Cabo History 101

 
Cabo arch

Cabo arch

 
Cabo Wabo

Cabo Wabo

Unlike a lot Americans on their first visit to Cabo San Lucas, my husband and I didn’t go to hang out at the beach, see whales or play golf. We went with one goal: to dig below the Cabo most American tourists see. We uncovered a lot, and you can read the results over the next six weeks here in the Cabo Series of “The Other Side of the Peso.” You’ll find stories of kind, caring, dynamic people who are making Cabo and the world a better place.  

Puerto Paraíso Mall

Puerto Paraíso Mall

We pulled into town hungry for a late lunch and quickly found Marina Boulevard. The strip offers everything Cabo is famous for—block after block of restaurants, souvenir stores and pharmacies where Americans can walk in and buy a number of drugs that, in the States, require prescriptions. Street vendors hawking everything from necklaces to time shares generally speak enough English to do business with non-Spanish speakers. Dollars are so widely accepted that a tourist could probably stay a week in Cabo and never need pesos.

That was the case at the famous American hangout, Cabo Wabo Cantina. Known more for its nightly dance club, beer and party atmosphere, things were delightfully slow and quiet on the veranda at three in the afternoon. The shrimp tacos and 2 x 1 Coronas were a decent welcome to town, and afterwards, I was ready to start exploring a little Cabo history.

Luis Bulnes Molleda

Luis Bulnes Molleda

I quickly learned the name of Luis Bulnes Molleda who was born in Spain in 1928 and immigrated to Mexico City at nineteen where he soon found a job and a wife. In 1955, he was sent to Cabo San Lucas as production manager at a floating tuna cannery. Politicians in Mexico City and the Baja California Sur capital of La Paz had long neglected the tiny town on the very tip of the Baja peninsula.

Bulnes and his cosmopolitan wife, Doña Concepción or Conchita, flew to La Paz where they hitched a 120-mile ride in a fuel truck headed for Cabo. When they arrived, the town of 400 had no restaurants and a manager’s house without electricity or water. The nearest airport and bank were in La Paz. The cannery had the only generator and light at night. When the cannery ship later caught fire, it was replaced with a structure that today stands abandoned, the blue lettering of Cía de Productos Marinos (Marine Products Co.) still clearly visible from a distance.  

Cabo Fishing Fleet photo

Cabo Fishing Fleet photo

In the 1960’s, finally aided by a federal government campaign, Cabo began earning a reputation for its outstanding sports fishing. The wealthy also enjoyed the area’s remoteness and beauty. In 1963, the first hotel actually in Cabo opened. Envisioning the future, Bulnes bought up a bunch of undeveloped property for next to nothing. In 1968, he joined two other businessmen to build the deluxe 65-room Hotel Finisterra. He later sold his share and built his own 20-room Hotel Solmar which eventually grew to 84 rooms.

As early as 1958, there had been talk of building a highway the length of the Baja peninsula. It took another 15 years for the Transpeninsular Highway to become a reality, making Cabo much more accessible. And Bulnes kept building—hotels, restaurants, time-shares and a sports fishing fleet. In 2011, at age 83 and months before his death, he inaugurated the first stage of his Hotel Gran Solmar Land’s End.

The Ridge at Playa Grande

The Ridge at Playa Grande

Bulnes was known for his unassuming style. One American I spoke with, who had been coming to Cabo for 20 years, confirmed the reputation. She remembered seeing “Don Luis” on multiple occasions, in hotel lobbies or poolside, shaking hands with his guests and chatting.

He also developed a reputation as a quiet philanthropist and conservationist. In 1993 he established a Mexican billfish foundation, Fundación Para La Conservación De Los Picudos, A.C.. The former cannery manager argued for regulation of commercial fishing and sustainable fishing. Upon Don Luis’s death, his son Francisco, know as Don Paco, stepped up to lead Solmar Hotels and Resorts. He soon created the non-profit

Solmar Foundation poster

Solmar Foundation poster

Solmar Foundation which, in the philanthropic spirit of his father, aids a number of local charities. That information was enough to set me on a quest for interviews in Solmar’s HR department and with the foundation’s director. What I discovered behind those impeccable resorts filled with beautiful pools, perfect gardens and gracious service is an impressive organization of 1300 employees. Check back next Monday for a peek behind the scenes.

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By dinner time on our first evening, my husband and I had explored the Marina area and were ready for something less touristy.  We didn’t have to go far to start seeing a more traditional Mexican downtown where the colorfulness and the street vendors were toned down. Less than a ten-minute walk from the glizty Puerto Paraíso Mall, our money went a lot further at the decidedly un-glizty La Taquiza. If you haven’t tried an all-in-one molcajete meal or tacos de trompo, this is the place to

La Taquiza

La Taquiza

do it. Over the next days in the same area, we found María Corona and Mi Casa, restaurants that offer good food at decent prices in beautiful old buildings with lovely patios.  

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Click here to see a CaboVision interview with Don Luis.

 

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