Monday, May 12, 2008

Baja Growing Pains….

LA CAPILLA, A beachfront development (where my family lived for seventeen years in “Ranch Deluxe”) has already scraped the existing structures in preparation for construction.

In April, I drove Mex 1 from the border to the tip and back which allowed me plenty of time to reflect on Baja’s recent accelerated growth. The windshield of my Roadtrek van was like an HD Flat- screen TV, displaying the underbelly of Baja, as I sped along the main road.

You don’t have to travel far to realize that the real estate boom is on in Baja, mirroring the one we had in the U.S. until recently. It is hard to ignore the “For Sale” signs that are almost as common as cactus these days as you travel down Mex 1.

Developers from around the world are invading Baja like the conquistadors of long ago, with cash instead of a sword. They bid against each other, driving up the costs. Left in their trail is a growing list of projects including beachfront homes, marinas, condos, time shares, golf courses, etc. Everyone seems to have caught the fever and Baja prices are increasing at an alarming rate.
Cabo San Lucas is an example of what happens to an unsuspecting small fishing village when large developments are added. The cost of living is increased, there is a strain on the infrastructure, an increased crime rate, housing becomes unaffordable and a “touristy atmosphere” that many deplore are all products of rapid growth.

Communities like East Cape are already feeling the effects of the boom. A handful of proposed projects are in varying stages from planning to actually beginning the initial grading… La Capilla, a beachfront development and “Cabo Rivera” an ambitious marina project in La Ribera are two of these. It is rumored that several thousand skilled laborers will be bought in to complete the construction. While businesses and many local officials are eager to cash in on the windfall brought by these developments, a number of local residents are anxious about the impact this growth could be on their way of life. Many long-time residents are seriously considering selling their properties and businesses and moving on.

You often hear old timers yearning for the good old days when things were less complicated. I suspect their wishes may fall into the “be careful what you wish for” category. I can remember how 30 years ago, I waited in line to make a telephone call to the U.S. at the local, one-line telephone office--- sometimes waiting as long as 45 minutes or longer for the operator to place my call. On the drive down in the early days, we were uneasy about our next tank of gas…stations were few and far between and often out of fuel. Potholes where common, some large enough to swallow a tire. They would often remain for months until a repair crew could resurface, only to have the chubascos arrive and wash them out again. Ground tackle had to be hauled down for anchoring in Cabo bay, as there were no slips or even a marina. And while the local mechanics were well known for being able to repair a transmission or engine with bobbypins and rubber bands, the larger yachts would often fly in their own mechanic if there were problems. These are just a few of the inconveniences in the old days.

While the simple Baja life was part of the charm that drew us to Baja in the first place, many of improvements are welcome. Now, there are full service marinas with slips to moor your boats, even keeping them secure in case of a chubasco, and you can find skilled mechanics if you run into a problem. Telephones and Internet have become commonplace. Mex 1 is well maintained; it is rare that you find a pothole that isn’t resurfaced quickly. There are many more service stations along the highway to choose from. And gas is cheaper in Baja.

The Mexican officials are scrambling to combat the recent crime increases by adding more Military checkpoints and involving the Military in local crime enforcement. It’s not quick enough, however, for the U.S. State Department who recently advised caution when traveling in Baja---specifically Baja Norte---but it is a beginning.

Growth in Baja is inevitable and will undoubtedly continue to cause growing pains during the process. For some this will be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Others will embrace the improvements while searching out the overshadowed but still uncomplicated Baja that still exists.