Winterpalace

a blog by Felisa Rogers

Felisa Rogers

Felisa Rogers
Location
Seattle,
Birthday
December 16
Bio
Generally, I'd rather be reading. But I am fond of arguing about dead presidents, driving vans around Mexico, and cooking. I try to create places and times that make you believe, just for a moment, that people aren't terrible and the world isn't a ghastly place.

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AUGUST 18, 2010 2:43PM

Bimbo Bread, Abandoned Resorts, and a Revolution Betrayed

Rate: 30 Flag

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I once had the pleasure of spending the night by a campfire, drinking mescal on the roof of an abandoned hotel in Chamela, on the coast of Jalisco, Mexico. The rooms below were spectral, caked with bat shit, crumbling. Chunks of cement littered the stairway, and traversing it was no doubt incredibly dangerous. But I was 20, and I didn't care, and up on the roof the sky was a vast, glittering starscape and the wind smelled of wood smoke and palm fronds and ship wrecks.

I have a long history of exploring the abandoned resorts that dot the coast of Jalisco. The habit dates back to my childhood, when my parents and their hippie friends used to party in a sprawling complex of abandoned condominiums not far from the aforementioned hotel at Chamela. 

  hillside

Recently, I revisited my wayward past in the form of a trip to El Tecuan, a once grand resort located on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean. The surrounding hillsides are dotted with private homes--walls streaked, windows gaping, bougainvillea like wild halos. 

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I stood on the cracked tiles of the vacant pavilion and stared into the sepulchral dimness of the once grand restaurant. I remembered El Tecuan as a kid--family friends stayed there, and we drove from our camp spot at nearby Tenacatita to visit, a little appalled at the sentries in the guard house at the gates. Our friends Irv and Eileen, long time fans of Mexico, weren't impressed with El Tecuan. Yes, they said, it was luxurious enough, but the food was bad, and the whole experience felt isolated--the nearest restaurants were at Tenacatita, forty minutes away. They complained that all the meals at the resort were served with pan Bimbo toast instead of tortillas. The inadequacies in the food illustrated the basic problem: a cultural void. Culturally, the resort could have been anywhere. In the end, Eileen said, they missed Mexico.

Other visitors must have felt the same way, because El Tecuan faltered, finally closing its doors in the mid 90s. And the bats moved in, and the vines cracked the tiles, and the teenage vandals scuttled in with bottles of booze and spray paint.

tennis courts

The afternoon of my visit was overcast, and the landscape was wild and empty---the beach below a stretch of blank sand. Because the resort is still private property, the only people who come to the beach are trespassers, like me.

  tivh

My husband Rich looks out toward the abandoned beach.

Visiting ruins fuels thought. Questions about mortality, questions about the future of humanity...But the main question that lingered in my mind as I climbed into my van to leave El Tecuan that cloudy afternoon: If the coast of Jalisco is dotted with failed, abandoned resorts, then why are developers (and by association the complicit government) so hell-bent on building more?

 A Little History...

The Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 through 1920 and was the death of more than 1,000,000 Mexican citizens, was about land reform. The factions, motivations, and alliances are byzantine, but the gist of the story is that the poor people of Mexico were tired of being pushed to the margins of the vast haciendas of the wealthy, and at the urging of various charismatic leaders (some idealistic, some opportunistic) they took the matter into their own hands. The cost was great, but the victors, supposedly, were the people of Mexico.

Although reform was initially slow, real redistribution of land kicked in fourteen years after the end of the revolution, when Lázaro Cárdenas came into power and created a nationwide system of ejidos, or land cooperatives, which allowed peasants to appropriate lands that had once been ensnared by vast haciendas. Fifty million acres of land were put back into the hands of the Mexican people.

