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Serendipity South of the Border

Quiet doorway in El Triunfo

Bougainvillea at Serendipity

View from Serendipity's tower
by Carolyn Clark Beedle

Eating fish tacos from a food truck in front of the LA County Museum of Art this weekend made me swoon. I was reminded of a dream getaway last month to Todos Santos in the state of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Detaching from my fast paced San Francisco corporate life happened on the flight down to Los Cabos. As the plane left California airspace, the view below moved from desert terrain to the white sand beaches and azure blue of the Gulf of California, and unwinding began. Arriving at a tropical resort airport always brings a smile, as crystal clear skies and the heat slow all movement and generally you find a cocktail lounge outside the arrivals lounge. Even hitting the infamous red light in the Mexican Customs area, which causes random pawing through your belongings, is no longer annoying.

A friend picked me up for the two-hour drive from the airport on the Gulf side, through the Sierra de la Laguna mountains to Todos Santos, located on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula's Pacific coast. At just south of the Tropic of Cancer, Baja in February is a perfect 80- something degrees, and though the peninsula is mostly desert, there are coastal breezes and a greenbelt in Todos Santos caused by local pozas (fresh water pools).
We arrived at our destination after passing through town, bouncing down the rutted washboard road through the greenbelt and making a counter intuitive left turn to the Las Tunas neighborhood north of town. Fortunately we had excellent directions as dirt roads with few if any signs are standard. Turning right at “the big tree” was my favorite marker - as there were a number of big trees - and our first Todos Santos home appeared, a lovely little casita with a design reminiscent of Santa Fe style. Las Tunas is a more recently developed area inhabited by some of the nearly 900 ex-pat Americans in Todos Santos (population 5100) and surfers from everywhere, as some beaches (San Pedrito Point, Los Cerritos) around Todos Santos are world class surf breaks.

A half mile walk though beach grass and empty lots brought me to the long white Las Tunas beach which, along with its pristine and quiet beauty, houses Tortugueros Las Playitas, eco preservation and leatherback sea turtle hatchery. Sitting in the sand at the Pacific horizon made me feel small and privileged at the same time. Reading a good book with the sound of waves pounding, soft salted breezes blowing and the feeling of sun slowly inching downward is a tonic and a gift. Traveling with a friend with similar sensibilities is also a gift; quiet solitude mixed with the perfect amount of socializing at meals and daily adventures relaxed us and filled us both with joy.

The first few days at our casita started with coffee and minimal breakfast, and planning for that day’s adventure. The distance to town meant a car was required, and a tiny white rental served us well. Motoring 20 minutes into town took us past local homes, the omnipresent cerveza stores, a quirky mix of tire stores and trendy shops, restaurants, hotels and bars. Within the green belt with its massive green foliage and vegetable farms is La Esquina Café/night club, which serves breakfast lunch, dinner, drinks, and hosts musicians at happy hour and closes by 9p. That alerted us to Todos Santos time; the streets roll up early, which is not a bad thing since the sun gets you up no later than 8a, and the intent is a relaxing holiday.

My friend Renee and I are both research geeks with a need to know, which made learning where to go and what to do a breeze. The historical town of Todos Santos, designated a Pueblo Magico by Mexico, was founded in 1723 by Jesuit Padre Bravo, with the establishment of the mission of Nuestra Señora Pilar de La Paz. The following year, the town was named Santa Rosa de Todos Santos in honor of a generous benefactor. Todos Santos is about four city blocks by four city blocks in size; wandering the streets is simple and getting lost is impossible.

In that small area, there are two small and lovely historically renovated hotels, the Guaycura Resort and Spa and the Todos Santos Inn. Both are housed in brick buildings constructed in the second half of the 19th century during the heyday of sugar production. We listened to music one afternoon on the roof bar of the Guaycura over sunset drinks, after a guided historical tour through Todos Santos. On our history walk we heard about the four important sugar families who owned the town and built the company stores and gracious homes which have been re-purposed into shops, galleries and hotels.

