We made it to San Jose Cabo, Mexico. Just. It was a Mexican miracle. Four very hung-over human beings, running through LAX after realising our tired eyes had read the departure screens incorrectly. Somebody had thought it was a good idea to schedule a 10:18am flight and then a 10:20am flight – both going to Cabo but in different parts of the airport. Of course we were in the wrong place. But with our bags already loaded, they had to wait for us. So we made it and that’s all that matters.
Our three hour transfer from the airport to our first destination in Mexico – La Paz – was like something out of a Mexican movie. Brown desert, dusty highways, huge cactus (or cacti) across a backdrop of mountains. The four of us kept drifting in and out of sleep looking out the window. Vegas had taken its toll on us and we were looking forward to relaxing. After dragging our bags through the unlevelled backstreets of La Paz (where street signs seemed non-existent) and a couple of attempts at asking for directions – I started to realise how little Spanish I knew. And by very little I mean only what Dora the Explorer (“Hola!”) or Pitbull (“Un, dos, tres…”) had taught me. Thankfully Aaron had learnt some basics.
La Paz is a small coastal city, about 3 hours north of Cabo San Lucas with a population of around 300’000 people. It’s mainly known for its nice beaches, sports fishing and its many nearby islands for snorkelling and sea lion encounters. We had picked it looking for something a bit more authentic, as most of the central and northern regions are no-go zones because of the drug cartels.
For our first evening in Mexico we of course had to have a Mexican feast. Despite quality food, the most memorable part of the night was when a middle aged gentleman serenaded us with traditional Mexican music. It was goose-bump material and one of those moments where I felt extremely blessed for what lay ahead of us (the next 5 months that is, not the bountiful amounts of burritos and tostadas we were about to devour).
The next day, we split ways with Lenka and Craig who took a day trip out to the Isle Espiritu Santo for fun in the sun, whilst Aaron and I explored the Malecon area of La Paz. The Malecon is a 5km boardwalk the length of the main beach that has a very wide tiled path with impressive statues created by local artists every few hundred metres or so. It was a beautiful walk in the day, but the Malecon comes alive in the evenings. You need to dodge and weave through the people and families walking, riding their bikes, riding skateboards and walking their dogs. And we were surprised to find out that 90% of these people are locals, not tourists, out enjoying a gift from their government.
A few quiet beers on the beach to watch the sun set and then another Mexican feast shared with Lenka and Craig. And didn’t we find a little gem in the backstreets called La Fonda. Oh my goodness…. the best guacamole EVER! A banquet of tasty traditional Mexican delights and plenty of icy cold Coronas for a price we just could not believe. This ensured we left a substantial tip for our very kind Spanish-speaking waitress.
The next morning, Aaron and I were up before the sun was, to go on something I had been looking forward to for a long time – a fishing expedition in the Sea of Cortez. I love going fishing back home. It’s the whole experience I enjoy; packing the picnic food and drink to take out with us, feeling like you are removed momentarily from life on land and having conversations with family. And of course the excitement of pulling a fish in (and nearly all the time throwing it back in because it is too small).
The Sea of Cortez is known for its incredible sports fishing and we found an extremely reputable contact through TripAdvisor – Jonathan Roland at Tailhunter International. A Hawaiian-born Los Angeles native who became disillusioned with his life as a lawyer and decided one day to pack it all in and disappear into Mexico. Down to his last $20 and using his limited Spanish he helped a couple of tourists coordinate a fishing tour with one of the locals – and thought he could make something of this. 15 years later and he has become a bit of a local legend. He was there in the office when we booked the day before and he was there at 5am with our packed breakfast making sure we made it. We shared the hour bus ride with two middle-aged brothers from Alaska who have been coming to La Paz twice a year for 10 years (all through Jonathan at Tailhunters). We pulled into a fishing cove just as the sun was coming up, the outline of the cactus reminding us where we are.
The Alaskan brothers tell us it looks like Aaron and I have Victor as our captain for the day. They enthusiastically tell us he is one of the best captains in the region. We later find out he was the local fisherman Jonathan started with all those years ago. Victor doesn’t give us much of a greeting except motioning for Aaron to hurry up and help him carry on gear onto our little boat.
