Reflections on La Playita

Reflections onLa Playita

A surfer, a rancher and a small businessman.

By Marshall Ellingson




  Jim and I enjoyed the afternoon views and colors on his rooftop patio and looked out towards the sea over the excavation project that is Puerto Los Cabos.  It looked like a massive sand box with all sorts of miniature construction and digging toys spread about.

  “How far to the ocean, ½ mile?”

   “A km?”

  “6/10 of a mile?  For sure.  They’re digging constantly over there right now.”  Forty trucks going twenty hours a day.

  Jim, his wife and two daughters used to live inLa Choyain the nineties, set amongst the palm trees above the soccer fields ofLa Playita.  Thenew Puerto Los Cabos marina is now in the space of the soccer fields and their house backs up against the new marina at the ferry dock.

  “I blink and can’t believe what I am seeing.  People come out here in their rental cars and their jaws drop at the scale of the project.  All I used to hear was waves breaking on the beach.  Filtered through the palm trees.”

  Our families have known each other for 20 years.

 We’re all lovers of Baja and of the small fishing town just east ofSan Joseknown asLa Playita.

We have fond memories of that dusty road from San Jose, driving through that tunnel of trees and wild bamboo growing all over the place and coming out from the foliage into the expanse of dirt soccer fields. We would pull up to “El Chapo” the coldest beer in Baja. People would drive east 15 milesdown the dirt road to come in and get a cold beer there, or Eat at Dos Ricardos, or the tacos at the La Playita restaurant, and check the fishing action with  the fishermen under the palapas on the beach.  There was a sense of being somewhere else, even though we had only driven a few kilometers.  And the residents have a slight linguistic twist compared to the ¨city folk¨ of San Jose.

  During his recent move with his family back toLa Playita, Jim came across some old photos and became reflective.

 Shots of a back yard set amongst lush palms like a tropical jungle.

 Another with his daughter with their dogs beside the old wooden cross on the hill looking over the soccer fields where the new massive cross now stands.

  There used to be a dead end road up to their house fromLa Playita, today, it is a major connection along the marina to the village. 


  The first time I looked out at the new marina from their house it took me a while to get my bearings.  What is that marina doing there?  How bizarre.

  We sat on the rooftop patio, taking in the scene.  Jim talked and I took notes.

  “Our neighbor´s home to the left, used to be a sugar cane field one hundred years ago.  Our place was originally built to house sugar cane workers. This part of the house , I believe, is the oldest structure still in use inLa Playita.

 It is made of Ladrillo, the long, hand pressed red brick, which are laid sideways to make the walls very thick.

Our neighbor’s father lived in the beach front ranch atLa Fortunafor 50 years.”

However, most of our beloved neighbors have been re-located to El Rincon, their homes soon to be torn down for development.

  “All this area is a myriad of foothills, from here to the huertas (orchards). 17 years ago, the workers would walk by our house on a path to the huerta , as there were no fences, in the early norning light.  They were growing cilantro, tomatoes, corn, peppers, some avocados, and mangos. Mangos were dripping off the trees in June.”  “The huertas were abundant.” 

  “That over there,” Jim points at the Puerto Los Cabos sales office on the hill ahead to the right.  “used to be called the Pirate House.  Lots of old relics found around it, pots and pans.  Perhaps it had a strategic position in pirate times.The first topographical rise.  Galleons used to anchor right off this beach, to get fresh water.  Their route was from the Philippines to Acapulco.”

  The sun started to set over our right shoulders. Fiery shades.  Draped over desert mountains.

  “There was an abundance of kids to play with Leanna (daughter) in the neighborhood.  For weddings or fifteenth birthdays there would be ranchero and disco music.  Tubs of beer.  A piñata.  A freshly killed goat or a pig.  Rice and beans.  A festive time until 4 or5 inthe morning with the music just cranked.  Neighbors were not bothered.”

  “On normal days at 5:45 am each morning one could hear the old 55 Evinrudes firing up.  The fishermen started them on land to get them going.  And the roosters. Roosters and Evinrude engines.  Was the sweet sound.  That was the wakeup call.  A sound I’ll never forget.  The lasting sound ofLa Playita.”

  “Whenever there was a big storm we would lose electricity first and then water.  October 1990.  Our second day in the house.  A storm hit and after it passed there was no water or electricity for two weeks.  It was stinking hot.  The silver lining was the surf.  The water broke out of the estuary and emphasized the shape of the sand bars by the lighthouse.  The surf was all-time, big.  I can’t remember how many times during those years that water from storms washed out the arroyo between here and San Jose and blocked traffic.  We were stuck here.  We surfed all alone out there.  Barrels, easily the shape of Hawaii, Thickness, width and depth.  It still does that out there sometimes.”

