Tiny napkins are the norm at restaurants in Baja Sur. (Images: Kathryn Reed)
Cocktail napkins should not be used as a dinner (or lunch or breakfast) napkin. They are too dang small.
That’s not the belief in Mexico, though. Well, at least throughout the Baja peninsula.
Restaurants in Baja are known for their penchant to provide napkins that can’t do the job. Well, they can, it just takes multiple napkins to get through an entire meal.
I’m not really sure how this is efficient. It seems like a waste of paper and a waste of money. It seems like an environmental nightmare.
These servilletas, which in reality are probably a hair bigger than cocktail napkins, are also usually thin. This contributes to needing more than one or two or three to get through a meal—even if you aren’t a messy eater or even eating something messy. It’s not like I’m eating barbecue or the like where more than one of any size napkin is necessary.
The worst is when the napkin is wrapped around eating utensils. Inevitably the napkin is ripped because it’s been secured by a wrapper that doesn’t want to come undone.
While many times a container of napkins is on the table, you can’t be guaranteed that is going to be the case. To me, this arsenal of additional napkins is evidence the original napkin is not enough to get through the meal. So, it’s not like restaurateurs don’t know there is an issue with the napkins.
I realize the size of a napkin is not usually something worthy of a rant. I just think if these restaurants in Baja would be helping the environment and customers if they would provide guests with a better, bigger napkin.
All of this makes me wonder what Mexicans do in their homes. What size napkins are they using? How many do they use in one meal?
Ibarra pottery is all made by hand in La Paz, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Imperfections can actually make something even more perfect.
That’s what happens with handcrafted pottery and glassware. Two glasses or bowls may be similar, even seem alike, but look closer and you’ll see each is unique.
Mexican pottery is full of vibrant colors that seem to draw one’s eye to it no matter where it is located—a kitchen, outdoors, on a table as a decorative piece.
Ibarra’s Pottery was founded in 1958 by Julio Ibarra and Juanita Chavez. They met in Mexico City where they were both studying art. They decided to join forces and create pottery together.
In the mid-1980s they moved to La Paz in Baja California Sur to where they had family. In many ways it was like starting all over as the Ibarra art was not locally known.
Julio Ibarra died in 2015, while Juanita Chavez was still working there last year.
In April 2022, Ibarra’s Pottery celebrated what it called its evolution in La Paz from 1987-2022.
Ibarra’s factory and shop is a couple blocks from the malecon in La Paz. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Today, the La Paz shop is run by the founders’ daughter, Vicky Ibarra. A third generation is also becoming potterers.
While they don’t like people to take pictures onsite, the pottery makers post pictures online of the finished work and of employees painting what is essentially a blank canvas. There are even videos of how the clay comes into being.
The store/factory in La Paz is continually turning out new work. Plates, glasses, wall hangings, pitchers, and so much more are handcrafted right there.
If you don’t find what you are looking for or you have an idea for a piece, special orders can be placed.
One of Ibarra’s Facebook posts sums up why handmade art is so wonderful, “When you are buying a handmade piece you must know it might have some small defects and you can’t blame the artisan. The truth is: it makes it unique. Why? Because when you are creating something with your hands no matter how careful you are sometimes it’s impossible to make it exactly like the others.”
A post on Ibarra’s Instagram page says each piece takes about two weeks to complete. All of the Ibarra pieces are lead free. What I have bought can go in the oven and dishwasher, though I haven’t done so.
I love that each is signed on the bottom, so you know it’s an Ibarra. (They carry other works at the store.)
Tools of the vaquero at the cowboy museum in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The smell of new leather wafts through the entrance, an appropriate greeting for a museum all about cowboys.
Museo del Vaquero de las Californias (MuVaCa for short and the Cowboy Museum of the Californias in English) opened in the tiny Baja town of El Triunfo the first week of November. (It’s still hard to believe this was once the most populated town in Baja California Sur.)
This ode to cowboy history is as well done as the mining museum (Museo Ruta de Plata/Silver Route Museum) that is on the same street.