Emiliano_y_Eufemio_Zapata_con_sus_esposas

image from public domain

Emiliano Zapata, the man who spearheaded the fight for land reform, and one of the few truly virtuous figures in the entire swathe of world history, is still revered as a hero, and the ruling class has long paid lip service to the revolution. In fact the PRI, one of Mexico's ruling political parties, is called, hilariously, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution. Giant murals of the revolutionary heroes Zapata, Villa, and Madero adorn government buildings in Mexico City, and November 20, Revolution Day, is a national holiday. But are these ideals really still reflected in the actions of the powers that be?

revolution day

Villagers in El Rebalcito, Jalisco, celebrate Revolution Day; photo by Dobie Dolphin, downloaded from Rebalsito.ning.com

Wide Scale Privatization of Public Lands

It is illegal to own a beach in Mexico. A beach, defined as the tidal zone and any land within 20 meters of the high tide line, is part of the 'patrimony of Mexico' and technically the property of the Mexican people.

In reality, nearby landholders can apply to the government for concessions  that allow the holders to control beach access. According to Mexico's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), 82 percent of the coast of the state of Jalisco is now held by private concessions.

In the vicinity of El Tecuan, the number of public beaches dwindles every year. In the district of Cihuatlan, which is adjacent to El Tecuan, the beaches of the peninsula of La Culebra are now privatized; an extremely elite resort occupies the once pristine shores of El Tamarindo; and Roberto Hernández, the former president of the bank Banamex, has built a monstrous private mansion on the headlands of Tenacatita bay, replete with a private golf course. The beach at Barra de Navidad is largely public, but hotels, built wall-to-wall, claim much of the space for their guests.

In the district of La Huerta, where El Tecuan is located, it’s more extreme. Boca de Iguana, Piratas, Cuixmala, Careyes, Careyitos, Teopa, Tepeixtes y San Andrés are  private, and, according to one former employee, the so-called holistic resort at Punta Sirena is dumping sewage directly into the protected mangrove swamp. 

The majority of these private concessions are held by resorts: if you have the money you can get in. But during the season the cheapest room at El Tamarindo is $685 USD dollars a night. At El Careyes the accommodations are a bit cheaper: $252 USD for a single. The minimum wage in Mexico is less than $5 USD a day. Which means that these beaches are effectively closed to the public. 

But not every beach is the district of La Huerta ia lost. Not entirely anyway. Around the point from Punta Sirena is Tenacatita, one of the most popular public beaches in Jalisco. Access had been controlled by the ejido of the village of el Rebalsito since the 1940s, and the area was once an oasis for Mexican and foreign travelers who couldn't afford (or didn't want to visit) generic all-inclusive resorts such as the neighboring monstrosity of Blue Bay.

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photo courtesy of Milenio.com

But that changed on August 4, 2010, when Tenacatita was violently seized by a development group called the Rodenas Corporation, which is toying with plans to turn the beach into a private golf resort. The Rodenas Corporation was aided by 200 state police, who evicted the residents and business owners using force, blocked access to the beach, and bulldozed buildings. Twenty-seven local people were arrested. Three prisoners ended up in the hospital, including a 75-year-old man, and teenage prisoners who were released August 6 sported black eyes and wounds from rubber bullets. Although residents were able to secure a temporary stop order from a district civil court judge in Guadalajara, state police have so far ignored it. Rumors swirl that the Rodenas corporation has friends in high places, and that someone more powerful than the judge issued an order to the state police to continue their blockade.

Support has poured in to aid Tenacatita residents, fishermen, and business owners, who are cut off from their source of livelihood: the beach of Tenacatita. Canadian and American fans of the beach have sent money to help local people buy food and basic supplies, and neighboring communities have donated cash, as well as a bus to help take protestors to the capitol (a big deal, since the neighboring communities are not wealthy). On August 16, 1,000 people marched in the capitol to protest the seizure of Tenacatita. Supporters include neighboring ejidos, union leaders, tourists, faculty from the University of Guadalajara, and even political leaders. As the Guadalajara Reporter noted, PRI State Congressman Gabriel Ponce Miranda became the de facto leader of the protest, stating, “We don’t want to fight, we want to talk, we want to solve this by legal means, but, if the police carry out abuses, we’re not going to let them humiliate us just because they have more strength.” Unsurprisingly, many of the speeches and comments overheard at the protest referenced Emiliano Zapata.

