Baja’s Booming New Food Scene in Ensenada

Ensenada has always been Tijuana’s cooler, hotter but more elegant and down-to-earth cousin. A seaside town with a vibrant port set in the magnificent Todos Santos Bay, the collapse of the tourism economy hit Ensenada hard. But thanks to the energy and passion of a small group of vintners, chefs and restauranteers, Ensenada is back –in a big way.

For sure the inspiring allure of the Adobe Guadalupe Winery and the wineries of the Guadalupe Valley has had a positive impact on the restaurant scene in Ensenada. Restaurants like Kalifa in the Viento seaside complex between San Miguel and the port are also destinations along with Boules at San Miguel. And for a post dinner coffee and desert check out Luis Arriagas art-filled cafe, Cafe Arabica at #1010 Second Street, just off downtown.

Last week I had the pleasure of eating an amazing lunch–one of the best seafood meals I’ve ever eaten in Baja at the amazingly down-to-earth and unpretentious Muelle 3 located on Ensenada’s malecon.

Owner David Martinez has put together a simple menu that is all about serving simple, fresh, and incredibly tasty seafood.

Calamar frito. Very tasty!

Our WiLDCOAST group sampled the menu starting with clam chowder, then moving on to fish and clam ceviche, mussels and frites, plates of sashimi, and then squid and octopus risotto. It was all fantastically fresh and delicious.

The best ceviche I've ever eaten. Photo: Lenise Andrade

Check it out at: Blvd. Teniente Azueta 187 (sobre el Malecon), Ensenada: 646.174.0318, 646.151.9292

David Martinez (left) of Muelle 3.

Luis Arriaga, the delightful owner of Cafe Arabica.

Wombats Surf in Baja

My kids filmed and edited this little video on our recent trip south of the border that includes their little buddy Josh.

Chasing the Swell in Baja

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Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

Last weekend’s large surf capped three-weeks of clean consistent surf, the best run of waves in over a year. The past weekend we experienced one of the largest northwest swells in about three years.

Many surfers took advantage of the swell to experience pristine waves and wilderness south of the border.

The week before Christmas, my family (my sons Israel and Daniel and wife Emily) and I joined the Johnsons (Daren, Terri and Josh), on a trip into wild Baja that involved driving through endless mudpits, howling winds, packs of coyotes, and empty barrels.

Our trip was a return to old school adventure in Baja that requires a high-clearance 4×4, nerves of steel, and an excellent sense of direction. To reach the coast, we endured more than 50 miles of mud traps.

The small storms that passed through Southern California before Christmas resulted in four days of rain—the most it has rained in central Baja in more than five years. The desert hills were green, with flowers poking through the spiny cactus, and birds fluttering around the water holes.

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Israel Dedina at Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

By the time we arrived at our destination, both my Tacoma and Daren’s Ford F-350 were drenched in mud.

We spent the week surfing empty points and exploring the craggy coast. WiLDCOAST the organization I am the the director of,  has conserved about 30 miles of the coastline here, focusing on the conservation of the headlands, points and wetlands that are entirely undeveloped with the exception of tiny encampments of friendly fishermen and their families.

One day a fisherman dropped off a few lobster to sample. Israel, Daniel and Josh learned how to prepare and grill lobster Baja style—butterflied, over red-hot mesquite coals.

Nothing tastes better than fresh lobster tacos after a day of surfing.

Another day, we boarded Daren’s homemade dune buggy and scouted the coast. At one embayment we found empty waves and a fisherman’s pickup drowning in the sea.

Apparently the driver attempted to make it through surf at low tide and hit a tidepool. Our attempts to haul him out were unsuccessful and the pickup was submerged within the hour (his fishing co-op colleagues apparently hauled him out hours later).

Toward the end of our stay, the dreaded ferocious Baja northeast winds hit, creating dust clouds and blowing out the surf. We survived the night, but headed out home the next morning. Upon our departure we spied a large, confident and well-fed pack of coyotes meandering across the salt flats.

The day before Big Friday I borrowed a longboard and caught some fun ones. Photo: Jeff Knox.

A few days after our return, my sixteen-year-old son, Israel, joined a crew of Coronado surfers including John and Thomas Holder and veteran lifeguard Stan Searfus, for a trip to Todos Santos Island.

“Going out to Todos, one of the world’s most beautiful big waves spots was inspiring,” said John, who was on break from his stint serving in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

“It is a stunning place and the surf was pumping. In between sessions we saw migrating gray whales, dolphins and enjoyed the natural beauty of one the last pristine treasures of northern Baja.”

