From the dunes to the dentist

The last time we were in La Paz we checked out nearby Tecolote Beach to make sure it was accessible for our trailer (it was) and vowed to return. So it was with great anticipation we bumped along the beach and set up camp with a view.

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Tecolote  Beach is a treasure. It is just 20 minutes to La Paz, but feels remote. There are a couple of restaurants but otherwise no amenities. The water is emerald and crystal clear and the swimming is pure heaven. There are maybe a couple of dozen campers spread out over a wide area, with peace and privacy for all. Some choose the waterfront; other prefer to cozy in beside the dunes.

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We could have happily stayed here forever but we’re still figuring out the art of long-term boondocking. Our propane tanks could last a month and our solar panel keeps our battery fully charged but we’re still stymied about our water and waste. With careful water conservation and judicious toilet flushing (if it’s yellow, let it mellow), we can stretch boondocking for three days before we need to empty our tanks and refill water. Advice from long-timers can be cagey (“I just drive back there, dig a hole and empty”) or non-applicable – the big rigs have massive holding tanks and can go for a week or more.

So, we just resolved to enjoy every minute and figure out how to go for days without a shower.

It is amazing to me how one can amuse oneself doing very little and suddenly realize,”My gosh, it’s 3:00 pm already. Where has the day gone?”

Swimming, of course, figured largely in every day. So did hiking about and exploring the many trails in the area. There are sand dunes right behind the beach that go for miles. Our first trek out we were rewarded with a quick glimpse of a jackrabbit, and we sensed there must be a lot of other life hiding in this scrub.

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Different times of day produced entirely different landscapes.

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Even this broad red clay path entices you to explore.

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Not every day was sunny and warm – we had one day of torrential rain. It was so cosy to be snug in our trailer and watch the clouds threaten and then pour. Afterwards, we walked out to this moody scene.

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The next morning the clouds were clearing.

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Sunday on Tecolote Beach belongs to the Mexicans. During the week the beach is quiet and largely populated by gringos, but Sunday brings in Mexican families by the carloads and the fun begins. The music blares, the cabanas are set up, giant blankets staked out and picnic coolers roll up. Interestingly, not a lot of Mexicans actually swim but they hang out on the beach and relax. That is one thing we both love about La Paz and the surrounding area – it is very Mexican.

Apparently there is a delivery service for that essential of Mexican beach life – cerveza. Also, please note how spotless this car is, in spite of the dirt roads. Mexicans are extremely fussy when it comes to keeping their vehicles immaculately clean.

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One day, we were lazing about on the beach, reading and chatting.  I watched as this young man expertly went through his yoga poses, including a few solid headstands. I did wonder if I should dust off my yoga mat and join him, but thought better of it.

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About halfway down the beach from the camping area are a couple of restaurants. They are unfussy affairs with fresh seafood and great margaritas. The ambience may be casual, but you would pay triple the price in a restaurant in Toronto and not come close to the taste of shrimp that was caught that morning.

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Balandra Beach is just a couple of kilometres away from Tecolote and has a completely different feel to it. It is set in a sheltered cove, so far less windy and also very shallow – perfect for families with young children. We drove over to have a look and climbed up to the top of the hill overlooking the bay.

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The view from the other side:

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One of the interesting and fun elements of RV travel is you often run into people you’ve met from other campgrounds, and you discover thing you would otherwise have no way of knowing.  When we were out on a long hike one day we came upon a couple who were parked at the very far end of the beach; we had previously talked to them in Mulege. They directed us to walk a little further to the next cove to see the poignant site of two memorials to people who had drowned in that area.

The first was quite haunting – an ornate cross right in the water guarding what appears to be a grave. At high tide, the cross disappears.

Two young men were caught in an undertow and drowned at the site, although it’s not clear if their bodies were lost at sea or are buried elsewhere.

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Equally sad is this memorial to a mother and son. The mother tried unsuccessfully to reach her drowning son and was herself lost to sea.

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We left this beautiful beach reluctantly, but drove the short distance to the campground we had previously stayed at in La Paz, where we knew hot showers, laundry facilities and a great little cafe awaited.
One thing we have remarked upon throughout our trip is how people are able to travel with their dogs in the smallest of vehicles and appear unfazed by it. When we pulled into our campsite, there was a French couple next to us, travelling about in an SUV, rigged with a sleeping platform. In addition to their sleeping platform, their tubs of belongings and themselves, they also had Jacko – by far the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen. He’s just four months old, very mellow and absolutely devoted to his owners. He guarded the door every time one of them went to the washroom.

If we ever get a dog in another life, I want one just like Jacko.

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We’ve now been in La Paz for five days for a very special reason. We have joined the ranks of medical/dental tourists who flock to Mexico for affordable dental work, eyeglasses and even hip and knee replacements.

