Land’s End

We planned a day car trip to Cabo San Lucas from our campsite in La Paz. Touristy and congested, we really weren’t that interested in Cabo but the main event was a boat ride to see Lands’ End, the very tip of the Baja Peninsula.

A fitting capstone to our trip down the length of Baja.

It is a couple of hours from La Paz to Cabo, with little surfer hangouts like El Pescadero. This town has grown much just as many others in this area. It’s really is popular with beginning surfers and is apparently one of the few places in the West Cape that’s good for swimming.

We arrived in Cabo San Lucas to lots of traffic. Spring breakers were in town, though since it was morning, not many were around. We headed to the marina where a guy immediately approached us asking if we wanted a boat ride. After discussing the rate, he said we’d have to wait about 40 minutes and if no one else showed up, we’d have the boat to ourselves.

When we thanked him and started walking away, he came after us and said one of the boats was leaving immediately and we could have it to ourselves for the same rate. Off we went.

As we headed out a “pirate ship” was headed back in. There is lots of boat traffic here as everyone wants to see the spectacular rock formations and of course, Land’s End.

It is a very short ride out to the amazing rock

 

The boat tours go by the pretty but small Lover’s Beach which straddles the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. The Pacific side which is too rough for swimming is referred to as Divorce Beach. Divorce Beach is much larger than Lover’s Beach because well, you know.

They will drop you off and pick you back up on a later boat ride if you’d like but we chose not to stop.

It really is a stunning place, and I couldn’t help but think how sweet it would be to visit in a quieter time if there is one.

El Arco, the famous arch, also called La Finisterra for Land’s End is beautiful as we expected. The tour takes you out around the point into the Pacific side so you can see it from both sides.

The boats all make space for each other and take turns in front of it so that the guides can take a photo without other boats in the background. A neat bit of choreography as it is really packed out there with boats of all shapes and sizes.

What we didn’t expect was to find out that this was not in fact the tip of the Peninsula. Our captain, Ivan, a charming guy, told us that the real end of Baja is a jagged lonely rock. The rock had a seal sleeping on top who refused to be bothered by all of the boaters.

As we headed back, we picked up a few guys from Lover’s Beach. This angle gave us a good view of what’s referred to as “the Corridor”, the area between Cabo San Lucas and the town of San Jose del Cabo. On the Sea of Cortez side, this area has the most beautiful beaches and lots of super expensive resorts.

Once back in the marina, we noticed many huge yachts, party boats and other vessels including some pretty unique ones like two story floating disco platforms and such.

We took a brief walk along the tourist shops, selling lots of wares. Some funny juxtapositions like a T-shirt with a picture of Heisenberg from “Breaking Bad” alongside a T-shirt with a picture of the famous Mexican actor and comedian Cantinflas.

Lots of restaurants and bars with guys asking you to join them. This place was just too crowded for us. Clearly a place set up for massive partying.

We headed east past the corridor towards San Jose del Cabo for lunch. A quick stop just to see it. It has a very pretty colonial square with a big church and more shops. It felt more like a real community but was expensive and full of Americans and Canadians.

Headed back to La Paz we made a very brief stop in Todos Santos. This is another “Pueblo Magico” with a pretty colonial plaza. It’s become an artists’ colony popular with, you guessed it, Americans and Canadians.

It was pretty quiet although it was a Saturday and one of the shops had an “end of season” sale indicating that snowbirds were now heading back home.

We stopped in at the Teatro Marquez de Leon, a historical structure that represents the cultural heritage of the town and is one of the reasons it was designated a “Pueblo Magico”.

One shop we stopped at had gorgeous handmade items including furniture, textiles, sculptures, jewelry and more. They feature a beautiful garden in the back named the “Jardin del Amor”.

There was a wedding in the church and we peeked in along with some other tourists. A lovely church with beautiful stained glass and lots of light.

Our last stop was at the Hotel California (we were looking for a bathroom) and found some of the most creative bathroom gender designations that we’ve seen.

It’s quite a lovely hotel with beautiful crystal chandeliers, although it has no connection to nor was it the inspiration for the Eagles song. But they still play various versions of the namesake song amongst a variety of rock songs.

Then it was back to La Paz and more adventures on our way back north.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

Next we devoted one day to an exploratory outing to each of the three ports to check them all out. That also allowed us to enjoy the scenery on the way to each port, since we were in no hurry to get there at a particular time.

