San Felipe felt in a lot of ways like Puerto Penasco where we had visited for a week last year in Mexico. It had a similar feel with a small town and a Malecon (boardwalk) with locals selling trinkets, blankets, sandals, pottery and whatnot.
In Puerto Pinasco we enjoyed going to the local bodega’s which were like fruit and veggie stands with a handful of other non-perishable items in cans for example. It was a lovely way to shop with such a wide variety of local produce! In San Felipe they had more Americanized stores such as the Calimax. It was nice that they had a little bit of everything and was set up like a store in the states but it lacked a local feel and had significantly less fresh produce. It was still a fine store just different. There was also another large store next to the Calimax, the Bodega, that was almost like a glorified Dollar Store/Albertsons with a little bit of produce. I’d suggest Calimax over the Bodega.
We also found that there were local farmers driving around in trucks with sunshades over their pickup beds which were filled with produce. They blast through a megaphone what they are selling as they ride down the street. Passers by, like us, flag them down if they like what they hear. Among other things we bought a mystery fruit that through Spanglish from both parties we learned that it was commonly used in tea served with cinnamon. The Spanish word sounded like “persimmon” and it looked a cross between an apple, Asian pear and a persimmon. I still can’t figure out what it was but it made a tasty drink. Nothing I would seek out again but fun to try.
In San Felipe we were looking for a Laundromat to wash some clothes at but found that there were only full service facilities around. I didn’t realize I was so picky about our laundry until I was told someone else would have to do it for me. I immediately thought of a short list of requests. However, there are only so many things I can get across with my poor Spanish speaking abilities so I decided to narrow it down to just one request. Fuego lento por favor; Low heat please. We took our laundry to Jessica’s. She did a great job and the price of having her wash, dry and fold everything was about the same as we would pay to do it ourselves in the states. The only sad thing was she used an extremely fragrant detergent. I couldn’t bare to wear anything that had been washed there so when we got back into the states I had to wash everything again. Other families didn’t seem to be bothered by this so I’m sure it was just me being sensitive to it.
The Malecon was both fun and intense to walk down. As was true in Puerto Pinasco the strip by the beach was full of vendors selling tchotchkes. The Mexican culture even has a name for these things, “curios”, meaning curiosities. Basically things you don’t need but may want.
They were selling toys, pots for plants and other ceramic items, lawn ornaments of all kinds made of scrap metal and welded together, blankets, table cloths, clothing, bobble heads… the list goes on and on. The girls each bought themselves a purse with their own money they earned from the Kids Marketplace at the Fulltime Families Rally in Yuma. I also bought a basket woven from pine needles, which smells and looks lovely, and some gifts for family. I was tempted to buy other things but knew they were items I would just end up moving from place to place so I opted out. They did have some really neat items.
Walking down the Malecon I found myself like a broken record saying, “no gracious” over and over. Some days I was more tolerant than others. Some days we needed to walk on a different street to give ourselves a break.
We found a handful of restaurants we liked. The one that was the most convenient, right on the Malecon and fairly quick to bring out the food was Mariscos El Guero. The girls favorite of course was the bean and cheese burrito but Justin and I enjoyed a couple of their fish dishes (coconut fish was my favorite) and their Huevos Rancheros. The only catch was that if you didn’t want your fish fried you had to be very clear about this when ordering because all fish was defaulted to being fried. Their Pina coladas were delicious! In my opinion the best that we had in San Felipe.
We also liked a place called Baha Mar which was able to whip up a vegetarian meal upon request and Justin very much enjoyed it. The prices were a little more expensive here but not expensive compared to US prices for dinner. I should warn people though, if you have a large group plan to wait 2 plus hours for your food! We all went out with a couple other families to Baha Mar and we had waited over an hour for our food when I finally went to the 7 Eleven across the street and bought nuts for the girls to snack on. 45 minutes later when our food still hadn’t arrived I went across the street and bought street tacos for the girls (which took about 3 minutes to make). They finished them and since it was then bedtime the girls and I left without ever receiving our food. We left Justin behind to pay for the meal and get it to go when it finally did arrive which was about 2 hours after we ordered it.
There was one other restaurant that stood out. La Vaquita Marina was a fairly fancy place that was definitely trying to appeal to the American tourists. Unlike the other eateries we went to, the waitresses at La Vaquita spoke fluent English and were not interested in letting us practice our Spanish. The prices were slightly higher than the other restaurants we visited, although still very inexpensive ($10 plates). The menu was mainly seafood and, in our book, scary seafood like octopus and shrimp but we found a fish option that we liked and they were able to make a bean and cheese burrito when requested for the girls. There was actually a woman making the tortillas there fresh! The meal was delicious and pretty darn fancy with special compotes and reductions decorating the plate. Not an authentic Mexican place by any means but very tasty!
Two places we love to explore while in Mexico are the tortillerias and panaderias (tortilla kitchens and bakeries). We visited many of both but our favorites by far were as follows: Esperanza’s Tortilleria and Las Flores Bakery. To give street names for these locations because street signs are fairly non-existent but they aren’t far from one another. Ask the locals.
