Saturday, October 6, 2012

Todos Santos, The Town of all Saints

Todos Santos, The Town of All Saints

I’ve only been to Mexico once. By all means, my knowledge about the country of Mexico is quite limited. But my Spanish is improving. Not long ago, I started taking lessons in a small town near Brussels, Belgium, where I presently live. Learning a new language that resembles French is definitely enjoyable.

When my California friend, Jack, invited me to spend a week in a small Mexican town call Todos Santos, I diligently followed. At the time, Belgium was experiencing constant rainfalls. The prospect of sun felt a deliverance.  

Before my departure I looked at the website of a resort adjacent the Pacific Ocean, reading of birds, a large swimming pool containing salted water, a virginal beach and organic food. The website also disclosed pictures. I discovered a Mexican eco-friendly resort standing proudly amongst palm trees of all kinds. It all sounded perfect and idyllic.

I didn’t further investigate on what else I would see and discover in Baja California, leaving my upcoming adventure to serendipity. Anyway, the sun would be shinning. What else would I need? I knew the weather would be warm, while the nearby ocean’s wind perhaps refreshing. I knew the benefit of sunblock. The Aloe Vera gel used for sunburns. When it came to clothing I was also prepared. A bathing suit was a must but also shorts, sandals and roomy cotton tops that allowed breathing. I totally underestimated Mexican mosquitoes though. And little did I know about other creatures living in that part of the world.

One summer morning, I left rainy Belgium and headed towards Northern California. While reuniting with the Bay Area and spending time with friends, my jetlag went smoothly away.  A week later, I was back at San Francisco Airport. This time, Jack and I took a short flight to Los Cabos located in Mexico. At the old fashion airport, we rented a car. The small town of Todos Santos was a little less than two hours away. If all goes well on the highway.

Passing through the town of San Jose, we spotted a grocery store call Mega. Jack went in, while I stayed by our rental car. I wanted to make sure all our belongings remained in our white Volkswagen. Presently in Belgium, intelligent humans would never leave belongings inside a car for all eyes to descry, while fraudulent temptations are on the rise.
In the giant parking lot, Jack said:

“I know we need help with directions, but don’t talk to anyone while I’m gone.”

“Ok,” I said wondering about our safety in a country I knew so little.

At the time I wasn’t well aware of Mexico City’s agitations, only guessing. While living in Belgium, I mostly hear of tensions unfolding in Greece, Spain, Egypt and other troubled countries. Mexico seemed behind in the European news’ priority list.

With the help of my companion, I quickly grasped the tensions unrolling in the Mexican capital. Hopefully Mexico City was far enough from us. So I wouldn’t worry.

Waiting outside, the mid-afternoon sun felt amazingly hot. The stuffy atmosphere transpired with highly charged humidity. I had left foggy San Francisco in a pair of Jeans and a long sleeves cotton top that started to feel very sticky. I went back inside the car and waited. Jack finally walked back from the giant store with a bag full of groceries.

“You should have put the air conditioner on, while waiting.”

“I thought I did,” I responded. “I’m melting.”

“I bought bottles of water,” he said. “Here drink,” handing me a bottle.

“Thank you,” I responded. “I’m very thirsty. Let’s go now. You were in that store forever.”

“You should have come in. It’s enormous in there,” he explained. “I talked to a vendor for a while. He was all smiles. Everything you want or need in that store. I bought a cooler and a bottle of Cava for you.”

“Super,” I replied. “I can’t wait to take my clothes off, jump in the pool and have a glass of bubbles.”

At last we found highway 19, after touring a few times around a large roundabout connected to numerous streets and multiple stop signs, left and right. Jack wasn’t sure when to stop or drive but other drivers, even a policeman driving through, waved with one hand to let us pass. Perhaps the colors of our hairs helped the friendly residents to yield their driving rights. Traveling through a busy neighborhood saturated with convenient stores, by and by we arrived at the edge of civilization. Eventually, we passed Cabo San Lucas or a touristy destination for surfing fans. A few well-known American hotels promoted luxury in front of a golden beach. The Pacific Ocean came into view with white foams rolling in the distant water.

“Beautiful Ocean,” I proclaimed.

“I have to keep my eyes on the road,” retorted Jack holding the wheels.


As we drove further north, isolated adobes surrounded by giant green cactuses unfolded before our eyes. Millions of tall prickly plants inhabited the surrounding hills and small mountains, but also green shrubs or trees that perhaps were never able to grow taller.

Meanwhile, similar highway signs kept on appearing. The signs reminded drivers of the possibility to turn around in the middle of the highway, a few hundreds kilometers away. Highway 19 connects one place to another. No small or major towns built in between, just a road cutting through a thorny undulated landscape. No gas stations to fuel either, or side roads that might lead to the other side of the highway. The practical setting seemed dangerous to me.

