Travel: Land of happy hours

Richard Holledge checks out the wildlife and people of La Paz, in Mexico's Baja California

Stooping, moustachioed, guitar drooping from one hand, the singer was straight out of central casting - the one who gets shot in some Western bar-room brawl in mid-melancholy lament. At the Camaron Feliz -the Happy Shrimp - he nudges his way into your consciousness and conversation with tentative strums of the guitar. If it's yes to a little trite music, you get the tremulous tenor recital for a few pesos. If no, there's not even a shrug as he shuffles off to the next table.

Yes or no, he is an essential ingredient to a happy hour that stretches from 4pm to 6pm. You order a margarita. You get two. As the afternoon progresses and the sun dips in a blaze of scarlet over the bay of La Paz, in the south of Mexico's Baja California, the waiters get restless as they prepare themselves for the evening trade and save time by serving only one, double margarita - a veritable bucket of crushed ice and alcohol.

Later in the evening our shabby chanteur is at the most pleasing restaurant in the town, Palapa Adriana. Thatched and circular, with waves lapping against the walls, it serves mountains of shellfish and a particularly grumpy-looking red snapper that lies resentfully on the plate, defying you to assault its bony frame.

La Paz is one of those comfortable places you can settle into. Sit in the cheerfully cosmopolitan terrace cafe of La Perla on the sea front, with its half-hearted curio shops, dusty palm trees and moored fishing boats, and you can watch the people pass by, the pelicans swoop and dive. Stay a little further out and lounge by the pool side at La Concha - and enjoy the bonus of a taxi ride to town (pounds 1.75) in a spectacular array of old Chevvies - all fins, crusty chrome and fascias like instrument panels designed for a moon landing.

Better still, take a bus and cab to the beach at Tecalote to sit in the sun drinking Tecate beer with nachos and salsa in a kind of blissed-out inertia.

But you haven't come all this way to sit about. From Tecalote you can take a boat to the sea lion sanctuary off the island of Espritu Santo. It is a gruelling trip, through surprisingly high swell and waves that splash over the side. The sea lions sit on the rocks, swaying their upper bodies in angry unison, bellowing and squabbling. The young bulls posture and fight as if they are starring in a David Attenborough documentary.

Back on dry land, I headed for the cactus-strewn land to the north - and the promise of unlimited beaches and wildlife around the rackety town of Tijuana on the border with the US. Little relieves the monotony of the long, hot journey there, save a few little cafes such as Rositas, on the 132km mark. Here, amid stacks of 7-Up crates, dusty piles of Chiclets and crisps, I sit at a table with blue check cloths, a jar of Nescafe and a bowl of artificial flowers, munching at a burrito filled with something that looks and tastes like corned beef with a piquant salsa. Chickens cluck, budgerigars cheep, and from behind a screen come the deep, satisfied snores of the man of the house.

Back on the bus, we are escorted by sopalitos, white-headed vultures. These keep an eye on our progress, which rewards us with a sudden glimpse of the Sea of Cortes, the promise of sandy beaches and the actuality of a startlingly well-manicured golf course.

Well, we are in RV territory. The Americans have discreetly colonised this area with their huge trailers (Recreational Vehicles) and as you drive into Loreto a caravan of RVs is queuing for petrol, the drivers at the back of the queue keeping in touch with the leaders with walkie- talkies.

Certainly some of the hotels and restaurants are geared to the US trade - not that that detracts from the quality of the sea bass or the charm of the tree-lined little avenues, or spoils the view across the bay to the small, lumpy islands.

The area is probably not much busier than it was in 1697, when the Jesuits made one of their many attempts to colonise the Baja and convert the two main tribes, the Guayacura and the Cochimi. On this successful expedition Bishop Juan Maria Salvetierra led nine Spaniards from the mainland and two natives who landed at Loreto - and stayed. But they probably had little appreciation for the beach along the coast at Huanjatito. Here three or four families hang out in their RVs, watching the setting sun catch the islands in the sea and the scores of pelicans diving for fish, and pretending not to notice the couple skinny-dipping at the far, seductive curve of the bayn

Manana in Mexico: how to achieve it

Getting there The easiest gateway is San Diego, just across the US border from the city of Tijuana. British Airways flies daily via Phoenix, but lower fares may be available from US airlines. Flightbookers (0171- 757 2000) has a fare of pounds 420 including tax, on American Airlines from Gatwick via Dallas, for travel in June. Or find a cheap flight to Los Angeles, around pounds 350 from discount agents; there are direct buses from the airport to Tijuana.

More information Mexican Ministry of Tourism, 60 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DS (0171-734 1058). Note that this office takes a substantial siesta, closing from 1.30-3pm.

News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

    £18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

    Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

    £Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence