Published in International Living Magazine, July 8, 2013
When you get to a certain age, the idea of blowing out candles jammed into a cake laden with thick, sickeningly-sweet wallpaper paste-like frosting is no longer appealing. So when offered the opportunity to spend my birthday in a beautiful part of Mexico, I didn’t have to think twice.
First, let me disclose that technically it was not a vacation, it was work. Sort of. I’m a freelance travel writer, which is arguably everyone’s “dream job.” It isn’t always easy, but getting to visit exotic places, chat with locals, tuck into unusual food, experience thrilling adventures, or even relaxing on the shore of turquoise, powdery-sand beaches, well, I can’t think of a better way to earn a living.
Or to celebrate my birthday, which was fully paid, because I’m a travel writer.
I was one of five journalists invited by Emphrotur, the La Paz tourism council, to spend some time exploring this lesser-known destination on the Sea of Cortex on the Baja California Sur peninsula, Mexico. Unlike Cabo San Lucas, its more familiar and rowdy neighbor to the south, La Paz, an authentic and colorful Mexican small town whose name translates “the Peace,” is just that. Friendly tranquility abounds and even the U.S. Government recognizes no security concerns for La Paz in its 2012 travel update citing “no advisory.”
I arrived the night before my birthday and checked into my hotel. Located on the azure Sea of Cortez, CostaBaja Resort and Spa enjoys the distinction of being the only 5-star resort in the city of La Paz. The resort property encompasses a beach club, marina, spa, Gary Player golf course, beach, infinity pool and a selection of restaurants. One might be tempted to never leave the premises – but of course,
I began my birthday with my travel-writing companions for an enormous buffet breakfast at the sunny CostaBaja pool before we headed out to get our wetsuits and gear and then a short boat ride from the beach to the protected waters of Isla Epiritu Santo Island.
La Paz rests lazily on the brilliant blue-green waters of the Sea of Cortez, deemed “the world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau because of the abundance and variety of sea life cushioned within its depths. Beyond the palm-fringed sugar-sand beaches, rock formations jut from the sea like sentinels guarding the natural treasures beyond. This is Isla Epiritu Santo Island.
While the boating itself would have made for a pleasant enough day, our destination was a rocky outcrop hosting a colony of sea lions. Mind you, this was not the usual tightly-supervised aquatic-petting tourist trap – these sea lions are wild, uncontained, in their natural habitat.
As we drew closer, I heard the roaring of the males and could see some of the mammals sunning on the jagged rocks. We anchored, and after donning my wetsuit, snorkel, and fins, I carefully slid into the chilly salt water with as little disturbance as possible. My goal….snorkeling with sea lions!
I swam over to a cave where I’d been told numerous female sea lions hang out waiting for a “dating opportunity” with a visiting male. Suddenly an enormous dark form whizzed by several feet below me. A male sea lion can weigh up to 880 pounds, and this one looked every bit that size!
Although they are not aggressive, the sheer bulk of the male startled me and after realizing I had inadvertently screamed out through my snorkel, I decided to swim to quieter waters where the curious pups have been known to swim right up to humans and face them with their huge, soft eyes. I moved about very slowly and within minutes, two baby sea lions began playfully swimming circles around me. One pup softly bumped my side and I was able to reach out and gently touch the sleek coat. For me, life just doesn’t get any better than this.
Back on board, Captain Juan set sail for El Morito, a deserted beach with crystal aqua water framed by craggy cliffs. I grabbed a lonely kayak and paddled out into the glassy bay while, on shore, a lunch of freshly caught fish cooked over an open fire and homemade tortillas and rice were being prepared for – and then devoured by – our small group.
Later, I returned to my luxurious room at CostaBaja Resort to shower before heading off again to restaurant Trés Virgenes in downtown La Paz close to the malécon – the boardwalk by the beach – which is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Mexico. After a short stroll along the malécon to view the stunning sunset, we entered Trés Virgenes where we were served margaritas and an appetizer of fresh guacamole and crickets – which I dutifully consumed (this is the part of travel writing that is sometimes not so easy!). Fortunately, the crickets were quickly followed by a mouthwatering assortment of tapas.
During our meal, we were serenaded by a live 3-piece mariachi band playing close by our table. Naturally, they and the entire restaurant sang “happy birthday” to me in both English as well as the Mexican version. I expected that. What I did not expect was the invitation to come up and play guitar and sing with the band!
Did I mention that I have no musical ability? Ah, well, when celebrating a La Paz birthday bash, who cares?
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