I returned to Baja last week with Zach Plopper. We had an appointment to survey a 1,200-acre headland and wetland that WiLDCOAST, is negotiating to purchase.

We scored great waves and were amazed by the beauty and biological diversity and abundance of the coastal desert headland we hope to conserve.

Surf scribe Kimball Taylor and San Diego surfer Chris Patterson also enjoyed the swell. But unfortunately they were both shocked by the flagrant disregard one crew of surfers had for the desert wilderness.

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Israel Dedina on the left at Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

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“Unfortunately, a large group of twenty-something surfers from Orange County had no respect for the landscape, chucking their trash in the desert, ripping out native plants, refusing to bury their own waste and acting disrespectfully in the water,” recounted Chris.

“They had forgotten that all of Central Baja is a national protected area in Mexico and that surfers need to treat the land and local people in Baja with a great deal of respect—since we are the only visitors there.”

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Israel Dedina at Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

Thankfully, more senior and educated surfers met with the group, politely explained the “unwritten rules” of Baja surf camping and the group cleared out and left the following morning.

So please remember that on your next visit to Baja, to pack out your trash, bury your waste, and leave all native plants alone. American surfers need to be role models for leaving as little trace as possible in a wilderness area that is home to generations of fishermen and ranchers and abundant wildlife.

The Best of Wild Baja

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From my Southwest Surf Patch.com column of October 26, 2011.

You don’t have to travel too far to experience the best coastal wilderness on the planet. There is no other place on Earth that provides the outdoor experience and friendly fishing folk in one location as the Baja California peninsula.

If you crave travel plans that bring you in contact with pristine waves, friendly whales and untrammeled wilderness, then pack up your gear and head south.

Whether you fly or drive, fish, surf or dive, the fact is that the real Baja is not found in the large tourist resorts but in the quiet and more remote fishing villages and mission towns far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern resorts such as Cabo San Lucas.

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Here are some areas in which it is possible to experience the best of wild Baja. These are all family friendly locations that provide either camping or small-scale hotel and eco-lodges to get you close to the water and wildlife.

San Ignacio Lagoon: This sheltered mangrove lagoon about 35 miles west of the mission village of San Ignacio is one of the world’s top destinations for whalewatching. Between late January and mid-April, hundreds of gray whales assemble in the shallow waters of this desert lagoon to give birth, mate and escape the cold water of the north Pacific. Numerous San Diego and locally based outfitters provide eco-camps and whalewatching services such as Kuyima, Pachico’s Eco-Tours, Baja Discovery, Baja Expeditions, and Baja Eco-Tours.6604819cee43ce4cc0a751ed8005c9cd

View of the bay with Isla Angel de la Guarda o...

Image via Wikipedia

Bahia de los Angeles:  Located about ten hours south of San Diego, this small fishing settlement on the shore of the Sea of Cortez is a haven for sportfishing, diving and wildlife watching. During the fall there are opportunities to observe whale sharks (with a certified outfitter). The numerous islands just offshore are filled with seabirds and excellent diving and snorkeling. There are a plethora of small eco-camps and a few hotels. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a sea turtle, fin whale, or a sea lion or all three.

Loreto: This lovely and quiet mission town in Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez is the gateway to exploring white sand beaches, pristine islands, the jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta and hidden missions. Loreto is also one of the best places for sportfishing and diving in Baja. To the north is Bahia Concepcion that provides more undeveloped beach camping and to the south are the dramatic peaks and beaches of Agua Verde.

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Magdalena Bay: This huge mangrove fringed series of bays is a maze of hidden waterways, sand dunes and mysterious islands that extends for more than 100 miles along Baja California Sur’s Pacific coastline. During February and March, gray whales are found near the fishing villages of Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos that also provide small-scale accommodations and basic restaurants. Sportfishermen have long been attracted to the area and birders are also discovering the wildlife of this long forgotten region.

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Cabo Pulmo: This tiny village of about 60 people borders the northernmost coral reef in North America. Cabo Pulmo National Park was recently listed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography study as one of the world’s most robust marine conservation areas. A dec

ade ago, local community members, conservationists and the Mexican government joined forces here to ban sport and commercial fishing within the national park and fish and ocean wildlife have rebounced. Cabo Pulmo is now one of the best dive spots in Mexico and is a haven for whales, sea turtles and giant schools of fish and even sharks. Small-scale accommodations abound here and there are numerous sportfishing resorts located to the north. Unfortunately there are plans to build a new Cancun-style resort here so don’t delay visiting this world-class nature reserve.