The museum captures more than 300 years of cowboy traditions throughout the Baja peninsula. Details include aspects about life before the Spanish arrived, their influence, life after they were conquered, and the war with the United States that resulted in a large swath of Mexico becoming part of the U.S.
One display points out, “During the war between the United States and Mexico, rancheros and vaqueros joined together to defend their lands. On December 6, 1846, at the Battle of San Pasqual (in present day San Diego County), Californios defeated U.S. forces while armed only with lances, swords, and a few firearms.”
In other words, the Mexicans won at least one battle before losing the war.
Information is written in English and Spanish, as is the case at the mining museum.
The detail in this saddle is exquisite. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Walking in there are displays of cowboys in all their garb. The circular layout then leads visitors to the small theater where a film (also in English and Spanish) gives a thorough history about the vaqueros up to present day.
This is a good foundation to have before visiting the main museum which is in a separate building across a walkway that includes a tiered concrete seating area where outdoor presentations could be conducted.
There is so much to read, see and absorb in the museum that it would make sense to go multiple times. There is no way to grasp everything in one visit.
While the story and evolution of the Baja cowboy are fascinating, I seemed to be most enamored by the clothing for the people and the horses. The detail in the saddles was stunning. It was like artwork.
One display said, “The Baja California Sur saddle was designed to manage cattle safely in the harsh environment by protecting mount and rider from spines and thorns.”
The desert is not a forgiving place so protection is necessary, even today.
Museo del Vaquero de las Californias in El Triunfo has been open since early November. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Because living off the land is hard work no matter where one does it the early vaqueros had to be resourceful.
“As the population grew, hides, tallow, milk, cheese, and other products were transported through the Sierra of the peninsula to towns and cities that depended on the ranches for their supplies. In Alta California, the international tallow and leather trade gave rise to a boom; some families amassed huge tracts of pastureland for thousands of cattle,” one display reads. “The importance of livestock ranching as the economic base and the proliferation of wild cattle prompted the systematization of rodeos, the establishment of controlled herds, and the mark of ownership through branding.”
Today, one does not have to go far out of any town in Baja Sur to come across a ranch. Cowboys are still very much a part of the 21st century.
“The mountains of Guadalupe and La Giganta are home to hundreds of families who live a life similar to their ancestors of over 300 years ago,” the museum teaches. “Today, nearly 5,000 people continue living much of that lifestyle: tending the garden; making tools, leatherwork, cheeses, and knives for sale preparing food; and performing the many tasks it takes to remain on the ranches.”
Since its inception in 2016 the Padrino Children’s Foundation has outgrown its space three times. That is why the nonprofit is on a quest to raise $750,000 for a two-story, 5,000-square-foot building in Todos Santos.
As the town’s population grows, so does its needs. Each month Padrino sees new patients, with about 20 percent of the local population coming through its doors. That’s 21,800 medical interventions provided to 1,211 kids since January 2017.
Dr. Alejandra Peña Salguero and Jim Cardillo with the Padrino Children’s Foundation at a Dec. 3 fundraiser. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
In December 2019, the reported number of medical interventions was 10,688, with 707 children served.
Mental and social health, rare genetic diseases, and helping kids with special needs are part of the services. Financial assistance for care is a big part of what Padrino does, including paying for transportation to La Paz or Cabo and even mainland Mexico. The group also offers specialized health clinics.
“Cases have gotten more complicated over time,” Dr. Alejandra Peña Salguero, medical and executive director, said at a fundraiser this month.
More children are coming in who need speech therapy and help with their autism.
Nancy Naigle and Nancy Serfass founded the organization “to provide access to professional medical care for children in need and promote wellness for children in the community of Todos Santos and the surrounding region.” Both remain actively involved, including being on the board of directors.
To date, $300,000 has been raised for the new clinic. That leaves $450,000 still to be collected. Naigle is hopeful this will be attained in the first quarter of 2023.
Todos Santos area residents this winter are opening their homes for fundraising events to benefit the Padrino Children’s Foundation. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The land in the San Vicente area of Todos Santos, which is about two blocks from the current location, has been donated.
