Friday, March 7, 2008
Chillin' on the beach
Posted by Sean
We are camped on the beach at Playas Del Sol, about ten clicks north of town (map).
Monday evening we went out for dinner again, this time at Baja Mar on the malecón. My shrimp was delicious, but they overcooked Louise's fish. Cheaper than the Red Lobster, but still a far cry from the "authentic" Mexico, whatever that means. Tuesday morning we decided to extend our stay at Playa Bonita another night, as the weather was just starting to improve. In the afternoon we piled on Chip two-up and rode up to El Dorado to scope the place out, and also find ourselves some camping on the beach without having to take Odyssey down every dirt road for five miles.
This place was actually the first one we investigated. The road was sandy but mostly hard-packed, and the beachfront "camping" was (and still is) absolutely deserted. We inquired about the rate and gestured about the size of our rig, and were quoted $15 per night, or $90 for a full week.
We bypassed most of the other beach roads north of here, because they looked from the main road to be softer than this one, and the campos to which they led had a more run-down appearance, at least as far as we could see from the highway. We did swing into the infamous Pete's Camp, however.
Getting in and out there would have been a bit of a challenge, due to a fairly steep cobblestone driveway leading the last few hundred feet down to the beach. Once on the beach, things looked identical to El Sol, except for the fact that there were half a dozen rigs at Pete's. And, of course, we already knew they'd charge us double -- $30 per night -- for a 39' rig. They did have both a restaurant and a store that were operating, though, in contrast to the El Sol restaurant here which appears closed (though well-maintained). Pete's was, though, right next door to El Dorado, in the event we wanted to take advantage of our pool privileges. We later learned that El Dorado has purchased about half of Pete's property (not including any of the beach frontage) and folded in to the Ventana Del Mar beachfront development.
After scoping out Pete's, our next stop was the office at El Dorado, where we learned that we'd need to come back the next day to meet with one of the agents if we wanted any answers. We did find the parcel on Louise's deed on the map -- it's on a rocky hillside half a mile from the nearest dirt road. We made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon, and set out on the scooter to explore the development on our own.
All of the roads save one are dirt, but well-packed from decades of use. We cruised around for half an hour taking in the enormity of the place, then headed out toward the mystery parcel. We only got about half a mile past the back gate of the developed area before we had to quit -- the road was so washboarded that Chip threatened to rattle apart with each passing meter. We could see, though, from where we stood that the parcel was unreachable except via long hike in good boots, or maybe horseback. We turned around and headed back to town.
Wednesday morning we decided to take advantage of our last day in town by going out to breakfast, and we tried Rosita's, also on the malecón. This, finally, was more the sort of place we have come to expect in Mexico. Traditional fare at reasonable prices. Also the first of the three restaurants where we actually saw Mexicans dining -- the other two joints had been exclusively patronized by gringos.
After breakfast we packed up and headed up to El Sol, with the sort of confidence that only comes from having paid a visit there already. We drove straight to the beach and staked out a perfect end spot overlooking a wash on one side and the gulf out the front. So far, we have had the beach and all the camp sites to ourselves, although there are rows of "houses" just a couple dozen feet behind us. There seem to be about two dozen "residents" here at this writing, and about the same number of dwellings of various descriptions, ranging from a simple pad with an RV on it, to fairly elaborate multi-room houses. This campo has electricity, and possibly a source of brackish water.
This place appears to be pretty typical of the campos. We are told that most of the gringos living here, mostly seasonally, lease the land on a ten or 20 year basis from the owner of the campo, and then develop whatever they need to be comfortable. Most of the campos are developed along the beachfront, with a quarter mile of nothingness between the beach and the highway.
After getting ourselves settled in, we pulled both scooters out and headed up to El Dorado, perhaps two miles or so north, on the shoulder of the highway (the limit here is 80kph, and Louise's scoot won't go that fast). We met our agent, Belinda, a 15-year resident of the area, and she was quite informative. We spent pretty much the entire afternoon driving around the development and getting a feel for what is possible on the lots. Outside of the tidy condos near the beach at Ventana Del Mar, it is an eclectic mix of structures. Some of the houses are actually exquisitely executed, and some are quite elaborate.
We learned that the development is subdivided into areas that I will call, for lack of a better term, "neighborhoods." The neighborhoods fall into one of four categories, based on two parameters. One of those is whether or not commercial electricity is available. Each neighborhood is either wired for power or it isn't -- the ones that are not wired are called "solar" lots, and they will never be on the grid. Interestingly, it does not seem to be strictly a function of distance from the mains -- the neighborhoods are pretty well intermixed, wherein you can drive past an electric area, into a solar area, and then right back to an electric area all in a straight line.
The other dimension is "houses only" versus "mixed use." Houses only means just that -- you need to build a house to live on your lot. If you have an RV and wish to park it on your lot, it needs to be in a fully enclosed garage. Mixed use areas permit RV's out in the open, and many lot owners live in their rigs. Some of the lots are nothing more than a dirt pad to park the rig, with maybe a septic system, whereas some lots in these neighborhoods have purpose-built houses every bit as elaborate as those in the "houses only" section. Most lots are somewhere in between, with a parking pad for a rig that serves as living quarters, and any number of accoutrements such as outdoor "kitchens", garages for the toys (everyone here seems to own a sand rail, dune buggy, or ATV), and even mother-in-law apartments.
While there is electricity throughout the area, there is no city water anywhere except for lots on the beachfront side of the highway. So absolutely everyone else has to have water trucked in and stored in a cistern (wells are not permitted, if they were even possible).
I have to say we were somewhat tempted by the relatively inexpensive "solar" lots. After all, we are already quite adept at living off the grid. The premium for lots with electricity is about $30K (solar lots start around $12k, and electric lots just above 40), and I could put together one heck of an alternative energy system for that amount -- I'd guess around five kilowatts. And our deed-of-license (DOL) would buy us a $1,000 discount off any lot we chose.
Then we did the math -- out the door, the cheapest solar lot would cost around 13k after taxes and fees, plus about $600 a year in dues and taxes. That would buy us about 150 weeks solid of camping right here where we are at $90 a week -- and this spot is right on the beach. We'll just hang on to our DOL for something like 50 bucks a year, which gets us into all the nice facilities, and save buying any kind of property here for some day when we're ready to stay put for a while. I'm betting that, when that day comes, San Felipe will not be on the top of our list -- although you never can tell.
We did get several free margarita coupons and $20 off dinner at the restaurant for our troubles. Dinner at Juanito's Cafe, near the beach, was actually quite nice, although I could have done without the Karaoke, targeted, as it was, at the over-70 crowd. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," quite literally as there is no distinction between a smoking and non-smoking section of the restaurant.
Today the wind was back, so we just had a relaxing day being complete slugs, surfing the internet while enjoying the gulf view from Odyssey's big picture windows. I am hoping tomorrow will be calm enough to enjoy the beach a little.