Our guide, Mauricio, started us at the Centro Cultural, with 1453 and the fall of Constantinople (which severed European trade links with Asia and its spices and treasures) leading to the hunt for routes east by sea, thus beginning the age of exploration. Imagine the geeks' delight as he ably brought us through the indigenous pre-Colombian Indian lifestyle; the self-serving Spanish conquistador characters arriving to La Paz from Cuba; finding and exportation of pearls to Europe; the Jesuits’ impetus to build missions and acquire wealth and their eventual expulsion from New Spain; to the creation of Mexico with lack of proximity and little interest in the Baja desert peninsula; and all the way up to the building of the Hotel California (after the Eagles song became popular!).

Todos Santos is not known for shopping, though there are numerous art galleries representing local artists and shops selling Mexican silver, crafts and clothing from across Mexico. Undaunted by the scarcity, we did find a few treasures to bring home, but the real treasure of Todos Santos is the food. We ate fish tacos from Georges taco stand, and though that would have horrified my germophobe sister, they were literally “to die for.” We had a spectacular fresh fish dinner at El Zaguan on the main street, Calle Juarez. Amazing sushi at La Casita Tapas Wine and Sushi bar would have forced us to return for more if we didn’t have to try other great restaurants. Chiles en nogada at Los Adobes de Todos Santos under the sophisticated palapa overlooking the garden were dreamy, and we never tired of cervezas, guacamole, chips and salsa. Restaurant Miguel’s boasted the best chile rellenos ever, and Miguel wasn’t lying. Everyone you meet has a favorite restaurant, and in six days we didn’t make it to them all.

On day three we packed up from the casita and moved down the block and up a little hill to the hacienda-style Serendipity Bed and Breakfast. Casitas and separate rooms with patios wind around the property covered in bougainvillea, surrounding a tranquil swimming pool and jacuzzi with an ocean view. We took advantage of everything Serendipity had to offer. Sharon and her husband (who lived for years in Albuquerque, NM) built the property over an extended period, adding rooms and casitas to house family members and eventually realized it was big enough for a spacious B&B . As an engaged member of the Todos Santos community, Sharon is also on the Board of the non-profit Palapa Society, which supports education, art, literacy, environmental advocacy and medical resources for local children in need.

Other guests came and went during our stay, and to a person they also were made to feel at home. We sat one day next to a woman from the Silicon Valley who was traveling alone, and her tale of a day trip to La Paz (a 90-minute drive) prompted us to do the same. We wanted to find some lovely pearls, but things have changed since the Spanish landed. The massive La Paz cathedral was under construction, but the statue of Juan Diego and his Guadalupe cape of flowers carved from wood was worth the stop. The boardwalk offered serene vistas across the bay.

On the day of departure, after packing and saying our farewells, we drove the opposite way back to Los Cabos. The ride through the Sierra de la Laguna took us past El Triunfo, the historical mining village with a tower built by Gustave Eiffel. Nearby is the small village of El Rosario, which boasts the Cactus Sanctuary, divided into 50 distinct areas to preserve cacti and endemic plants found only in this part of the globe, and an amazing small cemetery with Mexican and Chinese graves dating back to the early 19th century.

It was hard to get back on the road to Los Cabos, and the trip south along the Gulf side of the peninsula held more beaches we could have visited, more small villages to wander through and, I am certain, more great restaurants.

If You Go
-Serendipity, Don’t let the home designed website fool you, breakfast every morning from a menu is graciously served around the pool, while Sharon monitors guest satisfaction. The excellent hospitality makes everyone feel right at home. The concierge service (Sharon and her contacts) can make recommendations or help find anything you are interested in doing. Serendipity begins at $145/night for a casita in low season.
-At the Todos Santos Inn, double/king rooms from $95 in low season (Sep-Oct).
- Enjoy rooftop drinks at the Guaycura,
-The non-profit Palapa Society,, supports education, art, literacy, environmental advocacy and medical resources for local children in need.
-Guiding in Todos Santos by Mauricio, through Todos Santos Eco Adventures.

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