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Best of 2000: Best Vestige Of Old Baja

Popotla

Yearning for the laid-back Baja that Earl Stanley Gardner used to describe in the '30s? It's alive and well -- just. Best and nearest place: Popotla, a jerry-built squatters' fishing village on a rocky point five minutes south of Rosarito (the nontoll road). It's right after the studios Fox built to film Titanic. The movie's millions never trickled down: you bump along a dusty track to this collection of rickety stilt houses and restaurants. Choose Pedro's place, Mariscos El Locochon, first on the left. Pedro García Barcelo runs it. Yellow fishing boats with names like Elisa and Isabel are tied to the blue poles by the tables. Choose a wiggling fish. He chops its head off and cooks it in oil in a "wok," which is actually an upturned tractor's plowing disk. The only sounds: gulls fighting to catch fish guts he tosses to them, and the crash of the blue waves. Electricity iffy, so come by day.

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