The new clinic will have a room dedicated for visiting specialists. There will also be guest suites for doctors so the foundation will no longer have to pay for hotel expenses.
Padrino used to have an annual fundraising dinner which is where a huge chunk of its operating dollars came from. The pandemic put an end to the large gathering. It has been replaced with several dinners at private residences, where 20 or more people gather for food and drink, sometimes live entertainment, with those intimately involved giving an update on the foundation
The December gathering was the first of 14 this season, with the others to take place in January and February.
The foundation is in the process of securing its status as a nonprofit in Mexico, which should then enable it to tap other financial resources.
While money is needed for the structure, dollars (and pesos) are also being raised to keep the services going.
Jim Cardillo, chairman of the board, said the 2022 operating budget is about $310,0000, of which 70 percent is paid for by individual donors. The rest mostly comes from grants and fundraisers.
A Canadian ambulance is now calling Todos Santos home. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As a retired deputy chief and paramedic, Paul Charbonneau was beside himself when he saw a picture of a Todos Santos ambulance broken down along the side of the road.
Thus began his quest to bring an ambulance from his home country of Canada to Baja California Sur.
Todos Santos community members on Dec. 4 celebrated the arrival of the rolling medical unit at the Todos Santos station.
With fresh paint and the local name and emblem on the vehicle, it looks brand new. Tires are new (though they were used to drive from Canada), and the whole unit has been looked over by a mechanic. All of those costs were absorbed by Charbonneau.
Charbonneau, who is currently executive director of the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs in Canada, said ambulances in Ontario are only used there for five years. He was able to get the one now in Todos Santos as a donation; it’s value being $8,000 Canadian.
It took 14 months for the ambulance to get to Baja Sur; which happened this fall. Border closures contributed to the delays, and then the need to secure permission to drive through the U.S. and Mexico.
Todos Santos fire Cmdr. Chava Cadena and retired Canadian paramedic Paul Charbonneau at the Dec. 4 celebration. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
On this latest trip south Charbonneau came with a suit case full of supplies for the ambulance—goods worth about $600 (Canadian). Stethoscopes bandages for burn wounds and much more are part of the medical equipment he is donating.
Chava Cadena, commander of the Todos Santos Bomberos, said about 20 times a month one of his three paramedics drives someone via ambulance from here to a hospital in La Paz, about an hour away. Because those vehicles are used beyond emergencies in town, a ton of miles are being put on them.
In addition to the paramedics, Cadena said the department has 20 firefighters.
He added that the government provides minimal financial help to operate the fire and ambulance services, which is why donations of equipment and cash are always in need. Seven of his charges receive limited compensation.
Firefighters battle a fire about once month, with car accidents being what they respond to most often. Those average about 12 a month; with crashes on the road between Todos Santos and La Paz being the most common, according to Cadena.
Now the nearly all-volunteer department has three ambulances, two fire trucks and one water tank.
Others who helped make the ambulance deal come to fruition include Nathan Charbonneau, Dan Shannon, Anthony Johnson, Maryann Douglas, and Kate Lewis.
This sign sums of the desires of many Todos Santos residents when it comes to building on the dunes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Updated Dec. 19, 2022
Rules are for other people seems to be the mantra when it comes to building on the dunes in the greater Todos Santos area.
Another lot has a 5-foot green wire fence around the perimeter, with construction possibly starting this month.
In a show of solidarity against the continual building on these environmentally sensitive lands more than 100 people gathered Dec. 2 outside that fence. Some came with signs in Spanish calling for the revocation of the permit, the protection of the dunes, and how this type of building is illegal.
While the crowd was mostly white, not all were.
Protect Todos Santos initiated the gathering, with a spokesman explaining how Eddie Ogden owns 100 beachfront lots—all on the dunes. Ogden’s latest project, which would be his seventh house on the dunes, is likely to be a spec home that could break ground the first full week of December, according to the activists’ group.
Protect Todos Santos was formed earlier this year as a nonprofit for locals and foreign residents to safeguard the area “from the environmental threats our community faces due to the rapid growth we are now experiencing.” Their goals are more than protecting the dunes. They also want to help the environment as a whole, as well as to educate and not just be enforcers.
