Brinson+Banks on traveling to sun-soaked Baja, Mexico, to shoot an image library with Light’s L16 camera

When Light approached them about shooting an image library using the company’s ultra-portable new L16 camera, and gave them free rein to choose the locale and subject matter, photo duo Brinson+Banks decided to enlist a couple of friends and decamp for gorgeous Baja, Mexico. It was such a fabulous time that not only did they shoot tons of poppy images but they also wrote a vivid travelogue describing their adventures. Light published their story, “Finding Bliss in Baja,” and we’re presenting it here as well…

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

We caught a flight out of LAX at dawn, eyes blistering after only a few precious hours of sleep, and touched down at Cabo San Lucas International before the day had barely begun. We exchanged money there, curiously calculating in our sleep-deprived brains how much we lost in the transaction. Coming to no solid conclusions, we made our way through the melee outside the airport and hopped in a shuttle to pick up our rental car: a 4×4 Jeep Wrangler with bulletproof insurance (which cost five times what the actual car rental did).

Soon we were cruising down the highway across Baja Sur with the wind in our hair and a sense of impending serenity just over the horizon. We took the sparsely populated toll road, cutting straight across the peninsula, avoiding the throngs of booze-laden tourists of Cabo San Lucas, speeding toward the artistic bohemian enclave of Todos Santos—our home base for the following three nights.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

The unassuming concrete facade of our boutique 14-room lodging, Hotel Casa Tota, gave way to a small central courtyard, filled mainly by a pool of near perfect temperature, surrounded by tall palms and giving off an air of private paradise encapsulated. We were in that pool so fast, I’m surprised we had the chance to put on swimwear, and would have likely been just as happy still adorned head to toe in our outfits from the plane.

The feeling that we had found a special sacred place that was all our own was strong, and one that seemed to be the theme of our trip as it unfolded. With the desire to return to the pool as soon as possible, we took the path of least resistance to satiate our hunger mere feet away in the hotel restaurant, La Santeña. The surprisingly chic establishment offered a cozy ambiance, with its open doors, ceiling of vaulted wooden beams, earthy tones, and an impressively ornate bar. We stuffed our faces with guacamole, burritos, and quesadillas—local fare with an elevated sense of sophistication. And we of course washed the food down with skillfully designed craft cocktails and mezcal.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

After dinner we slipped our overstuffed bellies back into the pool, watching dusk give way to a starry sky as the remainder of our jet lag melted away into those perfect waters.

We rose early, rejuvenated by the prior night’s swim and ready to greet the day and the rest of the town outside our newfound haven. We wandered the streets in the crisp early-morning light, looking for breakfast but really just looking. Most businesses sat shuttered either due to the early hour or closure for the “off season” in which we found ourselves.

As we continued to explore the quaint side streets, doors began to open, vendors setting out their wares and folding street signs, sweeping from the sidewalk the prior day’s dust to allow for more to take its place. We finally chose La Palapa del Sabor, or rather it chose us when the owner invited us in to dine with a genuinely warm smile most would be wont to resist. The freshly squeezed juice and a traditional Mexican breakfast complete with fresh flour tortillas served by the covered open-air earthen-floored restaurant quickly shot to the top of our then short list of favorites.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

Next we wandered over to a multi-shop marketplace across from the Hotel California (yep, that Hotel California) and toured the various shops of leather goods, handwoven textiles, local art, and trashy tourist souvenirs. After a few small purchases, we returned to our favorite new pastime and began the search for lunch.

A peek through a closed window that morning hinted at an epic little restaurant we decided to reinvestigate. Upon entry to Los Adobes de Todos Santos, we were ushered to the large shaded back patio, which opened up to a delightfully curated desert garden, much larger than the restaurant itself, and a perfect backdrop to eat some of the most delicious gazpacho of our lives.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

At this point, our day truly began. We loaded into our big Jeep and cruised lazily down the road toward an unmarked beach arms with a poor set of directions offered up the night before by a slightly drunk expat of 60, who acted more like 20, whom we befriended.

A few failed attempts and a giant U-turn later we spotted the small turnoff for Las Palmas beach. The turn was easy to miss, as it looked more like a ditch to be avoided than a turn. After the initial terror that what our expat friend has described as a “slightly bumpy” road was a gross underestimate, and the realization that we were driving one of the most classic off-road vehicles coupled with a zero-deductible insurance, we began to have fun. We tore down the hilly dirt road lined with countless 25-foot saguaro cacti, abandoning caution and stopping only to have a quick rooftop dance party when the epic nature of the scene around us set in. The soundtrack was Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky.”

