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Kicking back along Lower Baja California

Article and Photos


Lee Juillerat

Sunshine, sand and solitude. We were relaxing on a nearly desolate white-sand beach, the aqua waters of the Sea of Cortez gently lapping on the shore. When not snorkeling along the offshore reef, we sprawled on the beach, dozed or enjoyed the freedom to do absolutely nothing.

This," my daughter Molly proclaimed, "is what I imagined Baja should be."

Molly, her husband Andy, Molly's cousin Jessica, and I were contentedly enjoying the last full-day of our week-long visit to lower Baja California. The night before, Molly and Andy had scoured guidebooks for a kick-back beautiful beach. They'd found one at Cabo Pulmo, relatively little changed from the time when John Steinbeck, author of "The Sea of Cortez," visited in 1941.

Horseback rides along San Jose del Cabo beaches are popular
Poolside life is a dream


"On the shore behind the little white beach was one of those lonely little rancherias we came to know later," Steinbeck wrote. "Usually a palm or two are planted nearby and by these trees sticking out the brush one can locate the houses. There is usually a small corral, a burro or two, a few pigs, and some scrawny chickens. The cattle range wide for food. A dugout canoe lies on the beach, for a good part of the food comes from sea. Rarely do you see a light from the sea, for the people go to sleep at dusk and awaken with the first light."

We had driven north from our condo at San Jose del Cabo on paved highways before following a dirt road to a small resort complex mostly visited by scuba divers and made the short hike to the lightly used beach. Wearing goggles, we swam along an offshore reef, watching fish jet and loop around us.

Sunbathers have a white-sand beach all to themselves

A day earlier we had enjoyed guilty pleasures at Cabo San Lucas, the region's tourism mecca. It's a city teeming with clubs, restaurants, shops, all types of tour boats (glass bottom, sport fishing, water taxis, jet boats, sea kayaks, even a pirate ship) and every imaginable recreational activity. Pause or look confused and you're immediately surrounded by locals hawking time-shares, silver jewelry, dolls, whistles and chances to take photos with iguanas, including one doffing a tiny cowboy hat. Cabo San Lucas is typically slammed by many because of its unbridled commercialism. Crass it is, but that's part of the attraction.

We enjoyed the obligatory first-timer activities, including a water taxi to Playa del Amor, or Lover's Beach, with a spin around natural arches and the sea lion colony at Land's End. That late afternoon we, Jessica excepted, slurped cervezas and watered-down but still swishy-tasty margaritas during a truly gorgeous sunset cruise. That night, after dinner from a restaurant overlooking Cabo's boisterous gaiety - where we were serenaded by a mariachi band best appreciated after several stout margaritas - we joined the masses wandering downtown in search of dancing and whatever might beckon. It’s a contrived, crazy world, with nightclubs offering a range of music, outdoor vendors selling every imaginable trinket, shops with never-ending “sales,” and wrinkled ladies on street corners proffering tiny dolls, jewelry and pottery,

In the pleasant chaos, we were stopped by friends shouting our names. The small-world syndrome had struck a few nights earlier in San Jose del Cabo when the voice calling my name turned out to be a friend I hadn’t seen in years. This time the hailer was a woman from a neighboring small town spending a week with her husband, family and others making their annual soak-the-sun pilgrimage.

Natural arch is at Land's End near Cabo San Lucas. Simulated pirate ship cruises the Pacific near Land's End.


Another day we drove our teeny rental car to La Paz, a stylish port city three hours north of San Jose, where we gobbled fish tacos and downtown shopping. On the way back, we stayed coastal, as along the Pacific Coast, and saw another side of Baja. Too briefly we stopped at Todos Santos, a funky artist colony. It had been only a few hours since lunch, but the restaurants beckoned. We finally settled on one where the menu included deliciously prepared yellowtail, which was delicately and deliciously prepared. During our days in Baja, eating was one of our prime recreations. That entire week I never tasted beef, not with the endless choices of dorado, rock bass and other fresh fish.

Other times, just a walk-away from the condo, floated in the swimming pool, bargained with the jewelry/T-shirts/hat sellers lined up behind the rope barrier, or bodysurfed the thundering waves. One great afternoon was spent snorkeling at a beach just a short drive away. Our relative solitude was broken when a small cruise ship pulled near shore and discharged passengers. Some snorkeled, others paddled kayaks and some sunned on the beach. Sunbathing was also Jessica’s choice. She waited too long before applying the sunscreen, burned badly, and spent the next several days as red as a lobster.

Morning runs took me along mega-beachside resorts and, better, onto the Paseo del Estero footpath along an estuary teeming with egrets, brown pelicans, herons and other birds, through downtown San Jose and back roads past rickety shack homes with chickens wandering through their yards. The estuary, or Estero San Jose, is where the Rio San Jose meets the Sea of Cortez. Tall fan palms, river cane and sea grass serve as habitat for more than 200 bird species, including brown pelicans, herons, grebes and a variety of ducks.

Jessica enjoys the sunset
Andy and Molly savor the sea breeze
Eating fresh seafood is a tasty treat


On our final morning, before heading to the airport, we returned to downtown San Jose's markets. The downtown area remains mostly safe from the mega-developments, with shady plazas, colonial and Spanish-style buildings, narrow streets and a range of shops offering everything from the typical straw hats, beautiful silver and pottery to classy, upscale businesses with finely detailed clothing and eclectic paintings. We looked in all varieties of shops, picking up glassware, earrings and items for ourselves and for friends.

And because we had promised to buy a bottle or two for friends, we were easily waylaid in a tequila shop. Molly had promised a bottle for a co-worker. I figured a bottle or two might come in handy for making margaritas. Andy knew his parents would appreciate a sample of their own. Very politely, the genial man behind the counter, explaining that this was wayyyyy beyond usual procedure, offered us samples of some of the shop’s 100-plus flavors of the potent, mostly golden-colored liquors. One shot led to, well, who knows, or cares, how many others.

Somehow, in the chaos that followed, Andy temporarily misplaced the car keys, which meant we were late getting to the airport, and, because of the confusion, left us the very last in line to check our bags. Suddenly sober, and after scrambling madly, we hustled to our departure gate just minutes from the time our flight was scheduled to leave. The key word is, scheduled. Years ago, on another visit to another area of Mexico, I’d learned that manana doesn’t just mean tomorrow, it also means maybe later. We didn’t have to wait until tomorrow, but our plane was mildly manana. It wasn’t a secluded, sandy or sunshiny, but for an extra hour we kicked-back, relaxed and, to kill the time, imbibed in savoring a final dose of manana.

The sun says farewell along the Pacific Coast.


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Lee Juillerat has been writing for High On Adventure for more than eight years. He also is a reporter with a daily newspaper in Southern Oregon and frequent contributor to various newspapers and magazines, including Northwest Travel, Oregon Coast and Horizon and Alaska Airlines inflight publications. His email address is lee337@cvc.net.



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