If Everybody Had an Ocean: Surf’s Up in Los Cabos

Surfarch

On Captain James Cook’s third expedition to the Pacific, his ships HMS Discovery and Resolution, made the first recorded European visit to Hawaii in 1778, when they stopped at the western end of the island chain on their way from Tahiti to the northwest coast of North America, stopping at the Big Island of Hawaii. There, at Kealakekua Bay, Cook was killed by Hawaiians when he made a misguided attempt to kidnap their high chief to force the return of a stolen boat.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Lieutenant James King, First Lieutenant of the Discovery was given the task of completing the narrative portion of Cook’s journals after Cook’s death in 1779 and devoted two full pages to a description of surfboard riding, as practiced by the locals. His journal entry is the earliest written account of surfing as a cultural practice:

“Where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore, the Men sometimes lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us’d to guide the plank, thye wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plan so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its direct. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais’d. By such like exercises, these men may be said to be almost amphibious.  The diversion I conceive to be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise gives.”

In the late 1700s, riding waves lying down or standing on long, wooden surfboards was an integral part of Pacific Island lifestyle, as much a part of the local culture as professional sports are to contemporary life in the United States. While the Pacific Islanders had a big head start in enjoying the pleasures of wave riding, the tremendous influx of GIs into the area during World War II brought the sport to the attention of American sporting enthusiasts.  Even as Americans were fighting in the Pacific, mainland surf culture began with people like Bob “The Phantom” Simmons, a Caltech dropout who pioneered modern surfboard design in Southern California, taking it from a heavy, rigid plank to something lighter, portable and more maneuverable. Employing balsa wood and then newer materials like fiberglass with a “form follows function” philosophy, Simmons created wave-riding vehicles based on hydrodynamics using graceful elongated shapes, fins and curves.  Almost overnight, surfing boards went from 2-man carries to something easily carried by a single person and placed on top of a car.

“You paddle out turn around and raise

And baby that’s all there is to the coastline craze

You gotta catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world”

“Catch a Wave” – The Beach Boys

The early SoCal practitioners, before surfing caught the big tsunami of The Beach Boys’ harmony-driven anthems, and became a multi-billion dollar part of the culture, were surf-niks like Simmons and “Ironman” Mike Doyle who camped out in their cars, slept on beaches up and down the coast, frequently riding alone and without wet suits in cold winter months.

The coastal highway and the breaking waves were the muse in Los Angeles, Orange County and then San Diego and into Baja, always beckoning to surfers in search of the perfect wave.  And there were plenty of them on the deserted shores stretching south of the border.

If everybody had an ocean, then they’d probably want it ringed with the dazzling white sand wave depositories that southern Baja is blessed with.  From the legendary spots in Todos Santos to Playa Cerritos and all the way to San Jose and the East Cape, there are surfing spots in Los Cabos suited to any aptitude and style, and the sport continues to evolve.

The Cabo area was surfed as early as the fifties by traveling California boaters and fishermen, and later surfing enthusiast Steve Bigler flew into a dusty airstrip in San Jose Del Cabo in 1967 to film some footage for the ’68 surf film “Golden Breed.”  Surfline’s Sean Collins, who passed away in 2011, began his lifelong exploration of the area in the late 60s and early 70s. But even though the Trans-Peninsular highway linking Baja Norte and Baja Sur was completed in 1973, the area didn’t really start getting popular until the mid-80s.

Surf2

There are many great surf spots around the coastline of southern Baja where enthusiasts from beginners to experts can enjoy the action.  Monuments, Zippers, Acapulquito, Costa Azul, La Roca, Old Man, Shipwreck, Playa El Tule in the Corridor, and Playa Cerritos up the road near Todos Santos are popular spots that offer consistently approachable breaks and classic wave action. Depending on time of year and water conditions, you can count on surfing conditions that range from fun and dependable to outrageous. With so many different opportunities in the area, southern Baja is a place where former world champions like Mike Doyle and ex-pat Pat Curren have decided to settle in and now teach others how to enjoy to action wherever it’s breaking.

The Fletcher Los Cabos Classic, held in 1991 and won by Kelly Slater, was the first big surf contest held here, and the surfing scene then was more like an extended beach party with a coincidental surf contest than anything else. Things began to get serious when the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) started an annual conference in Los Cabos in 1998 and the local surfing population – both Mexican and gringo – has continued to grow as new aspects of the sport like stand up paddleboarding are introduced.  Recent news includes the announcement of the World SUP Championships to be held in Los Cabos in November 2012, a recognition of the world class status of the location and its many amenities.

Following is a guide by area to some of the top surfing spots in Los Cabos.  By no means definitive, this is designed to help those who are looking to get started in the sport and become part of the growing numbers of the coastline craze.

Surf3

On a slightly overcast beach near Todos Santos a small group of enthusiastic women have gathered to prove that they have what it takes to be surfers.  This beach, on the Pacific side of Baja California Sur, is where you want to be when west swells bring consistent waves, and when the conditions are just right 12-footers can appear for days.  But today these women are just learning surfing basics with their instructor Mario. Part of the Todos Santos Eco Adventures Surf Camp for Women, they participate in a full week of activities headquartered at Los Colibris that include not only lessons in wave theory, but also horseback riding, pre-surf yoga classes, Mexican cooking lessons, swimming with sea lions, tapas and wine tasting (sometimes followed by spontaneous dancing), massage therapy, visits to local art galleries, Hotel California and restaurants, and, yes, shopping.  Consider this package your one-stop introduction to all the good things that the Todos Santos has to offer, with surf lessons each morning, a fun/indulgent activity each afternoon, and authentic dining experience each evening.

