Arriving into Todos Santos brought a familiar sense of comfort as I’ve been coming here for 7 years now and both know & love this little town. I had called my friends James from just outside La Paz to see if he’d had lunch yet I was starving and both towns have great taco stands he said wait he had a new fish taco place to show me, well that’s all I needed to hear as I headed to James place to pick him up I could almost taste those fish taco’s.
Todos Santos is a nice small artist town that was put on the map over 20 years with Charles Stewart moving there from Taos now there are many galleries & artist who call Todos home it has a nice mix off both local Mexican and Gringo artist from all over the world who’s works are displayed around town.
Todos Santos received the “Pueblo Magical” designation a few years ago this brought international recognition and much needed money from the Federal Government to make improvements to the town. Tourist from Cabo & La Paz flock here daily to eat lunch, shop at the many stores and galleries and walk around the village soaking up the atmosphere. The one thing almost everyone has heard of in town is the Hotel California and no the 70’s era rock band the Eagles claim to have never been in town but the locals don’t believe that for a minute you might here the famous song around town in many bars.
Back to my quest for fish tacos, there are many local street carts or small palapa restaurants around town all serving up local fresh caught fish & shrimp tacos and tortas plus the usual array of grilled beef, chicken & pork.
James told me Taco Georges had moved to a nicer sitting street side place just off the main street. The second you walk under the thatched palapa roof your senses come alive with the sights smells and sounds of the local street vibe with incredible array of colors and food around you. Sticking to my plan I order my usual 2 Cameron (shrimp) and 1 fish tacos. They bring over a basket of chips and 2 cold Pacifico’s and we dive into the fresh Pico de gallo. I could eat this stuff everyday and usually do on just about everything I eat except for cold cereal. If you haven’t tasted fresh pico you haven’t lived and it’s so simple to make, chop up a few local tomatoes, cilantro, onions, fresh limejuice and salt.
After lunch I head out to Cerritos Beach to kick back and see how the building boom is doing out there. There has been a slow steady drum of construction now for several years as more and more folks have discovered the area. You’re an hour away from to 2 major airports yet far enough away that you feel like you’re in old Mexico.
It’s one of the few good swimming beaches in the area as the Pacific is very strong here with currents that demand your respect if your not familiar with these waters. The real attraction is surfing and as always there’s great beach action to enjoy with another cold Pacifico from the beach bar, how cool is it to sit in a plush beach chair in the sand under an umbrella and while away the afternoon while being served cold beer whenever you want it, they have live music on the weekends. This place is still so laid back I hope it never changes.
Well it was nice to visit old friends and see my property; we built a bodega a few years back and have been steadily filling it up with stuff from Oregon. We have accumulated so much stuff, beach chairs, cloth’s, bbq, towels, etc. that we would have never been able to fly with it all so this trip was a great chance to reclaim it all, I emptied out the contents into my car and headed back towards La Paz to catch the night ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Los Mochis. The ferry is large ship, which can hold hundreds of passengers and 100 or more large semi-trucks and cars, etc.
You wait in line for customs as your heading into mainland Mexico and Baja has always been treated differently for customs as they really don’t check much at the TJ border or military checkpoints, there main interest is stopping drugs moving north. Every person or vehicle is stopped and must show your papers and they ask you what your bringing into Mexico and their likely to search your car, they give me a light once over and move me along pretty easy really. The real trip was driving up the ramp with my SUV they pack all of the trucks and cars like sardines in a can but with very specific weight distribution guidelines. You park and squeeze out and walk up the several flights of stairs and escalators to the main deck. They have 2 huge dining rooms with TV’s everywhere showing movies, soccer, and video games and of course a big bar. There’s a scramble to find a good seat for the all night crossing. You can purchase a private berth with a bed and bathroom for another $50. It cost me $170 US for the car and driver. The ship has several topside decks allowing you to move around if you want. Pretty easy crossing in hindsight I wish I had gotten a berth, I got real sleepy and most of the good loungers where gone when I got topside and everyone was sprawled out sleeping or resting.
As you depart the ferry it becomes fast paced, as everyone is raring to go. As you get off you go thru another military checkpoint and I get pick out for another inspection. My papers are good but I was concerned about the fact that the guy who owns the car wasn’t with me and technically he’s supposed to be in the car as per the Mexican foreign import car permitting. In Mexico if a local Mexican gets stopped driving a gringos car it will most certainly get impounded and you might never see it again but they usually just wave all gringos thru checkpoints. There has been a very concerted effort by the Mexican Government to try to make moving and buying here a better experience for foreigners, they realize what a huge cash cow we all are to their continued growth. Several US research groups have identified that as many as 26 million baby boomers from the US & Canada will be looking to move to Mexico over the next 20 years seeking a higher standard of living than they can afford up north.