Those against building on the dunes are hoping construction does not begin and then get stopped like what happened a couple streets over on Calle Los Mangos. Authorities halted that illegal build, but did not mandate what was constructed be removed and the land restored. Beyond being an eyesore, it is an ecological travesty.
More than 100 people on Dec. 2 voice their concerns about building houses on the dunes in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Days before the protest Ogden, the landowner and developer of the controversial home build, was sent an email from the Gringo Gazette with a series of questions. He still has not responded. A couple of the questions were: You have a permit to build a 4,000 square foot house at Vista Ballena off International on the dunes near the turtle release. This violates the current PDU. How do you justify this? Are you backing the proposal to redo the PDU? Why or why not?
The Program for Urban Development (PDU) for Todos Santos, El Pescadero, and Las Playitas was published in 2012. It covers more than 30 miles from Elias Calles on the south to Agua Blanca north of Todos Santos. The PDU prohibits any development on primary and secondary dunes.
The problem is the authorities in La Paz are not enforcing the rules. Some allege bribery is an issue.
Another potential problem for those who are against this type of building is the real possibility of a new PDU being written. La Paz Municipal Planning Department representatives had a meeting Nov. 29 at the Cultural Center in Todos Santos to talk about drafting a new PDU.
“We are all wondering why they are drafting a new one when they are not enforcing the current one. I guess they just like having a bunch of meetings. Very frustrating,” Protect Todos Santos said in a group email.
Hours before the protest a leader in the group sent an email to supporters saying, “These protests are working. The one (Nov. 29) at the Cultural Center where 100 people showed up got us a meeting (Dec. 1) with 12 officials in La Paz, but they are not willing to pull the permit so we need to keep the pressure on. We are hoping a protest will get SERMANAT, who was at the meeting, to shut the construction down before the dune is destroyed.”
SERMANAT is short for the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, which is equivalent to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.
Prior to the event, Protect Todos Santos rallied supporters with another email that said, “It is very frustrating that a permit is being issued without even the required ecological study and in complete violation of the PDU which does not allow any construction on the primary or even secondary dunes. So, our plan is to have our attorney John Moreno sue everyone involved in issuing the permit and to try to stop the construction by going out there and protesting.”
A Protect Todos Santos rep said attemps are being made to contact Romex and other building suppliers to not deliver to the Vista Ballena address. A few of the onlookers essentially said quietly, “Good luck; that won’t happen.”
Developers know that breaking ground leading up to and during the holidays is a key time of year to get away with less than honest undertakings because few officials work during this time so enforcement is even less likely to happen.
That is why at the protest people were encouraged to be diligent about reporting any activity in the area in order to stop any building before it occurs.
Note: This was originally written for the Gringo Gazette.
Cinder block by cinder block the coastline of the greater Todos Santos area is changing. But not for long if a group of residents has its way.
For several years people have been struggling to stop development on the dunes that in some cases are literally a stone’s throw from the waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean.
A website created by a group called Protect Todos Santos was launched in May to bring awareness to people who are not intimately involved in the fight. The site is more of an educational resource than an emotional plea for change. Documents from the Mexican government are provided to substantiate the group’s beliefs.
Information is provided in English and Spanish, with the official documents also in both languages.
The site says Protect Todos Santos is an “organization of Mexican and foreign residents working together to preserve and protect the beautiful Todos Santos region from the environmental threats our community faces due to the rapid growth we are now experiencing.”
It further states, “Many battles have been waged over the years, and are currently being waged to prevent overdevelopment, destruction of our coastal dunes, and to ensure we wisely use our scarce water resources. Our success depends on all of us becoming more educated about the threats we face and working together to remediate them.”
The Program for Urban Development for Todos Santos, El Pescadero, and Las Playitas was published in 2012. It covers more than 30 miles from Elias Calles on the south to Agua Blanca north of Todos Santos. The PDU prohibits any development on primary and secondary dunes.
