Sunday, March 29, 2015

East Cape Baja Adventure

Baja continues to blow our minds. On the first day of our four-day adventure to the East Cape, we slipped into this incredible body of water:
Ballet leg at Cañon de la Zorra falls.

Getting there required driving rutted dirt roads--as is true of most of the area.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (our blue Subaru) earned her off-street cred.

To get to the waterfall, there are lots of twists and turns. At times we weren't sure we were going the right direction. But with the assistance of luck and a few signs, we made it to the entrance.
Pay here.
The guy who lives here takes a few pesos then points you to the trail. The hike takes about 15 minutes and was a little iffy in my flip flops. 
Hiking down to Cañon de la Zorra falls.
We spent the night in Santiago, a pueblo so small and deserted it feels like a ghost town. The items on the little grocery store's shelves were dusty and out-of-date. One customer had a zombie vibe. I decided to view it all as charming.

When we arrived the Palomar Hotel, we were entranced by the terrace restaurant, fruit trees, and cooing doves. Our room featured a rock hard bed, crumbling wall and dead cockroaches.

After a nap, we went to the restaurant at 5:20 p.m.--only to be told it was closed for the evening. I pointed to the posted hours of 9 a.m.-6 p.m. but the guy responded with a shrug. We scraped together lunch leftovers, half an avocado from our cooler, and a few cookies to tide us over.

I woke a few times in the night to thousands of doves bawling, dogs yowling and roosters crowing. The next morning the Palomar redeemed itself with this breakfast:
Dave had huevos rancheros, and I had chilaquiles.
Note the hand-drawn map on the table, courtesy of Sergio, the charismatic owner. He directed us how to get to here:
Santa Rita hot spring.
I'd thought the waterfall would be hard to top--but this hot spring was even better. We had the place to ourselves.
Me in the hot spring.
Dave in the cold creek.
Afterward, blissed-out, we wandered through the church in nearby San Jorge.

This and the basketball court are the main features of San Jorge.
Later, we came across a monument at the Tropic of Cancer. I liked looking at the monument's globe and pointing to exactly where I stood at that moment, on this thing called earth. It made me feel pleasantly insignificant.
That afternoon, we headed south to Los Zacatitos, to a friend's purple dome house in the desert.

The house is a work of art.

The dome's ceiling is like the sky. The bed looks afloat.
That night we went to Zac's for Taco Tuesday--a fun gringo scene, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. The next morning, Angel (our friend's dog) led us on a walk of the playa de Zacatitos.
Angel leads the way.
Back on the bumpy dirt roads, we drove north to Cabo Pulmo. Even though the road was rough, I was glad we chose the ocean route (rather than the smoother inland route) because we were treated to awesome sites along the way. Like whales:

And interesting juxtapositions:

bull and tractor

burros and surfers

raptor and cactus
We also saw striking remnants of last September's Hurricane Odile:

We spent the night in Cabo Pulmo at a dive shop.
Cabo Pulmo room
Even though the morning dawned with choppy waters, we figured what the hell, we're here, let's do it. So we got aboard a boat appropriately named Si no quieres no ("If you don't want to, don't"). From the beach, some guys pushed us backward into the waves until the captain could drop the motor.
We want to!
We were taken to the only hard coral reef on the west coast of North America. The fact that it's a protected national park became evident as we swam with a dizzying array of fish. A mermaid's dream.
The captain also took us over to check out the sea lions.

On our drive home, we passed through the small mountain town of El Triunfo. I love its striking architecture ....

...and flagstone streets...

...and Caffe El Triunfo's baked goods.

We loaded up on sweet stuff then drove to our home sweet home.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Update: The Year of Living Drinklessly

What's in my blue cup?
The other day I was sitting around with a group of laughing, chatting people who were drinking beer and smoking pot.

Then there was me and my fucking Year of Living Drinklessly. What the hell was I thinking, giving up booze? I felt so left out. So un-fun. Was I everyone's buzz kill?

I kissed my husband goodbye and trudged to the beach. I was alone. Sand and water and sky stretched out eternally.

I walked and walked. Waves shot up, lingered, then crashed. A pelican flew by.

A voice said to me, "What anyone else does is none of your business." I don't think the pelican was talking, but who knows?

