April 4, 2017
Since I had no interest in spending time in the tourist trap of Cabo San Lucas, we opted for an excursion to the small city of Todos Santos, about 50 miles up the coast from Cabo. Our guide, Memo, said that Todos Santos now is what Cabo was 30 years ago, and that in another few decades, Todos Santos will have become like Cabo San Lucas. I’m glad we’re seeing it now!
It’s already been “discovered” in that there are about 70 art galleries and shopping areas in this town of 14,000 people, it is the location of Hotel California, made famous by the Eagles, and that most of the people I saw in town (besides those from our ship) spoke English. It’s the one place that doesn’t usually trade in U.S. dollars, but some vendors carry a few small U.S. bills and credit cards are accepted everywhere.
The bus ride to Todos Santos took about an hour. Memo told us a lot of information about the town and the region. Because Dale and I were sitting in front (for once!), it was easier to ask him questions.
I noticed a very cactus very much like the saguaro dotting the desert landscape outside. I couldn’t decide whether they were or were not saguaros. I didn’t think saguaros grew this far south, even though technically Baja California Sur is part of the Sonoran Desert. Memo said these cacti were in fact NOT saguaros. They belong to one of six species of cardón cacti, which grow so many arms that they can weigh up to five tons! I could see birds’ nest holes in them and wonder if they occupy a similar role in the ecosystem as saguaros do. In appearance, they are slightly thinner than saguaros, have many more arms and some have little protrusions sticking out near their tops.
Doing an online search for the cardón cactus, I learned that its technical name is Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus. It grows in northwestern Mexico in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora. (Text and pictures source)
The cardón cactus can live up to 300 years and weigh up to 25 tons. It grows many more arms in its lifetime than the saguaro. The protrusions I saw at the top were apparently the beginning of its blooms.
I’d seen a lot of Mexico during my life, but had never been to Baja California before. So I asked Memo whether it is feasible for Americans to retire here. Mexico has open borders and accepts anyone who wants to live here as long as they come in peace, he said. It used to be that foreigners could not own land outright in Mexico, but now they can. if you are looking for a nice 3-bedroom, 2 bath house away from the beach, in this area you can find one for $45-75,000. On the beach, however, you need to add another zero to that figure! The main problem here is that things cost more due to the peninsula’s relative isolation. That also goes for traveling – driving would require going all the way north to the border, then going south to see other parts of Mexico, or flying. (There may be car ferries over the Sea of Cortés; I just don’t know.) Cabo San Lucas has an international airport with direct flights to many cities in the U.S. and Canada, and of course, within Mexico. I think if we were truly going to retire in Mexico, we’d choose a more accessible area “on the mainland.” (Although I do love the desert!) Even so, Dale picked up a real estate brochure we found in Todos Santos.
Our bus’s first stop in Todos Santos was at a cultural center. It used to be a school – first it was a normal (teacher training) school, then it became an elementary school. Today some specialty classes, like art or music, are taught here, mostly to children. The classrooms still being used are on the left as you enter. To the right are exhibits with old photographs and other artifacts (bones, adobe bricks, an old clock, etc.) that relate to the history of this area.
The exhibit of photographs included one of Mr. Wong, the architect of the Hotel California and another of “La Chacana.” Mr. Wong, a Chinese immigrant, changed his name to Don Antonio Tabasco, but everyone in town knew him as “El Chino.” He designed and was the owner of the hotel, and hoped to pass it on to his children. He had no sons and his daughters had no interest in maintaining it, so it was sold. More interesting information can be read on this web site.
The significance of “La Chacana” is also linked to the Hotel California, made famous by the Eagles’ song of that name. Although the Eagles vehemently deny that the legend is true, it’s an interesting story nevertheless.
The tale says that the Eagles, on a trip to Mexico, met a woman nicknamed “La Chacana” (the trickster) because she was the only person to openly curse at the governor of the state of Oaxaca, where she lived. Anyway, this woman knew all about hallucinogenic mushrooms and she took the Eagles on a psychedelic trip with these mushrooms, which, combined with drinking a lot of mezcal (a much stronger version of tequila), made them sick and badly hung over. They were due to fly back to the U.S. for a gig in Las Vegas, but they had headaches and were in bad shape after this “tripping.” One of their guides suggested they go a sleepy little town in Baja called Todos Santos, where there was a nice, comfortable hotel called the Hotel California where they could rest for a few days. So they flew to Cabo and got a ride to Todos Santos, where they checked into the hotel.
