Thursday, February 5, 2015

Todos Santos .. The Mexican Dream

I want to blame travel magazines, tourist shops and souvenirs that I have received from Mexico before I actually got there for showing me a different Mexico. So blame me for thinking Mexico is Colourful buildings with bougainvilleas dropping low, almost touching the ground. Or I wasn’t wrong while dreaming of houses with cactus growing and women wearing very colourful clothes while knitting in their verandas. Of course I knew mariachi’s won’t be singing while I waltz hand in hand with my husband .. We first landed in Cancun – where I saw American tourists. You can’t count the Mexican imposters sitting in traditional clothes on the way to Cichen Itza ofcourse. Then in Mexico City – which much like Mumbai was abuzz with life, trade and commerce thriving on its streets and Malls filled with the noveau rich buying the American dream. Then to Los Cabos – which is a luxury beach va-cay with bikini tops and flip flopped men and women enjoying way too many margaritas. So where was this picture perfect Mexico from my coffee table book ?

It was not until I reached Todos Santos  that I realized,Much of my Mexican Dream was right here !

 Having read a handed down version of Lonely Planet –Mexico from many years ago and I quote “the once treacherous road from Cabo San Lucas, about 45 miles away, has been paved, making the town too accessible to day tourists.” And it’s true. The beautiful Transpeninsula Highway takes about an hour of straight driving before you get Todos Santos. A map was handed to us by our hotel concierge. But no sooner had we entered this town we realized how really SMALL it was. We passed two landmark buildings on the map in less than 30 secs on one street. The entire town was a 3 street by 3 street affair.When we parked in one corner of the tourist-town, I say Tourist-Town because I only include that part of town which was on a Tourist-Map .. rest all I am assuming is Residential.

We walked down the Benito Juarez - the main street. Garish villas are starting to mar the pristine landscape. It looked like developers are going to take over these ranches soon enough for boutique hotels.  Just like the few chic, small hotels in town, like the Todos Santos Inn as well as the Hotelito, a modernist-looking property that I read are run by EXPATS.Another thing that makes this town famous is the Todos Santos Music Festival, which was started by R.E.M.’s former guitarist Peter Buck who is a part-time resident of this quaint town. Our first stop was to go see the Legendary Hotel California – rememeber that song you all ? It is debateable, I understand .. But the property boasts Hotel California was made there … AMEN !

We then sat right across the hotel in Restaurant Tequilla Sunrise. Like people will tell you, Todos Santos is still small enough that if you’re looking for someone you can simply go to the handful of Cafes and Souvenir shops that line the 3 main streets there and find them. And if you dont just have a Damiana. Tequilla Sunrise introduced us to Damianas. Damiana Liqueur is a light liqueur made with the damiana herb that grows wild in Baja California, Mexico – that’s what the waiter will tell you… What it actually is, it is a mocking down tequila version of a margarita- very popular indeed.

What I loved about this little town were the restored adobe building in the center of town, which serve as various resurants, café and arts centers. Mexican arts, crafts, bookstores, restaurants, realtors and galleries are worth a visit, Leather goods, 100% cotton dresses, shirts and pants, Mexican woven blankets, furnishings and carpets are among the many things to choose from all thriving in this 3x3 matrix !

Tour the Galleries I would recommend .. As an artist town, Todos Santos has many galleries full of everything from paintings to handmade copper work and ceramics.. There are many resident Artists who sit there every Thursday sketching painting and in their element.  

Ofcourse TODOS SANTOS is really known for its SURFFING... We didnt end up doing it.. but definately the blue waters were a sight to see. No wonder poeple call this the dreamy town of TODOS SANTOS.

 Done with our tour, no place is complete without its food. We all turned towards Vira, who throughout our journey has pulled out gems from her Google Search and restraunt reviews. We stopped at Rumi Gardens.. the food is organic, fresh, healthy and prepared with love and gratitude. The price is just right too. We enjoyed the indoor ambiance with water fountain and Rumi affirmations that made this place very spiritual. Something like a yoga retreat but only with fresh basil vietnamese rolls ! 

