A lesson in tenacity (and a lot of tacos).

Last week, I traded pine trees in Utah for palm trees in Mexico. The trip was supposed to be a family get-away with my parents and brother, planned for months as an early Thanksgiving celebration in a special location. Then, a month ago, the area was devastated by category 4 Hurricane Odile. With the frightening news footage and reports from local residents, we decided to pull the plug on the family “Mex-giving” extravaganza and prayed for the safety of the people of Cabo.

We heard rumors of widespread destruction and the looting of all major stores. There was no water, electricity, or gasoline available. Someone mentioned a major bridge was washed away, leaving no access to necessities. Banks were closed indefinitely. From the limited information we could get, the situation sounded dire. But within two weeks, the electricity was on. Gas stations and banks were open. Cleanup began. We saw grainy photos of the house we own and rent out in San Jose del Cabo, but couldn’t determine the true damage. With holiday guest reservations already in place, someone needed to go down there to see what the situation really was. We reviewed our calendar and realized (with some anxiety) that we won’t have any spare time until after Christmas. And so, a week before our second anniversary, we decided to head south of the border as we’d planned. We didn’t know what we’d find when we got there.

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As we flew over the desert and into Los Cabos International airport, I was struck by how green the landscape is right now. It was obvious from above that the natural wash that flows to the ocean had not only had actual water running through it but had been pushed to its limits. The photos we’d seen of the airport after the hurricane were bad; the work that had already been done there was our first indication that rebuilding was in full swing. Here’s a photo comparison: immediately after the hurricane, and one month later.

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Over the next week, we met with various people to get bids and initiate repairs. We wore shoes at all times to avoid teensy splinters of broken window. We reviewed every inch of the house, which fared well, despite its wooden doors and window frames swollen from precipitation, windows blown out, doors inoperable. We spent time exploring the area- our neighborhood, its facilities, the towns of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas- to see the damage. And there was plenty of it. Twisted metal that was once a billboard. Piles of concrete rubble that were large buildings. Homes and businesses with boarded up windows, missing doors, half of the roof in the driveway. Random shards of glass on the sidewalk. Upturned trees and blown-over palms. The stain on exterior wood pulled clean off by high winds. I took dozens of photos of the aftermath, but after a week of witnessing the resilience of the locals, it feels like the wrong thing to focus on.

The photos in this post don’t hint at the intense struggle that the Cabo area has experienced and is still working through. In Usual Bliss fashion, I’d rather point my attention to the positives I encountered. There were plenty of those, too. Smiles on people’s faces. Local events starting up again for the first time after the storm. The continual hub-bub of construction that means progress. We learned that the rumors of looting were exaggerated; the storeowners voluntarily opened their doors for the people to help themselves in time of need. There is now an overabundance of work for everyone. There are signs all over local businesses stating, “Ya abrimos!” (We are already open!) or “Los Cabos Unstoppable.” There is undeniable pride. And, after the fifteen inches of rain that Odile dropped, the Baja peninsula is a vibrant burst of beauty and life. While there is still so much work to be done, the overall sentiment of everyone we talked to was gratitude. It could have been worse. We are still here. We are moving forward. As the end of a difficult year for us nears its end, observing the strength of a community after a life-changing event is a meaningful reminder for me of what is truly important in life.

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In between meetings and work, we spent a lot of time outside, out of the boarded up house and into the sunshine. Many restaurants in town were open, and we dined and imbibed at a few of them alongside local families. As the days went by, I realized how necessary this time was for me to just breathe, relax, and regroup. I devoured a book and named the iguanas in the yard (Iggy, Tiny, and Kaiju- thanks, Matt). I couldn’t get over the abundance of greenery and flowers everywhere, from cactuses blooming in the yard to the fuchsia and yellow vines that filled the arroyos.

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Our very favorite place, Flora Farms, was not only open but thriving. We visited three times (!): a Sunday brunch, our anniversary dinner, and a  delicious lunch. Everything on the menu is grown on the farm or raised at the ranch down the road. Spectacular! Being there during the day was new for us. After an incredible brunch, we wandered around the grounds and the farm. There are cottages for rent and it has its own bakery and butcher. It’s truly a unique and gorgeous place. They always have live music, a jazz trio or cover band. There’s also a pack of happy dogs that trot around like they own the place. I kind of want to live there.

