To see Cabo San Lucas today, a resort bustling with tourists, Cruise Ships, World class Golf Courses, a large Marina filled with Yachts of every description, and fine accommodations, it’s mind boggling to think that this was just desert scrub land when today’s baby-boomers were toddlers. It’s true. In John Steinbeck’s “Log From the Sea of Cortez”, penned in 1940-41 he refers to briefly stopping here. Me mentioned his skipper’s annoyance that there was a navigational light at the Cannery (ruins of which are visible today), but since the Cannery (and their generator) shut down at 6 PM the light did not operate at night!!! He also mentions traveling by burro to a dusty cantina with a few locals lounging around…apparently there was no beer there at the time and that sent Steinbeck & Co on their way, post-haste.
The years following WWII saw the beginning of development in Baja along the Sea Of Cortez, but The Los Cabos Region was lounging in the background. La Paz and the East Cape is where the action was with Hollywood Celebrities like Desi and Lucy, “The Duke”, Bing Crosby and even President Eisenhower escaping their day to day grind by fishing the fertile waters of The Sea of Cortez.
Some of these “movers and shakers” pooled their money and built Hotel Las Cruces on the East Cape. Other pioneers such as Herb Tansey and Jose Garcia of Rancho Buena Vista also chose The East Cape as their destination. Ray Cannon made his mark with the “Western Outdoor News”, along with too many others to name here. Regardless of how influential these people were, it was one single, solitary fish that changed the course for Cabo San Lucas.
The year was 1955, and Don Luis Bulnes, a native of Ribadesella, Spain, had just arrived at Cabo San Lucas to assume his new job as manager of the Impresas Pando tuna cannery. One day, he was walking down the cannery's famous wooden dock, and he saw something splashing out in the water. At first he thought it was a bird or seal, but then he realized that it was a large striped marlin. Then he saw that it had actually been caught by a handline…. held by one of the boys on the dock!! He was mesmerized by the fish; by it’s grace, beauty and strength. But this was 1955, Luis Bulmes was just a young tuna cannery manager, and he had to conceal his astonishment at seeing a striped marlin caught from a pier. He never admitted to anyone that it was the first billfish he had ever seen; after all, he was the company "Jeffery," and he was supposed to know all about fish.
In 1958 an Ex-U.S. Air Force pilot named Luis Coppola put up Hotel Finisterra near what we call today “Lands End” and Luis Bulnes quickly countered with hotel Solmar even closer to The Arch. Don Luis Bulnes was fast becoming one of Cabo’s most influential developers, a business leader, and later a leading Environmentalist working to maintain and manage the fish population and it’s diversity in the Sea of Cortez.
After the initial flurry of construction, Cabo calmed down a bit. After all, this new label of “Tourist Destination” took a bit of getting used to. The Cannery was relocated to the Magdelena Bay area during the mid 1960’s. We also saw The Hacienda Hotel opening about that time. In 1974 The Trans-peninsular Highway opened a direct link between Cabo San Lucas and Tijuana and The United States. 1974 also saw the start of dredging of the mud flats behind the old cannery for the “New Marina”. In 1986 the Cabo-San Jose International Airport was opened and the rush was on. It shows little sign of slowing either.
Today it is more than a bit difficult to realize that when the Hotel Hacienda and the Hotel Finisterra were built, there was no harbor. These great resorts, so dependent upon sport fishing, were completed at a time when the entire marina area was nothing more than a dry mud flat with a landing strip running down its middle and the small houses of cannery workers scattered among the bushes here and there.
Today the modern marina is the busiest in Baja, with nearly 400 slips, some capable of berthing yachts to 400 feet long. Condominium complexes encircle the city and line the 22 mile long beachfront “corridor” to San Jose del Cabo – itself a destination. A wide variety of activities, including fishing, sailing, snorkel and SCUBA, off-road racing camps, eco-adventures and plain old sunbathing await the visitor. Accommodations cater to every lifestyle and the cuisine ranges from 5-star gourmet restaurants to sidewalk taco stands. Hernan Cortez, a Conquistador and first European to visit Baja, saw no profitable future in Baja California. He plundered the area and left quickly (at the natives’ request)
The modern day Conquistadors, on the other hand, conquer not with sword and musket, but with world class accommodations and service. Hernan plundered and ran. The modern Conquistadors reinvest. It's evident they've been doing just that in Los Cabos. As you stroll down the beach and wonder at the magnificent seascape surrounding you, take a moment to remember Hernan; the short, short sighted fellow. . .who let the "big one" get away.
By: Slade Ogletree