  I took a swig from my glass and gazed out over the sandbox.  The noise was of dump trucks and cranes, Dogs playing. 

  “Try to gauge the joy for a transplanted southern California surfer in finding Baja.  No crowds, warm waters.  In85’it reminded me of Manhattan Beach (LA County) 100 years earlier.  It was like being back 100 years compared to where I was from.  We still have a few years left.  That is my personal paradox.  I have always been a naturalist and a nature lover, and I am a realtor and promoting development.”

   “There was no such thing as keeping up with the Jones’ inLa Playita.  Nobodycared.  The original Gringos came toLa Playitain the late 70s.  More in the mid to late 80s.  Southern California surfers.  Independently wealthy.  Everyone drove old Chevys and Fords.  Dune buggies.  Then out to Zacatitos during the mid 80s and early 90s.  They built casual places to crash in and they’d surf all day.  You need shade and a crash pad.  Launch a boat. Fish. Walk miles of beach. Swim and snorkel. When the surf was down there was still plenty to do.”

  Jim and I sat around at the end of the night and talked about the purpose of this article.  To bring light to some of the history of the area.  A point of view. 

  We talked of stewardship of the land.  Drainage and waste management.  How are we going to deal with this pristine opportunity? 

  “We are the closest tropical region to the most influential marketplace in the western hemisphere: southern California.  Developers are doing all in their power to make it a profitable, beautiful and desirable resort.  We all need to be aware that we are the first to come in such numbers. First contact with the environment.”

  What will be our legacy?

  Further talk lead into the Pericu Indians and tales of a tall race that came from the south;  Dark skin, green eyes, cave paintings up high in the mountains and canyons.


  I followed through on an idea to get a local Mexican viewpoint and called Juan Castro.  He owns a water truck and came to fill up the pila (water tank) where I am staying at in Laguna Hills (east of San Jose 10 minutes).  Juan told me that the Laguna area used to be called Salina, as in salty.  He seemed about my age.  I’m 36.  During the filling we spoke in Spanish about his life growing up on a ranch east ofLa Playita.  Iremembered seeing that ranch when taking the old beach road years back.  The ranch is still there as it turns out.  Juan invited me to talk with him and his father Guillermo at his father’s house inLa Playita.  Wesat on a patio on the side of the house with a view through green plants and flowers to the dirt street.  There was plenty of laughter and joking as they told me their stories.

  Guillermo Castro was born in San Jose.  When he was two years old, Guillermo went to live on their ranch located betweenLa Playitaand Laguna Hills.  The ranch came from the ejido (government appropriated).  They named it “Buenos Aires”.   Guillermo’s grandfather as well had a ranch located near the present day Westin Regina called “El Bledito” after a local small tree.  It was five hours on horseback between the two ranches and they did the trip usually once a week on the horse trail.  I asked Guillermo what it was like to be out there on his horse, along the shore, in the desert (interview translated from Spanish).

  “Quiet.  Only hotel between here and there wasLa Palmilla.  Therewas no highway back then, that came in the 70s.  There weren’t many cars.  We got around by horse or walking.  The burros were our cars.”  (laughter)

  I looked over at his neighbors little fenced-in ranch as I wrote.  Chickens and Horses.  Had a cool sip of Coke.

“How was it for your kids growing up out there on the ranch?” I asked

“More free.  They had the freedom to do what they liked.”

  There was a well on their ranch.  A burro walked in a circle and worked some sort of device that pumped up water.  The water was used for everything. 

  “It tasted a little bit salty.”  Juan and Guillermo looked to each other and smiled, remembering.

  At the ranch the family had cattle and made cheese and sold some along with milk.  When more money was required they would venture for hours up into the desert hills with the burros to collect wood for sale.  Sometimes they broke rock to sell for construction.  There were eleven brothers and Guillermo is the oldest. 

  “It was beautiful, the life on the ranch.  One would work during the day and rest at night.  Tend to the cows.  Get water from the well for the house and to cook food.  We’d eat dinner at seven then sit about and chat before going to bed about eight-thirty.  Up early.”

  Food was bought mostly from the orchards inLa Playita.  Onions, beans, tomatoes, chile, maiz, oranges, limes.  Rice was bought in the market.  The old Canseco store was the place, right across from the Municipal Palace in San Jose.  It closed about five years ago and has recently been torn down leaving only the building façade.  Valerio Canseco.  Guillermo’s father worked for him.

