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Summer solstice at the Tropic of Cancer

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 32 °C
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Our next destination was Todos Santos (the Mexican version of ‘Allerheiligen’) and we were all looking forward to see the Pacific. Todos Santos is located directly on the Tropic of Cancer and just an hour north of the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula. The town itself was very pleasant – small, but already a bit more touristy in comparison to Loreto or La Paz. The main points of interest were quickly seen: the legendary ‘Hotel California’ and the mission church.

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But the key highlight was the ocean itself: we were quite impressed by the power of the waves coming in and how cold and refreshing the water was. We only tested it with our feet, as due to the rip tides and undercurrents swimming is very dangerous on that beach. Still, after having been used to the calm and warm waters of the Sea of Cortez so far, this was quite a change in scenery!

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Another town, another campground – extremely laid-back and surprisingly cheap (full hookup for the camper for 150 pesos the night, i.e. ~9USD). The campground is located in the outskirts of town and consequently treated us to a typical Mexican concert: the sound of the waves in the background was overlaid by the barking of dogs, all kinds of different birds singing their songs, really loud frogs (if they were frogs they must have been extremely large!), typical music coming from various directions and cars making their way through the dusty roads.

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We all were in need for a quiet day again, so our Saturday was dedicated to making phone calls home, playing extensively with Max’s Lego and car collection and just hanging out. Eventually in the late afternoon we made our way into town to get something to eat and we treated ourselves to good food. Days like these are important. It feels a bit like weekend – which in fact it is.

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Even though Sunday would probably also count as weekend, the one day of relaxing was absolutely sufficient and consequently we headed off towards the tip of the peninsula. But we did not have to drive far for our first stop at Cerritos Beach, a pretty empty long stretch of beach that is safe for swimming.

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So we used the opportunity to take a refreshing dip in the waves of the Pacific Ocean. While we just jumped a bit in the waves rather at the edge of the water, a bit later some locals went a bit further into the waves. And one of them got pulled outwards more and more and started crying for help. Only one of his family members seemed brave and well trained enough to go out to get him. But as soon as the women in the family realized that they eventually both got pulled out even further, they raised the attention to more people around to help. Sam raced up to get the surfboard of the family next to us, got the quick advice to just try to get the two to swim sideways such that they get out of the outwards current and to make sure that once he reaches them they don’t grab him, but only the surfboard. And off he went into the waves. By the time he reached the pair, also the surfer who had been waiting for waves all the way back had noticed and come to get them. So each of them took one of the local swimmers and got them back to the beach. A bit later he came over with a big bottle of beer as an official thanks to Sam for going out to get him.
Sam had always wanted to help and rescue someone anyhow, so he was very pleased. And I was very happy that he had not just gone out like that, but with the surfboard – otherwise I’d have feared that he’d get pulled out as well, just like the others did before.
Eventually we got hungry and left the beach in order to get food. We found a nice seafood place back at the town entrance of Todos Santos. We were treated to excellent (and expensive as we realized after the fact) Ceviche de Cameron and Ceviche de Pulpo (i.e. shrimp and octopus seafood cocktails). Max was not too excited when he realized though that his fruit platter was sprinkled with chili powder.
After an hour of driving we reached Cabo San Lucas. It marks the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez and used to be probably a really nice and romantic place. Well, now it is a major tourist centre and it’s hard to find a lonely spot anywhere. On our way through town we stopped at the probably busiest beach of all: the beach just next to the entrance to the marina was crowded with locals who were enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

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Sam and I simply enjoyed watching the people on the beach and observing the dozens of boats getting into and out of the marina headed for land’s end just a couple of hundred meters further along the rocks. Some of the boats were party boats with loud music and people dancing on deck, there were themed pirate sailboats, large trimarans, low key small glass bottom boats and luxury yachts – a boat for every taste. Max had other interests: after having observed for a while, he was ready to get right into the middle of the fun at the beach and joined the local kids jumping from the rocks into the sea.

