They Paid Me to Enjoy This Birthday Treat…

When you get to a certain age, the idea of blowing out candles jammed into a cake laden with thick, sickeningly-sweet wallpaper paste-like frosting is no longer appealing. So when offered the opportunity to spend my birthday in a beautiful part of Mexico, I didn’t have to think twice.

First, let me disclose that technically it wasn’t a vacation—it was work. Sort of. I’m a freelance travel writer, which really is a dream job. Sure, like any job, it isn’t always easy, but getting to visit exotic places, chat with locals, tuck into unusual food, experience thrilling adventures, or even relaxing on the shore of turquoise, powdery-sand beaches…well, I can’t think of a better way to earn a living.

Or to celebrate my birthday, for which was fully paid. I was one of five journalists invited by the La Paz tourism council to spend some time exploring this lesser-known destination on the Sea of Cortez on the Baja California Sur peninsula, Mexico. Unlike Cabo San Lucas, its more familiar and rowdy neighbor to the south, La Paz, an authentic and colorful Mexican small town whose name translates “the Peace,” is just that. It’s a friendly, tranquil and safe place to visit.

I began my birthday by filling up on the enormous buffet breakfast at the resort pool. Then it was time to take a short boat ride from the beach to the protected waters of Isla Epiritu Santo Island.

While the boating itself would have made for a pleasant enough day, our destination was a rocky outcrop hosting a colony of sea lions. Mind you, this was not the usual tightly-supervised, aquatic-petting tourist trap—these sea lions are wild, uncontained, in their natural habitat.

As we drew closer, I heard the roaring of the males and could see some sunning themselves on the jagged rocks. We anchored, and after donning my wetsuit, snorkel and fins, I jumped into the water.

I swam over to a cave where I’d been told numerous female sea lions hang out waiting for a “dating opportunity” with a visiting male. Suddenly an enormous dark form whizzed by several feet below me. A male sea lion can weigh up to 880 pounds, and this one looked every bit that size!

I decided to swim to quieter waters where the curious pups have been known to swim right up to humans and face them with their huge, soft eyes. Sure enough, within minutes, two baby sea lions began playfully swimming circles around me. One pup softly bumped my side and I was able to reach out and gently touch the sleek coat. For me, life just doesn’t get any better than this.

Back on board, Captain Juan set sail for El Morito, a deserted beach with crystal-clear water framed by craggy cliffs. I grabbed a lonely kayak and paddled out into the glassy bay while I waited for lunch. Freshly caught fish cooked over an open fire and homemade tortillas and rice awaited me on my return.

Later that evening, I took a short stroll along the malécon to view the stunning sunset, before heading to a great restaurant for dinner. My party and I were served margaritas and an appetizer of fresh guacamole and crickets—which I dutifully consumed (this is the part of travel writing that is sometimes not so easy!) Fortunately, the crickets were quickly followed by a mouthwatering assortment of tapas.

During our meal, we were serenaded by a live three-piece mariachi band playing close by our table… and they, and the whole restaurant sang “happy birthday” to me in both English as well as the Mexican version.

It was great to celebrate my day in La Paz. Getting paid for it was just the icing on the (birthday) cake!

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