Off the Beaten Track in Baja – The Road to Nowhere?
By Cheryl Miller - February 2010
Hmmm… A Road to Nowhere? Better hurry, before it is somewhere there too!
Writing about off the beaten track places, as many of you know, is one of my passions….exploring them, is even more so my passion. Unspoiled country sides and villages hold a special place in my heart. Hopefully I am not alone among you.
In January, I visited an area that I fell in love with: the northwestern part of the Municipio of Comandu. La Purisima, La Bocana, San Gregorio, Las Barancas and San Isidro: all north of Constitucion and all beautiful little traditional towns set amidst stunning natural beauty and charm. San Juanico on Scorpion Bay, is also included and not too long ago a pristine bay with just a fishing camp, sporting some of the best surfing (and fishing) in the world. Also it has been a favorite stop for the Baja 1000, during which the population can easily double and or triple in the summer US school vacation months and for the big race. But even so, San Juanico has changed very little for decades until the 90’s and early 2 thousands when the towns population doubled and tripled…not a grandiose statement, considering the town now maybe has 500 full time residents (as of the 2005 Census) and another couple hundred or so part-time foreign surf-bird type residents. Fueled by the love of surf, foreigners learned of this sport paradise and braved hours of rough dirt roads to get to San Juanico in the early days to surf; and to enjoy Baja the way it used to be here in Los Cabos. With the incorporation of “city boundaries”/limited city services and the issuance of titles from the Ejido, more and more foreigners and aging surfers started to buy in San Juanico to the extent that an actual official named colonia called “Colonia Gringo” exists on the city maps. With the paving of the two lane road, reportedly done to aid the farming communities of the Llano Magdalena of Santa Domingo Valle in 1995, between Insurgentes and La Purisima, that rugged trip, at least from the south, was significantly reduced by two-thirds, leaving only an additional 32 km.s of rocky, rugged roads to go. The northern route from San Ignacio remains a rugged, rocky, sand and pot-holed adventure requiring at least 3-1/2 hours to traverse. (See http://www.juanyjuan.com/ - “Then and Now” for a great pictorial trip into the not too distant past.)
This last January while making that final 15 miles of dirt road to San Juanico from La Purisima, I ran across a section of road construction and new pavement in the middle of nowhere, that after curiously traveling its entire length, didn’t even make it to San Juanico and ended dead in the middle of the desert, far from anything or anywhere. Curious, I went about asking everyone the story of this road. The general consensus was that the road was being built between San Juanico and Las Barancas, another small fish camp with maybe 100 residents south on the coast, known primarily for its abalone catch and exports to the US. And sure enough in the April edition of a Spanish speaking newspaper was published the announcement of the inauguration of this new paved road between Las Barancas and San Juanico citing tourism as its leading reason. Truth be told though, last week I traveled again to San Juanico to find property for my real estate client in San Juanico only to find that the road still has an additional 5 miles of paving yet to be done, including a mountainous pass into Las Barancas where an existing paved road connects it to the La Purisima highway.
What is more, the old road from Insurgentes to La Purisima is currently under construction, being enlarged from two lanes to 4 lanes all the way to San Juanico, as verified with the workers on both projects. INTERESTING! I stopped on this Highway north of this construction to photograph desert plants, varieties that are unique to the plains of this valley and was there for more than 15 minutes, with not a passing car in sight! INTERESTING! Thoughts going through my head were: “A four lane highway from a farming community to a pueblo with 500 inhabitants with no heavy traffic?”, “How long did we wait for the “4-laner” between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas?” (Which still isn’t done?), “Is there a 4 lane highway between La Paz and Cuidad Constitucion?”; “Is there a 4 lane highway between Loreto and Insurgentes?” At the end, all I could ask myself was, “What the heck is going on here?”
But wait folks, it doesn’t end there. Get this – after a lot of digging, I have found that there is underway a new paved road from San Ignacio (also slated to be a 4 lane highway in the future, but now 2 lanes) that is already under construction from San Ignacio, past the Lagoon where whales migrate and give birth, to La Purisima as well. The road is the last leg of the Las Barancas/San Juanico Highway and is called the “Las Barancas-San Ignacio Highway” in the Spanish newspapers. The official published word on the highway is that it will reduce the current Trans peninsular trip down from the border by two hours, bypassing the treacherous mountainous route now traveling going from Tres Virgenes through Santa Rosalia and Mulege. Officially, also, they state that it will economically help the areas bypassed by the present highway route, including farmers, fishermen and tourism. It is anticipated that this route will, in the future, be the route of preference by travelers and truckers alike.
In addition, on the books are plans to pave the now, rustic and picturesque dirt road through the mountains between La Purisima and Conception Bay, just north of Loreto in El Rosarito. And another paved road from Francisco Villa through San Jose de Comandu to Loreto is also slated. Hmmm, looks like new ghost towns may be created, as well. Santa Rosalia, Mulege and even potentially Loreto, as these secondary routes through the mountains will not be the straightest route to the Cape! But, for the time being the international airport in Loreto will be the closest flight to these new “tourist” areas, which maybe augmented by short flights to the airfield in Constitucion or with special permission to the airstrip in La Purisima. However, word from the Ejido in San Juanico is that there is an airport planned there too east of the town limits.
Repeated word from ejiditarios and people in the area is that a consortium including our current state leader and the world’s richest man own significant large parcels of land in these areas and have plans for their own major tourist resorts. A member of the neighboring Ejido, La Purisima, told me, but I was unable to verify this, that our state official bought his membership into that Ejido (the current published price for buying a membership is 10 million pesos, whereas a few years back, the cost was $500,000 pesos), where titles are now being issued for miles (30km) of Pacific beachfront parcels. This Ejido also owns 180 km.sof Sea of Cortez beachfront parcels, the majority of which are located immediately north of the planned paved secondary road through the mountain in Bahia Conception. All very interesting, in my opinion!
So for those of you who enjoy the rustic back roads of the Baja with all of its beauty and majesty, for those of you who want to still see a traditional Baja Mexico village, you had better get a move on. The road to Las Barancas will be complete in 8 months, and the 4 lane to La Purisima in 6 years. I have found no published time table for the road from San Juanico to San Ignacio. (Although approved by Seminart, there has been some objections from eco groups who cite potential harm from noise and vibration to the Lagoons fragile environment.)
For those of you who want to get in on the bottom floor of new tourist area development in Baja, I am afraid you will have to settle for the second rung of the ladder…but it is better now than later.