San Jose del Cabo, Mexico  
February 2010

cactus at entranceWe would not usually be taking two winter trips.  But, even though the Cozumel trip in January was nice, it was not entirely satisfactory since it was so cool and I was sick for a few days.  So, I decided to watch for a special and we booked a week in Los Cabos at Presidente Inter-Continental (large cactus at entrance on the right) through Fun Jet.  This was new for us - we had never been to Cabos and we had never stayed at an all-inclusive resort; so thought we'd give it a try!

Monday February 22 we drove up to Minneapolis, had supper with Katie at Café Maude which was a very nice place with great food.  Since I declared myself "on vacation" already, I had dessert!  Katie took us to the airport before going to work in the morning; everything went smoothly, we managed to avoid all of the obnoxious time share people and were met (after a short wait - the plane was early) by the EPIC folks, Fun Jet's local contacts,   They had us at the hotel around 1:30 PM.

Presidente resortNote here about the time share or "club" folks.  (Most are adamant that they aren't selling time shares anymore - it is a "club membership."  Admittedly, the clubs are slightly better - more flexible - than the time shares, but still something we are not interested in.)  They are really getting worse and worse.  In the airports now they are very aggressive and insistent that they must see our vouchers to check with the "dispatcher."   If I hadn't been familiar with the pitch, I really would have believed them.  Walking along the main malecon we had to say "no" numerous times and then, even in the Mega supermarket, we were approached by an employee!  Other than the ones at the airport, however, they were all pleasant and accepted our "no" graciously.  

estuary beachSince rooms were not ready when we got there, we left our luggage in the storeroom, I changed to shorts (always bring a pair in my carry-on) and we let the information guy "orient" us.  He also was plugging a presentation for the Inter-Continental "club," and offered free activities in exchange, but was courteous when we declined.  We got a map of the resort, instructions about meal times and locations, a map of the town and set off to wander for a few hours.   (Typical view of the grounds above - palms and cactus gardens.)

We walked along the beach for a while - at the right John is enjoying the estuary view from the beach still in his travel clothes.  There is LOTS of empty beach since swimming is not advised (very rough surf and undertow); then we had some snacks at the snack bar (they have soft serve ice cream, chips and various dips, tacos, burgers, quesadillas, grilled chicken).  It didn't take me long to get used to the "all-inclusive" thing - basically you could find food somewhere from 7 AM to 10 PM!  And 24/7, for just a $2.50 service charge, you could order from the extensive room service menu.  

view from balconyI had done my homework on TripAdvisor forums and knew that buildings 1 and 2 (the oldest) were near the "adult" pool and the estuary.  So I told the very nice lady at the desk we'd love to have a room in one of those if possible and she found us one on the third floor of Building 1.  sitting areaIt was perfect!  We had a tiny balcony with a lovely view (left) that was nice for sitting for short times, a small sitting area (right), a nice king bed and bathroom with shampoo, soap, etc.  It proved to be just what we wanted - convenient to the pool and estuary and very quiet.

The week we were there they were running between 95-100% occupancy.  There are pros and cons to this.  The cons include having to wait longer to get into a room, having to get up before 7 AM if we want to reserve a dinner time in the special restaurants and having to hunt for lounge chairs that people have not "grabbed" before breakfast.  I found that practice quite rude since many of them would be tied up all day long and only used for an hour or two.  However, there were always places available - just not necessarily at the ideal locations.  The pros were more restaurants open (2 for breakfast, 3 for supper) and more choices in food.  

dessert talbeSo we got moved into the room around 4, had a drink at our local bar then went to the supper buffet.  This is outdoors and we learned to take a sweater because it cools off rapidly once the sun goes down, but it's set up very nicely in big warmers and there were loads of choices.  Always a vegetarian, chicken, meat (beef and/or pork) and fish entrées, a salad bar, side dishes and scrumptious dessert tables.  The portions of desserts (flan, cakes, cheesecake, tarts, mousse, brownies and more) were small.  Tonight I had four!  
drool  But I will have to be more restrained in the future.   The picture at left is one of the three dessert tables.

