Los Barriles Trip Report (Baja)

Los Barriles Trip Report (Baja)

Post by bruce whi » Wed, 06 Dec 1995 04:00:00

Nov. 23, 1995
I arrived at the Los Cabos airport and was surprised to step out of the
plane into balmy 90 degree weather. Opening day for Vela was Nov. 22,
and I was the only person on the plane who was headed to the East
Cape. I decided to take the bus to Los Barrilles. Vela's "Baja Tips and
Facts" flyer describes the bus as a "much less expensive but more time-
consuming and adventurous alternative to reach Los Barriles". Since I
was not in a rush, I decided to try some adventure. Vela recommended
waiting for the bus at the downtown bus station, so I took a cab to
downtown San Jose de Cabo. I waited at the station, which was really
just a dirt parking lot and small office next to a Mexican restaurant, for
under an hour and then boarded the bus to La Paz.

The bus was not air-conditioned and it was rather warm as it started its
trip north. It made stops to pick up and drop off passengers at various
points on the road. It also turned off the main road at a few small towns
including Santa Anita, Miraflores and Santiago.

I had stayed with Vela in  Los Barriles in 1991, and vaguely
remembered how to get to the hotel. It was now dark outside, and I
couldn't recognize where anything was. I told the bus driver that I
needed to go to Los Barriles, but he didn't understand my
pronunciation. Fortunately I was sitting next to a gentlemen who was
fluent in English and Spanish, so he was able to translate for me and
instruct the driver where I wanted to go.

At one point the bus driver slammed on the brakes to avoid crashing
into a bunch of cattle who were in the middle of the road. It was a fairly
close call! A burning odor filled the bus, I wasn't  sure if it was from the
brakes or the engine.

Los Barriles is not a regular stop on the road to La Paz. The driver first
asked me if I wanted to get off at the Pemex station. I told him that I
needed to go to the Playa del Sol hotel (which I thought was further up
the road). After driving a little further he pulled over at a sign that said
"Hotel". Los Barriles is not marked by any street signs, so if you had
not visited the area before it would be rather hard to find at night.

I retrieved my four pieces of luggage from the bus and was left standing
in the pitch black darkness at the side of the road. I hoped that this was
the right spot, and loaded my bags on my luggage cart. I started to walk
down the side of the hill and my cart fell over. Then I finally started to
walk down the side of the road which leads into town in almost total

I headed toward the end of the street where I thought the hotel was.
The Palmas de Cortez hotel had its name painted on the wall at the end
of the street, so I knew that I was in the right neighborhood, since the
Playa del Sol was just north of the Palmas de Cortez.

At this point I turned left onto a dirt road. At this point I saw a sign on a
driveway which said Vela, and it had an arrow which pointed to the left.
I figured that this meant that the hotel was the next driveway over. The
gate to the driveway was closed, which I thought was unusual. I opened
it up and started to walk down the dark driveway. I then realized that I
was walking down the driveway of a private house, and expected guard
dogs to come out and start attacking me. I turned around and went back
out to the street gate, closing the gate behind me.

I figured that Vela must be just next door, so I started to walk down the
dirt road again.

All of a sudden my leg fell through the ground and my luggage almost
toppled over. I had fallen through the cattle grate which is near the
entrance to the Vela property! I didn't see it in the darkness. Fortunately
I didn't hurt my leg and I regained my composure.

I finally made my way to the Playa del Sol office. By this time I was
sweaty, dirty and rather frazzeled. I hoped that I didn't miss the
Thanksgiving dinner. Since so few people were staying at the Playa del
Sol, dinner was going to be served at the Palmas de Cortez.  I took a
quick shower and was driven to the Palmas in a really beat up Suzuki

There were alot of people waiting outside the dining room, apparently
dinner had not been served yet. A few minutes later the dining room
doors were opened, and I entered. The large unfinished concrete room
which I had looked into 4 years ago had been transformed into a
beautiful s*** restaurant. The Thanksgiving dinner was excellent, and
I was rather surprised at the quality of the meal.

After dinner I walked back up the beach to the Playa del Sol. Orion was
rising over the Sea of Cortez. It was a beautiful end to a somewhat
hectic day of travelling.

