When you arrive at Areli Sarah Castillo’s house in Pescadero on a late summer afternoon, the look and feel of the front of her house is very similar to that of her neighbors: there’s a teenage boy working on his truck in beat to the radio’s tunes; two young girls are playing with dolls on the sofa under a well-placed beach umbrella; and several dogs are enjoying afternoon napping bliss in various poses. There’s nothing to suggest that the Castillo family is at the forefront of a movement to change the eating and health patterns of a town – until you go around back. There you find the riot of green and rampant plant life that is the greenhouse built by Areli and her children, and from which they feed the twelve people who now call their house home. Beautiful long vines of tomatoes, steamy-looking chiles, delightfully prickly pineapples, all manner of herbs and spices, all lovingly cared for in a space next to the chicken coop where the happy, well-cared for hens oblige the family with at least 15 eggs a day. All healthy, all organic, all the time. It’s not really what you’d expect from a woman who used to sell hotdogs for a living.
Greenhouse Greats of Pescadero
Areli is one of 18 women in the Sistemas Naturales y Desarrollo AC (SINADES) greenhouse program in Pescadero run by Inés Melchor Pantoja, with assistance from her husband, Julio César Rivas García. Inés and Julio, with a grant from Fondo Acción Solidaria AC, or Fasol* , started a community center about five years ago where their first program was teaching the children of Pescadero in accordance with the SINADES motto, “Educar para conservar” – Educate to preserve. Here kids were able to learn about composting, recycling, healthy eating, and growing things. The kids loved the program so much (seriously, we’re playing in dirt here – what’s not to love?) that they wanted to get their parents involved, so Inés and Julio started a pilot program for women in the community called Conscious Cooking. It has transformed the lives of the women and their families.
Like many Mexican towns across the country, Pescadero is plagued by health problems associated with poor diets. Manuela Tapis, one of the participants in the Conscious Cooking program, has lived in Pescadero for 40 years. She says that many of her neighbors in town suffer from diabetes, severe allergies, gastritis and other chronic health issues. Pescadero is not alone. Mexican government statistics indicate that 71% of the entire Mexican population is either obese (32%) or overweight (39%). That’s over 48 million Mexicans walking around in plus sizes. According to journalist Olaya Astudillo writing in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, one of the key culprits in this rise in obesity in Mexico is the global trend away from traditional diets towards highly processed foods. More specifically writes Astudillo, “Cost is highly influential for when a family with limited income has to make decisions about the home diet. They will spend their money on the food that contains more calories for lower prices. But the food might not necessarily be more nutritious, of best nutritious quality, nor contribute to a more adequate diet than other products with less calories.”
The Conscious Cooking program aims to change all that by making healthy foods affordable, desirable and an integral part of family life. And it was the desire to procure organic, pesticide-free produce at a reasonable price that drove SINADES and the women of the Conscious Cooking program to start building greenhouses. As Margarita Vasquez, one of the women in the group explains, “The older people in Pescadero used to grow their own food, but we lost all those skills. Now with SINADES and the greenhouse project we’re recovering those values. Through this program we’ve learned how to make our own organic fertilizer by composting, we’ve learned about watering our plants using gray waters from the house for irrigation, we’ve learned great skills like how to make nutritious snacks by drying fruit in the sun and so much more. We have learned such an incredible amount here about how to have healthy food at a low cost, and the impact on our personal health and that of our families has been remarkable.” Janette Albañez, who has lived in Pescadero for 25 years agrees. “Health, health, health is what this program means for me. I used to have chronic asthma and ate very poorly. Now my asthma has cleared up and even my junk-food guzzling husband loves eating raw vegetables.”
Ines Melchor Pantoja
Janette got involved when she saw one of her neighbors building a greenhouse, and this is the type of knock-on effect that the SINADES program is having in Pescadero. As more people see the health benefits that their friends and neighbors are achieving, the more that are interested in learning the skills to achieve similar results for themselves. And even more than for themselves, they are motivated on behalf of their children. Angeles Caballero, mother to two children ages 3 and 7, really speaks for all the women involved when she says “I started this program because of my kids. I’ve only been in Pescadero 10 years and was so surprised to see all the young children here that already have diabetes. I was motivated to save my children from this fate, but now my kids are even more motivated than me. Their friends think it’s weird that they’ll have tomatoes with salt instead of potato chips, but they don’t care. My kids love working in the garden and love this program. It is wonderful for us as a family.”