We didn't stay for the "show" tonight because we were tired after a long day of travel, but the little excerpt I saw was audience participation with a group of kids that were playing "Head, shoulder, knees and toes."  

Wednesday Feb 24  

almost dawnBecause of the time change (I guess) I woke up at 6 AM so took advantage of that to take a couple of pre-sunrise pictures from the balcony (right).  Then I crawled back into bed for an hour!  This morning we went to Frutas y Flores for breakfast - what a spread!  Various cereals, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt bar, sausage, bacon, hashed browns, pancakes, eggs of various sorts, omelets made to order, toast, pan dulce and various Mexican dishes.

After that meal we needed exercise so we walked a mile or so down the beach, southwest towards the other resorts.  There were lots of gulls, kids, other people walking or fishing but it was not anything close to "crowded."  We saw pelicans and flying fish, too.  I never did capture a picture of one of the flying fish but it was amazing to watch - they leapt way into the air, flipped around and re-entered probably 10 feet or so from where they started.   There were tiny sand-pipers pecking about but not so many as I would have expected.  Later I realized that's because many of them are over in the nature preserve around the estuary instead of hanging at the Sea of Cortez.  Some typical beach pictures below.: gulls sunning, horseback riding along the surf, whimbrel watching (?) the waves!
gulls  waves  whimbrel NapaJohn then went off to find the Fitness Center (it is on the second floor of a building over towards the Napa restaurant and he said it was very well equipped) while I found a lounge chair on the beach and sat and read for a while.  We grabbed some snack (the guacamole at the snack bar is quite nice) then read and relaxed some more until lunch time.  Napa is the only restaurant open for lunch but they have indoor and outdoor (large screened in terrace) seating.  The netting is not entirely successful as we watched several sparrows having a good time with bread crusts.

The lunch buffet is awesome - or maybe I'm just easily pleased!  A nice salad bar, numerous main dishes, veggies, one or two soups, rolls or crackers, and again, the fantastic dessert bar.  Staff seats you and then serves your drinks - they have good iced tea if you specify "no sugar," otherwise you get some sort of lemony instant tea - the rest is self-serve buffet.  John enjoyed the white wine but didn't like their red so much (it's a blend of Merlot and Cabernet).  

Blvd Mijaresalong the roadWe had our after-lunch doze by the pool then headed off to check out the downtown.  It's about a 20 minute stroll along Blvd Mijares - sidewalks on both sides with a median, all very nicely landscaped.    We went down to the art district and visited a couple of galleries; saw some amazing bead art, amber, paintings and sculpture.  Then we stopped at the French Riviera which is a restaurant but also has an amazing assortment of pastries and gelato!  So we each had a double scoop gelato (50 pesos each) to get us ready for the walk back.

My feet were sore when we got back so I soaked them in the pool and read until the sun went down, then showered and put on slacks for supper.  Tonight was Mexican night which was very good.  The dishes are labeled pretty well so I could tell what was too hot for me to try.  We watched just the beginning of the entertainment - it consisted of bullying a group of men to come up on stage, drink a shot of tequila and do some acting out, including a Mexican hat dance.  We left when they started recruiting ladies so I don't know if there was ever any "real" entertainment or not.

Thursday Feb 25

After another hardy, yummy breakfast this morning,  we walked north on the beach along the estuary and then returned on the Sea of Cortez side.  We saw loads of things!  In the top row below a pelican splashing around in the estuary - trying to scare up some fish?  Then in the middle, lesser yellowlegs and to the right a great blue heron who didn't want to pose for me.   Below that one of the marvelous views across the estuary towards the mountains, a majestic pelican and some glossy ibis.

pelican yellowlegs  heron

estuary view pelican  glossy ibis

John on logpuffer fishThen, turning around and strolling back along the ocean side, we have John sitting on a big driftwood log where, at left, you can see the estuary on the right and the sea on the left and the skeletal pufferfish he found (but fortunately did not try to bring home) on the right.  Yes, the beach was really that empty.  Once in a while a group of horseback riders would come by and there were one or two people fishing but mostly it was just us.  

ospreyWhen we got back we sat out behind the pool for a while before lunch and saw an osprey sitting up in one of the palm trees along the edge of the estuary (picture left).  It continued to come back to that spot, and also sit on the tops of the buildings, all week long. This, apparently, is its home territory.  