Surfing duo

Near Todos Santos on Mexico Hwy 19 at approximately Km. 64 in Pescadero between Playa Los Cerritos and Playa San Pedrito with access to popular Playa Pescadero is the Pescadero Surf Camp, which is not limited to women and offers lodging and lessons for beginning, intermediate and advanced surfers.  The camp offers packages of excursions all around southern Baja and a year round onsite guide is available for individuals or groups to get you to the best swells from the East Cape region to the Pacific. All surf gear is provided or you can bring your own.  The lodging here is well-maintained and functional, with campsites consisting of palapas with electricity, lights and water, casitas with or without private showers and a camp house with two bedrooms, bathroom, shower, full kitchen, living room and private patio. A pool with swim-up palapa bar is often the social center for many of the more serious boarders in the area, but the camp is a perfect introduction for first-timers also.

surfingkidLaSirena

Also situated in Todos Santos next to the Hotel Santa Rosa is La Sirena Eco Adventures which offers packages for local surfing, kayak and snorkeling, sea turtle activities, whale watching and guest house rentals, cozy one bedroom/one bath casitas nestled in palm trees within walking distance to markets, downtown Todos Santos and Playa La Poza for turtle hatchling releases. The comfortable and predictable waters of nearby Playa Los Cerritos make it the perfect place for beginner and intermediate surfers.  La Sirena provides bilingual instructors with years of surfing and surf instruction experience and will design a package of custom lessons to suit a given skill level, including a three-day surf clinic which can be spread out over a week. La Sirena is a good base of operations for people who have more than one interest in the local ecology and they provide a lot of opportunities in preserving and sharing the natural resources of the area around Todos Santos.

Surf1

One of the most popular areas in all of Los Cabos is the surf break just in front of the Cabo Surf Hotel.  The hotel itself serves as host to a name brand surf school that comes with all the credentials of a world champion.  “Ironman” Mike Doyle’s surf school is located onsite at the Cabo Surf Hotel and offers a full 3-day clinic (hotel guests have special discounts on surf clinics) for the beginners and advanced beginners to get into the action on the waves at Playa Acapulquito, one of the most reliable surfing spots in southern Baja, where a reef brake forms waves that break before reaching shore, making it also a popular surf spot and a safe place for swimmers. Watersport enthusiasts can also enjoy stand up paddling during the smaller wave months (mid-November to mid-March). All of their instructors are certified by NSSIA (National Surf Schools & Instructors Association) and head instructor Miguel Rojas is a Mexican National Champion on Short Board representing Baja California Sur, and has been a Mike Doyle School instructor for 9 years.

Another reputable surf shop in the immediate vicinity overlooking Zippers and other prime surf spots in San Jose del Cabo is Costa Azul Surf Shop.  Owner Alejandro Olea started with a ding repair shack on Zippers beach in 1985. Since then, Costa Azul Surf Shop has become a thriving local business and headquarters for surf enthusiasts in southern Baja, where they provide updates on the latest surf conditions, custom surf wear and clothing and all the supplies you’ll need to enjoy your beach-going experience.  “We’ve come a long way,” Olea says, “but I feel like we still have a long way to go before we’re where I want us to be. That’s why we started our Costa Azul Surf Shop Surf Lesson Program. We offer professional surf lessons from teachers who have a combined 120 years of surfing experience and who are CPR and First Aid certified.”

Costa Azul also has its own stock of about 250 signature-design surfboards boards, hand-shaped by a team of skilled shapers using recent technologies coupled with old world craftsmanship.  The Costa Azul shop offers client transportation to the best local breaks, sponsors a junior waverider team and has a regular client list that includes the likes of Adam Sandler and NBA star Jason Kidd. Classes offered can include up to 10 people with four teachers per session, keeping the teacher-to-student ratio low. Private one-on-one lessons also are available by request. Beside its main headquarters near Zippers in San Jose, Costa Azul also has facilities in Playa Cerritos and Todos Santos to assist local enthusiasts there.

SurfinCabo, also in the San Jose area near Zippers, is a surfing Bed and Breakfast dedicated to guided surf tours for beginners up to expert level surfers.  The hillside location offers 6 comfortable private rooms with all services you would want for a local visit, including a swimming pool, video arcade and spa.  They also provide full surfing lessons, board rentals and repairs, and tours and excursions to wherever the best sets are breaking.  They’re located 5 minutes from prime spots in the San Jose area, and are within an hours’ drive from the best Baja surfing spots from the East cape to the Pacific side when the northern swells are active.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

A close relative to the local surfing action is the up-and-coming new sport called SUP, for stand-up paddleboarding.  Less dependent on surf conditions and easily approachable by the less athletic, SUP offers plenty of excitement and good exercise, as balancing and paddling provides cardio and strength training for a low impact, full body workout while enjoying the ocean environment in a zone where the surf meets the shore.  Locally, there are several SUP operations that will get you into the action with a minimum of training.

SUP Mexico, with headquarters in San Jose del Cabo, is a full service location offering all there is to know about the world of stand-up paddling, including lessons with one of their WPA (World Paddle Association) instructors and a full range of SUP boards by Doyle and Hobie C4 Waterman, Paddle Surf Hawaii and Boardworks.  SUP Mexico was started by Alfredo Salafranca and Kym Kuharski Salafranca, and opened for business in December 2010 in San Jose.  They recently added another spot on Medano Beach near ME Cabo.

Alfredo’s love for surfing brought him to the world of paddle boarding, and after getting involved up the sport and noticing other locals and tourists also were enthusiastic realized the need for a SUP business in Los Cabos.  Together over the years Alfredo and Kym have created a business that represents knowledge of the local waters and quality SUP products, and consistently promote their enthusiasm for the sport throughout the area. SUP Mexico is the official sponsor for two of the top ranked stand up paddle professionals in the world, Candice Appleby and Anthony Vela, and is also the founder of the Los Cabos Classic, a SUP Stand Up Paddle Race that is held in the fall each year at Palmilla Beach.