Areli couldn’t agree more. “My children are actually even more excited about the greenhouse than I am. They love coming out here and working every day. They love that we no longer buy any canned food, and they love how much better they feel with so much less junk food in their diet. These are benefits that you just can’t put a price on.”
But there is a price of course, and the 4,000 pesos (~US$285) required to build a greenhouse is a fairly high barrier to entry for many of these families, a barrier that they must surmount once again as Hurricane Odile (September 2014) destroyed every one of the greenhouses built by the women and children of SINADES in Pescadero. But they are not discouraged. Says Inés, “We recovered some of the material from the greenhouses and received a small donation to buy more mesh, so we are slowly coming back around. Some of the families are already in production again and everyone is continuing to move forward. It’s a strong community and we will rebound.”
Before the hurricane, there were signs around the Pescadero community center that read “Cue da-temba, nuestra casa”. Cue da-temba means Mother Earth in the language of the Guaycura Indians, the now extinct indigenous people of Baja California Sur. And of course nuestra casa is Spanish for “our home”. The goal of Inés, Julio and the women and children of SINADES is to create a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for the families in their community. Helping them to do that is really just enlightened self interest because, after all, “Cue da-temba, nuestra casa” applies to us all. Inés can be reached at and the SINADES Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/SinadesAc.
*Fasol, headed by the dynamic Artemisa Castro and a group of likeminded environmental activists, provides financial support to grassroots groups that are working for social and environmental change in Mexico. SINADES is a great example of the type of success they have achieved in communities across Mexico. For more information please visit their web site at: http://fasol-ac.org/fasol_wp_ing/
Category Seven: Pizza, Burgers and Take Out Chicken
Gallo Azul Pizza Bar
Overview: Local entrepreneur Alan Becerril created Gallo Azul Pizza Bar in 2013 and it’s a great addition to the Todos Santos restaurant scene. Alan serves up authentic Napolitan pizza made in a blisteringly hot wood-fired oven with a volcano stone floor with natural leavened dough – the results are delicious. There is a full bar, great salads and lots of fun events like Saturday night Latin nights with salsa lessons.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 3:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Contact: 612 158 8457
Café Santa Fe
Overview: As with everything else on the menu, the thin-crust pizza at the Cafe Santa Fe is fabulous. It ain’t cheap but you get what you pay for!
La Coronela at the Hotel California
Overview: The Hotel California restaurant serves up a pear and gorgonzola cheese pizza that is fantastically delicious.
Overview: This is a great little spot in the middle of town that cranks out very tasty, very affordable pizzas from 1:00 PM to 10:00 PM every day but Wednesday. It’s a favorite with locals. You can do take out or take advantage of the simple seating at the restaurant and enjoy cold beer and soft drinks with your meal.
Overview: Coming soon – stand by for details!
Chill ‘N Grill
Overview: Fun tropical bar atmosphere with full bar and good bar fare including burgers, ribs, steaks, wings and hot dogs. (Best vegetarian option is to stick to the booze or get take out from Our Pura Vida next door – the owner of the Chill ‘N Grill and the owner of Our Pura Vida are brother and sister!) Pasta Mondays, Taco Tuesdays and 2-for-1 happy hour 4-6 PM every day. NFL and other sporting events flowing on the bar TV. They often have live music on the weekends.
Hours: 4-10 PM daily (unless everyone’s having a great time and you can stay later); Sundays open at 10:00 AM for ball games.
Contact: 612 151 1441.
La Cueva Tres Marias
Overview: Big open-air space with a long bar, pool table, foosball, and darts, and lots of fun art work all around. The bar food is pretty yummy, with 1/2 lb Burgers (including a seriously tasty veggie one), Nacho’s, Salads, and Wings, all washed down with draught and bottled beer served up cold. Monday nite Football comes with 20 peso draughts, and free nachos, Wednesday features a pool league, Thursday is movie night, Saturdays feature haircut and a beer, and Sunday is NFL all day. They often have live music on the weekends, and food specials like pozole.