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The local supermarket was up and running (amid construction), so we were able to stock up on food for the house. As always, we have some sort of grilled taco party every night: tuna, marinated steak, chicken. We make homemade salsa, and there’s nothing like real-deal Mexican rice, beans, and tortillas. One day after an at-home pilates session, we made incredible taco salads for lunch using leftovers. The one meal when we strayed from Taco Town was our “last supper”: grilled pork chops from Flora Farms’ butcher, roasted potatoes, and salad.

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We were lucky enough to experience the first Art Walk of the season in San Jose del Cabo. It’s a weekly event from November to June in the small but vibrant art district, where the galleries serve wine and snacks and local musicians play on street corners. A few businesses and restaurants were closed, but the streets were alive with gringos and locals alike. It was my first art walk, and it gave me a taste of real life in town. We wandered the streets, listened to a mariachi band, chatted with gallery owners and locals, and even bought a little art. I adored it!

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We had two excursions during the week. One day, we drove to Cabo San Lucas and then up the coast toward Todos Santos. We spent the day at Cerritos beach, eating delicious food, drinking margaritas, laying in the sun, and swimming in the warm Pacific. We even splurged for massages on the beach. What a wonderful escape.

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On our last day, we drove the other direction to the East Cape to a deserted beach we’ve visited before. In June, John was teased by a rooster fish, and he wanted another date with it. While he chased Sierra mackerel, ladyfish, and roosters all day, I combed the beach for seashells and crystals, read under a palapa, sipped wine, and swam in the Sea of Cortez. Another perfect day.

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Without knowing what we’d encounter in post-Odile Mexico, we’d planned to come home after a few days. Not surprisingly, once we were actually there, we didn’t want to leave early. We soaked up as much of the sun as we could, breathing deeply and enjoying the pause. On the way to the airport, we stopped for one last blissful round of tacos and margaritas.

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We celebrated two years of marriage together, just the two of us. My Halloween costume was Dinner for Mosquitos (apparently) and John’s was King of Tacos. I brought home with me about a half a pound of sand, 33 seashells, at least 50 itchy mosquito bites, a very slight tan, and a calm soul. I also brought back a renewed belief that we are stronger than we often think we are. When things get hard, we have the ability to rise to the occasion and be triumphant.

Now, it’s time to welcome Old Man Winter (it snowed this morning). It’s time to keep my slippers by the bed and create holiday menus and plan a December trip to see John’s family. I welcome this season of gratitude. In two weeks, my parents and brother will descend upon our house with all of the chaotic joy that comes with family, Thanksgiving, and togetherness. In hindsight, The Fam would have enjoyed every second of the trip, despite the destruction and construction. But at the time, it was the right decision to postpone our family vacation. “Postpone” means to put off until a later time…but not too much later. Family: How does March sound?

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For now, I might take a (short) break from tacos.

Other trips to San Jose del Cabo HERE and HERE.

Bit by the travel bug? Check out more of my travels on THIS PAGE

One year ago: Anniversary love in the Pacific Northwest.

26 replies »

  1. Beautiful Post – glad to hear people are strong, rebuilding and living – there can be hope as well as beauty and blessings in the aftermath 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing – Happy Week!

  2. What a beautiful post, Amber. So happy to hear your home was in pretty good shape. That must have been stressful not knowing. As always your pictures are amazing. They made me want to hop on a plane on get my ass to Mexico!

  3. Gorgeous pictures, Amber! Glad that your home made it through in one piece. That infinity pool is incredible. I would want to spend the whole vacation in it!

  4. Hope all will be back to normal at your place soon. Love your (usual) positive spin. I’m amazed at the airport’s transformation. Cabo looks like a gorgeous area.

  5. Thanks for the positive words and pictures. Your blog was shared by Flora Farms and I in turn shared it with the Club La Costa owners group. We were in San Jose del Cabo for Odile and saw the fury of the storm first hand. Now is time to focus on the positive. Unstoppable! Cheers

  6. Thank you for sharing this touching story 🙂 I also had a group vacation planned at the end of Oct and some friends cancelled, but I decided to travel. I was so moved by the spirit of the community and impressed by the quick transformation. I will never forget this trip to Cabo!

  7. Loved reading your account of your trip. My wife and I have been spending couple weeks in San Jose every winter for 20 years now and while we had faith it would bounce back, we weren’t sure how long it would take. Great to hear the positive news. Looking forward to experiencing it first hand when we visit in March. Like you we fell in love with Flora’s and we eat there several times each trip. Thank you for your post.

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