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Feb 4, 2004 10:48:59 PM Archived Entry: "2004 Trip to La Paz"

January may not be the best time to visit La Paz in the state of South Baja, Mexico, but it's a damn good time to get out of Seattle. After all, temps in the low-70s are summer-like for us Emerald City residents. Combine that with lots of sun and the promise of kayaking, drinking, and hotel rooms without TVs, and what more could you want?

We arrived at the San Jose del Cabo International airport on the direct flight that Alaskan runs during the cold months, then skillfully dodged the timeshare salesmen on our way to pick up our Dollar rentacar. We got a "Pointer" - a Mexico-only VW model that was pretty stripped down inside (no radio at all - but with AC) but a lot bigger than a Beetle - for $20 a day. Cathy, Worthy Opponent and I hopped inside, and off we went on Highway 1 to La Paz. (Yeah, sure, for another $200 we could have taken an AeroMexico flight directly to La Paz, but that would have required changing planes and I figured 2 hours on the highway wasn't going to be a big deal.)

We drove north, past Los Barriles (where we could finally see the ocean!) and headed into the mountain passes toward La Paz. The landscape was almost the friendly Sonoran desert of my native Arizona, but it all felt just not right. Instead of Saguaros and Organ Pipe cactus, there were these tall skinny multi-armed cacti that didn't look at all like Organ Pipes or Saguaros, and the Palo Verdes and Mesquite seemed to be replaced by odd waxy bushes I think might have been wild fig - and some ash trees in the hills. The things that looked like Century Plants had some kind of strange bushy flags on top. Thank goodness the Ocotillos looked the same! And it was lush - they had been getting a lot of rain. It was a really nice drive.

Our goal for the drive was to stop at San Bartolo, a place our Moon guidebook praised for the local sweets made from the orchards watered by a local spring. Sign me up! We stopped at the second restaurant (the first was "cerrado Miercoles" - a shame!), the Restaurant El Paso. Inside were two tables seating eight (with plastic chairs), a freezer covered with mini empanadas (filled with guava, pinapple, papaya, and queso), a counter behind which one girl was washing dishes while another minded the stove, and a TV blaring some cheesy Mexican costume drama that I anticipated would end with Our Heroine tied to the railroad tracks. One table had two gentlemen busily involved in a conversation, while at the other some random ranchero grandpa was eating. We sat with him, and I went up to the counter and ordered four burritos (she showed me the tortillas, and I anticipated they would be smallish) and a bowl of what the third staff member was eating at the counter - "caldo de res," in this case, Oxtail Soup.

Out the back of the building through the open doorway, we could see grandma sitting in the sun, relaxing, while a puppy gnawed on a bone and his mom kept an eye on the restaurant. It was really sweet - it all looked like a family operation. And the stove the women were working on wasn't anything fancy - it was just a regular four burner stove like I have in my kitchen, with pots and pans that clearly weren't from any culinary supply store. I felt like I was having a home-made meal made just for me!

The four burritos came with two different kinds of amazing salsa, and the caldo was astonishing - almost a whole carrot, a gigantic lump of potato, and about four joints of a beef tail, plus a quarter of an onion and a whole chiles, all cooked well through and amazingly savory. I couldn't believe how delicious it was, even though it was difficult to get the meat off the tail (and I was trying to be careful to avoid any possible spinal tissue from the cow, although I figure all the beef in Baja is range-fed). Worthy Opponent and I made good work of it, and we each had a burrito. MMMmmm, tasty!

When I had been asking for the prices for the food, I was finding myself really confused by the numbering and how it matched up with the $20 worth of pesos I had in my pocket, and for some reason choked on adding up the numbers of how much everything was going to cost, so I was afraid to order any more for fear of not having enough money. Yet somehow all of this food PLUS a tray of papaya empanadas only cost us $8! What a stunning deal! We sure weren't going to be seeing anything like that in La Paz. But at least we had some food for the road.

More to come ...

"Only weak men fear able women" - Marion Boyars