The house (and animals) we are caring for sits on a corner lot in the local barrio in south Todos Santos, not in the gringo developments to the north.
It is a traditional Mexican home, and no, I'm not referring to the Hacienda tradition. The house is a solid, squat single-level concrete box with a nice wide patio on 2 sides. It has survived about 30 years of hurricanes, an important advantage to note when one is house sitting during hurricane season.
It is not fancy by US standards, but with 2 bedrooms, a sala (living room), an entryway, a large defined kitchen, and generous assortment of windows, it's a nicer house than many in this local's barrio section of Todos Santos.
I say "defined" kitchen because, in many of the starter houses here, the layout is basically one room to live in and a bedroom or two. The kitchen is over in a corner where it was easiest to put in plumbing, and a bathroom is usually somewhere on the other side of a wall from that, even if it means the door to the only bathroom in the house opens out onto the living room.
Depending upon where the electric outlets are, the fridge might be next to the couch, you never know. And why not? This makes for easy access to the chelas (beers) while watching futbol on the big screen that invariably dominates the small room even in some of the smallest homes.
I'm kidding, sort of. The starter house is very common because many people add on to a house as you go. Mortgages are not readily available here. There are no personal construction loans, building codes or permits for adding onto personal property.
For entrepreneurial families with a little extra room on their lot, this freedom of construction is a boon. I have seen small tiendas, salons, tiny restaurants, and even auto repair businesses sprout up in front of the main house.
If you can afford the bags of Cemex, re-bar, chelas and tacos for your crew and electrician cousin, you can have a house raising anytime. This is why you will see re-bar sticking out of the roof of one story homes all over Mexico - the house isn’t done yet. A second level is in the works as the family cash flow improves, even if that means 10 years from now
Our house is located on the last dirt road before you enter the desert just south of town. This is also the main road to the local’s beach, Punta Lobos. (Wolf Point).
After the sugar industry left Todos Santos in the early 1900's, and before tourism became a thing in the late 1990's, Todos Santos was a fisherman’s town. Many of the people here are from fishing families, and a core group of men still fish most days.
In the mornings and late afternoons, their pickup trucks roar by, sending a fine cloud of dust wafting over the whole intersection, including our house. We have no AC and the dust is so fearsome that I don’t dare unpack my iMac until I find a temporary office with AC nearby.
We walk Chiki, our tri-lingual Blue Heeler, every morning before it gets too hot. We see the fishermen's trucks drive by most days.
One particular morning, a middle-aged fisherman sits on an overturned bucket at the corner, waiting on his ride. He has on an old shirt, high water pants (a practicality, not a fashion violation), and ancient flip-flops. He is the color of a medium roast coffee bean. Has no UV approved hat, no sunglasses, and I bet there isn't any sunscreen in his extra shirt that is tied to create a makeshift knapsack, either.
I have no insider information, but my guess is there is a hierarchy social order among the fishermen - those with boats, and those with an upturned bucket to sit on, who perhaps help the boat owners with their launch or even as crew.
This is understandable - given the option of hanging around a hot dusty town doing nothing, or hanging around the beach sitting on your upturned bucket, doing almost nothing, with your fishing buddies - which would you choose?
I see him as I exit our yard gate with Chiki. An old pickup truck, blaring Mexican music and full of loud men, happy to be on their way to the beach, pulls up and stops to let the man get on. They are laughing and a couple of them stare at me. The woman who lives in this house is American, married to a Mexican, but apart from that, gringas are not common in this corner of Todos Santos.
I say Buenos Dias and get some very enthused responses. Sergio, who had run back to grab his keys, then exits the gate. The men in the bed of the truck look a little surprised to see him, too. My Meximan, who was born and raised in Mexico City, can size up a social situation in a microsecond and respond accordingly.
He unconsciously swings his Spanish to a more relaxed, slangy dialect, projects his voice over the truck noise and the music, and continues the banter with them. It is obvious we are visitors in this house. He’s sending a message that 1) we know the owners 2) I’m with him, and 3) he is friendly but he’s neither a clueless rico nor a country bumpkin.
I have a confession - I love to watch Mexican men shoot the bull. And believe me, they can pile it on, especially with an audience.
Notice I said watch, not just listen. Latinos cannot converse without moving, and their expressions, physical and verbal, are very entertaining when they move off center from the traditional, formal interchange.
Sergio jokingly tells them to bring back a fish for him. As they roar away in a cloud of dust and Ranchero music, they yell something inappropriate about his mujer and trading a fish for a fish and I don’t even want to know.
It is all good-natured. Innuendo aside, I am pleased about the exchange because often the local people here are guarded and do not engage in informal banter, especially outside of a store or restaurant setting. They are not unfriendly, but you have to make the first move. I feel like we’ve made a connection from our routine of walking Chiki, who is known to many of them.
The beach is where the fishermen and local families gather in the evenings, especially late in the week, when people escape their concrete homes that turn into little square ovens, radiating the day's heat.
The hipster hotel San Cristobal squats off to one side, keeping a physical and cultural distance for both the tourists and the locals. I learned later that the hotel is owned by the Lambert Group from Austin, run by Liz Lambert, an early pioneer in South Congress’ renewal / gentrification. Small world.
I read a blog post about the local’s beach, the writer said this was “hands down” his favorite beach. In the afternoons the returning fishermen drive their boats right up onto the beach. It is quite a spectacle.
It is also a scene that you have to be in the mood for. I grew up going to the beach in Galveston, with pickup trucks cruising up and down, 90% humidity, scantily clad sweaty people drinking beer, playing loud music, checking each other out. This is the same template, albeit with a Mexican flair; it isn’t that exotic to me.
Sergio has a hard time with it because the popular corner of this beach is dirty. Sorry if you have only read the rave reviews on other blogs about TS beaches, but it is the truth.
The parking area is strewn with trash, people leave their beer cans and chip bags on the beach in a puzzling lack of regard for the natural setting of their community. Sort of like Galveston beaches back in the 80's.
Todos in general is pretty trashy. Stray a few blocks from the Hotel California and you might as well be in any random pueblo anywhere in the world where people litter at will and trash piles up in the corner of vacant lots.
The first quarter mile of our morning walk is in the low part of the desert, easily reached by trucks that dump trash. In the days before plastic, stuff decomposed eventually. Now, the amount of plastic in the world increased exponentially in the last 50 years, and its a huge mess all over the planet. Organized waste management and individual respect for the commons has not caught up with the amount of trash we all generate.
Back to the beach.
One afternoon, we get a late start, heading out to catch the sunset. We come upon two young men bumping along the dirt road on cruiser bikes. They were obviously not Mexican.
There is a hostel up the street from where our house is and I am thinking that is probably where they were staying.
As we past, they wave us down. One of them says, in Spanish with a German accent,
Is this the way to the beach?
About a mile and a half.
I look at his hostel bike, a hot pink beach cruiser with a basket; it is more suited to the boardwalk in Santa Monica than this dirt road in Mexico. His friend has a similarly tricked out ride.
Do you want a ride?
We'll follow you back to the hostel to drop off the bikes.
No, its OK, we can just lock them up here.
I look at Sergio who is trying not to laugh. You don't just lock your bike up in the desert outside of Todos Santos, on the main road to the local’s beach, and expect it to be there when you get back.
I say, No, its no trouble.
We follow them back to turn in the bikes. They pile into the car. Chiki is elated to have new pack members to keep track of, even though she is now relegated to the very back of the small SUV.
The windows don’t open back there, so she pants happy hot stinky dog breath on our new friends, her head between their shoulders as she catches a breeze from the windows. The German boys are super friendly with her and our tri-lingual dog is soon learning a fourth language.
We arrive at the beach a few minutes before sunset. We walk a few yards down, past the main hubbub of pickups and families, past the raised platform and lounge chairs where the gringos at the San Cristobal watch the world pass by below them. The German boys run down the beach with Chiki. Sergio wanders off to explore a tide pool.