Afterward, as you stroll home, you can still hear the sound of distant roosters and old, sputtering pick-up trucks blaring scratchy ranchero music... this is Todos Santos ! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cabo San Lucas ... Travelogue

Mexico never featured high on my list of places to go before I die – but like all other holidays – Mexcio was a thing of attending the right phone call at the right time. Kunal and I got invited to spend December holidays with his friend Karan and his wife Vira on a casual phone call sometime in October. And things moved quickly then. By December we were all booked and were on our way to New-York to spend New Year’s eve with them followed by Cancun-Mexico City-San Jose/ Los Cabos. Click on the various cities to find individual blogs.

After having spent an epic CANCUN and Riveria Maya trip – we were all set to meet Karan and Vira back in Los Cabos. Where do I start while describing Cabo.

 I would say come to Cabo expecting to toss your inhibitions to the wind – everyone else does. Cabo taught me to stand in conga lines so that a waiter could pour tequila down my throat. Cabo taught me that all those American Spring break videos they show after midnight on MTV are for real ! Cabo proved Mexican girls are the boldest when they are top-less partying in a beach-side shack. Those moments of absurdity and abandon notwithstanding, Cabo San Lucas has a curious charm.

The beaches are protected by beautiful Land’s End, and the activities are endless: Jet-Skiing, banana boating, parasailing, snorkeling, kitesurfing, diving and horseback riding opportunities can all be done just by walking down to the beach. Or in our case just be-friend Juan as Karan would call him who will book everything over just a simple phone call. And I thought Bombay was the only place in the world where you could rule with a mobile phone in hand.

Literally on our first day in Cabo, Juan put us on a trip in the outback for ATV Rides. I was a little skeptical getting onto it at first - but like all other tourist-y things that Lonely Planet lists in the MUST-DO you just end up gathering all your courage and hoping Indian gods have some jurisdiction in Cabo too.

The ATV Tour company picked us up and then took us 45 mins outside the city limits. Within minutes of leaving the city-scape we were surrounded by majestic cardón cacti, caracara birds and mystical arroyos amdist which is this ATV Riding boot camp that had us impressed just as much as that crazy club we partied at the following evening.

JUAN ofcourse set us up with some zip-lining with the stunning views of the mountains... but if you have done zip-lining before - after the first zip line you will feel like a tourist who is not getting the worth of his money. 

IT’s All about Mexican Flare – Mi Casa is a Mexican Food at its best kind of a restaurant... But if you love Tex-Mex then maybe you are in for a surprise. The food is a bit bland to the indian tongue but this place has real wow factor. The courtyard-style interior has tables on two levels and feels like something out of a 1950s Mexican musical – plants, statues, folksy murals, wicker lights, painted furniture, Día de Muertos figurines and wandering mariachis all set the stage. Try one of the traditional dishes, like el mole poblano – Everything can be made vegetarian is you ask for it ! But They are going to substitue all proteins with different cheese - so develop a taste of some chesses un-heard of ! 

But we couldnt be mad at Juan for too long. For he put us on a small boat to see the most beautiful majestic Whales travelling from the Antartic Circles to find warmer waters around The Baja Sur. 

Whale Watching starts by the Marina - which is absolutely beautiful to walk around in the evenings. There are many options to dine and drink facing the marina and those gorgeous yatch's all parked up. We ended up having one round of drinks at many of these bars - but they out numbered our love for tequilla ! i was only happy to see Japengo by Nick Sans - Sushi after many days of loving Mexican Food. 