Staying Safe in Baja

 In 2007, violent assaults and robberies experienced by American surfers and off-road enthusiasts in Baja California rocked the avid Baja travel community in Southern California.

That news combined with the very real violence and media coverage of the drug war in Mexico caused many Baja stalwarts to abandon their lifestyle dedicated to surfing, fishing, off-roading, diving, hiking and just plain enjoying one of the world’s most spectacular natural and cultural regions.

Thankfully, the Mexican government finally responded to the surge in incidents in Baja by increasing roadside patrols and strategically combatting and reducing narco violence.

Tourists are slowly returning to Baja again.

According to Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat, border tourism increased 9.4 percent this year compared to 2010.

As someone who works and plays in Baja California I can attest to the increased security and the fact that for the most part, the majority of the peninsula is as safe as ever.

That is especially true in Baja California Sur, which is considered one of the safest states in Mexico.

Interior of Misión San Francisco Javier de Vig...

San Javier Mission

Last year I took a 2,970-mile round-trip to the East Cape from San Diego with my two teenage sons.

We traveled down some of the peninsula’s most remote coastal dirt roads and encountered friendly locals, lots of smiles, great wave and cold cervezas.

WiLDCOAST, the organization I run, has an office in Ensenada. At any given time our staff can be found in some of the most remote corners of the peninsula or the most trash-infested colonias of Tijuana.

So far we have had no problems at all.

To get an update on the situation south of the border I checked in with some of Baja’s most knowledgable and experienced travel experts who spend lots of quality time visiting the nooks and crannies of our neighbor to the south.

Geoff Hill is the Vice President for Business Development for Baja Bound Insurance and a longtime Baja surfing and travel vet.

Susie Albin-Najera is the creator and editor of The MEXICO Report, MEXICO Travel Writers and is a Community Manager for the recently formed Mexico Today. She has been published in numerous publications including San Diego Magazine, Latin Style, Vallarta Tribune, Baja Traveler, and Baja Breeze.

Angie Mulder is the Program Director for Baja Discovery, an adventure and outdoor outfitter that specializes in natural history tours of Baja California. The company’s destination eco-camp in San Ignacio Lagoon, is one of the world’s premier locations for whalewatching.

Kimball Taylor is the author of Return by Water: Surf Stories and Adventures, a columnist for ESPN.go.com, and a former Senior Editor with Surfer Magazine. He has co-authored books on both Pipeline and Jeffrey’s Bay. He is a longtime Baja California travel vet with many miles of deep Baja surf trips under his worn out tires.

La Purisma foothills, Baja California Sur, Mexico

La Purisima

Patch: From your perspective has the safety/security situation in Baja improved?

Geoff Hill: I really don’t feel that Baja has a safety problem as much as it has a perception problem. Every year I drive an average of 5,000 miles all over the peninsula and always have positive experiences wherever I travel. Be respectful, use common sense and Baja will treat you well. It’s not the scary place the media has made it out to be. I always look forward to being down in Baja. I love the warmth and friendliness of the people that I interact with and the rugged beauty.

Susie Albin-Najera: Baja is an excellent destination for road travel, whether it’s visiting the border territories or heading further south. The real safety issues are just simple road conditions but the toll roads are safe and constantly being improved. I’ve always felt safe driving in Baja, but always encourage people to purchase insurance and take normal road trip precautions.

Baja California Desert in the Cataviña region,...

Central Desert

Angie Mulder: After our nearly three decades of travel in Baja, times have certainly changed, but applying the rules of safe travel has not. Whether exploring the peninsula with guests or pursuing our own adventures, we do not drive alone or at night, and don’t carry a lot of cash or take along expensive electronics. Just use basic common sense. We continue to run our natural history trips without incident.

Kimball Taylor: The safety issue is a tough call. Although instances of shocking violence have decreased in Tijuana and the Rosarito to Ensenada corridor, the discovery of a massive pot farm near El Marmol indicates serious narco activity in Baja.

Patch: If tourists have a problem on the road, what should they do and who should they call?