What anyone else does is none of my business.
What anyone else does is none of my business.

I kept that mantra going, toes grabbing at the sand.

Then the voice said, "You can have fun, drink or no drink. You are fun!"

As though my body believed those words, my bones felt lighter. My mouth smiled, all by itself.

By the time I got home, I waved hi to my drunk, stoned friends. They seemed happy. I was happy. I went to my kitchen and made myself a special drink--a smoothie of banana, mango, berries and homemade yogurt. And I poured it in this beautiful glass: 

A few days later, we went to a pool party celebrating our friend Pete's 60th birthday. I filled my blue cup with an Arnold Palmer: iced tea, lemonade, sparkling water and fresh lime on ice.

Dancing with the hostess. Damn, I'm fun!

What a blast, hanging out with great people, eating fantastic food, jumping in and out of the water, spontaneously dancing on the pool deck.

What everyone else did was none of my business. And I enjoyed them all the more for it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Peaceful La Paz

La Paz means "The Peace" for  good reason.

Our first foray into La Paz, an hour drive from our casita, was a bummer. We'd been in Mexico a short time and were whirling from all the change. We'd heard there were lots of good stores in La Paz to buy furniture and sundries--but we'd also heard La Paz cops might pull us gringos over for a mordita (bribe) and that the city had problems with violence. We were a little on edge.

It was tough navigating the unmarked streets. And some of the tiendas were in post-hurricane upheaval. The whole vibe seemed dreary and industrial.

But we also heard a lot of great things about La Paz. People urged us not to miss out on the best parts of town, the parts we had yet to see: the downtown, the malecon (waterfront esplanade), the beaches, the food. Long timers spoke glowingly of La Paz, adding that it was as safe as, if not safer than, American cities.

The biggest pull for Dave was the sea life. Especially the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. Talk about danger! But no, not really. The largest living non-mammalian vertebrates, they can get up to 42 feet and almost 50,000 pounds. But they are gentle giants, filter feeders who eat plankton, not human flesh.

whale shark (credit)
When our neighbors came back one late afternoon glowing with suntans and reports of an amazing day in La Paz swimming with whale sharks, we took that as a sign. The next morning we threw our snorkels in our car and took off.

It was an easy drive. We followed our friends' directions (turn left at the big McDonalds) to avoid the drab, confusing outskirts and headed right to the Malecon. Immediately we were struck by the azure waters of the Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortez) and charming streets lined with shops, restaurants and small hotels. We found easy parking in front of Los Arcos, a defunct hotel.

There are lots of beautiful sculptures along the Malecon.
Right across the street a guy named Omar stood in front of his small boat. He charged us $600 pesos (about $40) each. It would have cost less with more passengers. The boat might have fit two or three more people. But we were happy to have our own spontaneous, private charter. Especially when we saw tourist boats crammed with 12 or more people, who paid $800 or more pesos each.

el barco de Omar
We stepped from the beach into his boat. In just minutes dolphins bounded by. About ten minutes later, Omar spotted a dark shadow in the water. A whale shark. He stopped, urging us to jump in. Gulp.

Dave caught the whale shark coming right at him.

We dropped into the 70 degree water in front of the beast, who glided by beneath us. How to explain being in the sea with a shark of that size? Electrifying.

Several times we got back in the boat--hauling ourselves up the small ladder--and Omar took us to another spot for more whale shark action. At one point, Dave got in alone and captured the experience on video. When he got back in the boat, he was in his blissful Dr. Doolittle state, happy and deeply moved.

After two hours on the water, we were hungry. We walked through the skate park to a big palapa that was Claro Jr., an open-air restaurant. The tacos were stuffed with super-fresh fish and shrimp, to which we added all kinds of goodies from the huge salsa bar.

Next we drove south on the road that snakes through the desert hills past one beautiful beach after another until we reached El Tecolote.

This osprey watched us as we drove by.
El Tecolote is one of those beaches of your dreams. Calm aquamarine waters. Vast areas of solitude punctuated by by shade palapas and charming feet-in-the-sand restaurants.

El Tecolote

The water, shallow for a long way out, was so inviting. It was one of those magical swimming moments, where your body and the water meld.

Our first impression of La Paz may have been alienating. But now we know better. There are so many treasures in this incredible place, and we can't wait to go back for more.