The Unchanged Cabo Sunsets

Ringing in the new year where the desert meets the sea.

At 23:35, we retrieved the bubbles, a couple of red solo cups and rushed for the beach.

The local kids were already sitting on the sand, lit by their parked car’s beam lights, looking like a 1980s MTV video. 

Live music from the nearby clubs disrupted an almost spiritual vibe: the beachgoers looked into the sky with anticipation—like someone who waits for the passing of a comet.

We realized we’d forgotten the grapes. I felt liberated. The last couple of years taught us how naive end-of-year wishes could be.

Still, I felt cautious joy when the countdown began: 3, 2…1! All the fireworks in the world shot into the sky, and suddenly it was daytime on Palmilla Bay.

We’d arrived four days earlier, after a gelid New York City Christmas. The JFK-San Jose del Cabo flight took us from -10F to 80F in just over six hours, and it felt like a miracle.

Feeling the sand between our toes, sipping that glorious first margarita, hiking to the Big Cross: Cabo’s always been about holiday traditions for over a decade.

And, during that time, we’ve also seen the town change.

Lola, who came thirty years ago, has witnessed an even more profound transformation. Back then, there were only two shacky hotels and a landing strip. Lola loved it so much that she never returned to her native Yucatan. 

To those who came before her, she was that annoying newcomer. A decade ago, it was her turn to frown upon us. It goes on and on.

Lola worries about reckless drivers along The Corridor, the same road where the many resorts built in recent years have progressively blocked the sea view. 

We loved admiring the water back when we drove to and from San Jose’s Art Thursdays to check out works from local artists and sip free gallery wine. 

Those days you still could see Steven Spielberg speeding down the road in a golf cart, Enrique Iglesias donning a poncho in 80-degree weather, and Leonardo DiCaprio denying he was Leonardo DiCaprio in Agua Bar.

That was well before COVID, which feels like a lifetime ago. Once American politics spilled onto the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, it was not rare to spot drunken, sunburnt tourists decrying “plandemic” and “stolen election.”

There goes the neighborhood.

Luckily, Cabo’s natural beauty remains as mesmerizing as the first time Steinbeck and Ricketts sailed past El Arco and spotted whales and dolphins in the open ocean.

I felt the same exhilaration on New Year’s Day as that first boat ride from about eight years ago. This time, we anchored in Chileno Bay and jumped into the crystal-clear waters for a swim.

The captain tossed us snorkeling goggles, so we could see the colorful fish blissfully swimming amongst us. On the way back, the crew made us fajitas, which we wolfed down with some deliciously cold Pacificos

A massive seal, unbothered by the many vessels, including a couple of titanic cruise ships, goofily swam by as we approached the marina.

We reached the hotel in time to experience the first sunset of the year. The timeless yellow and orange hues colored the Sea of Cortez like thousands of years hadn’t passed, and the Spanish conquistador—the first annoying newcomer of them all—didn’t dare to rename it. 

See the World, Free Your Mind

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world can be a transformational experience.

To Eric, my first editor

In third grade, a girl from my school died in a car accident.

I vividly remember hopping on the yellow bus with a few dozen other kids to go to her service without knowing what to expect. We probably were just vaguely excited about skipping class.

After seeing the face of a sleeping doll with pigtails in her open casket, the mood was decidedly different. On the way back, we were quiet and silent—profoundly changed by the funerary field trip.

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world on a sad or happy occasion can be a transformational experience: the physical commuting triggers an inner journey that continues unfolding for the rest of our lives.

In “The Philosophy of Travel, ” George Santayana wrote,” “Locomotion—the privilege of animals—is perhaps the key to intelligence.” Seeing the world with an open heart and mind, as kids usually do, is critical to transcend propaganda.

Visit the locations of our history books to learn what they don’t teach you in school. Being in “the room where it happened,” whether Charleston‘s Old Slave Mart Museum or Lisbon‘s Monument of the Discoveries, shatters stereotypes.

Like going to Mexico City and realizing its world-class museums and cosmopolitan rooftop bars have nothing to do with the dodgy picture delivered by American media, or traveling to Bourdeaux and finding the friendliest locals appreciative of your efforts to communicate in broken French.

“We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate,” wrote Pico Iyer in “Why We Travel.”

After visiting the Faroe Islands, online trolls scolded me. “Congratulations on supporting animal cruelty,” they said, referring to the ancient practice of whaling. But going beyond bloody YouTube videos and into the heart of the foggy Northern European archipelago was illuminating. It taught me their hunting is non-commercial, humane and environmentally sustainable. 

Touring Seville‘s Bullring Real Maestranza Museum was uneasy until we discovered the chapel where matadors pray before facing the magnificent beast with reverence. Learning more about the solemn ritual shifted my perception. And, though I probably still wouldn’t attend a bullfight, I found myself capable of respecting a different cultural practice. 

“The world never quits growing on us. It’s just as vast as ever, and it reinvents itself every day,” Bill Bryson aptly wrote in “The Best American Travel 2000.” And, though rewarding, the experience can be an unsettling one.