Hill: To start with, it’s a good idea to carry a Mexican insurance policy that includes roadside assistance and towing. That will give you direct contact to assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. HDI Seguros and ACE Seguros are the two Mexican insurance companies that Baja Bound works with and they both have English-speaking representatives that are ready to assist you. You can also dial 078 anywhere in Baja which is the Tourist Assistance Hotline provided by the Secretary of Tourism.

Albin-Najera: The Green Angels also provide 24/7 free roadside assistance to visitors with mechanical problems. Tijuana, Ensenada & El Hongo toll roads: 01-800-990-3900 Tijuana, Tecate toll roads: 1-800-888-0911

Taylor: By far the most dangerous aspect of travel in Baja is Highway 1 (the trans peninsular highway). Although the highway is being widened and improved in places, it is still just one slender ribbon of asphalt with little to no shoulder and dubious engineering. With the advent of Costco and Home Depot in Cabo San Lucas, commercial traffic and semi-trucks increasingly burden the road. I would advise to keep driving to daylight hours and to refrain from the nighttime blitz drives that were popular in earlier decades.

Patch: What destinations do you recommend visiting in Baja?

Hill: Some of my favorite memories are surfing at Scorpion Bay back in the early nineties when it was still relatively undeveloped. Tucked up in a pine forest at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet is the San Pedro Martir Observatory. They have three giant telescopes at the facility and tours are available every day starting at 10 am. The views are incredible, and on the right day you can actually see the Sea of Cortez to the east and Pacific Ocean to the west. I recommend this trip in the warmer months it can snow on the mountain during the winter. Erendira is a sleepy little farming and fishing village about four hours south of the border that has fun surf, nice spots to camp on the water, good fishing and is a beautiful area to relax and unwind.

Albin-Najera: Baja is a mecca of eco-adventure, marine life, dessert and natural beauty. There are so many ways to enjoy the Baja region. I’ve visited all of the regions in northern Baja and each area offers something special. I recommend visiting all of the areas, either on your own with a road map or via guided tour. You can have great experiences all around Baja. For example, some of the activities available are surfing, scuba diving, whale watching, fishing, cave exploration, off road riding, beaches, biking, art galleries, culinary festivals, brewery tours, world class golfing, and wine tasting. I recommend the Discover Baja California website to get an idea of all of the options. Even just driving along the coastline from Tijuana to Ensenada offers stunning ocean views.

A close-up of a Gray whale's double blow hole ...

Gray whale in Baja

Mulder: Our favorite Baja destinations include the rugged and beautiful desert in Cataviña and San Ignacio. In San Ignacio must sees are the Mission and cave painting museum, followed by dinner at Rene’s. And of course San Ignacio Lagoon, where we spend most of our time. The whales, people, flora and wildlife make it a very special place that keeps us coming back year after year.

San Ignacio Mission / Misión de San Ignacio, B...

San Ignacio Mission

Taylor: I recommend a visit to San Ignacio. The town and mission represent both the romance and reality of Baja. With the famous San Ignacio Lagoon and its gray whales nearby, the oasis is also a way station to San Juanico for those heading south and Punta Abreojos for those heading north.

Patch: What are your favorite places to dine?

Geoff Hill: I am a sucker for carne asada tacos. My favorite stands are Los Traileros in El Sauzal (just north of Ensenada) and Tacos El Yaqui in Rosarito. Tapanco in Rosarito is a great option for a steak dinner, and Rey Sol in Ensenada has a unique French-Mexican fusion that is amazing. If you have never been to the wine country just north of Ensenada you are really missing out! Most people have no idea that there are over 50 wineries producing some unbelievable wines that are just now starting to gain notoriety worldwide. The region is also producing some fantastic artisanal cheeses, jams and olive oil. Most of the wineries offer tours and wine tastings for about five dollars.

Albin-Najera: Tijuana has garnered a lot of positive media attention among foodies and food editors as the new gastronomic hot spot. I could be just as happy eating at a no-name food stall in Tijuana as in a fancy restaurant. As a chilaquiles connoisseur, I am partial to La Casa de Mole in Tijuana, and lobster, Puerto Nuevo-style. There are many new upscale restaurants in Tijuana though, that I’m eager to visit.

Angie: Outside of San Ignacio, we stop for chicken tacos at Quichules, the best beans ever.

Taylor: My favorite places to eat are the roadside taco stands in Ensenada, or just around the campfire.

The Swell Chasers

From my IB Patch Southwest Surf column May 26, 2011:

Last Thursday, when the first real south swell of the season hit, the beach was closed in Imperial Beach. No roping lefts off the pier, or grinding tubes at the south end of the beach.