While hills of cactuses unrolled on one side of the highway, here and there, I glanced at the sporadic view of the Pacific Ocean appearing on my left. The blue hue of the water looked impressive, the waves titanic.

Cars passed us by. Some cars had no back plates, while some drove SUV. Arriving at a gate, a large sign read: Pueblo Magico, announcing the small town of Todos Santos. Another small sign directed us to our resort named Posada la Poza. A name I translated into: A Place to Rest.

Leaving the asphalt road behind, we proceeded unto a yellow dirt road. On each side of the unruly road, precarious housings surrounded by garbage filled the scenery. I didn’t expect the sighting. My friend read my face.

“This is Mexico,” Jack remarked.

“I wasn’t prepared,” I retorted.

“We are not in Belgium, or in the United States.”

“I didn’t expect such poverty.”

Grasping my surroundings and the Mexican way of living, I felt uncomfortable. Skinny dogs roamed in one dusty street while small children played soccer on a fortuitous playground. On one side of the following street, two horses tied to a pole munched on grasses. The path to our destination also revealed multiple half-built houses, with long iron poles stretching for the blue sky. I wondered what our resort would look like.

Finally, at the top of a small hill, an adobe-wall encircling colorful abodes came into sight. A sign read: Posada la Poza. We had arrived. The iron entrance gate was closed. Jack rang the bell. A young man carrying keys arrived at the door, a few dogs walking at his side.

“My name is Louis. I’ll show you your room,” meant the smiling young man in broken English.

“Thank you,” I said while Louis carried our luggage to our room.

The owners of the resort came to meet us, both also wearing large smiles on their faces. The couple owning yet managing the property had a foreign accent when speaking in English. Years ago, Juerg and Libusche left Zurich, Switzerland, in search of sun and perhaps another chance in life. Their five dogs wandering the partially enclosed resort had all been rescued.

As we walked towards our bedroom, a tropical garden welcomed us inside an enchanted world. Jasmine flowers unveiled a magical perfume. Palm trees, flowering shrubs, cactuses and various Aloe Vera plants revealed their beauty while the sound of hummingbirds’ wings sang their way around. Unfamiliar sounds also filled the air.

Our bedroom was welcoming, spacious and providing with free WiFi. In no time, Jack and I dressed in our bathing suits and headed to the swimming pool. A small pathway guided us to a Zen landscape displaying empty long chairs, waiting to serve. An Aztec stone statue atop a waterfall guarded the large swimming pool. We both advanced and stepped into the water. The pool’s temperature felt refreshing against my entire body while salted water caressed my skin. Blue and red dragonflies raced above our heads.

“Are we dreaming?” I said. “This is absolutely lovely.”

“Look at the lagoon, the ocean behind, and the birds.”

“Looks like pelicans to me, and white herons too.”

“Let’s go have a closer look.”

Still wearing our wet bathing suits, we slowly progressed towards a large blue lagoon where various water-birds stood still, long beaks espying for food. Green high grasses highlighted the azure bird sanctuary, while a few towering palm trees swayed in the coastal wind. As the sun started imbuing the sky with shades of red, we headed back to our room. The resort’s restaurant was our next undertaking.

While residing in Northern California for many years, I often ate Mexican food. Enchilada is one of my favorites, without forgetting quesadilla, sour cream, guacamole, chips and hot salsa.

That night at the resort’s restaurant, and for several nights, I ordered fish. With my supper, I opted for the house’s organic salad made with Litchi Mexican tomatoes called Morelle de Balbis growing wild in front of the resort’s lagoon, shredded carrots, red beets and green lettuce. A touch of vinaigrette made with mysterious ingredients gave my salad a taste nonpareil. Although my meal was never voluminous, my stomach always felt satiated. I also greatly appreciated eating organic meals.

Often we decided to eat in the indoor dining-room, instead of the terrace standing above the resort’s main restaurant. Even at nights, the temperature was oppressive. The fans spinning in the indoor restaurant only felt a temporary relief. Yet on the ceiling, small ramping geckos seemed dormant. The light green lizards became a blessing. While we ate, my head kept on looking up, watching the tiny creatures advancing towards invisible preys, mosquitoes.

My first night in a comfortable bed was from time to time interrupted by waves of heat, even with two fans in constant motion. Perhaps turning the air-conditioner on while we slept was the solution to my discomfort.

With new days rising, our breakfasts always awaited us on an outdoor terrace featuring small round tables garnished of flowery vases, tropical orchids in woven baskets and an oil-painting created by Juerg’s wife, Libusche. The female artist exhibits her semi-abstract paintings throughout the resort. Fruits were daily on the breakfast menu. I tasted of juicy mangoes that flourished in the region, and Swiss Müesli. One morning after breakfast, we decided on a walk to the beach. The sun was already hot. I put on a hat to protect my blond hair and fair scalp.

