Buenas tardes! Before we get to this week's story, I thought you would like to know that we just got a new shipment of cool (and stylish) Johnny Jet hats in. So please support us by buying one of these and wearing it everytime you fly. They cost $18 with shipping and you can either pay with credit card (click here ) or send a check to JohnnyJet, Inc, PO Box 3213, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 Last week we left off from the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Holistic Retreat & Spa in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This week we finish our trip to the Baja Peninsula before heading up to Vegas for a quick peek at their newest hotel and casino. Then we're off to yet another international destination. It's the complete opposite of Cabo. Any idea where that could be?
NIGHT ON THE TOWN
The first night in Cabo, a few of my travel writing colleagues and I took a 10- minute, $10 taxi ride (make sure you negotiate the price before getting in) to downtown. We started off at Sancho Panza, a charming wine bistro with indoor and outdoor tables and a live jazz band (tel.: 624/143-3212). We ended up later just a few blocks away, in Cabo's most famous bar: Cabo Wabo. It's owned by Sammy Hagar of Van Halen, and keeping with his image they play all kinds of loud '80s music. Another popular place to dance and see a bunch of wasted people is El Squid Roe.
WAKING UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
Back in my hotel room, a funny thing happened (now that I look back at it). As you recall I had two softball injuries: a badly hurt right thumb and pulled groin. That made me sleep in a weird position, and because I was in a strange place my mind went wild. In the middle of the night my right arm touched my left arm underneath my pillow - which was completely numb from sleeping on it. I thought there was a dead arm under my pillow. For a split second I was so scared that I pulled my right hand away, smashing my sore thumb against the headboard and making it bleed all over again. Crazy, huh?
PUEBLO BONITO SUNSET BEACH RESORT
The next morning we took a 7-minute shuttle next to Pacifica's sister hotel next door, Sunset Beach. That 50-acre resort includes a private beach. There is no swimming, due to the rough current, but it's great for walking. The property is so huge that oversize golf carts constantly shuttle guests (for free) to different parts of the resort. There are 327 all-suite guest rooms (some are time shares with kitchenettes). Unlike Pacifica, which requires guests to be 18 years old, this Pueblo Bonito property is a great place for families. There are three pools, a kids program, and wild animals like black swans and pink flamingos roaming around.
I liked this resort for its cool interior design and food. The hotel has some interesting pieces, including two life-size katrinas (clothed skeletons that are a unique and important part of Mexican culture). There is also a beautiful chapel, and really good restaurants. The breakfast buffet was awesome. They offer fresh fruit smoothies, and an array of Mexican dishes like fried plantains in condensed milk (my favorite), chilaquiles, refried beans, as well as American specialties like a make-to-order omelet station.
The Sunset Beach hotel has a brand new restaurant, Frida (named for the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo). Besides serving tasty gourmet Mexican and Latin American cuisine, the restaurant is worth a visit just for the décor. The 40-candle candelabra and magnificent colorful folk artwork at the entrance set the tone for this soon-to-be award-winning restaurant. Inside are more colorful paintings, iron chandeliers, displays of original Frida jewelry, and a pianist playing soft music. For dinner we were treated to a multi -course meal. It came with a knowledgeable, Spain-trained sommelier who poured fine wines and champagne after every course. The food was delicious, the desserts scrumptious, and the service spot-on. When it was over, the chef happily toured us around his gigantic kitchen. It was the biggest and cleanest I have ever seen.
FRENCH RIVIERA RESTAURANT
Many people can't believe that Cabo is home to one of the top French restaurants in North America. It's true, though, and chef/ owner Jacques Chretien is a member of Maitres Cuisiniers de France (the French organization of master chefs to which only the best belong). The restaurant is located just outside downtown, off the main road in the Plaza del Rey. The restaurant's beautiful outdoor balcony has a slight view of the Pacific. But what makes this place - besides, of course, the fine French food and drink -- is the laidback atmosphere and attentive service that attracts both upscale locals and tourists.
MY FEAR FACTOR
I am a finicky eater, so this place was my Fear Factor (most French restaurants are). It's always a bad sign for me when the chef comes out to say, "I have made you all a special meal." I know most diners dream of hearing those words, but I don't. Fine chefs -- especially French -- don't understand why I don't eat certain (most) foods. Believe me, I know I'm missing out -- I've heard it my whole life from my family.