After lunch was siesta time -
I sat by the ocean and finished my book,  John rested inside for a while and then sat by the pool.  We went to the snack bar for an early supper (cheeseburger and chicken breast and fries) then showered and changed clothes to head downtown.  From November - June the merchants have an Art Walk on Thursday nights from 5-9 PM.  The galleries are all open and they are offering wine or tequila, special events, artists in residence, etc.  We discovered there was also street entertainment and a band playing in the town square.

The art was a mixed bag, partly since it is so subjective.  We both very much enjoyed the sculptures of Julian Garcia Forcelledo,  the paintings in the Soraya Gallery (no web site) and paintings as well as photographs in the Galleria de Ida Victoria. We also liked exploring Amber Art and the glass art in a little shop on the second floor above (I think) El Armario, which was also a fun place to visit. Though there are 14 "official" galleries on the list, we found that many other shops and galleries in the vicinity were also open.  It was a fun evening, particularly the (literally) dancing in the street (pictures below) and the community festivities - band playing, food vendors, etc. - in the town square.  The fountains (right, below) were even glowing pink.

couples dance dancing ladiesfountain

John bought some snacks from the local vendors and then we walked back; stopped at the buffet for some salad and dessert since our "supper" had been at the snack bar several hours earlier.  Amazing how tired we are by 10 PM!

Friday Feb 26 -

unidentified birdAt breakfast this morning we saw a brightly colored, oriole-type bird (right) that I haven't been able to identify yet.  It resembles a hooded oriole but this one is far more orange than any pictures I've found of the hooded oriole. It's also similar to the altamira oriole.  Maybe it's not even an oriole!!  Any help out there?

After breakfast, John went to rest and I went off walking.  Mostly I saw the same sorts of birds we saw yesterday but as I was walked down the ocean side of the beach I saw a couple of boats near each other and got out the binoculars to see what they were up to - they were watching a whale!  It was too far for me to get pictures but I could see it pretty clearly with the binoculars.  Saw it spout and then breech a couple of times.  

I went back and collected John and we walked up to Cacti Mundo which is a cactus garden only about half a mile from the resort, on the way into town.  Admission is $3 each but I would happily have paid another dollar or two for some sort of map or guide to what we were seeing.  The gardens are great but only a few cacti had name plates and the gift shop didn't have anything informational.  They had a video but it only had pictures of the plants, no identification or other information.  So I bought a t-shirt (proceeds go back into support of the garden) and took a lot of pictures!  Some day I may have time to browse the internet and identify more of them.

The top row is the fauna we saw: a warbler (I guess) with a lovely song he/she was very proud of, a lizard and a ground squirrel.  Below that are just a few of the many types of cacti.

  warbler  lizard  ground squirrel

cactus   cactus  cactus

  cactus  cactus  cactus

osprey on roofBarb at poolLunch was, as always, yummy.  I had fish in a butter sauce, citrus salad, tuna salad, penne/chicken salad, stuffed tomatoes.  A "new" dessert this afternoon was a mocha torte with strawberry sauce.  It's no wonder I came home with 5 extra pounds!  So for the afternoon I got a big glass of orange juice on ice and read a book while moving every so often from sun to shade and back again as I got too hot or too cool.  At right is a picture of a compromise!  While lying there by the pool, I also got a closer picture of the osprey sitting on the rooftop (left above) and we watched an egret catching its supper (below).  Don't look if you're squeamish!

egret catching   egret caught it

We had tried to make reservations for a different restaurant tonight and learned that by 9 AM (when occupancy is high) it's too late.  The concierge told us he gets there at 7 AM and there is already a line formed to get the best times!   So we'll try that tomorrow...  but for tonight we went to Mediterranean night at the buffet.  It included rice and lentils, veggies, jack fish with olives and capers, citrus-y chicken and many other things I don't remember!  We took a walk under the full moon and startled a bunch of gulls who apparently sleep on the beach!  who knew?

