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.


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