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September, 2011:

Baja California Sur Roadtrip: Part 1-Todos Santos

When we assessed our options for a longer vacation in Mexico over Semana Santa last year, we asked ourselves the question that most tourists as themselves: what would Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, & Cindy Crawford do for their vacations?   Well, as it turns out, what they would do is prance around in their swimsuits at an expensive resort in Cabo.  We decided to slightly modify that option by expanding it to all of Baja California Sur, spending less money, and minimizing the amount of time I would spend being photographed by paparazzi while scantily-clad (a constant battle, I assure you).  :)

I’d heard lots of rave reviews of Baja California Sur (even from non-celebrities!), so we plotted a Wednesday-through-Tuesday road trip to take in all the highlights over the long Easter weekend last year.  The plan was fly into La Paz, rent a car & head straight to Todos Santos (one of Mexico’s heralded Pueblos Mágicos).  We’d spend a night there, then two nights in Cabo San Lucas, then make a leisurely drive back to La Paz for three nights with a stop for lunch in San Jose del Cabo.

We had a bit of a rough start when we got bumped off our Wednesday afternoon flight from DF to La Paz for reasons yet-unknown.  But we didn’t want to admit defeat & return to our apartments, so we took Aeroméxico up on their offer to put us up in an airport hotel for the night.

Here we are, awaiting the arrival of the free shuttle to the Hotel Riazor in Mexico City... I think most of us look cheerier than how we were actually feeling at this stage.

As a side note here, for anyone in need of a hotel close to the Mexico City airport, the Hotel Riazor was actually decent/clean/convenient. For anyone in need of being in Baja California Sur, it was none of those things. :)

We made it out the next morning & arrived safely in La Paz, with great coastal views as we passed from the mainland to the peninsula.

A view of La Paz from the air

I will save the details of renting a car in Mexico for another day & time (note to self: investigate insurance options well in advance because the “but my US credit card covers rental cars!” argument doesn’t carry much water here), but we soon got on the road!  It’s about 55 miles from La Paz to Todos Santos.

Luckily driving around Baja California offers much clearer signage than Mexico City!

I wish I could offer a review of lodging in Todos Santos, but alas, our one night was foiled by our flight delay. However, I can tell you that I research hotels obsessively and had settled on Casa Bentley as the boutique hotel worthy of our love, so please check it out & report back!  The interesting thing about Todos Santos is that it doesn’t sit directly on the beach– but it’s only about a 5-minute drive or ~25 minute walk to get down to the beaches. Casa Bentley has a great map here to give you a better idea.

Clean & cute town square within Todos Santos

We spent some time wandering around the shops of tiny Todos Santos– definitely a cute little town, with kind of a up-and-coming San Miguel de Allende feel. (For those who’ve not visited San Miguel, this means lots of gringo-friendly stores & restaurants owned by a mix of Americans & Mexicans, lots of American artists peddling their wares, it’s easy to get by in English, and there’s a tendency towards gringo prices.)   It was a prime example of what John & I had realized several times during travel to more popular tourist destinations in Mexico– if we hadn’t been living in Mexico City for a year+, we would have considered the prices quite reasonable. But after living in “normal” Mexico, you become irrationally outraged at higher prices in tourist spots. :)

After eliminating a couple of the pricier restaurants I’d sussed out online, we decided to have lunch at the Hotel California at its La Coronela Restaurant & Bar.  (I think this menu is a couple years old, but it gives you an idea of the food.)  It was tasty & had fun decor + a nice palapa area to sit under outside in their courtyard.

I do love me some bull-themed decor...

...supplemented with fresh cala lilies!

Note requisite fountain + palapa in the distance! We arrived too late to snag an outdoor table-- popular spot.

After a final round of verifying that we didn’t need to make any large purchases, we took a few photos next to some noteworthy cacti and headed back to the car.

Here's the rest of the crew posing on the sidewalks of Todos Santos

My ~2 hours in Todos Santos did not allow me to suss out all that it had to offer, so I encourage you to review some other  assessments here, here, and here.  After our brief stop, we headed back out to our next destination– the famed Cabo San Lucas!  More to come on the sweet VRBO house we stayed in blocks from the beach in Cabo, followed by the best swimming I’ve ever had outside of La Paz!!

While you await my next post, keep yourself entertained wondering about this photo I snapped on the road from Todos Santos to Cabo:

"Hieleria" translates to "store that makes/sells ice". Note the sign in the middle-- No hay hielo!! There is no ice! Looks like there hasn't been ice at this spot for a while, folks...but the signage confirming that is appreciated.

