Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Walking along the edge of the surf sometime after midnight, Maria and two other volunteers spotted the first mama tortuga of the night – a large Leatherback dropping her eggs into a shallow depression she had scooped out in the damp sand. After she had finished and disappeared back into the sea, the three women gently picked up the eggs and placed them into their carry bags.
As the sky began to lighten over the Sea of Cortez they returned to the improvised hatchery site on the eastern end of Costa Azul beach, and carefully buried the eggs in neat rows, tagging each batch with time, date, species, etc. The 140 square meter area was fenced and monitored constantly to assure the protection of the precious inhabitants.
Susie & Jennifer just happened to find this hatchery whilst taking a quick walk on the beach and found out they were releasing some that evening. We returned just before sunset and watched half a dozen volunteers digging up the batches that should be ready according to their calculations. One large pail was being filled with live baby turtles, testing their flippers as they scrambled over each other. The other pail contained the shells and remnants of the others that never hatched.
As the sun dipped below the peaks of the Sierra de la Laguna to the west, the Turtle Squad carried the pail down to the sand, a few meters above the surf line, and tipped about 1,000 tiny turtles out, starting the next phase of their journey. The gloved volunteers kept the babies pointing in the right direction and deposited the lazy ones directly into the surf. Our job, as spectators, was to keep the birds away. Which was easy on the beach, but once the turtles were in the water and swimming with their heads up, they were easy pickings for the savvy sea gulls. Fortunately, there were only a few birds that day.
It was beyond cool to see all these little baby turtles making their way down the sand – getting their first taste of sea water – and swimming off to who-knows-where.
Conventional wisdom says one in a thousand turtles makes it from egg to adulthood, but this Don Manuel Orantes program is increasing the odds. Los Cabos is home and/or nesting grounds for many species of sea turtles: loggerheads, leatherback, green, hawksbill & Ridley. All have come close to extinction in Cabo (and worldwide) with pressure from fishing, tourism, and beachfront development.
Mexico began studying this problem in the ‘60s, but serious conservation only started 20 years ago when several NGO groups enlisted the support of large hotels, convincing them it was in their best interest to get on board. And as of today, it seems to be working.
We arrived at the San José del Cabo Airport exhausted, after a 4-day ordeal getting there from Roatan. Floods, cancelled flights, lost passports and long Starbucks lines conspired to delay our travels in every imaginable way. But we finally emerged from the terminal and caught the next city bus for the 15 km ride south to San José del Cabo (SJD), to kick off our two-month adventure in Baja!
This time we were house-sitting (no pets) a gorgeous home owned by a wonderful couple from Texas. It was situated on a hill overlooking a golf course, with the San Jose Estuary and the Sea of Cortez in the near distance. The street level entrance opened to a carport with winding steps leading down to the main level. Walking through the house to the pool patio led to steps down to the casita and lower patio. Many nice modifications and improvements on the property were winding down that we assisted with, in conjunction with the delightful property manager. Thank you a million times over, Nikki and Bob!
Los Cabos is a municipality at the very southern end of Baja California, a long peninsula extending south from San Diego/Tijuana. The climate is a tropical desert with the most erratic rainfall in the world. Years may go by without measurable precipitation, until a tropical storm brings a deluge, causing flash floods and filling the normally dry arroyos. Cactus and agave populate the hills of the Sierra de Laguna mountains, reminding you there is little moisture to be found in the landscape.
San José del Cabo is sometimes called the more elegant twin sister of Cabo San Lucas, 30 km to the west, which is better known for clubs, street parties and tourists. SJD has the “old town” area, anchored by the Plaza Mijares (town square) with the Misión San José del Cabo church on the west end. Food and souvenir carts are scattered about, and Thursday nights mean Art Walk takes over, with lovely paintings, sculptures and jewelry displayed throughout the square from local artists.
It was an easy walk from the house to Plaza Mijares with a large selection of cafes and restaurants along the way and on the nearby streets.
We love Mexican food and found many places that had delicious tacos for low prices. Tacos are served on a soft, warm tortilla (corn or wheat) with your choice of filling: shrimp, fish, pork, etc. Then they place several bowls of salsa, relish & hot sauce on the table, or have a “fixings bar” to dress up your taco. Add a pineapple margarita, and…. perfecto!
Los Cabos is known for sport fishing, surfing, whale watching and swimming with the whale sharks, the latter of which is right at the top of my bucket list. Sadly, we were a bit early for the whales and sharks, which arrive in numbers mid-December, so no tours were in operation. We were fortunate enough to see a few whales (grey or humpback) just offshore from the beach.
Skylar was able to visit for a few days during fall break at school, so we took an off-road “adventure” driving 4-wheel Polaris RZRs. Sky had her own vehicle while Susie & I shared one, following our guide down sandy (and bumpy!) paths through the scrub, along the dry Migrinó riverbed and out to Migrinó Beach, for a short rest as we scanned the mighty pacific. One sour note: when we booked the tour over the phone the agent failed to tell us the trip was cash only! We barely scraped the $ together, with none left over for a tip. Oh well….
