La Paz

We really looked forward to visiting La Paz. Besides Playa el Tecolote for kayaking, the diversity of islands and sea life across from its bay and Carnaval, there was the beautiful Malecón Alvaro Obregón, a pretty plaza with its cathedral, a couple of interesting sounding museums and more good food.

We stayed on the north end of town at Campestre Maranatha RV park. Check out my review of the park here.

La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, with the largest population in the state and the fourth largest on the peninsula (about 220,000). Perhaps because of this, it felt less overwhelmed by North Americans than some other towns on the peninsula.

The Pericú Indians squashed several attempts at colonization of the town including four missions. Thus, the Spaniards selected Loreto as their base for expansion and the peaceful Cochimí there as their first converts, and later Loreto was declared the territorial capital.

European diseases ultimately wiped out the Pericú. La Paz was settled mostly by fishermen and farmers and only became the capital after a hurricane destroyed much of Loreto.

Another interesting part of La Paz’s history is its pearl harvesting which began in the 16thcentury. During the Jesuit mission period, the Spaniards began to cultivate pearls and ultimately the pearl beds were depleted. The beds were attacked by disease and the pearl trade ended around the time of World War II.

Lacking the lovely colonial buildings of Loreto, it still has a sweet little plaza with trees, a gazebo and benches for some peaceful moments.

And, of course there is a cathedral, although it’s modern by mission standards. And although the malecón, the three-mile esplanade along the La Paz waterfront, is the most bustling area of the town, the plaza seems to get plenty of foot traffic.

The malecón gives the town an urban vibe, with people bicycling, roller skating, roller blading, skateboarding and strolling along its length. The restaurants and bars across the street are lively as well.

And of course, the Carnaval parades and other activities all took place along the malecón. Generally, this is not a city that has tons of nightlife but there are some very nice restaurants and bars in town.

We visited the lovely Centro Cultural La Paz where some of the Carnaval costumes were displayed. The Center also had one room devoted to historical panels about the area as well as an exhibition of beautiful whales made of wood and/or paper by local artists.

The art exhibit, Ballenas Morfas (Morphed Whales) included strong cautionary environmental messages by some of the artists. The sculptures were gorgeous and intricate.

The Mercado Maduro is open every day with a great variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and other food items sold by individual vendors. I had a funny experience there. After buying some fruits and vegetables from a lady, I told her I had my own bags. She stopped what she was doing, looked me straight in the eyes and said in earnest “thank you so much for taking care of our environment. I’ve seen many dead turtles and am really worried.” There are also some very nice once a week farmers markets in town, but we got our fill at the Mercado.

After Carnaval, two snorkeling outings and dealing with some mechanical issues, (more on all of that in later posts), our eight days week in town felt short.

Some continuing mechanical issues forced us to return to the city for a couple of days.

The silver lining in the cloud was that we saw Malecón Alvaro Obregón clear of all of the Carnaval booths and stages.

And we bicycled across the malecón with the locals. Its beauty was fully revealed, with white beaches and turquoise waters, pretty copper sculptures and iron benches.

La Paz has much to offer, a small but charming city in a spectacular setting.  A world away from the tourist frenzy of Cabo to the south.

We will return someday.

 

 

Isla Espíritu Santo

The tour from La Paz to Isla Espíritu Santo is one of the boat tours that we’d read about and signed up for. It’s about six hours long and takes you across to the beautiful island that is rich with marine life.

It took a long time to cruise over to the island and the anticipation was high. After a long boat ride, we finally reached the largest sea lion colony in the Sea of Cortez, Los Islotes, an island inlet at the north end of the island.

When we reached the colony, one of the the park rangers was leading a rescue of a sea lion that had been caught in a net. They didn’t allow us to stick around so we continued.

There was an area on the island closed to snorkeling they called the “kindergarden” where there were lots of sea lion cubs laying around on rocks including juveniles, adults and huge males.

Super cute.

I had snorkeled with sea lions before, and they can be quite curious and cute, in some cases swimming right up to people, so I was excited.

We bought new wetsuits and snorkel gear last year just for the Sea of Cortez but I was still worried about jumping into the cold (68 degree) water. But my new 3mm wetsuit did its job and I was comfortable.

We snorkeled for about half an hour and during that time only a few sea lions decided they wanted to be in the water with the humans. It wasn’t quite the sea lion experience that I had hoped but a few swam near us in the water and one swam between Hector’s legs.

There were lots of tropical fish in the water, a beautiful reminder of our scuba diving days. We look forward to returning to some diving sometime soon.

Next we cruised to the center of the island to a campground that’s run by our tour’s organization. On the way we saw lots of impressive rock formations. As we passed through an opening in one, the guide pointed out a part of the rock that was shaped just like the Baja Peninsula. Very cool!

