Sunday, December 12, 2010

San Jose del Cabo

I was very curious to see how the landscape unfolded on the sail from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo as I had been to the latter for Christmas in 1997. Doug was still flying for Cathay Pacific and, as was his habit, he had generously offered to take a shift over Christmas to allow another pilot with children to be home with his family. I could not stand the thought of another rainy Christmas in Comox alone, so booked a holiday in San Jose with the hope that Doug might be able to make the easy connection if he came home through Los Angeles. Unfortunately, that was not to be, so I spent the week exploring the area by myself.

Mexican fish boat along the way

One of the things I did was catch a local bus into Cabo San Lucas for the day. Even in 1997 I found it a noisy, unappealing place and left right after lunch. On the way back I got off the bus at a road leading to a little cove where I did some snorkeling on a small reef. In those days, the road to Cabo was practically empty of houses, resorts and condos. The little bay I visited had an abandoned villa at one end of the beach, rustic palapas where you could get a cold drink, and that was about it. I was amazed at what I saw as we cruised by on Ka’sala in 2010! Almost the entire strip of highway between the two towns has been developed. The little cove now has a massive resort and condo complex on it.

new resort at the "little" cove - Palmilla

The whole area was unrecognizable to me. However, as we got closer to the town of San Jose, I could see more familiar territory.

San Jose shoreline

The new marina that is being built on the other side of the estuary at La Playa is in an area that once was the town’s soccer fields.

La Playa at San Jose

The basin is in, and about two thirds of the docks are installed, though some do not have power and water.

Distinctive cross overlooks the marina

Most of the yachts at the marina are huge powerboats waiting to fish the famous Gordo Banks

 While we stayed there we could see many workers landscaping and beautifying, and also divers doing some underwater work.

Ka'sala at Puerto Los Cabos Marina

It seemed to me that the building was going slowly, but what a magnificent place it will be when it is complete! The yacht basin is surrounded by a landscape of various succulent cacti, bougainvillea and other flowering desert shrubs.

Boulevard with art walk

Sculpture along the boulevard

Marina office

A boulevard lined with artwork and sculpture, (the works of surrealist Leonora Carrington while we were there) and fringed with palm trees swishing in the breezes, leads the way to the marina office.

Surreal artwork by Leonora Carrington

As you enter the marina, there are two lovely little deserted white sand beaches between the inner and outer breakwaters. I was enchanted.

Deserted beach at sunrise

San Jose has a history of being a refuge. When the Spanish first came to the area in the 16th century, they found fresh water in the estuary and so later developed it as an important staging point for their Manila trade. The stout little galleons would load up with water before heading out into the Pacific with their trade goods. They must have been overjoyed to return there, with their great loads of gold and porcelain. Because of the abundance of fresh water, San Jose is very green and lush – a very welcome sight even for the modern day traveler - after the barren, dry and rock-strewn rest of the Baja! Ironically, and not the least bit surprising, even in those days Cabo San Lucas had an evil reputation as English pirates hid in the rocky bays to prey on these vulnerable ships.

When we arrived at the San Jose we were delighted to find Chirpy there. As I have mentioned before in this blog, Paul and Laura are from Deep Bay, just a few miles south of Comox. They gave us all the details of the place, drove us to the lavanderia in their rented car, offered to take us to Costco with them and lent us their bicycles. We sincerely appreciated their generosity.

We discovered that the marina was a 20+ minute walk into town and not the least bit convenient for provisioning.

Road entrance to the marina, lovely cactus gardens in the background

There was a small tienda nearby where I was able to buy some beer and cilantro, though they did have a small supply of other things. Nearby were a couple small cantinas. One night we went to Tommy Barefoots for dinner, joined by the crews of Blue Rodeo, Cloudy Bay and Chirpy, but were not impressed. If we wanted to have a good dinner out, we would have to walk into town.

On our first day, after dropping off our laundry, we headed to the outskirts of town to find the Soriana to reprovision with the idea of returning in a taxi. We never did find it and were quite tired walking on the busy highway with a dusty, narrow shoulders. However, we did come across a TelCel store and, on the recommendation of Paul from Chirpy and others along the way, bought an internet “dongle”. This device, which looks a lot like a USB memory key, connects to the Mexican cell phone system to provide the user with internet access. It cost $60 US to buy, then $40 US a month for 3 GB of time. There was a promotion on at the time that gave us our first month for free. We were incredibly impressed with the service we received. The Mexicans working in this store had reasonable English and were very eager to practice it with us. It was funny to hear us trying to use Spanish and them trying to use English.

Unfortunately, one very important bit of information did get missed in this fractured dialogue. We didn’t realize that we needed to “activate” the dongle as soon as we used it on our computer. The device allowed a little bit of free internet time to activate, but we used it to check our email. It stopped working and we didn’t know why. That meant, the next day we had to walk all the way back out to the TelCel store to find the answer. Once again, through broken communication, we discovered that the only way to fix it was to walk down the road to the customer service centre and pay another 30 pesos to reactivate the activation. The process was to use a cell phone to send an activation text message to TelCel. We didn’t have a cell phone that worked in Mexico. The messaging was all in Spanish. But there is a good part. Everyone we encountered did their utmost best to explain the situation and help us find the solution. We had customers waiting in line translating for us and employees trying hard to set us up so we would have no further problems. It was great – and – the dongle has worked ever since. (It is slow when there is limited cellphone coverage – but blisteringly fast where there is making for great Skyping).