Saturday Feb 27

beach closedAt 3 AM this morning, there was a massive earthquake near Conception Chile (8.8).  One result of this was that we were under a tsunami alert for mid-day (10 AM - 3 PM).  They posted yellow "crime scene" tape along the beach (left) and the Mexican Coast Guard canceled all boat activities for the day.  osprey at dawnThe General Manager (Michael Oney) personally came around to each pool and activity area and talked to us about the risks and safety plans.  He said even 15 foot waves would not reach to the building because of the steep shoreline, but that the building was very secure and, if necessary, we should go UP to the top floor, not try to outrun waves by going inland.  As it turns out, we didn't see any effects at all but it calmed people immensely to have him come to discuss the situation and answer questions.  You can imagine many wild rumors were already floating around.

sunriseHowever, we didn't know about any of that when we got up at 6:15 to catch the sunrise.  Being on the west side of the peninsula, we don't get much in the way of sunsets, but the sun rise was lovely.  John took the pre-sunrise picture to the left standing near our building.  The osprey (above right) was also up at dawn!  

John's sunrise After we oohed and ahhed about the lovely morning, we got in line and got a 6:30 PM reservation for Napa.   After breakfast, we hung around at the pool, relaxed, sunned and read; break for lunch, then more relaxing. I discovered that after lunch was a good time to catch a free computer, so I got in the habit of detouring through the lobby on the way back from lunch and doing a quick email check.  When the alert was lifted at 3 PM, we gathered cameras and binoculars and took a walk along the interior section of the estuary that we had not explored yet.  We saw many different kinds of water fowl (coots, teals, wood ducks, ruddys), cormorants, egrets, great blue heron, glossy ibis, a frigate soaring about and what I think was a little blue heron.   From left: double crested cormorants, snowy egret, glossy ibis and little blue heron.  We were interested that the ibis and heron seemed to be buddies.  As we got too close, they would fly off and moved around several times but always stayed together.  Below those pictures are an out of focus picture of a blue-billed ruddy (I couldn't resist including it because that bill was such a bright blue!) and one of my favorite views looking west from along the estuary trail.

double crested cormorants   snowy egret   glossy ibis and little blue heron  

blue-billed ruddy  view west of estuary

We got back hot and sweaty.  I took a quick dip in the pool while John showered, then I had my turn and we went off to check out Napa for dinner.  It's a nice place - à la carte menu, nice stemware (as opposed to the plastic "glasses" we get at the outdoor buffet) and fancy plates.  It is billed as California nouveau cuisine, whatever that might be.  Although there is no set dress code, people do mostly dress up a little bit which was sort of fun.  We both had "crispy ravioli" appetizers - a fried meat-filled noodle. Best evening band John also had gazpacho which he said was good; then he had duck comfit while I had stuffed chicken breasts for the main course.  Both were very good.  The desserts had fancy names and presentation was elaborate (the requisite squiggles on the plates) but honestly, I didn't think they were much better than what we get at the buffet every day!  (That probably just shows my plebeian tastes!)  In any case, it was a pleasant change but not something I'd get up very early for very often.

As we were walking back we heard some good music coming from the show area so walked over to catch the end of the "opener" group.  I don't know their name (if they have one) but I took their picture!  They were playing a wide variety of music very well, including some Andean pipe and string music
, Guantanamera and other types of Latin music.  A nice ending to the day.  

Sunday, Feb 28

Paseo de los CabosI hung around in the sun for a couple hours after breakfast (breakfast at Napa is very much like breakfast at Frutas y Flores except that Napa opens at 7 so when we're up early we head over there).  After the requisite "rest time" we walked down to the Mega (big "everything" store somewhere between Super Target and Walmart) to pick up some "thank yous" for Katie for not only putting us up overnight for two nights but also doing the airport drop off and pickup!  The Paseo de los Cabos (the road leading to the entrance to Mega - picture to the left) is similar to the road into town - wide sidewalks and nicely kept up.

