depart on a textiles trip into the wilds of Mexico . This time my friends Barbara and Suzanne were coming along.

The red-eye sounded good at the time.  The itinerary read…leave Tijuana 12 midnight…arrive Mexico City 5:00am.  3 hour lay-over then depart D.F. a few minutes before 8:00 am…arrive Veracruz just before 9:00 am. There really is no easy way to get from San Diego to Veracruz so these AeroMexico flights sure seemed like the best option. The reality, however, is that what sounds or looks good on paper rarely turns out as well in real-time, or real life. When did I know we were in trouble?  The minute I sat down in the middle seat (which wasn’t supposed to really be a middle seat) and had both seat arms crushed into my sides.  Now, I can stand to lose some weight, but I am not that big and I’ve never had to – literally – wedge myself into an airline seat. 3 hours to Mexico City with a girdle of steel snug on my ribs? No fun, plus I missed the beverage service because the flight attendants thought I was asleep. NOT.

We were sleepy and it was cold when we finally deplaned in D.F.  Barbara and Suzanne had the presence of mind to bring jackets, I just had a rebozo and it wasn’t quite up to the task as we hiked from our arrival gate an unknown departure gate.  With nearly 3 hours to kill we settled in for the wait. I snuggled under my rebozo and finally generated enough body heat to get warm. We dozed, we walked and Barbara and I even tried to shop, while Suzanne people-watched and came to the conclusion that pilots don’t walk they glide. Not the best airport for an early morning layover.

The flight to Veracruz was, thankfully, short and comfortable. We arrived on time in need of a shower, breakfast, coffee and some sleep…not necessarily in that order. We picked up our bags and headed out the door to begin our grand adventure chasing textiles in La Chinantla.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I have a love/hate affair with Volaris, the Mexican airline.

I love the low fare tickets, the cool color scheme (purple and teal), modern planes and eager-to-please staff of young, unfailingly attractive flight attendants. And, I have yet to have a bad flight on Volaris.

But I hate the chaos that is typically Volaris check-in and I really, really hate being nickel and dimed to death with all their extra add-on fees.  Want to choose your seat when you purchase your ticket?  That’ll be an extra $2.50, or maybe $6.00 depending upon the flight and the seat you choose. Need extra weight for your luggage?  Tack on an extra $22…enough, is enough.  By the time all the extras are added in, what started out as a cheap ticket may no longer be that.

A recent trip to Morelia presented me with choices. Either fly out of San Diego to Morelia via Houston on United/Continental for the princely sum of $700+ or fly out of Tijuana on Volaris for less than $300. Pretty much a no-brainer. For $400 in savings, I could suck it up and run the gauntlet that is the Tijuana airport.

Normally when I fly out of TIJ (airline lingo for the General Abelardo L Rodriguez airport in Tijuana) I’m flying with friends. I leave my car at their house and we take a shuttle to the airport. Since I was flying solo on this trip, the first challenge became where to park.  There is a large modern parking structure at TIJ and for a 4-day trip it’s a good option. But that would mean I’d have to drive across the border, which isn’t a big deal, but coming back is. I had no desire to get stuck in an hours long line to cross back into the U.S., so I ruled that out.

I could take the trolley from my house to the border, walk across and grab a cab to the airport. While ridiculously cost-effective, it’s also a ridiculously long trolley ride, so out went that idea too.

There are any number of safe parking lots on the U.S. side of the border providing easy access to cross South on foot. That seemed like the most logical option…that is until I remembered Delta Truck Parking .  I’d heard about them a few years ago but had never had the opportunity to use them. At $7/day, this trip would be that opportunity.

Delta Truck Parking

I pulled into Delta Truck Parking and they directed me to a space under one of their car port tents.  Sweet!  My car would be out of the sun and other elements, gotta love it.  5 guys on their way to La Paz to go fishing had pulled in ahead of me and had arranged for Delta Trucking to shuttle them directly to the airport. There was space for me too, so I got a free ride to the airport; things were certainly going my way. I managed to get a new tourist Visa and clear Aduana (Mexican customs) in record time and was feeling pretty good about how easy everything had been. The travel gods were clearly on my side.

Volaris check-in at Tijuana has always been something of a chaotic goat rope. Unlike U.S. airlines that check-in passengers in line regardless of their destination, Volaris designated each check-in station and agent a specific flight, which was displayed on a flat screen panel above the counter. Passengers queued up in the line for their flight and waited, and waited, and then waited some more.  And then just when you thought you’d made it to the front of the line, bam, there were tables in front of each ticket agent and inspectors going through each piece of luggage…one by one, passenger by passenger. And Mexicans don’t travel light. So, in addition to any banned substances, if the luggage was overweight, there was even more delay until the passenger could get his or her issues with excess weight settled. So close yet so far…

There used to be a “fila rapida” (quick line) for people who had checked in on-line and only needed to drop off baggage. Mexican’s don’t typically check-in on-line so the fila rapida fizzled out after only a couple of years.

I, on the other hand, am a big fan of on-line check-in, and I’m a big fan of the Volaris policy of allowing travelers to check-in up to 72 hours in advance. Something in the fine print caught my eye when I went on-line to check-in for the Morelia trip…Volaris had imposed yet another fee. For passengers not checking-in on-line and printing their board pass there would be a penalty of $20 pesos, or about $1.65 USD.  Hmmm…this was new, and I wondered why.

It become perfectly clear when I exited Aduana. Gone were the seething, snaking lines of travelers.  Gone were the flight specific check-in stations. Gone were the hours long wait just to check baggage. In its place was a streamlined process that could only be described as logical and efficient. What a concept! No pushing, shoving or jockeying for position. Instead I only had to get in one line, put my luggage and carry-on onto a scale, show my boarding pass and get directed to a check-in line with only 2 or 3 people ahead of me. Instead of waiting 90+ minutes in a line to check luggage, in less than 10 minutes my luggage had been tagged and I was on my way to Gate 12 and my flight to Morelia.

The Tijuana airport as seen a lot of modernization and upgrading over the last couple of years. It’s easily navigated, and other than a lack of electrical outlets for charging electronic devices, it is comfortable and has some nice stores and restaurants (Starbucks, yes!). I settled in with a cup of coffee and waited for the plane to arrive. Volaris names all their planes and the one that finally pulled in to Gate 12 had been christened Guadalupe, the patroness saint of Mexico.  I was pretty sure that was a sign it would be a good flight. The gate agents had us line up to board, and then we waited, and waited, and waited some more. The wait that hadn’t materialized at check-in had arrived with Guadalupe at Gate 12. Eventually the gate agent announced that there would be a delay…a – YIKES! – 3 hour delay…and maybe longer! DRAT! those travel gods. They had deserted me and my traveling luck came to a screeching halt. I watched as the plane known as Guadalupe was pushed back from the gate and towed away.

3 hours and 15 minutes later, we board a Volaris plane named Alan and were off to Morelia.  Personally, I think they should have offered free drinks for the duration of the flight, but they didn’t and we finally arrived at our destination 3 1/2 hours behind schedule, but we had made it in one piece and that really is all that counted.

I still have a love/hate relationship with Volaris and a 3+ hour flight delay didn’t do much to improve that. That streamline and much improved check-in process, however, did. It ended up a wash.  Some good and some ugly, equals status quo for Volaris in my book.

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