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Our designated destination for the night was the Vagabundos del Mar RV park, which Petra and Pascal had praised highly. To our disappointment it was full. But after talking a bit with the guy at the office, we found a solution to stay in a spot where some construction work was going on. We even got a large discount on the usual price, as we’d not have any electrical hookup, which we did not need anyhow after having been hooked up for a couple of days in a row lately.

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After a dip in the pool, it was time for dinner and given Sam’s rescue action today, we wanted to celebrate. And luckily we did go to the local restaurant just next to the pool: once we were there we found out that the last game of seven of the NBA basketball finals was going on with the Cleveland Cavaliers playing the Golden State Warriors. And wow – the game was exciting till the last minutes. Just three minutes before the end the game was still tied. In a very tight finish the Cavaliers made it and LeBron James had lots of reasons to be proud and celebrate a great season, a great final and some personal records. The many Californian supporters in the restaurant had gone more quiet at the end when their team was falling back, but for us it was enjoyment to see the championship independent of the winner. It just reminded me a lot of my time in Chicago in 1992 when the Bulls won the championships with Michael ‘Air’ Jordan’s lead. I kept stacks of newspaper clippings on the Bulls victory and had decorated my room back in Germany with them upon my return from Chicago.
The next day we realized that in fact the discount for our site was fully justified: as of seven in the morning we had construction noise all around us. Not too bad, but still. As Max noticed right away: there were just people with their tools and no big construction machines at work.
One of the local construction worker stopped by when we had breakfast. He was quite talkative and told us many things. He is from Guerrero Negro (i.e. 14 hours by bus away from Cabo), but he has been working in Cabo for the last 11 months, as here he’s able to earn 300 pesos (about 18 USD) a day vs. only 200 pesos in his home town. He said he’s missing his five kids (15, 13, 8, 5 and less than 1 year old) and kept stroking Max (who was not really amused). In addition, he has two more kids with another woman, so Sam and I were wondering for quite some time afterwards how this is working out financially to support so many people with so little wage. We continue to be puzzled and just hope that he is supporting the rest of his large family vs. spending it all on alcohol drowning his sadness about not being able to be close to his kids.
We left Cabo San Lucas that morning and drove along the coast towards San José del Cabo. The views alternated between great beaches (also for surfing), large resorts and huge construction sites to fill the empty slots in between. We kept wondering how many tourists are needed to fill all those capacities. But knowing that the airport in Cabo is the sixth largest of Mexico despite not too many people living there, explains already a lot.

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As we’re not too keen on meeting too many other tourists, we preferred San José over San Lucas. It’s older, much smaller and has retained its old town away from the beaches. We strolled around, had great lunch and then stopped at the local fresh water lagoon close to the beach. What an oasis for birds!

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Our next destination was the fishing and windsurfing mecca of Los Barriles. Just a couple of miles before we reached the town, we crossed again the Tropic of Cancer. And this time we also found a large sign to mark it. So 2.5 years after taking our picture with a sign of the Tropic of Capricorn in Namibia, we now also have one with the Tropic of Cancer.

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Once we were in Los Barriles we headed to the campground at Martin Verdugo’s beach and got a space underneath a big tree with lots of shadow – excellent!

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Sam and Max headed right away to the beach as they wanted to try their fishing equipment. They had lots of fun, even though they did not catch anything.

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The next morning, we went right back to the beach. The water was absolutely still, there were no waves or wind at all. It seems like the windsurfer’s paradise is only true for the winter months. After our dip in the sea, we headed to the pool and only went back to our van when it was time for lunch.
On June 21 at lunch on the Tropic of Cancer we got treated to a special feature: there was no shadow – the sun was standing exactly above us. Luckily we were parked underneath that big tree such that we could still enjoy lots of shade.
We spent the afternoon around the van. We watched a hummingbird in the tree, ate some coconut that Sam had gotten from the palm tree next to our van and eventually headed to the supermarket to replenish our stocks.

