Money Changes Everything (cont.)

Nov 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

DRIVING AWAY from Las Ventanas is an instantaneous phase change, like one of those rare multiple-personality disorders where Mr. X doesn't know Mr. Y exists except with help from drugs and deep hypnosis. Exit Mr. White Linen Pants. Enter Mr. Hiking Sandal, who goes cheap with the same mad enthusiasm with which a Las Ventanian throws around money, nursing a smug sense of superiority over the fools paying huge to stay in soulless big hotels, where you partake not at all of local culture and ecology. Señor Mañana, yeah, man, is the real deal. Check out the surfboard and kayaks in the raked-dirt yard and the adopted street dog—that's Chica—saying, "Buenos días."

Owned by an expat couple from Fairbanks, Alaska, Señor Mañana is amazingly up to gringo snuff. Every one of the eight guest rooms has its own john and shower, and there's a raised open-air common kitchen and sitting room. Add thatch roofing, shade from tropical foliage, and hammocks and the place takes on a grub-ass, proudly humble look. Marga Bearden, the mom half of the mom-and-pop owners, says her price is low largely because of three conspicuous absences: (a) the beach, (b) a pool, (c) air conditioning. I hear her, but in the honeymoon opening hours, the place still seems miraculously complete—for the money.

A half-block walk gets you to the plaza in San José del Cabo, population 25,000, the quiet, historic, thinking person's city in Los Cabos. My half-day of around-town prowling turns into a local-food-stand binge. With Ms. Bearden as guide and companion, I go from a shrimp taco to pork carnitas on a bun to stewed goat meat in a bowl, called birria. The goat, cooked to fraying fibers and swimming in a deep-red broth, is as good, in its way, as anything I had at Las Ventanas, and it costs less than the minibar Pringles.

Then—damn the low end anyway—comes the hellish night. I toss in sweaty discomfort and curse the lack of air conditioning (management says this is no problem at all in winter tourist season) until the predawn arrives blessedly cool and full of promise. Unlike Las Ventanas, Señor Mañana shoots its guests out into the world every morning. First I head out on Jessy, a 22-foot open runabout (or panga), which is to sportfishing boats what Señor Mañana is to resort properties. The skipper, Lupe Miranda, seems annoyed after a few hours of trolling yields nada. I try to assure him that seeing dolphins and a leatherback turtle and a still sea flattened and polished by the sun suffice, but then at the last possible moment he connects me with a hefty dorado (a.k.a. mahi-mahi) that fights for almost a half-hour. Gracias, Capitán. Fishing without catching sucks.

It would have been bad, too, to get dizzy-hot on a postfishing hike in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna without the final plunge into a cliff-backed pool at the base of a narrow waterfall. After another night in sweaty sheets, I make my peace with the agony-ecstasy rhythm of life at Señor Mañana. At 6 a.m. the alarm goes off and the eyes open. Rise and shine, says Mr. Tomorrow. You're going kayaking.

The goal of the guided trip with the outfitter Baja Wild is Land's End, where there is no more Baja and the Sea of Cortez meets its mother, the Pacific. I declare this a lifetime top-ten paddle even before a sea lion launches itself onto a rock and poses, head straight up. This brain poster, good until I die, costs $50. It couldn't be improved by spending $50,000. Throw in a $10 guide's tip and the kayaking costs 18.5 percent of the ticket for my Seventh Heaven spa extravaganza at Las Ventanas.

The thought, which is startling, invites comparison and judgments about which experience is really worth it. But they refuse to be compared, even while one is fresh and the other is actually happening. Only an idiot would damage such fabulous moments trying to do cost-benefit. Just because killer street food costs $3, that doesn't make my $13.75 martini and $106.25 dinner two nights ago a bad deal. New Lamborghinis and 15-year-old Nissans have equal rights to existence and love, as do Las Ventanas and Señor Mañana. Judge not, spake the Cosmic Dollar. They're both worth it.

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