Gringo Enclaves; Good and Bad

Gringo Enclaves, or expat communities are common throughout Mexico. These pockets within towns where “birds of a feather” flock from the US and Canada to be together are on the rise. Ask any local and they will tell you…more and more gringos are coming.

Whether a gringo enclave is “good” or “bad” is in the eyes of the potential residente’. Some prefer blending with the local culture while having access to just a touch of familiarity, while others complain that the CostCo does not have all the same brands as it does back home. I recently read a post of someone complaining about an event list because all the descriptions of the events were written in Spanish. (ahem…We ARE in Mexico!)

Los Barriles, gringo enclave on the East Cape of Baja. The name means "the barrels."

Los Barriles, gringo enclave on the East Cape of Baja. The name means “the barrels.”

These are known as "Casitas la Playa," or beach houses...thatched roofs over RV parking pads along the beach in Los Barriles.

These are known as “Casitas la Playa,” or beach houses…thatched roofs over RV parking pads along the beach in Los Barriles.

While traveling through Baja, I experienced two gringo enclaves back to back, one which I would consider good, while the other not so good. Straight out of the pages of my favorite childhood magazine, Highlights, the two towns reminded me of an episode of “Goofus and Gallant.” (Please note: This is only MY OPINION as to what I feel makes an admirable and attractive expat community.)

Los Barriles is a kite boarding and wind surfing haven.

Los Barriles is a kite boarding and wind surfing haven.

Many of the "duuuuudes" in Los Barriles are fellow geezers.

Many of the “duuuuudes” in Los Barriles are fellow geezers.

As I worked my way around the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, my intention was to explore some new territory outside of last years itinerary, specifically the East Cape. This area is very difficult to explore without a car, as the Aquila bus system only goes as far as Los Barriles, a beachside town on the east side.

From there, I moved over to the west side to visit another gringo enclave, Todos Santos. I spent several days there last year enjoying the beach, surf community, and artist vibe. Unlike last year, this time around I had no set schedule. I stayed an entire week.

Visiting these two towns offered a stark contrast in experiences, prompting me to consider what I think makes a good expat community.

A Dog Show seems out of place in Mexico. They treat their pets differently...no fancy outfits or hiking shoes....a leash is about the only "accessory" you will see. Thank goodness they donated some proceeds to spay and neutering.

This Los Barriles Dog Show seems out of place in Mexico. Here, they treat their pets differently…no fancy outfits or hiking shoes….a leash is about the only “accessory” you will see. Thank goodness they at least donate a portion of proceeds to spay and neuter clinic.

Antique cars in front of Palmas de Cortez, fancy resort in Los Barriles.

Antique cars in front of Palmas de Cortez, fancy resort in Los Barriles.

Los Barriles idea of a "gourmet market." More like the chip aisle at a 7-11.

Los Barriles idea of a “gourmet market.” More like the chip aisle at a 7-11.

Both towns are of a similar size, with Los Barriles being a bit smaller. In both towns, taxis are scarce, as most everything is within walking distance. However, unlike Todos Santos, no one walks in Los Barriles. In the streets, a steady stream of four-wheelers buzz by outfitted with grocery baskets, luggage racks, and even a few “extreme” hood ornaments. Sidewalks are narrow, and often slant at a 45 degree angle, making rolling luggage next to impossible. Unlike other towns in the Baja, getting from the bus station to my hotel was a struggle. There had to be 50 ATVs pass me, many of them with only one occupant. One woman almost ran right over me. Do you think any of them would “help a sister out” and offer me a ride? Not one. Yet in Todos Santos, I wasn’t off the bus and down the street two blocks before two gringas stopped to offer me a lift.

This poor woman was stuck in the sand. I tried to help, but finally some Mexican men came to her aid. But not until at least three gringos on ATVs passed her by.

This poor woman was stuck in the sand. I tried to help, but finally some Mexican men came to her aid. But not until after at least half a dozen gringos on ATVs (including the 2 in the upper right) passed her by without stopping.

Dust wreaks havoc on a beach house...

Dust wreaks havoc on a beach house…

Los Barriles Beach Bar. there was actually quite a crowd at the bar, but I had the lounge chairs all to myself.

Los Barriles Beach Bar. there was actually quite a loud crowd at the bar, but I had the beachfront lounge chairs all to myself.

This was particularly painful to watch these ATVers buzz by a Mexican woman alone whose car was stuck in the sand. Not one gringo flying down the beach stopped to ask if she needed help. I attempted, but then some locals showed up to help her out. But not until several ATVs sped by her without stopping to help. “Goofus” indeed!

In my opinion, the antithesis of the “Goofus” gringo enclave of Los Barriles is the “Gallant” Todos Santos on the western side of the peninsula. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist locale to gringos and locals alike. But local culture and the arts are embraced equally by both, as are newcomers to the community. Todos Santos, a Puebla Magico, or "Magic Town" is one of my favorite spots on the Baja. Touristy, yes, but tastefully so.

Todos Santos, a Puebla Magico, or “Magic Town” is one of my favorite spots on the Baja. Touristy, yes, but tastefully so.

The old buildings in Centro Historico are being restored to their original architectural style.

The old buildings in Centro Historico are being restored to their original architectural style.

Beautiful home in Centro Historico, Todos Santos.

Beautiful home in Centro Historico, Todos Santos.

Los Barriles is a kite-boarding and wind surfing haven. Although I sat and watched for hours, not one person ever made eye contact, let alone engaged me in conversation. This was true for the local beach bar as well. The community felt very “cliquish.”