Then we watched a pod of dolphins as they frolicked in the water.

The campground was on a pretty beach with some tents and a compost toilet. This time of year is too cold at night for me to tent camp, but it looked like a sweet place to spend a few days.

We spent a couple of hours on the beach. The guides served a nice lunch of ceviche, bean burritos, guacamole and tostadas and we took it easy for a bit.

They had kayaks and SUPs available so we took two kayaks out. Unfortunately, they were old kayaks with seats whose back was really loose. They were uncomfortable so we didn’t take them out as far as we had hoped to which was a disappointment. But we did get to a couple of rock outcrops nearby where there were lots of birds, including Hector’s favorites, the pelicans.

Back on the beach, we walked around for a bit along with some others. The water was crystal clear and some ladies spotted a huge sea star that we ran over to look at. So beautiful!

The island was covered in beautiful desert vegetation. It looked like a great place to hike.

After our time on the beach, we headed back out towards the other end of the island where there is a frigate bird colony. We’d never seen frigate birds on the ground, apparently they can’t walk, they can only perch and fly.

They also can’t land of the water, so they have to pluck their fish out of the water. Some of the males were in full display and there were lots of juveniles with their white heads.  This area also had the ruins of a pearl farm that’s part of the history of La Paz. Very cool.

I told the guide that I was interested in seeing blue footed boobies and he said they were not normally on the tour. But he asked the captain to go by a smaller island where they sometimes perch, alas there were none there.

On the last leg of our trip the captain spotted some whale sharks. They were moving really slowly through the water while feeding so we got a really good look at their dorsal fin and their tails on top of the water. The captain got a bit closer and one of the whale sharks swam up to and right under our boat.

A beautiful sight! That made up for not seeing the blue footed boobies.

All in all a pretty good day on the water.

 

 

Carnaval in La Paz

Hector and I have never been to a Carnival celebration. Our original schedule put us in La Paz around the end of February so we slowed down our southbound journey to experience Carnaval in La Paz in early March.

There are three parades during Carnaval and the final one takes place on what we know as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras day.

The parades take place on the malecón, a beautiful three mile esplanade along the La Paz waterfront.

We learned, to our amusement, that the three parades are all exactly the same. The first one begins on one side of the malecón and ends in the other. The second starts on the other side and ends on the first. The last one returns to the original route. Okay.

We decided to check it out from the street on the first day to make sure the photography angle would work. We found a prime spot along the street right alongside the spot where the parade was to begin. Of course, once there we had to stay for the entire parade.

Carnaval parades in Mexico are a family affair and this one began around 5:45. To our surprise, the queen’s float opened the parade. I thought she might be the last float.


The theme of this year’s parade was “Grandes Navigantes” loosely translated to Great Explorers.

One of the first things we noticed were people carrying signs saying “no lanzar objetos al desfile” (do not throw objects towards the parade). The signs showed a drawing of an egg with a red circle with a line across it on top. Interesting.

The main focus was seafaring Vikings, pirates and Egyptians but the floats also featured space exploration, airplanes and even characters from an animated film about penguins exploring New York.

The next few floats represented dance schools in the area including Middle Eastern dance, modern dance and others.

Every few floats a person would go by with the signs asking people not to throw objects. Huh.

Then there were a number of non-profit organizations each in their float.

Another organization had a huge banner – Desplastificate – a made-up word referring to reducing use of and recycling plastic.

Of course, there was lots of music, There were many children participating in the parade, some riding floats and others dancing or walking along the route. It was definitely a family affair.

Interspersed among different floats were members of the royal court in their glittery costumes.

 

A group that stood out were the rocking senior ladies. They were shaking and shimmying along as they say to beat the band. A family affair that definitely included all ages.


And there was a float with drag queens promoting a show in town that they are featured in.

Our plan for Fat Tuesday was perfect. After seeing the parade from the ground we were going to have a “bird’s eye view” from above, while having a slow dinner and drinks.

We watched the crowd assemble and the vendors sell their wares.

On Fat Tuesday vendors were selling painted egg shells that were broken on one end and taped up with painted tissue paper. We found out that the eggs were filled with confetti. Hector bought a couple of bags and we waited to see what people would do with them.

But when the parade began there were more people carrying the signs about not throwing objects. Oh well. Anyway, we saw the parade again from our upstairs vantage point.  And being the Tuesday before lent we thought the parade participants were more energetic.  As if the prior parades were a warm up to this night.

The dance groups, the beauty queens, the floats all seemed brighter and more beautiful from our perch.

One group called Il Principito we called the “school of rock”. They had about a hundred kids playing rock music on a long trailer.  Very cool!

The senior ladies danced even more. The vikings paraded by.