Shane Landry scores a left.

Luckily Zach Plopper and I happened to have a meeting at the WiLDCOAST office in Ensenada. We decided to try our surfing luck on the way home.

We headed north to check out San Miguel. The surf was washed out. So we turned around to check out a nearby reef.

The surf was firing and the lineup was empty. The reef offered up a fun selection of 4-5 foot, semi-lined up and punchy lefts.

Again on Friday, serendipity played a role in finding great waves.

On Thursday evening, an old friend, Greg Tate, arrived for a visit. Greg’s a backyard shaper and goofy foot from Florida.

Israel, Greg and Daniel.

Israel, Greg, and Daniel at Scripps Pier with boards Greg shaped.

Twelve hours after his plane touched down at San Diego International Airport, we found ourselves traipsing down the trail to Trestles, and the surf exceeded our expectations.

The wind was offshore, the waves were hollow and the non-stop sets were way overhead.

Greg paddled out at Cotton’s. I needled my way through the lineup at Uppers.

While surfing I caught up with Mark Rauscher of the Surfrider Foundation. He  updated me on the still ongoing effort to prevent the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) from building a toll-road through San Onofre Beach State Park, the home of Trestles.

“The TCA is still trying to get that toll road through. But we are monitoring them,” Mark said before catching a great set wave.

Nothing like talking about saving a surf spot while surfing epic waves at that very  break.

A few hours later Greg and I regrouped. Like everyone that morning we were both hammered by sets that swung wide and outside.

On the way home we stopped at Beacon’s in Leucadia for a surf check (the wind had come up so we didn’t paddle out) and ran into legendary IB surfer Shawn Holder, who now lives in North County, where he owns a Pannikin Coffee and Tea in Encinitas.

“I’ve been surfing and stand-up paddling northern Baja most of the winter. Most of the time I surf alone,” Shawn said, a former IB lifeguard captain who is still as stoked on the surf as ever.

On Saturday we returned to Trestles for an IB gromathon.

Surf dads Dave Lopez and Jason Stutz joined me in the lineup at Lowers along with grom squad members Daniel Dedina. Loukas Lopez, Vinnie Claunch, Noah Bender, Jake Stutz and Shane Landry. As usual the groms scored wave after wave on the inside.

After our session we picked up my son Israel at the CIF swim finals at Del Norte High School in Poway and drove to La Jolla. At the Scripps parking lot we ran into two hardcore members of the IB underground who raved out scoring perfect waves at a local reef the day before.

“Dude,” one of the surfers said, “We never even check IB when it is polluted. We don’t want to get sick.”

Scripps wasn’t working so we headed south to the La Jolla reefs. The boys found some fun lefts at an empty slab while Greg and I sat on a bench and watched the show.

On Sunday morning a southwest wind was blowing so we headed to La Jolla to see if we could snag some sideshore peaks. The ocean cooperated with A-frames up and down the beach, which brought out a moderate crowd and fun waves to play around in.

On the beach I found Craig Engelmann who I grew up with in IB. Now living in Coronado, Craig was carefully watching his son Casey surf with Israel and Daniel.

All in all it was a great weekend. Our sessions proved that despite the throngs of surfers that populate the beaches of Southern California, we can always find plenty of surfing opportunities at beaches south and north of Imperial Beach and Coronado.

Baja Tales

Israel scores a good one on the East Cape.

From my IBPatch Southwest Surf Column of April 27, 2011:

There is a lot of speculation these days on whether it is safe or not to travel south of the border. To ease concerns and dispel some of the myths, Surfline recently did an interview with me, Sean Collins and Gary Linden on how to stay safe while surfing and traveling in Baja.

Due to the ongoing drug war in northern Baja, the justified concern over safety for traveling surfers has meant that those of us who cross the border find a lot of uncrowded waves. More importantly we meet lots of friendly people, camp on white-sand beaches with perfect waves, and enjoy the warm, clean water.

Lots of IB surf families are veterans of Mexico—and especially Baja—travel. The Johnson surfing clan, Daren, Terri and Josh, took a trip with a couple of extra IB groms over Spring Break.

Israel, Daniel and Josh on the East Cape.

“Baja was fun,” said Terri. “On the way south, the guys stopped at the Wall and Conejo (Terri flew down). Neither place was epic. The Wall was flat and Conejo was windy, though they did get a few waves at Conejo.

