Puerto Peñasco is nothing if not dynamic. What do I mean? Well, for those of you who are long time visitors or residents, this will not be news, but for our newer guests and residents it might just be interesting. You decide. Time and tide, they say, wait for no man (or woman) and the Peñasco I remember of forty-five or so years ago is forever changed. Some might say for the better. I’m not so sure.
I remember the road to Peñasco from Sonoita as being something along the lines of the road to Baghdad after the start of Desert Storm. That is, sections of asphalt connected by strings of potholes with drops offs along the sides. The drop offs were 18” in some places. The road was so narrow that two vehicles approaching from opposite directions had to reach an accord as to which one had right of way to continue, while the other pulled as far to the right as possible…if possible, and at night it was pretty scary. It was, usually, a three hour ordeal to get from Sonoita to Peñasco back then, and the nerve wracked traveler couldn’t wait to shut down his chariot and throw back a cold one once he had reached his destination, whether it was a hotel or a spot on the beach where the camp was going to be. Cruising along at highway speeds was absolutely out of the question and having a “good” spare tire was a must.
The accommodations back then were sparse, too, although there were subtle indications of things to come. The Pithaya, Manny’s, Playa Bonita, Viña del Mar, Hotel Paraiso, and some others that my old memory cant’ recall, offered rooms with air conditioning. Mostly window units…loud window units…and clean beds for prices that, even back then, were a bargain! Of course, for those who liked to camp on the beach, there was the Reef, where for $1 USD you could get a beer and a shower, which, after three for four days of beach camping, was a real treat. For you newbies, think about this; between the original Reef and Playa Bonita there was not one single structure of any kind! No condo towers, hotels or accommodation! Nada, zilch! Today “Wrecked at the Reef” and all the craziness that it celebrates, is complimented by sedate fine dining and a piano bar at Mare Blu.
As far as vittles were concerned, most of us brought what we wanted to eat with us, but you could, and still can, get great produce from the local tienditas, and stores like El Pueblo market on Avenida Constitucion, which has since burned down. Ley had not yet come to town, so perishable items were replenished at the smaller independent local stores. We actually got to know the proprietors! Imagine that?
The shopping, too, was much less ‘available’ than it is nowadays. Of course, Rodeo Drive was there, right where it is today, but it was a rutted dirt track leading to Sandy Beach off Benito Juarez, and you had to know where the turn off was, unlike today. Many folks missed the turn and got lost, finally zeroing in at Los Pinos Ferreteria after circling the unpaved side streets, which are still unpaved today.
Too, the Rodeo Drive of yesteryear was nothing like it is today…not even close. Tar paper shacks, lean-tos and vendors sitting under umbrellas, hawked their wares to the turistas brave, or foolish, enough to travel that old dirt road. The stock was mostly curios made in China, but once in a while you could come across real artisans with real, quality hand made products from Mexico. The ubiquitous souvenir T-shirts, with off color and risque sentiments, were always available and we all found something that made a “statement” to take home…usually to be worn when entertaining our stateside friends in order to shock and/or titillate.
Back then, when we come to Peñasco, it was with a purpose, because it was not the easy drive that it is today. Nor could we count on being able to replenish our larders, get beach stuff, cash from an ATM, car parts from AutoZone or wine from Sam’s Club. We usually made detailed plans with friends for our forays south of the border, as to what who, where and how long we would be able to spend in “paradise”. We came to Peñasco to unwind and kick down a gear or two from our workday lives back home and to soak up the ambiance (and shrimp) of the local culture. We could sit on a beautiful Sandy Beach, throw back a few (or more than a few) beers or Tequila shots, hang out at Cocodrilos, the Señorial, Gua Gua, the ever popular J.J.’s Cantina in Cholla Bay, live, love and generally enjoy the carefree life and freedom that Mexico provided.
Most of that has changed today, and Rocky Point is, as Ensenada has before it, turned into a “tourist” destination with all the amenities that that entails. You can’t turn back the clock, and many don’t want to. I don’t advocate either way. The more adventurous can still find old Mexico in and around Peñasco, but you really have to work at it. At least those of us who are “of a certain age” remember when it was right here.