AN EDEN IN TRANSITION
By Hillary Hauser
In Baja California Sur, there is the equivalent of the desert island everyone dreams of escaping to a place one fantasizes about when drowning in taxes, traffic jams, mortgage payments and life in the fast lane. Todos Santos, forty minutes up the highway from the frenetic disco pace of Cabo San Lucas, is just this kind of place. You don't go to ³Todos² for a hopping nightlife. You go for quiet walks on deserted beaches. You go to get in touch with your inner self. But be careful you may be tempted to go home, sell the house, and move here.
One full moon night just before Easter in an outdoor plaza next to the laundromat on a Todos Santos side street, I sat drinking 80-cent beers with friends, listening to an American rock band belt out Jimi Hendrix. On the dance floor, expatriate artists, writers and innkeepers mixed it up with cutthroats, dissidents, backpackers and couples in elegant dress. Lining the edges of the dance floor, local Mexicans gawked politely at the goings-on and went wild with amazement when an Austrian photographer in skin-tight jeans took the floor by himself for his solo version of Saturday Night Fever. It was an unseasonably cold night, but here in this seaside town, there was warmth and passion oozing from the trees hanging low over the plaza. In my mind, I imagined Ernest Hemingway sitting at one of these tables. Or Paul Bowles, who wrote his music and books in the oddest places in Morocco. So many writers and artists have moved to Todos Santos that the town has become known as the "Bohemian Baja."
Mexico Highway One winds inland toward La Paz right through town on a wide paved, non-descript boulevard rimmed with everything from a Pemex station to Shut Up Franks, a local hangout that attracts beer-drinking "regulars" every afternoon. If you turn toward the town square, youıll discover another world disconnected from all clocks. There is an ornate theater, Teatro Cine Gral. Manuel Marquez de Leon, which until the early 1990s, was the only theater in all of Baja California Sur. The cultural center, Centro Cultural Siglo XXI, houses Indian artifacts, photographs of old Todos Santos, regional handicrafts and historical murals.
The most notable symbol of Todos is the ochre-colored church, which can be seen from all over the countryside. Todos Santos began as a farming community and in 1840 a mission was built. Todayıs church is not on the site of the original mission as it was remodeled in 1941 after being damaged in a hurricane. Inside, the church is completely yellowyellow walls, yellow stained glass windows and over the altar, a blue and white stained glass symbol. From the church plaza on the hill, the view toward the ocean is interrupted by a verdant oasisa green valley of chile peppers and corn, mangoes and palms. The town is bordered on the south by the desert hill of Las Posas, which overlooks the Todos Santos estuary and on the north by the Otra Lado (other side) district, where the elegant homes of La Cachora are hidden behind pink walls. Continuing past Otra Lado, you'll wind over rough and bumpy dirt streets through a scattering of countryside homes, both meager and rich, until you land at La Pastora beach. Typically, after a day of doing business in town, I will come out here to this beach to unwind. The ocean is dramatic and can also be treacherous with its pounding surf and violent undertow. Safe swimming beaches are found three miles south at Palm Beach or Los Cerritos, further down the road.
An American architect, Patrick Coffman, has designed and built a number of dramatic homes here. Coffman is another southern California transplant in who decided to move here the moment he arrived in town. "When this happens," Coffman said, "you know the Force is with you. You have to decide quickly and listen to your inner self." Another transplant, Robert Whiting, came from Massachusetts to Todos Santos on vacation five years ago and bought the Todos Santos Inn on the spot. Since then, he has completely remodeled it in an elegant Old World style, complete with dark wood doors and frames, antiques and old oil paintings. The rooms ($85 standard, $120 for a suite) are darkly elegant, too. "I felt comfortable the moment I came here," Whiting said. "Despite the different culture, here it seems like anything is possible. You can create something from nothing." Creating something from nothing of course is the definition of art. All over Todos Santos you see art hanging in restaurants and shops, all for sale. An informal gallery serves up pizza and beer and over on Avenida Juarez, next to the arts and crafts store of Casa Franco, painter Jill Logan has set up both home and business in her Galeria Logan. If you to are so inclined, you can come to Todos Santos, hang out a shingle and as Goethe urged, "Only begin!"