Balmy Baja California...or Mexico Lite?

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mexico  , Baja California,
Sunday, August 21, 2011

It takes an age for DF to disappear from view as you fly out of Benito Juarez airport – the cool, modern, spacious and thoroughly efficient start and end point for our Mexico City Adventure. Heathrow and LA International please take note – this is where you need to look if you are seeking an enviable airport role model…

From the air you get a good idea of how big this mega-city really is. It is not, like Hong Kong or Tokyo, one of these small areas of land where people are crammed in, literally on top of each other in high rise hutches, but more of a never-ending series small towns, with its 24 million inhabitants housed in low rise buildings that just seem to go on and on forever.

 By contrast, arriving in Baja California Sur is a totally different experience. After miles of barren desert and rocky mountain landscape you finally see the runway at Los Cabos International Airport, like an X marking the spot in the middle of nowhere. On arrival we go straight to the Thrifty car rental desk to be told by a friendly but very serious man that we should go outside of the terminal building and look for another Thrifty person in a Thrifty T shirt. Under no circumstances are we to talk to anyone else, any other car rental person, or any other friendly-looking person at all as they will definitely force us at gunpoint to buy a timeshare in the spring-break Tex-Mex Gringolandia hell that is Cabo San Lucas.

Terrified, we walk nervously  through the crowds of potential kidnappers, eyes fixed straight ahead, like two Clarice Starlings walking along death row, determined to ignore the psychopaths and murderers that line the route to the final meeting with destiny in the shape of Hannibal Lecter.

Of course ours is a final meeting with a nice Thrifty man called Cristian, and a white Volkswagen Jetta. Having survived the walk of death we are up for anything but are rather floored when Cristian tells us our pre-purchased insurance package is not valid in Mexico and we have to stump up another $200 or he won't let us have a car. OK, so we had thought it was a possibly too good a deal to be true at only 20 a day, but even so, this deals a mighty blow to any hopes of getting back on budget. "Just call the other insurance company and they will give you a refund, no problem" says nice, and now smug Cristian. Well, five days after e mailing them we have still had no reply…

Left with no choice we accept our fate and our nice, shiny white VW Jetta and after checking to make sure they don’t want it back as clean as it is now, we set off. It is 39.5C in the shade so we are very grateful for German engineering and what it means in terms of in-car aircon. All is going well until we are about 60 miles from our destination, the sleepy Mexican town of Todos Santos and the road runs out. Well, not literally but it turns to dirt. Pot-holed, rutted, rock-strewn dirt. And it stays like that with only brief and randomly intermittent periods of fabulously new tarmac, for about the next 50 miles.

I keep quiet. Colin remains remarkably calm. Bumper-less and dust-covered 4 x 4s hurtle past, their  drivers squinting through shattered windscreens  as we pootle along, desperate to avoid an insurance claim. Huge articulated trucks thunder over the uneven ground throwing dirt and stones everywhere, and still we pootle patiently along, feeling very small in our once white, and hopefully still scratch-free Jetta.

Eventually we make it unscathed to Casa Bentley, and despite our determination to take the owners to task for not having warned us about the road conditions and given us an alternative route, they are so welcoming, and so helpful, and the place is so idyllic, that we decide to leave it until later. Then they timidly ask if we would mind changing rooms the following day and swapping our “room” for their top suite, 1100 square feet of luxury, for no extra cost as they need ours for someone else. We really would be doing them, a favour. We take a peek and it’s a no brainer.  

We have quickly fallen into a gentle routine here at Casa Bentley. Up after sunrise, cup of tea,  breakfast in our sumptuous suite, followed by an hour or two on the sunny pool terrace, or in one of the shady cabanas, listening to the singing of birds playing in the lush gardens, or the regular thud of ripe mangoes falling into the undergrowth (just right for breakfast).

The village is small and old, and was first settled in the 18th century, with lots of restored original brick buildings, many of which now house art galleries, restaurants or boutique hotels. So far at least it  has resisted total “Cabonisation” (ie becoming another Los Cabos US enclave like San Jose and San Lucas) and retains some old Mexican Charm: Strangers who smile and who say “good-day”, street stalls selling home-made tacos and enchiladas, should you be feeling brave.

In a bid to get back on budget we have “Self-catered” most evenings, with salad and potatoes forming a major part of our diet, apart from our first night, when we were too tired to cook for ourselves. With every intention of finding a cheap local eatery and close to death from dehydration by the time we had walked the three blocks into the village centre, we had to go straight into the first air conditioned building we could find, which happened to be the rather upmarket restaurant of the  “Hotel California” (which claims to be the eponymous one, a claim vehemently denied by those in the know), where a one course meal with water (sparkling) set us back an entire day’s budget.

On the drinking front we have found our preferred bar (unsurprisingly none of those recommended in any guide book or indeed by the hotel owners), tempted in by a large sign that reads: ”Ice cold beer on draft”. I know, hard to believe we should fall for such a basic advertising gimmick. It is called “Shut up Frank’s”. Originally called Frank’s until one of the locals got so fed up with Frank’s inability to keep quiet for any length of time, he vandalised the bar when Frank was out of town, scrawling “shut up” on the sign. And the name stuck.

It was in Shut up Frank’s that we make the acquaintance of a Canadian ex-cowboy called Panama who loves us because “I’m a Campbell, and I have the old country right here *indicates his heart*, and my mom is English and looks just like the old queen Mom”. He is jolly and gentle and charming and says “WOW” with big wide eyes when you tell him something new, often something that you think everyone knows already. He has Eight dogs and four cats, a chicken (that he hatched himself on top of his stove after its mother died) called “Peep” cos that’s the sound he made when I helped him peck his way out of his shell, peep-peep, peep-peep”, and a huge bull called Ferdinand, that he insists is as gentle as a baby. He keeps inviting us to come and ride Ferdinand, as it would make a great photo. Hmmmm… so far we have managed to resist. He also has a Mexican wife who lives on the “mainland” (That’s what Mexicans on the Baja California Peninsula call the main part of Mexico, East of the Sea of Cortes), while he lives here in Todos Santos,  which suits him just fine.

We are totally chilled here. So much so that we have failed utterly to see any of the surrounding contryside, and have not even been to the beach. Tomorrow we leave to return to Los Angeles for a week in beautiful Laguna Beach. So right now we are going to try to see the beach at Los Cerritos, about 8 miles away as it is supposed to be wild and beautiful. So until Laguna, Hasta luego!
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Annie on

Sounds idyllic!

Patsy Dunne on

OK, I really am jealous now! Enjoying the trip vicariously – it looks such fun. keep well – and solvent... Pxxx

Nanci on

Todos Santos is one of our favorite day trips from Cabo where we live. When driving the Baja we always try to stop in Todos Santos for lunch at the Todos Santos Cafe. Included is a stroll through downtown, the art studios and shops.

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