Carnaval in La Paz
Santa Cruz, CA came up in a recent conversation, and ever since Bode has been wanting to ride rides. He had a 3 stage plan to find them. He would look wherever we drove, Jason was to read the signs as he drove and I would get out and ask strangers where the closest amusement park was.
Luckily, we knew Carnaval was just starting in La Paz. We kept that information from him, so as to seem cooler when we stumbled upon it. His plan was pretty cute and all.
La Paz is the biggest city in Southern Baja, but is not a so much a tourist town – they all go to Los Cabos. That’s what’s great about it. We tried to find a recommended campground near town, but it had closed down. The thought of driving the bus from a boondocking beach outside of town (Tecolote) to the malecon at night didn’t seem too appealing, so we set out to see if we could find a motel. Easy enough, the first one we found right on the malecon was $45 – but not in line with our new Mexican fiscal sensibilities. At first we scoffed at the price, but it was getting dark and then we remembered it was Carnaval and we had the closest hotel to all the action. It’s amazing that we could just walk up and get a room, actually. It was pretty stark, but it did have some awesome owl yarn art on every floor.
We walked around town and had the first obvious experiences with strangers touching Bode’s head. I’ve read that it is a good luck thing. You can see it in someone’s eyes when they spot him…and you know it’s going to happen. As he walks by they try their best to do a nonchalant tap. I was sure to hold his hand and be real close, but the kid was a trooper, and actually most of the time didn’t notice. I swear in one 3 block walk he was touched by 18 strangers. I know a lot of kids would be freaking out, so I’m pretty grateful. The next time we went out though, I made him wear a hat.
It was all about the rides that evening. Bode got to ride a scaled down mechanical bull and fulfill his life-long dream of driving a bumper car. No height or age restrictions here. We were in by 9, but it was a Friday night and the party lasted til 4am.
The hotel was booked on the next night, so we set out to the port at Pichilingue to get our vehicle permission and book our upcoming trip on the ferry. The ferry ticket offices were closed, but we did get our vehicle import permit (you don’t need one in Baja, but you do on the mainland.) I had to persuade the security office manager to make copies of all our documents (something we’ve been meaning to do,) but it all ended well.
We made a few beach stops for cervesas and tacos and we thought we’d camp at the beach this time, but Bode had so much fun at Carnaval we drove back to town. We found another motel 3 blocks from the malecon, this time even cheaper. It was a supposed to be some sort of an art gallery, but looked more like a garage sale. It was great though, and there was no noise from the all-night party when we were ready to be done for the evening. It was a bit funny to be coming in for the night with our kid as the others were just leaving – oh, how times change.
The big parades run 3 nights and start on Sunday. It goes south the first night, then they park and go back the other direction the next night. The whole thing lasted maybe an hour, but in true Mexican fashion started 2 hours later than we were told.
Their weren’t many floats, and no Mardi Gras style beads or flashing to get them. The drinking huge amounts of alcohol part of the festivities is universally celebrated, though. Still, the whole thing was family friendly and there were kids everywhere. We weren’t entirely sure what was going on, but I think one of these gals may be the Queen of Cockfighting?
Coming from the Bay Area, we know that it’s just not a parade without drag queens and we were not disappointed. Somehow they were able to make Carnaval even more festive.
We found La Paz to be very pleasant, especially for a big city, and has a really nice malecon.
Contrary to what we’ve been told by plenty of people on the way down, there are two ferries that run from La Paz to the mainland.
Baja Ferries is the normal passenger ferry that everyone seems to use, but they require tickets for each passenger (including children) and is more expensive. You buy a cabin if you’d like to upgrade from seats on the overnight ferry, the cars are in a cargo only area and can’t be accessed. Everyone here speaks English and there are multiple easy to find offices.
There’s a cargo carrier here too, and we actually had to go through customs at the port to find the Maritima de California ticket office. Communication for us was a huge challenge. We were able to learn that the ship was full today, but I was able to explain we wanted tickets for a week from now. She wrote down our names and the date we wanted to go on what looked like scratch paper. Then, she told us to be back at 1pm on that day and that our names on the scratch piece of paper was our reservation. From what we gathered, it would be a 16 hour trip. No ticket in hand, but no money paid yet.
Maritime de Califonia was about 40% less than Baja Ferries, and the vehicle passage includes the driver. Bode doesn’t need a ticket, so we just need 1 additional passenger fare. Aside from not being sure if we really have a reservation, we think she said we could not stay in the bus. I guess we’ll find out in a week. It could be one very long night.