The problem is regulations outlined in this document are not being enforced. Protect Todos Santos is determined to be proactive and diligent to get officials in La Paz to pay attention.
One of the problems throughout Mexico, though, is government officials are not afraid to take a bribe and then turn the other way. This is often how building permits are issued when the law says they shouldn’t be.
Degradation of the environment is the No. 1 reason people want to stop this development. Protect Todos Santos has environmental experts on board to help with the cause. Leading the legal fight is local attorney John Moreno who was successful several years ago in getting the Tres Santos project in Todos Santos to be scrapped.
The law states native vegetation cannot be removed without prior consent. The citizens’ group says construction crews do what the developer says, not what the law dictates. This is how houses on the dunes have come into being.
Building on this dune in the Las Tunas area of Todos Santos, Mexico, has been stopped. The hope is the owner will have to restore it. (Image: Cien Palmas Photograhy)
While several environmental studies have been conducted in this region, the last was completed in 2021. The findings are posted on Protect Todos Santos’ website. In part, it found sand lacking cohesion, making it not suitable to be built upon.
The report also found these impacts:
Fragmentation of the system due to construction on dunes.
Agriculture, behind the coastal dune.
Fragmentation by accesses (sidewalks, paths, vehicle access).
Vehicle traffic on the beach, embryonic dunes.
Infrastructure (houses on and behind the dunes; and in stream beds).
Leveling and filling of dunes.
Loss of landscape quality (the houses on the coastal dunes prevent the view towards the sea).
Environmental degradation, loss of habitat.
The report further states, “Floristically the dune cord has not changed in the almost 50 years that it was sampled for the first time (1972), neither in its topography nor in its floristic diversity. This indicates that the conservation measures that have been carried out have managed to maintain the floristic biodiversity and the geomorphology of the dune cord. This has been achieved, despite the hurricanes that have occurred and the constructions (houses and roads) behind the dune cordon. This is especially important because it also means that, as a whole, in the cordon of dunes, the ecosystem services that the dunes provide to the community of inhabitants of Todos Santos are not lost. However, the threat of its destruction is already evident when counting around 100 constructions on the dune cordon and gaps that fragment the vegetation of the dune cordon.”
What frustrates those who live in the area is that ocean front lots are still for sale. Selling them is not illegal. Building on them is.
“What we are seeing now is the dune lots are still available and being marketed to Mexicans on the mainland,” said Ken Churchill, an ex-pat involved with Protect Todos Santos. “We are trying to educate the Realtors.”
He said a big problem is real estate agents from La Paz and Los Cabos often aren’t familiar with the law and therefore tell clients they are buildable lots.
Developers not stopping
Even in 2005, seven years before the PDU was published, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT)—which is equivalent to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States—told Ocean Development it would “require prior environmental impact authorization from the secretary of the
Environment” before the developer could build. It found numerous deficiencies with the environment documents.
That 2005 document spells out how Ocean Development in April 2000 presented information that was “deficient and did not support the requirements to counteract the expected effects on
the environment” and how five years later the environmental documents still did not meet muster.
The document states, “The feasibility and viability of the project, in the opinion of this state agency, has been decided unfavorable due to, among other aspects,
the fact that the fragmentation of the dune system would cause ecological imbalance of the coastal ecosystem of the area, since it is proposed to build a house on each back of the dune, as well as to delimit each lot with mesh or other material that allows the wind flow, and the implementation of wooden walkways toward the beach area that cross the dune. However, this situation has not yet been evaluated in the statement in question considering the total development of the project by building approximately 50 homes along the dune system and its cumulative and synergistic impacts together with the construction of the adjoining Las Tunas II Project.”
Also noted was this is sea turtle habitat, something not addressed in the environmental documents submitted by the developer.
Daniel Kimple is listed on the document as the representative for Ocean Development. Kimple and Eddie Ogden are listed together on the A. Paraiso Realty website. The site boasts of specializing in beachfront properties in Todos Santos.
