The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place
El Cardonal, Baja – A World Unto Itself
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Just over 1,000 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border is the town of Cabo San Lucas and just about an hour or so north of Cabo is the town of Los Barriles. And if you drive another hour beyond that, you’ll arrive in El Cardonal.
The drive from Cabo to Los Barriles is not exactly an easy drive, and it’s a drive you would be well-advised not to make at night, but it’s not a bad drive and truth be told it is pretty much fabulous if you open your mind. Baja is a picture of contrasts; the desert on one side of you and the Sea of Cortez on the other. Driving along the two-lane roads one is quite likely to cross the path of a cow or two, many roadside makeshift memorials and if you’re lucky enough (or if you’re with someone who’s in the know) you’ll come across an open air cantina that serves amazing cucumber margaritas. Once you reach Los Barriles you’ll find a relaxed comfortable town where everyone is friendly and welcoming. There are quite a few gringos who live amongst the locals and they do so because they’ve embraced the beauty and culture of Baja. While major shopping such as Costco and Mega are offered in Cabo, Los Barriles will keep you in the essentials along with homemade tortillas and freshly roasted chicken; because really, what else do you need? Well, a good bottle of Tequila but that’s another story. And by the way, the Costco in Cabo has probably the most fantastic view you’ll ever see from any Costco parking lot, ever.
Heading out of Los Barriles it isn’t actually that far to El Cardonal, maybe 15 – 20 miles, but it takes a bit of skilled driving to reach the town by the paved mountainside road. There is also a dirt seaside road that extends between Los Barilles and El Cardonal but because it will make your teeth rattle, it’s more of a one day just for fun, or only when bad weather road conditions dictate, kind of road. As a result of the road conditions and the remoteness of the area, (and the cows in the road) it does take about an hour of slow-moving driving to reach El Cardonal, but it is well-worth the effort. And that’s easy for me to say because I wasn’t doing the driving.
Finally, you’ll come upon El Cardonal. It’s a sleepy little seaside village where I’m pretty sure everyone knows everyone else. There is no traffic and there is no noise other than a few crows of the local roosters.
To the untrained eye one might jump to the conclusion, when first visiting El Cardonal, that there is a great deal of poverty but one would be wrong. Some of the homes may have dirt floors, but the children are well-cared for, thriving and they go to school in freshly pressed clothing. What El Cardonal has to offer is a lifestyle choice, the importance of family and quality of life take precedence over material possessions. It is a world unto itself and I’m fairly certain the locals have discovered the key to a happy life.
The daily life of those who are fortunate enough to make El Cardonal their home is not altogether different from any other, they just happen to live where the desert meets the sea. The locals (and gringos) fish the waters of the Sea of Cortez and either sell or serve their catch. Local residents Antonio and Yolanda own an open air restaurant where they serve the freshest catch of the day. Their son, who was educated in La Paz, works in a medical clinic in nearby Los Barilles.
Albeit a small village, El Cardonal offers up pretty much anything needed from fresh tortillas to ice cold beer to drinking water delivered to your home’s underground storage tank. There is a church on a hill, a brightly colored school where the playground has a view of the sea and a lumberyard. There is an auto mechanic, Cezar, who can fix just about anything and I’m told he has a voice that brings people to the dance floor.
On my two trips to El Cardonal, I learned that what I was witnessing was a true quality of life, having what you need without all of the excess stuff. It is an exercise in perspective. I remember one time in particular when we were driving the long dirt road (outside of El Cardonal) to the home of our friends when we came upon a man who was walking home from work. Our friends stopped and offered him a ride. After the man got out of the car I asked my friend, “Does he make that walk every day?” The answer was yes, and while we only drove four miles to their home, he continued on even further. No big deal, it is just part of life; you have a job to do, you do it.
El Cardonal is a little stretch of paradise on the Sea of Cortez. Our visits there have been twofold in purpose; to spend time with lifelong friends and to be in such a remote area where it forces you to be quiet. It rejuvenates the soul. One can’t help but relax while walking the sandy beaches of the sea where you can watch whales swim by, or catch more fish than you know what to do with, or witness the glorious sunrises and sunsets which are absolutely stunning! More importantly though, being there allows you to just breathe. To learn more about the whales near El Cardonal: http://www.urmkal.blogspot.com/
It’s an easy flight from Los Angeles, CA to Cabo San Lucas, just a bit over two hours and the views from the airliner windows are really something to see. I’m not a particularly brave person and I’m diligently watchful of my surroundings, but I can honestly say I’ve never felt anything but comfortable in Baja. The locals are kind and giving and if you just do your homework and pay attention to your surroundings you’ll be fine. There are of course issues, but there are issues everywhere, no matter where you travel. Oh, and yes, it is in fact safe to drink the water in Baja. I have to admit it wasn’t until the 2nd trip that I was convinced, but I am now.
Tenga un viaje seguro!
Thank you to R. Dressler of San Isidro, Baja, for the photos used in this article and also thank you to those who shared their lives.
Patti, and her husband, Abi, own and operate Abigail’s Bed & Breakfast Inn in Ashland, Oregon. When they are not hosting guests, they are slowly but purposely traveling the world. Patti writes a travel blog, One Road at a Time.