By Ann Hazard
In the late hours of September 15, 2014, Hurricane Odile—a Category 3 Hurricane with winds in excess of 100 mph—roared ashore in Los Cabos. Windows were blown out of luxury hotels. Roofs flew off, buildings flooded. The airport and everything around it looked like it had been bombed. Cars, power lines and trees all toppled over. Entire neighborhoods were leveled. In the major tourist areas, the hardest hit were Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and Todos Santos. La Paz suffered damages, but not as severe. Loreto and the East Cape—where I live—were the least impacted. Further north, there was flooding and wind damage in San Ignacio and Mulege. I watched the devastation from my safe vantage point in San Diego, but having lived in Baja Sur off and on since 2003, I have many, many friends there. I was personally involved and desperate to get back.
Over the next couple of weeks, information coming out of Baja was sketchy. The power and fiber optic grids had been annihilated. There was no power, water, phone or internet. Thirty thousand tourists had to be evacuated. Thousands of homeless needed shelter. There was (widely reported) looting. But something amazing was happening down here at the southern end of the Baja peninsula. The government stepped up. Big time. People began banding together and the cleanup and rebuilding commenced at an alarming rate. I saw a joke on Facebook that went something like this: “How many Mexicans does it take to.… Oh wait, they’re done already!” That’s how it’s been. Herculean efforts by everyone. Incredible, upbeat attitudes. An ongoing celebration of life, the beauty and strength of the people of Baja Sur.
CFE (Mexico’s national electric company) workers poured in from all over Mexico and worked 18 hour days to get electricity back. A new fiber optic line was installed. I know a few people in more remote areas who still don’t have phone and internet, but they will, soon. The airport was originally scheduled to reopen November 2. It opened October 11, with limited international flghts. Things should be back to normal, with a full flight schedule, before Thanksgiving. Relief efforts began along with the rebuilding. I did what I could; all of us who love BCS did what we could to help.
My friend Debbie and I had plane tickets to fly into Los Cabos on October 8. It became obvious early on that we would not be flying if we wanted to arrive anywhere near that date. We decided that having a second car down here would be a huge plus, so we opted to drive. As we readied for departure, Tropical Storm Simon was working his way up Baja. We were minute to minute as to whether we should leave on time or wait. Being two over 60 women with three small dogs and a non-four-wheel-drive vehicle, we wanted to stay safe. But conditions looked favorable, so off we went on the eighth.
The drive was basically a breeze. The scariest moment was working our way into San Quintin the first evening. Simon had dumped some seriously needed rain there and the town was flooded. I followed another vehicle across a field, down a half-submerged dirt road, stopped a carload of locals to clarify directions, and made it. Deb’s car was officially broken in. No longer white, it was brown, splashed all over with mud! But I did not get stuck and the lovely Hotel Jardines de Baja was worth the exciting entry.
Next day, as we worked our way south, we saw at least 35 CFE trucks, emergency lights spinning in celebration as satisfied, exhausted workers headed north, toward home. It gave us chills and we waved as each convoy passed us by. As we neared Catavina, the green became more and more pronounced, until it was a vivid, emerald green. I’ve driven Baja numerous times, but I’ve never seen green like this. We dubbed it the “Emerald Peninsula” and took lots of photos out the car window.
We took four days to make the drive and arrived in Buena Vista on schedule Saturday. Overall, the road conditions were good. There were washed out vados, the usual potholes and a few minor detours. Signs were crooked from the winds, but everywhere was evidence of the infrastructure being rebuilt. Crews were working in earnest on the highway.
Once I arrived, I began to look up friends. I saw Vicente, formerly my dad’s boat captain. I got the opportunity to speak to Felipe Valdez—manager of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort—at length. They, and others, confirmed what I had suspected. The economic impact of Odile has had a far greater effect on the local people and businesses than the actual hurricane itself. The economy here was just rebounding after a several year slump caused by the US recession. They were finally getting their feet back under themselves. The large fishing tournament with over 100 guests that was scheduled for the third week of October at the hotel was canceled due to lack of flights. The revenue lost is in excess of $75,000 to the resort. Many employees have been laid off. Those remaining are splitting shifts and going without pay at times. Vicente, who is an independent contractor, hasn’t had any clients on his boat in over six weeks. This is typical. Thankfully the Los Cabos Bisbee Tournament was not canceled.
I also spoke with Hortencia, for whom I had set up a fundraiser on gofundme.com. Thanks to the generosity of long-time hotel patrons, we were able to raise $15,000 to repair her home and replace the contents. She lives in Cabo San Lucas but handles reservations for the hotel. She finally got water that Friday and her windows were due to be replaced the following week. Deb had her household goods shipped down here. We didn’t need all of them, so she gave the rest to Hortencia and others.
Things are slowly improving now as flights are being added and tourists are returning. We all know that BCS would not exist without tourism, so getting the planes back is of paramount importance. It has been more than six weeks without income for the BCS area. Most hotels in Los Cabos are planning to be open by November 2. However, airlines are adding back flights slowly. The tourists just aren’t coming back quickly enough.
The working people of this area are suffering the most. The mega resorts and the airlines have the deep pockets to make it through this tough time. The smaller resorts and the workers do not. But truly, overall, the spirit of the people is inspirational. And whether your heart lives in the East Cape, Los Cabos, La Paz, Todos Santos, Loreto or elsewhere in Baja Sur—come back!
Bottom line. We need flights back to normal at SJD and we need tourists. Please consider booking a trip down here to BCS. If the flight you normally take hasn’t been reinstated yet, please speak up! Ask that airline to reinstate it ASAP. Please show your support for this magical place we all love so well. Please tell your friends and family.
As we settle into the house we just bought, Debbie and I are overwhelmed with gratitude, joy and wonder. The sunrises are inspirational. The water in the Sea of Cortez is turquoise edged with dark blue. It’s perfect; clear, calm and warm. We swim in it every day with the dogs. The sky is a brilliant periwinkle and the mountains march up behind us, carpeted in green and overflowing with water. Waterfalls and hot springs await our discovery. The desert is alive with pink, yellow, white, red and pale blue wildflowers. And, as always, the people are the friendliest here. Everyone waves as I drive down the road. Everyone is smiling. “Welcome back,” is the commonest phrase….
I’m constantly reminded of a slogan Axel Valdez and I came up with years ago. It is: “The East Cape welcomes you with open arms and open hearts.” They still do. All the people of Baja Sur do…