Hours: Kitchen is open every day but Tuesday, 12:30 PM to 10:00 PM. Bar is open until 12:00 Midnight (or so).
Contact: 612 159 3755,
Shut Up Frank’s
Overview: Some visitors to town told us just the other day that they’d found a great place in Todos Santos for their prayer meetings. Turns out they are born-again members of the Church of Football and Shut Up Frank’s had been providing all the spiritual sustenance they needed! 4 large screen TVs running nonstop NFL football, as well as NHL hockey, UFC and more make it a sinner’s sports-viewing paradise. And the food is pretty darn good too. The place has been famous for its burgers for 20 years now, and they grill up an array guaranteed to please most any palate – turkey, chicken, fish, veggie and beef. All served with terrific fries. To round out the bar menu they also serve up fish ‘n chips, wings, steaks and salads. New Italian menu with pizza and other specialties coming soon.
Hours: Open 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM every day but Tuesday. Happy Hour 3 to 6 PM, Monday through Friday.
If SmartFish founder Hoyt Peckham has his way, diners in the high-end restaurants of Los Cabos will soon be guaranteed something that may have eluded them for some time–fish caught sustainably in the waters of Baja California Sur.
It seems hard to imagine that restaurants located on a spit of land between two vibrant oceans would have to import fish, but that is exactly what has been happening. Says Drew Deckman, founder and chef of restaurants in Los Cabos and Valle de Guadalupe, “It’s not that there aren’t fantastic fish in the local waters–some of the best seafood in the world is here. The issue is that some methods for catching and processing fish can destroy quality, so sometimes I have to go out with local fishermen myself to ensure that we’re providing our customers with the high quality, sustainably caught fish they deserve. It’s a shame.
Hoyt Peckham describes the problem faced by fishing cooperatives throughout the Baja peninsula. “Many of our local fishing cooperatives are caught in a vicious cycle. They are very good at fishing, but they don’t have the capital or the capacity to bring their fish to market, which puts them at the mercy of aggressive buyers. They end up receiving very poor prices for their fish, so every time they fish they have to make up for the low prices with higher quantities. For example, fishermen at Magdalena Bay sell some of their fish for between 5 and 8 pesos per kilo. By comparison, dirty plastic bottles fetch 9 or 10 pesos per kilo. This means that these fishermen are literally selling their fish for less than garbage, and to break even at that rate they need to catch and sell 800 kilos per day. To make money they need to do 1,000 kilos per day, and there is no way for a small boat to maintain quality at those volumes. This is the reverse alchemy that plagues Baja fishermen: they catch something that could be worth gold, but they’re selling it for less than garbage.”
The mission of SmartFish is to reverse that equation and the overfishing that it fuels. Fishing is at the heart of communities throughout Baja, and SmartFish aims to empower local fishermen and their families to rescue the value of their product, while avoiding the predicted extinction of key target species. Says Hoyt, “Here we are on one of the most pristine coasts in North America, fishing every day in the “Aquarium of the World,” but distinguishing customers are importing their fish. We have to reverse that trend.” Otherwise, fears Hoyt, these communities will continue to be marginalized, with a good swath of the social fabric of Baja destroyed in the process.
The current quality problems stem from three main factors: how the fish is caught, how it is stored, and how it is processed.
How it is caught: Many fishermen use gillnets or traps to catch the volumes they need. These processes produce stress in the fish, which leads to a dramatic increase in blood flow, as well as the excretion of hormones and enzymes. These factors lead to an accelerated degradation of the fish’s flesh when it dies, meaning a much poorer quality of fish reaches the shore. In addition, fish often suffocate in the traps and gillnets, which means they are dead by the time they are brought on board the boat; they have literally started to rot.
How it is stored: The small fishing pangas of some fishermen have no refrigeration to speak of, so these large volumes of fish are simply dumped in the bottom of the boat where they cook in the hot sun all day. Needless to say, this seriously degrades the quality of the meat. Further, when they reach the shore, in many cases these mounds of fish are just shoveled onto the ground where they continue to cook in the hot sun during processing.
How it is processed. In some places, the fishermen’s families process the fish at the beach on wooden tables in the sun, and with a large catch, processing can take quite a long while.