When they opened their luggage, however, one of the band members had a bottle of mezcal and another had a bag of “magic” mushrooms! So they went on another psychedelic trip enhanced by strong alcohol and soon were sick again! I don’t know if they made it to Las Vegas, but the story goes that while they were stoned, they began to compose the song that would become The Hotel California. Again, the Eagles have always denied this ever happened but Memo tried to lend credence to it by telling us we could ask any of the 80- to 90-year-olds who live here who remember this incident, and all will confirm it really happened. We may never know for sure, but the hotel and the town are happy to use the Eagles story to promote tourism to Todos Santos!
Memo also told us there was a “shrine” to Frida Kahlo in the back room of the exhibits. I looked but could only find two paintings, one a portrait of her that she clearly did not paint (on the left), and another which she might have painted (on the right) – it was done in her style, at least, one of her self-portraits.
A woman from our tour group who helped me find it didn’t know about her, asking how to pronounce her name and if she was from this area, so I explained that she was from the area around Mexico City and that she was in a bus accident as a teenager which kept her bedridden for months, covered in a torso cast. That was when she started to paint, I said – to amuse herself, she began drawing on her cast. From then on, she always had back pain and couldn’t walk well so she was highly focused on the physical aspects of her body, which was reflected in many of her self-portraits. I didn’t mention her marriage to Diego Rivera nor her “friendship” with Leon Trotsky, because Memo had already told the group these things. He said that the people of this town were somewhat obsessed with Frida Kahlo, which to me made sense. Todos Santos is an art colony with 70 art galleries, and Mexican artists were likely to exalt one of their most famous painters, and one who was highly unconventional as well.
We walked from the cultural center to the church, a distance of three blocks. On the way, Memo showed us the gallery of a friend of his, who had made some beautiful pottery, on display outside. He said we could later go back and he’d show us how he makes the pots – which I’m sorry to say I forgot all about later. Memo said that the bus would pick us up at noon at the Hotel California, which was also where we were having “lunch” at 10:30 a.m.!
The church had a mission attached to it and there were signs giving information about it. Memo also gathered the group in the Zócalo in front of the church to explain about it, a speech of which I heard very little because I was wandering around looking for photo opps. I did take pictures of the signs to refer to later.
We went into the church briefly before heading to the hotel for our lunch. I took one or two shots inside and also of the carved wooden doors opening up onto the plaza.
The hotel was very colorful and had interesting décor. I took several very nice views, by this time mostly with my cellphone camera because my regular camera was not cooperating.
We were able to use the bathrooms here, supposedly better than other public facilities. However, I found the toilet paper roll in my stall on the floor, and it had gotten wet with…??! I had to be strategic about using it, making sure to use the dry part! I left the roll on the back of the toilet.
The food we were served was a sort of combo plate, including portions of various types of typical Mexican food. There was a rolled up flower tortilla with some meat inside – I added beans, rice and guacamole from my plate to it to make a tasty taco. There was a bean enchilada which was hard to cut with a fork, since we were not given knives. There was also a tamale, which I had to explain to the Canadians, who had never seen one. We were also served water or soda as requested, so I then had a cold bottle of water to use until we got back on the bus. The food was quite good – I always like excursions that include a meal, so you get a chance to taste the local cuisine instead of eating the usual food on the ship.
After eating, it was about 11:00 and Memo gave us an hour of free time to shop and explore galleries. It would have been better, I think, to cut that time in half and get back to Cabo earlier where we would have the option of doing whatever in town or returning immediately to the ship. However, this gave us plenty of time to look around this pretty little town and take more pictures!
In the end, I was very glad we visited Todos Santos. I loved exploring this colorful, creative town in the desert of Baja California!
Later, my sister Mary and brother-in-law told us about their quest to buy guayaberas (typical Mexican men’s shirts) in Cabo San Lucas. While my two sisters strolled around the touristy shops in Cabo, where Mary bought a couple of medium-quality guayaberas at rip-off prices, her husband – who speaks fluent Spanish and is a good walker – took off into the more “native” part of town, climbing hills and talking to people, and returned with a beautiful, finely made guayabera for half the price Mary paid!
This was our last stop before our port of disembarkation, San Diego. The Mexican “ambassadors” who had educated us about Mexico and entertained us on the ship got off at Cabo San Lucas. Our final day on the cruise was at sea, during which we did a 5K walk around the promenade deck, called “On Deck for a Cause” – a fundraising tradition at Holland America which takes place on all their cruises. For a $20 registration fee, you receive a t-shirt and plastic bracelet, and the knowledge that every donation goes to international organizations doing cancer research in pursuit of a cure.
In San Diego, we said good-bye to my sisters and brother-in-law, who went home, while we stayed two extra days in San Diego. (I’d love for you to check out my first post about San Diego, Fun and Flowers in Balboa Park!)