To each his own corner.
I sit cross-legged on my towel, lean into the mountains behind me, and watch the sky turn pink. The sound of the ocean blots out my internal chatter; waves crashing in rhythm with the pull of the unseen moon. For the next few minutes, I claim this time, place and space as my corner of the world.
I am still learning even though I’ve been in Mexico almost full time for 3 years. I often make cultural gaffes, and even though Mexicans are very polite, sometimes I know I just goofed from the look on their faces.
Case in point - a recent experience when we stopped by a restaurant for a drink and light snack before my hair cut appointment this week in Cabo.
I had thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon co-working at Biznest Coworking. The Senora who owns the location has great entrepreneurial energy, I am sure we would be friends if I lived here. She speaks mostly Spanish and has hired a young man who speaks perfect English to help with English speaking clients.
When we arrive, they are both there, in their branded shirts, smiling and saying hello. Sergio loves to tag along because they bring us coffee and little cookies. Like many Mexicans, he loves freebies. I mean who doesn't? But here it's intense - we have seen lines stretch around the block for a bag of free swag from brands during events in the Zocalo or street fairs.
We only have an hour in between the co-work session and my haircut. I check google and see one restaurant close by, Puerta Vieja. It is a big place, with a long history captured in photos of the owner with presidents and celebs on the wall.
It is still low season in Cabo, and it's about 4 hours before regular 9 PM dinner, so there is only one other party when we arrive.
Our waiter, who’s name tag says Oscar, shows us our seating options - large toasty outdoor patio with late afternoon sun, interior dining room that is a little stuffy, or enclosed air conditioned room with no one else in there.
Mexican restaurant service is usually 100% better than typical service the US, with a hierarchy in the team assigned to your table - a main waiter and his assistant, sometimes a third for water and clearing dishes.
We just want a drink and a snack, so I’m not looking for a sit down dinner with the "white glove and 3 waiters" ritual that is common here, especially in the low season when you may be the only client all day and everyone is bored to death waiting around.
Not to mention waiters make almost nothing per hour. They depend on tips to survive, so low season is literally dead calm for them.
There are 2 men sitting at the bar eating. Its a very cool bar - dark stained carved wood with iron accents, like a pirate bar in a Spanish port city.
I say to Sergio, Lets just eat at the bar, it’s more casual, and they won’t expect us to order a full dinner.
Sergio always tells me not to worry about that and he is right. You shouldn’t worry about it either. We often have drinks and share a small plate sitting at a regular dining table. No one ever looks pained or even thinks of charging extra to split.
Old habits die hard, though. I still feel strange ordering 2 drinks and a quesadilla, sitting at a table set for a 5 course meal, with 3 waiters at our beck and call.
I’m also trying not to be a total baby about the heat and run to a table in the AC room. I bravely assume there might be a breeze from the entry, those 2 men at the bar don’t look too uncomfortable.
We ask Oscar, aka Mesero #1, if it’s OK to sit at the bar. He looks surprised but says, OK. We pick 2 seats at the corner of the bar. Yeah, its a little warm but no problem.
Sergio gets up to peruse the presidential photos in the entry area, which is sort of like a hotel lobby, big enough to handle a high season crowd. Mesero #2 comes over to the bar with silverware and linens.
It is then I realize that my attempt to be low key and save them some effort has resulted in the exact opposite. There are at at least 50 table settings all around, and here Mesero #2 is, cheerfully setting up 2 more for the high maintenance Gringa who wants to eat at the bar, which, by the way, is not a thing here except for American chains like Chili's and TGI Fridays.
A couple minutes later, I notice the air at ankle level is not moving, it is nice and dim down there with a swarm of mosquito activity. I’m just about to ask for a fan when Mesero #2 returns with bug spray. I say (in Spanish) Thank you! You read my mind!
I’m sitting on the bar stool and reflexively stick out my legs, he looks a little surprised and I immediately think, what are you doing, Kala? Uh, no, we’re not at the beach and he’s not a cabana boy. He’s not going to spray your legs with OFF at the bar.
The two men down the way stop eating to watch all this unfold. I jump off the stool and grab the spray without really looking at it, laugh and say, No quiero usarlo cerca de la comida - I don’t want to spray it on near the food - and I go into the lobby to join Sergio and use the spray on my legs.
I put some on and its kind of foamy and gloppy, not like the fine spray of cancer-causing bug repellent goodness I’m used to.
I look at the label and it says “Jardin” - it is yard spray. It has warnings in Spanish on the back label with skulls as big as Dia de Los Muertos Calaveras.
At this exact moment Sergio looks over at me and says, Ai amor, que estas haciendo? What are you doing? Este no es por tu piel! That’s not for your skin! He’s got that bemused look like, I can’t leave you alone for a minute.
Oscar / Mesero #1, who was likely alerted to my erratic behavior by Mesero #2 after proffering my legs for a treatment and then running off with the yard spray, comes around the corner with a smile and a bottle of OFF lotion.
I grew up in Houston where most people, including my family, had a bug exterminator on monthly retainer, and fogging trucks drove up and down in the spring and summer, spraying a cloud of insecticide into the cul de sacs for mosquito control. Groups of neighborhood boys on bikes, just like in the ET movie, would pedal behind the truck as fast as they could to catch the spray.
I never went that far, but I am a little worried about my chemical exposure, and I begin to wonder if I’ll sprout a third arm out of my forehead if I don’t wash off the yard spray soon. I thank Oscar and retreat to the bathroom to wash my legs and reapply the slightly less poisonous OFF lotion.
I come back to the bar, Sergio has sprayed the base around our stools and the bugs have, for the moment, subsided. And, Thank God, Wine Has Arrived.
Oscar, after politely observing my one ring circus, has given me a decent pour.
Here is a tip - wine is still catching on in Mexico. Sometimes your first pour will be regulation 6 ounces, especially if the manager is on duty and the restaurant is not busy.
If you smile a lot, thank them for the little things like clearing your plate or more water, the second pour is almost always bigger than the first unless the pesky manager is watching like a hawk.
Ladies, Mexican men love attention, too, so you don’t have to look like Salma Hayek to ingratiate yourself with your Mesero. Learn a little Spanish, become a regular, smile a lot, tip 15% (the typical tip in Mexico is 10%) and you have it made.
Men, don’t feel left out, it works for gringos, too, as Mexicans are very appreciative of friendly attitudes. It can take years to work up to be Mesero #1 in nicer restaurant, they are very proud of their position and love it when you appreciate their efforts and tip them accordingly.
We order our split entree and chat with Oscar a bit. I noticed immediately that his Spanish is very clear. It is one of the first things I noticed when I met Sergio, too.
I ask Oscar where he is from and he says Mexico City! It always makes me happy to meet another Chilango.
Sergio asks which colonia and they narrow down each other’s home turf from the huge sprawl that is CDMX to within a couple of streets within seconds. I can see both of them visualizing the streets hundreds of miles away, like a shared memory analog google earth.
Sergio’s question is normal here. Where you are from gives new acquaintances a substantial unspoken bio. That, coupled with the way you speak, who introduced you, and, it must be said, how dark you are, is how you are judged here on first impression.
I tell Oscar, That is why I can understand your Spanish, you are from Mexico City. He grins.
Oscar is not from a barrio de ricos, but he’s not from one of the poorest, either. He worked his way west from CDMX, following an informal chain of Tios to stay with and Primos to help him get jobs. He’s at this restaurant right now because his cousin worked here.
This micro-example of upward mobility intrigues me. One of the reasons Mexico City is such a huge sprawl is because millions have moved there to find work, and still do.
Oscar has taken the opposite approach. Employment in nicer restaurants in Mexico City is very competitive. He has likely leap frogged a few years of marking time in a mid-level eatery in CDMX by getting some experience in tourist towns.