To get to the beach, we followed a rocky dirt road along a hill to finally step into sand the color of sunshine. I took my shoes off but quickly put them back on. The sand was burning. Eventually reaching wet sand, I was able to walk shoeless, feeling like a child again, my toes playing in sea-water.

“Don’t go too close,” said my friend. “The current is extremely dangerous here.”

“I can see that,” I responded. “No surfing here I guess.”

“No, not here. Stay away, a wave could come and grab you and you’ll never be able to come back.”

“Ok,” resigning myself to more secure ground or where the waves wouldn’t have a chance.

While pursuing our walk, we encountered pelicans taking a break near the ocean, drying their longs wings in the sun and hot wind. A few black water-birds flew by our side, completely unafraid of our presence. I looked for whales in the ocean waves and learned that we were too early to see colossal mammals traveling south. Not a human soul in sight on the tropical beach, only the two of us and nature at its best.

On our next walk to the beach, we met an old man sitting under an elementary shelter made of dried palm leaves. Although our conversation was in Spanish, Jack and I understood that the indigenous man was guarding a turtle sanctuary. Soon, thousands of eggs would hatch. We didn’t grasp his whole discourse though. But the upcoming full moon gave us a clue. Unfortunately we missed the event. The night of the blue moon, we noticed human shadows on the beach heading toward the extraordinary occasion. People went to help the newly born baby turtles to reach the ocean in safety. 

A few days later, we left our dreamy resort and headed towards Todos Santos.  Arriving in the small town, we discovered a Mexican version of Hotel California. In the hotel’s souvenirs shop, an Eagles’ song played again and again: “Welcome to the Hotel California. Such a lovely place ….”  In an adjacent dirt street, we located a colorful café. Sitting indoors under two large wooden fans in full action, I drank an ice Latte and noticed a painting by Gabo, a Mexican artist. Frida Kahlo was also idolized in the small town, as well as La Madre de Mexico shielded of a light blue aura.

Awhile later as we entered an open street shop, multiple beach wraps dyed in bright colors grasped my attention. In the back of the store, a young mother carried her baby while two young girls dressed in dark uniforms ate their lunch. Both girls were sweating. I was too. There was no ventilation in the store.  Further along, we ventured into the local supermarket that sold fruits and vegetables but also bottles of drinking water. Each day, I drank litters of water. We had none left. Thankfully, each day the resort provided us with free bottles of water to clean our teeth, and avoid getting sick. While in town, I also noticed locals walking around with a cloth in hand, and from time to time, sponging their faces. I started carrying a bathroom cloth everywhere I went.

On our last day of vacation, we headed one last time to Todos Santos.

“Can we have a Latte,” I requested.

“Yes. We can.”

“Let’s go back to the coffee house we discovered when we first came to town,” I further said.

“That place is funky.”

“I like it. Lots of colors inside and great pieces of art on the walls,” I added.

“Yes, interesting pieces.”

“The pencil portrait of Frida smoking a cigarette is the way I’d like to draw.”

“I’ve noticed the drawing.”

 With all the water my bladder had already ingested, I needed to go to the bathroom.

“Can you order a hot Latte for me?  I’ll be right back.”

“Hot?” Jack responded.

“Yes. Last time I ordered an ice Latte I found an iceberg in my drink.”

“Are you still worried about water?”

“We’re flying tomorrow. Even though I have no unpleasant ailments to report, I don’t want to try my luck.”

I left my companion in a hurry. At least, relieving myself and proceeding to flush the toilet, no water came about. Without thinking further, I attempted to wash my hands. Putting liquid soap in one of my tan hands, I turned on the faucet water. No water came out either. Walking back to the kitchen’s café, I asked the female server:

No agua, No water?”

Si. No agua, Yes. No water,” she said, rinsing my soapy hands with water pouring out of a jar, and smiling.

Gracias, Thank you,” I responded smiling back.

Later that day, we learned that the town would have no running water for days. The municipal water plant caught on fire. Fortunately for us, Posada la Poza had plenty of running water.
While taking a shower the next morning, I felt very lucky and grateful.
Our vacation in Todos Santos faded away and so did our venture to Mexico. After saying farewell to the friendly staffs, we left the precious resort, the beautiful garden yet the incredible view.
Back in Belgium again, I reflected on the hot Mexican days I experienced. Breathtaking recollections feed my mind. Thankfully, I feel blessed that Posada la Poza never experienced a shortage of water. I'm not sure how I would have handled a lack of running water for days, while under a blazing sun. Still today, I find myself smilling and delighted in the power of smile.  

1 comment:

  1. Amazing story. I can't wait to visit Posada La Poza in 3 weeks time. You make it sound like an idyllic sanctuary.
    Anna from England