Entering the harbor of Cabo San Lucas is one of my favorite on-ship experiences. The dramatic rock formations -- especially the famous El Arco, the nearly perfect arch-shaped one -- present a picture-postcard backdrop as your ship glides into its anchorage. In our case the effect was heightened by the soft, warm early morning light -- what professional photographers and cinematographers call "magic hour." Add to that the image of huge waves crashing into the formations, throwing spray halfway up their flanks. For this we can thank a major storm several days ago in Antarctica, which has sent us these tall rolling swells. Today the weather is clear and breezy, and a step outside onto my balcony was a shocker. In the course of a single sea day (between Acapulco and Cabo), the average morning temperature has dropped dramatically. We're not in the tropics anymore, Toto.
Entering the harbor we joined Holland America's Ryndam, which was already anchored. But Captain Guillou has very considerately dropped our anchor in a spot where our view of El Arco was not blocked by the other ship; our position also put the fantail in a perfect position to enjoy breakfast with the scenic shoreline as a backdrop.
As we enjoyed breakfast, a second Holland America ship, Oosterdam, entered the bay, dropping anchor starboard and aft of us. Finishing our meal we made our way down to the Constellation Theater, where those on shore excursions were gathering. All of the options here were centered on the ocean and seacoast, though a couple of excursions included land tours as well. Beaches, sportfishing, kayaking, glass-bottom boats and catamaran sails were the primary focus. We chose the "Sea-Kayaking Eco-Adventure," which was to last 2 1/2 hours and cost $38.00 per person.
Our excursion began with a tender trip into the municipal pier at the outer end of the recently built-up marina, from which we boarded water taxis for a short run to a beach on the outer edge of the marina directly across the harbor opening. There, before disembarking, we all removed our shoes and any clothing we wanted to keep dry. (The shore excursion department suggests wearing swimsuits with cover-ups and bringing a towel.) All of our gear that we wanted to protect from dousing was packed into a watertight tub and stowed aboard a chase boat that would accompany us.
Jumping from the water taxi to the beach proved the wisdom of stripping down pre-emptively: with the high surf tossing our boat about, most of us landed in waist-deep water, not on dry sand. Once on the beach we were fitted for swim fins and handed masks and snorkels (for those who wished to snorkel at Lover's Beach, our planned destination, a spot reachable only by water and that has the distinction of being one of the few beaches in the world which joins two seas -- the Sea of Cortes and the Pacific Ocean). Then we received an orientation by our paddling leader, Gary, which included instructions on paddling, launching and beaching our bright, plastic, two-person, sit-atop kayaks.
Then it was down to the real business of kayaking as we launched from the beach, aiming for El Arco and the surrounding rocks a mile and a half away at Land's End, the tip of the cape. It became apparent that both the wind and waves had kicked up since Mariner's anchoring and Gary informed us, regrettably, that it was unlikely that we would be able to kayak through the arch in El Arco, normally the highlight of the excursion; the swells were simply too high. Furthermore, we were going to have to find an alternate to Lover's Beach as the surf there was pounding the rocks pretty hard. But off we went, we intrepid paddlers, dodging waves, fishing boats, and the nearly continuous stream of tenders running to and from the anchored ships. Along the way Gary kept up a running commentary on the rock formations and fauna (there isn't a whole lot of "flora" in Cabo, save saguaro cactus and other desert plants), and a bit about the two seas whose confluence we were approaching. It was easy enough for Gary to speak to all of us at the same time; we had the wind and waves at our backs, which made it easy to remain in a tightly-packed group despite the range of our physical abilities and ages. We continued on to the beginning of the rock formations at Land's End, but we were unable to get into the open Pacific or go through El Arco. We were, however, able to get up close and personal with a colony of sea lions along the rocky shore.
Then it was time to reverse direction and paddle back toward our departure point, with a stop planned at an alternate beach, since Lover's Beach was inaccessible. Immediately upon making our turn the difference in paddling with the wind and waves against us became obvious, and what had started out as a tightly-packed little group stretched further and further apart -- no problem since Gary guided at the front of the group and the chase boat escorted the last kayaks in line.
Reaching the designated beach we beached our kayaks while Gary paddled back to stay with the stragglers. All told more than a half-hour separated the first kayaks to reach the beach and the last to arrive. Once we were all together Gary announced that because of the difficult paddling conditions we wouldn't be kayaking back to the original put-in point; we were going to transfer to glass-bottom boats to get out to El Arco under power to see what we had been forced to exclude from our morning paddle out. And, of course, on our way, we were able to see some of the fish and reefs through the glass viewing panel in the hull.
Arriving back at the tender dock we made our way around the bustling marina to the heart of Cabo San Lucas. How this town has changed in the few years since I was here last! It used to be that tenders docked near the very inner end of the marina, the end closest to the town itself, and the area now occupied by mega-yachts, sailboats and sportfishers was then a flea market. Today the tender dock is a full half-mile from its original position. Though it is possible to hire a water taxi, walking the fringe of the marina is a pleasant, scenic endeavor, and we chose to do so. The basin was more bustling than usual it being spring break, and we didn't see a single empty slip.
The core of Cabo has changed a lot as well. Once a collection of trinket, souvenir and T-shirt shops, now it looks like any other cruise port, with numerous upscale emporia, including some of the big names: Diamonds International, Del Sol, etc. Our goal was lunch at El Squid Roe, a Grupa Anderson restaurant (the same chain that includes Carlos 'n' Charlie's and Senor Frogs). Though we'd had terrific seafood in both Huatulco and Acapulco, we still had a hankering for typical Mexican fare -- good old tacos and the like -- and my experience has proved Grupa Anderson restaurants to be a pretty safe bet for decent menus and "safe" food handling. El Squid Roe is quieter during the day than its corporate fellows; at night it gets pretty wild. We enjoyed a "do-it-yourself" tortilla soup: You get a bowl of broth and a platter of fixings (cut avocados, tortilla strips, dried peppers, cheese and sour cream) which, along with an assortment of sauces, you can mix into the broth. Following this came a huge platter with enchiladas, beef and chicken fajitas, quesadillas, chips and guacamole. The bill amounted to less than $50.00, including two margaritas each.
We retraced our steps through the jammed streets, weaving in and out among other tourists, ear-shattering curbside Mariachi bands, locals hawking jewelry and other crafts ("only a dollar Senor, almost free!"), and fishing guides pitching their boats, ultimately returning to the tender dock and then to the ship.
I had looked forward to departing Cabo at sunset, which should have timed out just about right as we were scheduled to weigh anchor at 5 p.m. But our departure time came and went, and the two Holland America ships in the harbor with us sailed off. At the point we were an hour late the captain came on the public address system and announced that there was a problem bringing one of the tenders aboard (presumably a mechanical problem with its davit) and we would be delayed indefinitely. The delay turned out to be about three hours, and we were informed that our port call in San Diego would probably be delayed as well.
As we got underway we were just sitting down to dinner. The entertainment program in the Constellation Theater featured Bob Anderson, billed as "America's greatest singing impressionist." Having seen him in one of his earlier performances, I opted to spend some time and, unfortunately, some money in the casino before retiring for the night.