La Paz doesn’t usually make the glitz list for Americans vacationing to Mexico. Even though a couple of the richest American families (Walton and Getty) have homes in the La Paz area, Cabo San Lucas tends to steal the mainstream spotlight, and Todos Santos is enjoying an extended Instagram-fueled ride as a trendy offbeat destination.
Tourism is important here but it is not the only game in town, so La Paz retains a bustling down-to-earth working class vibe that is missing from luxe Cabo and certainly from sleepy Todos - at least the bustling part.
We have found ourselves heading into La Paz more often this trip and I’ve grown to like it more and more.
The older historic part of town retains many old buildings and happily hosts a (mostly) organic farmers market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The inevitable cathedral is down this way, as well as a few streets with a local vibe from the traditional mercado and cool small businesses, many started by young people.
Today we are making the rounds looking for our first postcards for our inaugural Postcard Patron Society mail out. I asked at the Allende bookstore and the owner there directs me to the Galeria Casa Parra down the way.
We didn’t find any compelling postcards in the Galeria, but we did meet Claudia, the owner, and checked out a fabulous selection of handicrafts. Even though I’m not a big shopper, (I don’t want a house someday that looks like a cruise ship gift shop), I’ve seen a lot of Mexican souvenir stores, and this one is a good one.
If you are a big shopper, you have to be careful in the bigger markets and tourist areas, and I’m not just talking about keeping your iPhone on the down low. Lots of merch for sale in the tourist areas in Mexico is made in Guatemala and even China and India.
That right there tells you something about global wages, that it is cheaper for Mexicans vendors (who don’t make much, either) to import handmade items from other developing countries and resell them.
The Galeria Casa Parra’s offerings are 100% Hecho en Mexico, and even though I am very tempted to buy at least 7 things in the shop, I remain on task - which is sourcing postcards.
As we leave the store, I’m wilting a bit so we decide to regroup over an iced coffee at my favorite coffee stop in Baja so far, Doce Cuarenta
Doce Cuarenta is an excellent coffee shop with some super cute Baja swag in one corner, various trendy coffee doodads (Chemex, anyone?) in another, good food from a real kitchen, and real-deal AC, not always a given in this part of the world, where sometimes "air conditioned" is open to interpretation. We order our coffee at the counter, snag a table in front of the window and plug in our phones.
While we are waiting for our brew, I go over to the gifty corner. Our house sitting hosts have a coffee mug from this shop; we accidentally broke the handle the first week we were here, and I want to replace it.
The broken one will join our other two ceramic travel mugs that lost their handles along the way - one from a Goodwill in Santa Rosa, the other from Montana. Our small group of handleless mugs fits our current pared down reduce reuse travel lifestyle.
While I’m there looking at the coffee mugs and contemplating buying a cool t-shirt I don’t need, I notice - lo and behold - postcards! Cute postcards of baja scenes featuring hand drawn art from a local artist. Gooooaaal!
Later, after our coffee and a trip to the grocery store, I am craving a lunch that does not originate from the Corn food group, the traditional starting place for most Mexican meals.
Spanish food is usually a good bet in Central Mexico so I decide to give it a try here. I google “Tapas” (and, well OK, “wine bar” also). I come across a nearby charming place, at least according to Google.
We arrive and sure enough, it is a charming, small restored adobe building, painted clean white with a palapa roof. It even says La Casita Tapas Wine Bar right out front.
We park the car under a tree, in front of a couple of vintage 80’s cars parked on the street. Sergio stops to admire them - the 80s is his favorite decade by far and like many men, he sees cars as a defining element of an era.
We walk into the restaurant and are the only patrons. I’ve gotten used to this here; even in Mexico City we would sometimes be the only people in the place. If possible, I like to eat when I’m hungry, not wait around with my tummy growling until the clock strikes a certain time, so that means we are sometimes early for dinner or late for lunch.
The waiter brings the menu and, given that it is a tapas place, there is a puzzling, extensive array of sushi. We think perhaps the business recently changed owners and there hasn’t been time to change the sign outside. (Not uncommon in Mexico, where "for rent" signs, for example, may or may not be true in the present moment.)
We ask the waiter and he says, yes, this is La Casita Tapas Wine Bar. I guess it just happens to have a generous helping of sushi on the menu.
Through talking with him we learn that we have a fun connection to this place we have never visited before.
On our first driving trip to Mexico, when we crossed the border in Tijuana and drove down the Baja highway, we celebrated our safe arrival in Todos Santos 3 days later at - guess where - the La Casita Tapas Wine Bar!