I grew up at Tenacatita, or rather, it has been a beloved vacation spot for all of my life. As a child I camped on the beach with my parents (travel writers) for 6-8 weeks of every winter. I attended first grade in El Rebalsito, the nearby village, where many Tenacatita business owners and fishermen live.

beach

I remember when there was only one cement building at Tenacatita (Restaurant El Puerquillo). The rest of the structures were huts: the homes of fishermen, modest seafood restaurants where locals and tourists could eat the catch of the day, and palapas where foreigners, local daytrippers, and tourists from Mexico City and Guadalajara would pay for shade.

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We loved Tenacatita not just for the pretty coral reef or the sunrise lighting up the cliffs at the end of the beach, but because it gave us a chance to live, for a time, in the heart of Mexico. The people we knew at Tenacatita were not an ever-shifting population of subservient resort workers, but rather Cuca and Mosca, whose daughter Patty showed me the ropes at the Rebalsito school, or Lola, a tough, curly-haired matriarch who played a mean game of volleyball, or Chely, who raised her daughter single-handedly, worked from dawn till dusk at the restaurant she owned, flirted like a rock star, and taught me to drink El Jimador. They were people who watched me grow up, and, in turn, I watched their kids grow up.

As the years passed, the beach became more popular. On weekends and holidays, the surf was full of screaming children, and vendors roamed the shade of the ramadas, hawking fluorescent floaties to the scions of sprawling families from the nearby towns of Cihuatlan and Autlon. The restaurant owners began to build kitchens of cinder block.

busy

photo courtesy of Nelson at Rebalsito.ning.com.

We hated the first hotel, and we resented the second hotel, and we rolled our eyes at the trailer park, but eventually we came around to the idea: we saw that these small, affordable developments, were, for the most part, in keeping with the spirit of the beach: they were, as my parents would say, muy Mexicano, and they attracted the sort of people who had always come to the beach: giant families from Guadalajara for Christmas, sunburned beach bums from Calgary, wanderers in search of a cold cerveza and a restaurant that served a decent tortilla. 

paraiso

At Tenacatita, we ate in the restaurants and we paid to camp. Friends from the States came to stay at the El Paraiso Hotel and hired our friends from Tenacatita who owned boats to show them around. We bought our groceries in the local stores, and we drank our piña coladas at Chely's or Lola's. And we were happy knowing that our money was not going to foreign investors or corporate lawyers, but rather to our friends, 200 families, hardworking Mexican business owners and fishermen. 

friends

Friends celebrate at the annual fiesta in El Rebalsito. My mother is the lady in the red apron, and Mosca, also mentioned in this article, is the guy in the cream shirt sitting between the two ladies; photo by Chile Hammond, downloaded from Rebalsito.ning.com.

As I read the updates about the blockade at Tenacatita, I think about the swanky private clubs that dominate the coast, with their guard towers and their $500 dollar a night price tags. Places where you will never find local kids playing in the surf, places where the man serving your food would never in a million years expect to see you at his daughter's quinceañera. I also think about their shadow sisters, failures like El Tecuan. And I wonder: why end a profitable, truly Mexican beach community, when there are so few places left, and when the chance for failure is high?

I don't condemn people who stay in resorts, and I'm sure that there are nice people who are shareholders in resorts, and that some resort employees are satisfied with their jobs, but my point is this: just as a rustic beach like Tenacatita wouldn't appeal to a high roller, resorts are not for everyone. And I wonder if the state government, with its great reliance on tourist dollars, realizes that some of us don't come to the coast of Jalisco to swim in chlorinated pools and eat from neverending buffets of Americanized food. I wonder if they realize that some of us won't come back anymore when there's no place left for us to go.

 

 

Unless listed, all photos are the property of the author and her husband, Richard Peterson.