No time is wasted and Victor quickly gets us out to an area where he must know there is something around. He sets us both up with a rod, but interestingly not with any bait at all just a big bright lure. For about 45 minutes Victor winds the boat around in a figure eight at about ten knots, whilst Aaron and I are sitting with our rods out the back in the big white wash our boat is making. The pull on our lines from the speed of the boat is the usual feeling we get when fish are nibbling back home, so we are a bit unsure with what we should be feeling. Aaron thinks he feels something, so starts reeling it in – but Victor yells out and tells Aaron there is nothing there. About 20 minutes later we realise we were going to know when there was a fish because the pull of it would rip your arm off. Aaron was putting on sunscreen when his rod got yanked like I have never seen before, and it was game on. There was about 20 solid seconds of pulling and tension like the rod was going to snap. Eventually the line does break and we would later find out that this would be a great ‘one that got away’ stories.
Victor took us over to another beautiful fishing spot, where for a couple of hours we soaked in the sun and excitedly reeled in 6 Seabass, 1 Pargo and 2 birds between us. The fish were huge and you had to work for it to reel them in. The birds part however, was just plain distressing. I was reeling one in thinking this is a huge fish, only for Victor to point out to me, I had bagged a big pelican-like bird about 50 meters away. They circle the area where the fish are, waiting to dive in and grab them. Unfortunately they sometimes take the line and hook as well. Too much for me, so I handed the rod to Victor who slowly reeled in the bird, pulled it out of the water and de-hooked it. Not 5 minutes later, Aaron had caught a bird as well – but this one was trying to fly away. It was like a comedy movie or cartoon. Eventually Victor dragged him in and I can happily report that both our bird friends survived the encounter.
Back at shore, we watch Victor gut our fish and we pick out two for us to have for dinner back at the Tailhunter Restaurant that night. We give the rest to Victor to enjoy with his family. As I was walking up the shore, I hear a loud voice project out to us “you’re a couple of weeks late” in a strong American twang ascent. I thought I was in a movie, but then an American guy called Hawk who has retired in La Paz introduced himself. He was referring to the Wahu fish season coming to an end a few weeks back. The Wahu fish is the most prized catch in La Paz, and Hawk informs us (via translation from Victor), that this is the fish that got away from Aaron (and took Victors $20 lure!). We were sure to tip Victor for this. We were happy to walk along the shore and see the Alaskan brothers had managed to catch one of the mighty Wahu. And another fishing boat further round had pulled in a dozen sharks. Lucky we didn’t go for a dip off the boat!
That evening we wandered down the Malecon to the Tailhunters Restaurant to eat our catch. You could pick from a number of ways to have it cooked and served. It was hands down the best fish we have ever eaten (apparently Seabass is really good tasting fish), but I think the fact we pulled it in ourselves, made it all the more special.
The next day we caught a bus down to Cabo San Lucas about 3 ½ hours south west of La Paz. The travel guides will tell you it is a play-ground for the rich and famous (apparently Jennifer Anniston’s annual holiday destination). What we found was the 51st state of America full of Spring-Break run-off and middle class American families who’ve already been to Florida and San Diego on holiday. The menus were in English and payment in USD was quite often preferred. It seemed a long way from La Paz.
The nightlife was crazy and we did manage to have one big last hurrah with Lenka and Craig before they headed back to the USA and home to Australia. We found a little place on the Marina with an interesting happy hour offer “9pm to 12am – Ladies drink free!!!” Thinking this was a tourist trap, we checked with the waiter – who confirmed that everything on the drinks menu (including cocktails, but not high-end tequila) was available. We had no choice but to take them up. Things got very messy very quickly, and all of a sudden it was time to say our goodbyes to Lenka and Craig. It had been a blast.
We’ll call the next day a rest and recovery day, before we got out and explored the real Cabo San Lucas. While the touristy elements might have been disappointing, the natural beauty was nothing short of spectacular. Cabo is known for one specific natural wonder – El Arco (The Arc or Land’s End). It is where the 1200km Baja California peninsula finally drops into the Pacific Ocean. The most south-western point of Mexico. Over thousands of years the movement of the water has shaped a perfect arch – an imaginary point dividing the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.
* The two photos above were taken 5 seconds apart, showing the enormous volume of water moving around the Land’s End.
We take a boat ride out for a close up view. It is phenomenal. Even on a beautiful sunny day the Pacific Ocean is rumbling and crashing into the ‘Land’s End’ with amazing force. We get dropped off on the bay side for a swim and are warned that if we go exploring on the Pacific side don’t go anywhere near the water. Aaron assumes this is for Spring Break kids from Kansas who have never seen the ocean before, but there are signs everywhere in a multitude of languages warning of the danger.
It is amazing to stand on the edge and look south-west with the thought that between us and the Great Barrier Reef there is a scattering of islands and 10’000 kilometres of Pacific Ocean. Amazingly, this is as close to home as we will be for 5 months.