Cabo Grows Up

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

A writer balances partying down and growing up at the tip of Baja.

Anicka Quin

Cabo. The name conjures up images of buff So-Cal youths hanging upside down for tequila shots at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo. If that sounds awesome(!), then you and my 1995 incarnation would get along like a casita on fire. But now that I’m a little closer to 40 than 30 (and by a little I mean a lot), the all-night party scene at my vacation destination is less of a pull than it once was.

But, lately, Los Cabos—the twin towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, on the tip of the Baja peninsula—has also come to signify a stratum of vacation that calls to me: infinity pools, private beaches, towel valets and haute cuisine. Chilled pineapple skewers delivered poolside instead of late-night pizza slices eaten curbside. These days, Cabo is more Jennifer Aniston (who famously held her 41st birthday here), less Megan Fox.

As my cab rolls up to my low-slung resort I know I’m on the right track. The beachside Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf and Spa Resort is designed in the classic style of a Mexican hacienda, with ochre-toned buildings winding through 28 acres of sprawling gardens. There are fountains and songbirds. The place whispers, “Relax, this is a Hagar-free zone.”

I arrive too late to hit the beach, but a Five Star Diamond Award-winning beachside restaurant, De Cortez Grill and Restaurant, fits the bill for an easy transition into vacation mode. At first the stiff ocean breeze wants to force me inside, but our server knowingly assures me to wait for sunset—when, true to form, the wind slackens, then disappears altogether. I opt for a local organic shrimp salad, and move on to tuna that’s been scented with clove and garlic and topped with rich pancetta and spring onions—along with a sweet chimichurri sauce that nods to our locale. I’m surprised by and enamoured with the Mexican pinot noir the waiter recommends. I end the night with an icy glass of local liqueur Damiana, made from the flower of a shrub of the same name—a little like ending the meal with a sweet herbal tea.

The Rubenesque woman on the Damiana bottle—local legend says the elixir boosts fertility—looks a little like my own reflection these days, but the next morning I don my two-piece anyway and head down to lounge by the—I’m relieved to discover—decidedly grown-up pool. A concierge offers to polish the sunscreen off my sunglasses. The 12-foot waves on the beach in front of me are too rough for swimming, but they sure make for pleasant audio accompaniment to a day where my toughest decision is which fruit-laden drink to order for happy hour. My workout consists of periodically lifting the 1,000 or so pages of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I’m pretty sure a few days pass this way (time becomes an elastic concept under such conditions), but one afternoon I seek a reprieve from the relentless pampering and head into the nearby small town of San Jose del Cabo. Where Cabo San Lucas is urban big city, San Jose del Cabo is a sweet Mexican village of vintage adobe buildings, winding streets and an interesting art district—all charming and age-appropriate. But just off the main square I catch sight of a sign that says “Shooters” and I allow myself to investigate. I head up to the rooftop bar—just getting going at this early hour—and chat with the owner. It turns out that Terry Erickson is a Calgarian by way of Whitewood, Saskatchewan, who drove down to Cabo to stay for a week—nine years ago. His charming open-air canteen prides itself on offering “the only 10-peso beer in Los Cabos,” which might be a bad thing, if it weren’t an icy Corona, paired with decent guacamole in friendly grass-hut-style environs. It’s also ground zero for playoffs games, and though Erickson is a Flames fan, he keeps that under wraps from his mostly Vancouverite customer base on Canucks night. “I know which way my bread is buttered,” he laughs.

Back at the hotel, a nighttime beach stroll brings me past a happy wedding circle gathered around a campfire. There’s a lot of light revelry, good spirits and a cache of marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers for a late-night ’smores party. This is my kind of beach party. In the distance, fireworks light up the night, their crash challenged only by the roaring surf.

On my final night I decide to introduce my old self to my new self—there will be tequila, but it will be a decidedly adult and expensive tasting of handcrafted expressions of the spirit (see “4 Shame-free Tequilas,” page 84, for the results). In lieu of the traditional salt and limes, each tasting—from the young and herbal blanco to the smoky aged añejo—is followed by the house’s special recipe of sangrita (literally, “little blood,” not to be confused with the Spanish sangria). Its blend of fresh pineapple, grapefruit and orange juice—with some cilantro and jalapenos thrown in—both warms us with its spiciness and cleanses our palates as we move on to the stronger stuff. The shudder that tequila used to bring on is replaced by a smile at the rich añejo—vanilla-scented, with more in common with a single-malt Scotch than the shooter version that is the siren call for every college freshman.

Feeling both mature and pleasantly warm I head into the heart of Cabo San Lucas. I’m wisely avoiding the whistles of the shooter girls and their happy customers in the famed dive bar El Squid Roe when I’m drawn to what sounds like live Mexican music down a side street. It’s a second-floor karaoke bar projecting the vocal theatrics above down to bypassers below. I stroll up the stairs, take in the festive atmosphere and, courtesy of that last añejo, slap my name on the singer list—a bold decision that seems less and less wise as my turn approaches. Finally my name is called and I timidly approach the stage. As the supportive, largely Mexican, crowd starts cheering me on, it isn’t long before the host and I are belting out “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” Deep in song I’ve already forgotten that I’m also serenading the legions of party­goers stumbling out of El Squid Roe below. It seems you can take the girl out the party, but Los Cabos brings the party back to the girl.

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