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Despite being close to the border, I have never been to Mexico. This summer, I finally took the plunge for a foodie day trip led by Scott Koenig, frequent traveler and author of A Gringo in Mexico. After picking up two friends in Mission Valley, my assistant navigators directed me to to the last highway exit before Mexico. The border parking lot had cheaper rates on weekdays, $8 instead of $15 for up to 12 hours, and payment was secured by credit card. Scott picked us up and away we went! The border gate delay was short going into Mexico, which mostly consisted of being asked purpose and length of time for our trip.

Tijuana was our first stop. Mariscos Ruben's, one of the top 50 street vendors per Scott, had an extensive salsa bar with over 15 flavors to spice up your meal! Mirtha Rodriguez ran the show and prepared our order of aguachile callo de acha. These scallops were so fresh and in a sauce that reminded me of tajin with that strong lime and spice. It was so delicious!

Down the street, tacos at El Taconazo were next on our list. Inspired by a roasting spit, the juicy adobada taco was delightful with light toppings. The newest taste for me was suadero, a light colored meat that reminded me of pork meat with a bacon-y savoriness. Everything was presented in fresh hand pressed corn tortillas. It was said this establishment also had the cleanest bathrooms in the area. A quick stop was made before we continued our journey south.

We passed a huge Jesus on the highway! This is the Christ of the Sacred Heart, a 75-foot tall statue viewable from the road! During this trip, the toll roads were 1.85 USD or 30 pesos and I believe we only passed two going each way.

Taking the highway exit, we drove by this pretty sea themed artwork to Popotla fishing village. The general parking lot was to the left. Staff of nearby restaurants waved you toward their establishments, stating that you could get free parking if you ate there. Otherwise, the main lot was approximately $3 for parking. We unloaded from the vehicle and headed toward the beaches.

I was surprised to see vehicles parked and driven within close reach of gently rolling waves. Many fishing boats were nearby, eagerly awaited their owners to begin the next sea adventure. Beware the rogue waves, which more than once caught me by surprise, my jeans soaking the ocean sweat. Next time I'll wear shorts!

 This place was exactly as described, a fishing village, with the perks of fresh seafood for those who waited! We walked around, admiring them, and talking to the vendors.

Our final eating spot was Mariscos Reyna with a clear view of the sea. Here we sucked down some fresh briny Hurache oysters (named because they are long and resemble a shoe). The prepared Pata de Mula clams, also called "mule's foot" or "black clams," were a little bit on the chewier side so I only ate a few. The best item of the day was the rock fish prepared in the "Zarandeado" style, butterflied and grilled in a basket turned several times. Ahh, the enjoyment of that light seasoning atop soft and silky fish flesh. Scott also showed us a great way to debone the fish in order to get every last possible piece of meat out.

Cheers with a mexican bloody mary kind followed, cup rims dripping with a thick tajin-laced paste. This reddish edge I sampled, pleasantly surprised on how much I enjoyed it. That beer was ALL for them though!

Beachside vendors walked the sandy stretches. Stacked hats were balanced with ease plus other souvenirs were offered from one man while we marveled at an ice cream man with the best cart ever - bull horns style. The candy guy enticed us with colorful sweets while swatting away beach bugs with a stringy whip.

With full bellies, we waddled back up toward the main village area. To our right was a vendor with really awesome jackfruit ice cream-like stuff which my friends managed to find room for anyway. Then it was time to head home with a half hour drive to the Mexican border.

On a weekday around 4pm, we waited an hour, which was still a third of the time you'd expect on a weekend. To amuse myself, I surveyed the action in this sea of cars... One eyecatcher was a little girl, sitting on the shoulders of her father (or other male company), as she juggling 3 balls with her best efforts. Scott also warned us about the agressive window wipers, who try to 'wash' your windshields for tips. Be assertive if you don't want a particular service during your extended wait. One service we did utilize was purchasing some agua fresca. Best decision of all since the sun was searingly hot and a cool drink was the perfect defense.

Murals under the bridges on the road by the border crossing. This was the last picture I took before we reached the border crossing. We're not supposed to take pictures in the security areas so I stopped short just in case! We dutifully showed our passports to the guards and were ushered on our way. Once back over the border, life was the same as always, yet I was happy to finally have dipped my toes into Mexico. Return I will, to explore more...

Here are my fabulous companions of the day (left to right): Scott from A Gringo in Mexico, Joanne of Cardamom Cafe & Bakery, and Mercy from Baron's BBQ Beat. Stay tuned for more adventures this summer!

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