Cabo San Lucas… San Jose del Cabo… Los Cabos…
Place names from Baja California Sur, all translating loosely as:
"Can I interest you in a timeshare presentation?"
After a while you wonder if this was how the Mexicans finally drove the Spaniards from their country. "Mr. Cortez, wait! I can get you a really big discount on a parasailing adventure!"
It was, in turn, thrilling, nerve-wracking, amazing, annoying, a bit scary, unsettling, charming and refreshing. Oh, and it was hot. And humid. Did I mention sweaty?
They say it's sunny in the Los Cabos area (San Jose del Cabo and, as some will know from the TV show COPS, Cabo San Lucas) 350 days out of the year. Based on our experience there with two tropical storms, the area is due for about 345 more days of sun.
Yes, we went at the start of hurricane season. How else do you think we could find a place on short notice? Yes, we were aware of the threat from narcos. But as the welcome magazine so cheerfully pointed out, there's a hospital open 24 hours! For us, it was go on a much-needed vacation at the end of August, or wait until January. That made the decision easy. Despite the concerns we went, and had a great time. But not right away.
My lovely, obsessive-compulsive wife wanted everything arranged before we left home. OK. But the car rental deal seemed too good to be true: $5 a day for a car? And that was without a timeshare presentation commitment… Turns out, you can get a car for $5 a day. But then you'll need to mandatory insurance. That's a minimum of $35. Per day. And you still have some liability, so watch out for those crazy, uninsured drivers! OK then.
Driving in Mexico: Rules of the Road
- Do not follow the speed limit. Ever. Following the speed limit will immediately let everyone know that you're a tourist.
- Stay in the right lane. The left lane is for passing. And for fast drivers. And everyone drives faster than you.
- Feel free to use the shoulder or curbside lane as a passing lane as well. Just make your passes at low speed. As in, "Hi, I'm going to cut in front of you now, OK?"
- If someone races up behind you while you're waiting at a light (why would you do that? See below.) and starts honking, go ahead and run the light, to move out of their way. They're trying to make a left from the right-hand lane, and won't be able to cut off the entire line of left-hand turning cars unless you move.
- Never use your turn signals. This marks you as a tourist in two ways. First, only a tourist would actually think to use their signals. Second, only rental cars seem to have working turn signals.
- The STOP signs are marked ALTO. This roughly translates to, "pause briefly, if at all, before proceeding." You can understand the failure to stop, given that the ALTO signs are always on one side of the street only, and often obscured. But even when visible, the signs are almost universally ignored.
- The authorities have designed a clever way of controlling speeds. It's called "El Tope." We called it "El Bumpo." These are speed bumps. Some are the classic raised cement bumps. Many are metal half-spheres glued to the road. Some are broken down, exposing the rusting rebar—also effective. And I'm not counting the sand bars created by sudden downpours. Not only do they slow cars down, but they're often unmarked, which makes for even more fun.
And while we're on the subject…
Understanding Traffic Signals in Mexico
Go faster! The light's about to turn yellow!
You may have to pause briefly for oncoming traffic while proceeding.
Looks clear to me!
Surprising and Not So Much
What surprised me?
- The seafood… I could have predicted this but didn't think about it beforehand. I was looking forward to fish tacos, but the variety of seafood was impressive, and all of it was prepared with a minimum of fuss.
- The mountains. I had this image of a sandy desert bordered by the sea. Not so. There are mountains high enough to get snow.
- The quantity of US-based venues. Costco, Walmart, Office Depot (apparently things are still paper-based in Cabo; there were at least three Office Depot stores in a 10-mile stretch of highway), Cabo Wabo, Hard Rock Café, Domino's Pizza, Burger King…
- El Retorno. With a divided highway, there are limited places to turn around. What was a bit confusing is that some of the Retorno's are basically U-turns, while others are the famous Jersey "jug-handles," where you exit to the right, then turn left across the highway.
- Lack of ATMs at gas stations. And the lack of gas stations, meaning you have to plan your driving carefully.
- The variety of farm animals grazing, unattended, by the side of the highway. It's one reason why they discourage night-driving.
- The apparent dislike for the Jesuit missions. It seems like every mission story started with, "and then the locals burned the place down."
- Traditional values. Only once during our stay did someone present the bill to Crystal first. And anytime there was a discussion about spending money, they talked to me.
What didn't surprise me?
- The friendliness of everyone we met. Even if they had no business interest in being nice to us, people went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
- The prices. We were warned not to expect bargains, and that was the case. Most things cost what they do in the US.
- The timeshare come-on's.
- Mexico outside of "gringolandia." We took a trip to La Paz and Todos Santos. La Paz is much bigger, but is still a small town at heart. We enjoyed seeing the cathedral and plaza at the center of town, and strolling along the malecón along the beach. Todos Santos is a surfing town that has transformed into more of an artist colony.
- All the development, in various stages of completion. You can see that there's been a building boom in this area, with every piece of beach or ocean frontage being built on. You also get the feeling that the half-completed buildings are the result of the Great Recession, and are going to linger until investor appetite for developing the area picks up again.
My Big Question—where will the water come from for all the development? There's hardly any rainfall, and I would have to imagine it's quite expensive to pump water out of the ground (one reason for the high green fees at the golf courses.) Interesting times ahead…