When the waiter came out with a beautiful three-tier glass tray of seafood appetizers, I wanted to cry. I was starving, and I knew I was in for a long evening. When one of my colleagues told the chef I don't eat seafood, he looked at me like I was from Mars. But then he said, with his thick French accent, "Don't worry. I will make you something you will love." I smiled, but I knew that wasn't going to happen unless he busted out a croque monsieur or chicken taco. I was out of luck. He made me a very nice-looking appetizer filled with eggplant, squash and goat cheese. Those are three ingredients I despise! Fortunately for me, my colleagues ate them quickly while the chef went back to check on his next dish.
Next up was a ceramic spoon filled with expensive caviar, accompanied by a shot glass with a very watery duck egg waiting to be swallowed. I assume that's a French delicacy. Of course I didn't want to eat it, especially with the yolk staring at me like an eyeball. But because the chef was standing by all excited, waiting to see our reaction, I was unable to dispose of it (I wanted to throw it over my shoulder into the bushes). I tried to shoot it down with a smile. But I couldn't do that, even if it would have won me the $50,000 prize from NBC's hit TV show (well, maybe then).
The next course was mushroom soup. By now you know I don't eat mushrooms. However, this was one dish I could at least taste, and besides I was famished. Surprise! The soup was delicious, and I finished the whole bowl. Chalk one up for the French guy! It would have made my mom proud to know I ate mushroom soup.
For the main entrée my colleagues were served a local fish that everyone raved about. So guess what I was served: mashed potatoes over oxtail. Oxtail? Are you kidding me? Who eats oxtail?! I actually thought Joe Rogan -- the host of Fear Factor -- was going to jump out from behind the bushes with a microphone, laughing as he said, "You're on our new hidden camera Fear Factor TV show." To make my mom proud, though, I reluctantly tried it -- and again it was delicious. I just wish he had told me it was beef, because I would have enjoyed it much better. It tasted like delicious pot roast.
Finally, dessert -- one course the French and I see eye to eye on. Chef Jacques made us a mini-bowl of fruit (seriously, they were the size of chickpeas). They were so good I wished the bowl was 100 times larger. Then out came another three-tier glass tray, this time filled with all kinds of homemade candies and pastries. If that wasn't enough, we were served four different flavors of soufflé (chocolate, pistachio, caffé and mango). So good! The grand finale was a chocolate lava cake. It was so good, I would've taken the duck egg shot just for another bite. French Riviera Restaurant, in Plaza del Rey, Cabo San Lucas, Baja California; tel.: 52-624-142-3350.
EL ARCO and THE PIRATE SHIP SNORKEL CRUISE
The next morning my colleagues Terena, Mark, Season and I joined 100 other passengers on a 4-hour snorkel cruise. When we stepped on the replica pirate ship -- complete with crew in pirate costume -- we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. But we're all travel writers so we kept an open mind, and the trip turned out to be a good time. Leaving the bustling harbor filled with many different types and sizes of boats and ships, plus Jet Skis cruising around, we passed Lover's Beach and Cabo's most famous landmark. El Arco ("The Arch") is a spectacular granite arch located at the Land's End where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.
We spent 30 minutes skirting the Sea of Cortes coast. At Chileno Bay we anchored 100 yards off shore, to snorkel with a herd of people. The water was chilly and the snorkeling wasn't very good, but still it was a lot of fun. On the way back to port the crew held a music contest, with guests trying to guess the song title and name of the artist. Anyone who didn't know both had to drink a shot of tequila (except the kids). Here's a 30-second video of our 4-hour tour (larger version and smaller version). The price of $42USD includes open bar, lunch and snorkel equipment. Buccaneer Queen, Tel.: 52-624-14-442-18.
Before we left Mexico the Cabo Traveler Advisors took us for an hour drive 50 miles north to the small, charming and artsy town of Todas Santos. It was founded in 1724 as a mission, then later became a major sugar cane producer. The town has no street lights and just a few paved roads, but it does have loads of art galleries, live theatre, a cultural center, some good restaurants, and an array of tourist shops where visitors can buy anything from souvenirs to Mexican sweets. There are also a few nice places to stay. I peeked at two: the Todas Santos Inn, and Hotel California. The latter is not the place Don Henley wrote about, but both looked good.