WON Big Fish Challenge


Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Adventures in Span-glish!
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Please steal my car!

A time when nothing was everything
Back in the day, I used to teach fishing seminars and give fishing classes at the venerable old Hotel Las Arenas east of La Paz and about 30 miles north of the East Cape. Sitting on a small hill on about 9 miles of beach, it looked right across at Cerralvo Island.

It’s been closed for many years now, but it was a gem.

Some sprocket guys from Europe in skinny, tight, black pants and “Flock of Seagulls” bleached-gel haircuts bought it to turn into a Club Med or something — “We don’t want ‘stinky fishermen’ in our hotel!” they told me — but it never got off the ground. LOL.

I’m glad it didn’t. The old girl was too good for that indignity.

The last 10 miles were on a dirt road. As the hotel was built on the reverse slope of a hill facing the sea, you never saw the hotel until you came over that last rise.

And suddenly you were there!

What a place. Old Mexico.

An oasis of two long, white two-story buildings nestled in the palm trees with curved tile roofs. An administrative building where Patricia, the manager, checked you in, assigned rooms and gave you the fishing schedule. (She loved getting a bottle of red wine!) And a dining hall, bar and the swimming pool.

Carry your own bags, Señor.

You know how hotels have marquee signs that tell you all the amenities they offer (pool… cable TV… etc.)?

The wooden sign for the Hotel Las Arenas would have been funny.

“Welcome to the Hotel!”

No designer beds. No laundry. No in-room coffee maker or hair dryer. No TV. No ice machine. No phones. No room service. No spa. No air.

What else did you need?

You kept the windows open and let the breeze blow through.

The hotel had thick old walls that held out the Baja heat and cool tile floors you could lie on after a long day of hot fishing. The tiles would simply pull the heat out’ve your body while a tired overhead ceiling fan bumped and whirred.

But, the hotel had the three most important things in a hotel back then. It had a bar.

It had a great bartender who had a mighty arsenal of all the drinks he could concoct. And Gabriel had a great memory. He not only knew everyone’s name, he could remember your favorite drinks.

And it had ice.

No craft beer. They had Corona, Pacifico and Modelo. They were cold and that’s all that mattered.

It had an old tile pool that was just deep enough to reach your shoulders. Any deeper and your beer would get wet. No one swam. That would have been bad form.

Everyone just sort of bobbed with a beer bottle in hand. It wasn’t a swimming pool. It was a bobbing pool. A dozen fishermen with a Corona-buzz going would have laughed you out’ve the pool if you started actually swimming.

No menu. It was whatever the great kitchen staff cooked. But it was always fresh and no one complained and always centered around homemade Mexican dishes the Mexican moms in the back whipped up.

Tacos… enchiladas… bistec ranchero… ceviché… guaca­mole… fresh fish and salsas… You have not eaten until you’ve had a Mexican mom cook for you!

You could always smell the fresh tortillas, chorizo and other spices across the compound.

Three hearty meals a day. If you missed one, you waited until the next one. It was always communal and a great social event. No one missed!

Breakfast was early because everyone wanted to get going fishing. Lunch was a bag carried down to the waiting pangas on the beach along with ice and your fishing gear. Those were exciting mornings.

Dinners were always fun and lively after a long, fun day of fishing.

You definitely did not skip dinner, which was always followed by bull-sessions around the pool, or back on your room balcony to watch the sunset over the ocean.

The lights of the hotel would wink on while the setting sun painted the Baja twilight.

With no TVs and in the halcyon days before laptops, iPads and smartphones, people actually talked. After a day of fishing, a full, happy tummy and some sipping tequila, there’s nothing better than fun conversation among fishing friends.

No one retreated to isolation unless it was to sleep or read a good book.

With nothing else around, darkness would come quickly.

But the ambience always held the congeniality of a campground as ambient laughter or the sweet smell of someone’s cigar wafted through the evening.

Like all fishing trips, mornings would come early — sometimes too early.

With no alarm clocks in the rooms or cell phones to set a wake-up, one of the staff would knock on your door about 4:30 a.m. to tell you to come down for breakfast.

One evening, I had just gone to bed. Having about 20 anglers there at the hotel taking one of my seminars, I was beat.

When you’re tired, the nights go quickly. It seemed like I had just gone into deep sleep when I got the wake-up knock on my door.

I opened the door and Salvador, the night manager, told me it was time to get up. It was still dark. Of course.

So, I sleepily went around from room to room and woke everyone up as was my habit when I had a group. I then went back to my own room to get ready for the day and get down to breakfast so we could get to the boats.

It was then that Salvador came running frantically up to my room — in a panic. It wasn’t 4:30 in the morning. It was only 2 a.m.!!!

Salvador’s battery-operated clock in his office had stopped.

Guys were already coming down with fishing gear… bleary eyes… and looking for the coffee pot. If anyone had actually looked at their wrist watches, they’d have figured something was wrong. But no one questioned the wake-up!

He and I crazily had to run around to all the rooms to tell everyone they could go back to bed! We also had to tell the hotel staff as well, as they had already started cooking breakfast! Turn off the ovens and stoves! Put the eggs back in the fridge!

There was a little grumbling and a few choice words were thrown my way, but everyone was more than happy to go back to bed — myself included.

I can’t imagine that happening these days at a Hilton or a Wyndham Hotel.

Old Baja, back in the day. You really had nothing, but you also had everything.

* * *

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