The SmartFish Difference. Hoyt and his team set out to address these problems by forming a social venture with five fishing cooperatives in Magdalena Bay. The fishermen quickly grasped Hoyt’s vision of higher profitability and sustainability, and Hoyt helped them gain access to funding for the equipment and training they needed to make the vision a reality. The fishermen successfully switched from their high volume, high bycatch gillnetting and trapping techniques to much smaller volume / no bycatch hook and line fishing and eco-traps that have escape hatches for smaller fish and barriers to larger fish. All fish are brought in alive by hand, quickly dispatched and bled, then immediately put into ice water, maintained below 4C.
“This process generates fish that is dramatically different in quality, and the high-end chefs have really been blown away.” Says Drew Deckman “Not only are we willing to pay a premium for the superb quality of fish coming out of SmartFish, we’re willing to pay a premium for the sustainability that is inherent to this process. This is a major win for both the fishermen and the restaurants they serve in Baja.” One of Smartfish’s first customers was El Bismarkcito, a much-loved seafood restaurant in La Paz. The owner, who has been selling seafood under the same trees along the Malecón for decades, at first refused to believe that the fish was one of the species she had bought for years. When finally convinced, the only question she had was, “Can you get me more?”
For SmartFish the challenge now is not demand but supply. The success of the pilot cooperatives is generating considerable interest, but not even all the boats in the those cooperatives have been converted; it takes at least one year to get a fleet up to the SmartFish standard. With a relatively small number of boats in the program, Hoyt currently can personally guarantee that the fish bought by El Bismarkcito or Drew has been caught responsibly. But soon that will change as the number of fisherman in the system increases. To address this issue SmartFish is launching a process of traceability using the technology and techniques of ShellCatch (www.shellcatch.com) in which consumers can track a fish from the fisherman’s hook to their own plates.
Hoyt characterizes all this as SmartFish’s “Value Rescue formula” and is excited that it is yielding “impressive triple-bottom-line outcomes”: 1. Economic
outcome: fishermen are realizing important price increases, usually exceeding 100%; 2. Power outcomes: Fishermen and their families are taking control of their economic destinies as price setters, and chefs and other retailers are able to offer sustainable and high quality seafood; and 3. Environmental outcomes: there is a 40-60% lower catch volume than the status quo for target species; there are minimum and in some cases maximum size limits; there is decreased fish bycatch and zero megafauna bycatch (no turtles, dolphins etc. killed in gillnets); and a switch to more resilient target populations, i.e. away from grouper and shark towards sand bass and yellowtail.
Drew Deckman is sold. “I’m the governor of Slow Food for the entire Baja peninsula and the vertical integration that Hoyt is seeking in the fishing cooperatives is exactly what I look for in every new location in which I establish operations. Before I was a chef I was a commercial fisherman and a master diver, so for me the SmartFish solution is ideal; it is the logical conclusion of all my efforts. It’s fantastic to work with Hoyt and the cooperatives, and we’re all excited about the change this will bring to the lives of fishermen in Baja.” SmartFish, smart choice.
Of course not all fishing cooperatives in Baja are subject to the same forces Hoyt describes. Many receive good prices for their fish and have catching and processing techniques that deliver a high quality product to consumers. In Todos Santos, for example, fishermen Agustin Agundez reports that they receive 60 pesos per kilo for desirable fish like cabrilla and huachinango. While some Todos Santos fishermen do use gillnetting, they also fish with hook and line to ensure that local restaurants have the great quality fish for which they are rightfully famous. Chef Dany Lamote of Santo Vino has a great working relationship with the local fishermen. “The fishing cooperatives in Todos Santos know the quality that Santo Vino demands and we are very pleased with the fish we get here. We often buy the fish right off the boat and it is still very cool and very fresh.”
2013 was an incredibly exciting year for festivals in Todos Santos, with truly great bands playing at the Music Festival, thrilling films and directors showing at the Film Festival, fabulous vintners and restaurants delighting at the GastroVino Festival, incredibly talented riders dazzling at the Horse Festival, and terrific artisans, artists and musicians entertaining at the Arts Festival. 2014 is shaping up to be an equally exciting year of celebration in Todos Santos, and following is a list of festivals currently planned for 2014. For more in-depth coverage of these events, their organizers and other Todos Santos happenings, be sure to check out Wendy Rains’ weekly radio program Todos Santos Tonight, as well as Janice Kinne’s magazine, Journal del Pacifico. Please be sure to confirm dates for festivals before you book your tickets as organizers sometimes must change dates.
