Cruising the Cape – Exploring Baja California Sur

After two weeks of sailing on a boat with no hot water and a sketchy sun shower shared by 10 people, the luxuries of a beachfront resort in Cabo was indeed a treat, yet after a couple days the back roads beckon.

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas

The 27th edition of the Baja Ha Ha, and my 13th year of crewing aboard Profligate lived up to all my expectations of sweet sailing, belly laughs with my long time crew mates and bonding with locals at our beach stops at Bahia de Tortugas and Bahia Santa Maria.

Honoring our grand Poobah Rico in our “uniforms” of coral linen on Profligate, the mothership of the Baja Ha Ha

However this story is about land explorations. To learn more about the Baja Ha Ha sailing rally, visit my previous story: Baja Ha Ha – A Floating Fiesta.

The rugged tip of the cape
Mediterranean looking sunset on Solmar beach

We hopped into our friend Pete’s pickup and headed north from Cabo, happy to escape to lesser populated spots. As we headed north to Todos Santos, we left the cruise ship throngs and party animals in our rear view.

This advertisement almost made me want to visit the local dentist

Pete loved playing tour guide and he had scoured restaurants to match our culinary preferences, Hierbabuena fit the bill perfectly being a true farm to table, with plant based inventiveness, located on the outskirts of Todos Santos. In the shadow of the Sierra Laguna mountains, an agriculturally rich riparian habitat floats through Todos Santos, attracting flora and fauna diverse enough to be declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Pete is married to a lovely local lass who he met after one of his Baja 1000 motorcycle expeditions. He swept her off her feet and into a world of adventures. They travel to Todos Santos yearly for visits with familia.

Pete shows us covert points of interest such as the local cartel leader’s house, the sad failed plan for a tequila factory and a dirt track with no signs that leads us to a pristine, undeveloped beach.

We spent the afternoon exploring the streets of this funky, charming village. It’s been some 25 years since my last visit here and the only familiar site is Hotel California.

One of the most amusing aspects of the hotel, is their adamant denial of any claim to fame in association with the Eagles’ classic song of the same name. Every reference online describing Hotel California states in some form of “The Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’ was not inspired by this hotel.”Therefore it has become famous for NOT being famous.

Nevertheless, Hotel California is one of the most well kept buildings in this deserty little outpost. Perhaps the historic Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Pilar (“I heard the mission bell”) nearby is also maintained beautifully, but my preference was to wander through the hotel’s welcoming doors, risking the chance of “You can check out but you can never leave”.

The inviting entrance to Hotel California

An oasis greets us, the open air patio with soft colors, softer music (español in nature, rather than a 70’s rock band) and cushiony chairs in which to sip cool drinks makes one wonder if they do in fact want to leave.

Still, the lyrics from Hotel California dance in my head. Cleverly written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, this timeless Eagles classic hit takes me back to another era. I am not alone in feeling the great vibes of this village, as in 2006 the Federal Secretary of Tourism in Baja California Sur declared Todos Santos a Magic town.

From the hotel’s website hotelcaliforniabaja.com, there is a colorful history: Founded in 1948 by a Chinese immigrant named Mr. Wong, after three years of construction, the 16 room hotel opened in 1950, where he, his wife and seven daughters lived as they built their business. Wanting the locals to believe he was Mexican, he changed his name to Don Antonio Tabasco which didn’t work as well as he planned since he soon became known as “El Chino”, meaning “The Chinese Man”. Mr. Wong brought ice from La Paz to Todos Santos for the first time, serving the only cold beer in town, which of course made him quite popular and ironically he opened a general store named “La Popular”. Reason enough to raise a chilled toast to the visionary Mr. Wong and to embracing your identity!

The next day, we all pile into the truck and drive “on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair”, actually, it’s a bright, warm desert road and it leads us to La Ventana, a mecca for kite boarders, retirees and explorers in pickup trucks looking for a cold beer.

At first glance, this thriving bay looks worth another visit, with accommodations ranging from tents to a myriad of resorts on an inviting sea.

Our travels continued to La Paz where we found a lunch spot overlooking Marina Cortez, as we gazed upon watercraft of all sorts. We enjoyed a side trip to the ferry terminal at Pichilinque, the lovely rolling terrain looking as if we are in Arizona. The ferry to mainland Mexico draws quite a few intrepid bicyclists carrying their gear in panniers.

Down on the southeastern tip of the cape lies Bahia de Los Muertos. Having anchored here in the early nineties, it’s appeal was not just a protected bay, but the remoteness was its treasure. The small fishing village is still here, and a scattering of villas and retreats have landed on the west side of the bay which has been re-named Bahia de Los Sueños, Bay of Dreams, as perhaps they thought marketing would work better than Bay of the Dead.

We enjoy seeing Ospreys circle and breathe in the salt air and take a moment to appreciate how little it has changed.

Bahia de Los Muertos

“Bad roads bring good people.”An appropriate quote in the desert. El Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo lies at the end of one such bumpy, gritty track. This treasure of a marine park stretches for five miles along the remote southern coast. The reserve is 60 miles, yet a world away from the masses of unbridled tourist throngs in Cabo San Lucas.

The snorkel shack awaits ocean lovers

In a beautiful progression of preserving the ocean, the entrepreneurial panga captains switched gears from killing fish to showing off the precious sea life under the surface in this Natural World Heritage Site. Fishing rods have been replaced with scuba and snorkel gear as they provide educational and environmental journeys they can be proud of in their waters that hold one of only three living reefs in North America.

As we quenched our parched throats at the local beach palapa, we watched the pangas return from dive trips in a flurry of activity. Good on you Cabo Pulmo!

Visit: cabopulmopark.com to learn about the NGO’s and local businesses working together to empower young leaders to find creative ways to protect our oceans.

“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door, I had to find the passage back to the place I was before”. We do have free will to leave, whether we want to or not. The night before our flight north, we stayed the night in a local hotel in San Jose del Cabo, a family friendly and quieter sister town to Cabo. The stars shine on the sea and the warmth of the land and her people remain in mi corazon.

Surfing pelicanos

With thanks and credits to: visitmexico.com, Wikipedia.com, hotelcaliforniabaja.com, blog.sandos.com, todossantos.com, rollingstone.com

I will leave you with more of the Eagle’s lyrics to dance in your head: “So I called up the Captain, ‘Please bring me my wine’, He said ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine’. And still those voices are calling from far away, wake you up in the middle of the night just to hear them say “Welcome to the Hotel California” such a lovely place, such a lovely face.”

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