Back from Baja

Ten days away was lovely. Sun, sand, sleeping in. Really good food. Seeing old friends, and making some new ones.

This was our third trip to southern Baja, staying at the same little place in Todos Santos. It is so relaxing, inexpensive, quiet and exactly what we crave in travel. Being back means we quickly settled into our routine (tortillas from the lady down the street, fish tacos, flan from Miguel’s, hanging out with the dogs and playing games) but added some new things too. We dug out the old hand press juicer and went through 44 lbs of oranges making juice in a week. We took a whole day to drive around the ENTIRE southern cape region and explored some beautiful new areas. A new restaurant was a dinner favorite and we had 4 great surf days on more advanced boards!

It was a lovely trip, and just what we needed as a last hurrah before coming home to garden and paint the house all summer.

A few photographic highlights:

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Vashon Island’s Baja Twin: Todos Santos

While the PNW is our true home, and Vashon Island our specific perfect “place”, we have found our sunnier, tropical “place twin” in the Baja town of Todos Santos. Last year Matt and I ventured down to Baja on a last minute trip with the goal of learning to surf. What we found was a place that we immediately knew we needed to come back to. This year (for my FINAL spring break EVER!) we trekked back, this time for a 10 day stay in our artsy, foodieetreat.

We left Seattle on a Friday morning, and by 4:30 had picked up our first rental car. Our first turn out of the lot revealed a broken turn signal so back again for a new car. New car? Yep, as in NEW car. Eek! Not ideal for rough Baja dirt roads! It ended up working out really well, and we actually appreciated the good shocks. We pulled out of the airport and cruised (ahem…perhaps a bit over the speed limit) across the peninsula to Cabo San Lucas to our first stop: MEGA supermercado. This place is our first point of call to stock up on groceries for the week. A highlight: the massive bakery. Since this was our second trip we were much quicker at navigating the isles, and picked up a tray and tongs for bakery goodies like old pros. Oh it feels good to be back! Sun was not on our side, so most of the drive was spent in the dark. Thank goodness we knew where we were going! We navigated across dirt roads and back alleys to arrive at Casa Rancho…our home for the next nine nights.

Dinner was yummy dishes from the MEGA hot line…some of the best chille rellenos I have ever had. It is so fun to try all the local food! We slept well that first night, especially since the next day was surfing!

We decided to alternate days of surfing and down time/adventures to other beaches. The approach saved our hands/knees/bodies from the wreckage of being beginner surf bums. Our first day at Cerritos we grabbed a board, two wet suits and hit the water. Matt had a good long session and then I went out. And lasted a whole 20 mins. Remember when I fell down the stairs carrying wine a few weeks back? Well that bruised?/sore? tailbone hit the sand once and I was out. Ouch. Not fun for surfing. I spent the rest of the day watching the waves and soaking up sun.

The rest of the trip was full of sun, sand and new adventures. Since this was our second trip, and longer than the first, we were a little worried that this small town would become too boring. How wrong we were! We discovered new beaches, new places to eat (La Casita, Café El Triunfo), world’s best flan, jugo de naranja, amazing refried beans from the tortilla lady’s husband, a new side town to visit and totally fell in love with the place all over again. There were old favorites too: the ice cream place, day trip to La Paz (more about that coming) and of course cooking and hanging out at the Casa.

 

One of our favorite day trips was a drive to La Paz. About 40 minutes across Baja we shot down on Hwy 1 to an old mostly abandoned silver mining town called El Triunfo that was recommended as a good place to stop. We wandered the cute streets, took photos of brightly blighted buildings and stumbled upon the place we were looking for (and apparently the only place in town!): Café El Triunfo! In the center of town is a beautifully restored brick building that has a stunning garden seating patio area for the café. We ordered a pizza and some fresh squeezed orange juice and escaped the hot morning sun under a big umbrella. The pizza was good, but the JUICE! Oh my that jugo de naranja! I was in heaven! It was hand pressed from fresh oranges and I had to order two. I must have drunk nearly a half gallon that morning. Such a great morning side trip. In the afternoon we headed to La Paz to visit some beaches. We started with one we went to last year, ___ and then found the real gem: _____. This beach had crystal clear water that was just over knee deep all the way across the bay. We walked in the warm, calm water (Sea of Cortez is MUCH warmer than the Pacific in Todos Santos where you surf) and just soaked in the beautiful scenery. It was truly one of the most stunning and enjoyable beaches I have ever been too. Great day crossing Baja!

We found three more new beaches in Todos Santos…one for buying fish off the boat (100 pesos for a whole tuna! That is like $8!), one for big waves and a cool hilltop hike, and the surf break further North up the coast. It was fun exploring new places, and these were great rest day adventures when we did not surf.

But surf we did! Four days at Cerritos was not enough…especially since the tides were not being cooperative. The tide was WAY WAY out for most of the day meaning if you wipe out (very likely) you do it in about 6-12 inches of water. Sand + wipeout = not fun…so we walked the beach instead. And ate ice cream bars. And flan. And found sand dollars. And got sun. And swam. So clearly it was not a real loss, but we would have like more time in the waves on a surfboard. The final day waves picked up late afternoon and we surfed until the board shop guys called us in. We could have kept going for hours though. The waves were perfect, the water crystal clear, and the sun was stunning in the evening beach glow.

