Saturday, October 27, 2007

Los Cabos - Photographer's paradise

Los Cabos, which translates to "The Capes" in English, is the southern tip of Baja California peninsula. Separated from the Mexican mainland by "Sea of Cortez" a.k.a "Gulf of California", the cape is made up of two cities and a corridor. Picture a dumbbell, two spheres being San Jose del Cabo on the west, Cabo San Lucas on the east and the bar being the Tourist Corridor, 36 Km long. San Jose del Cabo, in short, San Jose and The Corridor has beaches which are part of "Sea of Cortez". Cabo San Lucas a.k.a Cabo contains the famous arch "El Arco", where the land ends and so does "Sea of Cortez" and there starts the mightiest of all oceans, The Pacific. Read on to know how we set the trend by doing a sort of backpacking in the land which attracts mostly the rich and famous.

Day 1: Arrival, Marina, El Arco

Our voyage began on Friday morning by Volaris airways. It was not as cheap as Vivaaerobus in any aspects, the seats, service and stewardesses were a lot better and the best part was their precise punctuality. We landed at San Jose at stipulated time, 1:15PM. The airport was crowded with skimpily dressed gringos mostly, after a quick baggage check, we were outside in the scorching sun looking for a taxi. I followed the tip for the budget travellers in one of the websites, which asked us to take taxi to the bus-stop about a mile away. I was utterly disappointed to pay 100 pesos for the taxi driver when we realized the bus-stop was at stones throw away from airport. The taxis are priced ridiculously exorbitant in Los Cabos. A green bus arrived at 1:45 which drove us to San Lucas, 36 km away, for just about the same price we paid for the taxi driver. The highway till San Jose was chaotic, but the journey on tourist corridor was smooth and fast. The vista on either sides were at odds while passing through tourist corridor, one side the azul blue sea of Cortez; hot and arid, cactus clad desert on the other.

It took about an hour and half to reach our destination, calle Morelos. We had to wander in search of our hotel, Santa Fe. With a couple of inquires, we reached Santa Fe with a tinge of tiredness and oscitancy. While others haggled with hotel authorities for problems like free breakfast or change of rooms, without even slightest botheration, I started wading in the pool to beat the heat. At about 4:30 in the evening, we set out of the hotel in search of a place to fulfill our hunger. The sight of the roasted chicken at "Restaurante el pollo del oro" made us not to think but act. Unfortunately the roasted chicken was not ready yet, we had to make do with Pollo Mole with rice and frijoles.

During the postprandial walk we caught the attention of a guide, Enrique, who helped us buy tickets for the water taxi to reach "El Arco". Marina, is the name of the wharf in Cabo from where we had to hire a water taxi. It has a wooden pathway all along, with small restaurants and pubs mainly for gringos. Wondering why for gringos? A bucket of 5 beers with Mexican chips and sauce would cost about 30 pesos outside, while it costs 100 pesos there. They rather project it in dollars...all that for 10$ only!!! The wharf was crowded with tiny boats, launches, fishermen and pelicans. Enrique told us that most gates close at 5:00PM and there was one gate which was open. We bought tickets for the boat, which cost each of us 120 pesos.

As the boat started, I saw some people walking along the ridge of the mountain, making their way through the rocks. I cursed the hotel authorities, for they said boat was the only means of reaching the arch. Nobody even gave a slightest hint that it could be reached in a much cheaper and a more adventurous way.

I was asking the driver to make it fast so that I should not lose the sunlight, but he cared a damn. He stopped on the way to show the colorful underwater life through the glass bottom, but I was least interested in that, I was getting restless to photograph "El Arco". We were lucky to reach the arch at the right time, the background was golden yellow, there was just the right amount of light required for photographing the arch. I was clicking without the slightest pause, losing my balance many a times on boat, the two gigantic rocks separated by water stretch and the magnificent arch. Those were the most artistic, most elegant rocks I've ever witnessed in my life. It seems few years earlier, there was no water near the arch and people could pass through it, but now there is much water flowing through the arch. "El Arco", the signature structure of Los Cabos, is truly worth the fame it has accumulated.

We spent few minutes in between Lover's beach and Divorce beach. It's interesting to see that Lover's beach, on one side, is calm and placid while Divorce beach, on the other side, is wild and noisy. The landscape in between is composed of a stretch of sand and gigantic Henry Mooresque rocky mountains. The sunset was blocked by the mountains, nevertheless the sky was orange yellow and sail boats embellished the beach making a perfect setting for photographers.

Day 2: Playa Medano, Todos Santos, Playa San Pedro

We threw ourselves out of bed at wee hours and hit Medano beach for sunrise. It's a vast beach in Cabo and could be reached by feet from downtown in less than 30 minutes. A good beach for swimming and photography. It has a panoramic view of the rocks near El Arco, an undisturbed horizon, friendly pelicans and soft sand. We started walking along the beach and the blood red sun started his ascent at the horizon. The beach, the sky, the sand, the birds, the boats...everything turned auriferous for few moments. We started walking back towards hotel after a quick dip in the sea, for we were hungry and didn't want to miss the free breakfast.