I ask him if he speaks English. He says, not much. I tell him Hazlo! Do it!
I turned 55 this week, so I have decided it's time to start giving young people unsolicited advice. I know they will love it. I always always tell young people we meet here to learn English. It opens up a whole new world of opportunities.
Plus, Oscar is still young enough to pick it up quickly. I tell him, if you wait, it is much harder when you are viejo. I point to Sergio and Oscar enjoys my poking fun at mi viejo.
Part of Mexico’s controversial school reform is mandatory English. I asked a teacher about it once, she says there are not enough English teachers so the initiative will not have a big impact any time soon.
No breeze has appeared and the mosquitos are back, lapping up the OFF lotion and my sweat. I am not sure if I'm just overheated or in the middle of a 40 minute hot flash. We pay up and head out to the hair salon, which thank goodness has AC.
And oh, those 2 men at the bar? Oscar tells us one of them is the owner. Funny, he didn't ask for a picture with us!
If you are in Cabo San Lucas, stop by Puerta Vieja restauraunt, and ask for Oscar! The space is lovely and the food is delicious. Just don't sit at the bar to eat...
There is a saying that only 6 degrees of acquaintances separate 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.
A couple weeks ago I mentioned we had met Giovanni, an Italian developer in La Paz who collects cars from the 80’s. He has a historic house for sale in Triunfo, a tiny pueblo midway between Todos Santos and La Paz.
He spends every Sunday, even in the low season, at the house showing it to people looking to buy a house, or simply looking to look. Like us.
Triunfo was a mining town back in the day. This part of Baja saw quite a bit of mining and still has some controversial activity. For all the wealth that was extracted, the towns themselves were nothing special, basically just company towns for the workers. The mining legacy includes a couple of streets of old historic buildings and arsenic in the water.
Today Triunfo’s main drag and a street of shops a block over are being restyled for tourism, to catch some of the weekend traffic during the high season coming from Cabo and Todos Santos and La Paz.
We arrive and text Giovanni. He tells us where the house is; very close to the cluster of attractions that include a cafe and bakery Cafe El Triunfo. The cafe is owned by a man from LA who used to have restaurants in Todos Santos and closed shop there as he saw that tiny market become quickly over saturated. Giovanni tells me all this, he claims there are 60 restaurants open in Todos Santos during high season.
Right now the Cafe El Triunfo is pretty much the only game in town here. Giovanni describes it as a gold mine for the owner, I’m not so sure. Its cute and the bread we try from the bakery is delicious, but much of this area is very sleepy most of the year. Perhaps seasonal cash cow would be a better description. Having said that, I’m no expert at local economics, and even if I were, the market here is quite skewed as you will see in a bit.
We walk a block off of the main drag and come to the house, it sits on a corner. We meet and greet and say hello to Giovanni’s mom, a slender pretty older lady with even more Italian flavoring her Spanish than her son has.
They speak Italian with each other. Later, when he is referring to her in a conversation with me, he calls her “Mama”. It’s charming. It makes me want to go to Italy this afternoon and stay for a year.
Given that isn’t an option, we settle for the next best thing, which turns out to be quite a good thing, actually. Giovanni gives us a tour of the house and town. It’s everything you could want from an Italian tour guide. Knowledgeable, opinionated, good backstory and punctuated with lots of hand waving and shoulder shrugs.
It turns out Giovanni is a history buff. He hiked and camped in these old towns and mountains when he was a teenager. He furnished the interior of this house with many antiques that he found or has picked up along the way. He photocopied old photos of the house's original family from local archives and framed them for the hallway.
Our tour starts in the kitchen. Mama, perhaps thinking we are potential buyers, mentions how nice and cool it is in there, compared to outside which is 90 degrees in the sun.
I nod politely, as sweat trickles down my back and I suppress the desire to start panting.
The kitchen is adorable and overstuffed with new appliances crammed into an old layout from before the days of closet-sized refrigerators.
The house plan is a bit odd. One hallway off the kitchen has two rooms on either side. Giovanni has staged both rooms as bedrooms, showing the house as a 2 bedroom with a kitchen and no living area.
The backyard is beautiful, with stone paving, a trellis, native plants, climbing bouganvillea and, unlike the house, features an inviting sitting area.
I feel the pull of Italy once again. I'm hoping that Mama will appear with a jug of cold wine and a cheese tray. Isn't that what Italian mamas do? Alas, my dream scenario does not materialize and we continue with the tour.
At the back we visit an outbuilding he restyled as a bunk house. He mentions it could be a possible rental for the owners of the main house, saying it has been plumbed for a kitchen and bath.
I ask him if he has experimented with AirBnB in any of his other properties.
Si! he did, and No! he doesn’t like it.
We have a friend with a rental house in Cabo who feels the same way - the simplicity of a lease and monthly rent wins out over the extra margin you can make with AirBnB, where you have to spend a lot more time in coordinating logistics and pleasing your customer.
This is one thing some new AirBnB hosts with landlord experience don’t always understand. When you host via AirBnB, your guest is not a tenant. Your guest is a customer.
The traditional tenant / landlord dynamic is rooted in a foundation of haves and have-nots. Not so with AirBnB guests. Your AirBnB guest might be a multi-millionaire couple in town for a festival.
We once stayed in an AirBnB with a rock hard old bed. We were supposed to stay for a month. I asked the host to replace the bed or at least buy a mattress topper. He proposed we split the cost of the new bed.
I pointed out that we would be gone in a month, and that we were his guests, not his tenant, so how did it make sense that I help him buy a new bed for the next guests, and the next?
He didn’t see it that way, and we parted ways amicably after he refunded our payment. I’m pretty sure that house was haunted, anyway, I was glad to leave.
I continue to observe controversy about AirBnB in expensive, tight markets that have a steady flow of tourist traffic. People rail against the company when they should be picketing their city, county and state officials.
AirBnB, like Uber, simply magnifies existing dysfunction in the market. A community neglects affordable housing for decades and suddenly AirBnB is the devil. Hotels serve up boring, undifferentiated, expensive rooms, and then get upset when - surprise! - people would prefer to spend less on homier options.
In Cabo, the taxi drivers continue to protest Uber, while they also continue to extort tourists for $40 and $50 cab rides from the airport, provide substandard service, forbid bus drivers to let tourists ride from the airport, and generally act like a mafia.
Back to Triunfo, where Uber is not even a topic of discussion given that the town population is probably about 12 people.
After our short tour of the 2 bedroom plus a kitchen house, we move out on the town, so to speak.
As we walk out onto the street, I try to buy a beer with lime and salt from a street vendor selling Micheladas - which are beer with lime, salt and clam juice.
I don’t want the clam juice, so they say they don’t have any beer. This is one of those alternate reality moments I often run into in Mexico. There is beer in plain sight but we are all supposed to pretend like that is not the case.
My fried gringa brain does not connect that if I offer to pay full price for the Michelada and just tell them to omit the clam juice, the beer will magically flow, like a miracle spring in the desert.
At any rate, I don’t have time to process because our Italian guide has moved ahead, talking to the air and pointing out this and that.
What emerges from the tour is an interesting fact.
A few years ago, Christy Walton, John Walton’s (of the Walmart family Waltons) widow, one of the richest women in the world, started buying property in Triunfo as well as quite a bit of land in the mountains near here. What is it like to be able to buy a whole mountain, let alone two or three?
Her people are scaling up on a sustainable tourism resort nearby as well. A quick google of water issues shows that she has negotiated rights to water in the region as well. This, of course, is essential to running a resort in the desert and also makes long term business sense, too.
Some members of the Getty family own a house here and in La Paz as well. If this blog were my full time gig, I’d have a lot more factoids for you.