Cabo SUP is a stand up paddleboard club located in the heart of downtown Cabo that provides lessons, rentals, and guided tours. CABO SUP owners and operators Lee and Meredith Vosburgh started paddling 5 years ago in Montauk, Long Island. They continued paddling when they relocated to Cabo 3 years ago to be the onsite partners of the Bahia Hotel and Beach Club. The decision to share their passion for Stand Up Paddle was brought about by the ideal location of the Beach Club. The Beach Club is located on Medano Beach, one block from the Bahia Hotel, and the full service operation includes lessons and a full range of rental gear featuring SOS paddles boards and paddles (Lee promises you’ll be up and SUPing in only about an hour). Medano Beach is Cabo’s most swimmable stretch of sand where the famous Land’s End Arch marks the convergence of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, and, since many of the hotels on the Corridor don’t allow swimming due to rip currents and strong surf, many guests from that area take advantage of Medano Beach for all water activities.  It also makes it a convenient place for first timers to earn their SUP wings.

No longer the sole domain of tousle-headed daredevils driving VW vans with handmade boards looking for deserted beaches and awesome swells, surfing in its many forms has evolved into big business in Baja and has made itself accessible to everyone.  The waves that have been caressing the shores from Todos Santos to the East Cape are part of an endless cycle that has been going on for millions of years.  A connection to that natural force, a power that can be exhilarating and even addictive, is something that surfers, when they drop into the face of a wave, feel intuitively.  And now, thanks to the local entrepreneurs and water enthusiasts who love that feeling and want to share it, so can you.

For more information:

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: www.tosea.net

Pescadero Surf Camp: www.pescaderosurf.com

La Sirena Eco Adventures: www.lasirenakayaksurf.com

Cabo Surf Hotel: www.cabosurfhotel.com

Costa Azul Surf Shop: www.costa-azul.com.mx

SurfinCabo: www.surfincabo.com

SUP Mexico: http://mexicosup.com

Cabo SUP: http://cabosup.com

SUP Logo

logosecretaria

 

 

<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45347916-1’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>

Advertisements

Cabo Pulmo – Baja’s National Marine Park is Indeed a Precious Aquatic Paradise.

CaboP4

After a fueling up with savory breakfast at the Cabo Surf Hotel, Paul and I jump into his Vanagon and we’re on our way to a southern Baja destination with a distinctive literary connection.  Like Jack Kerouac we’re on the road, but we’ve set our sights on a location that was documented by another literary lion, John Steinbeck, who stopped at Cabo Pulmo during his epic voyage around Baja California and documented his findings in the landmark book The Log from the Sea of Cortez.

Cabo Pulmo has a certain mystique to those who still appreciate remote areas and access to pristine water and a diverse selection of marine wildlife.  Part of that mystique is the fact that the last 16 miles are unpaved, which keeps out those who tend to avoid the possibility of occasional washboarding or a surprise washout along the way.  Another part is access to unspoiled natural resources and one of only three living coral reefs in North America.

Taking Mexico 1 toward the East Cape, we come into Miraflores surprisingly quickly, followed by Santiago and its charming home grown zoo.  But we’re looking for a different kind of wildlife, and press on into La Ribera and the junction with the road to Cabo Pulmo.  Not sure of the turn, Paul and I stop alongside a group of men who are sitting out the heat in their front yard.  “Cabo Pulmo?” Paul asks, and we get waved on, connecting to the road and its 16-mile long dirt terminus. We’re in the final stretch.

We’re lucky enough to have an invitation from our friend out at the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, Cole Barrymore, whose father, ski movie pioneer Dick Barrymore, discovered the area in 1970 and decided to settle in.  Building up the small resort literally by hand, the Barrymores created a small community of palapa-styled casitas that they furnished with their own hand made furniture and cabinetry.  Cole settled in permanently in 1993, married a local girl, Maribel, and decided to make Cabo Pulmo his base of operations.

CaboP2

Cabo Pulmo’s offshore resources was designated a National Marine Park in 1995, meaning that things are pretty much the same as they have always been there, and the reef-building corals have produced the only living reef on the western shores of North America, a structure that fans out in eight distinct fingers just off the beach. It’s a refuge for an awe-inspiring collection of wildlife ranging from brightly-colored fish, turtles, moray eels, pelagic gamefish like tuna and marlin, and, if you’re lucky, schooling manta rays or the occasional whale shark.  Another dive stop is the nearby wreck of the El Vencedor, a tuna boat that sank in 1981, now a well-populated artificial reef. The area has become a Mecca for divers and water enthusiasts who want to spend time in a place that Jacques Cousteau has described as “the aquarium of the world.”

CaboP8

Once the area became a National Marine Park it attracted a lot of attention from enthusiasts who wanted to experience the reef and its natural aquarium environment. With the increasing interest, Cole decided to put up a website and offer tours of the area, and a friend, a buddy by the name of John Friday, suggested that they start a diving program.  The rest is local history.

We pull up in front of the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, where a group of divers are cleaning up their gear, regaling each other with dive stories.  One group is speaking French, Henri, a dive guide, is from Holland, several other divers are from England. It’s a diverse, multinational group, sitting around in the mid-morning heat, drinking cold cervezas, clearly enthused about what they’d seen offshore.

