Dear Todos Santos,
I wished I were here.
In all my travels, I almost never visit the same place twice. But here I was, wishing it before I even left you the first time, back in March.
And now, through desire and opportunity and friends and turns of good fortune, here I am.
It’s more fun playing tourist when there aren’t any others around
Some said I was crazy to come to you in summer. “Too hot!,” they said. “Too risky!” (summer is hurricane season). “Better to go when it’s nice.” But I already met you at your best. I wanted to meet you at what some consider your worst. And besides, don’t the bumper stickers and fridge magnets and T-shirts for sale around town remind us that there are No Bad Days in Todos Santos? I was sure they were right, that you’d feel magical to me no matter what mood you’re in.
So I came back to you, with your unforgiving 40-degree heat and empty streets and closed restaurants — and, just a few days later, with hurricane Lorena charging up the coast towards us, a direct hit in her plans. She changed her mind in the end and spun her wrath over to the east cape instead, but we were as ready for her as we could have been. We had hoped for some rain, but she left the gift of a surreal sunset in her wake instead. Some long-time residents say they can’t remember ever seeing a more beautiful one.
Un-retouched photo taken after the hurricane that never was.
I spend my early days here falling into rhythm with your sleepy pace. Moving sloth-like in the oppressive heat and humidity; dripping, learning to accept and enjoy an unhurried everything, all the time. Hurrying just isn’t possible. I marvel at your riots of colourful desert flowers and cacti in bloom. I hadn’t realized how alive the desert is.
I wander and chat with not-yet-touristy-weary business owners, those who have chosen to remain open, practicing my weak Spanish. I ask them questions about anything I can think of, using everything I know how to say. I make mistakes. They don’t mind. They have all the time in the world.
Nobody fixes a pair of busted flip flops like abuelo (grandpa) Gustavo does…when you can catch him there.
I drift through town at 10 km/hour with the windows of my dirty truck rolled down, elbow hanging out the driver’s side (it seems somehow more appropriate than cranking on the A/C. Few seem to agree with me). I fall in with the local practice of considering stop signs to be little more than casual suggestions. I clench my jaw as the pavement ends and I’m stuck rattling along your washed-out washboard dirt roads, cranking the steering wheel to and fro to avoid the hellish hollows created by torrential rains that must have visited at some point. The cavernous craters are the only remnants of bygone downpours as I creep down your parched and fractured tracks, choking on your dust (“We need a good rain!,” we exclaim). Dogs bark and chase my wheels.
One of the less treacherous roads outside town
As the dusk begins to spirit the worst of the heat from the air I search out a taqueria with plastic tables and chairs (all the best ones have plastic tables and chairs, and menus in Spanish only, or no menus at all). I settle in and order and lick all the salt off the rim of my margarita glass, a hearty and happy attempt to replenish what I sweat out during the day. I pay the very small cuenta. I go next door and try different flavours of helado at the heladería and try to eat it before it all melts.
I mosey (you are the most moseying kind of pueblo) down to the beach or the town square or back home to my rooftop patio, where I wait to see what colours you’re going to paint across the sky for me this time. I muse that no matter how many scorpions and other little fellows I may have to spirit out of my cozy casita each morning (because no matter where you live here, no matter how fancy your house is, critters visit — this is the desert, and they were here first, after all), you always make it more than worth it. Worth all of it. No Bad Days.
Sorbet sunset from the town square
And then October happens, and just like that you begin to churn back to life. The nights cool a little and sweep a renewed energy along the streets on their freshened breezes. Sandwich boards announcing 2 for 1 cervezas appear out front of previously shuttered restaurants, and your cafes and patios and shops dot with tourists and returning expats again. My souvenir-peddling friends have less time to chat now, instead exchanging passing smiles with me as they slip back into the routine of enticing customers to come in off the street and examine their dangly silver jewelry and hand-painted ceramic plates.
It makes me feel lucky, like I got here in time to discover a you that’s just a bit more real. You, without all your finery.
In the end, we have had what I’m told is unseasonably cool weather for this time of year (mostly mid- to high twenties), with only a few days of that searing heat so many head north to escape. And we’ve had but one almost-brush with a hurricane (though I suppose we’re not completely out of the woods yet).
So, I guess that’s that then, Todos Santos. I was right, and so are the bumper stickers. You couldn’t show me a bad side if you tried.
But I’ve decided to change my flight and stay a little longer, just to be sure.
A table in the sand and a sunset over the Pacific. Both hard to leave.