And let this last photo lead you down the highway to Cabo San Lucas.... Will we see a celebrity??!? Watch and find out!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

16 Tips for a great Mexican Independence Day

Have you ever wondered whether Mexico gets as excitable for its Independence Day as the United States does for the Fourth of July?  Are you curious what traditions Mexico has that parallel the American traditions of eating your body weight in grilled meat, dressing up in a t-shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle wrapped in a US flag holding a shotgun in its claw, and trying not to lose any digits while lighting off firecrackers?  Have you been too afraid to travel to Mexico for its Independence Day because you just weren’t sure what to wear?? My friends, I am here to help. :)

First, don’t be fooled by Mexican Independence Day’s better known brother, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla. Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16th, but most of the festivities take place the night before on September 15th. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in Mexico for THREE Independence Days in a row– one in Acapulco and two in Mexico City. This string culminated in 2010’s Bicentenario frenzy, a.k.a. the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. By this time, we’d settled in & become as well-versed in the ways of the Grito as we could hope for. So today, I pass along to you some of the tips we’ve gathered for ensuring you have a great Mexican Independence Day experience!

1. Nourish yourself with patriotic foods.

The above "chile en nogada" taco is basically the lazy man's version of this classic Mexican dish.

One of the most recognizable foods that emerges towards the end of summer is the chile en nogada. This consists of a chile poblano stuffed with a combo of meat/veg/fruit, covered in a walnut sauce & sprinkled with pomegranate seeds + cilantro. Note the colors of the Mexican flag! I sampled the above delight at the (apparently one-time) Tacos & Mariachi Festival last year, but I highly recommend you check out Cristina’s post of how to cook a chile en nogada and Lesley’s on where to do a chiles en nogada tasting in Mexico City.

2. Quench your thirst with patriotic drinks

Pretend this tall lime juice shot is a bit greener, and you'll get the Mexican flag patriotic feel... Bandera is the name for this 3 drink combo, whose color scheme matches the Mexican flag (in Spanish, also "bandera"!)

For those who have never had a bandera (the drink kind, not the actual flag kind), this is a fan-favorite combo in Mexico year-round, but it’s particularly appropriate when all those Mexican flags are waving across the country. There are a couple banderas visible in the photo above– it includes a shot of tequila, a shot of fresh lime juice, and a shot of sangrita. (Check out my current fav sangrita recipe scribbled in this pic, right side of the page, middle column, black ink starting with “3c tomato juice!”) The key here? These 3 shots are all SIPPED in sequence, not chugged. You’d order this from a waiter as “una bandera con _____” and insert whatever type of tequila you’d like there.

3. Remember that Independence Day falls within rainy season

Note the rather damp conditions that accompanied the Fiestas Patrias in 2009...

…and plan accordingly. Our 2009 celebration on the plaza in Coyoacan in Mexico City was a little wet, but as you can see above most of the locals planned accordingly with their umbrellas and rain coats!  It did put a slight damper on my themed dressing, unfortunately, and all I managed for 2009 was this:

A headband + a single flashing Mexican flag pin? This is Independence Day attire for rookies, people. Consider this the bare minimum of personal decor. :)

4. …but try not to let rain stop you from dressing up like an enthusiastic moron.

Needless to say for the Bicentenario in 2010, we got our act together and purchased as many Mexico flag-themed accoutrements as we could find for either us or our friends to wear. Street vendors are out in full force weeks before September 15 to make sure you are fully kitted up for the big day with not just clothes but also mascots.

I thought I was scoring a unique item by purchasing Señor Jalapeno in Querétaro, but of course I later saw versions of him for sale by every vendor + their pet dog in Mexico City.

John & I peaked with my tri-color mohawk, John's clown hat, flag stripes on cheeks, a necklace of tiny sombreros, and fake red/white/green braids clipped into my hair. Here we are, in the Zocalo on Sept 14th, 2011.

This crazy styrofoam foam hat was also a bold move.

I enjoyed the more traditional cowboy theme + masquerade masks that this group was sporting.

You also have the option to pick one patriotic color for your whole outfit and then add lots of meaningful messages all over the back of it... including the years of the centennial celebration & the actual Grito, as if to imply you attended those events wearing this shirt.

Dressing like a cactus is also socially acceptable... albeit more so when you are in a parade with 200 of your other closest cacti.

5. Just because your friend buys a Mexican flag-colored mohawk, doesn’t mean you can’t buy the same one.

Great minds think alike?