“Then we surfed a few days in Todos Santos where it was peaky and fun – water was warm and clean. Spent most of the next week on the East Cape where we caught loads of waves with warm water and surfing in trunks. Coming home Daren and the boys surfed Scorpion Bay and Alejandro’s. Small waves but the groms still had fun.”

According to Terri,  “I saw more sea turtles of all sizes on the East Cape than I’ve ever seen down that way before. Even had a big one pop up right in front of me as I was paddling into a wave at Nine Palms.”

Daniel hits the lip on the East Cape.

I am looking forward to taking a family surf safari with the Johnsons to the fabled point breaks of Oaxaca in June. Should be a blast.

Daren and I both share the same philosophy about surfing with our children. We both know that we are lucky to have even a chance to spend so much fun time with them now. Because in a few years they will be grown up and off on adventures of their own.

Last year Daren and I sat on an East Cape beach watching our sons surf perfect right point waves. I nodded in agreement as Daren said, “I have as much fun watching the boys ride waves as I do surfing.”

The Merrills—Steve, Julie and Cheyne—are also hardcore Baja vets. Expert fishermen and surfers, Steve and Cheyne are as likely to score great waves and big fish. Their Spring Break expedition to the Cape Region landed both.

“Steve and Cheyne caught some great surf in San Jose del Cabo,” said Julie. “We did not have time to surf the day we arrived, but over the next two days, there were six-foot waves coming in at regular intervals. For three hours each day, between around 12:30-4:00, there were only six guys out, and that included Steve and Cheyne in the line up.

“On the third day the surf was flat and blown out so we made our way to the East Cape and checked in at Rancho Leonero, a fishing resort,” Julie reported. “It’s very quiet there and very laid back, much different from the hustle and crowds of Cabo San Lucas.

“We took a panga out the next day and caught bonita, cabrilla, pampano, and yellowtail. The hotel cooked our catch for us and we shared it with as many people as we could. It tasted incredible and we ate until we couldn’t eat another bite. Already we are talking about our next trip to Baja and have already started planning our summer road trip. Can’t wait!”

So what are you waiting for? See you in Baja!

The Threat to Baja’s Underwater Rainforest

My friends and colleagues Homero Aridjis and Roberty Kennedy Jr. wrote this op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune on the need to preserve Cabo Pulmo.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Homero Aridjis

Coral reefs, often called rain forests of the sea, shelter a quarter of all marine fish. In February, the most detailed scientific assessment ever undertaken of these spectacular ecosystems revealed that fully 75 percent are under threat – the most immediate being local pressures for coastal development.

Cabo Pulmo Bay in Baja California – home to one of these underwater “rain forests” – is facing one of those threats. Among only three living coral reefs in North America, it lies 40 miles north of San Jose del Cabo, on the eastern cape of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. John Steinbeck described this 20,000-year-old reef as filled with “teeming fauna” displaying “electric” colors. When decades of overfishing threatened the reef’s existence, the local community convinced the Mexican government in 1995 to protect it by declaring the area a 17,560-acre National Marine Park. In 2005, the reef became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fishing was banned inside the park, and today Cabo Pulmo Reef’s recovery is considered a prime example of marine conservation in the Americas. It provides refuge for 225 of the 875 fish species found in the Sea of Cortez, including marlin, manta rays, giant squid and several kinds of sharks. Whales, dolphins, sea lions and five of the world’s seven species of endangered sea turtles frequent its waters. Indeed, the coral reef hosts the highest concentration of ocean life within this 700-mile long arm of the Pacific Ocean that separates Baja California from the Mexican mainland. Ecotourism (diving, snorkeling, whale watching) is thriving among the 150 residents of the coastal town surrounding this spectacular marine park.

But now Hansa Baja Investments, a Mexican subsidiary of the Spain-based real estate development firm Hansa Urbana, plans to build a massive resort complex directly north of the National Marine Park. The developer has proposed what amounts to a sprawling new city on the scale of Cancún: 10,000 acres including 30,000 hotel rooms and residential housing units, at least two golf courses, 2 million square feet of office and retail space, a 490-boat marina and a private jet port.

The construction of the Cabo Cortés project would bring in close to 40,000 workers and their families. This fragile region of desert, dirt roads and traditional small communities would be overwhelmed. Cabo Pulmo Reef would die, killed by saline effluents from the planned desalination plant, chemical fertilizers whose runoff causes eutrophication, and the city’s pollution flowing south on ocean coastal currents straight toward the reef.