 

The plastic eating whale shark came by …The kids danced and the parade continued on a beautiful night.

And of course, the drag queens who pulled up the rear of the parade were even more fabulous.



And about the eggs … we waited until the end of the parade and…nothing.

So what did people do with their eggs. Well, the table next to us which was full of children threw them back and forth at each other. So Hector and I threw a couple of eggs at each other.

Confetti is not something you want all over, and tons of confetti is definitely not something you want to throw in the sea, which just happens to be right next to where the parade took place. So that is why we think they have stopped this practice. Good for them!

We were glad to have seen the parade twice as it was quite different from the ground than from above.

The Carnaval Parade in La Paz was a little bit of song, a little bit of dance, a little sweet, a little hoaky, a little activist and a lot community and family. We loved it.

 

 

 

 

The Coronation of the Royal Court

We planned our Baja schedule to include Carnaval in La Paz. When we arrived in town there was a flurry of activity hanging banners and erecting tents, booths and stages all along the Malecón. On the day prior to the three parade days, we had dinner at a restaurant right across from the action and took a walk around to check out the vendors. That’s how we accidentally happened upon the coronation of the royal court.

This year’s theme was “Grandes Navegantes” or Great Navigators.

There were lots of games set up where you could win stuffed animals by hitting a target with various devices, little pop-up restaurants and lots of other food vendors, musical performances and of course, the selling of various items.

Typical carnival food and lots of sweets. Hector called it a riot of color, grease and sugar.


There was live music on multiple stages along the water front.  Of course there were the ever present Tecate ladies in yellow.

The most surprising booth was a housewares store with all items intricately arranged on the ground. Wow! An amazing display. Hector was determined to find something we needed but alas we didn’t find a thing.  He really wanted to buy this giant spoon but I wouldn’t let him. For you RVers, it kind of reminded me of Quartzsite.

As we walked around that evening we were in a big crowd and suddenly there was some hubbub. All these elaborately dressed people accompanied by military guys in their dress whites appeared right next to us.

We weren’t sure at first but it turns out we stumbled into the path of the Royal Court as it made its way to the main stage for the coronation of the Carnaval royal court. Lots of music, pomp and circumstance.

The members of the court waited in the middle of the crowd and as each was announced they marched to the stage. The mayor and his wife presented crowns, certificates etc.

There were many members of the royal court: queen, of course, emperor, several princes that were already on stage when we arrived, youth queen, youth princess, queen of poetry, king and queen “of the third age” (senior), king of happiness (our favorite!) and others.

All of course wore beautiful costumes and capes and did their best to walk their “regal walk” to the stage.

There were solemn descriptions of their duties and much ado about not much at all. But it was a good show.

Each member of the court strutted about the stage waving to the adoring crowd.

Finally the Emperor and the Queen received their crowns and the climax of the celebration.  Followed by fireworks and confetti canons!

A fun surprise for us that made us really look forward to the upcoming parades.

 

 

Chilling at Playa El Tecolote

Our next stop was north of the city of La Paz, written up as the best boondocking spot in all of Baja California! Back to the Sea of Cortez, which is now one of our favorite bodies of water. It was time for chilling at Playa El Tecolote. Check out my review of  the  beach here.
This was another wide beautiful beach but with several beachfront restaurants in the middle. There were quite a few RVs parked on the east end of the beach but there was lots of open space. We parked about 100 yards away from the next RV in a nice private spot.

We took a walk on the beach and decided to have an early dinner. As we returned, the RV looked so close to the water that Hector kept checking to make sure that high tide wouldn’t reach us.

That evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset. And the next morning we awoke to a commanding view of the south end of the island of Espíritu Santo amidst beautiful turquoise water.

We hadn’t had much downtime and had covered many many miles so we decided to take it easy and relax and read for a couple of days.

The next afternoon a couple that we’d met at the RV park in Bahia de los Angeles drove in to spend the night.

We hung out with Chuck and Teri and their cute dog, Kokanee. They brought a little firepit and lit a nice fire that evening and we enjoyed another fabulous sunset.

Later that night Hector and I came back out to watch the stars which were beautiful.

The next day we walked over to one end of the beach where there’s a little trail up a hill and hiked up to a road that took us around the bend. And what was over the bend? Another beautiful little beach cove of course. That was the extent of our activity for the day.Some may have noticed that we’ve been wearing hoodies and coats. It’s been unusually cold in Baja but seeing the weather in the States we haven’t dared to complain. Here we finally found the warm weather! On a nice, calm and warm day we went for a paddle. 


There were fish jumping out of the water and of course pelicans and gulls. There were also a lot of frigate birds flying above us which are so interesting with their forked tails.

