6: Yoga and Escape to La Paz – Baja California, Mexico

Yoga and Escape to La Paz
Baja California, Mexico

1 September 2002
Forgive today’s shortness regarding today, but I fear I am a bit dehydrated having a little headache and all. I fear this weather is not conducive to, well, me.

After breakfast at the Way of Nature, buffet-style hippie fare of granola, oatmeal and fresh mango, I joined hosts Shane and Craig for a yoga session in town.

Yoga is pretty cool. I mean I get the exercise bit of it, the breathing and the heath aspects. But really, I don’t think I’ll ever get the spiritual part of it. I was twisted in some uncomfortable position, sweating as if I’d never sweat before, listening to the chirping of birds outside and trying so hard to be all meditative when the whole time I am distracted by the yogi (is that what you call the teacher?) and her spiritual mumblings and occasional clicks of the cassette player during new age music interludes. How does anyone actually zone out during all that shite?

But for a second there I actually felt like a local expat, sitting for a half-hour in the lotus position in the Elephant Room, a lovely space with flagstone work designed to look, yep, like an elephant. However, this home deserved to be on the Mediterranean, not in dusty and hot Todos Santos. Hey, but to each their own…

Okay, does this look like the backyard of a home in Baja or on the Cote D’Azur? Seriously.

But soon the vibe changed from happy sweaty yoga smiles to just plain odd. After yoga, Shane and I knocked down some fresh mangos from a tree in the huge yard that were in dire need of picking and attempted to bring them into the castle. We opened the giant wooden door and were greeted by icy stares as if we’d walked into a cult meeting. For some reason I doubted the conversation had anything to do with yoga.

It hit me how much easier it is to identify bad energy rather than good and how it affects each of us. I became shy and I physically could not go past the doorway. My eyes lowered to the ground and I backed away from, I felt, these evil people. Shane mumbled and dropped mangos on the floor, apologizing for the interruption.

I guess I really did do some weird inner-reaching yoga nonsense, because I was so much more attuned to my surroundings – and I wanted out!

From then on Craig was indifferent to me. I paid him my surf lesson fee and breakfast donation (80 pesos for three days, bargain if you ask me) and packed up my stuff tout de suite. I had to get to the bus to get the hell out of dodge. This place was beginning to creep me out.

Get On The Bus
I had an hour to chill. I sat in Pilar’s Fish Tacos, the bus stop, swiping beverage napkins from the counter to wipe my forehead as I’d just hiked as fast as my feet could carry me away from the Way of Nature, to find I had rushed out for an hour wait.

A couple of the guys I had chilled with at Shut Up Frank’s passed by and wished me happy travels, asking me to bring back tee shirts from Los Angeles on my next visit. We’ll see, Vincent.

The bus to La Paz, 50 pesos, was nothing spectacular. A lot of desert peppered with giant cacti and the occasional village-like trailer park. Occasionally the bus would mysteriously stop at a telephone pole and a well-dressed hombre would board or disembark. Where their homes were, I could not tell through the brush.

In the distance over the mountains, which I’d have ridden through if I avoided Todos Santos and left straight from San Jose, the skies were dark and menacing. Grey rain-streaked skies soon enveloped us, and I felt my first taste of the rainy season in Baja.

La Paz
The Aguila Bus Station is way out of La Paz’ city centre. I was expecting the other station on the malecon but I was told that only the Urbano buses went into the centre.

No worries as one block up the local bus, at a whopping 4 pesos, took me in through the metropolis one block north from the hotel I ended up in Hotel Yeneka on Ave Madero.

I had planned on staying in one of the uber-cheap guesthouses. Pensione California or its sister hostel the Convento, right across the street were, 120 pesos for one person ($12). But at the California, the room they put me in had a barely operational ceiling fan and I was leered at by hombres in the courtyard. I recommend staying there if you are traveling with someone, but as a lone female traveler in a new (and insanely hot, I mean come now, rickety ceiling fan?), I was wary.

I decided on semi-clean and geared toward foreigners, a true Let’s Go sort of place. Yeneka’s a trip. 199 Pesos for one person ($19), damn powerful wind tunnel producing ceiling fans and central air. One block up the hill was the Plaza, Mission, cinemas and museums. Three blocks west? The Malecon.

Sunset over the quiet bay of La Paz.

La Paz has become famous for its waterfront. Over the past few years La Paz has been redesigning itself to become more user- (read: tourist) friendly. La Paz is also the gateway to some of the most beautiful beaches in Baja California Sur on the Pichilingue Peninsula (an 80 peso bus ride). However, the water itself is reminiscent of bathwater as it is so hot during the day. During the off-season (July through October) one cools off by getting out of the Sea of Cortez.

Pichilingue is the port that the ferries to the mainland leave from. If you want more information regarding ferries, I suggest going to www.bajanet.com and asking someone as there are heaps of sites online to confuse you. The Aguila bus station on the malecon also has information on rates and where to buy tickets.

The Malecon
After setting up in Hotel Yeneka, securing all that needed securing, I made my way to the malecon for sight seeing and cheap internet. I’d heard rumors of La Paz’ many 10 peso/hour internet cafes and was determined to find one with beer.

