Long before the term “eco-tourism” was coined, Mexico understood the extraordinary jewel that is the Sea of Cortez. Years ago, they began developing several small marinas throughout the Sea to attract the yachting industry, also working with developers to provide nearby hotel facilities for water-loving land-based visitors. The Escalera Nautica, as it was marketed, or Nautical Staircase, was purposefully designed to facilitate boaters (people like us) to safely climb their way to the top of the Sea and back down. Just like their previously developed resort communities, they hoped by seeding key areas with marinas and visitor accommodations, that the tourism industry would snowball economic growth, provide jobs and enable infrastructure development. Over the years, several small, 18-20 slip Fonatur marinas have been built according to this plan. Some are more well-run and visited than others, but all along, the objective has been to sell these marinas once established.
So I am happy to tell you that since our last visit, the former government-run Marina Fonatur at Puerto Escondido has been purchased by a private firm. It is now run, as of June I believe, by a company called Waicuri. According to brochures, their master plan is pretty ambitious. We’ve been told part of the contract is that Waicuri must complete a certain amount of development within two years. What those exact stipulations are, I’ve no idea…but here’s a couple major items on their overall agenda...
Sell Those Lots!
One goal is to sell those primo vacant lots! Puerto Escondido lies just 15 miles south of the “Magic Town” of Loreto, with its myriad shops & eateries, historical town square and an international airport to boot. Years ago, the foundation was laid here for a harbor-front housing community. Custom homes built on canal frontage surely should entice boating enthusiasts galore with the promise of a private dock in an amazing locale. With its background a spectacular mountain range, its foreground a beautiful and safe harbor, this place begs further development.
But for years, the grid of paved subdivision roads sits empty, like a cliché apocalypse movie. Cracked pavement. Tumbleweeds. Skittering lizards. Screeching hawks in the distance. Canals that go nowhere. Crumbling bridges. Street lighting poles hover over scrub-strewn, vacant homesites, waiting to be switched on… but not a single house built. An empty shell of concrete and rebar stands alone overlooking the docks, perhaps a condo or hotel started but abandoned. Outrageous price expectation? Poor infrastructure (sewer, water, electric)? Who knows why nothing sold.
Now though, from the looks of it, things are happening. We noted much construction activity out there in the canal areas – a backhoe, freshly graded dirt, stacked bricks awaiting placement, rebar in a new foundation, a mess of guys repairing a canal bridge, and new landscaping. Last time we visited, the canal was empty. This time we sighted several powerboats attached to brand-new, aluminum floating docks in the canal. Whether those owners have purchased lots or are just renting those private docks, I can’t say. But it’s a good sign. According to the Waicuri website, “condominiums, a beach club with restaurant, spa and gym for all the home owners, boutique hotel and much more!” are eventually on the docket. Well, that sounds a little ambitious. We’ll see.
Slips in the Ellipse? Can it be true?
Another ambitious project is to build 200 slips in the Ellipse. The Ellipse is a curved breakwater structure that once housed several mooring balls and was operated by a different entity. I always thought mooring balls here was a waste of space in such a small area. A dock system would maximize the number of boats who wish to be “attached” to land longer-term. As long as they still maintain plenty of inexpensive moorings in the large harbor, this could be a win-win for both cruising types. The PE harbor itself is already a relatively safe “hurricane hole” surrounded by mountains and completely cut off from the capricious powers of the Sea. The Ellipse’s breakwater offers double-protection from small, choppy wind waves that funnel down the harbor in a north blow. We think this marina expansion is great idea and would definitely consider keeping Indigo here longer term. But only if they provided shuttle service to town.
Click here to see an aerial mock-up of the proposed facilities…notice the slips in the Ellipse next to the harbor opening. I am skeptical this will be built anytime soon…but, you never know. They have already removed all but three of the boats that were moored here, many of which were left permanently unattended. I do not know what, if anything, is planned for the Waiting Room where many people actually live on their boats on a mooring full time.
Other small improvements have taken place. Here are the things we’ve noticed…
- The marina office is getting an interior facelift. By the way, the office folks are very nice and helpful. But don’t expect your records (boat documentation) to be on file from before June - everything has been expunged.
- Laundry is now FREE! One free load per boat per day. Staying for 2-3 days? You can combine your loads all in one session. The marina office notifies their cleaning attendant who will turn on the washers & dryers for you manually. Formerly $3 per load, this is a really nice bonus.
- The POOL works! That pool has been empty and forlorn for at least the two years we’ve been visiting. Now it is crystal clear and, although colder than the sea water, refreshing in the 90 degree heat.
- The mooring prices are still the same, @$10 per day. We’re certainly not complaining…just glad they didn’t raise their rates.
- Internet sucks. Still. But the marina says they are “working on it”. The normally half-way decent internet at Tripui hotel/restaurant was also inoperative at the time we visited. Double whammy. So we had to rely on our phone. Except…
- Cell service is still spotty in Puerto Escondido. We’ve been advised to take a farther mooring near the “windows” for better line of sight with the Loreto tower, and folks in the Waiting Room have no trouble as their boats face the Bahia Candeleros tower. But this isn’t the marina’s fault; it’s not like I expect them to buy a cell phone tower! But if we could get halfway decent marina internet, we wouldn’t give a whit about cell cervice.
- The women’s bathroom shower stalls still have no exterior shower curtains, the interior walls are still crumbling, the internal shower doors are still catawampus and still no hot water. Good thing it was HOT outside and we didn’t care so much. This time. But this gripe is getting old. Showers should be at the top of the list of improvements.
And then there’s the sad news…
- Carole’s tienda is closing as of December. The owner’s just don’t have enough business during the summer to remain in the black. This is a huge disappointment to ALL cruisers as it is the only place to obtain cold drinks, milk, chips, bread, cereal and a few fresh veges to sustain our trip onward. Not to mention her made-to-order hamburgers and the occasional homemade banana bread for sale. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to Taco Saturday. The undesirable alternative is to rent a car for $80 a day or take an all-day taxi to Loreto for just about as much or anchor in a tenuous location off the Loreto breakwater with no wave protection. The little store is so important to cruising customers - I wish Waicuri would just give them free rent during the lean summer months. Very sad.
I’ll Believe It When I See It
When it comes to big proposals like this in Mexico, we immediately take on a “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. So many projects start and get abandoned just as quickly, it’s impossible to tell whether this one will fail or succeed. In perusing the Waicuri website, I recognize one of the developers as San Diego-based Hamann Construction, who I watched build the manufacturing facility I worked in several years ago. I am hopeful their expert involvement lends a positive tilt to the overall success. But, the best indication is that Waicuri IS beginning to make improvements. Let’s just hope they continue!