Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring break down south

Dan and I are back after a week of exploring Baja California Sur, where we celebrated his birthday and escaped for spring break. Spring, hooray! I took advantage of a fare sale a few months ago and am so glad I did. Baja California is very different from the Yucatan Peninsula, and it was interesting to see another part of Mexico. We flew into Los Cabos and drove through the desert landscape, including a bumpy ride on a winding dirt road, to the quiet seaside village of Cabo Pulmo.

After a dinner of guacamole, fish tacos and lobster chile relleno, we walked down a path toward the beach, trying to find the market. Cabo Pulmo is off the grid, and there are no streetlights after dark...or streets, really...just dirt paths. We were admiring the amazing display of stars in the sky when a barking dog approached, but we could barely see in the darkness. I got so scared and managed to duck into the fence of a nearby house! Luckily the person staying there heard the dog too, and did not mind us intruding. He turned out to be a scientist visiting from La Paz (where we were going next) to tag sharks in the Sea of Cortez, very cool. He was so nice and gave us a ride safely past the still barking dog, dropping us off at the restaurant. Quite an adventure for our first night! When we returned to the market the next day, the dog was nowhere to be seen. It was probably just protecting its territory in the dark, but yikes! Usually the dogs we encounter while traveling are friendly or just sleeping.

After breakfast the next morning, we drove down another dirt road to Playa Los Arbolitos, a beautiful beach south of town.

View of Playa Los Arbolitos
Playa Los Arbolitos

From here, we hiked along the rocks to Playa La Sirenita, apparently also known as Dinosaur Egg Beach...maybe because the big round rocks look like dinosaur eggs. The beach was empty when we got there, and we snorkeled in the Sea of Cortez. We saw a lot of fish, including many moorish idols (Gill from Finding Nemo), a few long skinny coronetfish (I think), a sea star, and corals...visibility was so-so. A few tour boats arrived to snorkel too...guess it was the spot!

Dan hiking
Dan hiking

Playa La Sirenita
Playa La Sirenita

Rock formations at Playa La Sirenita
Interesting rock formations

After snorkeling, we hiked back to Playa Los Arbolitos, and went back to town for lunch at La Palapa, which is right on the beach. (Again passing the scene of the barking dog, but luckily the culprit was nowhere to be found.) There was still some fog on the water...we were told it was the first foggy day in many months...guess it followed us from San Francisco...but the fog lifted by the time we finished lunch, and we took a walk on the beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading, relaxing, and enjoying the view from the hilltop house where we stayed. Then we went to Tito's for their Saturday night buffet!

Dan & Carol on Playa Los Arbolitos
Post-snorkel and hikes

Beachside lunch at La Palapa
Lunch at La Palapa

Walk on the beach
Walk on the beach after lunch

View from hilltop house in the afternoon
View from the hilltop house

The next morning we hiked a trail near the hilltop house that lead to some great views of the bays of Cabo Pulmo. Lots of cacti, bare trees, also saw some birds and jackrabbits.

Cacti on the trial
Cacti on the trail

Panoramic Coyote Loop
View from the mountains

Then we were off to La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur. I did not realize we would be driving through the mountains to get seemed every few meters was another sign warning dangerous curve ahead...I was holding on tight the entire journey! But we arrived safely, had fish tacos for lunch, and explored the city in the afternoon. We walked along the water on the malecon and observed there are many ice cream shops in La Paz, which made me quite happy. Dan loved the thick waffle cones, and we also had refreshing tropical fruit paletas (popsicles) many times during our trip. Mmm.

On the malecon
On the malecon

Popsicle time
Popsicle time

La Fuente
La Fuente

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and ebleskiver (spherical Danish pancakes) on the patio at Casa Tuscany Inn, and went on boat ride to Isla Espiritu Santo to swim with the sea lions. We saw several humpback whales along the way, and passed through a narrow channel where the rock has separated from the island. We also saw manta rays jumping out of the water, then belly-flopping down, plop! So funny. Then we arrived at the sea lion colony...hundreds of sea lions, swimming, sunbathing, and barking noisily. The water was cold at first, and I got stung by a jellyfish, but it was worth it! We swam among schools of sardines, literally swirling walls of tiny silver fish, and saw huge sea bass and other fish down below them, and the sea lions swam all around us. We also played with a juvenile sea lion, the pups are very playful. It was an incredible experience.

Carol & Dan on the boat
On the boat

Approaching the divide
Approaching the divide

Sedimentary layers
Isla Espiritu Santo

Sea lions!
Sea lion colony

Sunbathing sea lions
Sunbathing on the rocks

Afterwards, we stopped for lunch at Ensenada Grande, a gorgeous beach. Lunch was prepared by the guide and boat captain...guacamole, ceviche, and ham sammiches!

Panoramic Ensenada Grande
Ensenada Grande

Dan & Carol at Ensenada Grande
Ready for lunch

Boat at Ensenada Grande
The boat

After lunch, we saw dolphins! I got up to the front of the boat, and they were so close...inches was amazing. They jump out of the water so quickly, I didn't try to get a photo. The guide also showed us some interesting rock formations, including a scary face and a profile with a hooked nose, and we passed an old pearl farm. The tide was too low to go into the mangrove canals, but we did see a couple of goats...the guide said they can drink the salt water! And the captain showed us a puffed up pufferfish, so funny looking. Then it was back to La Paz. What a great trip! (Of course we had ice cream afterwards.)