Details: Confirmed bands include the Twin Tones, Dream Syndicate, Minus 5, Torreblanca, Kev’n Kenney’s Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, El Gallo Negro. All shows will be in the Hotel California with the exception of the show on the 25th, which will be in the town plaza.
Why It’s Fun: Peter Buck of REM conceived of and curates this event. Not only does he play with the Minus 5, he invites his musician buddies from the US and Mexico to come play to raise money for the Palapa Society and other Todos Santos charities. It’s a lot of great music flowing through the streets for nights on end – nothing but fun!
Why it’s fun: It’s a week-long celebration of Mexican culture that typically features live music, dance and theatre performances, painting and drawing exhibitions, lectures on local environmental and social issues, piano and poetry recitals and lots more. Artisans from different parts of Mexico also set up shop next to the church to sell their crafts. Diverse, fun and engaging.
Special Note: The Todos Santos Open Artist Studio Tourwill be held on February 9, just after the art festival. 35 studios participated in 2013 and mediums included oils, pastels, watercolors, mixed media, encaustic, ceramics, sculpture and photography. Proceeds go to the Children’s Art project of the Palapa Society.
Why it’s fun: This fantastic festival brings together a terrific selection of feature films, documentaries and shorts from across Mexico and Latin America that many folks would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. Many well-known film directors attend to present their films and lead audience discussions. Great event!
Benefits: Environmental education for the children of Todos Santos
Why it’s fun: We’ll be celebrating both the endemic and migratory birds of Baja California Sur! There will be workshops by non-profit environmental organizations and local artisans and craftsmen, as well as a photo contest, children’s art contest, lots of great food and plenty of good music. We will be presenting the results of our citizen scientist hummingbird study, and Dr. Esmé F. Hennessy M.Sc., Ph.D., F.L.S. a published botanist from University of Natal, South Africa,will be the keynote speaker at the festival. Other speakers will include local ornithologists from CIBNOR, UABCS, and CICESE.
Benefits: Silent auctions of previous years have benefitted the local orphanage and the Todos Santos fire department.
Why it’s fun: It’s a wonderful celebration of the food and wines of Baja California – and you get to indulge in plenty of both! It’s a great opportunity to get to know local chefs from Todos Santos (and their food) and wine makers from both Todos Santos (yeah, we got that!) and Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe wine-growing region (and their wines). Terrific live music performances throughout the day. It’s fabulous!
Mango Festival y Fiestas de San Ignacio en Todos Santos
Date: July 31-August 3, 2014
Organizers: Todos Santos Pueblo Magico
Why it’s fun: Ripe, juice mangoes everywhere! There’s also dancing in the town square, polka bands, a parade of horsemen (cabalgata), folkloric ballet, artisan products, coronation of the Mango Festival Queen and much more. Lots of fun for the family.
Festival del Dia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar / Todos Santos Foundation Festival
Date: Our saint’s day is October 12, and there are usually 5 days of celebration around then. Details when available.
Why It’s Fun: It’s a celebration of the founding of Todos Santos and our patron saint, Pilar. Lots of music, dancing, regional foods, arts and more. There is typically a parade of horsemen and a wonderful horse show October 13 and 14. Great time for the whole family.
Why it’s fun: The organizers are promising “movies, champagne, food, fashion and luxury”, and what’s not fun about that?! Movies by great film makers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch, Christian Vincent, and Jane Campion will be featured, with stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Anouk Aimee, Fanny Ardant and Sophie Marceau gracing the big screen at Teatro Manuel Márquez de León. Champagne tastings, French food explorations, and fashions shows are all part of the 4 days of festivities.
Organizer: WildCoast / Costasalvaje Todos Santos Chapter
Why It’s Fun: It’s a celebration of the natural patrimony of Todos Santos and Baja California Sur, and environmental organizations from across the state will be hosting fun and interactive programs for local kids on conserving Baja’s ecosystems.