Stephen, although he is loathe to admit it, is afraid of dentists.  Over the years,  he would break a filling or chip a molar and because there was no pain and they were back teeth, it was out of sight, out of mind. Also, the potential cost of new crowns or bridge work was a bit of a deterrent, and he let it go.

We read about Molar City – the nickname for a small town just south of the California border that has over 350 dentists and is a buzzing hive of  up to 6000 gringos a day who line up for implants and teeth whitening.  This is work that would cost two to three times more back in the U.S. or Canada. Our plan was to set aside a few days on our way out of Mexico and stop for Stephen’s dental work, but then we researched dentists in La Paz and realized a week in this lovely seaside city would be preferable to a week in a dusty border town.

We discovered Dr. Guzman, who creates new crowns from the CEREC method, using CAD/CAM digital models to create teeth milled from porcelain, in the exact fit of the mouth and to an exact colour match to the other teeth.

The good news was Dr. Guzman does the examination and computer model one day and the teeth are ready the very next day – at US$500 per crown – at least half of what that work would cost in Canada. The bad news? Stephen needed nine teeth crowned. We look at it as deferred maintenance, with a very lucky outcome. The teeth are beautiful and we would happily return to Dr. Guzman in the future. Just as a note to anyone needing significant dental work – don’t be afraid of having work done in Mexico – just do your online research as you would at home. The good dentists are as well trained as any in the US or Canada, they are certified, speak English and have modern, clean facilities; in our case state-of-the-art technology.

Dr. Guzman and a slightly groggy Stephen after the final appointment.

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This is entirely off-topic, but during the appointments, I went out for a couple of strolls on the malecon and was lucky to stumble upon a dozen excited and glamorous young women posing for their quinceanera photos. It is a huge event when Mexican girls reach their fifteenth birthday;  a coming-of-age and culturally important stage in their lives. It is marked with parties, celebrations and almost identical princess dresses. Here, two young women wait for their turn to pose for photos.

I want to tell you, I looked nothing like that at fifteen.

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And finally, back at the campground, we met a most interesting couple, Em and David, from Melbourne Australia who have been travelling South America, Central America and now Mexico for two years by motorcycle. They have had many hair-raising adventures, falls off the bike too numerous to count and survived it all, but are now heading home in early February. They’re homesick for their kids and the rest of their family and friends and ready to get off the road.
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We loved their spirit – they are typical of so many people we meet, whether they’re in a big RV or on a bicycle. They are a huge part of what makes our travels so meaningful.

Tomorrow we head north to Ciudad Constitucion for an overnight, then back at Santispac Beach, near Mulege for a few days of sun and beach. We were there on the way south, so I may not post another blog  for at least a week until we hit San Ignacio Lagoon and the mama grey whales and their new calves.

Hasta Pronto!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hidden beauty of La Paz

You don’t have to look too far to appreciate the initial appeal of La Paz – mountain backdrop, sweeping crescent bay and hillside streets climbing up from the beachside malecon.

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Walking the malecon is the best way to orient yourself to La Paz. It runs the length of the historic centre and is lined with benches and palm trees. Amazingly, it is utterly free of touts pestering you about timeshares or boat rides. In fact, since the main road divides the malecon from the shops and restaurants, a stroll along the water lives up to the city’s name – Peace.  People-watching is what it’s all about.

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Maritime-themed sculptures dot the boardwalk – dolphins, mermaids and whales. We had fun watching the little boy to the right in this photo. We walked along with him as he took great joy in running away from his mother, grandmother and auntie – all of them calling him back with zero success.

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The northern part of the malecon is home to a great number of fishing boats – some of them still in use, others obviously retired.

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The southern end of the malecon has tour operators taking boats out to Espiritu Santo – part of a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising hundreds of islands. Snorkelling, diving and kayaking are all part of the tours and swimming with whale sharks is a huge draw.  Our timing was off – on the calm days we were doing other sightseeing and a number of days were simply too windy for the boats to go out safely.  We will try our luck when we stop here on our way back north.

Jacques Cousteau holds his rightful place on the malecon, casting his gaze over the Sea of Cortez, which he called “the world’s aquarium.”

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Even though the temperatures have not been that warm (18-22 degrees),  the sun is still very intense. I’ve given up on vanity  and we’re never without hats and water bottles.

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Most Mexican towns of any size have a cathedral and a plaza that form the centre of town. We parked in front of La Catedral de La Paz and returned to find pilons around our truck; they were attempting to clear space for a wedding. We wanted to watch for a glimpse of the bride, but needed to move out of there.

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We checked out the Saturday market, but were a bit disappointed. We were hoping for a great sprawling Mexican market with chickens and vegetables piled high and electronics and used clothing, but this one was quite small and catering to the gringo market. Vegan pesto, heirloom tomatoes, beach glass jewellery and artisan baking.