 

Summary: great trip. We are going back. We have found our sunny warm twin to Vashon island. As Matt put it, Vashon and Todos Santos are twins that were separated at birth and grew up with different parents but share the same spirit. Both our totally our kind of place.

 

Tradition

A new year is a great place to start fresh. We started some new traditions this year, and brought back some 2013 fun that may evolve into an annual event. Let’s start with that fun event: Mexico! In 2013 we took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Todos Santos, Mexico and learned to surf. After a week of relaxation, fresh food, tortillas, sunsets and surf we were hooked. We have been talking about going back since before we even left. So last week we booked our second trip…this time for 10 days. It is the same week near the end of March (my spring break) and so the countdown has begun! Booking this, and knowing that we need to have our surfing muscles ready to go, commitment/tradition #2 became even more important: getting back in shape!

We literally stopped working out the day we moved. A combination of house projects, a new commute, no gym (so sad, no more kickboxing!), and our workout space full of boxes made our active evenings drastically slow down. Holiday goodies combined with no working out left both of us with a few extra pounds and strength pretty zapped. Not good for catching waves! So we are back to the workouts! We cleaned out a room in the basement and have been doing daily workouts. We are both already feeling better! Bathing suits in less than three months sure are a good motivator…

2014 brought another new tradition to our family: a family journal. Every night we are each writing 5 things that were good about our day or something we are thankful for in our life. A bulleted journal of nothing but the good stuff. The intent is to go to bed on a positive note even on rough days, and is something we can continue with our kids many years into the future.

And I guess this is a good place for an update on the cats and their 2013 potty training adventure. Well, things are going slowly. We were having great success with transitioning them to using the full toilet litter box stage (1 of 6), but as soon as we removed the first small hole, the cats were NOT happy. They were holding it and having accidents. It all came to a head this weekend when Alki peed on Matt’s hiking boots. The cats are quarantined to the bathroom, and getting lots of encouragement and support until a) they get it or b) we give up. Alki in particular seems to be ok if you are there coaching her through the apparently scary process so we will see how it goes. Patience.

Final commitment: stay focused and motivated for school. Only 5 months to go!

Home Again

part 7 of our trip to Todos Santos, part one starts HERE

Our final morning in Todos Santos was a slow one. We decided not to rush, and instead take our time and soak in the morning at the Rancho before driving back to Cabo for our 3:30 flight. We woke up well rested, and enjoyed the last of our eggs, beans, fruit and coffee for breakfast on the patio. I packed while Matt cleaned the kitchen, and then we realized it was time to go.

On our way out of Todos Santos we stopped at the ice cream place where we had struck out the day before. Ice cream at 10 AM? We are on vacation, why not? It was so worth it. The unique local favors were a treat, Matt trying corn and blackberry, and cookies and cream, while I had key lime pie and banana chocolate. That key lime pie ice cream was probably some of the best ice cream I have ever tried.

Our drive back to Cabo was quick, so we took some time to drive through the main strip, and eventually make our way back to MEGA for one final bakery visit for lunch and dinner on the plane. I dispise spending so much on airport or airplane food, so it was the perfect excuse to stock up on more empanadas and other Mexican goodies.

Our flight was uneventful, with a quick customs stop in San Diego. By 11:30 we were home and very ready for bed. Our cats were so excited to see us! Poor Lola was crying outside our room for attention all night.

*****

Less than a week later and we are still walking around half unpacked suitcases and piles of laundry and dishes. Our refrigerator is stocked again, but we are not yet back into our normal cooking routine. It has been beyond wonderful to sleep in our bed again, but I think our brains are still on the beach in Baja. It has been so hard to concentrate at work and get motivated to do much. Added to the craziness is house shopping…and we found one and made an offer! It still seems unreal. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming days and weeks. Thank goodness classes don’t start until next week!

Road Trip to La Paz

part 6 of our trip to Todos Santos, part one starts HERE

As much as we wanted to surf the last day, we knew that our sore muscles would not last more than a few waves. We decided to travel a little further and explore the other side of the Baja Peninsula by taking a  day trip to La Paz and scout out beaches on the Sea of Cortez.

The 50 miles of driving passed quickly, and we found ourselves surrounded by the traffic that comes with a city. Our first stop? You guessed it: MEGA! We were craving those empanadas that we had from the bakery on our first day, and figured they would make cheap, easy beach food. After finding our way to MEGA, we cruised along the waterfront strip, eventually making our way out of town along sculptured sandstone bluffs. Matt had read in guidebook about some potential snorkeling at Las Conchas, so we found public beach access and tried it out. The beach was pretty unspectacular, and the snorkeling not worth our time, so we loaded back up in the car and drove further out of town. Our goal was to find a massively long beach at the end of the road.

Our journey took us past the port (that was a surprise to come around a curve to) and through massive cactus studded hills. Very barren, but stunning wilderness. As the gas tank inched closer and closer to empty, we finally came to the beach…totally worth the drive.