Giovanni, like his Papa before him, has been in real estate in the area his whole life. He acquired the house we just toured years ago. I think he had another small house or building in the area that he sold awhile back, too.
Today, he alludes to the challenges sourcing smaller deals when everyone around the table knows that a new buyer with limitless cash is investing in the area, and has bought several buildings in town as well.
We finish our circular tour of a couple of blocks and arrive back in front of the house. We say goodbye to Giovanni, and Mama, who had stayed behind.
I purposely didn’t look up the selling price of the house because I wanted to guess after I had seen it, the town, and learned some of the backstory.
One of the benefits of being in a place for awhile is the shine wears off and you see beyond the mirage sold to short term visitors who are escaping a stressful home base in the US. My rose-colored view of Todos is less rosy now, having spent two low seasons here staying in the local’s barrio.
Quick tip that I used to think was obvious but now I’m not so sure:
Everyone in real estate here has a story of the hapless American who lost it all. There is a lot of info out there about local conditions that can help people avoid a bad experience.
For one thing, many tourist small towns have local listserv on the internet and often a local print newspaper targeted at English speakers. You should definitely start reading those sources if you are interested in buying property here.
One recent article in the Gringo Gazette (real name, I am not making that up) profiled a development company that is clearly on the ropes. This is public knowledge to the expat locals, but the company is still selling land lots in a new development near here.
I visited Ajijic and Lake Chapala, the oldest and biggest expat community (Americans and Canadians) in Mexico a couple years ago. I saw (and stayed in) concrete homes with barren small lots on unpaved streets, selling for $200K - $300K in the gringo side of town.
Anywhere near town center was even higher. To me the prices seemed quite high given the drug violence in surrounding towns and the fact that the only way out, really, is one easily blocked road that goes to GDL and the airport.
There seems to be an unspoken expat belief that their money also buys a value bubble that settles over the property.
This is sort of is true in areas like Cabo where the entire infrastructure is tuned to a different standard and so the bubble is bigger.
It is less understandable in Todos Santos where gringos with a bucket of money buy houses that back up to lots full of trash on streets ruled by barking dogs. Or clusters of beach homes so far out of town you can't walk to anything other than the beach.
Having said all that, there is no upside for those who only blog about the risks, i.e. yours truly at the moment. The upside is in the action, right?
Like our American friends who live in Baja and have 3 rentals. They lost a lot of money, no, not in Mexican real estate, but in the 2008 stock market crash in the good ol' USA.
This was just as they were getting ready to retire, so they had to figure out a way to get some cash flow going. Three houses in Mexico (plus the one they live in) sounds to me like way too many toilets to keep flushing, but they are energetic, positive and smart even as they are approaching 70.
The diversification means their overall cap rate is 7% even with one tenant who is not paying full rent and hasn’t for months. They talked to their attorney about eviction, she said it would take a year to go through the process and once you serve notice, tenants will quit paying rent and there is nothing you can do until it is resolved.
Her advice was to slow walk repairs. I’ve seen the house, it’s too bad because it’s a sweet house with a beautiful small pool area. It must be hard for them to watch it deteriorate. But if they keep up with repairs, the current people may never leave.
Suddenly, AirBnB seems more attractive once again. At least with AirBnB, if you have a vampire guest, they will be leaving soon, if not, they have no legal recourse if you hire your large primo from La Neza to go forcibly evict them.
If you have a vampire renter, they get their hooks into a lease and hang around as long as possible. To get them out you have to pay an attorney (one source paid $110 an hour) and navigate the Mexican courts.
On the way back to the car, we stop at the C store to buy a Corona, with no clam juice, to share in our air conditioned car. I tell Sergio OK, my guess is that the house is about $250,000. His eyes get wide. I googled the listing (oh the wonders of google).
I’m nowhere even close.
The asking price is $349,000.
Sergio said, wow, I could live on that the rest of my life.
And with that, we toast to Giovanni’s future and head back to Todos Santos.
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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It is warm and muggy, a hurricane is on the way, pushing rain ahead to the parched desert south of us. The sky all around Todos Santos swirls with gorgeous dollops of silver, gray and bruised-purple clouds, but not a drop of rain falls on the town. It is as if there is a black magic anti-rain shield arching over us.
The southern tip of Baja was an island unto itself in back in the days when the earth was much younger. The Sierra Laguna mountains were separated from the massive Sierra clan for eons. I wonder if those years as an island seem like yesterday to their mountain memory. Do the Sierras stretching north still consider the Laguna range an outcast for taking their solo journey?
Southern Baja’s history as an island may account for the “place apart” energy that still imbues this part of the world. Between the mountains, crashing ocean, desert, rising moon and setting sun, a sense of rhythm is palpable for those who spend enough time out of the car (or the bar), and in person with the land.
This time of year, nature is not that welcoming. Go walking too late in the day and the heat will beat the fire out of you, sending you into a mini-vision quest of sweat and discomfort.
You start to notice the small things. Odd muses show up.
Many times since I arrived I have thought of E.B. White, of all people. As a young American girl who loved books, he was one of my earliest inspirations. I reread Charlottes Web yearly until I was old enough to hide that fact for fear of being judged uncool by my friends who were getting into makeup and boys. Usually in that order.
Later, I discovered his This Is New York essay, which he wrote one summer in a cheap sweltering New York City hotel room. It still is benchmark inspiration for me in so many ways. I blame this whole Todos adventure on E.B., actually.
I think to myself, why does creativity seem to demand its pound of flesh? To live a more creative life, do we have to go through the artist garret gauntlet? Must we freeze in Paris or sweat in New York, or, in my case, the Baja desert late summer sauna?
For writers, even if being broke and starving doesn’t shove them into the arms of their muse, is there something else that makes us so damn restless? That pulls us out onto the road, the next experience, the discomfort? I think of Jack Kerouac and The Road. I confess, I have not read it. How can that be?
Anyone can enjoy Baja in high season. It’s a bit of a gringa badge of badassedness to hang out here in August and September, in a house with no A/C. Twice. (I say gringa because on a global scale, living with discomfort is not a big deal. At all. The majority of the earth's people who live in hot climates do not have AC. At all.)
I signed up for this experience, so I focus on being open and not falling into the universal trap of kvetching about the weather all time.
I’m at our kitchen table, shifting my weight around in one of the world’s most uncomfortable chairs.
That is actually what made me think of E.B. White in a New York hotel room, sweating in his rickety cheap chair.
My chair is the complete and total opposite of rickety. If Fred Flintstone had a mountain cave man cousin who made furniture, this would be the stuff. The table I'm at is a single 7 inch thick wedge of wood from a good sized tree, it must weigh 400 lbs. The legs are literally large branches. It's actually very cool in a furniture performance art sort of way.
I think of Donald Judd’s cool and uncomfortable furniture in Marfa. I believe he would approve of the Cave Man dinette set. He would approve of many things about southern Baja, in fact. The U.S. is lucky that he, and Steinbeck for that matter, didn’t come to Baja before they settled down north of the border.
The Cave Man chairs have seats that are also carved from 6 inch slices of tree trunks. In a passing nod to ergonomics, the seat has indents carved out for your butt cheeks.
Maybe the furniture maker was inspired by perfect nalgas gracing the Diana the Huntress statue in Mexico City - I know I certainly am inspired by her. Well, not for her nalgas, although they are a fitness benchmark to shoot for, or would be if I was younger.
The seat indentations are one size fits all, or one size fits many Mexicans. In any case, my one size doesn’t conform and my gringa butt is super uncomfortable.
Since I moved to Mexico, I have been stunned at how uncomfortable the chairs are here. Even in nice restaurants sometimes.
I have a theory that their Spanish Inquisition seating is a practical defense against 2 traditions.
One - restaurant waiters have to wait for you to ask for the check. It is considered very rude to bring it before you ask for it. If you visit from the States and you don’t know that, it will make you crazy until you figure it out.