They usually don’t mess with gringos has been my experience. Sure enough I get a guy who’s a stickler for rules and he knows he got me dead to rights, I have a letter of permission from Honda Credit, copies of Joes passport & drivers license, the shipping manifest from Hawaii. I should back up here and tell I’m driving a car just off the boat from Hawaii the guy who owns it has a New York driver’s license with a title & plates from Hawaii. So you can imagine their curiosity with me and all of my confusing at least to them paperwork. Mexico is fighting a big war here on stolen cars from the US so I must have looked like a potential bad guy with different paperwork. I do pride myself on being able to talk my way out of most things and this would be a test. Pretty soon I’m dealing with the Captain and he’s not pleased with me at all. His English is good enough so we can get on with it. I tell again that Joe was with me but he got hurt body surfing in Baja and flew ahead to Cancun as his back was killing him and he couldn’t possibly make the 5-6 days of driving in the car. I had ask Joe ahead of time for just such a letter in case I got stopped but he never emailed to me to print off. I understand their mindset about rules and the opportunity to negotiate a fine or mordia. We started off at $1,000 US and they wouldn’t impound the car, which they could have done, after 2 hours we were down to $250, and I promised to fly right and scold Joe for putting me at risk. It was all pretty civilized and I was at fault if it hadn’t been such a busy shipping day for commercial trucks I might have gotten out of there in 20 minutes.
So back on the road heading to Mazatlan, which is 3-4 hours away and beachside lunch if I push it. Once again the roads are excellent heading south a mixture of toll (cuota) roads and libre (free) or regular highways. The scenery is pleasant and you go thru lots of farmland with occasional glimpses of the ocean. Finding gas anywhere in Mexico now is easy, as there seems to be a Pemex station every few miles, there all clean and easy to navigate the buying process, most will accept your credit or debit cards now and it’s all quite secure. There remains the occasional issue about whether the calibration might be off as I once paid for more gas than my car tank could hold and I was standing there the whole time so there was no funny business going on with the gas attendant. Each station is privately owned and most have a toll free number to call if you have any complaints about the service or other issues. For the most part fraud is dis-appearing from the whole gas station experience in the old days they could switch the handle on & off or pretend to make the wrong change. You still need to pay close attention but with computerized pumping just like in the states that has gone away and Pemex truly wants to stop the bad practices I believe.
Mazatlan is a major shipping port and large city that has a large ex-pat community with lots of waterfront high-rise condos and gringo communities with golf courses up and down the coast. Frankly it’s way too big for my taste.
As I enter the city I feel like I’m in a big town with the traffic all hurrying around just like you’d expect and I’m ready to stop and have lunch and unwind for a bit before I get back on the road towards Sayulita my destination for tonight.
This part of the trip has been highly anticipated and thought out as I want to go slow as I get to the Riviera Nayarit which is a 120 mile stretch of coastline of many small towns or villages with dozens of little bays to draw you down to the water. Each one has RV parks, small hotels and local rentals, plenty of local restaurants and of course beachside restaurants.
This was the area we first fell in love with over 20 years ago on our first to Mexico, we stayed at the Marriott in Puerto Vallarta and spent most of our time exploring areas out the city like Punta Mita and Sayulita which were just starting to take off back then. Somehow with our many trips to Mexico and buying land we just didn’t get back here. I like the fact that you have foothills and farmland sloping down the beautiful beaches and bays. So you can be in the mountains with jungle or farms or cliffs looking down the coast. After living in Hawaii for 15 years at 3,000-foot elevation we learned to love being in the hills where it’s cooler and more private. We want to have room to roam, dogs, cats and gardens to die for, I also like to create water features to make my own ocean noises. Here’s the thing, for us we don’t need to wake up to see the water, it’s always around you when you live here just like back in Hawaii.
I split my 2 nights between Sayulita and Rincon de Guayabitos to see what real estate prices and listings looked like. Sayulita has become a little Aspen of sorts but is still very charming even if over priced for some things. The beach and surf are epic as is the food the locals are very friendly and outgoing just as I remembered.
I had one the best breakfast’s in my life there at Café El Espresso Sayulita a local hangout with wifi and great coffee. Incredibly good food, I ordered the Chilaquiles a simple Mexican breakfast food of flour tortillas chips, cheese,red onions, shredded chicken and lots of fresh herbs, avocado on top with your eggs and the most incredible Verde (green) Chile/Tomatillo sauce I’ve ever had the flavors and sauces were to die for.
