Chasing the Wave: Mario’s Guide to Surfing the Cape

Mario’s guide to surfing the cape is part of our article, Surfing Santeños, published in the Summer 2012 issue of Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

Las Palmas (San Pedrito)
Drive 5 km south from Todos Santos on Highway 19. Look for the Campo Experimental building on your left, and turn off the highway onto one of the dirt roads that winds toward the beach. Las Palmas is a beautiful beach with a lot of palm trees, and has a fast, heavy beach break.
Best for: Intermediate to advanced surfers

San Pedrito
South of Las Palmas you will find San Pedrito. Also known as Pescadero Beach, it’s about 8 km south of Todos Santos. It’s a point break with a rocky bottom and breaks best with a north swell.                                                                                                        • Best for: Advanced surfers

Los Cerritos
This is one of the best beaches in Mexico for learning to surf. Los Cerritos is a beach break with a sandy bottom and has one of the most consistent waves in Baja. It is also one of the few swimmable beaches in the area. From Todos Santos, look for the Cerritos signs at km 66. Lodging and restaurants are located nearby.
• Best for: Beginner to advanced surfers

La Curva
La Curva, also known as KM 93, has a long, right point break that only breaks with north swells and mostly in the winter. Watch for three large rocks you can only see at low tide.
Best for: Intermediate to advanced surfers

Five minutes from Cabo San Lucas on the way to San Jose del Cabo, this is a left point break that is best with a south swell, although it also breaks with north swells. Take the road to Misiones Hotel and park on the road. Be aware of sea urchins at low tides.
• Best for: Advanced surfers

Old Man’s
Also known as Acapulquito, this is one of three close breaks on the Costa Azul Beach. It is east of the Palmilla sign, on the right below the view point off the highway to San Jose del Cabo. It breaks with a south swell and there is a long, right point break, especially good for long boards. The waves are mushy and easy to read. Watch for rocks at low tide. Surf lessons and rentals are available here, and many restaurants are located nearby.
• Best for: Beginner to intermediate surfers

The Rock
Another break that needs a south swell, The Rock is located on the Costa Azul Beach, east of Old Man’s. It is named for the rocks that are visible from the viewpoint. It is a long, right point break, a little faster than Old Man’s.
• Best for: Intermediate to advanced surfers

Last of the three Costa Azul breaks, Zippers is a shorter, faster, right point break. This break is popular with the locals who may seem a little territorial. Only breaks with a south swell.
Best for: Advanced surfers

Shipwrecks offers a fast, right point break. Be aware of rocks. It is located on the East Cape. To get there travel past downtown San Jose del Cabo on the bridge over the estuary then drive approximately 20 minutes east.
• Best for: Advanced surfers

Nine Palms
Drive another 20 minutes east of Shipwrecks, and look for the palms at the little rancho, where you may find donkeys and cows resting in the shade. This is a mushy, long point break, good for long boards.
Best for: Beginner surfers

Swimming with Whale Sharks in the Sea of Cortez

This article by Todos Santos Eco Adventures was published in the Spring 2012 issue of Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

If you sift back through the catalog of parental admonitions that were meant to ensure you a long and happy life – you know, “don’t stick your tongue on frozen metal”, “don’t eat yellow snow”, “don’t drink your father’s last bottle of beer” – somewhere buried in there your mother must surely have added “and oh yes dear, don’t swim with sharks”.

Very  sound advice to be sure but swimming with sharks – whale sharks that is – in the Sea of Cortez is truly one of life’s great (and, sadly for you danger junkies, very safe) adventures.  While whale sharks have thousands of teeth in hundreds of rows in their enormous mouths (imagine armed shark mouths 4 to 5 feet wide), they can neither bite nor chew. That’s right, they are happy to forego all human body parts in favor of plankton, krill and small fish. Go figure!

Whale Shark Mouth! Photo by Deni Ramirez

So now you feel safe but even if you were on the varsity swim team you’re probably wondering how you could actually keep pace with a shark in the water. Well, the whale shark got its moniker because it is the only fish that is literally as big as a whale; mature adults can reach 60 feet in length and 50 tons in weight. Reaching these proportions requires an immense amount of energy, which the whale shark gets by consuming huge volumes of plankton-rich water, then straining it out through its gills. In fact, to get the food it needs it is not unusual for a whale shark to filter 400,000 gallons of water an hour. To conserve this hard-won strength – and continue eating – whale sharks tend to do a lot of hanging about in the water, or, if moving, doing so at a very slow pace. This lollygagging is what makes it possible for non-bait types like humans to jump in and swim alongside them for a bit. Of course, when they want to put on the speed they certainly can so when a whale shark tires of your company all you will see is a swishing tail receding into the distance.

