Issue 19

Cabo Pulmo
You'll Love Her Way


For all of this and more, we have fallen in love with her spirit, her ocean, her reef, her animals and her people. And it happened so fast that we didn’t know what hit us — we found ourselves deeply heartbroken at the possibility of getting it all wrong, falling short, and losing her forever.

As grand as she is, Cabo Pulmo is equally vulnerable. If ever we leaned into her for sustenance or craved her inspiration, she has been there without hesitation. But we have not returned the sentiment. We’ve raped her reef, polluted her waters,
littered her shores and forgotten her people.

She deserves our restitution, for we have not treated heras she has treated us. We should feel small because we are. Nevertheless, we are her children and her guests. She has nourished, taught and hosted us well.

We know what to do and the time is now…

60 miles north of Baja’s tourism epicenter, Los Cabos. This jewel of the East Cape region of Baja California Sur stretches five miles from the northernmost tip, Pulmo Point to the southernmost tip, Los Frailes. Surrounded by undeveloped desert and a stunning mountain range, the pristine beaches of Cabo Pulmo give way to a shallow bay that cradles one of three living reefs (the only hard coral reef) in North America.

The Cabo Pulmo Reef has eight fingers of hard coral reef, providing a safe haven for many of the 800 species of marine animals found throughout the Sea of Cortez. The rich biodiversity of the area is unparalleled and as a result was targeted by overzealous sport and commercial fisherman during the 80’s. Abusive over fishing and a tremendous decline in fish population caused great concern in the local community, who subsequently lobbied the government to protect the region. Moreover, a series of studies at UABCS were directed by lead biologist Dr. Oscar Arizpe to provide strong supporting the biological relevance Pulmo and the Sea of Cortez. Dr.Arízpe the first scientist to perform systematic research on the marine animals. his findings, on June 15, 1995 Ernesto Zedillo declared the 7,111 and waters surrounding Cabo National Marine Park.

Although conservation efforts in the right direction, federal enforcement and financial aid remains scarce quest to protect Cabo Pulmo National falls heavily on the shoulders of community of just 113 residents. people here are positive and last Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, also known as CONANP, the first official Park Director, Carlos to direct conservation efforts in the a massive undertaking but local citizens international conservation groups working together with the new park to implement programs such as park enforcement, reef monitoring, nest monitoring sea turtles and beach clean-ups.

Spend even a modicum of time interacting with the people of Cabo Pulmo and you’ll experience a community rooted in family and united by a common goal to protect their home. The small town of concerned citizens, young and old alike, are taking positive action whenever, wherever, however possible.

A local dive shop owner speaks of a donation program he’s integrating into his business to help raise money for park enforcement. Another concerned individual patrols the park alerting visitors of simple rules like no fishing or anchoring in the park. Children can be seen collecting trash and making signs that display park rules. Biologists, conservationists, media and tourists attend community meetings to share ideas and support efforts being developed by the local community.

From friendly gatherings to ecology programs to simply enjoying the park, a strong sense of community is what binds the people of Cabo Pulmo together. The question is, can they bring about the change required to preserve their home for future generations?

Unlike the sea, our relationship to the earth is seldom as deep, yet we live because the earth lives. Conservation is the preservation, management and care of natural and cultural resources; a process that requires education and application for it to work.We cannot protect that which we do not understand. In the expansion of our minds and the wake of our hearts, the quest to protect Cabo Pulmo has begun to take shape. On the beach of Cabo Pulmo a young Mexican boy approached a man who was littering the shore. Softly and respectfully he spoke, “Excuse me sir, please do not throw trash here. This is where I live.”

A local recalls this incident to illustrate how children in Cabo Pulmo are “thinking green” and working to make a difference. Conservation is serious business to these kids and the children in Cabo Pulmo are local heroes. Mindful and generous; they participate in beach clean-ups, sell wristbands to raise money for the park, patrol turtle nesting sites and release hatchlings.

I step out of my bungalow for an afternoon walk to find a group of boys piled atop a canary yellow ATV, arms flailing and shouting “Tortugas! Tortugas!” We grab the cameras and follow by car. After a few miles, we abandon the car and walk down a long stretch of secluded beach that bends around the northern tip of Cabo Pulmo. We approach the boys as they sift through nests of sand. Patiently and carefully, they prepare a total of ten hatchlings for their difficult journey.

The first hatchling scrambles instictively toward the sea. The boys step aside and the other turtles follow. In awe, I watch their tiny bodies push through the thick, wet sand. It takes nearly half an hour for them to reach the shoreline where they encounter rough waves difficult to penetrate. Each time they try to enter the ocean, a powerful wave slams their bodies against the sand, hurling them back to where they started. This goes on for over an hour. I was certain with each subsequent blow that this would be the wave that would knock the life out of them. Their determination was staggering and in the end, all ten turtles made the sea their home. The fact these turtles make it this far is a miracle and the children are their angels.

Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, founded by Cole Barrymore, features a full-service dive center. Lively hosts indeed,Cole and his team of Padi-certified divemasters know how to serve up fun and adventure in heaping supply. Our morning with Cole began gliding through the warm, blue waters of the marine park in a traditional Mexican boat called a panga. Our original plan was to head north along the reef, but we gladly switched gears when someone observed a sea lion feeding on a large bait ball of green jacks.