The next morning we visited Ibarra Pottery, where we watched them make and paint clay pottery by hand, then headed back to the malecon for tacos and giant chocolate clams! Yum. During lunch we noticed some police and big fancy cars on the street, as well several body guards around and in the restaurant. Dan asked about it, and our waiter said the governor of the state was there, meeting with other government officials, as it was the first day of the new government. We didn't know which one was the governor though, but I did see some important-looking men leave the restaurant and get into a big car.

Almeja chocolata
Almeja chocolata

Then it was off to Todos Santos on the Pacific coast! The drive was much quicker and smoother, and thankfully no curvas peligrosas. This area is much more verdant compared to the desert landscape on the east...our room at Casablanca B & B overlooked a valley full of palm trees. After enjoying drinks and snacks on the patio, we headed to the beach. On the path we passed by La Poza, a freshwater lagoon, where there are supposed to be many birds, but we saw mostly coots...but later on our way back we also saw a bobcat! There was nobody on the beach, just us, the turkey vultures, and a few pelicans flying over us. The surf was incredible, huge crashing waves.

Sierra de la Laguna
Palm oasis

Coots in La Poza
La Poza

Playa Las Pocitas
Playa Las Pocitas

We had dinner in town at Tre Galline, an Italian restaurant, where we were treated to polenta with gorgonzola to start...mmm, then we had a lovely eggplant, tomato and mozzerella appetizer, and I had handmade spaghetti with sardines and anchovies, so delicious! It was the second time we had a scrumptious Italian meal in Mexico; the first time was three years ago at Piedra Escondida in Tulum. Apparently a lot of Europeans are settling in Todos Santos, in addition to Americans.

The next morning we were treated to the first of three incredible breakfasts at Casablanca B & B and Isabel and Gabriel, the hosts. We awoke to a tray of coffee with homemade almond cookies and two kinds of biscotti outside our door. Breakfast was on the patio overlooking the beautiful garden and the Pacific Ocean, and we spotted woodpeckers and other birds each morning. We started with a huge platter of tropical fruit, including amazingly sweet mangos and caramelized bananas drizzled with honey and cinnamon...then there was fresh yogurt with homemade granola...then freshly baked scones with two kinds of homemade preserves...oh and a cappucino...then the savory course...baklava with mushrooms with cheese, with asparagus wrapped in pancetta. It was the most amazing breakfast I've ever had, and in such a gorgeous setting. Sadly, I didn't have my camera to document the deliciousness. I was too busy eating. After breakfast Isabel gave us a tour of the garden, and showed us the dried chiles she was preparing for the enchilada sauce for the next day's breakfast. (Which proved to be amazing!)

Then we went into town to explore, stopping first at the farmers market at La Esquina, which felt like being back in San Francisco again. Todos Santos is an interesting place. The historic district is filled with restored old brick buildings, with many art galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants. There are so many foreigners, it almost doesn't feel like being in Mexico! But then a block away from the historic district, it feels like Mexico again, with taco stands and mini supers. Todos Santos was designated a Pueblo Magico (magical town) a few years ago, and it was the second one we visited in Mexico. I definitely sensed a magical feel when I went to Izamal in the Yucatan, it felt like an old place that had not changed...Todos Santos seems more of an expatriate community.

Dan observing cactus flowers
Dan checks out cactus flowers

Colors at Galeria Logan

In the doorway
Mosaic gate at Galeria Logan

Gazebo in the town square

Bicycle painting
Dan liked the bicycle painting

Dan in Todos Santos
Brick building with saint statue looking down

Door with carvings
Gate with carvings at Caffe Todos Santos

In the afternoon we headed to Playa Las Palmas, a secluded beach south of town. The Pacific Ocean was too cold to swim in, but I napped under the beach umbrella while Dan read his book. We relaxed some more at Casablanca B & B before a sunset walk on Playa Las Pocitas.

After another amazing breakfast the next morning we looked for shells on the beach, and I saw an osprey catch a fish in the ocean! Then we went for a bike ride through town, to the beach on the other side. We rode by some noisy roosters, a burro, cows and horses...passed by the baseball stadium, spotted a gallery outside of town, and of course stopped for ice cream and popsicles.

Panoramic horseback rider
Horseback rider on the beach

Later in the afternoon we went to Punta Lobos to see the fishing boats come back to shore. We were too late, and fishermen were already selling their catches of the day.

Fish market
Fish market on the beach

After our final breakfast, it was time to head to the airport! We drove through Cabo San Lucas and stopped at Playa Palmilla, where I went for one last swim in the Sea of Cortez with the pelicans.

Playa Palmilla
Playa Palmilla

And then it was time to go home! The week flew by, and we had a wonderful time. Hard to believe I will be back at school tomorrow!


snoopyjoanne said...

WOW!!! what an amazing description of an amazing vacation!!! :) im glad you left no details out, esp of the food. i thought the giant chocolate clams would be huge chocolate candies shaped like clams :( also i was hoping for a beagle sighting ;P nonetheless what a fabulous vacation :) living vicariously thru you... great pics too!

feiane (fe-yan) said...

that was a vacation blast!... i love looking on your photos... i love the beaches... food looks yummy... the place is so amazing...everything is so perfect...



Fun Pen said...

Beautiful Pics! And the food looks mouthwatering!

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