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Published: February 23rd 2009
'Leche' the cow getting a drink
Cows are just a part of life in SJD
Cabochick? Yah that's me! What can I say. I know Cabo.
I've been lucky enough to travel to this part of Mexico for over 30 years now.
For those who don't know, Los Cabos is located at the tip of the Baja pennisula - which is 'the Capes' for the espanol-challenged. The entire area of Los Cabos includes two main towns called Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo which are connected by endless beaches and the fourlane highway called 'the Corridor'.
For me, the town of San Jose del Cabo has always been a little oasis amongst parched dusty desert. Queue the music!
...and if you need a little help with a selection...Chelo Silva sets the mood nicely!
Settled back in 1730 as a Jesuit Mission and Fort, San Jose del Cabo was Baja’s best known secret up until 20 years ago. Back then this sleepy little village consisting only of rancheros and fishermen that would meet up to socialize under the deep shade of laurel trees near the quaint town square.
My parents first stumbled upon this town during one of our many family camping adventures trapsing around Mexico. We had gotten
as far as La Paz, but had heard from fellow camping wanderlusters that if you followed the arroyos (riverbeds) south you would come across endless isolated beaches....and a curious landmark called 'El Arco,' so we pushed on.
When we finally arrived, we felt we had found Paradiso! Isolated white sand beaches as far as the eye could see, we set up camp far from the small gatherings of hippy surfers and a hare kershna camp, and frolicked for several months, dining on the fresh catch of the day. When we weren't surfing, swimming, fishing, snorkelling, or 4x4'ing every square inch of the pennisula, we'd walk into town and make friends with the locals.
Gringos were welcomed curiosities back then.
Nowadays, an unfortunate and heartbreaking transformation of Los Cabos has occured.
The two sleepy fishing villages have been turned into multimillion dollar playgrounds for the rich and famous. Cabo San Lucas has suffered the worst of it by becoming a trashy, hedonistic, drunken party town for all the weekly visitors. But thankfully, San Jose del Cabo has somehow been spared the same fate...maintaining lots of its original charm despite all the new resort construction.
town of San Jose del Cabo is perched on a palm-lined, natural spring estuary, the slower pace allows one to relax and stroll about, sometimes sharing the sidewalks with scrawny cows. The downtown core is a maze of narrow authentic cobblestone streets, you shade your eyes to gaze into one of the many dark paseos (inner courtyards) before someone beckons you in. Fabulous fun to discover the inner secrets hidden behind the non-descript walls.
Considered the centre of town, the cathedral of St. Joseph with its ceramic tile mural above the doors, eternally reminding the locals of the Jesuits whom the Indians massacred centuries ago. Here the locals still gather under the old gnarled fig trees to escape the midday heat, and watch the touristy goings on.
Grab yourself a Gringo Gazette newspaper and find a nice shady spot to read it front to back. You will quickly learn the ex-pats have a warped sense of humour regarding the daily goings-on in this town. Not to mention interesting page numbers. Just remember, things do not happen here as they do back home. Take my word.
Of course I can’t talk about San Jose del Cabo without mentioning
some of the reasons you would want to visit this gorgous place. First off and most obvious...the breathtaking beauty. Everywhere cactus scrub-land reveals golden sands that melt into the most bluest sea you'll ever know. Most tourists come here to just drop out and chill, or to partake in some adventurous fishing derby or golf tournament.
But there is so much more.
At the top of the list are the many long-standing reputable restaurants in the area. You can find elegantly prepared continental cuisine, fusion, Thai, Italian, and of course upscale Spanish and Mexican dishes. They are typically low key and uncrowded, allowing you to spend a lovely evening listening to live music amongst a sophisticated setting. Too many to list here, I believe you will find them yourself if you take a wander around and look. But please, if you really want to have a mexican dining experience, check out the simple taco stands that are in full swing nightly, jam-packed with local families. You cannot pass up this interesting experience mingling, passing around cute babies, and of course enjoying the cheap cheap delicious eats. My family is particularly fond of Taqueria El Ahorcado...'The Hangman.' It defies
cantinas in SJD
always eat where the locals are
For obvious reasons, artists from around the world have set up shop in a concentrated area near Obregon calle (street) and have created an "art district" that is well worth the thursday night art stroll. Most evenings are breezy and warm, and nothing beats hanging near the zocalo (town square) and eating a helado (ice cream) while watching all the festivities that magically pop up each week. There are art exhibitions, fiestas and traveling shows from other regions of Mexico, so expect to see fireworks, bands performing on stages, carnivals, cockfights, a rodeo, as well as thousands of familias from the local barrios and ranchos converging to crowd the streets. You will be instantaneously drawn in by the blasting music, bright flashing lights, smells of frying food, and dust that strongly permeate the air.
Speaking of the local families, there are not many left. A huge population of transient folks from Sinloa and other regions on the the mainland have come to work in the gigantic resorts for pennies. These people have no where to live or family to stay with, so they set up camp in the arroyos - a shanty town of cardboard and plywood
has sprung up overnight and is heartbreaking to the untrained eye. (The government actually built a toll highway so tourists can be bypassed from witnessing this area). Their influx into this region has overtaxed the town and crime has risen dramatically. Some tourists report having their jewelry ripped right off their person in grab n' dashes while walking the streets alone. The locals who have lived here all their lives are horrified.
Relax though. Petty crime does happen....but very very rarely. San Jose del Cabo is extremely safe, and with all the news regarding gang violence and cartel shootings, I can understand how most tourists are a little apprehensive on traveling to Mexico. But honestly, I feel safer here in SJD than I do back home. A little due diligence and using your common sense goes a long way here.