The waterfront, still under major construction on my visit, was damn delightful. Right on the Sea of Cortez, it provides relief from the mad heat as the sun goes down, as there is no shade during the day apart from a few crowded palapas on the beach. It had a definite tourist feel, overpriced ice cream and burger joints, and dive shops on every corner (though many were closed for the season). And then the 10 peso internet caf� Score.

I decided to surf the net along with my chilled happy hour Pacificos, then hit the waterfront for the famous sunset. But first a walk along the strip. Tourist restaurants, reminiscent of Cabo San Lucas’ Blvd Marina, peppered the street pumping hip hop and dance music, advertising cheap beer to an empty off-season crowd.

I stopped for a rest and a drink of water under the shade of a tree in a park where a few cute local guys were shredding the pavement and homemade jumps. As I have a soft spot for cute skater boys, I decided that this sight-seeing was better than looking for postcards.

The sunset was startling, so close I felt I could swim out to that ball of light sinking into the distant mountains. I snapped a few photos before I was interrupted by Gabriel.

Lens flare, the perfect addition to the sunset over the Sea of Cortez.

Gabriel, a nice man who I did not trust at all, decided I was someone he wanted to talk to. He asked way too many questions that he did not need to know, such as if I was there alone (no, my two male friends were at the RV), where I was staying (at the camping ground just outside town), and what I was doing the next day (finding a good dive/snorkeling tour). Why would I divulge such information to a strange local guy? I felt I was being set up for a fall.

I tried to take my leave, but he eyed my camera and decided to ask me how to work his quiet friend’s one shot. I feigned indifference and he told me about how he grew up in Long Beach. I said I was off to look for a snack and he asked, which as it turned out warmed me to him, that he asked if he could join me so he could practice his English.

Since being back in La Paz Gabriel had lost his American grammar and regained a hard core Mexican accent. Unfortunately that would harm his chances of getting a job at one of the big tourist hotels as a translator. He told me that most of the hotels don’t want such heavy Mexican accents, as most of their clients are Canadian and American. Later I walked in to one of these hotels and noticed that most of the employees were in fact expats and not locals. Is tourism actually helping the local economy?

I wished Gabriel luck and told him I wished to be on my own for a bit. I did not come to La Paz to get hit on (the question of whether I wanted to go out for a beer with him came up and I declined). I am getting a bit sick of all the “hey baby” bullshit and lewd comments. There was one guy who worked at the restaurant with the internet terminals who came up to me and shyly said, “Do you mind me saying I think you are very beautiful?” Not at all, in fact I actually blushed. It meant a lot because it wasn’t shouted from a moving vehicle or from the steps of a sidewalk caf�. Gracias.

I returned to the hotel to find a mid-60s gentleman dressed in black hat, black vest and white tee shirt sipping tequila and inviting me for a bit of beer and conversation. Thus began one of my most interesting travel meetings so far.

Alexander has written 18 novels and has lived in Cairo, France, Ireland, England, U.S. (including Alaska) and Cuba, all for his old profession of being a pilot. At present his writing has brought him to La Paz. He is of German descent and his Spanish is, as he called it, the Queen’s Spanish; beautiful. He told me all about how he came to La Paz.

He was accepted to study in Cuba for four years. He loved Cuba, but unfortunately had his political gripes toward it, which of course one never speaks aloud of such things in a communist country.

After seeing pregnant women and mothers with babies queuing up overnight to buy baby clothes he said aloud how life in Cuba is bullshit. Imagine that, embargos on baby clothes, forcing women 8 or 9 months pregnant to line up at 2am so that they can buy clothing for their unborn babies. He was appalled. He spoke aloud. Someone reported him. He landed in jail. Fifteen hours later he was put on the first plane back to Germany. And instead of his last words, his poetic justice, he spit on the policeman’s shoe.

He had just begun research for a book on Baja California Sur so came to La Paz to finish his studies at its university (of which there are actually 8, just all part of the same system) and has lived in Hotel Yeneka since his arrival 2 years ago.

He gave me his opinion on La Paz as at that point I was not too fond of it. He likes it very much, but is disturbed because in a city with such a concentration of higher education the natives could barely speak their own language. Gabriel mentioned the same quandary, that after growing up in the states he cannot understand his neighbors. The class difference in Baja is easily identified by speech.

Alexander was fascinating. 68 years old, barely looking 60 and his English flawless. His stories were long and descriptive, and our conversations ranged everything from medieval military history to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he once lived in the 4-star hotel there for free while writing a book. And to top it all off he holds the world record for the fastest plane landing� I think he mentioned something about 200 knots.

Humidity kills me. 98% humidity leaves a thin sheen of sweat at all times on my skin, shiny and somewhat slimy when mixed with obligatory sunblock and bug repellant. Deodorant is a fruitless venture, as the smell of sweat and dirt of the city takes over and conquers the “shower fresh scent” as soon as I walk into the street. Heat exhausts the shite out of me and by 10:30 pm I am ready to pass out.

Showering at night before bed is the only option. I fought a successful fistfight with one of the largest cockroaches I’d ever faced for the title of ‘Queen of the Bathroom’ (tip: turn the water on as hot as it will go and watch the little bugger run out the glassless window. Ha!)

The water was nice and cold. One never uses hot water in Baja. I mean, what’s the point? The cold water itself is of a lukewarm temperature anyhow. I hit the somewhat uncomfortable platform foam bed and blasted the ceiling fan for all it was worth. The hurricane gale force winds put me to sleep and it was all good.