In early March, Mexico’s secretariat of the environment and natural resources gave the go-ahead for much of Hansa Urbana’s proposal: not only the marina and land developments, but also a 10.5-mile-long aqueduct and 324 acres of roads and highways. The energy-intensive desalination plant – which would discharge 500 liters per second of salt water – and a sewage treatment plant to deal with an expected 39,000 tons a day of solid waste once Cabo Cortés is going full tilt are not yet authorized, but it is considered only a matter of time, as is permission for the pending jetties and breakwaters.

The government’s approval came despite the company’s woefully inadequate environmental impact statement, which claimed that pollution from the development wouldn’t affect the reef because ocean currents flow only from south to north, away from the reef. Recent studies show the area’s currents move in multiple directions, largely depending upon the season.

In a region of water scarcity, Hansa has been granted a concession of 4.5 million cubic meters per year, meaning it will suck dry the Santiago aquifer, depriving the local population of resources it has depended on for hundreds of years.

In authorizing the deal, the government is violating its own laws, disregarding the rules governing environmental impact assessments in Mexico and ignoring its zoning plan for the entire region of Los Cabos.

It is up to the Mexican government to stand by its 1995 decision to protect this flourishing and irreplaceable marine nursery. The government must cancel its authorization of the Cabo Cortés development. Only then can the Cabo Pulmo coral reef remain a stellar example of ocean conservation and sustainable ecotourism. For Cabo Pulmo and its people, it is wreck or rectify. How does Mexican President Felipe Calderón want to be remembered?

Kennedy is a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Aridjis, a poet and novelist, is the former Mexican ambassador to UNESCO and founder of the Grupo de los Cien environmental organization.

Baja Travel Update: My Interview in Surfline

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Image by Carlos Villamayor via Flickr

Surfline published this interview with me, Sean Collins and Gary Linden

(who had the Green Lantern surfshop in Imperial Beach when I was a kid)

on tips for staying safe in Baja. I’ve just included my interview:

The tragic and ongoing Narco-war South of the Border has many potential visiting surfers on edge, unsure whether to make the trek south — and if so, how to minimize chances of ending up in a dangerous situation. With this in mind, Surfline asked three frequent and longtime Mexico travelers for advice — on when to go, where to go, and how to stay safe. Many of the suggestions are the same as they’ve been since the ’50s. Some are new. All are worth a quick read if you’re thinking about a trip. 

Note: this is NOT an exhaustive list on avoiding the perils and pitfalls of travel to Baja. (Nor does it even begin to bring up the issues involved in travel to Mainland Mexico.) It is three very well-qualified surfers’ perspectives. For those serious and concerned, there are a series of useful related links at the bottom of this feature. For those who have stories and/or advice, please leave them in the comments below. –Marcus Sanders

Baja surfing

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST, an organization that works in both California and Mexico to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems. He is the author of the new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias. He has been traveling throughout Baja California and in Mexico since 1972. Here are his thoughts:

The security situation has improved significantly since 2007 when a string of robberies and assaults against surfers and a Baja 1000 race crew resulted in most surfers abandoning the idea of traveling to Baja. Over the past three years, the Mexican government spent a lot of time and resources making the highway in Northern Baja safer and overall things are much better than they were. Southern Baja, along with Oaxaca, is considered one of the safest areas in Mexico.

Baja surfing - Larry

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Overall, the level of crime has decreased in Baja. Really, most of the violence and problems are concentrated in Tijuana. Don’t travel through there at night. I travel to Ensenada a lot to surf San Miguel and visit the WiLDCOAST office there and haven’t had any problems or talked to anyone who has had problems recently.

The risk is greatest for surfers who believe that Baja California is like it used to be and they don’t need to take any precautions when traveling there. Bummer is, that Baja has become just like any other area in the developing world where there are problems with crime. Being clueless in Baja is no longer an option. But if surfers are careful and avoid hanging out in areas like Tijuana, most likely they’re going to have a great time South of the Border.

Baja surf

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Camping anywhere in Northern Baja should be done in established camping areas or surf spots where you are not alone and potentially a target for criminals. The increase in the use of crystal meth in Northern Baja, especially anywhere in the area of San Quintin and Colonet, means that there is a greater chance of having problems if you are camping on an isolated part of the coast. South of El Rosario things are generally fine. I spend a lot of time camping and surfing the most isolated part of the coast between Guerrero Negro and El Rosario and haven’t had a single problem. Last summer I took my kids on a 2,970 mile round trip tour of Baja and hit most of the peninsula’s great surf spots. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, we didn’t have any problems at all, and caught some great waves.