Tecolotewas a looonnngggg white sand beach, studded with beach palapas and locals. We were some of the only gringos there. We set up camp in the middle of a quiet section and headed off into the turquoise blue water. The Sea of Cortez is a little warmer than the Pacific, so we made our way out to a little sandbar and hung out in the sea just talking and planning out possible future surf trips. Tecolote was an interesting beach to walk, as it had lots of shells and shell parts and cool rocks to inspect and pick up. We made the most of our last full day by soaking up the sun, and eventually heading back across Baja to Todos Santos.

Todos Santos is known for it’s artisan ice cream, and we knew that we had not had enough of it yet, so we planned to stop for some pre-dinner cones. Turns out that this was not in the universes grander plan for us, as we went on a wild goose chase first to the ice cream place (oops, we needed more pesos), to the ATM (I really stress out about ATMs and taking out money so this was not fun and my patience was running low), back to the ice cream shop only to arrive mere seconds after a school group of about 20 kids walked in. Zero patience left. We left, and checked out another ice cream place, but were not too thrilled about their flavors (or their stingy scoop size), so we went home. After cleaning up, mixing some drinks and watching the most stunning sunset of the trip, we were both in better spirits. We decided to venture out for dinner to celebrate our last night of vacation…and it seemed easier since we were pretty much out of food.

Dinner was great. We found a place with a combinacion Mexicana that had all of Matt’s favorite dishes on one plate: enchilada, chili relleno, and tamales. We ordered margaritas and tortilla soup, and left feeling stuffed and happy.

Surfers

part 5 of our trip to Todos Santos, part one starts HERE

Matt and I are proud to say that we are surfers. Maybe we are still only on the inner break, and maybe we don’t have the board skills to hang ten, but we can paddle out, pick a wave, catch it, and ride it all the way in. And come up grinning.

After the big surf the day before, we were concerned that we may have missed our opportunity to surf again, but we rolled into the sand parking lot at Cerritos early again the next morning and found nothing but constant, medium surf and the fog rolling out. It was going to be a beautiful day.

We each got a shortie wetsuit and rented one board to share. We figured that taking turns was the smartest way to go, and it turned out to be a great option. We took turns in the waves working on our form. When in the waves I made friends with another surfer gal that had been taking lessons the same day we did. She and I started talking and became surf buddies. Turns out that she and her husband were on their honeymoon, loved learning to surf, and had a ton in common with us! A vacation friendship was born.

For lunch we bought a sopa from a guy with a cooler under the lifeguard stand. After a long day of surfing, we reluctantly turned in our gear (our bodies were just too shot to keep going…surfing is hard work!) and treated ourselves to a post-beach drink with our honeymooning friends at their hacienda. Margaritas by the pool were a great treat.

Just as the sun was dipping down, we said goodbye and drove back to Todos Santos in search of dinner. By this time we realized how hungry we were, and the massive burros (that is right, these are big enough that they are not even called burritos) we heard about earlier sounded like they would hit the spot. I ordered a chicken one and Matt had beef. The oozy cheese and grilled char on the chicken gave that same satisfying feeling of tucking into a massive burger after a long day of skiing.

Big Surf

part 4 of our trip to Todos Santos, part one starts HERE

We were all ready for another surf day, and headed down to Cerritos early on Tachio’s recommendation to catch some morning waves. We arrived around 9:30, just as the fog was headed out over the last of the breakers. As soon as we pulled up though we knew something was different. The waves were massive, and the beach was empty. The lifeguards were all in a huddle, and there were red flags planted in the sand. We walked over, and our suspicions confirmed: the beach was closed. These waves were too dangerous to swim in, and defiantly not the day for two novice surfers to practice. We were both bummed, but also probably a tiny bit relieved since our bodies had not fully recovered from the lesson day thrashing.

With no preconceived backup plan, we decided to check out the Hacienda de Cerritos on the bluff overlooking the surf beach. It would be a beautiful view of the waves at least, and it was on our list of things to do. We drove up and just walked in, taking the approach of asking for forgiveness later rather than permission. We wandered the extensive building taking in tons of spectacular views, and oohing and ahhing over the hotel layout. There were two big Mexican tile kitchens, expansive pools overlooking the waves, and of course the crash of waves on three sides. We only saw one other guest in the hotel while we explored, and he was the right one to find…he excitedly told us where the hidden staircase was to the tower. It seemed impossible that the view could get better, but going up there it did. It was a stunning day to explore this hotel, and we enjoyed every second of it. For the nightly price higher than what week paid for a week at Casa Rancho though, I think we will still stick with our Todos Santos location next time.

We decided to pick up more camarones grandes, and some fresh yellowfin for dinner, and then headed back to our big wave beach near the Rancho. We figured all the beaches were not swimmable today, so we may as well as go to the one that is easy to get to and TOTALLY empty. This beach seriously goes for miles in both directions, and we were the only two people on it all afternoon. We collected shells and ate tuna avocado salad with a shell for lunch, and soaked in more rays before heading back for another epic dinner.