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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

The Esperanza, Cabo San Lucas

For decades, the sun and sea, seclusion and siestas, and the simplicity of visiting a foreign country so close by, have lured American tourists to Mexico. Destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Manzanillo built their fame with celebrity gossip. Taylor and Burton made Puerto Vallarta romantic. Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura battled an alien "Predator" in Mazatlan's nearby jungle. An erotic Bo Derek and her braided corn rows in "10" were framed on the beaches of Manzanillo. But celebrity wasn't the lure for Americans to Los Cabos. It was the great fish and the fact that it was but a two-hour flight from Los Angeles.
Los Cabos sits at the tip of the Mexican state of Baja California. It's a 20-mile long strip of desert and beach anchored by two small towns - Cabo San Lucas and the sleepier Mexican village, San Jose del Cabo. There are seven golf courses and more on the way. There are sprawling luxury resorts, condos, and time shares and more sprouting amidst palms and cactus every day.
Cabo San Lucas, sits at the point of Baja California, with the Sea of Cortez on one side, the Pacific on the other. The weather is certainly better there than in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, or Cancun. It's less humid and it's not in the hurricane belt. And so Cabo can consider itself an almost year round resort with perhaps only three or four weeks of poor weather - the wet and hot last weeks of August and early September.
I am not a fisherman. But Cabo is famous as a sports fishing mecca. "Highest catch rate zone for Pacific Striped Marlin," one sporting magazine raved. "For variety, action, and big time fishing, it just doesn't get better," another said. So, I took the bait, hired a 31-foot charter boat, and set out to try my hand at the sport. But like a loser in Vegas, I was left poorer and somewhat disenchanted. A full day's charter for 5 people cost about $600. I had placed my faith in a local captain and crew to show off Cabo's famous seas supposedly alive with marlin, swordfish, and tuna. We caught sight of a single great fish that ignominiously passed us by. The most exciting thing about the trip was catching sight of the ancient city of Troy, built on the outskirts of Cabo as a set for the latest Brad Pitt potboiler. I can well understand why there are fishermen's tales. I can't brag about eight nauseous hours at sea. So, I'll have to work on my tale about "the one that got away."
If you're a fishing aficionado, I'm sure you can balance my tale of woe with a great fish story. But I won't go to Cabo again for the fishing. I will go though for the welcoming Mexican ambiance, the clubs and restaurants, the weather, and a glorious meeting of sand and sea.
Cabo has some wonderful resorts. Los Ventanas and Twin Dolphins have been renowned in years past. But Cabo's newest resort, the Esperanza (866-311-2226), which opened in February 2002, is incomparable. Travel and Leisure magazine recently ranked Los Ventanas as one of the top 100 hotels worldwide. They must not have had the opportunity yet to visit the new Esperanza. There you'll find beachfront opulence with every amenity imaginable and unsurpassable luxury, service, and location.
Winters in Baja are refreshingly warm, ideal for those anxious to get away from colder climes. But while you would expect the tip of Baja to be unbearably hot during the summer months, during the week I spent there at the end of July and beginning of August, I found the weather wonderful, with warm, dry air bathed with cool ocean breezes. And I discovered that in Cabo, while you can't buy a great fish, you can buy paradise. And the Esperanza was indeed paradise.
The resort is about 45 minutes from Cabo's airport and just about 6 kilometers from the town of Cabo San Lucas. You enter through a grand arched gateway, past a dramatic fountain with bronze whale flukes erupting from the water. Esperanza, with its exclusive private beaches and stunning desert surroundings, sits as the centerpiece of Punta Ballena, meaning Whale's Point, one of Cabo's premier seaside residential communities with private homes that run from $1.6 million to $12 million and more - most second homes for wealthy Americans.