We had a sumptuous and filling breakfast of huevo ranchero and huevo mexicano (egg scramble with tortillas). We took the funny looking local city bus to the central bus stand. The tickets to Todos Santos cost 77 pesos per person, for an air conditioned Volvo bus. It takes about an hour and a half to reach Todos Santos. The view during journey is an absolutely gorgeous one, pristine pacific on one side and mountainous desert clad with cactus on the other. There are many ranches on the way which could be reached by an ATV or SUV.

Todos Santos is a tiny town housing artists from the North of Mexico and U.S.A. There are numerous art galleries selling their art works. We knew that summit of Sierra de la Laguna was about 8 hours long trek and from the summit one could see the pacific along with vivid landscapes of deserts and forests. We roamed in the town a couple of hours trying to find someone who could guide us to reach the same, but all our efforts were in vain. We quit the idea of Sierra de la Laguna, rented a taxi, grabbed beers and went to Playa San Pedro.

In the outskirts of Todos Santos, if you drive through the desert for a while, pass through the palms by feet, you reach one of the most placid beaches, Playa San Pedro. It has a small and a shallow estuary with very less water. The sand patters were aesthetically artistic, the mountains on either sides added to the beauty. Without any second thoughts, we undressed and got into the beach. The pleasure of having a chilled beer on a sunny day inside the beach is something that is inexpressible. We fought with sand balls like kids, swam in the sea, fought for left over beers, rode the waves, photographed...two hours ticked very fast. The taxi driver dropped us back to Todos Santos.

We took the bus back to San Lucas. The stage was set on the Pacific for the most opulent sunset I ever witnessed. The stark landscape of the wild desert and ocean were soaked in the golden yellow sunlight, the waters shimmered the faint light at the horizon. I cursed the idea of travelling at that hour, it was perfect time for photography. I couldn't even slide the window of the bus for it was sealed, I clicked few pictures from within the bus. All I wanted was a 5 minutes break in the journey so that I could quench my sunset photography thirst, I was sad it didn't happen.

Day 3: Playa Santa Maria, Marina

We had early breakfast and took the bus to Playa Santa Maria, one of the most photographed beaches on Tourist corridor. Can you believe that we spent one whole day at this place? Yeah!!! It was indeed very picturesque and a perfect beach for wave riding, swimming and snorkeling. It's almost midway between San Jose and Cabo. A 10 minute walk in the desert, after alighting the bus, is all you need to reach this pristine blue beach. An umbrella costs 100 pesos which is not too bad an idea to rent, for there is no shady place around. The beach contains unique, colorful and coarse sand, mostly worn-out corals or cherts. The waves were huge and powerful and would carry you back to shore even if you want to drown. As usual, we had carried loads of beer and spent most time swimming and riding waves.

I felt, I had to trek the neighbouring mountains, not just to live up to the reputation I have about mountains, but to satiate my passion for trekking. Nobody was ready to climb the bald, yellow mountain in the heat of the noon. I slung my camera and started the ascent. It was an easy climb, but the sun was burning every cell in my body. I reached the summit in about 20 minutes and the vista on the other side of the mountain was a delight to my eyes. Unoccupied azure waters hurling against yellow, rocky mountains, an unwonted and an unseen contrast was perfect for photographing. I didn't spend much time there due to scorching sun, I descended and made my way towards the mountain on the other end of the beach. It was more vegetated by cactus and other wild bushes than the other mountain. The view from summit was not as picturesque as the previous one. It was almost 4 :30 in the evening and crowd on the beach had enormously shot up. There were people snorkelling, sun basking, wave riding, boating, fishing, playing, munching...typical scene from a beach. At about 5:30 we took the bus back to Cabo. Spent time in Marina before having dinner at Pollo del oro. Too much of beach play had tired everybody.

Day 4: Playa Palmilla, Departure

We packed our luggage, had breakfast, checked out, boarded bus and headed straight to Playa Palmilla, the beach on Tourist Corridor closer to San Jose. The day was cloudy, the beach was rocky and was terribly rough. I was infact a bit scared to venture deeper into the beach for the waves were very strong, there was no crowd, weather was slightly cold and breezy, hurricane was also expected. It was a perfect place for bird photography, the pelicans and the albatrosses were slugging on the shore in perfect harmony.

We took the bus to airport, stopped over enroute for a quick bite and continued.

Notes for budget travellers:
1. Try to reach the arch by feet, maybe you need free hands to grip the rocks, but its a considerable saving on the boat tickets and more exciting.
2. There are not many cheap food outlets which remain open during night. Restaurante el pollo del oro is a good option for budget travellers in Cabo.
3. Public transportation sucks big time, no way comparable to the comfort and convenience Cancun offered us.
4. Local information is most times unavailable and inadequate. Don't forget to do the homework in google before reaching Los Cabos.
5. It would be perfect if you have a friend who can lend his SUV for going around, works out a lot cheaper and provides easy access to many beaches.
6. Los Cabos has many activities like fishing, snorkeling, diving, golfing, off-roading etc. But everything is exorbitantly priced.
7. Don't forget your camera, that's the only activity you can do for free (apart from lazing on beach) and every shot would be worth the click.
8. There are numerous supermarkets, the best place to buy beers and stuff.

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