The water was a beautiful turquoise and swimming pool clear. Just like the pictures we’ve seen that made us want to come to Baja in the first place.

It was a relaxing paddle and a great way to end our restful stay at this lovely beach but  the time had come to hit the big city and their Carnaval celebration.

 

Pueblos Históricos

Our base for exploring the whale watching sites in the Bahía Magdalena was Ciudad Constitución. A burgeoning farm town of 45,000 and a great supply outpost for the area as well as RVers that are passing through. The town was also a convenient base for exploring the nearby Pueblos Históricos.

We stayed at Misiones Trailer Park, a nice little campground. Check out our review of the campground here.

While there, Island Girl arrived! Well, we thought it was Island Girl as we’d never seen an identical 2004 National Tropical before. But this was her identical twin. We had to look really closely to make sure it was not her.  It brought back so many great memories.

Ciudad Constitución, though not considered a tourist town, had quite a few restaurants and stores. We had some good meals there including one of Hector’s favorites, which he refers to as “road chicken”. A whole chicken is spatchcocked then grilled, then cut up and served or packaged to go with some macaroni salad, rice, tortillas and hot sauce. Yummy and also almost free!

The entire area is known as El Valle Comondú, named after the valley villages of San Miguel de Comondú and San José de Comondú, known collectively as Comondú. Both villages are designated as Pueblos Históricos.

We read a description of a visit to Comondú as stepping back in time and were intrigued. There are two roads to the towns, one rough four-wheel drive track from near Misión San Javier, the other a nice recently mostly paved road from Cuidad Insurgentes which happens to be adjacent to Cuidad Constitución.

The two villages, located in a fertile ravine in the Sierra de La Giganta, were agricultural centers fueled by spring fed orchards and fields and a smart cultivation project devised by the missionaries.

Since missions had to be self-sustaining, in the early 1700s Padre Juan de Ugarte filled in the Aranjuez Canyon with an astounding 160,000 mule loads of earth so they could plant sugarcane and vineyards.  The vineyards were one of the earliest in all the Californias.

The villages faltered in the mid-1800s until a group of Mestizo Indians from the mainland resettled it and began planting again. The Pueblos Históricos designation has revitalized the villages and opened them up to tourism. The townspeople now sell products made with local dates, oranges, sugarcane and figs as well as Mission wine from the local vineyards.

The road to Comondú started out as flat desert with lots of raptors. Hector read that there were crested cara caras in this desert area and we saw many more than we expected! Beautiful with bright beaks, we’d previously only seen them in Africa when we visited years ago.

Dust devil!

We also spotted osprey, red tailed hawks and a road runner.  Of course, Hector was out there with his gear chasing them around.

As the road continued, it became mountainous with spectacular views. Another beautiful drive in Baja California. As we got closer to the villages, an oasis with lush fields and palms appeared.

We arrived first at San Miguel de Comondú, a charming town with cobblestone streets and freshly painted colonial buildings. The church was originally a visita, something like a secondary outpost, of the Misión de San Javier.

There is a nice hotel in the plaza whose entrance consists of two rooms with many interesting antiques including a sweet little dollhouse.

It was a Sunday and much of the village was quite sleepy but one of the vintners, Don Alegario, was open for business. He sells his wine inside his home and gave us a sample, it tasted like a sweet dessert wine. He was proud that this Mission wine is grown from vines descended from the earliest vines in California brought in by the missionaries.

After walking around the sleepy village a bit, we continued our drive to San José de Comondú. The three-kilometer road between the towns is a very narrow dirt road bordered on one side by homes and another by lush fields.

The fifth mission built in California was the Misión San José de Comondú founded by the Jesuit Padre Julian de Mayorga in 1716. All that remains of the mission is the side chapel. The materials from original mission were used to build a school in neighboring San Miguel de Comondú which still stands today. San José is much smaller than its neighboring village but has a lovely little plaza adjacent to the chapel.

When you reach the end of San José is the rough road that links the Misión de San Javier on the other side of the mountains to these two villages. This road was built to link both missions and San Javier’s visita in San José de Comondú.

Both of these lovely villages exceeded our expectations. But all too soon the time came to head back down the mountain and forward in time.

The Frolicking Whales of Bahia Magdalena

There are three lagoons in Baja where gray whales converge to mate and deliver their babies. The southernmost lagoon, Bahía Magdalena, has two well-known ports that tourists can access. But we learned about a third port from someone we met along the way. Puerto Chale, where we would later find the frolicking whales of Bahia Magdalena.

But first we had to once again cross the peninsula to the Pacific side.  We left beautiful Loreto on a moody day and stopped at a waterfront shack for yet another great meal (clams!) with a killer view.  Then we climbed the very steep and winding Sierra La Giganta.