La Ventana Stories

Welcome!

La Ventana Stories, an ongoing series of write-ups, started in December 2018, about the history and the happenings of La Ventana Bay and the surrounding region. Contributed by seasonally resident authors, look for a new story every few weeks during the windy season.

El Sargento’s First Settlers — Part 3

A Fisherman’s Life

Guillermo

The mountain range just south of San Juan de Los Planes is called the Sierra la Gata. A century ago, there was a narrow trail that went over the mountains and connected Los Planes to Boca de Alamo, a tiny fishing village on the Sea of Cortez. (Today that trail is a narrow road, often with washouts that make it impassable by auto.) Manuel Avilés Geraldo traveled by burro over the trail from Los Planes to trade or sell cheese and vegetables to the residents of Boca de Alamo and La Reforma, the beautiful hacienda three miles west of Boca de Alamo near some impressive ancient rock art. At La Reforma, he met Señorita Adelia Lucero. Señor Avilés sometimes paddled a canoe across the Bahía de Los Muertos and walked up to La Reforma to court her. After they married, he brought his wife and mother-in-law to the home he had built in Los Planes [1], a Mexican shack called a jacal that had a palm-thatch roof, mud-plastered palo-de-arco walls, and dirt floor. Señor Avilés cared for cattle at Punta Perico and toiled in the mines at Las Canoas to support a growing family. Guillermo Avilés Lucero, the youngest of the family’s five siblings, was born in July 1947—a month after his father had died.[2]  

Continue reading “El Sargento’s First Settlers — Part 3”

El Sargento’s First Settlers — Part 2

 Pottery

[This story about the family of Señor Jose María Lucero Romero was constructed from interviews with his son Esteban Lucero (2012) and has been edited for length and clarity.]

Doña Sostenes Castañada grew up in Vinorama, a handful of small ranchos tucked away between mountain ridges a few miles north of El Triunfo. She learned how to make earthenware from a potter who lived nearby, and her mother taught her to use herbs and her strong hands to ease the suffering caused by illness and injury. Her faith provided the confidence to use her knowledge to restore the health of family members and neighbors. She became a skilled midwife, preparing herbal teas to stimulate a pregnant women’s contractions and massaging her belly to position the fetus for a safe birth. She delivered many of the babies in nearby mountain ranchos, and later, in El Sargento and La Ventana.

Continue reading “El Sargento’s First Settlers — Part 2”

El Sargento’s First Settlers — Part 1

Introduction

The pueblo of El Sargento in Baja California Sur overlooks the Bay of La Ventana and Isla Cerralvo, the rugged, uninhabited island seven miles offshore. In 1998, the quiet fishing village had a population of around 800.[i] A dozen foreigners had built homes close to the beach below the washboard road going north from town. They bought their groceries from Armida at the one-room market in her mother’s house across from the church plaza.  You could have a delicious Mexican meal at Tacos Leon for as little as two dollars. The place was so popular, people often had to wait outside for the “second sitting.”

Ten concrete-block homes lined the narrow dirt road that winds through the pueblo. Mexican families enjoyed sitting outdoors on their verandas, eating dinner, visiting with neighbors, and watching children play in the street. When the newcomers drove by, out of common courtesy they slowed to a crawl to avoid causing an injury or leaving residents choking on clouds of dust. A few recent visitors, however, seem to be in such a big hurry that they forget they are guests in another country. They careen through the zigzag as though competing in the Baja 1000. They must be going someplace more important than respect for La Gente, the Mexican people who live and work here.

The campground at the pueblo’s sister village 5 km to the south, La Ventana, was a winter haven for a few hundred windsurfers. That was about to change. La Ventana’s first kiteboarder hit the water in 1998 with a two-line kite and a broken seven-foot surfboard he had glued back together. The combination was a sight foreign to most people that day, but it changed the bay forever. That was my son, Bruce. Soon there would be more kites in the sky than sails on the water.

The two villages provided only essential services for visitors. If you needed gas for a trip to La Paz to fill up, go shopping, or check email at an internet cafe, you stopped by Juan Ramon’s hardware. Juan or Alejandro Rieke pumped a few gallons of gasoline from a barrel to get you there. And if you spoke some Spanish, they had some interesting stories to share.

Continue reading “El Sargento’s First Settlers — Part 1”

Bird’s Eye View: The Imposter Among Us

Even if you are not into birds in the slightest, most folks in La Ventana and El Sargento are familiar with those large black birds with the broad wings soaring effortlessly over our heads without flapping for seemingly hours or perched on the tops of the cardon cacti with their wings held wide open to warm themselves up after a cool night.

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Doña María Rieke Verdugo, Ángel de Rancho Las Canoas [1]


During the late 1800s, several German immigrants to Mexico came to Baja California to seek their fortune; Doña María Rieke’s grandfather, Eduard Rieke, was one of them. Adopting the Spanish name Eduardo, he arrived in La Paz in the late 1800s and made his way to El Triunfo to look for work. He met Fructosa Avilés in San Antonio, and they fell in love. She was married and had a son but left her husband for Eduardo.