CaboP3

“It all started with ten tanks,” Cole says over a plate of fresh fish tacos on the terrace outside the resort’s Coral Reef restaurant. “Today we’re one of the most popular and professionally equipped dive facilities in Baja.  We get them coming here from all over the world. That’s because of the numbers of fish and marine mammals that can be seen in the area.  We have 60 to 70 feet of visibility here all the time, and it’s not unusual to see the bottom from the boat.  Water temperatures are consistently 85 degrees until the end of October.  It’s just a comfortable way to see an awful lot of wildlife in the water we have here.”

Time to gear up. Paul loads his Nikon into the protective waterproof housing, and we get fitted for fins, masks and snorkels.  We head out to the beach, get in the panga, and then get launched by a pickup with a padded push bar.

As we approach the entry spot, Henri, our dive instructor, gives us some basic guidelines, and the scuba team is ready to hit the water.  Paul and I are snorkeling, so we’ll hit the water after they’re in and follow the bubbles.

CaboP6

The first impression of the water at Cabo Pulmo is its transparency.  Not only in the visual sense, but also because of its temperature.  It’s almost as warm as the human body, close enough that you don’t really feel it.  You just feel suspended in a neutral, liquid environment, and then you start to look around.  Suddenly a group of brightly colored fish with bright yellow fins and tails, a school of gafftopsail pompano, appear next to us, then move away slowly, oblivious to our presence.  They’ve seen this many times before.

Down below the divers are trailing bubbles, which come up like pulsating blobs of mercury, as they head for the fingers of the reef. I can hear the amplified click of the Nikon in the water. There are fish everywhere it seems, some stratified at a certain depth, suspended in their part of the park, while groups of schooling fish come and go at other levels of the aquatic playground.

CaboP7

Down below the divers are exploring the crevices and the coral reef close up.  Here are the breeding grounds of the nurse shark, a group of moray eels, large triggerfish, schooling jacks, and an uncountable number of other fish, some curious, some quickly on their way to another part of the reef.  A group of small, iridescent fish envelops one of the divers, leaving a perfect cavity in their midst as they move around him, and then they’re gone.  It’s a small but miraculous moment of the kind that seems to happen here all the time.

After about forty-five minutes we’re back in the boat.  A gasping diver pulls off his gear. “I’ve never seen as many moray eels as I just saw down there!” he says.  He repeats it to himself, and you suspect it’s an experience he won’t soon forget.

In his book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck recounted a visit to Pulmo during a 1940 boat trip to collect biological specimens: “The complexity of the life pattern on Pulmo reef was even greater than at Cape San Lucas.  Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it was a teeming fauna.  One small piece of coral might conceal 30 or 40 species, and the colors of the reef were electric.”

It may be hard to believe, as we live on a planet that sometimes verges on environmental catastrophe, but Cabo Pulmo may be one of the places where things are pretty much like they were described in 1940.  The waters are still clear and clean – a necessity for a living coral reef that can’t tolerate any clogging sediment in the water.  The condition of the park is due, in large part, to the respect that Cole Barrymore and other water enthusiasts have for this area.  With care and proper management, Cabo Pulmo and its spectacular sights will always be available those willing to take the trip along the proverbial dirt road less traveled.

CaboP5

After the dive, we wander the streets of the town, a remarkably open place with a frontier-like atmosphere, where horses roam the streets and beaches unattended and nobody really locks their doors.  “The honor system is still alive and well here,” Henri says.  Local restaurants are also wide open, sometimes more occupied by sleeping cats than customers.  We stop at Nancy’s, across from the resort, which has a reputation for good food, when you can find the proprietor, an American who moved here to be with her daughter, and ended up cooking for the entire town.  Could be our timing today, but no one is there.  When Nancy is on hand and at the stove, this is the place for fresh seafood, pizza and home cooked meals in a cozy palapa setting with a full bar.

It doesn’t take along to cover the town, and we make the rounds over to El Caballero, which is where Cole met his wife. Run by a local family, El Caballero offers traditional Mexican plates on a large outdoor patio and is the place to go for breakfast huevos rancheros.  Another favorite stop is Tito’s, an unassuming place with a reputation for good fish and shrimp tacos, world class chile rellenos, and cold cervezas.  Don’t ask for a menu, as they don’t have one, but the prices are a bargain and the service is friendly.

CaboP1

The sun is setting as we pull out of Cabo Pulmo.  It’s been a good day full of new experiences, and a trip that both Paul and I had always wanted to make.  Cabo Pulmo seems to be a world unto itself, a small sleepy Baja village, almost unchanged since Steinbeck made his stop, with friendly people, good food, cold beer, and one of the world’s most beautiful natural aquariums just offshore.  You couldn’t ask for anything more.

CaboP9

From more information:  http://www.cabopulmo.com  Photos by Paul Papanek

<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45347916-1’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>

Dining Exceptionalism – A Review of One&Only Palmilla’s Market Restaurant.

Market -lead

The name Jean-Georges Vongerichten carries a lot of weight in the restaurant world, so expectations were high when we had an opportunity this summer to visit Market by Jean-Georges at One&Only Palmilla

Market is Jean-Georges’ first Latin American restaurant, and their culinary style is a fusion of European and Asian influences with the addition of traditional Mexican accents. Under the steady hand of Executive Chef Sébastien Agnès, who was brought in by Jean-George in 2008 to oversee the makeover and re-opening of the former space, the menu here features many of the signature dishes that Jean-Georges is known for, and also includes much of the fresh local products available in southern Baja, as reflected in their name. Seventy percent of the ingredients on the menu come from the abundant local produce and seafood, while the other thirty percent consists of specialty items that are brought in from Europe to add the Euro part to the Euro-Asian fusion style that they do so well here. Market has even established its own garden at the local Los Tamarindos organic farm to ensure that they have control of the seasonality of products that they incorporate into their menu.