There is also an annual Chili and Strawberry Festival in late March/early April in Pescadero, an annual Baja Reggae Festival at Los Cerritos Beach in April (or so), and there’s even a Shark Festival in November. And that’s just the festivals! Please feel free to contact us to learn more about the many interesting/exciting/engaging events organized in town each year – and to plan your adventures to accompany them. Todos Santos Eco Adventures.
Nature Lover’s Day One: Desert Triple Waterfall Adventure and Surfing/Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Start off the day with a lovely walk through a desert canyon with Todos Santos Eco Adventures that features the incredible sight of three waterfalls sending their waters down the hill, only to disappear entirely into the thirsty desert sands. The drought that gripped Baja California Sur had stripped the canyon of the falls for the last two years, so it’s a great time to celebrate their return. The water creates a mini-oasis in the canyon, so you can enjoy a great variety of Baja flora and fauna. If you’re game for a ladder climb you can enjoy your picnic lunch at the lovely third waterfall before heading back down to the coast for a surfing or stand up paddle boarding lesson at the incomparable Playa Los Cerritos. What makes Los Cerritos such a great spot for beginners is its smooth, sandy bottom (no coral or rocks to scrape you up if you fall), clean waters, and a wave dynamic that means there are always smaller waves closer to shore for beginners, while more advanced surfers can enjoy the larger waves further out.
After a shower and some relaxation at your hotel, head over to the rooftop bar of the Hotel Guaycura to enjoy a sunset drink while taking in the lovely view over the Todos Santos palm oasis. For a wonderful meal go down the street to the Caffe Todos Santos, and enjoy an after-dinner drink next door at La Copa Wine Bar of the Todos Santos Inn.
Nature Lover’s Day Two: Cliff Walk, Spa and Stars
Maybe limber up this morning with a yoga class, then head for the cliffs to enjoy Todos Santos Eco Adventures’ cliff walk, one of the most spectacular walks you’re likely to encounter in the Baja peninsula. Starting at Punta Lobos, the sweeping Pacific beach where the local fishermen of Todos Santos ply their trade, a quick walk up the hill brings you to breath-taking views of a different kind of coastline, with dramatic rocky outcroppings and crashing surf. Throughout the walk you’ll have the stunning vision of the desert landscape racing its way to the sea, and you’ll encounter a good deal of weird and wonderful flora and fauna along the way. The walk takes you past an active sea lion colony as well as the old shipping port of Los Algodones. During several months of the year you’re likely to spot both humpback and gray whales from this high vantage point. After about 3 hours of walking you’ll arrive at the idyllic beach of San Pedro where a picnic lunch will be waiting for you. San Pedro features a beautiful marsh filled with bird life and a protective cove ringed by towering palms. Here you can eat, relax, sunbathe, swim, read – just enjoy the bliss of being in Baja!
Now at this point of your stay you’ve completed a couple of walks, done some surfing, maybe a little yoga, so chances are it’s time to treat your muscles to a nice luxurious massage, and the perfect place to do that is Los Bules Day Spa. Los Bules is a true Baja institution where Maria and her sisters share their bountiful talent for deep tissue, hot stone and Swedish massage in simple, palapa-style huts, decorated with the incredibly imaginative and fun gourds that Maria’s husband Scott grows and turns into works of art. Maria also has a temezcal, an authentic Aztec sauna that you can take advantage of as well. Now if some in your party don’t want a massage or if you have to wait for your turn never fear, Scott can entertain you for hours in his gourd garden and gourd art gallery, and most visitors find it’s an excellent opportunity to buy some truly unique and fun gifts for family and friends back home. Tel: 612-118-1062
This evening branch out from all the incredible Mexican food you’ve been eating and take in a little something different. Korean-born Suki Lim of Suki’s Restaurant serves up absolutely delicious Korean, Thai and Japanese food in a very charming outdoor garden, while Italian Chef Angelo Dalbon serves up favorites from the old country at Tre Galline, his lovely restaurant on the main street with both indoor and garden dining. You’ll be extremely happy with whichever cuisine you choose. Then head over to our home for an evening of Champagne and Stars. We’ll grab a glass of champagne, get out the telescope, and settle in while Sergio outlines the constellations and tells not only the vivid Greco-Roman stories associated with them, but the Aztec and Mayan ones as well.