The joyfully bouncy ride concluded when the road ended in a small unmarked dirt parking area with room for only a few cars, abutting a tall, dense grove of palms and a path cut in the direction of the ocean. After a short walk through the forest, the trees gave way to sand, and the thick hot air to a constant breeze, and other than a lone sunbather and two local fishermen, there was deserted natural coastline as far as we could see. Our only distant neighbors soon vacated, leaving us in a private paradise, and a certain wild feeling that exists deeply within us all, but mostly lies dormant. We let the waves lap at our legs and lay in the sun on the sand.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

Having fulfilled our need for solitude, we headed back down the rough rutted road back towards civilization and our second beach of the day, Cerritos. We arrived just in time to grab a margarita each, and watch as surfers caught their last waves while the dogs of those same surfers frolicked freely in the golden light on the broad beach, replete with its own beach-club bar and surf school.

As the sun dipped out of sight, leaving the earth dark and illuminating only the pink cotton candy clouds, we noticed a light of some sort at the top of the hillside to our southeast. What we found atop the hill was Riptide Bar and Grill at Desert Moon, an outdoor bar of meager adornments save for the perfectly situated infinity pool overlooking the ocean and surrounding countryside. Our favorite waiter of the trip, a Bruno Mars lookalike with a mischievous smile and a trucker hat that read simply GET WASTED, made our night with his friendly giggly nature. He even let us modify the menu, creating a french fry recipe so sinfully delicious I can’t repeat it aloud. We ate and swam as the light drained from the sky, displaying its nightly litany of hues along the way.
Our last full day, we woke once more before the sun, our aim to catch the first rays of light and a calmer sea in which to swim, which was across the peninsula on the Sea of Cortez. As we sped down the dark highway, our morning grogginess was quickly eliminated by shots of adrenaline after dodging a few unexpected cows who had lost their way.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

Upon arrival at Playa Balandra, we were greeted by an empty parking lot and a small bay. We climbed the sculpture-like rocks to the side of the parking lot to get a better view of the open sea. After a couple of locals went around the edge of the rock face and never returned, we deduced that there must be something more around the bend, so we navigated the sharp rocks, wading through the warm refreshing waters of the Gulf of California. We rounded that corner and found paradise in a long curved expanse of beach enclosed by rocks to the north and south and steep dunes to the east. The locals we followed had vanished like the White Rabbit, but they more likely rounded the next bend to another lonely oasis.

Had we the foresight to pack a lunch or even stop for breakfast, we might have stayed all day, but our grumbling stomachs after a hot hike suggested otherwise. So after a morning of filling our eyeballs with wonder, and one broken flip-flop later, we set off to our next spot. Having seen nothing promising along our route, we asked some locals where we might have luck finding food nearby. In my broken understanding of the language I deduced that we might find something in the opposite direction from where we came, just take a right at the fork rather than a left and hope food is around the bend.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

As luck would have it, a short drive down the road led us to Tecolote, where we sat at a table on the beach and enjoyed a breakfast at Bar Tecolote of scrambled eggs, chiliquiles, and bug-filled Nescafé (don’t ask, but we still give it 3 stars). Since fate brought us to Tecolote, and a large palm-frond-covered hut next to the ocean sat vacant calling our names, we decided to spend the rest of the day there, as more sea-gazers filled the tables and the beach on each side of us.

The day turned out to be a difficult one. Among our strenuous triumphs were floating in the surreal crystal clear ocean, eating possibly the best ripe soft mango that ever existed, buying a fresh pineapple popsicle from a man in the ocean pushing a floating popsicle cart with the ease of a rodeo cowboy, and debating whether a big puffy cloud was in fact a moon, gremlin, woodpecker, or puppy. This was how we passed our day as the Beatles and the Village People played over the restaurant speakers, competing with a rhythmic reggaeton beat in the distance of a dueling establishment.

 

Photo by Brinson+Banks for Light.

 

 

Our drive home left us a bit drained after a grueling four beaches in two days, but the Dirty Dancing soundtrack kept us going as we narrowly missed a flash flood on the way back, and as the towering saguaros faded from orange to rose to gray to black.

The next morning, we packed our bags, pushing the zippers to their limits due to the souvenirs we couldn’t turn down. We had a brief jump-on-the-bed party to Cyndy Lauper’s anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and vowed we’d return to this enchanted town again.

 

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