Now you’d think it’d be a relatively simple matter to learn about a mammoth fish the size of a school bus dawdling through the water eating up everything in its path. But the fact is that scientists still know relatively little about the whale shark, and La Paz resident Dení Ramirez of Whale Shark Mexico is trying to change all that.  Originally from Mexico City, Dení has been studying whale sharks in La Paz since 2001, and completed her Ph.D. in marine biology last year. The whale shark’s skin is covered in a pattern of pale yellow spots and stripes that is unique to each animal, a type of fingerprint if you will, so Dení has been able to track some of the inhabitants of La Paz Bay. In fact, she has been tracking the young sharks Flavio, Tikki Tikki and Tango for almost a decade now, and has determined that they are true Baja residents. While whale sharks have been spotted across the globe from Australia to Djibouti, from the Philippines to Mozambique, Dení’s juveniles appear to travel only in the Sea of Cortez, from the Bay of La Paz to Bahia de Los Angeles – roughly 600 miles. We asked Dení why we seem to be seeing the whale sharks around La Paz so much more over the last couple of years than we ever did before.

Whale Shark Feeding in the Sea of Cortez: Photo by Deni Ramirez

“It’s really just a question of food. Over the last two to three years the conditions in the Bay of La Paz have been just right to produce an enormous amount of plankton for the whale sharks to feed on. The wind, currents, mangrove conditions – all these have combined to create an excellent environment for plankton growth that we just didn’t have for such extended periods in earlier years. Also, in the Bay of La Paz the plankton is rich in the coastal waters, and these relatively shallow waters give the young sharks in my group a certain amount of protection.” Dení is happy to take visitors with her on her research trips and share some of her extensive knowledge of whale sharks and research methodology.

Dení is currently doing a lot of work with the pregnant females who inhabit the deeper waters around Espiritu Santo Island and have found that they have much larger migrations than the young sharks due to their different needs as mothers, mothers who surely will work to ensure the long life and happiness of their offspring by admonishing “and dear, don’t try to eat the humans. They’ll just clog up your gills.”

TOSEA guest Mary Winzig recounts her whale shark adventure:

“Swimming with whales sharks is the most amazing thing I have ever done in my life. They are such magnificent animals and I felt so lucky to be in their presence. I was scared—to see something so large and to know you are jumping in the water with them made me pause for a moment. My heart seemed to be almost leaping through my wetsuit – I asked the guide to make sure they were whale sharks because their dorsal fins were so huge! But after watching them and seeing their polka dots, I realized I had to swim with them. You can’t be afraid of anything with polka dots! Jumping in and seeing them through the snorkel was magical. Once I was in the water, I wasn’t afraid. I have no idea how long I was in the water with them, 2 minutes? 15 minutes? I was transfixed. Their mouths look like the grill of a ‘57 Chevy. I have never felt so small or insignificant, but also so powerful. I have decided I have to do everything in my power to help save these magnificent creatures. Thank you Todos Santos Eco Adventures for this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to swimming with the sharks again!”

Mary Winzig After Swimming with Whale Sharks

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2012

Mexican Boxing Champ Coaching Todos Santos Hopefuls

This article by Todos Santos Eco Adventures was published in the inaugural issue of Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

In the fictional movie Rocky, boxer Rocky Balboa’s hero is real-life boxing champ Rocky Marciano, the only boxer to hold the heavyweight title and go undefeated throughout his career.  Both the fictional and the real Rocky come from working-class households, and find discipline, passion and success in boxing. It’s no wonder then that Alexis Nuñez, the son of a Todos Santos palapero, was inspired by the movie Rocky to take up boxing and is passionate about the sport and the discipline it provides. The real wonder is that there is a real-life Mexican boxing champ to coach him – in Todos Santos – and a community that is pulling together the resources to make the boxing dream a reality for local kids.

Boxing Champ Ramiro Reducindo Radilla with His Son and Alexis Nuñez

The story begins in the parking lot of Bodega Lizarraga in downtown Todos Santos. General Manager Moises Barraza Morales put up a punching bag one day and started inviting friends over to box. Word began to spread, friends of friends began to participate, and soon enough the local kids started coming around to join in the fun. Local business owners donated some equipment and before long the Chief of Area Promotion and Development of Sport, Julio César Covarrubias Gerardo, got involved and helped the parking lot fun evolve into a more organized program. Most importantly, Covarrubias brought in the coaching talent. And what talent!

Mexican boxing great Ramiro Reducindo Radilla won the gold medal at the Pan American games in Santo Domingo in 2003, represented Mexico at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and turned pro in 2005. Reducindo believes so much in the talent of the boxing students in Todos Santos that he drives here from La Paz after a full day of his own training to coach. Says Ramiro, “I started boxing when I was 13, about the same age as the kids I’m coaching in Todos Santos now. My goal is for at least one of these Todos Santos boxing students to be successful on the global boxing stage. I definitely see that potential in them.”