One of my favorite things about Todos Santos is the inclusive spirit of the surfer community. Just a 20 minute bus ride out of town is a famous surfer’s beach, Playa Cerritos. I visited three days a week while in TS, and each time, I met new friendly people on the beach. Not that I am looking for a pick-up, mind you, but being invited to a music venue in Todos Santos, or welcomed as a visitor at the local gringo hang-out, the Esquina Café, made me feel welcomed by the community.

This gentleman is painting on tiles using only his fingers. Todos Santos Art Show.

This gentleman is painting on tiles using only his fingers. Todos Santos Art Show.

A very unflattering rendition of Frida as a mermaid? More like a transgender in progress.

A very unflattering rendition of Frida as a mermaid? More like a transgender male/female/mermaid in progress.

Another way to gauge the health of a gringo enclave is in how they give back to the local community. Todos Santos has an active organic farming network focusing on educating the locals on organic methods for growing produce geared toward a healthy lifestyle. Their farms employee locals to run the produce stands and deliver to restaurants.

Rancho Buen Dia, one of the many organic farms in Todos Santos.

Rancho Buen Dia, one of the many organic farms in Todos Santos.

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Breakfast of Gringa champions, fruit salad, natural yogurt, and granola with a blueberry smoothie. La Esquina ("The Corner") Cafe in Todos Santos.

Breakfast of Gringa champions, fruit salad, natural yogurt, and granola with a blueberry smoothie. La Esquina (“The Corner”) Cafe and popular gringo hangout in Todos Santos.

It’s always a good sign when local culture is embraced as a means of entertainment. During my visit, Todos Santos celebrated their 20th anniversary of the Festival del Artes. The only “entertainment” I could find in Los Barriles was Smokey’s Grill with menu prices in US dollars, eight flat screen TVs, and sports team brackets on every wall.

Art Festival in Todos Santos.

Art Festival in Todos Santos.

Ristorante Tre Galline, or "Three Hens" in Todos Santos.

Ristorante Tre Galline, or “Three Hens” in Todos Santos.

Tre Galline is a coffee shop with free wifi by morning, an authentic Italian restaurant after noon.

Tre Galline is a coffee shop with free wifi by morning, an authentic Italian restaurant after noon.

Owned by two Italian brothers, their wood-fired pizza is better than that found in the States.

Owned by two Italian brothers, their wood-fired pizza is better than most found in the States.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s not really a fair comparison. Todos Santos has been awarded the status of “Pueblo Magico,” or “Magic Town” a designation awarded by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism to promote towns recognized for their scenic beauty and cultural or historical relevance… whereas Los Barriles has a long way to go to capture any magic. Arts versus Sports. Just one of the many factors to be weighed should one be considering life as an expat…

In celebration of their 20th Anniversary of the Festival of Artes, Todos Santos had a parade and Ballet Folklorico show.

In celebration of their 20th Anniversary of the Festival of Artes, Todos Santos had a parade and ballet folklorico show.

I loved watching people break out in dancing in the street.

I loved watching people break out in dancing in the street.

More precious little girls, I can't imagine...

If there are more precious little girls, I can’t imagine…

They are quite the performers!

They are quite the performers!

Note the littlest one on the right...

Note the littlest one on the right…

These young performers are waiting their turn on stage...check out the "selfie" on the phone screen...

These young performers are waiting their turn on stage…check out the “selfie” on the phone screen…

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It looks like these performers are having a "nip"...but it's part of their act. Check out the next photo...

It looks like these performers are having a “nip”…but it’s part of their act. Check out the next photo…

Dancing with trays of cerveza bottles and glasses on their heads!

Dancing with trays of cerveza bottles and glasses balanced on their heads!

A beautiful night in Todos Santos on the outdoor stage!

A beautiful night in Todos Santos on the outdoor stage! And all for free, in celebration of the arts!

12 thoughts on “Gringo Enclaves; Good and Bad

  1. Wow! great stories, great photos, felt like I was there with you :) such a unique place, and the diversity is interesting. I sometimes feel that if the local economy depends too much on visitors/tourists, the friendliness-factor goes down a bit.

  2. I’ve never been much interested in Mexico, but yee-haw – I would stow away in your backpack any day to see the wonders that you seem to unearth.

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

  3. “Orale, güey” Love your view of my fav spots on earth. Mexico has always been serendipity, contrasts and every encounter has led to a more profound understanding of a very proud resilient culture. My gringo intrusion began before the Baja road was paved. East Cape was fly-in back then. Near Santo Tomas a beautiful cove at San Pedrito was the quintessential palm beach. The road south to Cabo was not paved. “Bad roads–Good people.” Only 10% further?

  4. Although it’s been decades, I felt like the locals were more friendly than the ex-pats. Plus their celebrations are so vivid and full of joy. You captured it well.

  5. What a little piece of heaven, thanks for sharing. It’s refreshing to see the town so engaged in the arts, especially in light of defunding of the arts under the current administration. Todos Santos will be added to my potential expat locations if I reach that point.

  6. Culture, art, organic farms, a friendly community, and dancing in the streets—Todos Santos looks like a place we would thoroughly enjoy. Los Barriles, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of place we avoid. Todos Santos is now on my list of special places to visit, thanks to you.

  7. Todo se ve tan hermoso. Tendría que ir con las artes y la agricultura orgánica. Tal vez nos convertiremos en expatriados también.
    Brought to you by Google translate!
    Love the pictures. Todos Santos wins hands down.

  8. Sounds to me like Todos Santos is definitely the better place to be. It’s been on my to-go list for a while now. Anyplace that is clogged with ATV’s is to be avoided!

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