Baja's ( this is the state, the entire area covering Los Cabos, San jose and todos santos ) is a place where it pays to drive. We Based ourself in Cabos – Pueblo Bonito chain of hotels has many properties. We stayed on Rose which is within walking distance from the city center and the marina.

i would highly recommend is to people travelling in big groups or with children. For all you love birds - Pueblo Bonito Pacifica is an adults only resort - secluded but well worth the travel if I may say. It has the most stunning private beach and Beach Day beads that they rent out for the day. with that view it is worth digging in deeper into your pockets. 

But no good holiday is complete without shaking a leg or two. Hit the dance floor at El Squid Roe. It is impossible to miss: just look for the bright red roof, the quirky cartoon characters, and the neon glow. Waiters dance shirtless on tables, conga lines snake through the crowd, and yard long beers glow in a variety of toxic colors as people mix, mingle, and dance. El Squid Roe is one of the clubs that define the nightlife here in a town that's defined by its nightlife - even if you're just there to people watch, it's a fun time. But if you have been to its sister club in Cancun – Senor Frog, you will be slightly disappointed. 

There’s no place I’d rather be than in a sweaty Mexican club drinking tequila shots out of plastic ramekins getting pushed by drunk strangers and listening to Pitbull on repeat. Wait…Despite the obvious drawbacks, it was a cool place to party. Except for when they literally blow a whistle, force a jell-o shooter into your mouth and then make you pay for it.
Cabo Va-cay is what I like to call a rolling blackout. You blackout at night and prevent the nastiness of a hangover by doing it again during the day. It’s a lifestyle choice, really. After a night of the aforementioned shenanigans at Squid Roe, you head to the beach, where thousands go to shake their leg and whatever energy is left at a place called the Mango Deck.
(image : Internet for the lack of photographing skills post tequilla shots but still very re-presentational to what I saw !)

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I don’t know), this occasionally surfaces in the form of wet t-shirt contests. I learned a lot of things on this trip, one of them being that if you’re from Mexico City, you want EVERYONE to see your boobs .. 6/10 girls in the Wet T-shirt contests who flashed majorly were Mexicans. Who woulda thought... some people want to flash 400 strangers on a beach in Mexico. I get it, it happens.
If you’re not into public indecency, fear not. You can bide your time by getting a henna tattoo of a shark on your chest. Maybe a playboy bunny. Stuff American parents love to see on their spring break-ing children ! I say American - Beacause this place is literally made for American Spring Break Tourist. Not Canada - not UK - Only americans. The bar roofs have american dollars stuck on its surfaces... The cab driver will happily convert everything in US-Dollares ... the house keeping maid is happy when she sees green flashes from your pockets ! USD rules Mexico Tourist spots. 

But away from all this madness is The Transpeninsular Highway  on the way to San jose or todos santos which offers stunning vistas at every turn, and side roads pass through tiny villages or wind along the sides of mountains. Hopscotch through colonial mission outposts throughout the peninsula, or as we did – hunt for a random beach in the middle of no-where. You’ll find that that nowhere can be more beautiful than you ever imagined.

FOOD -FOOD- and ofcourse some mentions have to be made for the amazing WI-FI Friendly restaurants we visited. Wicked - for some amazing Wood - Fired Pizza. But one worth a mention is Cassiano's. I was overwhelmed by our fabulous experience (in a strange location down a street filled with a residential buildings) This restaurant serves up a different menu each day from the freshest ingredients that the chef finds in the market that very day... I was surprised that our 5 course fine-dine menu had some of the freshest salads and the creamiest cheese I have ever tasted ! The chef's ability to surpass our Vegetarian-Obstacle and crack open a Pandora's box full of flavor bowled us all over. Make reservations in advance is the only tip i really need to give to those travelling to Cabo ! 

Cabo is a must visit clubbed with Todos Santos, San Jose and Cancun ( the other coast of Mexico ) if you are travelling all the way around the world ! A big applause to the ever up for adventure - Karan and Vira who shared my love for art and put up with my obsessive photographing .. Thank you for being a big part of this amazing place... And my husband - Who is helping me pin all places visited on the world-map. SALUD !


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