There are 50 casitas in eight 3 and 4-story buildings set on a gentle bluff that slopes down to two private sandy coves. The 17-acre property is laced with palm trees and bougainvillea. Winding stone paths lead you to the terra-cotta colored casitas or villas, each topped with a tropical palapa roof, made of intertwined palm leaves, with patios and entries supported by unique polished wooden beams wrapped with broad vines. Each casita has views of the ocean and one of the resort's two infinity edge pools. From one pool you can see Cabo's famous Land's End Arch at the tip of the peninsula. The Mexican style rooms are spacious with original artwork, wonderfully comfortable king size beds, stereo, DVD, and CD players, and outdoor patios or terraces. Rates run from $350 - $1025 depending on season and level. Those on the top level have outdoor private jacuzzi's. The others have hammocks on outdoor terraces. In each room, you'll find complimentary fruit, binoculars for whale watching, stone-clad spa tubs, and showers with dual shower heads and casement windows that overlook the sea. They're ideal settings for a romantic couple or a peaceful interlude. The best deal however are the resort's 36 residential villas - 2400-3100 square foot, fully equipped, and luxuriously furnished 2 and 3-bedroom villas that are being marketed as "fractional ownership" properties but are usually available for resort guests. The villa rates, depending on season, run from $750 to $1425/night. If you have a family or a group of friends that wants to vacation together in wonderful comfort and in an exquisitely beautiful setting, an Esperanza villa is an unparalleled experience. Each residence displays handcrafted furnishings, gourmet kitchens, and lavish baths in every room. All have expansive outdoor patios with pocket doors that open the entire living area to the outside tropical air. And some have private patio pools surrounded by red, pink, and yellow hibiscus.
And service at the Esperanza is extraordinary. There are nearly 4 service staff per guest. There's 24-hour concierge service, in-residence dining and room service, a swim-up bar and poolside service, and, if you're planning to stay in one of the residences, you can even request the resort to do pre-arrival shopping to stock your refrigerator and bar with your favorite items.
The Esperanza's restaurant overlooks the Sea of Cortez and serves California-Mediterranean cuisine with a taste of Mexico. You can dine inside with ocean views or alfresco on a large terrace that juts out over the sea with white surf breaking dramatically below.
The resort has a fitness facility and a full service spa with signature therapeutic massages and revitalizing treatments. These purification rituals use a lot of fresh fruits like avocado, papaya, and mango for facials and body wraps. You can even renew yourself with a Corona beer facial. Lime included, I'm sure.
You can also indulge in free yoga lessons or salsa classes, hike nearby desert trails, try kayaking in the hotel's private cove or seek out other Cabo adventures - surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, paragliding, deep sea fishing, or that dry land sport, golfing. And of course there's sightseeing, shopping, and dining in local towns that can be arranged by the concierge.
There are several good restaurants in Cabo San Lucas. We enjoyed Edith's, one with a view of the marina and city lights that serves great steaks and seafood in a charming Mexican outdoor ambiance with the requisite strings of overhead lights and meandering mariachis. I remain befuddled however by the fact that despite all the tourist money that must fill the coffers of Mexican tourist towns, like Cabo, their infrastructure remains on the "manana" schedule of completion. Edith's, as well as many first class clubs and restaurants, are found down unpaved, dirt roads, or along broken sidewalks that would make a convention of ambulance chasing American lawyers salivate.
Downtown Cabo is still a mecca for spring break hellions and youthful lovers frequenting raucous bars that range from New York classy to Mexican seedy. There's El Squid Row, that lights up the center of town, Cabo Wabo, Van Halen-owned, and the Giggling Marlin. And along the marina, starting with Margaritaville, there's a collection of bars and restaurants that draw both tired old fisherman and libido driven young. There are also farmacias on every corner selling America's latest prescription candy over the counter, from Viagra to Prozac.
While there are miles of gorgeous and near-isolated white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters in Cabo, and great spots for surfing or snorkeling, there are no hotels or resorts that have truly swimmable beaches. Cabo's waters drop precipitously deep just a few meters from shore. This terrain makes for gorgeous breaking waves and great surfing but somewhat more dangerous waters with fierce undertows for more sedate beachside swimmers.
I found my Cabo nirvana floating in the Esperanza's infinity edge pool in soothingly cool, beautiful, wet limbo between sea and sky hearing nothing but the soothing sound of waves. After awhile, I paddled up to the bar for fresh seafood salsa, chips, and a margarita. I could have been anywhere, Tahiti, the Caribbean. All that was missing in this Mexican paradise was Mexico. And suddenly, that was there too. On Thursdays, the Esperanza presents its Mexicanismo night with lanterns illuminating a poolside dining area, a buffet displaying dishes from every region of Mexico, mariachis entertaining with brass and guitars. They even bring in street vendors to display their local wares to you poolside. And the evening culminates with a grand display of fireworks that paint a star drenched night sky and re-paint the sea below.
The Esperanza resort has dreams for sale. If you plan to visit Cabo - don't let this great catch pass you by.