After all this walking and talking, we really needed to have some beer. Don’t you agree? Well, guess what? The only micro brewery in the Baja is in San Jose!

Do you think there is any significance in this icon?

So we literally marched, well, ran, to the brewery from the TelCel to check out what they had to offer. This smartly decorated place, with a great outdoor eating area, had 7 brews on tap.

What a selection!

 Doug tried the Peliroja Red and I indulged in Escorpion Negro.

Wow! Deep, rich, satisfying, wonderful! We also had a fabulous lunch of grilled vegetable Panini and grilled beef over spinach salad. Heaven!

The day before we had discovered that San Jose also has a French baker! Within minutes of walking into the town we were seated in the French Riviera surrounded by every kind of French treat you would expect to find in an authentic patisserie.

French Riviera

We indulged in croissants that Doug said were “better than anything he had tasted since Paris” and, for those of you who know Doug, you will know that this was a great compliment.

Lattes and croissants in French patisseries on the Baja don’t come cheap, however, and is indicative of just how “well-heeled” the town of San Jose is. In little streets radiating around the town square you will find exquisite cafes and restaurants in incredibly beautiful settings such as old colonial-style houses painted in warm Mexican adobe colours, wrapped in blooming bougainvillea and enclosed with gorgeous ironwork grills and doors.

Lovely restaurant

Boutique hotel

Secret courtyard

Many floors are mosaics of colourful tiles with walls covered in artwork. The beauty spills out into the street and, as you wander along, you encounter one art gallery after another. In fact, on Thursday nights it is a tradition to enjoy the candlelit Art Walk.

It wasn’t difficult to fantasize about living in San Jose. I found it was essentially the same as it had been when I visited 12 years before, but more developed and more refined. It would be a genteel existence, but you would need to have the capital to go with it. And we were curious. Where were the Mexicans? Yes, we had seen some very wealthy Mexicans in our wanderings, but where did the locals shop and conduct their lives? I had noticed on a map there was a market, so we headed off in that direction. As we left the ornate and gilded streets behind, we started to see the other side of San Jose. Children, schools, busy families, little shops and tiendas lined the streets. We eventually found department stores and several outside cantinas. At lunchtime we passed El Fogon and couldn’t pass it by.

El Fogon consisted of a large outdoor kitchen and about 20 plastic tables and chairs. The walls were open to the air and the roof was ventilated with palapas. We were the only gringos there and only Spanish was written and read, but we managed to ascertain that their speciality was a swarma-like, slowly roasted spiced meat on a stick served in small soft corn tortillas. To say it was delicious is a total understatement!


We could have these little pieces of heaven 8 different ways. Between us we sampled 3 – one was called “gringas” another “vampira” and another “anchurra”. The waiter, after bringing us freezing cold cervesas, also delivered a platter with little dishes of raw onions, fresh chilis, salsa, cucumber, limon, guacamole, finely shredded cabbage and two different chili-type sauces. The meat, called pastor - a type of pork - came heaped up on the tortillas and we added what we wanted from the platter. The only trouble was there was no cutlery and I fumbled my food very badly, though managed not to leave a crumb by the time we were finished.

You get the idea - messy

I looked around at the Mexicans in the cantina to see how they fared without utensils and was astonished at their skill – kind of the equivalent of eating Chinese food with chopsticks. I guess you have to be born with a tortilla in your hand to do it right! I watched one very small man eat about 14 heaped tortillas, one after the other, without losing or smearing a single bit. I have never seen such an appetite, but could certainly understand it! I saw a very well dressed lady, with rings on her fingers, daintily eating her tortillas with pinky finger extended. Again – no mess. Hmmmmmmm. There is much to learn! Our whole lunch cost us approximately $12 US dollars. I am ashamed to say that I was so taken with my appetite and the whole cultural experience I did not take a single picture and had to borrow these ones from Google Images – even when we returned the next night with Mark and Lori from Thor. Mea Culpa!

Mark and Doug on the way to El Fogon

We did, eventually, do our provisioning at the Mega near the Hotel Zone. We found most everything we needed for the week we planned to take to get to La Paz. We took a taxi to get it all back to the boat and that cost $15 US dollars – not cheap. We picked up our laundry the next day and the cab ride back cost $10 US dollars.

Even the lavandaria was beautiful!

At the dock we did a thorough clean of the boat. Poor Ka’sala was absolutely crusty with salt and grit after her month without fresh water and we were very pleased to have her sparkling again. We also filled our water tanks – adding a couple tablespoons of bleach to each tank just in case. I was amazed to find we had almost half our water supply still available, and realized we didn’t have to be as frugal as we thought! I had really hated doing the dishes in salt water.

Early fishermen in local panga

Our time at San Jose had come to an end - time to find that perfect deserted bay with the white sand and warm water. We had been listening carefully to the weather, because we knew that rounding the East Cape could be very difficult, if not impossible, when the north wind and sea state kicked up. Additionally, we were looking forward to seeing Silas Crosby who had just left Cabo San Lucas. A window appeared and, at day break, we cast off the lines and, with Thor, headed out to sea for our 40 mile journey to Los Frailes.

Thor leaving Puerto los Cabos - an early morning departure

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