Two: the “mi casa es tu casa” tradition. Sure! Come on in and have a seat, my house is your house! Make yourself at home in one of our boulder hard Cave Man chairs or pull up a rickety cheap plastic folding chair and pray today isn't the day it decides to finally collapse.
Pretty smart, huh? Both options will have you hopping up to grab your coat in about 20 minutes.
Finally, painful chairs are also a preventive measure against unwanted housemates. In Mexico your kids have a lifetime pass to move back home. On top of that, any random primo (cousin) or sobrino (nephew) also have implicit permission to move in this afternoon and live on your couch until further notice. Comfy furniture definitely is a liability.
Today it is lucky for me that my younger self also read the story of the Princess and the Pea, so I get up and add a cushion to my cave man chair.
My sweet man sits is across from me. He just googled our blog and has question. He looks over his glasses and it strikes me anew how much he looks a subject from a Velazquez portrait - a 15th century Iberian philosopher, perhaps.
No, that’s a stretch. In reality, he looks more like a wily royal court official plotting his next move.
Velazquez shakes loose a memory from the magic time I spent as a docent at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. I first came across the painter’s work there and I spent many quiet moments in the galleries with the Spanish paintings, knowing they were telling me something but stuck as to how to translate it into my life’s frame. The message was something like
Why haven't you moved to Spain yet, hermanita?
But that was beyond my hearing range and instead I groped for a socially acceptable solution. I began to seriously consider going back to get my Masters in art history.
Compare the happy hour or holiday dinner reactions of family and friends to the following:
"I'm working on my masters degree" vs.
"Oh, we're selling the house and car and saving to pull the kids out of school and move to Spain next year, no, don't have any grand plans, we're going to figure out most of it as we go".
See how this works?
It would have been the perfect cover story so I wrangled with the idea but never even applied, it seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I used to give up so easily back then.
Ironically, it was the requirement to achieve proficiency in a second language that seemed insurmountable.
I have zero regrets, it seems to be working out OK. Now, instead of being trapped in the frustrating dynamic of studying handsome latino men frozen in 400 year old paintings, I have the infinitely more interesting assignment of learning from the sexy caballero sitting across from me, en vivo, at the Cave Man table, looking like a Spanish conquistador come to life, googling “la vida wich wings” .
My heart has melted and not just because of the heat.
The fan we have turned up full bore in the open doorway is blowing in happy inane mayflies and keeping mosquitos at bay. My hair is up in a chula bandana and a bit of sweat runs down my back. The iPhone hums a Latin soft pop mix in a tinny way that reminds me of the AM radio that used to play in my grandmother’s Iowa kitchen every morning, along with the farm report, but sans the latin pop.
I feel EB sitting with me, maybe he’s got a glass of whiskey, I find myself wondering if I offer some mezcal, will he tell me all his writing secrets? I’m pretty sure Kerouac would, but as I haven’t read him, would I even want to know?
When I committed to house sit a few months ago, from my cool perch in Mexico City, there were practical reasons for it, yet there was something else, that I couldn’t fully articulate.
Does that ever happen to you when you decide on a course of action? It’s like that whisper in the gallery at the Kimbell - you can’t quite catch in the moment -
come closer so you can hear the story
This time I did listen to it and I remind myself of it everyday here at about 2:30 pm when the heat really peaks.
Not to be over dramatic, but the message was something like - this will be a crucible you need and will make us stronger. Desert clarity, heat, time to write, and also, my favorite part, animals to care for.
When we arrive, we discover there is a new a bonus kitty. She is barely weaned, a rescue from a litter dumped in the desert. I look at her and imagine what those hours were like - it couldn’t of been days, she would not have survived. Small, exposed edible creatures don’t last long out there.
Poor thing, what a rough start - the heat, no mama, panicked littermates, wide open sense of infinite space, strange smells, and above all a pervading sense of this is not good, not good at all.
When I saw her, I was surprised, but then not really. I thought, hello Little Teacher, you may be part of the reason I’m here or vice versa.
She’s fearless, active, and in the moment constantly, taking on the dog and already dominating the older cat. Like my Mexican, she doesn’t wear her rough start on her sleeve. She learned early on to keep moving, keep fighting and don't give up.
Do you ever wonder why we want to travel in the first place? Why is it a gillion dollar industry? I saw an interesting factoid recently from a study - it said that women reported feeling most empowered from saving money and travel, 2 seemingly opposite goals.
I can only speak for myself, and from comments of many other travelers I have come across in Facebook groups for women that travel.
It seems to be this: in a society that makes it very easy to hide from ourselves, travel is our soul's shortcut to getting us back on her path.
What does that mean? It sounds woo woo, I know. But it is actually very logical. As we will see next week.
Thank you for reading : )
Please note that this info is current as of the date referenced. It’s always good to verify opening hours and details in person or on the phone in Mexico. Websites are still often either non-existent or out of date. This is true even of large companies, so it can save you time to call first. Being able to speak a little Spanish is a big help in sourcing local.
The Pescadero area around Todos Santos is home to many organic farms, some that export to the US. There are vegetable stands in Todos Santos that are open almost every day.
One of them, Rancho Buen Dia, is directly in front of a large garden where they grow many of the items. It is across from the Baja Market on Avenida Gral. Topete.
The Baja market has a wall of wine, including lots of Chilean reds, all cooking nicely in the un-airconditioned store. Oh well, if it’s hot you’ll probably put it on ice anyway.
You can’t miss these two locations because they are on the way to La Esquina cafe, where most visitors are drawn like camels to an oasis within 48 hours of arrival. (Please see the RESTAURANT section.). If you continue past La Esquina and Cuatro Vientos, there is a large veggie vendor in a lot just past a small strip center, both on the left as you head outta town.
Local chicken -
go to the Dulceria Alexander on the road going outside of town to the north - Hwy 19 - and ask at the counter. Yes, I’m telling you to go to the candy store and pick up a chicken. You can stop by earlier in the day and either buy a frozen one or ask when they will be bringing fresh ones. The candy store has the freezer so I think that’s why they also act as a local chicken drop off point.
I don’t know what the chickens are fed or any details about where they are raised. If you have issues with soy or gluten, I can’t guarantee they are safe for you. I do know ours was delicious. Below is one from our series of quick videos from the night we cooked it.
La Esquina is a popular gathering place for coffee and light food. It is a beautiful outdoor shaded space with extensive, well-kept grounds. It shares a parking lot with the Cuatro Vientos center where yoga and other classes happen. If the gates are open you should walk through, the grounds are lovely and there is a large gazebo that catches the breeze from the ocean over yonder. Places like this make me think it must be fun to have enough money to do lovely projects at scale that provide gathering places for people. Not easy, but fun. #bucketlist
Our favorite restaurant so far is Pizza Nostra - owned by Mexicans from Mazatlan, quite good thin crust wood fired oven pizza. Be sure they brown it all the way, sometimes they take it out too soon and its not crispy. And, milagro of miracles, they have a lovely red Montepulciano Italian wine by the glass - $4 or so. I recently saw that they have a location in Cabo San Lucas, too. Yay!
We went to the bar at the Todos Santos Inn, it has a fun ambiance but it was really hot. The big air conditioner mounted on the wall was still and silent as the grave. Not even a fan in the front doorway, which would have helped too.
We got there a little late and ordered a second glass of wine right at closing, at which time also they closed the front door and then it got super toasty. We moved to a narrow balcony just outside the bar area that has 2 small tables hugging the wall. If that hadn't been available I would have ask for a roadie cup. (Come to think of it, I haven't done that in Mexico yet but I bet you can get away with it). If they aren't going to turn on the AC in July, they should at least let bar guests sit outside on the terrace area that is usually reserved for hotel guests.