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The evening we spent again at the water, which was again nice and calm. Sam took another go at fishing. He almost caught a yellow puffer fish, but not knowing if it is edible, he rather let it go again.
As there was a big group of manta rays just passing along the shore, jumping out of the water in formation flight, Sam hurried back to get his camera. By the time he was back, the mantas had gone already a bit further out, but till doing their jumps.

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What Sam had not counted on was to catch a manta ray so close to the shore with his small fishing gear. But once he saw the shadow of a manta circling his swimmer and eventually realized that the line had been bitten off, he stopped his attempts of fishing. After all, manta rays are nice in the wild vs. fished out of the water.

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The remainder of the evening we spent in the pool, enjoying the nice place we had ended up in. As usual it’s those place you don’t expect much from – like in this case Los Barriles – where we were treated to a nice surprise: great inexpensive and clean campground, great pool and calm waters… Just great!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:23 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach place lagoon cabo solstice todossantos losbarriles Comments (3)

Perfect island paradise

Maupiti

sunny 28 °C
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It was love at first sight. Already from the air Maupiti looked simply perfect: a volcanic island with a high peak surrounded by an emerald lagoon and five rather flat coral islands.

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Despite the short runway on one of the northern coral islands, our landing was very smooth. Consequently, the presence of a large fire truck was only a reassurance and it was not required to take any action. The airport building itself was tiny, not much more than a covered passageway. But the waiting area was exceptional: small benches in the shade of palm trees right next to the lagoon.

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Once we had our baggage, it was only a really short walk over to the boat that should take us onto the main island. Once we, our baggage, a French couple that looked like honeymooners and a few locals were waiting in the boat, we soon realized that the boat also doubled as the postal service boat carrying all air freight onto the main island. And a bit later, we realized that it was also the employee shuttle for the whole airport crew of Air Tahiti – consisting of a total of six people.
The ferry ride was a good introduction to Maupiti and its crystal clear water. Before too long, we arrived in the village and were greeted by Sandra, the owner of Pension Tereia with flower garlands. We loaded our baggage onto her truck and she took us to the pension. She showed us around and we had some coconut and water before heading to the nearby beach where we stayed until after the sunset.

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By that time, we were already more than hungry and keen to have dinner which was to be served at 7pm. And it was simply excellent: for starters we had tuna sashimi with an excellent soy based sauce, followed by steaks of parrot fish with vanilla sauce and rice. And fresh mango from the tree next to the house as dessert. Simply perfect.
Sandra's son then showed us how to open a coconut with a single hit of a hand. Sam tried the technique successfully and we enjoyed the coconut water - at that stage we were too full to have anything else to eat.
The next morning, we had breakfast and were ready to leave at 8:30 for our excursion. Together with Claire and Adrien, the other guests in the pension we wanted to go snorkelling with manta rays and have lunch on a ‘motu’ – a small coral islet next to the only shippable pass into the inner lagoon of Maupiti.
Sandra’s husband Kété was steering the motorboat out into the lagoon supported by Max.

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Eventually we stopped rather abruptly, as there were manta rays underneath us. So we got our snorkelling gear and jumped into the water to have a closer look. The rays were enormous and it was hard to believe that Kété said that these were rather small, as their wingspan can get as big as 7m / 23 ft. Max and I preferred to have a look from the surface only, but Sam ventured down to the bottom of the sea at 5 or 6 m depth to have a look from below. It’s always impressive to see such gigantic animals and how small we humans are in comparison.

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After all of us were back in the boat and Kété’s son headed off with his harpoon to catch a fish for our dinner. And no worries, in Maupiti neither rays, nor sharks or whales are being caught – it’s not part of their tradition as we were told - there are way too many other fish around. And we simply marvelled at the sights around us.

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We then traversed through the only pass of Maupiti connecting the lagoon with the open sea. It is a narrow and rather long pass which is quite dangerous for larger boats. Consequently, in adverse weather the only freight boat coming to the island once per month will not attempt the passage with the result that it will only come back a month later and supplies in the stores might get low.