Esperanza’s was a lovely little shop where we could see the kind ladies making the tortillas fresh! Such a simple but delicious process. For some reason, Mexican tortillas are a league beyond any tortilla I’ve ever had in the states. They know what they’re doing! The girls both saved up their pesos to buy their own tortillas. We always ate some fresh and incorporated them into each of our meals including desserts. Delicious! We will miss these for sure. I’ve put this on my bucket list to learn how to make them as they do.
Our family is into the less sweet baked goods therefore we skipped over the bakeries that sold the super sweet rolls and such. Las Flores Bakery had delicious dinner rolls and less sweet cookies/breads.
Things to Do
As far as things to do in the area you kind of have to get creative. It’s not like US cities where there are a lot of established attractions like museums or playgrounds. The attractions are things like going boating, exploring the city on foot, swimming or whatnot.
This being said, there was a lighthouse to view and a giant cactus “park” nearby. The lighthouse was within walking distance via the beach or the streets. You weren’t allowed to go close to the working lighthouse but could get a great view of it from a shrine on top of a high hill close by. The little shrine was such a lovely place and what a view!! The shrine sits on top of a hill overlooking the ocean and was decorated with silk flowers and other items people had left in memory of loved ones.
The giant cactus park was the group outing that was planned by the Fulltime Familes group. It was true that the saguaro cacti were bigger than I had ever seen! It was nice company chatting on the bus with sweet people. For the girls, I’m pretty sure this was their favorite part of the entire outing. They got to be alone in the back of the bus with the other kids and it was something our oldest could participate in with her broken leg…sitting on a bus!
An added bonus on the outing was a surprise traditional Mexican dance gifted to the Fulltime Familes group by the Mayer of Mexicali. We later found out that Sand Felipe is controlled by Mexicali. A very nice gift that none of us were expecting. Actually, some of the families missed the performance because it wasn’t announced. We were just walking down the trail at Valle De Los Gigantes and some of the travel guides from Mexico waved us over to deeper into the wilderness. It wasn’t explained they just said something like, “something you have to see.” It was such a beautiful ceremony and such an honor to get a glimpse of their culture. For the second part of the ceremony they let us join in with the dancing, singing and spiritual aspect of it. It was so much fun and so lovely. At the end we all dropped a bit of crushed tobacco into a flame setting an intention for ourselves. We then went around the circle and gave a loving and very special handshake and hug pattern to all. It was really special and we all feel so honored that we could be part of it.
We were really shocked and saddened to see so much trash around in the landscape where people were living. I figured it was because trash pick-up and recycling was either non-existent or too expensive for the average family. We saw it covering fields and in giant piles in peoples yards. Just walking down the street I was torn as the girls usually pick up any trash they see and we throw it into a trash can or recycle it. However, here, there was so much of it and a lot was either really icky or dangerous so I was reluctant to have them touch any of it. We picked up some but we would be picking up trash all day every day if we kept it going.
We learned from a local that trash is collected free of charge from personal residence and for a small charge for businesses. And, it turns out there is a basic recycling program. On the Malecon there were two big wire sculptures, one of a heart and one of a whale that held plastic recycling which someone regularly brought to the recycling station nearby. I thought this was a clever way to generate awareness of recycling to the public and helped clean up the beaches I’m sure. But knowing these facts about the trash and recycling programs we were left pondering why there is still such an excessive amount of it on the ground. I don’t know the answer to this.
Two things that were super common and we didn’t know why were tire shops and car washes. The car washes were clever as they usually consisted of a palm roof with a hose and some rope which held up their washing supplies. Maybe there were a lot of these two shops due to all the dune buggies, 4-wheelers and dirt bikes that ride the dunes?
We all had a lot of empathy for anyone who is disabled and lives in San Felipe after struggling to pull our oldest around in a wagon for transportation. I think it must be every house is in charge or their own “sidewalk” therefore some have a sidewalk and others just have sand or rocks. Handicap ramps were only sometimes available and now that we’re in the states they feel like such a luxury item! There were also random giant holes in the sidewalks from broken grates or whatnot. It was a good idea to stay alert for sure. These are things that we take for granted on a daily basis in the states.
Something that we noticed in Puerto Penasco as well as in San Felipe is that there is a plethora of stray dogs roaming about. There are no leash laws so as you can imagine the dogs bread whenever and with whoever they wish. In Puerto Penasco we experienced many very protective, bold, non-friendly to say the least dogs roaming about which made taking a walk a risky endeavor. In San Felipe there were many dogs out and about but it seemed like the majority of the wandering dogs were friendly and just wanted a scrap of food. They would sit at your feet in restaurants hoping for a bite or follow you home from a grocery store in hopes of scoring a snack. We only encountered one group of 3 dogs that were nasty. Unfortunately the girls and I encountered them while I was carrying our oldest and holding hands with my youngest as we walked home from an evening restaurant. We avoided them by crossing the street and by other passers-by distracting them. I was as ready as I could be by telling the girls my plan of scooping our youngest one into my arms after throwing the rocks I had picked up at them. Fortunately nothing happened and we got home just fine. Dogs don’t typically make me very comfortable so I was very thankful for the people that helped distract the dogs.