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All was not lost – this Italian woman and her son were grilling up sausages, but the real draw for us was the porchetta – a tender pork shoulder we had eaten before in Italy that could make you weep. A toasted bun, tomatoes, red onion, parsley pesto and as you can see from the photo, she didn’t skimp on the porchetta – whoa, so good.

When I commented to her about the number of Italians living in Mexico and why she moved from her home country, her answer was this, “Simple calculus. Italy has a negative birth rate and I wanted a future for myself and my children. My son was four when we moved (he is now mid-20s).” Although the economic advantage of moving to Mexico (for work) isn’t immediately apparent, it seems Italy and Mexico have a lot in common – the importance of family, appreciation for good food, proximity to the sea, rich agriculture and sun. It makes sense.

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Food in La Paz is very good; there is a thriving restaurant scene here. Admittedly, many of the restaurants and cafes are geared to the gringos, but this cafe had a good mix of clientele.

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This cafe, Doce Cuarenta, is a tourist hub. Very good coffee, baking and lunch items.

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We popped into this taco shop, which was mainly populated by Mexicans – usually a good sign. Communal tables, open kitchen, slightly gummy Tupperware containers of salsa, onion, cabbage and pots of salsa of varying degrees of heat.

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And the food – so fresh, so delicious. We had smoked marlin tacos, a “burro” with smoked marlin stuffed into a poblano pepper and topped with cheese, and my favourite – shrimp ceviche on tostado.

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We visited the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History, a small but well-presented history of Baja from prehistory to the 1910 revolution and beyond. All the signs were in Spanish, so we were able to get the gist, but missed the nuance of what we were reading.

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One section was photography devoted to cowboys, and the Mexican’s love of their horses.

I loved these two photos; they each capture essential elements of that life.

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La Paz is far more than the malecon, the restaurants and the tourist attractions. The hidden beauty of La Paz lies in discovering the little treasures that can be found by wandering the streets just back from the beachfront.

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A tile store and adjacent home.

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A sculpture outside a hotel

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Simple and perfect – white walls, red door, elegant sign, wrought iron, potted plants.

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Less perfect, but still interesting – more typically Mexican.  Great colours.

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The elegant Teatro Juarez

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A street view to the sea

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The travelling minstrels. Sooner or later, you will be serenaded by a singer with guitar, a mariachi band, or three old fellows who have played together for years. Levels of talent vary greatly and often they are largely ignored, but it’s fun and there are always extra pesos to drop in the hat.

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We stumbled upon this little park, tucked in off the street, with shady spots for picnics and a beautiful sculpture fountain. La Paz has a number of intriguing tiny parks – you just need to keep your eyes peeled.

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We talked to this family from Tijuana who were playing chess together. They told us they had driven straight from the border in 20 hours – obviously ignoring the often-repeated driving-in-Mexico mantra – “never drive at night.” Dad appeared to be winning.

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We drove out to Tecolote Beach, about a half hour outside La Paz, to see if the beach would be suitable for our trailer. Beach camping in Baja is incredible and in many cases is free, but not all beaches are accessible if you’re hauling a trailer or driving a big RV.

As it turned out, Tecolote Beach is completely appropriate, but can be quite windy. Since the weather for the next few days is calling for high winds, we will give it a try on our way back.

There is no water nor sani dump at Tecolote, but there are a couple of restaurants there, and a tour boat that goes out to Espiritu Santo. We drove out and took note of a couple of soft, sandy areas to avoid, but definitely will try and make it back. Very mellow, gorgeous swimming and snorkelling and nothing but starry nights and the sound of waves.

The backdrop to the beach at Tecolote:

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The beach:

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We’ve driven over some isolated mountain roads, some impressive potholes and topes, and endured that epic Hwy. 5 misadventure. So far, so good, but it is a common sight to see cars pulled off to one side, the hood up and a jack in place. Mexico has provided for highway mishaps in the form of angels – the Green Angels. This band of roadside saviours patrol Mexico’s highways and secondary roads to provide aid to motorists who have popped a tire, run out of gas, or otherwise broken down. Their services are free. We saw them a lot when we drove through mainland Mexico, but until now, never in Baja.  This off-duty Angel was at Tecolote Beach, enjoying the view.

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With such desirable beach camping and endless boondocking opportunities, you will see every imaginable form of RV in Baja – from rooftop tents to this beast. We arrived back at our campground a couple of days ago to discover this staggering vehicle, imported from Germany and clearly, the king of the road. We were not the only ones taking photos.

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It is far more likely you will encounter a varation of this old RV – a gentle version of transport that might have been right at home in what seems to be Baja’s heyday – the 70s.

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We’re spending a quiet New Year’s Eve, safely off the road and tucked into our campground for the night.

Tomorrow we will be in Todos Santos, about an hour away on the Pacific side, where we’ll hang out for a few days.

We wish you all nothing but good things for 2019 – good health, comfort, love, friendship and if it is at all possible – La Paz – peace.