Searching for Mexico in Gringolandia
We knew when we decided to come on this vacation that Cabo San Lucas is not the place to go searching for anything Mexican. Our friends had rented a lovely villa and the plan was to spend most of the time just hanging around the pool here, looking at whales and sea birds and catching up with friends. That’s because ten years or so, when we sort of stopped coming to Cabo, we thought it was too overbuilt with condos and resorts to be of any interest to us. More than twenty years ago, we used to go to the Twin Dophins Resort, a gracious small boutique hotel set in a 500 acre sensitively eco-landscaped cactus forest. It was sort of an insider secret which was why every time we came down, we found ourselves sharing a pool with Hollywood stars. (Keith Richards got married here, but not while we were visiting.) Sadly, the Twin Dophins was bulldozed back in 2006 to make room for more condos. The lonely highway we used to take from the airport — where we’d see nothing but an isolated tienda or two or maybe a kid on a burro is now lined with condos, hotels and timeshares. Yes, we knew all this before we came, but that didn’t stop me from dragging Andy out for one afternoon of finding something authentically Mexican.
I’d heard that the town at the other end of the strip, San Jose del Cabo, had a Mission Church and was the site of a Spanish settlement. Seems San Jose was an important rewatering port for Spanish galleons on their way to the Philipinnes. There was also an important naval battle here during the Mexican-American War (the Mexicans won this battle to ultimately lose the war.)
More of interest to me, I also read in the guidebook that there was a botanical garden featuring “Latin America’s most extensive collection of native cacti”. Having visited the fantastic Jardin Ethnobotanico in Oaxaca, I was intrigued to hear of something that promised to be in the same league. So off we went to find some authentic Mexico.
We wound our way through condos, timeshares, Viagra shops and loads of tourist tat looking for those gardens. Now granted, we were a little fuzzy on where those gardens were or what they were actually called. Various tourist sources — printed and online — that we consulted talked about Cactimundo and another place called Wirikuta. But they were not exactly clear about which was which, where they were, and if in fact they were not one and the same. Finally, we followed hopeful signs saying Jardin, which took us to…a condominium complex. In fact, a really cheap condominium complex of the cinderblock style. Apparently Cactimundo has been bulldozed for a condo complex. Nothing left but the sign. I didn’t have the heart to photograph it.
So we headed to the main plaza and the mission. Our spirits weren’t much lifted. Yes, it’s more authentically Mexican than the strip of Cabo San Lucas that boasts Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo, the Giggling Marlin (where the attraction is being hung upside down and fed shots of tequila) and Squid Roe which features Jell-o tequila shots. But after you’ve seen Oaxaca, San Jose del Cabo is about as Mexican as finding a Chili’s and a Chevy’s on the same block in Houston. It’s got vestiges of Colonial architecture, a Mission that was rebuilt after a hurricane flattened it in 1910 and a small plaza of little note.
The only thing of mild interest was a tile mural above the door depicting the local Natives killing the original Mission priest, Father Tamaral. I gave that a lot of extra points as being more honest than the usual artwork that typically shows a priest bringing “enlightenment” to grateful Natives. Since the Natives never asked for such “enlightenment”, it’s good to see it commemorated when they fought back.
Sadly, we grabbed a beer and contemplated the disappearing of Mexico. Then we repaired back to the villa to watch what is left of Cabo — the glorious sunset, the migrating whales leaping out of the Sea of Cortez and our own Margaritas.
Note: To all Los Cabos tourism boosters, yes I’m being harsh on Cabo for losing its essential Mexican-ness. But there are still reasons to come here. The weather is fantastic year ’round. It’s a short direct flight from points in California. It’s one of the few places in Mexico these days where the streets are very safe and drug violence is unheard of. And if I hadn’t been to Oaxaca, I probably would have liked San Jose del Cabo better.
All my Cabo pictures here.