Primo Tapia

Baja Bernie - 6-23-2007 at 08:12 AM

From Mi Baja No Hurry No Worry

(well I said I would do this and I will---almost done. Let the Newby's know that they can find past stories at 'Baja Looking Back.')

Some people call it Cantamar (song of the sea); others apply the name Puerto Nuevo (New Port). To the Mexicans it is still Primo Tapia and that it always will be. I’ve asked several friends exactly what it means and no one seems to really know. If you look in the Spanish Dictionary it leads you to understand that it means prime or main wall but where does that leave you—still don’t know! One old timer told me that it meant, ‘low mud wall.’ Oh! Well, who cares? I first got to know it as Puerto Nuevo back in the very early 60’s when it was less than a dot on the map.

The only thing to cause you to slow down as you rounded a wide sweeping curve at K-53 were word of mouth tales of wonderful langosta dinners that were cheap and served family style in the living rooms of the homes of local fishermen. The lobsters were always grandes (large) not the chica (small) ones they serve now. You got the lobster and all of the rice, beans, and tortillas you could eat for about $1.95 U.S. Beers were only 25 cents a bottle and sodas were a dime. To keep a running ‘tab’ of drinks served the empty bottles were left on the table and were only counted at the end of your meal. It was ok to wander into the back and get yourself another bottled drink, just don’t take an empty with you.

That was before Señor Ortega brought refrigeration to the small fishing campo. When you ordered Langosta Puerto Nuevo Style you knew that the lobster was fresh from the sea because they had no way of freezing them. Now you get ‘Bugs’ that are up to six months old, dried out and small enough to finish in two bites. The place is still world famous mainly because the new crowd of Europeans, Japanese, and young gringo’s don’t know what they are missing. That’s only half true! It is still a fun place to take people who have never tasted the flavor of Baja. Most of the old houses are gone and the new restaurants are two or three story places where they charge you at least $16.00 per dinner and rush you out so that those waiting in line can spend their money. No longer do the fisherman’s wife or her young children serve you. The kids are still around but now most of them are the wealthy owners of the new establishments. The soft and friendly family approach is no more. Oh! Yea. A cerveza is $3.00 U.S. and a coke is a buck and a half. Consider yourself lucky if you can find a place to park your vehicle.

The place I learned to call Cantamar is where I first began to buy adobe bricks for the patio in front of my trailer. It was and still is an individual family business where the bricks are handmade in the hills directly east of Puerto Nuevo. Very few of the families would or could deliver their product because most of them didn’t even own a vehicle much less a truck. The bricks were only 2 cents apiece but you had to pick them up.

I made numerous trips into the hills to buy a few hundred adobes at a time. I almost croaked when someone in camp told me that they had gone up to 6 cents apiece. This drastic increase took less than a year. That’s what an influx of crazy gringo’s will do to prices. I bragged around camp that I knew “Old Juan” pretty well and that I was sure I could get the bricks for much less than the new price.

The next time I came back down I stopped in Rosarito Beach and bought a bag of Mexican soft candies and a quart of Tequila. By the time I left Rosarito it was getting dark. When I pulled up in front of “Old Juan’s” small house it was very dark. In those days the only streetlights you would find in Alta Baja were in Tijuana, Mexicali or Ensenada. The headlights on my truck provided the only illumination.

I gave the candy to Juan’s eight kids. He and I toasted each other with the Tequila and visited for a while. Soon we got down to business. Squatting in the dirt road in front of my truck he would write a price in the dirt and I would counter with my stick. At first he wanted 7 cents a brick; I was shocked! I countered with 2½ cents. We had another drink and he started lower and I went a little higher. Suddenly, I heard voices coming out of the surrounding blackness. I looked up and saw 8-10 young guys forming a ring around us. I became very uncomfortable when they started making very blunt and unfriendly comments.

Juan and I continued to scratch prices in the dirt until we agreed on $10.00 U.S. for 250 adobes-about 4 cents a brick. There were several stacks of bricks right next to my truck but Old Juan jumped in and told me to drive further up into the hills. The unsmiling young men jumped in the back. This had never happened before and I became very uneasy. It was darker than dark, no moon and no stars, pitch black. We past many stacks of perfectly good adobe bricks as we drove further and further up into the hills. I became ever more nervous as we passed many Mexicans living in camps with brush and cardboard forming very rudimentary shelters. The only light was from campfires that were burning in each primitive campo.

These people had only recently come from the interior of Mexico in search of a better live. To these Indians Baja held out the same dreams as California did when people advised, “Go West Young Man!”

At last Old Juan had me pull over at the last stack, which lay hidden from the world at the dead end of a canyon. I didn’t think that the night could get any darker. I was wrong. When we stopped in that small valley I could barely see the men as they jumped out of my truck. By that time I had hidden my wallet under the seat—stupid!

Had they wanted to they could also take my truck and if I were lucky they would let me to walk the eight miles back to La Salina. The guys started loading my truck and I stood by counting the adobe bricks. Now they were all laughing and joking and I decided that I would live to make another deal in the dirt.

With my confidence in the basic goodness of the Mexican people restored I laughingly pointed out that they had shorted me 10 bricks. Juan roared and told them to give me 20 more. I do believe they were just testing my ability to count!

I began to call it Primo Tapia when my good friend, David Medina, became the manager of one of the more successful maquiladoras in town.

The community had started out as a fishing campo with farming back up the valley. The two to three hundred souls had grown to a few thousand hard working people. It still hosts one of the oldest Norte Americano settlements in Baja.

Residents of Primo Tapia brag that they have the only fire department between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. They also had the very first Police Station in the area.

So call it what you will. It is rapidly becoming one of the largest little towns in Alta Baja

It also has the low cost Pemex station

The Gull - 6-23-2007 at 11:14 AM

...and home to Mi Pueblo Restaurant (good menudo) and Mariscos La Alegria (greatest fish tacos)

FARASHA - 6-23-2007 at 12:30 PM

Gives once more a nice picture - in looking Back - over the shoulder! Thank You Bernie!

DENNIS - 6-23-2007 at 01:14 PM

Bernie ----

Golly.........Not even a mention of the Pastrami sandwiches that put Primo on the map or, maybe that was the maquiladora DAVE Medina used to run.

Thanks again, Bernie.

Mi Pueblo Restaurant

Baja Bernie - 6-24-2007 at 09:49 AM

Great breakfasts as I remember...........

fdt - 6-24-2007 at 09:57 AM

Primo Tapia is the name for the Ejido, named after Manuel Primo Tapia.


Baja Bernie - 6-24-2007 at 10:04 AM

Did you ever meet Senor Ortega...........what a far thinking guy.............You worked at Coronado Hotel...........He worked at Rohr. Small world.