A perfect introduction the experience at Market would be to first stop at the Suviche Bar next door, which offers diners an impressive selection of fresh sushi and an array of ceviches using both Mexican and Asian accents. The sushi is prepared by a skilled Japanese master, and is as fresh and flavorful as any you might have had.

Entering Market we’re immediately taken by how comforting everything feels. It’s an elegant space, accented with deep red and rich burgundy details and original artwork, but also feels very relaxed, as the welcoming gestures of the staff make you feel right at home.

Looking over the menu, their signature Jean-George dishes are clearly indicated and include an  appetizer of Osetra caviar, which is one of the specialty products brought in from Europe to enhance the menu (if you’re a caviar fan it should be noted that it’s offered at all of the restaurants at One&Only Palmilla, even at breakfast). If you’re not a caviar fan and prefer a warm appetizer, then opt for the caramelized foie gras, with accents of black olive and lychee served with toasted brioche (baked on the premises),  or their seared shrimp served with crispy artichokes, a lemon-fennel emulsion and smoked paprika. These plates are arranged like works of art and pack a lot of flavor.

The most popular menu item at Market is their duck crusted with Jordan almonds and served with a red wine Amaretto sauce.  It’s an absolutely succulent dish, the duck cooked two ways, with the breast roasted while the leg is prepared as a confit. The slight crunch of the almond crust adds a nice bit of texture and flavor accent, and you will want to savor every drop of the sauce. This is one of Jean-George’s signature dishes, and I’m told that you can order it at any of his restaurants worldwide and it will taste exactly the same.

Another classic plate at Market is their sautéed grouper served with a sweet chili sauce, celery and basil, an ideal plate when you are looking for something lighter, but also full of flavor. This is an impeccably fresh seafood plate and perfectly cooked, with a little heat of Mexican chile and the celery and basil coming straight out of their organic garden.

There’s a section of the menu that we’re curious about, called “Simply Cooked,” and we’re told that you can select anything from a list that includes prime selections of seafood, chicken and beef and pair it with a sauce of your choice (including a ginger-sesame Hollandaise), add a side dish like grilled asparagus, aromatic black beans, parmesan gnocchi or herbed spinach, and they’re combine everything in a simply cooked, beautifully prepared plate. This mix and match offering is indicative of the flexibility in the kitchen at Market. They’re very willing to work with customer suggestions here, and when new seasonal ingredients are available, dishes are often improvised by a culinary team that includes Hotel Manager Sebastien Arnaud and Director of Market Manuel Arteaga, as well as Executive Chef Sébastien Agnès, their creativity working out new combinations of tastes and techniques as jazz musicians would play off an exchange of musical notes.

Market - trio

Not to be missed on a visit to Market is the roasted corn soufflé dessert with a little crunch of caramelized popcorn with a center of chipotle ice cream.  This is one of those dishes that people keep coming back for, the smoky heat of the ice cream melting into the warm savory soufflé in a way that brings audible moans from other diners in the room.

Market - wine

While they obviously take great pride in representing the Jean-George name and are passionate about what comes out of the kitchen, Market does not want to be known as a fine dining restaurant, implying anything fussy or formal.  While you can’t eat here in your beach outfit, and they require long pants for men, it’s a very friendly place, open to family dining and able to respond to individual requests, while at the same time offering up creative dishes as flavorful and unique as their black truffle Fontina cheese pizza, which gets my vote as the best pizza ever.

Market - pizza

With the culinary talents of Executive Chef Agnès and the range of fresh local resources, there is almost no limit to what can be accomplished at Market. Add to that the second largest wine cellar in all of Mexico, under the supervision of a great team of sommeliers, and you have all the makings of gastronomical greatness. Market is a special experience set in one of the area’s most iconic resorts, and on your return trips you may notice that there’s often something new and improved about the place.  It might be a new crepe station, the addition of specialized imported ingredients or an innovative new dish using seasonal produce, as the staff here is never content to rest on their laurels. Their ongoing efforts result in a restaurant that is always fresh and refined, without ever becoming being stuffy.

It’s been a memorable evening, and after a dining experience at Market you can head to the neighboring bar for some live entertainment or simply take a seat in the lounge area overlooking the moon-glazed Sea of Cortez, maybe enjoying a little Château d’Yquem or an artisanal mescal, while you say to yourself, with some authority, that it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Market -dessert

Market - group

Market

One&Only Palmilla; Hwy. 1, Km 27.5, the Corridor

Phone: 624-146–7000

Web: palmilla.oneandonlyresorts.com

<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45347916-1’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>

A Trip Along Baja’s Back Roads, from Miraflores to El Triunfo

miraflores bcs

 

Los Cabos is justifiably famous for its line-up of luxury resorts, gorgeous beaches and top rated golf courses. These amenities are some of the finest in the world, and a good reason that the area is featured in the high profile glossy ads that are featured in luxury travel and lifestyle magazines.

But there’s another part of this area that has its own appeal – the authentic charm of authentic Baja Sur.  Just around the corner from these impressive coastal features and luxury hotels lies the Baja of times past, the Baja of small villages, dusty side streets and smiling, friendly faces of the people who work hard to make a living for their families.

If you’d like to discover some of the charms of the backcountry in southern Baja you can follow Highway 1 towards and past the airport in San Jose del Cabo and you’ll quickly find yourself passing through two small, sleepy villages with an “old Baja” ambiance. Miraflores is located about 20 minutes north of the airport and is known for its fruits, vegetables and cheeses and a fine leather factory located on an access road between the highway and the town center. It’s a great place to shop for bargains on leather hats, belts and bags.