The La Paz location is the second La Casita. Both are owned by a Mexican chef Sergio Rivera who worked in the US and as a chef on a yacht before “hanging up his sea legs”, (as his bio reports) and opening La Casita Tapas Wine Bar in Todos Santos, and now in La Paz.
On a recent visit to the La Casita in Todos, we saw Sergio, on a warm sweaty evening, alternating eating with his family, jumping up to help his low-season short staff crew, taking orders, and socializing with patrons. There were fans keeping the air moving, the bartender came out from behind the bar to keep the drinks flowing; it was kind of like a private party. I love restaurant people and entrepreneurs in general that actually hop in and work alongside their staff when needed.
Back to the La Casita in La Paz, where there is La Air Conditioning, too - so we order some delicious rolls, cold wine, and have a lovely sushi lunch at the tapas place.
We leave and as we are approaching our car, we see a tall thin man with RayBans, a pink polo shirt, jeans and loafers with no socks. He is wiping down one of the 80’s cars with a hand buffer.
Sergio, who secretly wants to buy a bunch more “accessories” for cleaning our car, strikes up a conversation.
We learn that he lives in the house behind us, and he has 2 more vintage cars in his garage. His Spanish has an Italian accent. He is originally from Rome but grew up in the La Paz area.
We introduce ourselves and he says, “My name is Giovanni”. I think, of course it is.
I settle back to enjoy observing the conversation between a native Roman and a Capitolino from Mexico City, who proceed with an inordinate amount of hand waving, exaggeration, shrugs of the shoulder, and fine tuned kvetching that finally arrives at the inevitable conclusion that ai, life is hard, but what are you going to do?
Giovanni’s father was a builder and developer. As Giovanni was growing up, the family lived in Canada, Arizona and finally in La Paz.
I have run the gauntlet to get my 4 year residency card here in Mexico, and I can barely get my head around the idea of buying an inexpensive apartment here, let alone develop property. I marvel at how easily some people appear to flow between countries, doing business, making money, because the truth is, it’s a lot of paperwork, tax headaches and risk.
Giovanni is also a developer. After living here for over 20 years, he has an insider’s view about the local real estate scene. He’s a dream contact for me as I’m always curious about the health of the local market.
La Paz real estate took a hit in 2008 and never really recovered fully, due to some bad press, increase in local drug related crime, and the ascendency of Cabo San Lucas in the luxury second home market.
He mentions a small town near here, Triunfo, that is on the rise as a tourist attraction. He spends every Sunday there, showing a historic home that he bought years ago and has remodeled. We make plans to stop by the following weekend. I share more about our Triunfo trip in this post, leaving you with this teaser:
They say there are only 6 degrees of separation between each person on earth - would you believe me if I told you a tiny ex-mining pueblo in Baja shrinks the distance to one of the wealthiest people on the planet to only a couple of degrees? It’s an interesting example of the distortion in local real estate (and I would imagine, local politics) when a billionaire comes to town.
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"Showing, showing and sharing breastfeeding is necessary to remember that love is urgent, to bring to mind those who see that breastfeeding is natural and beyond that, it is vital to return health to society at all levels . Support it, respect it, find out." (Translation of photo below)
We came across a beautiful series of photos by Mexican photographer Paola León , prominently displayed along the Paseo de la Reforma, one of the busiest avenues in the world. The photos depict women breastfeeding in different environments - homey and natural.
The exhibit is entitled Lactancia materna... Más allá de lo que ves". - "Breastfeeding, beyond what you see. " It is sponsored by Mexico City's Secretaria de Salud - Secretary of Health.
Only one in seven mothers in Mexico breastfeeds exclusively in the first six months. Mexico’s rate is among the lowest in Latin America. Mexico's childhood obesity rates are among the highest in the world.
In 2015, the government joined other countries in following World Health Organization guidelines and banned free samples of baby formula to new mothers in hospitals.
The photo display is another attempt to encourage new mothers to see breastfeeding as a viable option. The campaign takes an entirely different tone than an unsuccessful 2014 campaign that featured almost topless photos of female celebrities and the crass slogan "Don't turn your back on them. Give them the breast."
Translation: "Breastfeeding women were portrayed in places that connected them with nature and in the daily life, to recognize that we are mammals, to rescue the woman - return the value and importance to the act of breastfeeding freely, without prejudices, and on a protracted basis, if she so decides.'
Here is a link to an article with more information about the exhibit and its sponsors. It's in Spanish but you can always use Google Translate to translate the page.
Here is a link to another article about the baby formula ban: http://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/free-infant-formula-banned-in-hospitals/
Here is an article about childhood obesity in Mexico. http://projects.aljazeera.com/2015/08/mexico-obesity/
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