Changes-big changes—are coming to San José del Cabo, that “other” Cabo, the town closer to the Los Cabos Airport.
In the early days, from downtown San José a little dirt road crossed the upper estuary and ended at a small beach village called La Playita. There a broad, white-sand beach was home to the pangueros, fishermen who pulled their 18-20 foot pangas up the sandy berm each day. Those Mexican locals and early gringos who settled on that side of the estuary lived in semi-isolation, far removed from the bustling and rapidly developing tourist town of San José.
But that was before!
Now progress has stretched across the estuary in such a big way it has been called “the most ambitious single property development in Baja.” The 2,000-acre residential resort under construction there will feature two golf courses (Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman designed), a full-scale marina, restaurants, shops, five-star hotels, and a major housing subdivision with lots, condos and homes available.
The Puerto Los Cabos marina had already been dredged by February and I watched huge rocks being placed to form the breakwater jetties. The marina, which is due to partially open in July 2006, will eventually have 500 slips and be able to accommodate yachts up to 200 feet. Even the anxious pangueros are being assuaged by the developers as they will move to the harbor and no longer have to pull their boats up on the sand bar.
Major developers of Puerto Los Cabos are Jorgé Buch Braniff, of Mexico City, and Eduardo Sanchez-Navarro (Of Corona beer). In an article in Destino: Los Cabos, Buch comments on how their development will help the people of the area with jobs, etc., and especially those across the estero whose infrastructure will improve greatly.
Already broad new avenues and glorietas (traffic circles) head into the hills beyond the Puerto. There’s not much there yet, but soon will be. Homesites of approximately a half acre are being sold from the low $200,000 (U.S.) to $4.3 million (yes, U.S. dollars for a lot) oceanfront.
Misión La Serena, the most exclusive deeded private residence club in Baja, is being developed on 7.4 secluded beachfront acres. Condos with state-of-the-art amenities and electronic gadgetry will run from U.S. $350,000 to $2 million.
In March, Misión La Serena public relations manager Jesús Corral said, “We are currently building the oceanfront units, along with the three tiered infinity pool and beach club.” Corral added that Misión La Serena had sold about 10 percent of their inventory and were scheduled to open at the end of November 2006.
The fresh-water estuary at San José del Cabo has always loomed important to the cape region. Indians lived in the fertile valley that fed the estuary, and the Spanish padres established the area’s first mission along its banks. Later Manila galleons stopped there to take on water, fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and hide out from marauding Dutch and English pirates.
On April 8, 1730, Padre Nicholas Tamaral, founder of the mission of Purisima, established the new mission at San José del Cabo. The name San José was given honoring José de Villapuente, a colonization benefactor, with the “del Cabo” (of the cape) added to distinguish it from Comondú, where the mission was also called San José.
The original site of the mission was along the estuary but the mosquitoes drove the padre to resettle inland, first along the right-bank of the arroyo some nine miles from the ocean (about where Santa Anita is). In 1734, there was an Indian uprising in the south and, disgusted at seeing their liberties curtailed by the Catholic padres, the Indians rose up and killed Tamaral as well as the missionaries at Santiago and Todos Santos.
In 1753 the mission was moved to its present site downtown. As Arthur Walbridge North wrote in his 1907 Mother of California, “Here there was an abundance of rich soil, plenty of water, a roadstead not far distant, and a climate that might reconcile one to exile from the rest of the world.”
Until recent decades, San José del Cabo was a much larger town than the other “Cabo” down the corridor, Cabo San Lucas, site of a fish cannery and little else.
For years, visitors have extolled the delights of San José. In 1910 Arthur North wrote, “San José del Cabo is a charming and picturesque pueblo, with the inevitable mission and plaza, many sky-blue, flat-roofed adobe residences, attractive gardens, rich soil, much running water, and every conceivable tropical and semi-tropical fruit.”
The 1964 Lower California Guidebook by Gerhard and Gulick, waxes much the same as North. “San José, with its mild climate, somnolent atmosphere and beautiful surroundings, is certainly one of the most beautiful towns in Baja California….At the mouth of the arroyo below the town is a large fresh water pond (estero) which drains into the sea. There is a clean white sand beach with ideal bathing, since the warm waters of the Gulf and the cold waters of the Pacific join here in just the right combination.”
Today’s changes to the peaceful area are so momentous and far reaching that environmentalists are howling. They claim that the developers have destroyed thousands of native plants, bulldozed dunes, and are destroying the natural habitat of many species including the osprey. And they argue that a pipeline has even been laid upon a beach where sea turtles nest.
Others mention that while some locals benefit by new jobs and a supply chain created, others were forced to sell their homes in the name of progress. Also, most of the jobs created in Cabo’s recent boom have been filled by mainland Mexicans.
Gringos who live across the estuary have been shocked into the reality of the progress. Many echo the musings of Jim (Jaime) Tolbert, owner of Baja Books and Maps, who said, “The Puerto Los Cabos idea as they state is to develop a community with an ‘authentic Mexican village.’ Well, we were an authentic Mexican village long before they came along.”
Arthur North liked the authenticity so well back in 1910, he wrote, “It is a frequent saying down in the Peninsula that if a man stops a week at San José del Cabo he becomes a “lotus eater” and only ropes can haul him away.”
I suppose that when people invest millions of dollars in a location, it really would be difficult to “haul them away.” b
Greg Niemann, long-time contributor to the San Clemente Journal, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, and Palm Springs Legends.