We decided to take our friend’s advice. Instead of celebrating my 33rd birthday in Tijuana with the company of tequila shots and a U.S. government travel advisory, Amy and I spent my special day on a 26-hour unmagical bus ride. Darkness broke up the monotony of cactus, graffiti, and shacks through the bus window.
As the bus traveled south, it belched out passengers at little towns along the way. Nearing our destination, we noticed a fair-skinned woman with short blonde curls a few rows behind us. Instant conversation. Caroline loves bicycle travel, farming and Aikido. Of course, we were curious, “Where does a person with those interests vacation?”
“A farm in Todos Santos. What brought you to Baja?”
“My parents invited me to join them for a week of swimming pools, booze and guacamole.”
“Oh, you’re going to Cabo San Lucas.” The conversation sputtered out. Amy pulled up her sweater to reveal her Peaceful Belly Farm t-shirt. Like two strangers flashing gang symbols or freemason rings, there was an instant bond. By the time Caroline got off the bus in Todos Santos, we were convinced that checking out her farm in the desert was a must see Baja attraction. We exchanged info and made tentative plans to meet again after the family reunion.
From downtown Cabo San Lucas, we hopped on a private shuttle bus and rode 25 minutes outside of town to an isolated resort carved out of a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, by the time we met up with my parents and assorted relatives, Amy and I had already indulged in some of our favorite pastimes of swimming in the ocean and walking. At Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort, swimming in the ocean is prohibited and large gasoline powered golf carts, resembling trucks hauling livestock to the feedlot, carry guests around on intricately designed paved paths. Apparently, people enjoy taking a vacation from their legs.
Our first day at the resort, we didn’t partake in the family pastime of booze, guacamole, and poolside lounging. I had worked too hard to blow my travel savings drinking white russians and eating avocado for seven days by the pool. By day two, Amy and I were thirsty, hungry, and ready to be lathered up in sun block. These wants and desires led us into a room crowded with people who fit the 30-something demographic. People in their 30’s must be transitioning from the age of “let’s camp in the sand by the ocean” to “let’s sit at a timeshare and watch tv by the ocean.”
Amy and I were immediately separated from the safety of the group. We sat at a small round table across from a man named Ashley. He first wanted to know how we liked the resort. We thought it was fine. He continued his line of questions. “Do you find simple pebble designs on your bed cute or stupid? Would you rather swim in the ocean or take a water aerobics class taught by a cute young Latino lad? Which do you consider a more authentic Mexican experience: morning shits resulting from drinking Budweiser all night in the luxury of your timeshare or sitting on a street curb eating a taco made at a taco stand with a baby sitting on the cutting board?” Upon hearing our answers, Ashley’s eyebrows would frown. When we told him taco shits seemed like an authentic Mexican experience, he raised his voice in exasperation, “I don’t know where to go from here! You obviously do not value an authentic Mexican timeshare experience. Why are you wasting my time?”
The answer was simple, “We were promised $300 worth of food and drink coupons if we let you try to convince us to buy a timeshare.” We shook Ashley’s hand and thanked him for sharing his time and excellent sales skills with us.
Thus began our week of family bonding. In addition to the overpriced meals and golf cart rides, we enjoyed morning conversations on the timeshare balcony, teaching the resort management how to make the Brandon Follett bean pizza, homemade family dinners and a combined birthday party for my mom and me. The week reemphasized that good company is always more important than the setting, and we left the resort enthusiastically anticipating our next family trip to Cabo.
The family flew home to the States, and we took a bus to Todos Santos to make videos and find Caroline. Todos Santos has a reputation for art, surfing, good food, and being quiet by 10PM. It offers an artistic break from the crowds and commercialization of Cabo, but its economy is still dependent on busloads of day tourists enjoying afternoons of souvenir shopping and eating. The ex-patriots in this town tend to be peso pinchers. They value a beautiful sunset or walk in the countryside more than a margarita or plate of sushi. Until a developer brings Todos Santos into the modern age of tourism with McDonalds, strip clubs, go karts, and box superstores, the buses will park idling and Todos Santos will remain a tourist frontier town.
