First of all I must apologize for how my anger slips out about the gringo presence in Baja. At one in the morning, I wake to a painful echo of my snide comments to some neighbors about shrimp tacos. It is not kind to mock, nor is it useful. Creating resentment is not the way to help improve the situation in “Hood River South.”
A large contingent of Hood River water sports enthusiasts go to La Ventana and Los Barriles during the winter. Many also bike in the desert or mountains as well, and there are plenty of partners who just SUP, snorkel, and hike. More recently people also go to play pickleball, especially in the 10-court resort in Los Barriles. It certainly is a way to escape the harsh winters of our area.
The problem is the unintended impact on these small Mexican towns, and lack of awareness of the locals’ ambivalent feelings about the foreigners’ presence. The Gringos bring money and spend it on food, lodging, and construction of their large houses and gardens. Many locals must be happy to have work. However, the impact of the U.S. and Canadian dollars on their community has large downsides. The prices of food and housing are rising astronomically. The houses built by the foreigners are huge. They use a lot of precious water, and the hotels now have swimming pools. Meanwhile the locals cannot always afford to buy the bottled water, and their own tap water is getting more and more salinated due to over use of the aquifers below ground, which then draws the Sea of Cortez’s salty water into the underground reserves. Local people are said to be having increasing kidney problems from drinking their tap water.
The overfishing of the Sea of Cortez has put local fishermen out of business. The tourists love to eat fish and shrimp, oblivious to the harm to this precious resource for food. Many locals see huge two-story houses appearing between their modest houses and the sea, pushing them out of their own town.
Many give up and sell their meager houses for what they see as huge amounts of money, and move their families to the north and western dry hills. They later find out they sold their property for a pittance compared to the gringo marketers, and one more modest local house is demolished to make way for another huge American “second home” in Baja.
Many of us have tried to bring improvement projects for the towns and the locals. One conscientious American couple decided to install a system for recycling their grey water to use on their landscaping gardens. They trucked in water from a town on the other side of the bay in order to have non-salty water for their vegetable garden (the local tap water being too salty!) There are projects by well-meaning visitors to spay the local dogs to reduce glut of puppies in the streets, some of them bred by Americans’ large, long haired dogs — not a good look for dogs in the desert. This effort, plus garbage pick up programs are something I have participated in. However, come to find out that there is no public place for locals to take their garbage, and they cannot afford hauling fees, so the problem is not truly addressed.
The locals and the foreigners often have little conversation. I know a lot of Americans have taken some Spanish in school, but few seem to make an effort to communicate, get to know the local people, to listen to their concerns. There is now a demand from the gringos for good organic produce, and the Saturday markets offer a venue for a few local farmers to sell their veggies — but locals cannot afford the prices that the Gringos pay.
The cost of food in their local stores has gone up due to the catering to gringo tastes and specialty items. I think perhaps the ejidos (local business/governance groups) are profiting from tourist business but the locals are mostly suffering. Yes, some work for the gringos: Building their houses, cleaning their houses, tending their gardens, feeding them their much loved “shrimp tacos”, etc. in a frenzy of tourist business during the few months of acceptable weather. Local taverns offer American music, and beer and cocktails. La Ventana and Los Barriles have become party towns for the rich Northerners, much like the hugely expensive and built-up tourist havens in Cabo at the bottom of the peninsula. I call it the Cabo Creep. Does all this improve the lives of the locals? Are they just there to serve the Gringos during the season, and hope to have enough savings to last through the broiling summer and fall, until the next invasion arrives months later? Foreigners will then spend their U.S. dollars to play and party in their “Hood River South.” Is all of this sustainable? I think not. Global warming will have it’s way with the desert and the water shortages. Is it fair, is it ethical?
Could the situation be improved?
Alison MacDonald is a retired teacher who lives in Hood River.