The bus cost only 15 pesos (about 2 dollars) and the cab to the bus stop
was 6 dollars. I don't recommend taking the bus if you have alot of
luggage, don't speak Spanish, or are arriving late in the afternoon. It
took two hours to reach Los Barriles, not the one and a half mentioned
in Vela's information sheet. Taxis/vans are much more expensive - $80 -
but if you are taking your own equipment it's the way to go. The other
alternative is to rent a car at the airport and be careful dodging the

Nov. 24 - Friday
I awoke to the sounds of the waves crashing *** the beach and palm
trees shaking in the wind. This was a good sign, an omen of what was to
be an excellent day of windsurfing.

Ernesto gave me an orientation to the equipment. Vela is using F2 and
Seatrend boards this year, and in 1991 the fleet was primarily Mistral.
The hotel looked pretty much the same as 4 years ago. There were a
handful of fisherman at the hotel and only three or four people
(including myself) who were sailing with Vela. With almost 90 boards
and 100 sails rigged and ready to go, we'd have the pick of the fleet for
the length of our stay.

I sailed an Axis 270, and I think a 5.0 sail. I was fully powered up and
had trouble spinning out while heading away from shore. The swell was
large, and we were requested to launch either upwind or downwind of
the hotel due to the shore break. There's small slippery round rocks all
over the launch site, and some have barnacles on them, so booties are

There was a dozen fishing boats anchored offshore, more than in 1991.

One of the other sailors was not too far out when a whale was spotted
fairly close to him! He didn't see it, but was told about it later.

Dinner was at the Palmas, because there were not enough guests staying
at the Playa del Sol. They are both owned now by the same woman -
"Cha Cha" - who has a large house next to the Palmas. She also owns
another hotel further south which primarily caters to fishermen.

Nov. 25 - Saturday
The wind was lighter and I decided to try am Axis 278. I found it hard
to plane, I was using 6.0 and 6.5 sails. I returned it and took out an
older Xenon, which is a bigger slalom board. I was able to handle this
better than the Axis 270, and had a good session on the water.

At one point I saw a fairly large sting ray as I was headed out.

Nov.26 - Sunday
No wind! I tried a kayak for the first time, paddled north. In the
afternoon I took out a mountain bike and went south of town to the
monument which overlooks the entire region. It is a magnificent view. I
headed over to the Rancho Buena Vista hotel. A blue marlin had just
been brought in. It was hung up of the measuring scales and it weighed
in at 175 pounds.

I asked a man if this was considered to be a large marlin, and he told me
that they can be much larger, and last year someone pulled in a marlin
which was so big that when it was hung it to be weighed ahe had to dig
a hole in the sand for the nose to hang freely. The marlin weighed
almost 860 pounds!

Nov. 27 - Monday
No wind again. Carrie led us on a kayak trip to the boulders south of the
hotel, near Mr. Bills. Mario, a doctor who had just finished medical
school in Mexico City, told Carrie to warn us about digging around the
rocks because he saw a case in the local clinic in which a man's fingers
had been bitten by a moray eel a while ago. There were alot of fish just
off the beach.

At night Carrie took a bunch of us to Rancho Leonaro, which is a small
hotel east of Buena Vista. We took the old Vela van which made quite a
racket as we bounced around the long dirt road which led to the hotel.
The lasagna/fish dinner was quite good!

Nov. 28 - Tuesday
The wind returns. I sailed a Xantos 285 most of the time on 6.0 and 6.5
sails. I may have tried an Axis 278 again, but had trouble planing.

Nov. 29 - Wednesday
In the morning I had a good session with an Xantos 285 and a 6.0 sail,
and in the afternoon took out a Axis 270 with a 6.0. I had trouble
getting powered up when coming back to the beach with the Axis,
perhaps the wind had shifted a bit from the previous days.

I was sailing alone in the afternoon and had the entire Sea of Cortez to
myself. At the end of the day I did a screaming downwinder to the
Palmas de Cortez. Mario drove the ATV to meet me and pick up my
board, I walked the sail back up the beach. It was a great session.

Spaghetti at the Palmas.

Nov. 30 - Thursday
Light wind. Carrie gave a lecture on stance in the morning. I tried taking
a 6.5 out on a Xantos 285 but was underpowered.

Chicken dinner at the Palmas.

Dec. 1 - Friday
No wind! Ernesto gave a lecture on low wind jibes, step, carve and lay
down jibes. We then headed in the Vela van for a road trip to Punta
Pescadero. We drove north on the dirt road which leads north out of
Los Barriles. It becomes a rather narrow road which clings to the side of
the hills. There are a few sharp turns with a steep (100 foot?) drop off
just on the right side of the road. The view of the Sea of Cortez was
magnificent, a swwping panorama of the East Cape region. The water
was tranquil and crystal clear.