I read earlier that day that the building and business are for sale, that could have something to do with skimping on the AC. It is a lovely building with a gorgeous small pool and lush landscaping. The original part is the second oldest structure in Todos, and, as the nice young man that works there assured me as he intercepted my wandering off into the guest area, the most historic.
La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar -
I mention one of our other favorites, La Casita, in this blog post. It is owned by a Mexican chef, and is a tapas bar with a big emphasis on sushi. Go figure.
It's a little higher than our average Friday night outing budget, so we don't go as often but it's definitely worth a stop if you are in Todos Santos or La Paz.
>>>> La Casita website HERE.
BEST DAY GETAWAY
If you are here in low season, and you want a day off from the heat, go plop down by the beautiful pool at El Faro Beach Club. If you are here in high season, get there early because the venue is small, low key, with great service and very good food. Say Hi to Cynthia, a manager, when you check-in.
By great service, I don't mean fast and efficient, but very friendly. Call ahead if you like wine to be sure they have your fave, for some reason they ran out of Chardonnay both times I was there. And no, it wasn't because I drank it all up. lol.
Below is some general info about food shopping in Mexico.
Please see our posts about regional local sources for more specific info.
Baja California Sur:
Cabo San Lucas
Mexico City - coming this winter.
A bit of context for you.
I have spent a lot of time with foodies, and I love many of them. I have eaten at some of the top restaurants in the US and Mexico. Both of my millennial kids are foodies, as a matter of fact.
Even so, I'm not a foodie. I give a bit of context at the end of this post so you can decide if what I have to say is right for you. Lucky for you and me, there are a plethora of foodie blogs out there if that is your passion.
General tips about local food in Mexico:
Try to learn some Spanish, it will help you to be able to ask the locals where to get eggs or local meat. They are generally very open with info, but don’t always speak English.
Mercado vs. Tianguis (Teeangeez)
A mercado is a built structure with walls and a roof. For example, the Mercados in the Zocalo are carrying on a tradition that dates back thousands of years in the same place. You can see fabulous dioramas depicting this in the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.
Tianguis are pop up markets - you will see them on certain days taking over some streets with colorful tarps. In Mexico City they are highly organized associations with some political clout which has given even the global Walmart juggernaut a pause. It is very common for the tianguis have all kinds of merchandise, including grocery type food - veg, meat, fruit, flowers, dairy.
I often see tianguis referred to as street markets or mercados in sources written in English. Now you know the difference.
Even though a lot of USDA certified organic produce is grown in Mexico, from the consumer standpoint right now, organic is not a thing, really. There is a Mexican organic standard, but I don’t see it very often and almost never at the town markets.
What Sergio does is this - he racially profiles the vendors to judge who is most likely to have fresh, local and naturally grown produce. Please, nobody get offended, let me explain.
The vendors who are women about 4 feet tall, brown skinned, in their 40s - 80s with long black or gray plaits, often in wildly colorful lacey dresses with an apron - they have the veggie jackpot. They are more likely to have produce from their family’s garden, - including some bumpy fruit and veg that you may not have seen before.
The señor down the way in his Dodgers baseball cap unpacking crates of conventional tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and Washington State apples - well, he’s a nice guy but probably wasn’t out at 3 a.m. harvesting lechuga and nopales for the tianguis.
You can extrapolate this to some markets - my favorite 2 markets in Mexico City are in Xochimilco and the tianguis in Tepotzlan on Wedneday (before the tourists come on the weekend).
About my Foodie credentials (or lack thereof)
I will never forget the first time I had a true slow food lunch, in 1992. The dish was pasta with butter and truffles in a local restaurant in Sienna, Italy. We scooted in for the last table of the lunch seating. There were Italian families all around at the bigger tables, finishing up their Sunday lunch.
There was no Instagram, no robo-calling for a reservation 6 months out, no second seating, and no rush even though they closed right after we sat down.
I took my first bite. My eyes watered and I felt a jolt all the way to my base chakra, the flavor was so intense. (Now I sound like a foodie, don't I?)
Out of all the thousands of times I have eaten at restaurants, that one bite is the one that stands out. I thought that it must be one of the best restaurants in the world and we had somehow come across it.
It was literally a few years later that I realized it was simply a fresh local lunch, created that day, completely free of processed food, chemicals, or any ingredient with a shelf life, other than salt and oil. So that is what Sergio and I champion - those pockets where this kind of food and family business is still present, if not the norm.
There are bigger fish to fry on the global food scene than the latest "trend" in food. Most of us do not seem to see this yet, but we are moving into a time on the planet when we will look back on fascination with the most recent "trend" as a quaint indulgence.
Can we have a conversation about healthy farms and rehabilitating the ocean? Shall we hold governments more accountable and put the brakes on global corporations privatizing seeds, patenting indigenous plants, and convincing farmers to do what is not best for their land?
How about more articles about global nutrition for our kids, who in some countries are already struggling with obesity while in others they don't have enough to eat. How about a discussion about how climate change will affect small farmers, instead of how many stars some chef earned catering to the global elite?
I hope these might be the subjects of dinnertime conversation by foodies dining at the multi-star restaurants.
I am not against the "art" in culinary arts, not by a long shot, but I get bored when it becomes too precious. I love that movie #JulieandJulia because of how scrappy Julie was, cooking amazing food in a tiny kitchen. She is great inspiration for nomad lifestyle cooking.
Oye! Welcome to our Local Roundup page for La Paz, BCS.
La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar -
â I mention one of our other favorites, La Casita, in this blog post. It is owned by a Mexican chef, and is a tapas bar with a big emphasis on sushi. Go figure.
It's a little higher than our average Friday night outing budget, so we don't go as often but it's definitely worth a stop if you are in Todos Santos or La Paz.
As much as I love La Casita, I have to say my current favorite La Paz restaurant is Anzuelo Cocina . Why? It is like a little air conditioned glass box that looks out over the Marina, Open Air view without the Open Air humidity. The food is great, and the prices are reasonable. We went there after a dental appointment in La Paz and decided with all the money we are saving on dental work, we should buy a yacht. So we sit and have drinks and appetizers and look out over our yacht. : )
La Calle Francisco in La Paz near the historic district hosts the La Paz Farmers Market every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. They close at 1:00 but get there early because it gets hot.
Link to google map for La Paz Farmer's Market
Stop for coffee at Doce Cuarenta - which means 1240 - super cute coffee shop with cool swag and great cafecitos and snacks. And Oh Happy Day, it is air Conditioned for real. It's in the same street as the Farmer's Market. â
Below are some posts from our Facebook page. There are lots more there, if you click over and look around you will see.
Todos Santos, Mexico
I walk into the bedroom of the house we are currently caring for, home of a tri-lingual Blue Heeler (Spanish, English and French), a sleek savvy young cat, and a beautiful tiny white kitten with gray tipped ears and tail, blue eyes and huge attitude.
We only recently settled in yet now everything from the closet is on the bed, drawers are open, shirts and pants turned inside out, backpacks rifled through.
No. Sergio is looking for something.
This is a somewhat frequent occurrence. This time, his friend gave him 3000 pesos - about $150 - to take a computer in for repair. Sergio can’t remember where he put the money. It was almost 2 weeks ago and he’s just now remembering that he received the money, because today is the day to go pick up the computer.
Sergio does not have great short term memory, and he doesn’t do well with lots of details in general. It is not just a symptom of getting older. He has been like this his whole life.
His long term memory is pretty good. We were at a beach once and he recognized someone he met in the US years ago. He remembers almost every restaurant we’ve ever been to, but ask him where are the keys, what he did in town this morning, what time it is, or the name of anyone he just met, and he won’t know.
One thing that drew me to him in the first place was his radical way of living in the Now. He lived month to month for about 10 years in the US. He doesn’t like to be alone and he spent very little time in the room he rented with a family. He was always out and about.
