East Cape - Los Barriles & Cabo Pulmo

Trip Start Apr 11, 2010
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Trip End May 20, 2010


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Flag of Mexico  , Baja California Sur,
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The East Cape of Baja consists of the eastern side of the southern tip of the peninsula, a relatively unspoiled area accessed mostly by a rough dirt road that follows the coast for 60 miles and is far enough off the beaten that to be off the radar of luxury-oriented resort aficionados but easy enough to get to for those seeking a secluded beach or the perfect surf break. Two days on the East Cape and I realized this was "my Baja", the quintessential mellow beach experience.

I pulled into Los Barriles at the north end of the East Cape, considered to be the windsurfing and kite surfing capital of Baja for its consistently strong afternoon winds.  From the road above Los Barriles looked especially green and idyllic with its pleasant drive-on beach and hundreds of sport fishing boats bobbing nearby in the sea.

My Moon Guide to Baja led me to believe there might be AYCE sushi at an outdoor restaurant named El Barrilito.  This turned out to be another guidebook lie (or perhaps just out-of-date information) but it was just as well since their other offerings were superb.  In Baja I learned that Caesar's Salad is not of Italian origin but was actually invented at the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana in 1924, so I felt compelled to have at least one while in Baja if not in the exact location of its origin.  And what a Caesar it was, piled high with loads of meaty shrimp like you'd never find north of the border.  Hmmm, why don't Mexican shrimp seem to have veins?  I chose Pancho's Combo from the list of specials, which turned out to be a huge chile relleno with a shrimp and cheese stuffing and two smoked marlin enchiladas all smothered in spicy red chili sauce (and, of course, the ubiquitous sides of rice, bean mach, and guac).

And for dessert, flan, the milk egg custard with caramel sauce that's one of the few commonalities between Mexican and Spanish cuisines.  I've noticed, though, that flan in Mexico differs somewhat from the Spanish version; while in Spain flan is a delicate custard that quivers on the plate in response to the slightest movement. Mexican flan is usually thicker, more "al dente" with a texture tending toward a very light bread pudding.

I decided to camp on the beach for the night and get up early for the drive south on the unpaved sandy washboard road down the East Cape.  Cabo Pulmo is about 30 miles down the road from Los Barriles, its claim to fame being the northernmost coral reef on the west coast of North America and the only one on Baja California.  There weren't enough tourists around that day to make the boat operator's effort worthwhile, but fortunately the reefs are near enough to just rent snorkel gear and swim to from shore.  Between my snoozy impersonations of a beached whale under a shady palapa I donned my mask and flippers and swam out to the reef - lots of garish colored tropical fishes but nothing as exciting as snorkeling with sea lions.

Tacos Cabo Pulmo sounded like it must be the local specialty at the beachside La Palapa restaurant, so I figured I'd give them a try figuring it must be something fishy.  Tacos in Mexico are usually served with rather dry ingredients, unheated tortillas (either flour or corn) and lots of salsas and toppings, but these were stuffed with a creamy, cheesy mixture of shrimp, fish, and scallops and then grilled.  Exquisite!

Bahia de Los Frailes, a wide crescent-shaped beach a few miles south of Cabo Pulmo, seemed like a good place to stop before sunset and set up camp for the night.  A few minutes after I drove onto the beach and began setting up my tent, a small car pulled up nearby and out hopped two tall young blond women.  "Swedish girls!" I thought.  They scouted around for a good camp site and began setting up their tents as well.  Not much later one came over to my car and asked me to join them for a glass (plastic cup, actually) of wine.  OK, it was clear from their accents that they were actually Australian, but they looked like Swedish girls.

Lauren and Chelsea were studying for a semester in Guadalajara and making the best of their holiday breaks to explore Mexico, including flying to South Baja and renting a car for a week.  They had been to Copper Canyon in March and traveled from the canyon to the Pacific coast, conforming for me that doing so was possible even though no roads show up on maps of the area.  Their route, however, was somewhat north of the one I planned to take and their stories of encountering some of the narco terrorists in the region didn't make the area sound all that safe.

The girls were looking for a place to stay in Cabo San Lucas the next night but had not yet heard back from their Couchsurfing International contact.  I offered them to stay in my timeshare in Cabo for a night if they wanted since I'd be checking in in the evening but my friends wouldn't be getting in until the following day.  They took the address and phone number but seemed less than enthusiastic.  I got a real chuckle out of it when it occurred to me afterwards they were probably thinking, "Dirty old man".

My sunrise job on the beach followed by a morning shower in the calm sea were lovely.  An hour's drive farther I noticed the pounding surf and stopped at Playa Tortuga for frolic in the waves.  I had rounded the cape and here the south facing beaches were exposed to the open Pacific's swells in contrast to the calm Sea of Cortez shores.  Wild ocean waves nearly my height crashing directly onto the beach, buff bronzed surfer dudes on their boards, and a palapa for some shade - this is my Baja!
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