The northernmost port is Puerto Lopez Mateos. It’s a well-oiled machine with a well built dock, viewing platform and other infrastructure to support tourism. The four tour companies each have an office on the dock (all next to each other) and many large pangas. There is also space for RVers in their huge parking area. Nice.

The middle port, Puerto San Carlos, is a large town that has a cannery and facilities to export farm products of the Magdalena plain. Some hotels in town book whale tours as do a couple of other companies around town. But it is clearly not their main focus. We did enjoy a very beautiful sunset there though.

Puerto Chale is the southernmost port and the least known. Although they’ve been taking people out informally on the lagoon for years they had never had marketing support from the government until now.

This is their “official” first season as a whale-watching tour base. The beautiful new road leading to the town may well be part of this support.

As we reached the town, the paved road ended. The entire town is on dirt roads. It’s a humble looking town that has subsisted mostly on fishing. Now the community is focused on whale-watching tours in the winter. There is no infrastructure whatsoever just a big dirt lot with a little shack and many pangas.

There was a group of people lined up for the pangas on the Sunday we went there, and it seemed the entire local police force (three officers) was out there watching and enjoying the activity. Their rates are currently cheaper than all of the others, but we don’t know how long that will last.

Puerto Chale won our hearts. Along with the fact that it was a much quieter place, we liked the idea of supporting this small community. We headed out there on Monday morning only to find that we were the only tourists there. We could charter a private boat for a tiny bit more than we’d pay at the other places to share with four others.

But we waited a while just in case someone else showed up. And in a little while three Canadian tourists arrived.

Off we went with our party of five and our captain in his little panga. In about ten minutes we started to see whales.

Lots and lots of whales.And many of them were spy-hopping, one of several surfacing behaviors. The whales rise and hold a vertical position often exposing their entire heads, thus “spying” on what’s happening above water.

They often do this to look for boats which they then can approach but can also do it to look for prey. They are able to hold this position for minutes, and many of them were. Sometimes we could see various whales spy hopping at the same time.

There were lots and lots of spouts both near and far. This area of the lagoon was full of whales. Although we were surrounded by whales, they did not come right up us yet. Instead they “teased” us by swimming over then going under the boat. Still super fun.

Baby whale!

You can spot the babies because unlike the adults often covered with barnacles and other skin blemishes their skin is black and smooth. As the babies get older the moms will actually push them to the boats to be petted as well.  We haven’t been so fortunate as that yet but hope springs eternal!

We cruised along several parts of the lagoon and saw so many whales spy-hopping and a few actually jumping out of the water. We didn’t know which way to look. It was like a whale party!

Then our captain informed us that only ten minutes were left on our 2 hour tour. We weren’t ready to go, so I asked the others if they’d consider extending one more hour. We made an offer to our captain and he happily accepted.

That last hour was fabulous. We had close encounters with a several whales. One of them turned over so we could scratch its belly! It was truly special to interact with these beautiful creatures.

We found out from our captain that certain whales are more “amistosas” (friendly) and the captains recognize them by their markings. Wow!

We all “petted” whales. Even the captain got in on the petting action. It was overwhelming.

The five of us happy whale petters cruised back to the dock and the others headed back to La Paz while Hector and I decided to stay and have lunch.

There are two restaurants one of which our captain said was all seafood. It is run from the front porch of a family’s house. As we approached a young woman and two of her daughters were sitting at one of the tables making jewelry.

We asked if it was open and she stood up and pointed to a handwritten sign with the four dishes they offered, three preparations of fish and one cocktail.

We ordered a cocktail and one of the fish dishes that we had not heard of before, sarandeado (all were one kilo or 2.2 pounds). After a little while the woman served our cocktail (awesome) and came out of the house with a large knife. We watched her walk out to the dock across the way and Hector decided to follow.

She had picked out a fish from a live well and by the time Hector arrived she’d “butterflied” it into three sections. Hector, who is the cook, was fascinated.

She folded it back together, took it back to the kitchen and laid it out flat again to grill. After topping it with some sauce and vegetables, she brought it to us. A little while later one of her daughters asked if we wanted rice. We said yes and she brought some out. Simple yummy lunch.

The ladies went back to their jewelry making. They were threading and hooking lots of little shells. I asked the woman for the price of a pair of earrings and she turned to the older daughter. The daughter thought a bit and gave me a price.

When we finished the woman again asked her daughter to tally up our lunch costs for the cocktail, one beer and the fish. These were teaching moments for the daughter.

Puerto Chale was such a great experience that we decided we will return on our way north in several weeks. Perhaps a whale baby experience we hope.