Baja surf

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

But Baja is back in a big way and surfers need to show that we care about Baja and demonstrate that our tourism dollars are an important source of revenues for Mexico. The more we show that surfing has a positive impact on the economy in Baja and the rest of Mexico, the easier it is for organizations like WiLDCOAST to convince Mexican authorities to conserve coastal areas that have great waves. Surfers have a lot to contribute to Mexico. We have made great friendships, have influenced the development of surfing in Mexico, and have had a positive impact on communities such as San Juanico, Punta Abreojos, Todos Santos, Puerto Escondito, Saladita, Sayulita and the East Cape.

“The risk is greatest for surfers who believe that Baja California is like it used to be and they don’t need to take any precautions when traveling there.”
–Serge Dedina, executive director, WiLDCOAST
The road runs the entire length of the Baja Ca...

Image via Wikipedia

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USEFUL LINKS:

How safe is Mexico? Data on U.S. citizen deaths from the U.S. State Dept — Comprehensive feature by Fodors, posted March 11, 2011.

Is Mexico safe for Spring Break? — USA Today travel section, posted March 9th, 2011.

US State Department Mexico Travel Warning — Updated September 2010

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LOCAL RESOURCES

Baja Crime Hotline: 866-201-5060 — To report a crime or if you need help.

Green Angels
The Green Angels are similar to the AAA in the U.S. The Green Angels are a government paid bilingual crew that patrol the toll roads throughout Mexico every day in green trucks, carrying tools and spare parts, looking for motorists in trouble. The Angeles Verdes will provide mechanical assistance, first aid, basic supplies, and towing. The services they provide are FREE of charge unless your vehicle needs parts or fuel. If for some reason you need assistance call “060” (Mexico’s version of 911) or pull to the side of the road and lift your hood, this will signal the Green Angels that you need assistance or contact them Toll Free 24 hours seven days a week at:
Baja California Highways Emergency Toll Free Numbers:
* 01 800 990 3900: Tijuana – Ensenada & El Hongo – La Rumorosa Toll Roads
* 01 800 888 0911: Tijuana – Tecate Toll Road

US EMBASSY LOCATION:
The U.S. Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc; telephone from the United States: 011-52-55-5080-2000; telephone within Mexico City: 5080-2000; telephone long distance within Mexico 01-55-5080-2000. You may contact the Embassy by e-mail or visit the Embassy website.

In addition to the Embassy, there are several United States consulates and consular agencies located throughout Mexico, listed below.

CONSULATES:
Guadalajara: Progreso 175, Col. Americana; telephone (52) (333) 268-2100.
Tijuana: Avenida Tapachula 96, Col. Hipodromo; telephone (52) (664) 622-7400.

CONSULAR AGENCIES:
Acapulco: Hotel Continental Emporio, Costera Miguel Aleman 121 – Local 14; telephone (52)(744) 484-0300 or (52)(744) 469-0556.
Cabo San Lucas: Blvd. Marina Local C-4, Plaza Nautica, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (624) 143-3566.
Cancun: Plaza Caracol Two, Second Level, No. 320-323, Boulevard Kukulkan, Km. 8.5, Zona Hotelera; telephone (52)(998) 883-0272.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Hotel Fontan, Blvd. Ixtapa; telephone (52)(755) 553-2100.
Mazatlan: Hotel Playa Mazatlán,Playa Gaviotas #202, Zona Dorada; telephone (52) (669) 916-5889.
Oaxaca: Macedonio Alcala No. 407, Interior 20; telephone (52) (951) 514-3054 (52) or (951) 516-2853.
Piedras Negras: Abasolo 211, Local #3, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (878) 782-5586 or (878) 782-8664.
Playa del Carmen: The Palapa, Calle 1 Sur, between Avenida 15 and Avenida 20; telephone (52)(984) 873-0303.
Puerto Vallarta: Paseo de Los Cocoteros #85 Sur, Paradise Plaza – Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit C.P.; telephone (52)(322) 222-0069.
Reynosa: Calle Monterrey #390, Esq. Sinaloa, Col. Rodríguez; telephone: (52)(899) 923-9331

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Wild Sea in San Diego Magazine

Here is an article about my book Wild Sea in San Diego Magazine.

San Magazine article on Wild Sea

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