know the old maxims about “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” or
“turning lemons into lemonade”? Well, they got it a little backward in
Cabon – where the sow is now
sucking on the lemon and the silk purse is in the hands of the developers.
still quite quaint and provincial by Cancún standards, Cabo San Lucas, the
onetime jewel at land’s end on the Baja peninsula, is becoming a cement and
asphalt manufacturer’s messy dream. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been
known to have a helluva good time in the once dusty town. It’s the kind of
place where a small town pharmacist from Des Moines can land and commence to
party like a rock star. And isn’t that his librarian wife over there dancing
on the table with the two surf-dudes from Malibu? It’s amazing what a couple
of double-shot Cuervo brain erasers will do for you.
it’s only because I first visited in 1974, shortly after the completion of
the Transpeninsular Highway the year before, that I find the construction rate
to be a little alarming. What I discovered back then, and what a few others
had known for decades, was that this setting is one of the most remarkable on
the planet. The convergence of the wild Pacific with the rich-fish Sea of
Cortez, surrounded by a thriving desert, has produced a visual and ecological
recently drove a Suzuki Samurai the length of the 1,000 mile road from San
Diego to the tip of Baja to donate the car to Pepe Murrieta, director of Cabo
Pulmo Preserve, home to the only coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. The car
donation was presented by the Sea of Cortez International Preservation
Foundation, which I founded three years ago, and this is one of the ways that
we spend the money we are able to raise in helping various environmental
concerns up and down the Sea.
much has changed on the long, winding drive over the past 26 years. The
infrequent villages have grown a little, traffic is sparse, and you still have
to pay very close attention on the two-lane road. Most of the peninsula is
just around 50 miles wide with a spine of mountains bisecting the two distinct
coastlines. It is a drive that I highly recommend and can comfortably be
accomplished in three days. Park it at night.
of the first things that you notice about Cabo, besides all of the Americans,
is that there doesn’t seem to be much unemployment. If you are Mexican and
can swing a hammer, you’re working. And although pay is low compared to U.S.
wages, the standard of living is relatively high throughout the region. The
people are friendly and helpful enough – but it just doesn’t feel a whole
lot like Mexico. Well, a little Mexico with a lot of Newport Beach thrown in,
with predictably high prices on most goods and services.
the early 70’s the population hovered under 2,000, and most of this number
were involved in the fishing business and the few resorts that had opened to
cater to the sports fishermen. Now, there are over 25,000 permanent residents
with the tourist population doubling that in high tourist season. A walk
around the ever-expanding marina will reveal hundreds of expensive yachts and
a huge sport-fishing fleet flanked by hotels, condos and shopping malls. Sound
attractive? Well, evidently many people believe it is, but I kind of preferred
it before. A few boats, lots of dirt and unobstructed views.
One thing they have done right is to keep the ocean pristine in and out of town. In 1973 the waters within the city limits were declared a preserve with very strict rules. The visibility is astounding, as are the number of fish species.
inhabited by the Pericú
Indians, the Spanish landed in 1542 with the English following shortly
thereafter. It seems that the now famous lands-end rock formations made a
superior blind for enterprising pirates who aimed to plunder boats going to
and from the Philippines loaded with silver, gold, silks and spices. Rumors of
sunken and buried treasure have been floating for years, although most
explorers these days have other booty in mind. Just check out Squid Roe Bar or
Cabo Wabo (rocker Sammy Hagar’s joint) and you’ll know what I mean.
area was finally settled on a more permanent basis twenty miles up the coast
at San José del Cabo, which has retained a more typical, colonial ambience.
San Jose was deemed a superior location due to a still vibrant fresh-water
estuary. Good water is surprisingly abundant in large part because of the
nearby Laguna Mountains which receive some 30 inches per year feeding into the
underground Rio San José.
with the building frenzy in full tilt, new resorts are required to install
desalination plants and the very expensive golf courses use gray water for
irrigation. What is commonly called East Cape extends for about 100 miles from
Cabo going north. For the first twenty miles to San Jose the coast is being
filled with development, but not wall to wall towers as it is in Cancún. Many
of the resorts are actually, if not invisible, fairly unobtrusive in design.
Beyond San Jose it is still pristine, requiring traversing a rough, dirt road
if you want to stay right on the coast. This is the location of the
aforementioned Cabo Pulmo, which is well worth a visit. It takes about two
hours to drive there from Cabo.
coast drive going north along the Pacific Ocean towards the idyllic town of
Todos Santos (see MF November 1995) is now being developed with upscale
residential projects, although slowly. The 45-mile drive to Todos Santos is
breathtakingly beautiful, some of Mexico’s finest coastline.
reasons for making the trip to Cabo have become increasingly varied. For many,
it’s the fishing. The charter captains claim the waters to be the best deep
sea fishing in the world. And they may be right. San Lucas Bay is said to be
the world’s third deepest. Many world fishing records have been achieved off
the coast of Baja, especially in the Cape region. The variety of fish swimming
these waters is legendary.
vary depending upon your ride. A panga can be negotiated for about
$30-$50 per person and a larger cruiser might cost you $600-$800 total for up
to eight passengers. You can negotiate the amenities, like who’s paying for
the bait, beer, etc.
to say, scuba and skin diving are also world-class in the Sea of Cortez.
Outfitters and gear rental shops are abundant and reasonable. It’s like
diving in a large tropical aquarium, except this one has many sharks. The more
ubiquitous land sharks can be found in town after sunset.
elsewhere in Mexico, eco-tours and activities are proliferating at a steady
clip. Surfing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, windsurfing, sailing and
rock-climbing are all popular lures to all of Baja, and certainly in Los Cabos.
It is a play-hard / party-hard kind of town, unless, of course, all you want
to do is lie comatose in the sun, daring the UV rays to wreak havoc on your
once youthful skin. In that case, you couldn’t pick a better spot where it
is advertised to have 360 days of sunshine a year. Unfortunately, I saw the
other five days on my recent trip, including a lightning storm that struck the
airport tower delaying flights for a day. Try explaining that one to your
spouse who is back home working hard.
The resorts along the coast offer full amenities and make it very easy do nothing but relax, if that is your quest. Although they differ in style and comfort, they all share the distinction of superb location and beaches comparable to the finest in the world. You do have to be careful not to drown, as the shore-break can be huge on some beaches. The most popular beach in Cabo, just north of the marina, is Playa Medano. The water is crystal-clear and calm, with the beach housing a few excellent outdoor restaurants that have a close view of the nearby lands-end rock formations. Many other more secluded coves can be reached by boat or vehicle.
THE KIDS AT HOME?
general, I consider Cabo to be more of an adult destination rather than designed
for the family. First of all, the serene surrounding beauty and long empty
beaches shout out romance. It’s a good place to get re-acquainted. Second, as
I have said, many people go to celebrate life and meet members of the opposite
sex. Bachelor and bachelorette parties are common occurrences and groups of guys
liquored up after a day of chasing fish are probably not what you want your kids
to see on their vacation. (Johnny, what would you like to share today?) And
really, there are no historical icons or cultural lessons to be learned. And if
you decide to head off into the hills or desert on a survival journey, well, its
pretty rough. You don’t want to get lost out there.
probably asking yourself at this point, “Does this guy like the place or
not?” The answer is, “I’m not real crazy about the development surrounding
the marina, but, yeah, I like Cabo.” It has that Key West feel to it, where
you feel unusually close to falling off the end, but never more alive for it.