Nature Lover’s Day Three: Fishing ‘n Whale Watching in Todos Santos, Horseback Riding
Today it’s time to head out to sea with the local fishermen of Todos Santos but you have a tough choice to make before doing so: do you go fishing for some of the many species that inhabit the waters around Todos Santos including dorado, tuna and sierra? Or do you go whale watching to get up close and personal with the humpback and gray whales that come around town to do a little people watching? That’s a trick question because you can do both when the whales are in town! And no matter whether you focus more on the whales or the fishing, half the fun of the trip will be in the surf launch and landing. With no natural harbor in town, the fishermen of Todos Santos launch their boats directly from the shore, a process that involves being pushed by a pick-up truck from the beach while being pulled by another boat from the sea. And when it’s time to land? The captains circle until they catch the perfect wave, slam the motor into high gear, then race for the beach at top speed. Fishing in Todos Santos is a lot of fun; interacting with the whales is an indescribably thrilling experience; a surf landing on the beach in Todos Santos is more exhilarating than anything they could come up with in the theme parks in California! You can watch the video here.
Whether you choose the fishing or whale watching option, you definitely shouldn’t leave the fishermen’s beach without some fresh fish because this evening you can take it over to Erik Castellanos’ Fonda El Zaguan, a tiny restaurant on the main street of Todos Santos that serves up some of the best seafood in town, and have them cook up it for you on the spot. They’ll include a nice organic salad and some rice in their fee, and of course you can order wine and other accompaniments from the menu. It’s another delightful Todos Santos experience.
This afternoon finish up your vacation with a lovelyhorseback ride along some of Todos Santos seemingly endless miles of pristine, undeveloped beach. If you’re lucky perhaps there will be a turtle release as the sun slips below the horizon, and you can help some of the Olive-Ridley or Leatherback hatchlings make their first foray safely into the sea.
Celebrate all the wonderful things you’ve seen and done with a margarita at the roof-top bar at Hotel Posada La Poza, where you can look out over the freshwater lagoon and its attendant bird life, as well as the ocean. Then head downstairs to one of the most elegant dining venues in Todos Santos, El Gusto! The restaurant features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, essentially placing diners in the spectacular gardens that the owners created from scratch a decade ago. Swiss owner Juerg Wiesendanger mans the kitchen with Mexican and German sous chefs, producing a delightful “Swissmex” cuisine that combines the Italian, French and German sensibilities of Swiss cooking, with the ingredients and culinary concepts of Mexico. A very pleasing result for all!
While most of the pleasures of Todos Santos are accessible throughout the entire week, the weekend does hold a few special treats that make it a great time to venture to town.
Weekender’s Friday: A Little Todos Santos Magic
Erick and Michael of Michael’s at the Gallery
Each weekend on the main street of Todos Santos a subtle transformation takes place. At the Galeria de Todos Santos long-time Todos Santos resident and artist Michael Cope calmly cleans his brushes, puts them away and pulls out his knives. His wife Pat coolly closes the gallery’s books, sets them aside, and lights a series of fires in the garden. His fellow artist Erick Ochoa collectedly covers up his latest canvas, dresses in black and prepares his mind for delivering to the people of Todos Santos exactly what they deserve. Which happily turns out to be mouthwateringly delicious Asian Fusion cuisine served in what that morning was the sculpture garden of Galeria de Todos Santos, but is now this evening one of the best restaurants in town, Michael’s at the Gallery. This transformation takes place only on Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights, and being a part of it is worth the trip to Todos Santos alone. Michael mans the open-air kitchen and what a great show it is. He cooks up Vietnamese crab cakes, tuna poke, seared tuna with wasabi butter, shrimp and scallops in Szechuan or red curry sauce, filet mignon, Mu Shu Pork, wok-tossed fish in Chinese black beans, and fish in teriyaki or wasabi sauce. Every dish is excellent, every time. Erick mans the bar and he and Pat work together to make sure guests always feel well attended and have what they want. Fire pits throughout the dining area add to the lovely ambiance of the garden and help ward off any chill night air. It’s a wonderful Todos Santos experience. Reservations strongly suggested. Tel: 612-145-0500
Weekender’s Saturday: Art & Theater