The images of the falling Wall from my teenage years colored my first visit to Berlin in 2007. I was delighted with a sense of optimism and possibility, different from my post-social media/COVID trip to the German city (photo featured), shaped by the historical and geographical proximity to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The French election of a lifetime, between President Emmanuel Macron and rightwing hardliner Marine Le Pen, was also momentous. Fresh off the Trump years, an American in Paris was an ominous walking-and-talking warning. So much was a stake for France, the European Union and the world. We dodged a bullet, for now.

The most important lessons? Progress is not a straight line. And, as John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charlie: In Search of America,” “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

At a trying time for millions of Americans’ rights, including women and LGBTQ+ families, celebrating the old USA’s birthday in Provincetown, the birthplace of American freedom, still committed to liberty after more than four centuries, was reaffirming.

I wish cultural warriors had a peak at so much love between people from all walks of life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” wrote Mark Twain in “The Innocents Abroad.”

Perhaps, I’m overly optimistic and, as Maya Angelou said, “travel cannot prevent bigotry.” But even the legendary poet and civil-rights activist believed there could be hope. “[…] by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends,” she concluded.

The Marvelous Kaleidoscope That Is Mexico

A glorious ancient past sprinkled with an explosion of colors, sounds and flavors.

Mexico is awesome.

One of the six cradles of civilization, its ancient culture and vast territory went from conquerors to conquered to a tumultuous independent period marked by foreign invasions and subsequent internal political upheaval.

As the world’s second and fourth country in ecosystems and biodiversity, it boasts over 200 thousand different species of flora and fauna. It’s also the world’s 13th largest country and the 10th most populous.

Its culture is vibrant and complex, strongly identified with its pre-Hispanic past and the period of colonial rule. More contemporary influences from places as far as Asia and the Middle East make Mexico a kaleidoscope of stories, colors, sounds and flavors with a global appeal.

On top of that, it’s the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the hemisphere.

Soumaya Museum, Mexico City

Mexico City

My familiarity with Mexico started at 3 with “El Chavo del Ocho” (“The Kid from number Eight”), my, Spain’s and the whole continent’s (including Portuguese-speaking Brazil) favorite TV show.

Like the rest of Latin America, I grew up with Mexican pop stars, variety shows and telenovelas. On Mother’s Day, Mariachi bands were a fixture. Mexican accent and expressions were as familiar as Venezuelan or Colombian ones. When I visited Mexico for the first time, I felt right at home.

However, for North Americans used to Cinco de Mayo stereotypes, a first visit to the megalopolis of Mexico City could be such a cultural shock.

The world’s sixth-largest metropolitan area and the second-most densely populated in the Western Hemisphere, its political, economic and cultural activity could make London and New York feel small. Vibrantly entertaining, English, Chinese, Arab, Russian and many other languages are heard in its world-class museums, restaurants and nightclubs.

Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City

Founded by indigenous people, Mexico City is the oldest capital in the Americas. The ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan is just about 25 miles to the northeast. Site of many of the most architecturally-significant pyramids, it’s here where you can see the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun.

No visit to CDMX is complete without experiencing some of its magnificent museums. My favorites: Museo Nacional de Antropología (where you can see the Aztec Sun Stone), Soumaya MuseumMuseo JumexFrida Kahlo Museum (located in “La Casa Azul,” where she was born, grew up and died) and Museo Mural Diego Rivera.

Tulum, Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya

The Riviera Maya is probably the only place where you can enjoy warm, crystal clear waters and turn to spot an ancient ruin behind you. The eastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula is formerly known as “The Cancun-Tulum Corridor,” and it includes the cities of Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos.

Famous for its all-inclusive resorts, charming boutique hotels and water sports, I recommend checking out the cenotes (natural sinkholes used as water suppliers by the ancient Mayans) and the archeological sites of Coba.

Coba, Riviera Maya

Aside from their achievements in astronomy, what’s most impressive about the Mayans is that they built temples, palaces, pyramids and observatories without metal tools.

Los Cabos, Baja California Sur

Los Cabos

The desert meets the sea at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula in an area known as Los Cabos, which includes the twin towns of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.

Though the region was underdeveloped until relatively recently, it has a rich history dating to colonial times. Hernan Cortez named the sea after him (Sea of Cortez) in the mid-1500s. Moreover, its remoteness lent it to being a pirate hideout, most notably for the English explorer Sir Francis Drake.

Hotel Viceroy Los Cabos

Pioneered by Las Ventanas al Paraiso and The One and Only Palmilla, Los Cabos is home to the world’s best hotels, including Viceroy Los Cabos and its flagship restaurant Nido (nest), with aesthetics inspired by the 1951 John Steinbeck’s book “The Log from the Sea of Cortez.” 

Cabo sunset

Steinbeck and his expedition companion, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, must’ve been as inspired as contemporary visitors by the famous Cabo sunsets.

The spectacle is one of the highlights of this part of the world, and many hotels and restaurants offer coveted tables from which to enjoy them.

Perhaps, it was one of the sunsets which prompted one of my favorite quotes from the book, dealing—both literally and figuratively—with journeys:

It would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be loved without satiety

John Steinbeck


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