Sources:

http://www.milenio.com/node/509315

http://impreso.milenio.com/node/8816406

http://www.profepa.gob.mx/PROFEPA/RecursosNaturales/ZonaFederalMaritimoTerrestre/

http://guadalajarareporter.com/news-mainmenu-82/pacific-coast-mainmenu-87/27377-tenacatita-protesters-stream-into-state-capital.html

 

 

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Comments

Type your comment below:
Yeah, I got that! Thanks for commenting, Kimberly. I was definitely lucky as a kid, thanks to my crazy parents.
The eerie sensation of trekking through the ruins of former pleasure dome resorts was compelling. The removal by force of the people in the way of resort devevlopment is hideous...I had to look at the 2010 date twice. This is happening now! Really great reading.
You saw the country through such an interesting perspective, Felisa. It is always the local people who leave the lasting impression. Unfortunately, venture capitalists could not care less.
This was one great read.. I could not stop.
Rated with hugs
I love Mexico...just ask Old New Lefty...I am going to retire there some day...great post...xox
Excellent article. Thank you.

And rated.
I enjoy reading your posts, you have a very different and fascinating experience from your youth than mine. This is another one told as an adult. Thank you. ~R
As a lover of Mexico I enjoyed reading this article -- even if it is a little alarming and depressing.

Your article implies there are many abandoned luxury resorts along the coast of Jalisco. Do you have any information on the story behind these failures?

If the owners were not able to run these properties successfully, were they not able to sell to other prospective buyers who might be better positioned? I would think it would be easier to take over an existing property than to start fresh and build a new one.

I would be very curious to know why there are apparently so many failures and why this seems to happen so much. thanks.
Thanks, everyone! Girasol: I believe that the hotel I visited in Chamela had suffered some damage from an earthquake--perhaps the owners couldn't afford to repair it or perhaps they decided to rebuild elsewhere. I don't know why no one bought El Tecuan. Perhaps the selling price was too high. I see unfinished building projects everywhere in Mexico, which makes me think that enthusiasm on the part of developers sometimes exceeds planning or a thoughtful analysis of need. With so many resorts in existence, competition can be stiff.
I enjoyed learning about this. Ah money...seems to own everything eventually. Thanks.
Back in 2003 my then-boyfriend's sister was developing a resort in Jalisco. It was going to be a private-club kind of thing, you'd pay a $100K a year fee and you could fly in whenever you wanted and the place would be stocked and staffed 24/7. I'm ashamed to admit that at the time, I didn't think much about the impact a place like this would have on the locals. Thank you for this. Rated.
Interesting read! I would think that with the faltering US economy, there would be more failing resorts in Mexico and perhaps elsewhere. My husband and I own timeshares in a large American hotel vacation club. We noticed on our last visit in the Palm Springs, CA area that things were not quite as well-kept as it was on our last visit. As money becomes tighter, everyone feels it. More staycations would mean less travel to the more exotic locales.
Great thought-provoking post, Felisa. Your love for Mexico shines through. I also don't agree with privatization of beaches.
Felisa, thank you for your history lesson! I have never been to Mexico, but to visit the way you did is to see the real Mexico, not the fake resort! R
The last time I was in Can Cun, there was a very tall building that was deserted squeezed in amongst the high dollar hotels. It was an eyesore and was in such a state of disrepair and so weather beaten that I thought it was a safety hazard. If it fell it could easily take out either, or both, of the nearest developments.

In San Juan Puerto Rico I saw a few similar buildings.

Why build so much. Why did they go out, or never start. Why leave them standing. Who takes care of them when they really get to be a safety hazard.

As far as beaches go, here in Michigan you can't 'own' a beach either but I think that's gone away. Heck, there was a group that formed to allow resorts to develop the land that was uncovered as the great lakes water level went down. One hotel/resort actually found an excavating company dumb enough to come in at the stroke of midnight and 'groom' the strip of land that was once underwater. Everything natural was dozed under and they started seeding the area and putting plantings in. The state was furious and they got their hands slapped rather hard but the group 'SOS' (Ironically called 'save our shoreline') lobbied for these 'responsible corporate citizens to be allowed to 'claim their land' and develop it. Never mind that the 'land' could just as easily be underwater in a few years...