He made enough money as a landscaper to pay his rent, send money to his sons, buy food, and spend his free time with his Danza group or the theater group where he was an actor, or in many other community activities.
He saved enough to go to Burning Man twice and take a month off to run with a group from Oregon to LA, but other than that his future planning was limited.
I now see his preference for the Now wasn’t some new age revelation, like it was for me (thank you Ekhart Tolle). For him it is partly a survival tactic built up over decades of realizing that future planning requires keeping track of details, and he’s not good at that. I don’t know if he has ADHD or something else.
I have some theories about how this happened. His nutrition was likely hit and miss as a child. He never had much stability or routine growing up - after his grandmother passed away when he was 5, he moved a lot with his dad, staying with different family members. Even after his dad remarried, Sergio never had his own “space” other than a box for his few things. He didn’t have his own bed until he was in his 20s, when he and his girlfriend moved in together.
He is a very physical, active, social man. He is intelligent but doesn’t learn from mindless repetition and words on a page. In today’s parlance, he likely has a “different learning style”. There was not (and as far as I know still is not) any slice and dice in the rote delivery of public education in Mexico, no enriched curriculum for children like Sergio when he was in school.
He was one of millions of little boys who could not sit still, talked too much in class and craved attention from the girl sitting in front of him. His school performance suffered. Notes were sent home.
Sergio’s father, Luis, finished middle school. He was a chauffer most of his life, and he wanted more for Sergio. He saw the value of education.
Sergio’s grades were a sore point for both of them - Luis thought Sergio simply wasn’t trying. Sergio, who craved his father’s approval more than anything, didn’t know how to improve. My heart aches when I think of how trapped Sergio must have felt, to be trying, failing and not know how to fix it.
There were some rough homework supervision sessions when he was younger. As the years passed, his father’s struggle with alcohol did not improve and Sergio avoided going home until late most evenings.
I didn’t know all of this about Sergio before we adopted this nomadic lifestyle. It wouldn’t have stopped me even if I had, as I don’t believe your past should dictate your lifestyle any more than your possessions should.
But it might have made me be a little more proactive about helping organize us both.
I think of my childhood, and that of most people I know - the gift to have a routine baked into our days, being nagged to clean up our room or make our bed. Arguing over who’s turn it is to set the table for the dinner that shows up every night. To have our own desk, our own bed, our own cubby and a closet to anchor our external world.
I lean on that perspective to help me understand what is going on today, as I look at the jumble of clothes on the bed.
I have never felt sorry for Sergio, pity is a dubious gift, it assumes too much, it is a bit self-serving and not empowering for the other person. But I do have compassion for him.
About a year before I met him, I had been asking the Universe to help me become more compassionate. My own life has been easy, and that has made me open, trusting and generous.
But when you don’t have much real struggle, you may have a hard time understanding the choices or actions of others who have struggled. It may surprise you, but full time travel, when you still have to work to pay your bills, is not easy, so I was drawn to the challenge of that as a way to sharpen my dull edges, too.
Before, I was often impatient with others, and myself, and I knew that becoming more compassionate was the key to growing patience. I believe part of the reason Sergio is in my life is to be a teacher in this sense. His stories, and the people and stories I am able to access just from being with him, are my compassion-building boot camp.
As I stand here looking at the room turned upside down, I am not thinking such enlightened thoughts, not at first. My reflex is to want to be annoyed. Another chaotic search? Another expensive loss?
I reach inside for the sarcastic comment, and I am surprised and happy to find that it is not there. In fact, the negative emotion is not there. I am not annoyed.
I look at his face and I feel, well, compassion for him. He is not yelling or frantic. In fact, he has a disconnected, worried expression, one that I’ve seen before. Probably a survival mode developed after long experience of looking for things that don’t materialize, knowing something took place but not being able to remember the details.
Mexicans can be very blunt with each other, and after years of criticism by family and friends in exactly moments such as this, he doesn’t want to meet my eye. I can only imagine the tape that has started playing in his mind. “Ai cabron, otra vez? Que estabas pensando? Eres tonto amigo.”
His face looks, well, kind of crumpled. He’s going through the motions and has no real expectation of finding the money.
So I think about diving in to help, and then something says,
No, not yet. Chiki needs to be walked.
I say to Sergio,
I’m going to walk la perra and I’ll help you when I get back, OK?
He nods. I take Chiki for her walk, and the calm of the desert expands to meet what is going on inside of me.
We return. The money is still missing. Now, he is beginning to look in places where it has no chance of being, because why would it turn up in my winter clothes suitcase when it has been over 90 degrees since we got here?
Stop, come with me.
I take his hand. We go outside. No matter what the problem is, going outside always helps, especially for him. He sits on the bench in the front porch. We have a plant with the flowers Hawaiians use to make leis. The flowers smell amazing.
Close your eyes.
Try not to think about anything for a couple minutes, just focus on the sounds around you.
The dog panting, the birds, the cicadas, the truck in the distance.
I put the flower under his nose, his face relaxes a bit. After a minute or so I start asking him to visualize when he got the money. You may know the technique - first you picture surrounding details, and then you zero in on thing you are trying to remember. He remembers the room but not much else. I don’t push him, I just accept it.
I can tell that the memory simply isn’t there, or we are pushing up against a broken synapse and he simply can’t access it.
Or can he? Watch what happens next.
I say, “OK, I will go look with fresh ojos” - even though looking is one of my least favorite activities. It is one of the many reasons I don’t want a bunch of random stuff ever again. I still misplace things, but the less you have, the less time you have to spend looking.
The logic of this escapes Sergio, who still hauls twice as much on car trips as we need. Thus the pile of stuff on the bed.
We go back to the room and now I’m wondering where to start. All the sudden he pauses, takes a pair of jeans down from the shelf. He has already checked them but this time he checks the smaller square pocket in the front pocket.
And guess what. He finds the money.
He looks almost stunned, like, what just happened?
Yay baby, that’s awesome!
We celebrate for a minute. I’m so happy for him, I feel like we have made a mighty dent in an old dark pattern.
I go off to take a shower. He comes to the doorway, he’s holding the flower and he says,
You know, I think this flower helped me.
Yes, I think so too.
The next morning as I’m making the bed, I see the flower in some water on his side table.
The situations in our lives are not random occurrences. Many spiritual teachers say that everyone and every moment holds a potential lesson.
Picture the alternate scenario - Sergio looking for something. I arrive and reflexively step into the role of annoyed critic, scolding him, grudgingly agreeing into “help” him look, bringing my own judgmental energy to the whole scene, tossing stuff around, sighing.
Would we have found the money? Maybe, but I don’t think he would have been led to recheck those jeans. I think he would have shut down further.
Much more important than the money, even if we found it, what would have been his emotional take-away? What would I have reinforced in him by bringing impatient irritation in to dance with his stress and worry?
In taking a moment to go outside, connect with the present moment, and then prod gently on the memories of the transaction, I was looking for the literal “Oh yes! I remember now” moment. A key learning for me was, when it didn’t come, I tuned into him, and rather than push for him to try “harder” to remember, I let it go.
So it goes with our life - we are usually looking for a specific, literal outcome. When it doesn’t come, do we let it go and return to our path without negativity - i.e. closing down?
Because look at what happened - something did bubble up for Sergio, an inkling about those jeans that he had already checked.
This is how creativity works, too - we have to trust enough to take breaks, even sometimes at the most irrational moments, and then stay open to what comes up. We expect the answer (or inspiration) will come walking in the front door wearing a sensible blue skirt, and she actually blows in through the sunny window in the next room, in a hot pink sundress.
So that is our Sunday story. If you are considering traveling full time, I hope this list will make traveling with a partner more fun and / or handling different cultures easier:
Check your reflexes
Step back and take a break if something is not working
Check in with nature and the Now
Return to your path with positivity
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We are three hours into a four hour concert, I just had my 4th hot flash of the evening and am feeling slightly queasy. I’m in my seat at the end of a row, against the wall of the Auditorio Nacional, Mexico’s national performance hall, a gigantic space that seats 10,000 people. The show is sold out.
