This isn’t a wild party town like Cabo, and we want to keep it that way.” Ahead of our October trip to Todos Santos, Mexico, a girlfriend pulled the admonishment from the website for the town’s new San Cristóbal Hotel, where we’d be staying, and emailed it to our group.
A couple of LOLs went around, reacting to the pretentiousness of it all, not that we didn’t agree with the sentiment. We weren’t looking for a wild party town; far from it. Those days were behind us. All professionals in our thirties and forties, we wanted a relaxing break from our daily lives, one that would allow us to recharge, catch up with each other, and celebrate one traveler’s fortieth birthday. You could call what we were planning a girls’ trip, although it was really five women plus the birthday girl’s fun, laidback husband.
The 6,400-person town of Todos Santos is fairly easy to get to from Houston—a three-hour flight to Cabo, then an hour’s drive through the desert of Baja California. For us, it all went by quickly, and soon, we were turning off the highway, onto the road to the resort, then traveling a bumpy few minutes through sand and brush and otherworldly-looking cacti, looking out the window awestruck as the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range rose up in the distance.
Then we were there, at the dreamily remote, beautifully minimalist new resort, its white stucco buildings overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. All was quiet, except for the sound of powerful waves, rhythmically crashing in the distance. It was hard to believe it hadn’t taken more effort to get there. We could almost feel the stress leaving our bodies as we walked in. The place was serenity itself.
The vibe was the same at the hotel’s lovely pool, where we spent the afternoon. The guests were good-looking and yoga-toned, all in flowing, boho-chic garb. A couple of them stood in the pool, reading books, and we exchanged polite nods. There were no children anywhere. I reclined in my chair with a sigh, watching a woman pose near the pool, for a photo surely headed straight for Instagram, where it would paralyze her followers with envy.
The resort is the creation of the Bunkhouse Group, the purveyors of hip behind the Hotel San José in Austin, Hotel Havana in San Antonio, and other properties that, in my experience, excel at putting visitors into a state of covetous longing. “I want that,” I thought, again and again, throughout my stay there, about pillows, tilework, robes, lighting, bedding, dishware, artwork, and objects like record players and guitars, all of it arranged just so, ready for its close-up. (Never mind, oh, every item in the carefully curated gift shop.)
The feeling of peace, though, is the most covetable thing of all. This is why people travel more than 1,400 miles to take a break, I thought to myself as I closed my book and stood up to get ready for dinner, which we were going to have in town so we could watch the Astros. We were here for an escape, yes, but we couldn’t deny the reality of the team making it to the World Series; we’d booked the trip some time ago, with no idea we would be in Mexico for games 4 and 5. Whether the resort had TVs was the first question we asked upon arriving; the answer had been an emphatic no. If that’s what we wanted, we would need to look elsewhere.
Intent upon seeing game 4, we took a rickety cab into the quaint town, had a mediocre dinner, and, full of expectation, set up at the lone sports bar, Shut Up Frank’s. For a long time, it was tied, before Houston scored and we clinked glasses. Then it was tied again, and suddenly, we were surrounded by annoying Dodgers fans—it was the Baja California Peninsula, after all—including a group of too-loud, barely-legal patrons who had no doubt the Dodgers were going to win it all.
One young woman complained tirelessly about the venue, beseeching the others to “go back to the bar with the live music,” but we didn’t dislike her nearly as much as we did the know-it-all who said, “Oh, we got this, there’s no way we don’t.” The guy and his friends considered it a done deal. Could not imagine a world in which Houston beat L.A.
Serenity out the window, our group began to seethe. We definitely needed more beers, so somebody ordered a round; later, when the bartender offered us a sample of his handmade tequila, nobody said no. We were trying to stave off the thing we all felt: The game wasn’t going our way. When the Dodgers scored five runs in the ninth inning to beat us 6-2, the hated Dodgers fans smugly whooped and hoisted their glasses, and we rolled our eyes. We decided to head back. Catching a cab in Todos Santos, though, is no easy thing, at least when we visited, which was during the low season. The bartender had to make a call.
We had another round while we waited, trying not to be in a sour mood and reminding ourselves that we were in Mexico on vacation, for God’s sake. The man who finally picked us up turned out to be the same driver of the same rickety cab we’d taken into town, who apparently had a monopoly going. He raised his rate for the trip back, he said, because it was “noche.” We sullenly paid the tab and trudged through the silent hotel back to our rooms, and were about to call it a night, when somebody suggested a nightcap. We shrugged at each other. Why not?
The hotel has 32 rooms on two levels; some overlook the pool and mountains, while others are situated right on the ocean. Ours was on the second story, complete with Pacific Ocean view, and featured a large balcony furnished with comfortable couches; it was like having another room tacked onto the first one, with plenty of space for the entire group. Because it was enclosed on either side, we couldn’t see any of the other balconies from where we were, only the black sky. All we could hear were the pounding waves.