I’d never seen a sea lion feeding before and
I was moving so fast from the excitement, I could barely get my snorkeling gear on. I finally fixed my mask and fins and fell backwards into the ocean. I swam alongside the large bull sea lion in close proximity for such a long while that I lost all sense of time. The sea lion’s labors were, for the most part, all about breakfast. But to my delight, he took several breaks, swimming and dancing like an ocean ballerina in perfect sync, first with me, then back to chasing jacks and then with me again.

Later that afternoon, we joined Rogelio Magos, manager of Cabo Pulmo Divers, another dive operation on the south end of town. We made our way to the sea lion colony at the southern tip of the park called Cabo Frailes. As we approached the point, our captain, Manuel Castro Flores and Rogelio scoured the area; they were looking for something. We steered slightly inland to a rock cove where a man was fishing with a handline.

Rogelio addressed him politely and warned, “There is no fishing allowed in the marine park, this is a protected area. If you do not stop fishing I will report you to the authoritie and you will be subject to a $500 fine.”

At first, the fisherman did not budge so we moved in closer and took a few pictures to document the incident and show him that this was serious. Finally, he pulled his line from the water and left in a huff. Rogelio was frustrated as the incident emphasized the concern about the lack of park enforcement. I was impressed how skillfully and politely that Rogelio handled the situation and realized that these people really do want to make a difference. I found out later that Rogelio and the community donate generous amounts of their time to patrol the park whenever possible. In the high season when it’s busier and they are working long hours, it’s extremely difficult to find time to monitor the park.

At the end of the long day, we found ourselves on the beach at La Palapa, a local hangout that serves up great tacos and plenty of cold beer.

The next afternoon, I joined Roger for a hike along the bluffs overlooking Los Frailes to hear the story how Mario Castro, owner of Cabo Pulmo Divers, first began his work. A crimson sunset exploded in the distance. The flaming sun ending its effort by melting into the tepid sea, but not before painting every cloud in the sky.

The Castro family’s presence in Cabo Pulmo extends back to the early 1800’s when Mario’s grandfather Jesus Castro Foil, enjoyed celebrity status as a famous pearl diver at the height of the pearl fishing industry. Jesus’ success entertained big ideas of fame and fortune among divers in nearby communities. Before long, pearls were over harvested and the fishing trend that followed determined the future of the Castro family. The demand for sharks during WW II ignited a brutal fishingfrenzy in Cabo Pulmo that resulted in over fishing so severe that its impact on the shark population is still noticeable throughout the Sea of Cortez today.

By the early 80’s, the decline in marine life had become so devastating to Cabo Pulmo that it threatened the very survival of the community. Consequently, Mario was unable to work locally so he set off to find work as a fishing boat captain in Cabo San Lucas. There were no positions available so Mario took a job as a dive boat captain. Sport diving allowed Mario to explore his relationship with the ocean in a deeper way and within a month he became a divemaster, returning to Cabo Pulmo shortly thereafter.

Mario recognized that sport diving provided the community with an opportunity to prosper without harming the environment. And in 1985, he opened Cabo Pulmo Divers, an eco-tour business, promoting sustainable tourism in the area that would soon become recognized as Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park by the Federal government.

During those years, another tragic threat to the marine life in Cabo Pulmo occurred as the growing demand for sea turtles promised very poor fisherman a lucrative income. Locals quickly began targeting sea turtles, killing them by the thousands every week, contributing greatly to their current endangered status. Today, due to the efforts of marine biologists, conservationists and community educational programs aimed at educating the fisherman, sea turtle populations are on the rise in Baja California Sur.

Cabo Pulmo’s remote setting and small town charm distinguishes it from other towns in southern Baja where massive resort complexes and tourist megaplexes reign as the preferred vacation spot. Cabo Pulmo is off the power grid making all development in the area dependent on the use of solar power—a fitting energy source in a place where the sun is almost always shining.

Most properties in Cabo Pulmo maintain a consistent level of service and amenities. I spent my time at the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort; a quiet bungalow village operated by the Barrymore family who have led the community in responsible real estate development for over 30 years. Phase I of their master-plan extends from the main road down to the shores of the Marine Park and is positioned right in the heart of the town. It’s here you’ll enjoy wandering pathways framed by brightly painted walls and matching bungalows brushed in apricot, turquoise and lavender. The residences are also available for rent for extended periods and feature private beaches and gardens, viewing decks, barbeques, full kitchens, baths and master suites. Prices range from $49 to $79 US dollars per night.

Dining options in Cabo Pulmo are limited so consider bringing a few groceries with you to take advantage of the fully equipped kitchens provided in most of the bungalows in town. There are only a few restaurants in operation and I enjoyed the food and ambiance at each. Caballeros, near the center of town, features traditional Mexican cuisine and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. At La Palapa, a beachside patio restaurant serving lunch only, you can feast on seafood tacos while taking in the best ocean view on the beach south of town. Tito’s, located at the northern entrance to Cabo Pulmo, just reopened and flaunts the skills of celebrated Los Cabos executive chef Alfredo Rosas. During our stay, Alfredo prepared a delicious gourmet dish of Chiles en Nogadas for our group. Nancy’s is also a good call, especially when fresh tuna and scallops are available. Whether you opt to grill seafood in your private garden BBQ or venture out to dine with the locals, rest assured that food and spirits are central to celebrating the joy of living in Cabo Pulmo!


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