One of our new friends Sheila, sold real estate at Esperanza, the most luxurious resort in Los Cabos, which covered hundreds of acres on the ocean with condos, private homes, pools and restaurants. She invited us to brunch at Cocina del Mar – a gorgeous open-air restaurant situated on a cliff above the surf. Delicious food & drinks with Skylar & Sheila.
Pickleball! Club La Huerta had 8 nice courts and was only 10 minutes away, so we started playing almost every day and made many great friends. I teamed up for a local tournament with Eva, a lovely woman close to my age who was a great tennis player, but new at Pickleball. We lost every game – but still had fun! I would like to believe Susie & I had improved after 2 months, but hmmm……….
So, a big shout out to all our Los Cabos pball friends! Eva, Sheila, Debbie & Gary, Debra, Judy, Bill & Susie (from Atlanta), Brenda, Denisse, Arlene, Lorena, Sara & Susie!
Jennifer, my great-niece, and hubby Ron also came to visit and enjoy the sunny weather. (sunshine every day – Susie was in heaven!) Lots of fun walking to old town for yummy local food and traditional Mexican crafts. Jen and I also got in 9 holes of golf on the adjoining course, which was first time for me in about 15 years! We hardly kept score but had a great time with a few good shots (many more for her!) and no major casualties.
Todos Santos is a cute little town we visited on the Pacific about an hour’s drive north of Cabo San Lucas. Starting as a Spanish mission town in 1723, it evolved as a center for sugar cane, until the spring dried up in 1950. Paving Highway 19 in the ‘80s brought tourism and farming returned with advances in irrigation and today it is a destination for many visitors. Hotel California is a focal point downtown, founded in 1948, by a Chinese immigrant named Mr. Wong, long before the Eagles penned the famous song. Besame Mucho was one of the coolest art/gift shops with a nice variety of eclectic wares.
Several weeks later we drove up to La Paz, the capital and largest city in Baja California Sur. Situated on a large bay on the Sea of Cortez, it is a major location for many species of whales to spend the winter months birthing their calves, as well as whale sharks. A beautifully landscaped Malecon runs along the water’s edge several miles, from the Marina La Paz to Marina Palmira, with many gaily decorated shops and cafes along the nearby streets. We enjoyed walking around and soaking up the local atmosphere and stayed overnight at a cute Airbnb.
Next morning we drove out to the peninsula north of the city where the beaches were located. Balandra is touted as the most beautiful beach in Mexico, but only 400 people (cars?) are allowed in for each of two daily 4-hour sessions. Folks start lining up early for the 8am entry! Now we have seen a lot of nice beaches, and sitting in line for hours to see another? Nope. We turned right instead and drove out onto El Tecolote beach which was nice and sandy with all the cars backed right up to the beach. Hung for a while, watching the birds and kids, and then took off- heading back home.
Two relaxing months went by very quickly as we settled into a routine of sorts. Up early and a quick snack – then off to the courts. Back home for coffee & breakfast. The house had a large, well-equipped kitchen so we cooked most of our meals at home, dining on the patio looking over the lower town and Sea of Cortez beyond. There was a large supermarket nearby, as well as a local fish market. But with the many choices of tasty and reasonably priced eateries nearby we dined out frequently, enjoying enchiladas, shrimp tacos, tamales and of course – margaritas!
As our time in Los Cabos, and Mexico drew to a close, we stopped off in Mexico City for a few days, staying in a tiny Airbnb very close to Alameda Central Park in the Centro zone. Restaurants and cafes of every size and price point were abundant, with long lines by mid-morning at the more popular places. We enjoyed some of the best shrimp tacos ever at a modest eatery, spending less than $10 for both of us.
I particularly loved the art work by Diego Rivera displayed at the gorgeous Palacio de Bellas Artes and the modest Museo Mural Diego Rivera. We enjoyed coffee on the 7th floor of the Sears (!) building, overlooking the area. On Saturday we encountered thousands of young men in the park – Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon fanboys with their books and bags of cards! Susie hooked us up with a walking tour of the area to explain the history and significance of many buildings in the Centro area.
While we were at breakfast on Sunday we noticed more and more people walking by in one direction. By the time we exited the shop the streets were mobbed, with many folks carrying banners or dressed in matching shirts and hats. It happened that the president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrados was speaking n the square that afternoon, and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans had come out to show their support for the popular man. Everyone was happy and the mood was celebratory, so we were content with hanging around the fringes to absorb the atmosphere.
Well, once again it is time to move on. I have to say I feel in love with Mexico in a way I did not expect. The people, food & culture are just wonderful. I am sure we will be back.
But for now…back to the US to see family and friends…take care of some doctor-type stuff…and then…???