The site does not have a bio for Kimple. Ogden’s says this, “After 20 years of sales of real estate, construction and development of subdivisions in the Cabo area, Eddie made the move to Todos Santos acquiring large tracts of land with the dream to develop spectacular beachfront homes. All this with the blessing of the local ejidatario officials, state and municipal political figures and federal environmental protection agencies. Several million dollars of sales and many happy clients later, Ed continues to offer quality real estate services to all those who share his dream of a home in Mexico’s beautiful Baja Sur.”
Ogden did not respond to email inquiries asking why they continue to try to sell what they call developable lots in the greater Todos Santos area when the law prohibits such construction.
Kimple also did not answer a series of questions emailed to him, but instead responded saying federal law allows for some construction on the dunes.
He did not address the fact he cited information from the environmental impact report and not the PDU. The EIR allowed for the building of one single family, one-story home on the front 35 percent of the lot next to the road as a test case. That never happened.
The PDU says, “The dunes represent a protection system for the coastline, since they dissipate and cushion the effects produced by the force of the waves, in addition to functioning as a reserve of sand on eroded beaches. They are considered fragile ecosystems, for which the permitted uses and/or activities can only be carried out after the first and second dunes. In the dune areas that present an evident movement of sand, no type of permanent construction may be carried out, that is, in the dune area that presents representative vegetation of dynamic dunes, it is prohibited to build permanent facilities.”
Kimple contends all lots he’s involved with are permitted by three levels of government.
Not just an oceanfront issue
Protect Todos Santos also wants authorities to enforce rules that are on the books that prevent other haphazard development in neighborhoods.
After visiting Baja Sur for more than 50 years, Larry Martin in 2015 bought two adjacent lots in Todos Santos. He put a house and casita on the land.
“We chose our location due to the unobstructed ocean view and because we knew that the neighborhood was protected by the 2012 Community Plan zoning. This limits development to one house per half acre,” Martin said. “Two years ago a La Paz Realtor bought the property between us and the ocean, and secured an option on the adjacent northerly lot. Soon a sign was posted advertising six new homes on the two lots.”
Martin said he told the real estate agent about the Plan for Urban Development and how it did not allow for the density he was proposing. According to Martin, the agent had no interest in finding a compromise. This left him having to fight it out in La Paz, which handles building permits for the Todos Santos region.
“We were told that the building permit was improperly issued and that the lots were not zoned for this density. But after 10 months, rather than deciding to protect the PDU, La Paz has told us that we need to ask the courts for a decision,” Martin said.
Today, there are three houses on a lot where only one was legally supposed to be built.
Next up for Martin is to demand the government have two of the three houses torn down. This, he admits, puts these people’s investments at risk and causes ill-will in the neighborhood, even though all he is doing is trying to enforce rules that have been on the books for a decade.
Pepper leaves pawprints in the sand at Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Walking is usually listed as one of the best forms of exercise. Add sand to the equation and it’s even better for you.
I had forgotten what a good workout it is until I spent two weeks in Todos Santos in June, with beach walks a nearly everyday occurrence. Thank goodness Rubi and Pepper need afternoon walks, otherwise it would have been easy to say it was too hot to move—at least that was the case the second week.
Muscles have to work harder when walking in sand compared to a hard surface like a concrete sidewalk or asphalt street. Quads, calves and glutes are getting a good workout. The soft sand is also good for achy joints. Sand can also help reduce injury because the pounding is not so intense.
Exertion is also dependent on whether you are walking closer to the water where sand is firmer or higher up where it’s deeper and softer. I like to do a bit of both.
Footprints in the sand along the Pacific Ocean in Todos Santos, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Mentally, being on the beach has to be so much better than a street. No cars to worry about. It’s definitely a more serene setting when enveloped by nature and not concrete. And next to the ocean, as was the case when I was in Mexico, meant being able to inhale the sea air and to listen to the waves crashing.
Most of the time I had flip flops on; sometimes I was barefoot. No shoes meant more senses to be aware of. And sand is a great natural exfoliator.
Plus, there were the conversations with my good friend, Jill, as we solved our problems and those of the world’s on our walks. That’s what I will miss most about no longer walking on the beach.