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Adina Samuels

Writer, editor, and podcast host with production, storytelling, and community-building experience.

  • Writer's pictureAdina Samuels

Viva la... Tourism?

Updated: Jan 20

Watching a bikini-clad woman on all fours in the sand, getting a henna tattoo from an aging local man, was NOT what I expected to see in my week in Mexico.

Watching him smile for a photo next to her bare butt cheek was even less expected.

Welcome to Cabo San Lucas, a city on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

Breathtaking beaches, moving desert landscapes, taco stands, and tourists, everywhere.

The major beach, Playa El Médano, is littered with locals selling bracelets and beachwear, and bands that say things like "I'm Horny", and "Bite Me". I wish I was kidding!

Seconds after anchoring our umbrella into the sand, lying out our towels and closing our eyes for a mid-day siesta, we're bombarded with sellers.

"Braids, senorita?"

"Sombrero, amigo?"

"No, gracias."

"No, lo siento. No."

The skyline is obstructed by cruise-ships taller than the mountains surrounding us, the shore crowded with boats for whale-watching tours and water taxis.

Every bar, restaurant, and shop accepts U.S. dollars. I put away my converted pesos and take out my Visa.

"La cuenta, por favor?"

I debate riding imported camels in the desert, going on a Jeep tour, or snorkelling at the nearby beach. I go for a walk instead.

The natural beauty of the city is undeniable. The vegetation flourishes in the dry heat, the mountains look painted on a backdrop of the bluest-sky, but all I can see is signs for "2 for 1 Margaritas" and Starbucks and McDonalds franchises.

What is Los Cabos, besides a destination for snowbirds and retirees?

Cabo San Lucas, the internet will tell you, was established in 1917, and has been a tourist trap since the 70s. But what about before all the flashing lights and neon signs?

The Pericues were the original indigenous inhabitants of the area. In the 1500s Spanish settlers sauntered in, bringing measles, smallpox, and syphilis with them. The approximate indigenous population of 5000 was decimated and deemed culturally and linguistically extinct.

By the way, they're only called the Pericues because the Spanish came in, noticed their quick and different speech and referred to them as Parakeets.

George Shelvocke, an English explorer, jotted down his thoughts on the Pericue people from a visit in the early 1700s:

“They seem to lead a careless life and to have everything in common among them, and can be supposed to search for nothing but the bare necessities of life, viz. meat and drink; which frees them from the anxieties which disturb the thoughts of nations more civilized and more refined. Their contentment made them honest for they never offered to pilfer or steal any of our tools and other utensils, although they might have been of great service to them…In a word they seem to pass their lives according to the notions we have of purest simplicity of the earliest ages of the world, before discord and contention were heard of among men; which must be owing to the great distance of their situation, and their being so much out of the reach of those who might have taught them other things.”

Barely anything remains of their culture and traditions. We have no photos, descriptions solely from European colonizers (who saw them as savages), four words from their distinct language, and 10 place names.

If only the grains of sand under which we lay our beach towels and set up our umbrellas could tell us more about these native people!

I listened to the Spanish around me, and wondered what it meant for Mexicans to be speaking an Imperial language, living on the past of a people whose story goes mostly untold.

I asked Pepé, a guide on a hike, about the cultural aspects of Cabo. "It feels like most of the culture comes from the tourism industry," I stated, picking up yet another factory-made calaca and turning it around in my hands.

"Not at all," he said, offended by my Western words. I listened to him, as he spoke about the richness of the people, their history, and heritage.

"It's complicated," he explained. Los Cabos depends on tourism, and locals are friendly to foreigners for that reason. But internally? “It's a different story."

"What do you think about Spanish people?" I dared.

"No bueno," he said, and explained that in some parts of Mexico people refuse to speak Spanish.

"Did you know 'Mexico' isn't a Spanish word? It means 'in the moon's belly button', a Náhuatl term."

"Náhuatl?" I asked.

"The local language," Pepé grinned. It’s spoken in scattered communities, mostly in rural areas throughout central Mexico and along the coast.

There's certainly more than meets the eye to Cabo San Lucas. The rocks that line the coast date back up to 30 million years ago, and have been witness to far more than what I get to see of the city today.

Worth a visit? Sure, just consider whose feet walked in the same sand before yours.

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