The resorts all along the malecon (that runs along the southern coast) seem quite fancy.  Most are more expensive than the Presidente, but I think (for us at least) the location of the Presidente was better - easy walk into town and right next to the estuary.  I've already commented on the time share/vacation club folks.  It wasn't awful but it gets annoying after a while.  In contrast, when walking into the town of San Jose (rather than along "resort row") we were not approached at all.  
beach jugglersThe Malecon eventually (just past the Mega, I think) runs into Highway 1 that goes all the way to Cabo San Lucas.  Since we were there for relaxation and not looking for lots of action, we never ventured over there.  It looks from the map, though, like the whole corridor between the two towns is lined with hotels and resorts.

hawkAfter lunch I walked the beach again - the only thing different I saw was a pair of jugglers.  Perhaps they were practicing for a show at one of the resorts?  It was fun to watch them for a bit; they were quite good.  I spent the rest of the afternoon lying around (it is vacation, after all), finishing a book and enjoying the sun.  We saw a hawk type of bird that apparently likes to perch on top of the gazebo near our pool.  Someone said it was a falcon but didn't look like that to me.  My best guess is a Cooper's Hawk but I'm open to suggestions if anybody can tell from this picture.  The bartender, Alma, said that the hawk and the osprey would clash on occasion, if one thought the other was encroaching on his territory.  But mostly they seem to co-exist happily.  

sunset at dinnerThis evening when the sun went down it got very windy.  I wore my fleece jacket to supper but many people didn't last long enough to eat - they decided to do room service for this meal!  The temperature was actually fine, it was just the wind.  I took a picture of a bit of sunset from the eating area.  We ate quickly, but interestingly, when we went back an hour later to check the show (it was Circo night) the wind had stopped and it was quite pleasant.  Naturally, I used that as an excuse to have another dessert!  The show was ho-hum.  There were some excellent acts (juggling fire and gymnastics, e.g.) but it didn't hang together well and much of it seemed very silly.  So we watched for a bit, enjoyed some tea and cocoa and then went back to lounge in the room.  

Monday March 1 -

full moon at sunrise Today I learned the difference it makes when the resort is not running at nearly 100% occupancy!  Apparently a lot of people left after the weekend.  There were available lounges all over the place; when I was on the computer after lunch, I heard someone make a dinner reservation at 1:30 PM.  When we went by the buffet area tonight, it looked only about 2/3 full.

John woke up early, took some sunrise pictures (my favorite is the one to the left - the full moon just at dawn) and then made us a reservation at Napa before we went to breakfast.  
Barb on balcony He hiked into town to find the Mercado; I elected to laze around the pool nursing my virgin piña coladas and orange/pineapple juice.  He said the Mercado (market) was much like those in other Mexican towns but it was fairly small - no fondas ("fast food") or fresh herbs and spices.  He did, however, feel it necessary to stop at the French Riviera for sustenance before walking back!   At right, I am on the balcony "dressed" for lunch.  That translates as "throw a coverup over the swim suit."  grin

John at poolIn the afternoon John started out napping while I walked the beach and saw another whale.  It was totally a freak thing - I just picked up the binoculars and started to focus them and there was a whale right there in the direction I just happened to be looking!  Maybe another time we'll do a whale/ dolphin tour.  But we've seen whales in Hawaii and Alaska and just couldn't get too excited about a boat tour this week.

We spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool.  I choose loungers, John likes the chairs.   At supper I had the stuffed chicken breast again (an apple stuffing and wrapped in ham) and John a steak fillet that he enjoyed.  
what bird?

Tuesday March 2 -

Our last morning. frown   We packed and then chose to spend our last couple of hours walking the estuary path.  We didn't see too much different, though I spend an unwarranted amount of time chasing a small yellow bird that somebody told me was a yellowthroat.  I never did get a decent picture of it.  I did catch this fellow to the right but I don't know who he (she?) is.   We bid farewell to one of our egret friends (below) and went back to pack up and check out.  
farewell egret
 It all went smoothly - EPIC picked us up promptly, we went through about 3 layers of security at the airport, had some pizza for lunch.  The flight back was early, customs was easy (partly because John didn't find anything he had to bring home that required a visit to the Ag folks).  

A nice WARM break.  We were happy that the temperatures when we got home were above freezing - that made re-entry a little less painful!

There are more, and larger, pictures (with labels but no commentary) here, if you want to see more waves, birds, cacti, etc!

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