Sometimes we donâ€™t know why we need to follow the impulse to go where weâ€™re called…we just go. This is the nudge I felt toward visiting Todos Santos, Baja California. My husband wanted to take a surf trip down to Baja last year and I recalled a client of mine talking about this funky, hippy oasis in Baja a couple of years prior. She and her husband had been thinking about moving here and through astrocartography -the study a personâ€™s natal planetary lines through place- I discouraged her to settle in Todos Santos. She didnâ€™t. Yet my own curiosity was peaked. I found Todos Santos on the map and we constructed a trip arranged around the little town I am writing you from right now â€“ the cityâ€™s name translates as â€œAll Saintsâ€.
Here we are again, a second trip in two years. Weâ€™re visiting during low season again, and from la turistas who have only visited here during high season, a quieter town. Many shops say theyâ€™re open, abierto, but donâ€™t bother. The yoga retreats apparently take place in the spring. So do the art and wine festivals, open houses, poetry conferences and writer retreats. Organic produce, while bragged about in the town paper, is hard to come by. In fact, fresh produce has all but gone extinct. When we arrived last Monday, the weather was still mild. Now itâ€™s getting hot, testimony to our â€œgoodâ€ room rates. As we walk past the numerous, strangely identical mutts, theyâ€™re too dog tired to bark. A thick coat of dust covers everything. The neighborhood kids come over, splash and play, washing that dust and grime off in our hotel pool, a greasy film floating atop sea green milky water â€“ when itâ€™s open. Every other full day itâ€™s closed for cleaning, of course.
And weâ€™re happy to be here, sinking into the lazy rhythm of trips to the beach, to the town grocer, the beach of the wolves, Punta Lobos, to watch our dinner come in on boats. Weâ€™re vegetarians, all, but when we travel, we eat what the locals eat. One vegetarian teenager doesnâ€™t want to see the gutting of the pescado and says sheâ€™ll stay in the car. Curiosity takes over, and soon sheâ€™s watching too, kicking at the sand, stealing sideways glances as the fish meets its death, a fish out of water surrendering its life for ours. We prepare the fish pan fried, with butter and lime later that day. We intend to eat it as a taco, as the countless fish taco stands have created the hankering for constant intake of fish taco. But this fish is so fresh we eat it plainly, simply.
When we drive, there are altars everywhere, shrines along the dusty single lane roads. For a country with very little means, Iâ€™m again pleasantly surprised by the artfulness of the altars, the careful attention given to the dead. In these idyllic chapel structures, the flowers always appear fresh â€“ even the fake ones. Itâ€™s no illusion that someone comes out to the middle of nowhere, a place without a town, mile marker 54, to mindfully care for the sanctuario. Cars regularly stop at these sites, prayers are said, tributes made to loved ones lost on a dark desert highway…
Yes, this is the land of the dark desert highway. The famed Hotel California exists in Todos Santos. Urban legend says the Eagles wrote Hotel California on a trip to Todos Santos, which Don Henley, when asked by a reporter if this was true, denied. Hotel California is a wee taste of hype, in a land less touched by Californiaâ€™s glamour than its money. The Baja relationship to gringos is one like any other international relationship – economic. The real estate is California-priced, so are the T-Bone steaks, so too other indulgences a California traveler might require. The town has one beauty salon, newly occupied since last year, but the young trend-setting proprietor looks hot and restless, hanging out on the sidewalk. Sheâ€™ll join other shop owners on the corner where they gather under the shade of an umbrella to smoke and watch the gringos walk by. Weâ€™ve met scant few gringos, a few weâ€™ve met at the hotel, or overheard talking about real estate at the restaurants.
And the real estate of the desert, what does that look like? Itâ€™s sparse, dry, but it quietly exists, too. I remind myself that this too supports life forms of which I have yet to see. The Sometimes a chinchilla or a lizard darts across the road. Iâ€™m thrilled when the occasional bright red or magenta flower emerges from the bleached landscape, usually on a cactus that looks half alive. I see this as a hopeful symbol for life. Life does survive against all odds, bloom even, in a harsh food-less, water less desert. Does the bloom of a cactus know faith? On stretches of highway, the cacti look like people in various life stages. I see the bone dry cacti as abuellos, ancient grandfathers of the desert. I imagine their personalities: wise, sturdy, withstanding. The skeletal grandfathers bear witness to the life of the desert, almost as hidden from me as life under the sea. Itâ€™s a mysterious world of spirits out here.