The captain and a couple of the guys told us we could park the RV in their parking lot overnight, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

Loreto and the Start of the Camino Real

After yet another beautiful drive along the shores of Bahia Concepcion and across more beautiful desert scenery, we reached lovely Loreto and the start of the Camino Real. Loreto is one of the Mexican towns that has been designated as a Pueblo Mágico.

Pueblos Mágicos offer visitors a “magical” experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions, folklore, historical relevance, cuisine, art, crafts and great hospitality.

Set alongside the stunning Sea of Cortez, Loreto has much going for it. A beautiful plaza where the first mission in Baja California was founded. Other lovely colonial structures. Lots of fine restaurants and shops.

There are beautiful lanes with trees manicured into archways. In fact, this town was the capital of the Californias (Baja and Alta) from 1697 to 1777.

Our first visit was to the mission church, Misión Nuestra Senora de Loreto Conchó, founded as a simple structure in 1697. This was the first mission in California.

 

The stone structure that stands today was built from stone and mortar in 1740. Its bells resonate through the town every hour. It was also the first of what would be an astonishing collection of missions along the second Camino Real (the first went from Mexico City to Santa Fe) that extended beyond San Francisco in present day California.

 

Next to the church is the Museo de los Misiones, with many beautiful artifacts depicting the history of the mission, the town, and the missionary efforts across the Californias. It was beautifully presented with excellent interpretive panels, the nicest museum that we’ve visited in Baja.

The community’s pride in the town was evident as we drove around and saw people constantly painting and repairing structures and cleaning the streets.

During our visit, there was a small farmers market in the morning where we bought quite a lot of produce for almost nothing.

And there was an arts and crafts fair in the evening with live music and performers.

That night we enjoyed walking along the beautiful malecón, with its many pangas ready to take tourists out on the water.

We enjoyed watching an interesting phenomenon the locals call the picazón both from our campground and along the malecón. When the sardines are running, pelicans are drawn to the area for feeding.


We’ve never seen so many pelicans, and they all are participating in a feeding frenzy. It was crazy.

We also had the finest meals to date in Baja. One was in a lovely restaurant called Mi Loreto, right by the plaza where we had a fabulous mushroom ceviche.

To our surprise we were asked if we had reservations when we arrived.  Since we didn’t we were turned away as they were full for the night!  And moments later there was a last minute cancellation.  Lucky for us!

There is a Uruguayan place in town called Mezzaluna where we were treated to a lovely performance by an Argentinean traveler and musician, Martin Bevacua.  A charming fellow with a beautiful voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed some awesome tacos at the famous “El Rey del Taco”. Cheap and fun!

Another great meal was in an enterprising restaurant just outside of town that adopted the name La Picazón as it is on the water in full view of the pelicans. We headed out there on a long bumpy road to what we thought was a casual little place only to find a beautiful restaurant, off grid, but with delicious gourmet dishes including octopus in a tequila reduction.

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That same evening as an extra treat we watched the beautiful full super moon come up over the water.

We stayed pretty close to the center of town at Loreto Shores RV park, steps from the Sea of Cortez. An urban park with pretty tight spaces, it did have an amazing view. Check out our review of the park here.

We’d planned to paddle a couple of times, but one day we’d planned to I woke up feeling under the weather (I felt better later) and another day weather did not cooperate. The famous north winds blew most of the time we were there.

On the last day we were determined to get out on the water and there was a brief period of calm so we did take our kayaks out but the wind kicked up shortly thereafter. But we did see some dolphins and as we returned to our campground were treated to the pelicans and their amazing feeding frenzy once more.

Loreto is magical indeed.

 

Back on the Sea of Cortez

Heading back to the Sea of Cortez, we are awestruck every time we get a glimpse of its beautiful turquoise waters during our drive.

The sea’s glittering waters hide behind mountains for a bit and then captivate us again and again.

We drove to the lovely Playa Santispac, one of the first coves you come to as you head south in Bahia Concepción. Check out our review of the campground here.

Our campsite was by one of the palapas right on the beach. Hammocks set up, kayaks sitting at the shore, a dream scene.

Our plan had been to stay a few nights and hopscotch to a couple of other beaches that also allow camping, but we scouted them and decided we liked this one best and wound up staying.

The empanada lady and her dutiful husband

Vendors came by selling homemade empanadas, tamales, shrimp cocktail, ceviche, fresh fish for cooking, fresh produce and more. They even bring water to fill tanks. What could be better!

Well, there were also two little beach shack restaurants, one with rural wifi that actually worked at times and the other with live music some nights.