Essentially, the space felt way more private than it really was, not that we were thinking about that. No, we were thinking about how to save the night after the Astros’ devastating loss. And as we pulled out the wine we’d bought back in Cabo, we remembered one thing that could always save a party in the old days: Truth or Dare.
Everyone was willing to play, although at first people only wanted truths. “Are you still in love with so-and-so?” the questions went. “When was the last time you lied about something?” The wine continued to flow, and finally, somebody took a dare. “Make out with the wall!” she was ordered, and she did it, and we all cracked up. Soon the music came out, and suddenly, the evening felt full of possibility. It wasn’t that late, was it? (It was around 11 p.m.) There was still time for a little old-fashioned fun.
Flash-forward to confessions about shoplifting, sexual history, STDs. Pause for a phone call, although only one of us heard it ringing. “You guys, that was the front desk,” she said as she walked back outside. “They got a noise complaint. They asked us to move to the pool bar.”
We looked at each other, frowning. Seriously? A complaint? We weren’t being that loud, were we? Let’s just be sure to keep it down, and it will be fine. Somebody turn down the music.
Now comes the portion of the evening when various members of the party dance, awkwardly and alone, to “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” “Ice Ice Baby,” and “Despacito” on low volume. Um, there’s some weirdo—we’ll never say which weirdo—trying her absolute best to break-dance, even attempting to spin on her back, right there on the beautiful tilework of the veranda floor. Cue more laughter. And, a phone call.
“You guys, they called again!” the same friend, who was not Jennifer and who’d become the designated phone answerer, reported. “She said, ‘Miss Jennifer, please.’” We decided turning the music off would do the trick.
How we got from there to my best friend on all fours, facing the Pacific Ocean, slapping her own ass and barking like a dog, I’m not 100 percent clear on. But I do know I laughed my ass off, even as I tried to keep the noise in check. We all did. Man, I love these guys, I remember thinking. I can imagine no one else I’d rather be here with. Cue another phone call, more eye rolls, more vows to be quiet.
Were we completely outrageous that night, or were we somewhat naughty, and the other guests super-duper uptight? I can honestly say that, later—while we knew we’d been silly—not one of us thought we’d been obnoxiously loud. Still, here is another fact: We received four pleading phone calls before we finally moved the game to the deserted pool bar, where we very quietly howled at the moon, danced with palm trees, and did the worm before reluctantly calling it a night.
It hadn’t been the serene scene we’d imagined, it’s true. But what a night it had been.
The next morning brought a rude awakening, when the phone rang at 9 a.m. and I answered it. It was the GM, who, it seemed, hadn’t been on duty the previous evening, but had received a report. “We need to talk about what happened last night,” she said. “Yes, of course,” I said politely, stricken, before inexplicably adding, “Goodnight.”
I sent a text to everyone about the situation, showered, and headed downstairs with one of my three hotel roommates. The GM was at the hotel yoga class when we asked for her at the front desk, because of course she was. So we sat down to eat and waited.
It was as we were downing a delicious, much-needed Mexican breakfast that we started to pick up the weird vibes from the other guests. “They’re staring at us,” my friend whispered, about the people at the other tables. At first, I tried to shrug it off, but she was right. We exchanged glances, whispering over our eggs and trying not to look guilty. “I mean, this isn’t Vacations ‘R’ Us,” a woman sitting nearby said, and not that quietly.
Eventually, groups of glistening yogis began to trickle past us, and as they did, they stared and stared and stared some more, insistently and without expression. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable—no, more hated—in my life. It felt like something out of a horror movie, like a beautiful nightmare, like they’d held a hotel-wide meeting and agreed to silently correct us with their eyes. It was not lost on us, in the light of day, that some guests were in the rooms overlooking the pool area, and that what they hadn’t heard, they might have seen. The worm? Ay.
When we finally got an audience with her, the GM sweetly introduced herself before getting to the point. “This is major,” she said. “If you guys get another complaint I’m going to have to ask you to leave. One couple, who’s staying here for a week, ended up sleeping in the lobby.” (Really? we later wondered. Was that really necessary?) “If anyone asks for a discount because of this,” she added, “we’ll be charging it to your room.”
Mortified, we apologized, skulked back to the table, and did a walk of shame back to our rooms, feeling everyone’s eyes following us as we passed. Shortly thereafter, we decamped to a nearby surf beach called Los Cerritos, a much better beach for swimming than the one outside the San Cristóbal, although both are equally beautiful, their turquoise waters ringed by mountains. A few of the girls took a surf lesson, and I spent the afternoon body-surfing, snacking on ceviche, and watching some very happy dogs play in the surf. It was a glorious few hours, and not just because it was a relief to be anonymous again.
Our moods much improved, we headed back, thinking that surely the whole kerfuffle would have blown over by then. Not even close.
The other guests’ heads swiveled toward us as we walked past the pool, and followed us. We stopped by our rooms and then headed back down, toting our Adichie novels and New York magazines along with us as if to say, “Hey, we read too! We’re not the Vacations ‘R’ Us type! You’ve got us wrong!” (We didn’t crack them.)