A little further up the road is Santiago, a community located in the middle of a fertile, palm-filled valley. Santiago is known for its colonial mission, founded in 1723, and the El Palomar Hotel and restaurant located on a shady lane in the middle of date palms, mangoes, sugarcane and papayas.

palomar-restaurant-bar

The Palomar’s restaurant gained a reputation for solid cooking, and Barbra Streisand once and declared the Palomar a favorite new restaurant after dining on fresh pescado prepared mojo de ajo (garlic butter) style. Don’t miss the photo of Bing Crosby with the original owners on the wall. If you have the time you can also visit the quaint little zoo in the village, the only one in Baja Sur.  While nowhere near the scope of a metropolitan zoo, it features many indigenous local animals, bears, tigers, monkeys, wolves, ostriches and rattlesnakes in a viewing pit.  Admission is free.

santiago-zoo_4810_r2

Continuing on the drive north on Highway 1 past the East Cape you’ll see the backdrop of the Sierra de La Laguna mountains.  The area was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1994, and is home to an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. Today much of the wilderness is uninhabited and attracts naturalists, mountain bikers, climbers, and hikers. A number of small farming towns are located deep in the arroyos of the Sierra de La Laguna.

Continuing along Highway 1 you’ll come to San Bartolo, a lush oasis known for its fresh fruits, homemade marmalades and baked goods. For a fresh, healthy treat, stop at one of the stands along the road for mangoes, avocados, and a local treat – fruit filled empanadas. A number of places in town also serve authentic burritos with fresh local cheese, salsa and beans.

Further on you pass through San Antonio, a town that dates back to 1748. During this period a rich silver vein was discovered in the area and San Antonio became home to more than 10,000 residents.  When an earthquake heavily damaged Loreto in 1829, San Antonio served briefly as the capital of the Californias, before the capital was transferred to La Paz. Today San Antonio’s population has dwindled to less than 1,000.

ET4

Winding through the mountains you’ll finally reach El Triunfo, a former mining town with crumbling colonial-style buildings, a stately church, and ruins of old silver mine foundry with a towering brick smoke stack.  In 1862 rich silver deposits were discovered in nearby San Antonio, and through the late 1860s El Triunfo profited from rich silver lodes. The town’s population swelled and it became the fourth largest city in Baja Sur. In 1918 a hurricane flooded the mines, the ore gradually declined in quality, and mining was finally stopped in 1926.  This picturesque little village today is a reminder of Baja’s former mining importance and a place to enjoy a walk and the oven-fired pizzas and breads at Cafe El Triunfo.

ET3

 

From El Triunfo you can continue up toward the state capital of La Paz, or swing south on the new road connecting La Paz and Todos Santos for a visit to that well known and charming Pueblo Magico.

 

logoSecretaria

 

<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45347916-1’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>

Why I Fish

First of all, there’s the water. Los Cabos is perfectly situated in an area where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, a confluence that provides ideal habitat for the world’s great gamefish.  The union of these warm and cold currents is unique in the world, occurring over a terrain of deep marine canyons and an upwelling of currents that keeps a constant supply of food in circulation.

Water symbolically contains the mystery of the unknown, and, in Los Cabos, despite having some of the finest oceans views in the world and often spending evenings looking over a vast expanse of water at dinner, we really don’t have a lot of information about what’s going on out there. But we know the fish are there, a large population of striped marlin and the larger blues and blacks too, wahoo and tuna, roosterfish, dorado in abundance and sierra. Name a gamefish and there’s a good chance that Cabo has it.

This is a place that attracts serious anglers, including early enthusiasts like Bing Crosby and John Wayne. If you are lucky you can be part of that heritage. John Pentz is a local developer and a serious angler.  He’s created some of the iconic places on the landscape here, like the Shoppes at Palmilla, and is now working on a new luxury boutique hotel to open next year overlooking Monuments Beach.  John had the kind of upbringing that leads to becoming a serious angler, as a young boy hiking and riding with his father deep into California’s high Sierras in search of wild trout.  Those kinds of boyhood memories create a fascination with water, and when John came down to Cabo in 1980 it was a life changing event, staying at the Hotel Cabo San Lucas where he hooked his first marlin, a proverbial game changer.  That fish led to repeat visits and now John lives in the area, overlooking what he considers the finest fishing grounds in the world.  “There is a lot to love about this place,” John says. “I love the climate and the people, and I have to say that, after fishing other places in the world, there is no better place to fish for marlin than Los Cabos.”

marlin

Local angler/chef Drew Deckman, of Deckman’s Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, was looking for a place to combine his highly-evolved culinary skills with his passion for fishing. “Eight years ago I began looking for a place where I could cook at the level I was accustomed as well as have a shot at a billfish 365 days a year.  The fishing in Cabo, when it’s on, is as good as it gets.  We get all the species I want to catch most times of the year.”

And when he catches them, the most desirable eating species, he knows exactly what to do with them, creating plates so inventive, so precisely composed, that you look at the ingredients in a whole new light. “My life has been hook-to-fork for a long time and my kitchens only serve seafood from the Baja peninsula.  I’m not sure there is another place like this on the planet that is so varied and complete in terms of the resource.”

In Los Cabos, a single fish can change your life.  Ask the people over at Picante Sportfishing about that. In 1994 the Picante team entered the Bisbee Black and Blue Marlin Tournament, their first competitive fishing contest, and a 950-pound marlin spotted their lure and took it, something that came as a complete surprise. That fish resulted in a tournament purse in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and a Cabo sportfishing boat valued at about $250,000. Those awards led to the founding of Picante Sportfishing at the Marina in Cabo, now one of Cabo’s most recognizable fishing charters and a Cabo Yachts dealer.  All of that because a fish got hungry one morning during tournament season.