Sayulita has lots of high end gringo mini mansions with views up and down the coast to choose from, most are seasonal rentals and the town is pretty busy during high season and as more and more expats retire the summer season is picking up thru-out Mexico. Summer time is when both expats and Mexican take their family vacations to the mountains or beaches.
I rented a killer 2nd floor boutique condo right on the beach for $55 a night on a small bay filled mostly with Mexican families on holiday. The water was nice and everyone was smiling and having a great time. I was the only gringo as far as I could tell but I had no problems ordering food and fitting right in. This is what I love so much about this country a real sense of family and always smiling and friendly to strangers.
As I woke up I was raring to go heading down to Zihuatanejo for my next stop this would be a very long day and one of the most beautiful filled with incredible scenery as I drove down the Pacific coast and into the mountains and back onto the coast again.
The drive towards Puerto Vallarta was easy but crowded at 6am. The town is a mix of both old town and new high rises with many beautiful parts of town especially up in the foothills overlooking town. You pass by many of these neighborhoods as you climb out of town and go south, too many to count homes with fabulous Cliffside perches looking out on the ocean below and town to the north. These don’t come cheap either.
About a hundred miles into my day I had my first and only scare needing gas. I know there was a town ahead and was caught off guard when they told me there were waiting for their delivery truck to show up but their was a little town ahead about 2 miles off the main highway, no problem.
As I turned off towards the town it all seemed good and it was a nice little village with a few thousand people and it was Saturday so the farmers market and weekly crafts and goods sellers were out in full force, the streets were jammed with local folks socializing and shopping. No Gas here oh crap now what, I’ve got maybe 50 miles left but I’m in the mountains and no real towns around. I thought about going back towards PV it was only an hour back and running out wasn’t an option. As I was staring at my map by the side of the highway a local farmer stopped and tried to ask me if I needed help between my Spanglish and hand signals he pointed down the road telling me it was close, so I trusted him and kept going and sure enough maybe 2-3 miles there was a new station sitting in the middle of now where. All gassed up with another 400 miles to go. I might not have mentioned it before I had my I-Pod with over 7,000 songs to keep me company when I wasn’t listening to my Spanish CD’s. I went around 3-4 times on that music play-list on this trip. Your Sirius Satellite radio will work here as well if you have it, GPS works too. The roads here are usually well marked and you should have no problem reading the highway signs.
This would be a 12 hour day behind the wheel and I did stop many times to take photo’s as it was driving me crazy wanting to explore many of these small roads leading down the water or incredible cliff-side photo opportunity’s that just kept coming and coming. The long stretch of coast reminded me of California without the people. There were too many times to count when I had to jerk the car back onto my lane with all of the twisting mountain roads with long distance coastal views that were a total distraction but I loved it. Many places I plan to re-visit along here someday soon I hope.
I had to pass thru Acapulco as I headed south. I’ve flown into this town before a few years back, we were picked up a taken directly to hotel row back then for a convention so I didn’t drive around at all.
I have never had a bad time driving in this country until today entering Acapulco. The highway is under going massive new roadwork with bridges and tunnels that will improve it I’m sure. The road just comes to a 3-way intersection with no signs telling which way to go to stay on the highway. This lead to a 2 hour total pain in the ass drive thru town as I had to keep on guessing which way to go, for the most part I guessed right but it got to be stressful. It was a welcome site when I saw the highway signs again leading me south. From here on I just tried to make up time, as I was anxious to get to Zihuatanejo to explore this coastal cliff-side town.
I pulled into town around 5 pm and was beat from the long day driving. I had made reservations for a place I found on a Google search before I left Sayulita and now pulled out my laptop to review the maps after 30 minutes I called and the owner talk me right in. I never would have found it myself. I walked down 2 flights of stairs to my unit a fully self-contained mini apt. with Cliffside views. It was a short 1 flight of stairs walk down to the beach. This place felt nice and the sunset with a cocktail made it all the better. After a beachside dinner I made my way back to my room each room has a large patio with several small pools on each level with outdoor bbq and kitchen. I sat down to take in the lights playing out on the many houses and hotels up and down the cliffs above the water.
I realized I had company as a small kitten nuzzled up to me wanting some attention. The owner has many cats who roam the grounds and my new buddy joined me realizing he had a sucker to play with, he ended up spending the night with me making up for my dog Kona who I was missing by now.
Woke up early and headed out for another long day my plan was to make Puerto Escondido by nightfall one of the 5 top places in the world for surfing and the real estate market has taken notice.
More on that next time.
Quote of the Day: “ We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. “
~ Joseph Campbell