Saturday, December 12, 2009

The La Paz Vortex

La Paz is like Hotel California: You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave...

We arrived in La Paz the first time a week before American Thanksgiving and stayed 11days. After spending the next 11 days in the Islands further north in the Sea of Cortez, we returned here 2 days ago with the intention of staying overnight and moving on to make our crossing to the mainland. But it's so hard to get off the dock. If it weren't for some friends that we are meeting in Mazatlan on the 17th, we might have stayed for longer.

We fully understand why so many arrive in La Paz and never leave. In fact, we have met many of those people. La Paz is everything wonderful about Mexico without any of the bad stuff. The people are friendly, happy, helpful. They are family-oriented, they love their celebrations, and they are colorful. But there are no vendors trying to sell you stuff on the beach or elsewhere, we have seen no begging or poverty, and the city is relatively clean. Okay, so there are no zoning laws that we can see, but it is a pretty civilized place.

The population, as we've been told, is about 100,000. It's a 'government town', being the capital of Baha Sur (the southern half of the Baja Peninsula) and as such receives a lot of government money. There is the traditional cathedral opposite the central plaza where bingo is played on Saturday nights, a cultural center, a malacon (boardwalk) where locals regularly stroll, and yes, Home Depot just had it's grand opening on December 6 [that's not to say it's a quick in and out - our friends who visited today said it took them several hours to do their shopping]. We were lucky enough to be here during Revolution Day celebrating Mexico's freedom from dictatorship in 1910, with parades, music in the streets, traditional dance performances, and lots of fun. Mexicans know how to throw a party.

And then there's the Bread Guy. That's seriously what he calls himself. He's a transplanted American - one of those guys who arrived 10 years ago and never left - and he runs a small bakery with amazing breads. We have visited his shop three times, and the bread has never made it home with more than a few crumbs.

The big resorts and condos have not yet made it here to La Paz, which is what makes the city so charming. There are not many tall buildings yet dotting the coastline, most of the Mexicans you deal with in the shops off the malecon (boardwalk) do not speak English, and for better or worse, it does not have any of the toursity hub-bub of Cabo San Lucas. We have found our way around nicely, mostly on foot, as the city streets are all on a grid - no windy streets to get lost in. From what we can see, there are no shanties here.

Within the marina / cruisers world, it's an incredibly easy place to be. There is a daily 'Net' which I referred to in an earlier post, run by Club Cruceros which also has a clubhouse and coffee hour every day just outside the Marina de la Paz (check out their website at The Net begins at 8 a.m. every morning except Sunday on VHF Channel 22 (remember the 'party line' I posted about?) and is led by different English speaking North Americans living in La Paz. It begins with daily arrivals/departures, mail call from the local marinas, marina announcements, Club Cruceros announcements, rides and crew (anyone looking for a ride or crew), local events, local assitance, and swaps and trades. Because one cannot sell anything for money here unless you are a Mexican citizen or have a vendor's licence, when someone has something to 'swap or trade', often you'll hear them say they've got something to sell 'for coconuts'. We bought some extra line (rope) for coconuts that happened to be made into paper with faces on it. As for local assistance, I found out you can find veggie burgers at the CCC supermarket.

And we've made some great friends. So much so that when we left for the islands, we actually had a crowd waving us off at the docks. Harrison even commented: "Finally, a crowd to send us off!" I'll write more about these friends in another blog post, but we've had a great time with them - many meals shared, laughs, playdates with the kids, borrowing eggs, limes and zucchini. I imagine that this is what it was like in the 60's when neighbors were really neighbors, and you spoke to each other daily, not by phone but because you were outside hanging laundry or fetching kids, or walking to the store. You pick things up at the store for your friends. You take their kids when they are trying to get boat projects done and they do the same for you. The men talk about boat equipment and projects and the women talk about homeschooling, food and cooking, grocery shopping, and the luxuries we found locally or the ones we miss from home. Back home I would find this division almost insulting, yet here there is a comforting simplicity to it all.

Because of the kid boats, our kids have gained a tremendous amount of freedom and independence. They roam freely within the marina (the gates are locked) and the Clubhouse playground, so long as they are together with other kids and let us know by VHF radio when they change locations or go to someone else's boat. We've even tried buddy homeschooling (Harrison went to one of his friend's boats and one of Danielle's friends came to our boat) - it actually went quite smoothly too.

For the boys between ages 6-9, you'd think you were on Leave It to Beaver. They spend hours on end fishing off the docks, or pulling barnacles off the sides of the docks and dissecting them, or setting off paper boats in the water to see whether they will sink, or keeping pet hermit crabs or fish or who knows what else. There is a bit of a wider range in age for the girls - Danielle's friends range between 10 and 15, and they often look after a 4 year old. Everyone loves swinging from the halyard on our boat or someone else's boat, although I can never watch that activity as I imagine them coming in straight for the mast and sliding down like the coyote does in the Roadrunner cartoon.

When we returned to La Paz after being away for nearly two weeks, it felt great to come into a familiar port. We knew the ropes already - where to shop, where to go for dinner, where to find someone to do some boat work. And it was great to see some familiar faces too.

There won't be a crowd in the morning waving us off as we'll be setting out at 6 a.m. to make it to our next anchor by sundown. We had to say our goodbyes tonight, but we'll be seeing many of our new friends on the mainland over the next month or so. Someone's gotta leave first, but it sure w0uld be easy to stay put for another little while.

Signing off from La Paz,


  1. Wow - all these places sound incredible. I love reading your blogs, It's like we are all living it thru you guys. Send love hugs and kisses Sha

  2. I really look forward to your posts. They are so descriptive that I feel like I am on the trip with you. Thank you so much for sharing all of your adventures and bringing us along with you in spirit.

    I would love to hear more about the boating friends you have made. They sound wonderful. Are most of the families just sailing for a year or two? Have you noticed any similarities in the reasons why they decided to take to the high seas?

    I am so glad you are having a good time. Can't wait for the next post.

  3. It does in a way sound like living in "the old times." I guess you have an instant connection with boaters as you are all in the "same boat" - PUNN INTENDED!! Nice to know you can depend on your neighbours - not like now where neighbours barely even see each other, especially in the weather we are having!
    Enjoy it all.

  4. Just returned from Ottawa last night - all is well with Natalie (she looks great) and family - had an enjoyable visit - especially with Toby who is starting to talk (between English and French and understands both well!)...and checked into your blog to discover 6 postings!
    La Paz sounds amazing - I can tell from your descriptions that I would also love it - a nice simple carefree life with caring neighbours and friends - and fun for the kids as well.
    Enjoy your sail across to the mainland - Allan just showed me where you were - we keep following you everywhere.
    Love you all...