I remember what it was. You can 'own' the land up until the water line. No one can be stopped from walking across 'your property' as long as they are in the water. Hence the midnight dozing to artificially raise 'their property' so they could claim it. Yes, they also trucked in tons of sand from somewhere for this dastardly deed.

It sparked a firestorm of criticism of the state government for, are you ready for this, 'seizing that property from the rightful owners'. It was quite the circus event. Our moderate blue dog democrat governor made a number of 'consessions'
(What happens to the ability to edit?) concessions and called off the state environmental people a bit.

People should not be able to 'own' beaches on large bodies of water PERIOD! But then, as has been pointed out to me many times, I am 'just' a liberal progressive pinko commie and will probably never be in the position to 'own' a beach... If I had, or did, I'd surely see things differently... *shrug*
What a great, informative and impassioned post. I know very little about Mexico, and I hadn't even heard about the struggle for the beach. Thank you for bringing it to my attention (and I'm sure to many others), and I love the glimpse into your childhood and the photos too.
I love your posts. They are always full of rich culture and I learn so much. And good writing to boot. Rated!
What a great post! Thanks for your insights; eye opening, indeed. I hope the protests work and the beach remains as you have described it.
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. Wanona: Interesting point. The economy has definitely hurt Mexican tourism. But beyond that, certain areas just fall out of favor. Cities such as Manzanillo and Acapulco have fallen out of favor as tourist destinations and are full of once swanky resorts that are no half empty and going to seed. I wish people would put some love into the existing resorts (and their environments) instead of just building new ones elsewhere. (Though, as I mentioned, neglected resorts do have a certain charm.) Gonzoid: Don't worry about your spelling. I'm sure I am worse. And thanks for the story about the developing on unsound ground. That's an issue at Tenacatita too---if they do build they will, I imagine, have to fill in the swamp or build on sand.
As the world economy sinks lower, I expect Mexico won't be the only place these resorts will be crumbling. The greed which brought so many investors has now caught up with them...it's just sad they could get away with it for so long.

Excellent article. The Mexico of days gone by...between the economy and the drug killings tourism is bound to suffer immensely.
Felisa, I have discovered you blog thanks to the feature of this entry on the Cover Page, a quite deserved feature by the way. You have told the story well.

I live in the State of Guanajuato. While my love for Mexico is not so rooted in a lifetime of experience as yours is, it is profound nonetheless. I have tried to do that love justice by coming to some basic understanding the country. That requires some significant reading. I have a sneaking suspicion that you have read “Biography of Power” by Enrique Krauze, for example, but if not, you have obviously read some books of equivalent insight.

What can I say, Felisa? I have compared being in love with Mexico to being in love with a prostitute. Maybe I should give her up, but I cannot. At least Mexico seems more honest, more straightforward, less hypocritical in a way about its own prostitution than some other countries.

My beaches are in Michoacán, to the south of Jalisco as you know and a six-hour drive from here in a pickup instead of a van. There are certainly concessions there but still of a different order. I can pitch my tent on the beach in return only for an agreement to eat breakfast at a small beach front restaurant.

That will not last. Perhaps we are being forced into a slow migration southeast along the coast until we ultimately reach the other side of the Golfo de Tehuantepec and those vast beaches of Chiapas.

And hope that migration and your abandonment of the area to which you are attached at least suffices to keep us ahead of it all for the remains of a lifetime, less of a concern for me than you.
Thanks for this insightful article!
Brassawe,
Thanks. Yes, I read "Biography of Power". Years ago, though. I should re-red. My favorite book on Mexican history is "A History of Mexico" by Henry Bamford Parkes.
I haven't explored the beaches of Michoacan since I was a kid and they privatized our favorite beach there. Wish I could remember what it was called...Anyway, glad to hear there are still places to camp there, as I may be looking for a new home away from home. Let us hope not.
I'm not sure which beach in Michoacan you are referring to, Churps? What is going on at Tenacatita gives me the shivers because it so resembles a story we heard about the take-over of Guatulco (sp?) that moved an entire fishing village, leaving the locals only a beach too dangerous for swimming, while the lovely bay became the private playground of Club Med and some other "prestigious" (read ignorant) resort hotel.
Try the big beach in front of the village of Trocones a short distance northwest of Zihuatanejo, which is just southeast of Lázaro Cádenas.
I tried this last night and it failed to work. Once more.

