We made it to the tip of Baja!
On Oct. 1, we finished our traverse of Baja California and entered “Los Cabos,” the cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Since entering Baja on Sept. 1, we have driven more than 1,100 miles from top to bottom. Here’s a map of our journey so far:
We felt a mix of emotions when we hit Los Cabos – triumph for making it all the way; happy that we had seen so much; relief that we made it safely; and excitement to see what Los Cabos had to offer and to see Brian’s parents who were coming to visit us for two weeks!
Cabo San Lucas was a shock to the system at first. It’s a huge city compared to the little towns we’ve visited so far. It’s a party town – bars and night clubs line the main drag; jet skis, speed boats, pleasure cruisers, and water taxies whiz around the bay at all hours; massive cruise ships come to port nearly every day, blocking the view of the famous “Land’s End” rocky point and arch; and towering hotels line the beach. Nearly everyone speaks English and every other face you see in town is a gringo. Honestly, I thought I wouldn’t like Cabo. But the more time I spent there, the more the town grew on me.
Our first experience in the city was actually a week earlier when we went to the Immigration Office to submit our residency applications. The immigration officer who helped us was one of the friendliest, most delightful bureaucrats I’ve ever encountered in any country. The application required us to run all around town, making photocopies and scans, getting photos done, paying fees at the bank, plus obtaining an official letter from our hotel confirming that we would be staying there for two weeks as proof we had a place to “live”. Our experience with hotel staff, shop owners, bank tellers and government officials, and with running around town accomplishing all these errands – as crazy as it all sounds – was incredibly efficient overall.
The great thing about Cabo San Lucas and many bigger towns in Mexico is that there are tons of small, locally-owned shops that perform a specialized service. So, if you want to get photocopies done, you go to one place. If you want to get passport photos done, you go to another place, etc. But the distance between shops is small, you can do it all on foot or in a quick drive. And there seems to always be similar shops close by – so if you missed one copy shop, more than likely you will hit another one in a block or two. The same is true for beauty salons, restaurants, taco stands, snack shops, auto shops, clothing stores, etc. – there are so many of each type of store in close proximity to one another – you never have to go far to get what you want. We found running errands from little tienda to tienda was much more efficient (and fun) than how we normally run errands in the states – driving to single big box store, standing in long check out lines and navigating a ginormous parking lot. Sure, there are large big box stores you could go to in Cabo – even CostCo and Walmart – but why would you? (Answer: to find large quantities of peanut butter at reasonable prices, we discovered). Usually, we opted for the small shop experience.
Brian’s parents own a time share with the Villa Group, so we were lucky to be able to stay for two weeks at Villa del Palmar – a beautiful, beachside property with 5 pools (even a killer-whale shaped water slide!) and great view of Cabo bay and Land’s End.
Here’s a video of Brian cruising down the slide!
Maya had a blast playing in all the pools and showing off her new water skills for her grandparents. We had a really nice visit with Brian’s parents, relaxing at the resort, exploring downtown Cabo’s shops and restaurants, and taking a few day trips to San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos and Pescadero.
A highlight was lunch at Hierbabuena, a unique, outdoor farm-to-table restaurant off the beaten path in Pescadero. The restaurant is set inside its own lovely garden full of fresh herbs, fruit trees and vegetable plants. The kitchen is open to the dining area so you can watch the chefs in action. The smells coming from the kitchen and the fresh ocean breeze that came through were intoxicating. If they had hammocks, I could have stayed there all day.
Another highlight was San Jose del Cabo. While Cabo San Lucas is a party town, San Jose del Cabo is its well-dressed and finely-coiffed cousin. The central plaza is lined with high-end jewelry stores, art galleries and Mexican craft stores that do not haggle on price (I know, I tried). It is a clean, well-mannered, and lovely city with beautiful, wild beaches, good surf breaks, and stately, yet subdued luxury hotels.
We were lucky to have stayed in San Jose del Cabo for a few days before Brian’s parents arrived at the Marisol Boutique Hotel, where we were treated like family. The owner/manager Marisol took us under her wing, and accompanied me and Maya to the doctor’s office to help translate when Maya developed a rash. She had a son Maya’s age who came by the hotel every afternoon. By the end of our stay, we were calling her “Auntie” Marisol. We were so impressed with San Jose del Cabo, we returned with Brian’s folks two times to peruse the shops and enjoy lunch on the plaza. Brian also got in two surfing days at Acapulcito and The Rocks beach breaks on the famous Costa Azul surfing area.
Taking advantage of grandparent time, Brian and I took a fun kayak paddle in the Cabo Bay. The swell was pretty big that day, and we didn’t think too much of it until about 30 minutes into our journey, we saw that another couple who had gone out the same time as us got too close to the swells rising near the shore and had capsized! They were far down the beach, at least a 20 minute paddle away. The man got back in the boat, but the woman didn’t and hung on to the end while they got perilously closer and closer to the beach where giant waves threatened to overtake them. Our kayak guide who was closer to them than us went to go help, and we paddled in to shore to summon a boat to pick them up. We then watched from the shore as this poor woman let go of the boat and drifted closer and closer to the shore. Normally, that would be a good thing. But the surf was pounding where she was headed. The guide did eventually get to her, tried to pull her into his boat, but failed and they both (him paddling, her holding on to the boat) got hammered back to shore. Luckily, they both got out ok. But it was a stark reminder that the sea can be a deceiving and scary place. We were totally fine. We stayed way out in the bay away from the shore and swells and paddled back in at the calmest part of the beach. But I’m glad we didn’t have Maya with us that day.
Ironically, the next day we booked a water taxi tour of Land’s End for the whole family including Brian’s parents. We thought it would be a pretty mellow adventure for a 3-year-old and her 75+ year old grandparents. The tour itself was fairly mellow, but getting on and off the boat from the beach turned out to be quite a dangerous feat for Brian’s mom, Betty, who just recently recovered from a stroke and has a heart condition. Watching/helping her get on the boat was nerve wracking, but getting off was even more terrifying as the swells had gotten even stronger. When it was time to disembark, Betty grasped the rails of the boat with iron fists as the boat dipped up and down and back and forth and eventually had to go back out and approach the landing again. The whole time Brian’s mom is perched on the edge of the boat, holding on for dear life. She made it off safely, thanks to her Herculean grip on the rails and the kindness of the crew who grabbed her and carried her to shore. She got banged up a little, but overall was fine and back to her normal chipper self in no time. In the end, we got a great photo of all of us at the Arch – a wonderful reminder of our vacation together with Brian’s parents. Hopefully, they’ll want to vacation with us again after that day. 🙂
Another day, Maya, Brian and I took a snorkel tour on one of the pleasure cruisers out to Santa Maria beach. Brian and I took turns bobbing around in the water with Maya while the other one snorkeled. Maya, as usual, was happy as a clam in the water, and didn’t want to come out until it was time to pull up anchor! It was a fun cruise with a rooftop lounge and open bar and barely anyone aboard. The key is to go on the morning brunch tour, not the afternoon tour. We had about 14 people aboard, the tour after ours was going to have 150!
Cabo was, in many respects, a vacation within our vacation, or an “intracation” if I take the liberty of making up a new word. 🙂 Lots of family time, relaxing, pool time and reading. One of my many goals on this trip is to read more books. Normally, at home with work and normal life, I barely read two books a year. In the first 2 months of this adventure, I’ve already read 7: The Secret History (Donna Tartt), Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman), The One and Only (Emily Giffin) Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty), Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn), The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown) and The Aviators Wife (Melanie Benjamin). If you have book recommendations for me, I’m all ears (rather, eyes). 🙂
Next stop: La Paz!