Weirdly, Los Cabos is now just an extension of the USA. Complete with Walmarts, Costcos, Office Depots, and Ruth Chris. The locals seem unfazed and understand that if it weren't for these tourist dollars, they wouldn't have this new social middle class they enjoy so much. Only a few years back most lived meakly in dirt floor shacks
- but now they own cars, upgraded their shacks into homes, and every single one of them is employed, marching around frantically with cell phones stuck to their ear and earning fairly good wages. Progress can be good and progress can be bad...but I will get off the ol' soapbox for the time being.
If you plan to come to San Jose del Cabo looking for a wonderful and charming getaway, I recommend staying in some of the smaller boutique hotels deep within the downtown area, rather than selecting a fancy resort in the touristy 'Zona Hotelera.' Not to diss the multimillion dollar monstrosities that line the beach, because most of them are pretty fantastic!! (El Presidente, Costa Azul, Mayan Palace, Royal Solaris, Crowne Plaza, Barcelo....and so on) They all have amazing pool areas and live entertainment nightly, not to mention copious amounts of pool drinks and services that makes you feel like royalty. Some people come to Mexico and expect nothing less....but it's really up to the individual.
Hey, and how about those endless beaches?
All beaches in Mexico are public property and no matter how hard the resorts try (yah I'm talking about you One
and Only Palmilla), you can waltz onto any of them freely. Unfortunately, the Pacific ocean is not TAME! Most beaches in the Los Cabos area have drastic undertows, rouge waves, and rip tides depending on the time of year. I am a strong swimmer, and even I have been body slammed by all three.
So what do you do? You go where the locals go, the secluded bays of playa Chileno and playa Santa Maria are both gentle places for swimming and snorkelling, and are at about KM 31 on the fourlane. Although there aren't any ammenities at these spots, trek down through the old lime groves that magically open up into a stunning view of the deepest blue ocean fringed in tourqoise, with sandy shores....and you think you've died and gone to heaven! It is easy to spend the entire day here, swimming & people watching, the weekends always bring out the local families for traditional picnics, drinking, and playing football (soccer). Super fun!
Unfortunately, the tour companies bring their cruise ship patrons here as well...and nothing is funnier than hearing house-music echoing off the shores as a huge catamaran comes screaming around the corner and parks
fun in the waves at Costa Azul playa
not the greatest beach for swimming but still fun to frolick or go for a really long long walk on
in the bay. A horn suddenly sounds and hordes of brightly coloured tourists in snorkelling gear bail over the sides. Sometime later, another horn sounds and they all pile back in, leaving only the sound of thumping music in their wake. Check your watch because another ship comes flying around the bend and the same scene unfolds again. It goes on like this all day. If you can't stomach this spectacle, you might find quieter areas such as Playita or Palmilla, or even the surfers hub at the end of Costa Azul called Zippers. If you do go to Zippers to do some late day bodysurfing, have a burger at Big Tony's and tell him Senorita Boozehound said 'hola'.
Back to the stuff to do list, for any sports enthusiast, San Jose del Cabo offers many fantastic activities, and most find it hard to fit it all in. There isn't anything more fun than blasting around on an ATV on miles and miles of deserted sand dunes, or trying out parasailing, or even diving off of Cabo Pulmo, or how about being harnessed in and ziplined across a local arroyo, oh and of course the golf....world class courses. See,
the list is endless!! For a slower pace, one can ride a horse along the endless uncrowded beaches, or participate in a turtle hatch and release near the estuary (the Presidente Inter-Continental Los Cabos resort has its own turtle nursery). For flora/fauna lovers, you can walk through the estuary to get a glimpse of rare birds, or check out the cactus garden, or how about a boat ride to whale watching during the march season, and endless sandy dirt backroads to mountain bike all over hells green acre.
San Jose del Cabo is a sleepy little place and packed with loads of ex-pats who want to keep it that way. One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is to go to the edge of town by the polo club to check out the artisan and organic market. It's actually really well done and they have live music and a bouncy water castle for kids, and lots of local food and crafts.
Recently, trekking has become the new cool thing to do. Up in the Sierra de la Laguna mountains behind Los Cabos that snuggle the coastline, there is an extremely diverse ecosystem. Hiking anywhere in
walk down to playa chileno
walk through the lime groves and pick some for your drinks
these mountains is a treat, the spectacular views to the ocean can't be beat. With 352 days of sunshine in this region per year, you won't miss a single sunrise or sunset. If you are feeling extra adventurous, hike in to see the cave paintings rumoured to be left by a tribe of giants near La Paz.
Closer to SJD, the small town of Santiago boasts a trek to a nearby natural waterfall where the water is cold but refreshing, pouring over a rocky outcrop during the winter months. Extreme risk takers converge on Los Cabos annually to take part in events such as the Baja 1000, deep sea fishing competitions such as the Bisbee Black and Blue, or compete in desert safari races on dune buggys.
Back when I was a young'un, our favorite family pasttime was to do what the locals did and lazily head out to La Playita each afternoon, (the old barrio former fish camp which now has sadly been turned into a marina resort and fancy golf course). Back then you could watch the panga fishermen bring in their catches of the day, haggle over fresh fish for your dinner, while the fishermen's
endless deserted beaches
before all the resorts you could have the beach all to yourself
families gathered on the beach waiting, children swimming in the shallows, young men tossing circular nets over their heads into the water for bait, while the oldsters gossiped in the shade, banda music played loudly and all would drink Tecate until the sun set over the bay. Those are memories I cherish, a real and laid back friendly Mexico of times gone by. I miss it.
I still get to SJD at least twice a year. It's in my heart, and I appreciate it even more that it hasn't changed too drastically. I also envy those newcomers that experience San Jose del Cabo for the first time.
You can't miss what you never knew.
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