  Guillermo’s brother Leonardo (Leo) entered up onto the patio for a while.  Relatives of all ages came and went during our talk, genuine and heartfelt.  Sometimes people honked and waved from the street to Guillermo.

  “After the highway the cars started coming.It used to take three days to drive fromLa Pazto here.”

  They tried to remember where the first gasoline station was in San Jose and concluded that it was somewhere downtown close to the church. 

  “In the seventies came the Hotel Cabo San Lucas.Then came more foreigners and tourism.  Now it is pure hotels in the corridor.”

  “When did foreigners come toLa Playita?”  I asked.

  “In the 80s.  They were good people (Buenas personas).  They behaved well.”  Hmm, interesting.

  “How was life for the local people?”

  “Most people fished. Very happy.  They’d get up at five am.  Check their nets. (called simbras). Then come home and relax for a while and repair or make more nets.  There were no problems.  Now it’s all tourism.”

  “Mariner’s day is June 1st .  They used to a release a greased pig on the beach and all the kids would chase it into the water.  Whomever drowned the pig got to keep it.  Pickup trucks paraded girls about who were competing to be Queen.  It has been quite a celebration that lasted for decades. A day to honor the fisherman.”

  Juan brought out an aerial photo ofLa Playitabefore the marina development.  I was surprised by the amount of palm trees and how close the fresh water lagoon was to town.

  “There used to be big red crabs in the orchards.  They were pretty and tasty!”  We all laughed.  “No,all that is over.”  They both still had smiles on their faces.Reflecting on pleasant memories, content being in the present.

  “There were wells for water.  That was whatLa Playitapeople used in their houses.”

  I asked if they are sad about the changes.

  “A bit sad.  Life is more convenient now but was beautiful before.”

  “There is more work now for our kids.”

  “There are lots of old people here with stories.  There was a sugar cane mill here inLa Playita.  Itclosed in the seventies, more or less.  It was named Molino Miramar.  There was a mill in Las Animas too.”

  I asked about family names.  Juan and Guillermo listed some off: Aripez, Pino, Miranda, Banaga, Marquez.  Were there problems between the families I wondered? 

  “No, they are all mixed.”  They laughed.  “Aripez-Pino!!”

    I asked if as ranchers they ate much fish back then.

  “Yes. For variety. Now there are few fish but before there were lots.  Sea bass.  Turtles.  Manta Rays.  That’s over.  ”

  “What do people do for work?”  I ask.

  “Many fish.  Some work in hotels or in San Jose. The younger people are working with Puerto Los Cabos.”

  “We heard for years about the marina.  Maybe it was going to be in Santa Cruz?  RanchoLa Laguna, the big arroyo between Punta Gorda andLa Laguna?  On the other side of the lighthouse at Rancho Aripez?  Everyone had an opinion.  Today the marina is often talked about.”

  I enquired about historical events inLa Playita. 

  Guillermo’s eyes were alive with reflection.  “The hurricane of 58 caused a lot of damage.  The houses were made of wood and palm.  All destroyed.  One person I remember,died when a wall fell on him in San Jose.  There was very little help then from outside or the government.  We all built up with palm and wood again.”

  “The fourth of November, nineteen ninety-four.  There was lots of water damage.  The orchards. Lots of government help with food and water.”

  “When was the church inLa Playitabuilt?”  I asked. The church of San Pedro and San Paulo. Guillermo called out to ask his wife.

  “Over sixty years ago.”  She says.

  Guillermo continued, “It used to be of brick with a palapa roof.  It was renovated well. Most of us are Catholic.  Not many go to church. June 29th is the day of the church.”

  They asked if I have been baptized.  “Me?  No. No religion for me.”

  They asked if I am married or have kids.  “No.  I did just get a dog though.  I’ll see how I do with that.”  They laughed. 

  We parted graciously.  Leaving from their house in my VW bug I drove about the streets ofLa Playitafor a spell.  Quiet.  Charming.  Even the abandoned car was charming.  A lady was watering her garden in bare feet with a hose.  Dirt floors under the fruit trees.  Wood and wire fences.  Dirt roads.  Aaaah that feeling of driving a dry dirt road.  Warm and slightly dusty.  Relaxing.  Giddy with country adventure.  The road wound out to the Puerto Los Cabos excavation.  There was a sense of being under a wave that was breaking over me.  Aaaah nostalgia, a sentimental yearning.


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