6. Don’t make people guess whether your dog hates Mexico. Dress him up too.

This dog obviously spotted someone else taking a photo of him in his colorful Mexican dog football top.

Let everyone know that a Mexican Muppet is driving *your* dog on Mexican Independence Day, sombreros & all.

7. If you’re a man and you’re not feeling very confident about how to apply your Mexican Independence Day makeup, ask another man to do it for you. As long as you’re both wearing manly, fake mustaches, there’s nothing unusual about it.

Nothing to see here, people.

8. If you see the below patriotic-themed person wandering the streets, don’t let him/her touch you.

Terrifying. No idea what's happening here, but I think there may have been a curse involved. The weirdest part was this person never spoke, just did a lot of lurking. Furthermore, I'm not sure any hand sanitizer was used before that glove silently caressed most of Luis's face.

9. If you’re not very good keeping track of dates and times, try to attend the next Mexican Independence Day centennial event, i.e. in 2110 for the tricentennial.

For any of you who aren’t very good with details, Mexico really helped out last year by installing massive clocks in many of the larger cities to remind you just how of many days/hours/minutes/seconds remained until the Grito. Some of these clocks survived past the bicentennial, continuing to count upwards to an unforeseen future event, but apparently that event has also passed.  Most likely, you will have to wait until 2110 (or 2109 if you’re lucky) for this level of countdown granularity to be provided again. But in the interim, you can take advantage of all the special driving routes that the Mexican government has tagged with signs for the bicentennial.

This clock serves a similarly-important purpose as that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

10. If you see a massive tray of what looks to be festively-spoiled eggs, buy them!

Refrigeration be dammed, I say! There is little dispute among food scientists that these confetti-filled eggs are fine to store at room temperature.

I don’t know why the egg-shell-filled-with-confetti is not a more popular confetti delivery mechanism here in the US, but these things were awesome.  Not only do these enable you to dump celebratory Independence Day confetti on your pal, but you may temporarily trick him into thinking you are breaking a raw egg on him! Oh, the hilarity! Well, that is, as long as he doesn’t see you carrying this:

Often it is hard to use your ninja sneak-attack moves when carrying a tray of 30 confetti eggs.

11. Learn at least the first few words + the tune of the Mexican National Anthem (Himno Nacional Mexicano).

Susie has the best summary I’ve seen for the national anthem, with not only the lyrics & translation but also video of hot soccer players singing it. Trust me that this WILL be sung on September 15th, and you’ll feel like less of a jerk if you can *at least* mumble things in tune.

12. Learn the Grito– this one’s easy.

The actual Grito de la Independencia (Cry of Independence) is done at 11PM on September 15th. If you’re in any town in Mexico, some important city official will stand, ring a bell, and between rings shout out the names of various war heroes. He does the hard part– remembering all these names. All you have to do is vigorously shout “¡Viva!” whenever he pauses.  Got that?  Check out a full sample Grito from Suzanne here.

13. You can never buy too many fake mustaches too far in advance.

More mustaches, more better. We actually found that some vendors had RUN OUT OF FAKE MUSTACHES by September 14th. Plan your mustache shopping well in advance.

14. Be prepared to get sprayed by a can of foam if you are in the Zocalo for the Grito on Sept. 15.

For the big celebration in 2010, we actually went down to the Zocalo a day early to check out all the preparations/lights/vendors/etc.  It was great; there were still plenty of people out, but we didn’t have to go through security, risk wall-to-walls seas of people, or get doused in foam. I know it’s not the same as being there for the main event, but it was the next best thing!

Note the lack of spray foam coating our clothing.

15. Don’t forget to check out the annual Military Parade on Sept. 16 in Mexico City…but be careful where you sit.

The day after all the Grito craziness, there’s a fascinating show of Mexico’s military presence in a slooooow parade down Reforma. (Hint: wear good shoes.)

These armed ladies were a crowd favorite.

A number of the military companies had a B.Y.O.H. policy (bring your own hawk).

Here is my “where not to sit” photo montage:

I was constantly watching these children, and was amazed that their porta-potty roof seats did not collapse before a policeman finally suggested they relocate. I don't recommend you sit atop a porta-potty.

16. And last but not least, don’t forget that even though your 20-story office building might seem soulless, perhaps he would also like to participate in Mexican Independence Day.

My question: is there a row of windows under there whose inhabitants have to live in darkness from August to September?

While you’re here, check some of my fellow Mexico Today bloggers who are also writing about the mes de patria this month! You can click on the logos below to visit their sites. Enjoy!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

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