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Kété did a good job and soon enough we were out in the open sea. The waves were significantly bigger than inside the lagoon and we started making our plans just in case something would happen – after all it seemed that there were no life jackets available on the boat.
While we still wondered why we even went out to the open sea, suddenly Kété alerted us that just in front of the boat he had spotted the fountain of a whale and we got to see the backside of two humpback whales. When we thought already that they had dived down and would not resurface for the next couple of minutes, Kété turned and had us observe a spot and make sure that we had our cameras ready. And he was right: just seconds later one of the whales surfaced, blew air out (which was much louder than expected!) and showed his nice tail before heading down. Wow!

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That was already much more than expected, but we made one more snorkelling stop in a beautiful coral garden.

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After all these impressions, we headed for lunch on the small island east of the pass. And what a great location - just beautiful!

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Just like us, most other tourists on the island seemed to be there. After all, it was Saturday, the only day in the week when the typical Tahitian underground sand oven is put into action. Soon after we arrived, it was ceremonially opened and all the procedures and traditions were explained – in French, without any hesitation or thought about people potentially not being able to understand.

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So I unearthed my French skills to understand that we had pork, mussels and chicken as main courses together with cooked bananas and breadfruit. In addition, there was typical raw fish in coconut milk (which was excellent) and fermented fish with fermented coconut milk. The latter smelled much worse than it tasted. Without knowing what it is, we would have probably rather put it into the ‘cheese’ category than assuming that it is fish. For dessert, there was some kind of fruit jelly once again in coconut milk. All in all, the food was very different from what we know and had a distinct smoky flavour to it from the way it was prepared. Not bad, but it will also never be our favourite food.

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What followed, was not really what Sam and I are keen on: tourist entertainment at its best: it started with a competition in throwing coconuts into a hole 8m / 25ft away. The guests of all ten pensions on the island were to compete against each other. As we did not get into the round of the last three and consequently were done rather soon. While that exercise was actually fun, we both declined the next session of Polynesian dancing. We rather did it like the locals and took a dip in the water to cool off. We even spotted a couple of leopard whiptail rays while doing so.

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The excursion was excellent and we had really enjoyed our time on the trip. But after so much sun, we were glad to eventually to take the trip back home. That was fun as well - some of us had to sit in the back of the truck, including Kété who nicely played his ukulele along the way.

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We played a round of Farkle with Claire and Adrien before dinner, which was fun once again.
Even though Maupiti is small and remote and not nearly as touristy as all the other Society Islands, we were amazed to have excellent wireless internet in our pension. It seems that this luxury is a must have by now for all places hosting tourists. In comparison: drinking water on the island is available at five stations around the island where we often saw people or kids filling their canisters or bottles.

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On our last day in Maupiti, Sam and Claire climbed Mount Teurufaaiu (385m / 1280ft). A steep direct route secured by ropes led them all the way to the top to take in breath taking views of the island from above.

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In the meantime, the rest of us took it easy: we had a late breakfast and played some games. Once Sam was back, we went to the white beach and admired the beautiful water again.
We got food at the snack bar along the beach and soon enough had to leave towards the ferry and the airport.

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There we got the excellent hint from Claire to ask for ‘Maupiti’ stamps in our passports. After all, we had not even gotten any stamps into our passports upon our arrival – we’re in the European Union after all.
Still, the airport was clearly not up to the usual European standards and we simply loved sitting under the palm trees some 30m / 90ft from the landing strip (without any fence or the like in between). When it got hot, we just walked a couple of steps to stand in the clear water of the lagoon.

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With Max we were able to skip the line and get first onto the plane again and only realized when walking up to it that there had not been any security control. Life is beautiful and we decided that Maupiti clearly is a place to come back to one day.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged traditional mountain island paradise lagoon hike coconut snorkel whale coral manta ray islet oven motu Comments (0)

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