Posted by: martinworster | August 25, 2011

125. BAJA SOUTH – MEXICO

Good surf, spiky urchins, excellent snorkelling, crisp lagers and lots of sun…

 

Due to the drugs war in Mexico a lot of the country is pretty much off limits for travelling and holidays – particularly when you’ve got kids. Allegedly not Baja Sur. I’d been to most places within a 2 – 4 hour flight radius of Los Angeles so thought I’d head due south and check out Baja Sur. Typcially it’s a winter sun destination for Southern Californians – ironic as it’s normally mostly sunny here, even in winter.

 

We flew LA to San Jose De Cabo two hours due south. Disembarking at San Jose De Cabo airport I was struck by the fierceness of the heat. Initially as we got off the plane and walked on the runway I thought the heat was actually that of the plane and it would subside as I got further away. No, this wasn’t plane heat – it was genuinely very hot. A dry, scorching heat now we were only a few miles due south of the Tropic of Capricorn. 

 

We were actually staying in San Jose De Cabo which is smaller town to the north of the main resort of Cabo which is right on the southern tip of the cape of Baja Sur where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. I was pleased we were staying here – it was more mellow and luckily our hotel   (the Bel Air) was right on beach of Baja’s most famous surf spot – Zippers. 

 

Zippers picks up southerly swells so summer time is the best time to come. The first day the waves were massive – too big to go out. There’d been a hurricane out to sea (we were in hurricane season) and the ocean looked particularly ferocious. I had a little paddle and the sea was the perfect temperature, clear and turquoise, picture perfect postcard style. White sands dropping off steeply into the sea so there was some powerful drag and undercurrents. Zippers was a right hand point break on the tip of the bay at the start of the Costa Azul. First day I went out bodyboarding as it’s always a bit intimidating at a new sport, what with the locals and tropical sealife to contend with. I caught one of my best ever waves that day, it just went on and on, peeling off, as I bounced around the bowl. 

 

As I ventured onto my surfboard the next day I contended with the locals who don’t really wait their turn and are happy to drop in on you bully boy style. Of course, it being Mexico I tried to bite my lip and not get into any situations with the locals – the person snaking you might be the head of a drugs cartel and any aggro you could possibly find yourself strung up headless on a freeway underpass quicker than you can say ‘vegetarian burrito’.

 

I caught some nice waves. It helped as I am better at surfing lefts. Day two I fell off and spiked my hand with a vicious sea urchin. Nothing too serious – a few needles 2-3 inches spiked into your hand you had to pick out. I don’t think it was a poisonous urchin – just spiteful. Day four I fell and trod on an urchin. This time more serious – my foot looked like a hedgehog. had to pick out the biggest ones and walk back to the hotel with a bloody foot and over thirty incisions. I had to cut them out – some of them had gone into my foot and snapped off inside to be covered with skin. Some minor surgery after sitting in a hot bath for half an hour to soak up the wound helped. But it was a difficult and painful process – you’d try to pick them out and they’d break off, still embedded into your foot up to 2 inches deep. Over a week later I was still removing the needles from my foot. 

 

We hired a car and did some travelling:

 

CABO PULMO

 

I’d read in the Lonely Planet that Cabo Pulmo was the only coral reef on the West Coast of North America so thought it required exploring. It turned out to be a revelation – the snorkelling was fantastic. Swim out two feet and you were innundated with many varieties of fish. Further out was reef and rock to explore – puffer fish, long fish, angel fish – and tens of other species I couldn’t name. It was absolutely breathtaking and Tristan and Oliver’s first try at snorkelling so a major success. The coastline was deserted and beautiful. Lots of pelicans, a desert landscape leading to blue sea and white sands. The Sea of Cortez is where the grey whales migrate to from the northern Pacific to give birth to their young in the warm and opulent waters. Just around from Cabo Pulmo was Playa Arbolitos – a gorgeous little cove with more excellent snorkelling and crystal clear waters. It has to be one of my favourite beaches in the world – and I’ve been to quite a few.

 

PLAYA CERRITOS / TODOS SANTOS

 

Playa Cerritos is on the Pacific side an hour and a half drive around the Cape. It’s meant to be a good surfing beach – but on the day I went it was messy and not very good. The beach was okay, set on a large crescent bay. Just north of here is Todos Santos, an artist community. Again I was quite underwhelmed by this place – a dusty little stop off with American’s escaping migrating down from the north to make pottery and paint abstract seascapes. I am being quite harsh – to be fair I didn’t really spend that much time to give it justice.

 

CABO SAN LUCAS

 

Cabo is the main resort. It’s basically a California equivalent to the Costa Del Sol. Over developed and slightly tacky. Air conditioned shopping malls, a glitzy marina lined with over priced restaurants, high rise hotels. I was glad we weren’t staying here. We had lunch on the beach – packed with bars right to the water and sunbeds lined up sardine style. Our bar had dancing competitions and a Mr Universe style game. Again, tacky and possibly irritating if you stayed here more than a few hours. Just off the shore a mega Carnival cruise ship was anchored.  One of the main attractions here is a natural coastal arch you can take a boat trip to. We never bothered. Endless jet skis buzzed around the water like annoying gnats.

 

Like the Costa Del Sol, I got that sense of a seedy underbelly to the resort – laundered drug money fuelling over development, corrupt officials granting building permits to the highest bidder, vice, drugs and sleaze. Probably merits another trip to investigate further. I also noticed a lot of half built developments, the carcasses of apartment complexes, marked out sea view lots, empty high rises – probably the result of the recession and sudden withdrawal of financing on these sort of projects. Tourism is the main income here and it must have been hit by the recession and bad publicity surrounding the safety of Mexico as a destination.

 

CABO DO SAN JOSE

 

We were actually staying outside the main town and took a taxi in one night to explore. The main thing that struck me was – as it was off season – how quiet it was. Lots of pharmacies selling prescription drugs (Viagra, Cialis, and many others I have no idea what they do) cheaply to Americans. The main street was lined with restaurants and tacky souvenir shops selling pottery, football shirts, Nacho Libre style wrestling masks and other assorted Mexicana (and by that I don’t mean young girls). At the end of the street is the zocolo (the main square) with a colonial church to one side. It had the sleepy, hot, Mexican vibe – pretty much deserted, a man selling ice creams from his cart, lethargic couples, a straggle of other tourists. 

 

CONCLUSION

 

I really enjoyed Baja Sur. It’s only two hours away and it felt like I only scratched the surface – there’s endless coastline and sleepy towns to explore. It felt safe and I like the whole aura of being somewhere totally different from the US where it’s a bit more relaxed about many things, for eg drinking on the beach. We did experience a couple of military road stops – but that’s normal in Mexico and you’ll just get waved through. I did notice a security guard in the supermarket carrying a machine gun but that’s also normal down here. One day on the beach at Cabo Pulmo I saw two soldiers patrolling the coastline also with machine guns. At first I was a bit shocked as it seemed incongruous in such a beautiful setting. But then I guess with such a lot of coastline and being relatively near to South America, Baja must be a major drop off destination on the drug smuggling route. Just across the Sea of Cortez lies the state of Sinaloa which has one of the leading drug cartels. 

 

I found the people very friendly too. As soon as they found out I was from England conversation would always move to football – and Manchester United’s young player Javier Chicharito was always mentioned. Judging by the amount of Man U Chicharito shirts I saw it’s a shrewd move on behalf of the Red Devils. 

 

I will definitely be returning to Baja Sur.


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