Yet Another Side Trip: Cabo Night & Day

By: Jeff Shelley

Sometimes when on vacation you encounter all sorts of calamities. We've certainly experienced more than our fair share, including the onset of the Gulf War (while returning from New Zealand), Australia's first monsoons in 13 years (11 feet of rain over a two-week period that limited transportation to boats and airplanes), the Oklahoma City bombing (which occurred while in mid-air flying home from Antigua), and the death of Princess Di (start of a trip to Spain's Costa del Sol). Not surprisingly, our spotty track record has led some friends to be gun-shy about accompanying us on trips overseas.

John Hiatt & Kim Richey

Then there are trips that go amazingly well. While in Cabo, my wife Anni and I enjoyed a couple of serendipitous occurences. The first was a free concert at the Finesterra, a hotel in Cabo San Lucas. The event was put on by Alaska Airlines and a Seattle radio station, KMTT (aka "The Mountain").

The event was staged in Finesterra's palapa, a tepee-like structure overlooking the Sea of Cortez. In attendance were 30 couples from Seattle, who'd won trips and hotel accommodations by having their names called on the radio. Also there were about 10 couples on Alaska Airlines travel packages, station and airline employees, and us two. About 80 or 90 people all told.

Anni is a regular listener of KMTT, and a member of the station's "At Work Network," an email club that provides perks to listeners. The concert giveaways were announced every day in the month leading up to our trip, so we were well aware the event would be held during our two-week stay. To ensure we'd be invited to the party, Anni had been in regular email contact with one of the morning DJs, John Fisher, who kindly told us how to catch the concert.

The headliner was John Hiatt, a veteran Nashville-based songwriter/performer who'd been beating the bushes since the early 1970's before enjoying breakthrough records in the 1990s. Leading off for Hiatt (who hotel staff called "Witt" when we inquired about the event) was Kim Richey, a likeable singer/guitarist with outstanding pipes and a keen sense of humor.

The concert was great, a small gathering of fellow Seattleites transported by warming Sea of Cortez breezes and wonderful, engaging music. The performers each did solo turns and injected humorous anecdotes about friends, family and their first-ever visits to Cabo.

Richey related her experience with a chopped VW bug rental car - the transportation of choice down here, a Bloody Mary with "27 ingredients," and a gig from hell in Switzerland. Hiatt wove hilarious tales about his teenage children, the septic tank going on the fritz just before he and his wife's departure to Cabo, and his worst-ever gig, which had an "audience" of nada.

The night was electric and very, very intimate. It was one of those rare times where the stars align. The musicians and contest winners were all glad to be there, as evidenced by the mixing of the two groups before and after the concert. It was clear by the performances and the vociferous reception given the players that no one would soon forget that starry night in Cabo.

Brian Pavlik

From these performances of grace and finesse we now venture to the opposite end of the spectrum: Brian Pavlik, former World Long-Drive Champion, who staged a cacophonous exhibition at the grand opening of the Raven Golf Club at Cabo San Lucas.

Pavlik made his presence known long before the start of his exhibition. All one had to do was get near the driving range, which fronts the hacienda-like clubhouse at the former Cabo CC, to hear the loud reports of one powerful guy smashing a clubhead into a golf ball with serious violence.

Besides knocking golf balls into places they'd never been hit before at this 275-yard-deep driving range, Pavlik, who won his world title a couple of years ago, was very funny, drawing the audience in with a variety of stunts. He hit drivers in length from 27 to 53 inches, bombing balls well beyond range and into the scrub, regardless of the club wielded.

He hit balls (Pinnacle, the sponsoring ball of the Long Drive Championship Tour) out of sleeves and even out of their 12-packs - just to show he could get off the first tee when late for a tee time. Pavlik fired off 4-foot-high tees, water bottles and other paraphernalia. He took two cell phones from audience members, smashing the first (a phony) to great applause, and returning the other to its user (an official on the Mexican tourist board who hollered, "That's government property!").

He proclaimed his clubhead speed topped out at 145 mph - about 20 mph faster than Tiger Woods and John Daly - with his ball speed (when it comes off the club) at nearly 200. Pavlik delighted the attendees with his polished presentation. He was not quite as versatile a performer as the inimitable Peter Jacobsen, who does hilarious impressions of famous golfers, but Pavlik was damn close, finishing the show by slamming a drive through a sheet of plywood. I don't think "Jake" could do that.

Cabo's Grub

With its locale beside the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, Los Cabos is home to some of the world's best seafood. Even so-called second-rate fish such as red snapper is delectable down here. And the local people really know how to cook.

When we first came to Cabo in the mid-1990s, a dinner at a sit-down place would be around $15, with all the trimmings. The prices have since gone up about 25 percent. Our favorite place is Las Gardenias, a shrimp and fish taco emporium just south of the McDonalds on the east end of Cabo San Lucas. An order for three tacos each, a bottle of water for Anni and a cerveza for me, runs to $14, with tip. (Another place near San Jose del Cabo, Rossy´s, offers the same fare and is about one-third cheaper.)

Of all the higher-end restaurants in Baja's toe, I feel the most comfortable at Palmilla. There's something about this institution above a crashing sea that just can't be matched. Understated elegance comes to mind.

We were lucky enough to dine at Palmilla twice. Our first venture was for the resort's famous Friday night fiesta. We were guests of the golf club's manager, Ray Metz, and his wife, Peggy Kellum. A ceremonial shot of tequila before entering the plaza gets the ball rolling, with a spectacular buffet, native dancers in reeling color, and a brass orchestra sustaining the evening's momentum.

Later in our stay we were invited to a sit-down dinner. When in Cabo we usually shun such dining, primarily due to cost considerations and because we´re pretty low-key while here. But on Sunday night we showed up and ordered off the regular menu.

If you want to impress your better half with a romantic evening, you can't do any better than have Palmilla be the place for it. The candle-lit table, white linens, and classy experience combine for a special outing. The staff is attentive but reserved, and the place encourages intimacy.