That potential was shown to the town during the first amateur boxing contest held here on October 29 in the auditorio. Two of our local boxing students with only 4 weeks of training – Alexis Nuñez  and Cuauhtemoc Aviles – went head-to-head with seasoned champions from La Paz and Los Cabos, winning several points off of their opponents, if not the matches themselves. Coach Reducindo was thrilled with their performances and is confident that we’ll be seeing great things from these two in the months and years to come. Reducindo is so committed to helping the Todos Santos boxing students realize their potential that he coaches them at least twice a week for nothing more than a little gas money.

Mauricio Duran, Samuel Dominguez Pino, The Champ and the Todos Santos Boxing Kids

But to be successful the kids must practice every day, so Todos Santos locals Mauricio Duran Ramirez and Samuel Dominguez Pino keep the program organized and keep practice going on the nights when Reducindo is not in town. Reducindo leaves instructions for exercises and activities, and Samuel (a local store owner) and Mauricio (a guide with Todos Santos Eco Adventures) make sure the students follow the program. Says Mauricio, “It has been really great to watch these kids gain confidence and become more focused in their lives, to see them setting and working to achieve goals. Boxing requires a type of discipline that is not demanded of them in the other sports available here and it is making a big difference in their lives. We’re also seeing the kids lose weight and getting more focused on health and nutrition. It’s very positive from almost every aspect of their lives.”

And you can help keep that positive trend going. Reducindo is donating his time and local businesses have donated some equipment, but the needs are still great for everything from gloves, mouth guards and head gear, to a ceiling canopy to hang punching bags. If you would like to get involved please contact Mauricio for specifics: Cell: 612-13-44478 or email: . Rocky Nuñez? Cuauhtemoc Ali? It’s all possible and you can help make it happen!

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2011

The Saints of Todos Santos: The Brilanti Family

“My mother was a free spirit, an egalitarian and a bohemian, and ended up getting sent away to school because she was always running off to work with Diego Rivera on his murals. And all this was when she was just 10 years old.  You know, she never really cared for Frieda Kahlo very much.” So begins Alejandra Brilanti’s story of her mother Ana Nuñez Basso de Brilanti, the matriarch of the Brilanti family of Todos Santos and renowned silver artisan of Taxco.

While the likes of Eleonor Roosevelt ultimately became fans and customers of Ana’s, and her story is featured prominently in the histories of the silver jewelry industry in Taxco, it can be definitively declared that her artistic success was not her mother’s fault.   When Ana was a little girl one of her sisters died and was laid out in the family parlor for 3 days. Ana thought the scene was beautiful and painted it. Her mother thought the painting was blasphemous and smashed it. These constant struggles over art earned Ana a passage to boarding school where, at the age of 14, she graduated to a teaching position to contribute to the family income.  She worked incredibly hard for the rest of her life, but – despite her mother’s best efforts – she worked doing what she loved most: art.

Ana Brilanti

Ana and her husband Rafael moved to Taxco from Mexico City in the 1930s for Rafael’s government job. Around the same time, an American named William Spratling left his job as an instructor in architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans (where he shared a house with William Faulkner) and moved to Mexico full-time. He became an integral part of the Mexican art scene, and used the proceeds of a commission earned securing a New York exhibit for Diego Rivera to purchase a house in Taxco. At this time, the early 1930s, Taxco was famous for the production and export of silver, but there was no silver jewelry industry in the town to speak of. That all changed under Spratling. He opened his first store in Taxco in 1931, and by 1933 silver jewelry and silver objects designed by Spratling had become the major sellers in his shop.

William Spratling

Spratling needed talented artists and artisans to create the jewelry for his store, and he was continually on the lookout for new apprentices for his workshop. One day as he was walking down the street, he saw Ana Brilanti in front of her house, and couldn’t help but notice the beautiful designs carved into her door. He inquired and Ana admitted that she was indeed the wood carver and designer, and Spratling persuaded her to share more of her designs with him. Amazed by what he saw, Spratling invited Ana to learn to work silver with him and the Brilanti silver dynasty was launched.

By 1940 Ana – like many other Spratling apprentices around that time – felt accomplished enough to go off on her own and, with Spratling’s blessing, opened her first silver store in Taxco, Plateria Victoria S.A. Ana’s husband had created a new technique for making jewelry of both copper and silver, and this combination became one of the distinctive hallmarks of Ana’s line of Victoria jewelry. American department stores accustomed to buying jewelry for their customers in Europe had their supply lines disrupted by World War II, so they started purchasing silver jewelry and objects from Taxco. Ana’s store did so well that her husband left his government job to become Ana’s manager and promoter, and their success lead to the opening of a 2nd store in Taxco in 1958 called Cony.

