Some things need to be experienced to be understood, and Cabo is one of those things. The first thing you notice when you visit Cabo San Lucas are the resorts. The variety and locality of the resorts is impressive and definitely make the Cabo region of the Baja peninsula a remarkable tourist destination.
Robin and I have visited Cabo as tourists. We sunned on the stunning beaches, and breathed the warm air. But there was always something missing from the tourist experience. Real connection. Yes, the concierge, and hotel employees in general get to know you over time. They call you by your name and ask how your day is going and those are nice touches, but they only hint at the full lifestyle experience.
There are beach resort communities all over Mexico. They all have their own personality. For some, downtown Cabo is like the Las Vegas Strip. Spring breakers might be on some kind of epic bender there and nobody is going to stop that, but that isn’t Cabo. Yes, you can partake in that if the mood strikes, but most of the time life in Cabo takes on a more relaxed pace.
There are dozens of gorgeous beaches, all well maintained. Some days, you might be the only persons on the beach. Some of the best days are the ones that begin at the beach and end with a slow drive home. There is something about sitting quietly on a beach with perhaps seven or eight other humans on it, listening to the waves crash and then going for a swim. Whatever stress you might have felt drifts away into the sea. Perhaps it washes ashore somewhere else as a loud thud followed by a soft hiss. Some folks on the other side of the planet hear the wave that carried your stress across the Pacific and experience a brief moment of bliss. You’re welcome stranger.
After the beach, is the ride home. Windows down. Beach playlist on. Traffic doesn’t matter. Noisy tourists don’t matter. Downtown becomes a blur of food and color and exuberance that while exciting, never penetrates the protective shell of salt water and leftover beach sand that guards your serenity like an ancient dragon guards a castle.
You stop for tacos at some colorful open air taco stand. Tacos turn into margaritas. People you know show up. Margaritas turn into beers. Laughter and joviality come next followed by transcendent bliss. The sand remains stuck to you and you don’t care that your hair is still riddled with the salty remains of the sea. In fact, you embrace it. You long to hold onto it forever even though you know you will want a shower once you return home.
From a distance the city glows. It isn’t a city filled with skyscrapers or fancy structures, but rather homes. Dogs. Children. Families dancing and singing to traditional Mexican music. Sometimes you walk by these places and see a glimpse of joy twirling in the dust. Color and a haze of sand float away on a gentle wind moving according to the eclectic rhythms of tradition and trumpets.
Sometimes you get the sense that the whole place is being held together by chicken wire and rebar. But there is pride. There are small restaurants that look like nothing interesting from the outside but transport you to a tropical paradise once inside. This is pride, the good kind, not the kind that leads to ruin.
There is color everywhere. Pink, blue, yellow, orange, green, every conceivable color representing a vibrant history and culture. If the bright colors were to ever be painted over with black or bland colors, you’d still be able to see the bright colors through the darkness. You’d see it still on the faces of the locals as they tell you about their plans.
There is an industriousness to the people. There are poor people and they would very much like money, but they want to earn it. They will sell, they will create, they will aim to go beyond expectation. They do so not simply for money, but out of principal. Deep down, they know there is joy to be had in helping others even in the smallest of things. If you are offered something and reply with a friendly “no gracias,” they will try to make you laugh.
Cabo is home to Gringos from The United States and Canada. There is a Costco, that’s how you know the place is inhabited by folks from the North. We joke that the first thing everyone does when they arrive in Cabo is go to the Costco, but its existence points to something more.
The community is deeply integrated. The economy of the region does not simply orbit tourism, it orbits a complex social structure. Digital nomads, writers, retirees, and real estate agents alike somehow make a life in Cabo. It’s a small village that occasionally gets flooded with tourists. Tourism contributes greatly to the local economy. The bars and restaurants eagerly await the next cruise ship. Life sparks up into a hot rush of life and music and celebration. The tide goes out and with it the cruise ships and then there is calm. Locals occupy their favorite tables at their favorite restaurants once again. The town breathes like that.
Up the cape there are day trips. Whale sharks in La Paz. A thriving village filled with art and joy in Todos Santos. Margaritas on the beach in Cerritos. Head further up the cape to Cabo Pulmo or Los Barrilles and the world slows down. The universe doesn’t spin so fast out there. You drive for hours on rough sandy roads and find a place so far away from anything else you can’t imagine any other humans being nearby. But they are there, waiting to offer you a drink and perhaps a laugh.