Eduardo learned about a Piedra Inscrita, Inscribed Rock, in the Las Canoas Arroyo above the Bay of La Ventana [2,3]. The rock held a clue to the location of a vein of gold discovered by Pericue Indians, which came to be known as La Tapada, The Covered [Mine].  Eduardo came to Las Canoas to search for La Tapada.

Continue reading “Doña María Rieke Verdugo, Ángel de Rancho Las Canoas [1]”

The Invasion of La Paz by an American Filibuster

Since the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519, Mexico has gone through several major political iterations. But La Paz and the Peninsula have, in addition, had their own peculiar brushes with international politics. First, some early history.

La Paz Bay was “discovered” in 1533 by Spaniard Fortun Ximenez, but efforts to establish a colony were thwarted by natives who killed him and his 21 crew members. Hernán Cortez arrived in 1535 after successfully subduing the mainland and named the Bay “Santa Cruz.” But his attempt to gain a foothold on the wild Baja peninsula also came to naught. His colony failed in a few years.

Fast forward to 1596 when the Spanish finally made a go of it. A successful colony was founded by Sebastian Vizcaíno and given the name “La Paz.” “New Spain,” as the country was known, held forth until 1821 when, after a protracted struggle (1810-21), the sovereign Republic of Mexico was established with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba.

In 1861, however, conservative elements fought for the return of a monarchy. The French helped make it happen. France invaded and put monarch Maximillian I on a throne. The U.S. during this period, of course, was embroiled in the Civil War and didn’t have resources to help Mexican liberals keep the French out.

But, at the end of the war, the U.S. actively opposed Maximilian’s regime. France withdrew its support in 1867, monarchist-rule collapsed, Maximilian was executed, and the republic was restored.

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Considering Birds When Building in La Ventana

Down here in Baja where my wife and I own a wee abode to escape the chilly Canadian winter weather, we are seeing lots of new houses going up. Some of the local folks are even blaming an apparent decline in our songbird populations on all of this construction. But it is not fair of us to roll up the carpet and tell others that they cannot enjoy our neighborhood too. So… what to do? How can we build our homes but also keep the birds here?

Costa’s Hummingbird in El Sargento (photo: Chris Smith)

If you are building a new home down here, and you do care about the birds, consider these tips on how to minimize the impact of construction on their populations:

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John Steinbeck in Baja (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this story first, if you haven’t already. Onward…

The crew was anxious to port in La Paz. Their encounter with ragged little St. Lucas had been disappointing.

Cape St. Lucas had not really been a town, and our crew had convinced itself that it had been a very long time out of touch with civilization…. In addition, there is a genuine fascination with of the city of La Paz. Everyone in the area knows the greatness of La Paz. You can get anything in the world there… (and) a cloud of delight hangs over the distant city from the time when it was the great pearl center of the world.

Steinbeck noted that the La Paz pearl oyster drew men from all over the world.

And, as in all concentrations of natural wealth, the terrors of greed were let loose on the city again and again.

In Chapter 11, he recounts a cautionary folk tale about the greed associated with finding a massive pearl. The story became the catalyst for his novella, The Pearl, published in 1945, in which an impoverished pearl diver finds a huge pearl. “The Pearl of the World” promises to transform his life. It does, but not in the way one might expect.

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John Steinbeck in Baja (Part 1)

In 1940, author John Steinbeck took a breather from writing fiction—he had just published Grapes of Wrath (1939)—and ventured on a six-week, 4,000-mile expedition down the Pacific Coast of Baja and into and up what is now more commonly called the Gulf of California. Steinbeck and long-time marine biologist friend Ed Ricketts leased the Western Flyer, a 76-foot sardine boat out of Monterey.

The result was a work of non-fiction, The Sea of Cortez (1941)—a 600-page pioneering treatise focusing on the intertidal or shoreline (littoral) ecology of Baja. Steinbeck published The Log from the Sea of Cortez, a more accessible preface to the much larger work, in 1951.

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The Coral Reefs of La Ventana Bay

Below the vast blue mirror of Ventana Bay lives a variety of flora and fauna, what the locals call “silvestre” or the “wild”. At the core of this diverse ecosystem are the rocky coral reefs that dot our beautiful coast line. While our predominantly finger-based coral may not provide as colorful a display as seen in coral colonies throughout the Caribbean, these shallow, rock-based reefs provide a critical habitat for a diverse array of life that have called Ventana Bay “home” long before we did.

Baby fish or “juveniles” seek protection and sustenance in these shallow reef systems and adult turtles come in for rest and nourishment. Slow-growing coral colonies are nurseries not only to fish, but to crustaceans, star fish, sea urchins, clams, sea anemones and a host of other critters that hold a symbiotic relationship with their living host. Mary Sim, a local snorkeler living in the area since 1987 and a full-time since resident 1998, recalls in one snorkel session, “logging over 95 varieties of fish on one reef.” Continue reading “The Coral Reefs of La Ventana Bay”