The pool has two lovely hot tubs sunk inside of it. It’s here that San Cristóbal guests gather with drinks each evening to watch the sun set beyond the infinity pool, someone lightly sounding one of those zen gongs as it disappears into the horizon. It’s also here that I finally came to despise the other guests staying at the hotel. Yes, they of course were staring at us, and no one would come near the hot tub our group was sitting in, instead congregating in and around the other one. But it was their conversation that sealed things. Was it directed at us? We could only assume so.
“People keep finding all the cool things,” a guy from LA declared. “We’re going to have to find the next thing. It was the same with Williamsburg. We moved in, then we had to move away.” They all nodded together, bonding over how over Williamsburg is and, presumably, how much they hated us.
It dawned on me that they were actual idiots. And it was then that, despite my not-insubstantial regrets about our group’s crimes, the feeling of hatred became mutual. I was over the staring, too, and decided that I was going to stare back. LA Guy and I held each other’s gaze for what felt like a very long time before, I’m happy to report, he finally looked away.
The scene was insane, but fascinating: There we all were, in a beautiful resort in a beautiful part of the world, all mutually obsessed with our dislike of one another. At least I’d won the staring war. It felt more significant than that, though, like the resort was now mine, like the Astros were in the eighth, and the game had shifted our way.
That night brought game 5 of the World Series. We’d discovered a local restaurant with a TV, Miguel’s, and decamped there to watch it in Spanish and enjoy fabulous, and fabulously inexpensive, chiles rellenos and cheledas—beers on ice with salt and lime (but no tomato juice, unlike the better-known michelada). The owner, Miguel himself, was a Dodgers fan, but he was tickled to watch the game with a group of Houstonians. We had fun talking friendly trash and rooting for our team, and our luck held during one of the most amazing baseball games in history. As is now legend, the Astros won in the 10th inning, 13-12.
The rest of the trip continued to go our way. We spent the next day exploring Todos Santos, checking out the town square and church, and popping into little shops hawking artisan Mexican goods, hip galleries, a surf shop, and a couple of incredibly chic boutiques where we once again wanted everything. We had lunch at a local joint called Taqueria El Parguito, a bare-bones, nondescript little place where your only choice is between fish and shrimp tacos, which you dress yourself at a tableful of handmade salsas and toppings. They were absolutely delicious, especially with a Mexican Coke, but even more delicious? Walking into the place and running into LA Guy, who regarded us with resignation. “The tacos are good,” he said, seeming to admit defeat as he addressed us for the first time.
Back at the hotel, many guests had checked out, replaced by new ones who were happy to make conversation with us at the hot tub. We chatted them up with gusto, perhaps a bit louder than we normally would have, thrilled to be pariahs no longer. But there were a couple of starers left: the two we believed were staying the week, identified by process of elimination, who supposedly had slept in the lobby during what had become known among our group—and is referred to, to this day—as The Night of Mischief.
They were young, good-looking blondes in bohemian clothing, he was constantly reading, and to our satisfaction, they seemed to be having a miserable time. (Yes, I know. We too are jerks.) He stood in the water, reading his book over the pool’s infinity edge, and she stood behind him, scratching and rubbing his back for a very long time as he ignored her. It was so pathetic, we almost felt sorry for them, as we would anyone, for that matter, who would let their entire vacation get ruined by a few hours of loudmouths playing Truth or Dare. Later, as the two sat silently having a meal, somebody caught the title of the book he was reading: Adaptive Markets, which we immediately Googled. (There are no TVs, but the place has good wifi.) Mr. Deep Bohemian Intellectual turned out to be a finance bro, a source of delight to all.
The evening brought a wonderful celebration for the birthday girl at Benno, the San Cristóbal’s fantastic restaurant, followed by another Instagram-perfect breakfast before everyone checked out—there were no extra charges on our bills—and rode to the airport. A member of our party ran into the gift shop to buy some of the intoxicating incense the hotel burns daily, returning with a lovely little package, a woven bag stamped with the hotel’s logo. “He stamped it right in front of me,” she said, powerless in the face of something so charming, holding it up for the table to admire.
We couldn’t help but love it, even though part of us hated it, too.
- Hotel San Cristóbal: Rooms from $285
- La Katrina Surf Shop: The shop’s hip T-shirts make excellent gifts.
- Nomad Chic: Great clothing, handmade jewelry, and bags.
- La Sonrisa de la Muerte: Amazing, affordable graphic prints by international artists.
Eat + Drink
- Miguel’s (+52-612-145-0814): This super-friendly local joint offers affordable Mexican fare; order the chiles rellenos, and tell Miguel hi.
- Taqueria El Parguito (+ 52-612-140-6325): Your choices here are between fish and shrimp tacos. Get both; you’ll dream of them later.
- Benno: Everything at the San Cristóbal’s fantastic Mexican and Mediterranean restaurant and bar was delicious, but breakfast was our favorite.