Alejandra was 12 when her father passed away, and it was only then that she really got to know her mother. And despite all of Ana’s success, the woman that Alejandra discovered was still that 10-year old egalitarian at heart. She never spent any money on herself (“why would a person need more than one pair of shoes?”) but continually gave her money to those in need. Not only did she run a small local hospital, she also made all the clothing and sheets that it needed. Alejandra continued to live near her mother after she married Ruben Gutierrez, and the couple only left Taxco and Ana when the tough economy in Taxco drove them to seek opportunity in Mexico’s last frontier, Baja California Sur.

Alejandra Brilanti with Ruben’s Pottery in Manos Mexicanos

Cabo was Alejandra and Ruben’s first home in Baja, but a few weekends in Todos Santos soon convinced them to move north, and for the last 16 years they’ve made their home, built their business, and raised their family in Todos Santos. Their beautiful store of pottery, handicrafts and jewelry – Manos Mexicanos – has been in at the corner of Centenario and Topete since its inception.

And the magic of our pueblo magico has nurtured the artistic leanings of the family. Shortly after moving to Todos Santos Ruben took a pottery class with a Navajo Indian who had been invited to town by founding artist Charles Stewart and his wife Mary Lou. While Ruben had always been good with clay, that instruction and inspiration set him on a path to creating some the most beautiful and distinctive pottery to be found in Baja. Alejandra and Ruben’s nephew Arturo also found his artistic calling in Todos Santos: he works at Manos Mexicanos by day, and paints every night after putting his children to bed. His works can be found in both his mother’s store Galeria A and Manos Mexicanos. And of course there are the Brilanti silver stores. After Ana Brilanti’s death, Alejandra’s brother Pepe joined her and Ruben in Todos Santos. He opened Joyeria Brilanti, a store that pays wonderful homage to Ana’s beautiful designs. Pepe’s son Rafael also runs a Brilanti Joyeria in Todos Santos, producing silver works based on both his Grandmother Ana’s designs and his own.

Alejandra and Arturo in Manos Mexicanos

Given the fierce battles that she fought to pursue her own artistic career, Ana Brilanti would no doubt be thrilled to see her skills, designs, and innate artistic talent blossoming and thriving with her descendents in an artist colony. Her only note of disapproval might be for the Frieda Kahlo Christmas ornaments on sale in her daughter’s store!

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2012

The Saints of Todos Santos: Chef Iker Algorri

Would it make you feel any better about vacationing in Mexico if you had a federal agent serving you all your meals? Then come on down to Todos Santos because Café Brown has the solution for you! Owner/Chef Iker Algorri worked as a federal agent for the state of Baja California Sur for 12 years before hanging up his badge and picking up a spatula to turn out some of the best home-cooked Mexican food you can find anywhere.

It was the agent’s instinct for survival that led him to cooking in the first place. “My mother hated to cook, so at our house we had the eternal picnic. Sandwiches, tuna salad, peanut butter. So I started cooking just to have something besides picnic food. The more sandwiches she made the more I applied myself in the kitchen. Seeing how serious I was, she finally relented and hired a cook. But not just any cook. She hired a Tlaxcaltecan woman – someone with absolutely no Spanish blood in her – who really knew how to make the great traditional dishes of Mexico. I learned an incredible amount from her, then later got the confidence to modify and create and really make things my own. It’s this blend of traditional Mexico and experimentation that I love to serve our guests at Café Brown.”

Iker grew up in Mexico City and moved to Baja in 1983 to start a career that took him all over the peninsula. In addition to his 12 years as a federal agent, Iker also worked as a translator for the court (like many Mexico City kids, he was fluent in English by the time he graduated from high school), an official with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, a Mexican ATF agent, and as a Customs officer. He even got a law degree and worked as a lawyer. In short, Iker served as all those people that you love to hate, which makes it all the more amazing that Iker and Café Brown together are two of the most-loved institutions in town.

While Iker’s mother indirectly got him interested in cooking, his father directly got him invested in Café Brown. When visiting Iker in La Paz in 2000, his dad took a side trip to Todos Santos and promptly announced, “Now I know where I’m going to die.” (Todos Santos often has that effect – ask all the residents who now have extended family living here!) Iker finished up 20 years with the government, took early retirement, and opened Café Brown with his dad in 2003. It was one of the first arts-oriented cafes in town, and has always featured live music/great recorded music, works by local artists, drumming circles, Spanish-language movies, lots of dancing and of course, cooking classes and the Cooking Adventures Week with Todos Santos Eco Adventures. That there is fabulous food is a given. Iker’s motto is “Happiness is only real when it’s shared” and sharing happiness is what the Café Brown experience is all about. And of course, it’s all perfectly safe with Federal Agent/Chef Iker running the show!

Chef Iker Algorri with Portrait at Cafe Brown

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2011