“The Peace” it is called, a town located in a bay near the tip of Baja California Sur, nestled between the Sea of Cortez and the rugged peninsula.
I didn’t come to La Paz looking for anything in particular. It just seemed like a an ideal way to ease myself into Mexico. The sole basis of that choice, was a John Steinbeck novel, one called The Pearl, and later on, Log from the Sea of Cortez.
I had timed my arrival with the start of their Carnaval, the week of excess leading up to Lent. It turned out to be a pleasant distraction for what I ended up doing in La Paz – thawing out from the cold in Seattle, where I had spent the previous three weeks, reacquainting myself with the sun and sea breeze, gathering my thoughts, and also getting some precious sleep, which I was quite deprived of at that point.
Many come to the Sea of Cortez for what lies beneath its surface. The UNESCO world heritage listed gulf is considered one of the most diverse bodies of water on the planet (though overfishing is making its consequences felt), and aside from conservation, there is an array of game fishing, sailing and various other water-based activities to enjoy. But I didn’t set foot in the water once. Instead, I wandered for hours everyday along the Malecon, its seafront boardwalk (made of cement), looking out over the water as the sun slid below the craggy horizon of the peninsula, breathing in the salt and light and quiet around me. The Malecon seems built for those of us to whom walking is a daily salvation.
Stretching for miles along the town’s sea front, it was an amalgamation of contrasts to this stranger’s eye. Resorts, bars, and thatched shelters dot its beaches for enjoyment, yet as the last of the light faded, fishermen would pull their boats up on the sand, gather and mend their nets before leaving for home, while their vessels hunkered in the sand like sleeping animals waiting for a new day.
After the sun went down, the festivities of Carnaval would commence, closing off a long section of the main street. Carnaval in La Paz is nothing like the debaucherous glitter and glamour of the same festival in Rio de Janeiro, more a family-friendly fair that included many popular music acts. I spent hours there every night, enjoying the luxury of live performances, which I experience very rarely, shooting where I could, and in general just taking it all in.
La Paz was not the Mexico that I expected, not that I had a huge amount of expectation to begin with. But as a new traveler without the experience to filter and balance information, so much of what I read on the internet had me almost convinced that Mexico would a veritable hive of scum and villainy. La Paz is nothing at all like that. I walked around on my own late at night completely unmolested, and despite the fact that I didn’t speak Spanish and few locals spoke English, everyone that I stopped to ask for assistance (mostly in pantomime, with whatever newly acquired Spanish phrases I had at hand) was remarkably helpful, and in many cases, persisted until they were satisfied that they had assisted me in some measure.
The internet has given Mexico a bad reputation. One that La Paz at least, doesn’t deserve.
Muchas gracias to my host Steve for his generosity and the sanctuary of his home.