Nice bit of writing young lady. I was directed in your direction by Chili and Mary Ann, a couple of the Gringo Viejos---they may have wonderfully varying story but their time there has been long and filled with much pleasure.

We too visited the beach back in the ‘80s with our children and they too took home some of the sand and the splendor provided by the people and the country. Maybe we met.

It would appear there is a transition afoot in good old Tenacatita right out of the Shock Doctrine of one Mr. Milton Freedman. It is an old story that has occurred many times the world over. That which is public becomes private all for the betterment of the ruling corporations. Millions of folks have died as the multinationals moved in and privatized to bring “The Better Life.” It is straight out of the Chicago school of economics---and the heart of all neoclassical economics. All of South America has been victimized by it for the last 50 years. That story is well known.

However, there may be a catch. The world is changing. As you have probably noticed, money is no longer easy to obtain due to the down turn, and that trend is global. While it may appear to some that this is a temporary event, and maybe a localized situation it goes deeper and is more complex. We are all living beyond our means, both individually and collectively. The new axiom is, “It is impossible to have never ending exponential growth in a finite world.” no matter what any economist will tell you.

Mexico gets a very large portion of its operating funds from the sale of oil (40% at least). The big oil field of Mexico, Cantarell, is very much in decline and it is predicted that Mexico will have no oil for export in 3-4 years, thus their revenues will decline dramatically. In fact, it is widely felt Mexico will be a failed state in only a few years. Portions in the north are already failed due to the drug cartels. 28,000 already dead.

Now mind you, the money coming into these developments may come from some very unusual places---drug cartels, OPEC countries, etc. but the world economy is in a very precarious position that many of the mainstream news now even believe will get worse. This is the transition that will give the beach back. The standard of living is dropping very fast in the USA and will continual to do so. This pattern of living standard drop will be world wide. Few people anywhere will be able to spend $500/night on some fancy room on the peoples beach of gorgeous Tenacatita.

I would still admit, however, that Tenacatita will be lost to all but those that live there. Your childhood will be a memory like that of my children who ran on those same beaches. It was all good just like Chili’s bread. You ate it while you could, and that it itself was a treasure.
Maybe its time we had a land revolt.
It's sad that ideals seem to go in and out like the tide. A cycle of greed, apathy, and atrocity eventually culminate in a breaking revolution, then complacency, comfort, or perhaps just a lax in guard eventually grind down resistance and greed, apathy, and atrocity creep back up. It seems to be the tragic condition present nearly everywhere. Cheers to those who keep up the good fight; those who throw themselves in harms way as well and those who speak out against the injustice.
Brassawe, thanks for the tip re: the beach. Everyone: thanks for taking the time. Your insights def. add to the piece and I think this sort of dialog is vital for those of us who would like to prevent the entire world from turning into a charming medley of theme parks and box stores.
wow, what an adventure of sights and words. rated.
Well written post
I remember the first hotel. Man, that sucker was ugly!
Most of the coast of Michoacan is still intact...

http://home.comcast.net/~alpinelakes//Coast_of_Michoacan/

But it's changing fast. The north and south ends will be heavily developed quite soon. The current "Privado de San Juan" along with Tamarindillo, will probably get mega-developed by vicente fox and his trafficker pals. The center of the coast, the zona nahuat, is in open revolt against the majority of the slated developmet projects.They've allowed 9 "flash/rustico" CDI cabana complexes to be built, but without selling the land. They will never sell the land because they are the land. The land gives them their identity, and nourishes and sustains them.
Tenacatita is a disgrace. Viva Xayakalan!
I don't have time to read this tonight, so I'm just making this comment because it will make the blog post easier to find. When other people have interesting lives it keeps me inspired to do more.