Punta Pescadero is 8 miles north of Los Barriles. We parked near the
Punta Pescadero hotel, which is perched atop a cliff which overlooks the
water. We walked down to the beach. The conditions were ideal for
snorkeling, and most of the group went out into the water to view the
underwater sights. I walked up the beach which was unoccupied except
for two friendly dogs. I was rather surprised to find a group of beautiful
beach houses which overlooked the water. It was a truly gorgeous
deserted piece of Baja paradise.

I walked back south and took some pictures from the hotel. There's an
air strip at Punta Pescadero and you can arrange for a Cessna to fly you
directly from the Cabo airport to the hotel. Seemed like a great place to
surprise someone with a romantic rendezvous!

I snorkeled for awhile in the warm water. There were lots of colorful
fish just offshore. We headed back to Los Barriles in mid afternoon. It
was an excellent road trip.

When I returned to my room I found that it had been invaded by an
army of ants, who seemed to be feasting on the top of the dresser where
I spilled some orange soda the previous night.

One of the other sailors told me that the first room that he checked into
became infested with ants and he switched rooms. I picked up a bottle
or Raid at the local market and got rid of the ants.

The serenity of the evening was shattered by a concert which was being
held a few blocks away. Mexican music was blasted for hours starting
right after sunset and continued until 2AM or so.

Dec. 2 - Saturday
No wind! I walked down the beach to Mr. Bill's. Mr. Bill has a variety
of equipment, including some
Mistral and F2 boards, and North sails. He's got two guys working for
him, and they told me that they drove down to Los Barriles and were
camping out at North Beach - for several months! Mr. Bill will rent
equipment out on a daily or weekly basis. The prices are less expensive
then Vela. There's a small bed and breakfast located on the beach which
seemed more modern than the Playa del Sol or the Palmas. Mr. Bill had
a smaller fleet than Vela. The launch is probably better, due to less
rocks, but supposedly it's less windy at this part of the beach.

Dec. 3 - Sunday
My last day, and again no wind. There was a road trip to a diving
location which has a large reef, but my plane was leaving in the
afternoon and I didn't have enough time to join the group.

I packed my bags and took a van to the airport.

All in all, I sailed 4 out of 10 days. I received a no-wind voucher for 6
days, which replaced the one that I received in 1991 (for six days as
well). On the flight back the jet passed through lots of clouds and
moisture which probably helped shut the wind off in Los Barriles. I was
told that last season was sailable about 45% of the time. If you go down
with the expectation that you're going to sail only part of the time, then
at least you won't be frustrated that it didn't blow for half the week.

It was a really different experience visiting the Vela center in the
beginning of the season. The hotel was practically empty - many times I
was the only guest who was eating lunch. There's nothing to do at
night, although on one evening we had a bonfire. It was a very relaxing
and laid back atmosphere. The temperature was in the upper eighties at
the hotel and probably 90 or more inland, giving the place a tropical
feeling. The water was 79 degrees in front of the hotel, and you could
sail without a wetsuit. The staff was great - very friendly and upbeat.
One of the instructors (Lynn) is on the cover of the December issue of
Windsurfing magazine.

The food situation has improved considerably with the new owner. In
1991 lunch consisted of a bowl of soup - and that was all! Now lunch
was soup, plus a regular meal, which was generally quite good.
Breakfast was also quite good, you basically ordered whatever you
wanted.  Dinners at the Palmas varied from quite good to kind of bad.

In 1991 I had one of the worst rooms at the hotel. It was one of the
ones in the back, and it was stuffy/moldy and caused my allergies to
flare up.

This time I booked an oceanfront room, which was larger and in better
shape. In 1991 I was there during Christmas week, when the center was
practically full, and it was much more lively. The weeks before and after
Christmas are the busiest, and if you arrive in November or February the
hotel will be much less crowded.

Overall, I had a great time. It would have been even better if I had just a
few more days of sailing. The Sea of Cortez is teeming with life, there
was a large group of dolphins which passed close by one day. In fact,
one sailor saw  morey eels right in front of the hotel when he was
snorkeling in the morning. The water was very clear, especially
compared to 1991, so between windsurfing, bike rides, road trips,
kayaking and snorkeling, there's plenty to enjoy.