What would an article about fishing be without a fish story?  Michael Aviani, owner/broker of Los Cabos Vacation Rentals first fished the waters off San Jose del Cabo in August of 1985. Captivated by the area, he drove back down later in October of that year and went out with two friends and caught 7 wahoo, 10 dorado and 3 tuna in a panga rented through Victor’s Sportfishing for about $90, splitting it 3 ways.  That was when you could get a hotel room on the beach in San Jose for $18 a night. Michael became such an enthusiast that he was out fishing with a honeymooning couple and made a comment that the fishing was so good in Baja that the fish almost jump into the boat. Not long after that, as if on cue, a 25-pound dorado actually jumped into their boat.

Monroy_Marlin

Sometimes people ask me why I fish and I simply tell them that it’s something that can’t be explained, offering only that I have been drawn to it since I was a young boy. It’s a complicated question and it’s too early in the morning here at the Baja Cantina at the Marina to try and explain. I might just as well try to explain why people enjoy watching baseball or don’t like horse racing.

But if I were to try I would tell them about the amazing wild animals that you sometimes see when you are out on the water. The birds and the sea lions, and sometimes whales, but most of all the gamefish in their full iridescent glory, the dorado that flash a brilliant bluish-green and gold in the sun when alive then turn a dull yellow-gray when dead, and the large rays that shoot into the air and do somersaults, coming out of the water to surprise and delight you as you troll offshore near Pedregal. And if you let your eyes go out of focus you can think back in time and realize that you are out on the same waters that Spanish galleons may have sailed on, before there was anything here, save for a few hardy souls who survived by harvesting the waters surrounding the cape.

So you go out to try your luck, and some days the fish will not be there and you will just have an expensive boat ride. But in Cabo there is always a high probability that it will be a good day, fishing with friends and a cooler full of Pacificos, and your senses come up on full alert after you pass El Arco, as you know there may be an opportunity anywhere once you leave the Marina.

We put the trolling rigs out early, and start glassing the water looking for signs of fish. When you are fishing these waters, even though you have sophisticated electronic instruments, you don’t know what is down there until it comes up to investigate your trolled baits. A large fish may suddenly show up behind one of the lures that is darting and jumping at the end of the boat’s prop wash, so you keep your eye fixed there, occasionally looking around for signs of birds.

Just as you settle into the steady lull of the troll a fish comes up behind the boat, hungry and ready to eat.  The captain yells and points to the large dark shape following the boat and you see that it’s a marlin and the head is a deep purple as he rises, the pectoral fins spread wide as he comes to eat, almost like a bird’s wings, as if setting for a landing, the bill toying with a lure that is the size of a small tuna.

Then the action begins as you lurch towards the rod with the lure that the marlin is chasing, and you lower the rod and see his mouth open and your heart is pounding as you see the lure go into his mouth. And then he turns to run and you strike him and he feels the hook and goes airborne in a fantastic display of power or may go greyhounding across the surface, taking line at a furious clip.  And even though the sun is barely up, it is then that you think about your first beer.

You see the line disappear off your reel at an alarming rate and feel something of incredible power pulling it.  You are excited and a little intimidated as the same time, wondering what you have got yourself into now. They say a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and when a 300 pound marlin, a modest-sized blue, is on its first powerful run it can burn most of the line off your reel, and for the next 20 or 40 or 90 minutes you struggle to turn his head and reclaim your line and, in spite of all the expensive heavy gear, the outcome is never certain.

For those who love the pursuit of tackle busting game fish in southern Baja the excitement is a result of going into an unpredictable environment and being hooked to a wild animal, an apex predator with great heart and fighting spirit, being linked to something much stronger than you are, feeling the speed and power and seeing the way the fish light up when they are excited, a color that you could never capture in the finest photograph, and something you would never see if you weren’t able to bring them to the boat where, most likely, they will be admired and then released.

I have spent some time and money in pursuit of the great game fish of Los Cabos.  It’s been said a good fisherman can never starve, but if you really feel the excitement in pursuing the magnificent marlin and their companions off the coast in southern Baja, then you are likely to contribute a good part of your hard-earned wages to the fishing industry here.

But the experience is never really about that, as the profits of sportfishing can’t be measured in currency. You are on your way back to the Marina and a friend, who has also had a good day and who is one of the finest anglers you have ever known, lights a Cuban cigar and reaches into the cooler, pulls out a chilled Pacifico and hands it to you. There is spray coming off the sides of the boat, refracting the sunlight into a rainbow, and as you hold the can, feeling the coldness and weight, it somehow feels like real money.

Ptareana

<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45347916-1’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>

Known for Its Scenic Beauty, Great Golf and Fishing, Los Cabos is Also a Mecca for Great Eating.

Image

By Michael Koehn

Los Cabos attracts people from all over the world because of all the wonderful things is has going for it – great weather, scenic beauty, the best fishing and golf and the warm hospitality of the people who live here.

What it also has is plenty of great food.  It turns out the climate and conditions throughout southern Baja are perfect for organic farming a large part of the year, and there’s also a rich marine environment from the Sea of Cortez up to Magdalena Bay that provides a wide variety of fresh seafood – lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and fish – to the many creative restaurants in the area.

Image

When it comes to fresh organic products, it’s hard to beat the many farms around the Miraflores/Santiago area and places like Flora Farm and Huerta Los Tamarindos. Run by Patrick and Gloria Greene, Flora Farm near San Jose del Cabo is part of a culinary complex that includes manicured fields of organic produce, a restaurant and bar, a grocery and even culinary cottages for onsite stays.  In its variety of efforts, Flora Farm has been one of the key players in promoting the field-to-fork concept locally.  Huerta Los Tamarindos, just outside San Jose del Cabo, is a certified organic farm and restaurant started by Chef Enrique Silva of Tequila restaurant. While providing the freshest tomatoes, eggplant, chiles, zucchini, baby lettuces and herbs to local markets, Silva also runs a cooking school on the grounds so that guests can learn about the farming experience and then take those ingredients from the ground to the outdoor kitchen and create pre-Hispanic, traditional Mexican or Mediterranean dishes, like pumpkin soup, stuffed squid or vegetarian lasagna.

