We were both very excited when our moms got together and made a decision to come and visit us in Baja! For them it was their first time visiting Mexico. For us it was our chance to personally show them a bit of our life in Mexico and share with them what makes Baja California Sur so special. In addition we missed them dearly and were looking forward to having them all to ourselves for a week of fun!
Mexico if you haven’t been paying attention is huge! It has 31 states and one Federal District (Mexico City similar to the United States Washington DC) and is home to the world’s largest population of Spanish speakers. Our current location, La Paz located on Baja California’s finger, is the worlds third-longest peninsula separated from the rest of the country by the Sea of Cortez. The peninsula is about 1/3 the size of California and consists of two states, Baja California (located right below California) and Baja California Sur (B.C.S. – located about half way down the finger to the very tip of the peninsula). The state of Baja California Sur has an estimated population of 480,000 with the population of its capital city La Paz, at about 220,000.
La Paz is known as the Pearl of The Sea. Pearls were very common in the Sea of Cortez for many years until the supply had been over exploited and depleted. However, rumor has it you can still find them just not as frequently as before. There is a farm in Guaymas dedicated to cultivating Pearls that were once natural to the sea. John Steinbeck also wrote a book called The Pearl and the setting for that book takes place in La Paz.
We rented a car and drove the 2.5 hours from the city of La Paz South to the airport at San Jose Del Cabo to pick up our moms. La Paz has an airport of its own but had recently canceled flights from LAX to LAP. Instead visitors must either fly to Mexico City and reroute to La Paz or fly to San Jose del Cabo, then drive or hop a bus the rest of the way to La Paz. We’ve taken the Ecobaja Tour Bus to and from the SJD and La Paz numerous times. The buses are comfortable, have air conditioning, Internet and sometimes a movie (in English with Spanish Subtitles).
It was our first time driving in Mexico with a rental car. Driving in Mexico is basically the same as driving anywhere else, with a few exceptions. Under Mexican law the person in front of you has the right away no matter what they do, except when someone is passing. In that case you must allow them to pass safely and give up your right away. Turn signals are generally used (or not used) as indication for a turn. However, a left blinking turn signal can also mean it is ok to pass me if you want, and a right blinking turn signal could mean I’m looking out for you and it’s not ok for you to pass. Or it could mean nothing at all! Four way stops called Cautro Altos, are suggested but many do a casual slow roll through the intersection if there is no reason to stop.
After the airport pick up in San Jose del Cabo, we drove to the nearest Starbucks and had a quick lunch with coffee. The moms sent their reports home back to the dads, they had arrived and we were already enjoying each others company. We stopped at Mega a popular large grocery store in San Jose del Cabo, to pick up some provisions for our week long stay, and the ride back to La Paz.
On the way back to La Paz we took the scenic route on Hwy 1, driving through the mountains and country side. While both options for roads back to La Paz are paved and fine driving, the biggest hazard is watching out for fallen rocks, and livestock. This just means driving a little slower around corners and blind curves in the event a cow or donkey be unexpectedly standing in your path.
We took a moment to stretch our legs and admire one of the many shrines that are frequently seen on the roadsides.
Back in La Paz, we rented a casita (little house) to make our moms feel more at home. The Casita had all of the amenities of a traditional American home decorated with a contemporary Mexican flare. Enough bedrooms allowed each of us to have our own room, so we decided to join our moms and take a mini vacation away from Maluhia.
There was also a magnificent pool and public area located right next door. Not to mention the casita offered its inhabitants a stunning view of the Bay of La Paz with a prime location for viewing its marvelous sunsets.
We gave our moms a personal tour around La Paz. The cities name, La Paz literally means peace in Spanish. What makes La Paz special is that it is not a beach resort with all inclusive hotels, or a cruise ship port like you find in Cabo San Lucas. It is the antipode, a peaceful tranquil city with local markets, lively squares, beautiful beaches and friendly people surrounded by desert that meets the sea. We took a stroll at night along the Malecón a 3 mile long boardwalk along the water front. We observed many families, dog walkers, and bike riders out for the evening. Along the Malecón are many small souvenir shops and restaurants.
The Velasco Garden or cities main square is the heart of el centro (the downtown). On one side of the garden is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de La Paz built in 1861 by Dominican priests on the site of the cities original Jesuit mission.
On the other side of the garden is the former Palacio de Gobierno which is now the site of the Regional History Library of the Californias. Inside the library we enjoyed looking at a display of traditional style Mexican wedding dresses across the country and a photography installment of Holy Saturday activities in San Carlos.
The best beaches of La Paz are not located along the Malecón but just a short drive North (or Sail) puts you on some of the best beaches in Baja. We took our moms out on Maluhia for a short day sail to Bahia Balandra. The Sea of Cortez was famously visited by French oceanographer and diver Jacques Cousteau who called it “the aquarium of the World.” More than 850 species of marine life make their home in the Sea making it a year round diving paradise. Giant Manta Rays, whale sharks, hammer head sharks, colonies of sea lions, dolphin pods, humpback, blue, sperm fin and seasonal migrating gray whales as well as seabirds are all common sightings.
On land again, we took a walk out to the end of a pier near a swimming beach. The wind picked up briefly and my mom’s hat flew graciously off her head through the air and into the water. All 4 of us stood solemnly on the pier watching it slowly float under the surface. Just then a head popped out from under the pier and looked up and pointed to the hat. I excitedly jumped up and down and told the swimmer I would meet him on the beach. The swimmer grabbed my mom’s hat and we met back on shore. I thanked him! My mom’s hat was saved!
One of our last days in La Paz we took a night and went out for my birthday! We celebrated with birthday flan and had a trio of traveling mariachi band members sing a song to our mothers. A mariachi band is traditionally a group of 4 or more musicians that wear charro suits, however in La Paz we don’t see people dressed in charros that often. The group will travel freely from restaurant to restaurant politely asking each table if they would like music. It is customary to tip the group after a song.
We drove our moms back to San Jose del Cabo the night before their flight home because they were leaving super early in the morning. Hwy 19 travels through Todos Santos so we made a lunch stop at this quaint little town along the way. We observed local crafts, architecture, and sampled local food and tequila. It is rumored that the Hotel California found in Todos Santos is the same Hotel California referenced in a song by the Eagles, however I’ve heard stories both for and against this claim.
The morning of the departure we drove the moms to the airport and made sure they got on the correct flight. We were sad to send them back to Iowa but we knew there were people who missed them there too! Spending time together in person was much different than talking on the phone and we were happy to have them for a week all to ourselves! One week certainly wasn’t long enough to show them everything La Paz has to offer. Of course, there’s always the next visit to look forward to!