Sergio asked me last week to a concert for Valentine’s Day. It features four singers from the 1960s that he and his dad used to listened to, apparently quite often because he has a whole catalog of old songs memorized.
I’m happy with my wallflower perch as it gives me a view of 9,999 Mexicans all at one time, including my sweet man beside me. The wall space on one side balances out claustrophobia on the other as I realize exiting the row will not be easy.
I’ve worn very cute, impractical platforms which make me look 6 feet tall, which is great. They also make me totter like I’m on stilts, which is not so great. Getting to my seat was the final leg of a typical urban Mexico City hike.
We crossed busy streets, uneven sidewalks, climbed up multiple flights of stairs to our section, and finally finished up by navigating a narrow row filled with elderly senoras, most with a big purse on their lap. They gave me as much room as they could to let me pass, but the rows of seats, like most public areas in Mexico City, are maximized for capacity, not personal space. I barely had space to walk, in my platforms, in the dark, with nothing to hold onto, hoping I wouldn’t fall off the ledge and into the row just below ours.
I'm excited because this is my first time inside the Auditorio Nacional - an imposing venue built in 1952 that continues to perfectly complement the energy and scale of Mexico City. For architecture fans, it’s a must see. It is a strong, balanced huge modernist space; less harsh than the Brutalist structures of post WWII Russia and Europe, and with no trace of reference to Mexico’s colonial past.
Instead it’s a grand space for la gente , the people, a design with roots in the socialism that fed the Mexican Revolution and formed the genesis of many institutions and federal programs today - strong unions, bloated bureaucracy, compulsory military service for young men, universal (and evolving) health care and education.
We didn’t have any luck buying tickets ahead of time, so we decided last minute to try to get tickets from a seller out in front of the venue. We arrive outside the Auditorio and a seller approaches, assuring us that he has excellent seats in the middle. We all know he’s lying but it doesn’t really matter, we just want two seats together.
He then shouts to a muchacho across the way. There ensues a confusing rush of young men racing across the wide stairs leading up to the plaza, whistling to one another. Whistling is a common form of communication among men en la calle in Mexico, probably dating back thousands of years. Sergio’s son Jarkof still knows his dad’s whistle; they use it to get one another’s attention when we are out walking and have drifted apart.
The reason for the running around is to compare tickets and find two seats together. One boy, who looks about 10, comes racing up with a match; the muchacho who is handling the sale with us double-checks them. He gives me my ticket and tells me to enter the gate first. This will prove to Sergio, who waits outside, that the tickets are valid.
I enter without issues, feeling slightly shady. Sergio then pays for the tickets and joins me inside. Sergio is very frugal, he’ll compare prices for 20 minutes at the mercado to save 10 pesos on avocados. The cost of the tickets represents about 2 days of Ubering for him; I am touched that it meant that much to him to invite me.
Arriving in the central plaza, given the scale of the venue, you would expect to find banks of elevators to ferry guests up to the upper levels. You would be wrong. There are 2 small elevators and tonight one is out of service. In many older buildings in Mexico, elevators are more of a last resort than a main option.
The alternative is not bad. The building has long sweeping staircases that force you to take your time as you move upward through the space. I enjoyed the climb in spite of my shoes; unexpected urban obstacles like this remind me why I work out and keep me motivated to do so.
By the time we reach our seats, the first singer is about 2 songs into his set, with live backup singers and band. He’s singing old standards, the crowd sings along and applauds. I notice an annoying hiss that is too erratic to be feedback or static - its kind of like a high pitched Darth Vader sound. Soon I also notice that whenever he moves away from the mic, it stops.
I look at the big screens hung up above the stage. I can’t see the one that is along the same wall I’m up against, and the other screen is dwarfed by the distance across the big hall, but I think I can make out that he is wearing an oxygen tube. I think the sound is coming from him!
I try to follow along the lyrics and applaud on cue. He alternates between sitting on a tall stool and standing. He leaves the stage after his last song and lots of applause, taking the hissing sound with him.
I check the time. One hour exactly.
Uh-oh. I begin to get a sinking feeling I get sometimes when I'm in Mexico and I realize I'm about to enter an alternative Latino time space continuum. There are four singers on the program.
My gringa brain is in denial. NO way this could be a four hour concert. At the same time I know that resistance is futile and that actually, yes, guey, not only is it possible, but in fact it IS a four hour concert.
In the United States, we grab time by the throat on a daily basis and think that we can force it to submit to our agenda. In Mexico, time is considered something outside of your control, like a leisurely river that passes no matter what. If you get caught in a slowly swirling eddy of a long line at the bank, a friend who is 40 minutes late, a colossal traffic jam, or 4 hour concert that you expected would be 90 minutes, oh well. Que sera sera.
The second singer arrives on stage. He is in good form, with a balance of old school Sinatra chit-chat and singing. Near the end of his hour, he sings a heartfelt finale for the crowd of faithful gathered here - “I Did It My Way”- in English, no less. He exits the stage to great applause.
The crowd, thinking it is 5 minute break time, starts chatting and moving about, some heading for the restrooms. Suddenly the band starts up again as the singer re-appears to sing his actual final song.
It’s a bit awkward given that there had been no call for encore, but everyone adjusts and enjoys an entertaining cover of an old mariachi song in which the songwriter assures us that even though he may not have much, he is still the king, his word is law - and goes on to lament the absence of a queen in his life - go figure.
Third singer up, the only woman on the playbill. She tearfully confesses to the audience after her first song that she has been sick and lost her voice. The crowd rallies, begs her to continue in what became a pattern as she croaked along for her full hour, too. The back up singers (the same ones who were three hours into their four hour gig with almost no break) deserve double pay - without them, there would have been no 3rd performance, really. In between songs, the diva finds enough voice to introduce her entourage in the front row, including friends, relatives, and her promoter.
Then she returns to lamenting her lack of voice and saying no, no, I can’t go on, before giving in to the crowd’s supplications that she continue.
She’s obviously a beloved icon, but I found her to be self-indulgent and unprofessional - she should have either canceled her appearance or cut it short - both of which would probably offend her Mexican fans, as no doubt she knows her market better than I do.
I thought about this later. Why did I judged her harshly? It was more than just feeling increasingly uncomfortable hemmed into my seat. It is partly because I am a gringa exigente - a picky white lady - but it is also because she was full-out channeling the latina diva persona just like in the telenovelas. It’s a mixture of over-amped drama and emotional helplessness that disrespects how strong most Mexican women really are, and does nothing to help defuse the sexism they struggle with in most areas of life.
Finally she says goodbye, running from one side of the stage to the other, and not one minute before her hour was up.
Tres down, uno to go. The final singer comes out. We are in the home stretch with an octogenarian channeling Dean Martin, complete with off color jokes in Spanish and a glass of whisky off to the side.
In spite of not knowing many of the songs, I enjoyed the evening very much. It is fun to be dressed up, out in the city at that venue with my sweet man. He is so happy to be there - he is a big romantic at heart and sang along to many songs, including tearing up while he sang one of his dad's favorites to me “Eres Todo Para Mi”.
At my request, we leave about 30 minutes early, something I have always thought old people do, but not in Mexico, where most of the crowd stays in their seats.
Holding my arm as I totter down the long stone staircase, Sergio comments good-naturedly, “Ai mi amor, tu no eres por la carrera larga” - meaning, I can’t handle the long haul.
I say ”What? That was 3 ½ hours in the same seat!”
He just smiles as if he knows something I do not. We reach the bottom of the stairs, cross the plaza and walk out into the night, our long evening with los viejos reminding us that, if we are lucky, they are where we are headed, and every moment is more precious than the last.
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