Image

For many of us, dining in Los Cabos means a table with a view of the Sea of Cortez. As you sit there taking in the scenery it just seems natural to want to enjoy a seafood dish with ingredients that were probably taken from the waters directly in front of you. It may be something simple, like the classic Baja fish or shrimp tacos, a more sophisticated dish like a smoked marlin tostada, or an exotic specialty like chocolate clams or pulpo (octopus). The delicious cuisine derived from the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean is one of the great luxuries of the area, and the best chefs continue to create dishes using seafood in ways that surprise and delight.

Image

Drew Deckman of Deckman’s restaurant near San Jose has earned a reputation as a wildly creative chef, using exotic and locally-available ingredients like geoduck, gooseneck barnacles and sea urchin. “It’s all about honoring the wonderful array of ingredients available here in Baja,” he says. Deckman also offers cooking classes at his restaurant, which use fresh seafood and sometimes wild boar and venison, and makes wine pairing an essential part of the experience.

Image

Image

Many of the most famous resorts have also been quick to take advantage of the thriving local markets, including Jean-George Vongerichten at One & Only Palmilla and Fabrice Guisset at Los Ventanas al Paraiso, who also have their own organic gardens on the hotel grounds, and Angel Carbajal of Nik San who adds savory Mexican accents to his wonderfully fresh sushi. Up in Todos Santos, Chef Dany Lamote of Hotel California, has produced several tantalizing cookbooks (including The Hotel California Tequila Cookbook) and, in partnership with Todo Santos Eco Adventures, also offers cooking classes designed to expose visitors to the delicious regional cuisine. Attendees get information on local products, flora and seafood (including things like wild honey gathered from nearby caves) and then spend an evening preparing authentic regional dishes. And, yes, an essential part of that education includes a sampling of the best Mexican wine, beer and tequila.

With its variety of culinary experiences from quick and casual to more sophisticated dining, southern Baja’s award-winning chefs continue to offer uniquely creative dishes based on the fresh products that local organic farmers and fisherman provide.  Whether it’s fish tacos at a street stand, dining under umbrellas on the beach or a visit to one of the 5-star restaurants in the area, it’s good to know that eating well is always going to be one of the key attractions in southern Baja.

 Image

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-45347916-1’]);
_gaq.push([‘_setDomainName’, ‘wordpress.com’]);
_gaq.push([‘_trackPageview’]);

(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript’; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl&#8217; : ‘http://www&#8217;) + ‘.google-analytics.com/ga.js’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
})();

Exploring Ranchos in Southern Baja’s Sierra La Laguna Mountains

By Michael Koehn

Southern Baja has a riches of adventure opportunities and the most popular ones are very well known.  But there are other adventures to be discovered, up the less traveled roads where the old Baja lifestyle remains intact and people live unchanged from the way they have for hundreds of years.

Recently, the Mexican government has been promoting what they call “alternative tourism” in southern Baja, encouraging adventure enthusiasts to explore places like the rugged Sierra La Laguna Mountains, an ecological preserve and home to collection of small ranchos with rustic accommodations where tourists can explore the auténtico lifestyle of old Baja. This mountainous area is home to a unique and vibrant ecosystem and is protected by the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve which was created in 1994.

Sierra_de_la_Laguna_005 - Copy

With friends Axel and Felipe Valdez of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, we recently drove high into the mountains above Santiago. It wasn’t long before the signs for the first ranchos appeared. At Rancho La Acacia we were greeted by Don Victor Castro.  His property offers small guest casitas traditionally constructed with thatched roofs and walls woven from the indigenous palo de arco. Inside, there was a spacious kitchen and dining area, sleeping rooms and enough space to settle in while exploring the area.  The rustic accommodations are typical of what is offered to hikers and explorers in the area.

Sierra_de_la_Laguna_002

Sierra_de_la_Laguna_000

To promote the community of ranchos, Mexico’s federal government has constructed a trail that connects the properties so that hikers can visit them in a circuit, and, as we worked along the rancho route, we stopped to visit with people like Catalina Manriguez, one of several local women who work together to create their own local products to sell, like homemade candy, cactus plants, goat cheese (Rancho El Chinal), and who also run the small community restaurant. At Rancho Aserradero they make beautiful handcrafted wood furniture, while at Rancho El Refugio we meet Rojelio Rosa, a local legend who is an expert in the flora and fauna of the area.  His guestbook includes entries from all over the U.S. and Europe. Other ranchers specialize in leatherwork (Rancho El Guayparian) and farming, creating products they can sell or exchange with other ranchers or visitors. 

RanchoT4

The most popular rancho in the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra La Laguna is Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo, a center for learning about local flora and fauna, and the gateway to the area’s most famous attraction, Cascadas Sol de Mayo, the 40-foot waterfall that pours through a collection of massive boulders into a deep, clear swimming hole.

Sierra_de_la_Laguna_040

photomexico-santiago waterfallphotomexico179

Exploring the local ranchos is a rewarding experience, a visit to an older, simpler world and a vibrant cultural lifestyle in southern Baja that is not represented in the glossy tour brochures of Baja’s more famous attractions.

For more information:

Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo

PH: 624-130-2055

www.ranchoecologicosoldemayo.com

<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45347916-1’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

</script>