Last night you met Erick Ochoa in a supporting role but today you’ll meet him as the President of the The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, AC, a Mexican non-profit that benefits the children of Todos Santos. The Palapa Society has had a huge impact on the local community through Bridge-to-English, its after-school English language program that pairs local kids with native speakers of English. The Saturday morning art classes run by Erick and other artists such as Gloria V are not only an opportunity for the kids to gain some excellent instruction from established artists, but an extension of the opportunity for them to hear and speak English. Volunteering
Volunteering at the Palapa Society
with the art classes is a tremendous amount of fun, a great way to get involved with the local community and a nice path to being an active part of this artists colony for a while. Art classes are usually held at The Palapa Society, but the class often spearheads public art projects around town – you can see their handy work in many places, including their latest mural of the fisherman’s beach along the back wall of the Parque de Pinos. The Palapa Society is such an exciting thing to be a part of that Peter Buck of the rock band REM now organizes an annual Todos Santos Music Festival to raise money for it and help fund the numerous scholarships that it provides not only for the Bridge-to-English program, but for the high school and university education of Todos Santos students. For more information contact Donna Viglione:
After your volunteer session, mosey on over to one of the town’s many great food establishments for lunch, taking your pick of several charming cafes, killer local joints, and taco stands – Caffé Todos Santos, Cafélix, Ataxcon, Taco George’s and Miguel’s are all great options. But be sure to leave room for dinner this evening at El Teatro Luna Azul – Blue Moon Productions. Started by long-time Todos Santos residents Isabel Smyth and Raul Cavazos, El Teatro Luna Azul brings the idea of dinner and a movie to a whole new wonderful level. Once in a blue moon, i.e., whenever they feel like it (which tends to be most weekends during the season), Isabel and Raul invite the public to their huge, open air theater space where they show fascinating, hard-to find movies ranging from classic to controversial, musical to mystery, altered lives to the altered planet. Prior to some shows – but not all – they serve creative meals featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables fresh from their on-site garden, prepared in their open-air kitchen. The movies are great fun, but they are perhaps more famous for their live theatre productions in which they use local talent to bring comedies, musicals and the performing arts to the community. Isabel and Raul also host full moon drumming and music nights, and they’re known to get in hot bands for nights of salsa dancing. All-in-all it’s worth checking into their web site periodically to stay up-to-date: teatrolunaazul.com
Now if it happens that Isabel and Raul don’t have what you’re looking for on the Saturday night you’re in town, it’s always worthwhile to check in with the Hotel California and the Hotel Guaycura as they both regularly book fun bands in on the weekends. The Groovetrotters and Tim Lang are great additions to the music scene to be on the look-out for, and it’s worth noting that the Todos Santos Music Festival will be in January at the Hotel California.
Weekender’s Sunday: Bird Watching and Dharma Talk
After the excitement of Saturday night, a calming Sunday morning of reconnecting with nature and your inner serenity is just the ticket. The early morning quiet of Sunday morning is the perfect time to get out in the lovely surroundings and observe some of the 135 bird species that have been spotted around Todos Santos, including several endemic species such as Belding’s Yellowthroat, the Cape Pygmy Owl, Xantus’ Hummingbird, and the Mexican Thrasher. Todos Santos’ unique confluence of three different eco systems – desert, ocean and marsh – attracts a large diversity of birds and most visitors add to their lifetime birding lists during their stay.
Then head over to La A.R.C.A. in the historic district where ordained Buddhist priest, passionate poet, avid artist, renowned physician and somatic therapist Robert Hall gives a Dharma talk on a particular topic each Sunday morning, followed by a period of guided meditation. A founder of the Lomi School and member of the Spirit Rock Mediation Center’s Teacher’s Council, Robert has focused his long career on the integration of mind, body and spirit. He has taught thousands of students all over the world and served as a mentor to hundreds more. Now, in his so-called retirement in Todos Santos, residents and visitors alike can be inspired by his Dharma talks, and find calm in his guided meditations. http://www.eldharma.com/
Enjoy a nice lunch at one of the town’s enjoyable lunch spots such as as Bistro Magico, Compa Chava’s, El Pastorcito or Pura Vida before heading back to Cabo or La Paz in the afternoon.