2012: By Air to Baja

Baja Trip - the Known and Unknown Baja Sur

This trip was initially not on our list, but the cruise we had planned to take became ever more expensive as we considered the costs not in the basic price – wine, spirits, any bottled water, excursions, visas, tips, and an endless array of other costs.  So we looked for somewhere pleasant in the winter, and decided to head for Baja.  We had different interests, so decided to split the time between the coast near Cabo de San Lucas and La Paz, on the Gulf of California. I bought two guidebooks for the peninsula and settled in to read about it.

While absorbing information on the destination(s) – Los Cabos and La Paz – I missed a key item– the timeshare business.   After claiming bags and exiting into the international arrivals hall (it is another country!), we found a long counter staffed by young men in polo shirts.  Making the mistake of asking for the location of the car rental agencies, we were swarmed by these guys, who offered all sorts of money and other payoffs for listening to a timeshare presentation (although it was not so described).   And once we found our way to the rental agency, a young woman – transplanted from Seattle – met us with a clipboard and chatted us up while we waited for our car – again promising food, gifts, and money for attending a presentation.  The key in both these approaches was a person stationed in a business or government installation (the airport) who appeared to be part of the staff but was not – and who presumably paid off the actual business or government in order to be there.  Subsequent reading in the guidebook and online suggested that such presentations can take all day, despite the promise of “a few hours” with relentless, intense sales efforts – and if you don’t receive the promised benefits, what would you do about it?

Once those hazards were negotiated, we got underway – with some difficulty as the road signage was not very helpful.  The majority of tourists must use taxis or other transportation in which they don’t have to find their way.  The hotel for part one of our stay was 25 miles or more from the airport, and it was already growing dark as we left the rental agency.   Eventually we found the toll road that bypassed the town near the airport, Cabo San Jose, and emerged onto the Tourist Corridor – a stretch along the southern tip of Baja that must have 300 hotels and resorts in its 30-some kilometers of shoreline – some extremely luxurious.  We were not in one of those, having chosen the Marbella Suites halfway along the Corridor – a relatively modest place that was quiet and secluded.   There was nowhere to walk, and really nothing to walk to beyond a small shopping center across the four-lane divided road, and so we spent almost all our time and all our meals here.  

The exception was a whale-watching expedition one morning, which took us by van into the center of town #2, Cabo San Lucas, and out along the arch formations at the end of the peninsula.  Known as Finisterra, this really is Land’s End for North America – straight South from here is nothing but ocean until you reach Antarctica.  West from there you go well past the Hawaiian Islands before encountered land. We saw a few whales – but next time I’d plump for a serious watching expedition in the Gulf of California, or just forget it.   The trip was expensive and uncomfortable (straddling on a seat like saddles, in motion I felt like I was on a pogo stick), in a Zodiac-style boat that slapped its way across the waves.  

The Marbella Suites en la Playa had some three dozen rooms or suites, spread along various levels of the shore – probably a drop of 200 feet or more from street level to the water – ending in the restaurant with bar below.   You could also have a table set up on the beach, with a bonfire for company.  Not quite warm enough for me!  The weather was pleasantly mild but not balmy.  For the beach this did not matter, as the topography of the beach, with a huge drop-off, makes swimming dangerous – and the temperature of the water is not tempting!  The sound of the surf is very soothing – and even with windows closed (in the absence of screens, to keep mosquitoes at bay – never a time of year when mosquitoes don’t show up!) it was quite audible.  We enjoyed our time here and found the restaurant and hotel staff to be quite friendly and helpful.

For Part Two, we transferred by our rental car – the second time we’d used it – to La Paz, the capital of Baja Sur.  La Paz is a small city – over 200,000, located on a north-facing bay of the Gulf of California.  It has a beautiful tiled waterfront walkway of some 11 km, dotted with sculptures related to La Paz and the sea.  Our small (8 rooms) hotel, Posada de Las Flores, was just on the other side of the waterfront boulevard – and traffic actually did slow down so you could cross!  This walkway, or malecón, was busy day and night with walkers, dog-walkers, bicyclists, skateboarders, kids, and happy tourists.  We used it to walk from the hotel to the point where we wanted to shop or dine and then went into the maze of streets.

Baja is of course a place to eat seafood – as much as you can! – and we did.   La Paz also had a wide range of other choices, and we dined on Spanish (Restaurant Sitges) and Greek as well.  We returned to the Spanish restaurant when the waiter told us that there’d be a flamenco performance the next night.  That turned out to be a performance by a high school age dance troupe – beautifully costumed, but, at least for me, the first time I’d seen a flamenco dancer flashing braces!  

La Paz seemed like a “real place,” in contrast to the Tourist Corridor/San Lucas – and one of our waiters said that he’d worked in San Lucas, found it scary, and knows it now as San Locos.   Many of the restaurants had menus without English translation! And the clientele were clearly mostly locals.  The range of seafood was tremendous.  We regret not trying the Chocolate Clams, and put that on the list of reasons to go back.   Wandering the (very hilly) streets of the waterfront district was most enjoyable, and there were many unexpected finds, such as the guayabera shop – where Dick promptly acquired two excellent shirts!  

We visited the market, the history museum, the whale museum (which features a collection of whale eardrums, amazingly sculptural objects), and numerous shops and restaurants.  In the history museum we learned, to our surprise, that Baja Sur was not even a state until 1974, and was ruled by a military governor appointed by the president until then.  It is still a very small place, probably fewer than half a million inhabitants, and largely empty, except for stands of cardón cactus, the Baja version of the saguaro.   There are only two roads, one mostly four-lane, and one two-lane road, forming a loop around the lower part of the peninsula.  Above that is only one main road for hundreds of miles, all the way to Ensenada and Tijuana.   The history museum has photographs of the extraordinary, huge cave paintings found in the wild interior – only reachable by horseback.  They easily rank with those of Altamira in Spain or Lascaux in France – yet I’m willing to bet that most people in the US have never heard of them.  Probably a good thing, as their isolation protects them now.   It is still not really understood how they were painted or with what.

Vignettes from La Paz:

Three banks had ATMs on the main shopping street.  In front of each one was a huge queue – we wondered if they were giving a discount that day!  Standing in one queue was a soldier with an AK47 slung over his shoulder…not as a guard, just waiting his turn.   

That evening we dined in a restaurant whose front was completely open to the sidewalk and the waterfront.  A guy came along with a beat-up guitar (which matched the owner, who looked as if he’d been rode hard and put up wet), persistently asking if we wanted a song. We didn’t, but finally agreed.  That was probably the worst singing, other than mine in the shower, I’d ever heard – decades of smoking could be heard and I have no idea what the song was.  At the end Dick hauled out 20 pesos, which was about $1.75.  “Oh no,” said the guy, “I charge 30 pesos.”  He appeared again at several other restaurants, but we resolutely kept from making eye contact!

In our small hotel (8 rooms) breakfast was served on an upstairs veranda.  We realized quickly that urban life had its rustic side, when a rooster began to serenade us.  Just behind the wall of the hotel was a large property bustling with poultry!  Every morning there was a duet or more, as several roosters up and down the street competed. After two days there, Dick took a closer look at what had initially appeared to be a column in our room and realized it was a palm tree. He from outside and sure enough, it passed through the ceiling in our room and through the room of the terrace above with it fronds some twenty feet above the terrace's thatched roof.

Baja Trip Photos


© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Richard W. Tripp, Jr.