Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cabo San Lucas, USA

Click on image to see full panorama.
CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico – It’s increasingly popular among frequent travelers to Mexico to bemoan the “Americanization” of Cabo San Lucas, even as we flock to its sunny man-made beaches and dine at its undeniably beautiful marina, full of American yachts (including one from … Oklahoma?).

When we first began visiting Cabo a decade ago, it was a hardscrabble small town, where cruisers were beleaguered on the pier by over-eager locals selling straw hats and fake Cuban cigars. Since then, the marina has quadrupled in size and the ragamuffins are kept behind a chain-link fence.

The only things Cabo really has going for it is the weather – warm and dry in the winter, hot and dry in the summer – and its relative proximity to the U.S. at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. There is no surrounding tropical beauty like the more southerly Mexican ports and one must search for evidence of a colonial or pre-colonial history so obvious elsewhere along the “Mexican Riviera” (I use quotation marks because it seems a tad incongruent to borrow the “Riviera” tagline for a place that most cruise lines are methodically cutting off.)

If becoming an American outpost is what it takes for Cabo to survive, I say bring on the Wal-Marts. One by one, cruise lines are abandoning other Mexican ports on the Pacific side as being too unsafe, and some cruise lines have pulled out of the region altogether.

For our cruise, Carnival saw fit to drop Mazatlan (a couple of Americans had been roughed up there a couple of months earlier) from the itinerary and add a second day in Cabo (however, we had to put to sea at 6 p.m. the first night and sail a big loop so the ship could get into international waters to re-open its casino and duty-free shops).

Cabo has long been known for its sports fishing, and that is still true. One of the most noticeable changes on this visit for us was the addition of a large sculpture of a marlin in a place that heretofore had been a shallow and dusty arroyo at the edge of the marina. The marina’s transformation to a modern, clean, inviting place of concrete and tamed ocean is complete.

I sound like I’m complaining. I’m not … much. Time and again, when the attempted export of American democracy fails, American capitalism triumphs. The economic success of Cabo undoubtedly gives many thousands of Mexicans work they desperately need, though I fear that the big winners are American developers and college students.

The latter pack Senor Frog’s on spring break to determine how much alcohol they can force into reluctant physiology – the party can be heard from our boat upon our return from shore (and – this is Cabo’s other shortcoming – we’re a good distance from shore, since Cabo has no cruise terminal and passengers must be ferried from boat to shore one “tender” at a time).

Visiting Cabo, I’m reminded of Yellowstone in a bizarre way. Most visitors to Cabo stick to the marina and handful of downtown streets, paying premium prices for food, beer and other goods. Just as heading even a half-mile off the regular tourist stops in Yellowstone reveals a whole different experience, go four blocks from the main drag in Cabo and the food gets better and cheaper and the price of beer drops by half.

We, however, selected a front-row seat overlooking the marina and had pretty good fish tacos and enchiladas, a marginal margarita and two beers for the very American price of $45 (including the tip). The same meal elsewhere in town, at least as good but lacking the marina-side people-watching, would have been maybe $25.

In town, we find the place I’ve frequented for years where I’m assured the cigars are authentic Cubans (judging by the price, they are either the real thing or I’m being spectacularly ripped off), then I park myself at the “Uno Mas” outdoor bar while Kathleen shops without buying anything. The chatter between the female bartender and two male patrons involves the pros and cons of divorce. From what I can ascertain, the two had performed back-to-back comedy acts the night before at a local venue.

On day two, we stay on the boat, enjoying the weather but avoiding the hassles of getting to shore. We had already done our share for the Mexican economy. We spent the night on our cruise-about with the door to our balcony propped open with a bungee cord – a trick we’d pick up from a cruising web site – and this turned out to be a fine way to ensure a good night’s sleep.

It is true that if one wants a quieter, more “Mexican” experience there is San Jose del Cabo a half-hour away and closer to the airport. Inland, there are small colonial towns, usually reached by dune buggies driven by sun-burnt, mostly drunk Americans. There is some pretty good snorkeling here and there, and I saw my first humpback whales near here years ago – not everyone hangs out at Cabo Wabo and shops at Sam’s Club. On our way out of Cabo this time, several humpbacks surfaced within a hundred yards of our ship.

Ah, well, this is what we have wrought, what we want. Anchored in the bay, we observe the gradual disappearance of desert landscape on the shore as each year more artificial beach is added and new resorts open for business. In this battle for hearts and minds, America has won at least half the fight.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!
    My name is Amy and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for posts about Cabo to share on our travel site and I came across your blog...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at amy(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!