We met up with Caroline who introduced us to Dominique, owner of La Jardinera organic farm. Although her house was small, Dominique welcomed us to sleep on her porch or in her living room. The house was an hour’s walk from town mostly along a dirt road through the desert. We hitchhiked in the middle of the day. We hitchhiked in the middle of the night. Friendly gringos picked us up every time.
At the farm, we layered compost piles, dug garden beds, and received a brief introduction to biodynamic farming. We slept outside on the porch with the cats and mosquitoes and woke up to a beautiful view of the ocean. As much as we appreciated Caroline and Dominique’s hospitality and fun friends, commitment to making travel videos proved stronger than our love of shoveling cow manure.
Todos Santos videos:
1. Homesick for peanut butter, the next best thing is fish with peanut sauce
2. Learning Spanish can taste good between licks of homemade ice cream
3. Energetic Jill Logan and a personal tour of her art gallery http://www.jilllogan.com
4. Hotel Guluarte supermarket and laundry – after a week in Cabo San Lucas, what traveler doesn’t have a backpack full of stinky clothes? The swimming pool looked murky yellow, but it did have one lounge chair, the perfect place to relax and read The Gringo Gazette while waiting for clean clothes.
5. An overview of Todos Santos
We continued our Baja bus tour to Los Barriles, where we were lured by Craig and Holly Weavers’ description of the beautiful Sea of Cortez and an opportunity to stay at their rental in exchange for PR work. From the house, a short walk down the arroyo leads to a beach. At this time of year, it’s a breezy kiteboarding paradise.
One day we came home to the Weaver Rentals to find a Ford truck parked in the yard. Craig and Holly had e-mailed us that Rasheed would be stopping by to work on the rental. Amy, who has a degree in Ethnic Studies, noticed the Florida plates and remarked, “In all my studies, dating, and travels in Latin America, I have never met a Mexican day laborer who has an Arab name and drives a truck that looks new with Florida plates. This Rasheed will make for an interesting case study.”
To our disappointment, Rasheed turned out to be just an average Palestinian American, Muslim, ex Army, Iraqi vet, shoots underwater video, soon to be published travel writer who can speak Arabic and was employed in Cuba. Being familiar with the area, Rasheed took us to his favorite French Café in San Jose Del Cabo and introduced us to Ian and Megan who run the local kiteboarding school in Los Barriles. Besides introducing us to the locals and fine French pastries, Rasheed enjoys using the internet. At Caleb’s Café, we would greet the morning with the daily news and a beautiful ocean view.
From Los Barriles we continued north to La Paz to make friends and videos.
La Paz videos:
1. La Fonda restaurant offers traditional Mexican food at reasonable prices, and the owner is happy to explain any of the dishes on the menu. Brandon tries shoemaker soup for breakfast.
2. To truly enjoy Hotel Yeneka, a person must love the dead monkey.
3. Vacation walking on the malecon, the best place in the city to enjoy fresh air and beautiful sunsets.
4. Espiritu Santo Island Tour– A short boat ride from La Paz takes us to a world of interesting rock formations, an abundance of marine wildlife, and an afternoon snorkeling with the sea lions.
5. Considering couchsurfing? Websites like Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing address the needs of travelers who are tired of being part of the tourist machine. This video ventures away from showing people where and how to spend their money. Instead, it encourages travelers to develop friendships and experience local cultures.
The bus ride back to Tijuana was once again very long. Amy and I unfortunately had to sit in the very front of the bus. Anyone who has a phobia of head-on collisions and masked men with guns, I suggest a seat further toward the back.
Heading north, instead of being waved through the checkpoints, the bus stopped every couple of hundred kilometers to men holding American issued assault rifles. They would motion for us to get off the bus and then the search began. While waiting for passengers’ bags to be searched, we stood next to a board with pictures of people who have been caught with drugs at the checkpoint.
In Idaho, if cops took pictures of their drug busts, a traveler would probably see a police officer holding a gun to the head of a zit faced teen wearing a Bob Marley shirt posing by a dime bag or a braless hippie handcuffed on her knees next to a pot plant. The criminals photographed in Baja are in possession of piles and piles of drugs. A Habitat for Humanity volunteer could make a small adobe house out of the drug bricks.
Our last stop in Baja was the Tijuana bus station where we spent our remaining pesos on a Modelo and an omelet.