Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

WON News Column by Gary Graham

Gary Graham's published credits would fill many pages, two books on saltwater fly fishing, and hundreds of feature articles.

His  current leadership activities in the sportfishing community include: Avalon Tuna Club, member since the 1980s, San Diego Marlin Club, International Game Fish Association (IGFA), Baja California representative; Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF), certified fly casting instructor; Outdoor Writers of California, president; Outdoor Writers of America.

Gary Graham can be reached at:

Baja Gasoline with perks?
Before Mex 1 (Benito Juarez Transpeninsular Highway or Carretera Transpeninsular Benito Juarez) was completed in 1973, gasoline was a concern for Baja travelers. Back then, the availability and quality of both gas and diesel were of major concern.

When driving down the narrow, two-lane asphalt ribbon of a road, the best advice was “never pass a gas stop because of the scarcity of gasoline.” Many were just that — gas stops — where in some cases the gas was poured out of a 5-gallon can or pumped from a barrel.

highlightingthebraveHIGHLIGHTING THE BRAVE new world of gasoline stations in Mexico is Grupo ORSAN.

Over the years, a government-granted monopoly of Pemex stations started popping up, and over time, shortages and occasionally contaminated fuel happened less frequently.

Several years ago, the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto promised to eliminate the Pemex monopoly and it was finally implemented a year ago on January 1, 2017. The result was angry crowds, unhappy and fearful of shortages and higher prices. This was reported in my Road Trekker article on January 11, 2017 titled “It's the economy stupid…” John Carville 1992:

When I drove down the peninsula in June of last year, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the service stations, nor did I see anything that reflected a change. It seemed like ‘business as usual.’

However, on my frequent flights back and forth throughout the summer and fall, there were signs of change. Mark Rayor of Jen Wren Sportfishing sent me a photo of a Pemex Station sign with the prices marked in large numbers.

“First time I’ve ever seen prices of fuel advertised like this in all the years I’ve been living here,” Rayor marveled.

Highlighting the brave new world of gasoline stations in Mexico is Grupo ORSAN. According to their website, they operate 145 service stations in the states of: Baja California Sur, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, State of Mexico, Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche and Quintana Roo and at the end of 2017, Grupo ORSAN signed an Alliance with the Exxon - Mobil Company to operate its stations in the Bajío region under the Mobil brand.

Four of their stations in the greater Los Cabos area are easy to spot with their big Red O trademark and the Pemex name. And all their employees wear spiffy green T-shirts and caps that sport the “Red O” as well.

However, what caught my eye was the “gas rewards card” that offered points for the purchase of gasoline products which can be redeemed for items listed on the card.

Orsan gives out prizes in other ways besides reward points. When they first opened in the spring of 2017, they raffled off a car and other big-ticket items like televisions as an introduction to their stations. Raffle tickets were given out with gasoline purchases. Unfortunately, my tickets weren’t chosen.

Of interest is the fact that Orsan was a major sponsor of a dorado, tuna, and wahoo fishing tournament held in November with a purse of $22,000 USD that was split among the top three winners; the cost was only $195 to enter. More events are promised in 2018.

HOWEVER WHAT CAUGHT my eye was the “gas rewards card” that offered points for the purchase of gasoline products which can be redeemed for items listed on the card.

If you spend time in Los Cabos and need gasoline, it might be worth your while to ask for an Orsan Rewards Card to get in on the perks. “Dar me un tarjeta, por favor!”

On my return home in the Roadtrek last November, there were a few additional revelations regarding individual stations. The peso-to-dollar exchange rate varied at service stations ranging from bank rate to much less, and somewhere in between.

The cost of fuel per liter varied as well. When questioned, one answer I received was that stations in remote areas were being charged higher delivery fees. In my case, I usually selected stations that were more remote because they were usually less crowded. However, that strategy should be revisited since larger towns may offer lower prices along with other perks to compete.

I remember a time when many San Diegans drove to Tijuana because fuel was so much cheaper in Baja than it was in the U.S. Now that has changed —  the price of both diesel and gasoline are about the same in the two places.

Hopefully, the deregulation will encourage competition that will result in savings and of course additional perks for the many visitors who choose to drive Mex 1.

Adios mi amigo, Tony Marrón (Oct. 4, 1948 – Jan. 14, 2018)
News of Tony Marrón’s unexpected death on Jan. 14 ricocheted through East Cape like a carelessly fired shotgun, prompting an outpouring of emotional expressions from the community as well as from the many guests who had met him during his 44-year career at Rancho Buena Vista Hotel (RBV).


Marrón’s arrival at RBV followed the fire that had destroyed the kitchen in the early 1970s, coinciding with the completion of the new bar, swimming pool, dining room and kitchen. With the new facilities — plus a fleet of 20 cruisers — the hotel added a staff of 100-plus employees.

With his youthful enthusiasm and willingness to do whatever the assignment required of him, Marrón earned the reputation of being the “go-to-guy” by owners, guests and the ever-expanding group of residents who ultimately flocked to the area; his “can do” attitude to requests, combined with his easy smile and quick solutions to problems served him well.

Marrón was born in Rancho El Cajon, close to Caduano, on Oct. 4, 1948. He married Maria de la Cruz Garcia, and had three sons, Tomas Eduardo, Marco Antonio, Caesar Aaron, and one daughter, Flor.

Tony Marrón had
probably seen that same sunrise over the Sea of Cortez thousands of times, but that didn’t stop him from leaning against his well-loved beetle and taking a picture of the moment. Adios, Tony. Vaya con Dios.

As his family flourished, so did his job; whatever position he filled at RBV, it was never “just a job” and it evolved into a way of life for him.

Marrón earned the friendship and respect of other families in the area developing their own properties. The Van Wormers, Valdez’s and John Ireland were all part of his growing circle of friends in the community and beyond.

Ray Cannon, who was credited with the early promotion of the area and RBV, spoke of Tony Marrón, admiring the man, his quiet personality and his performance in the hectic ’70s. He praised Marrón as the Walter family’s secret weapon, giving him credit for often keeping the fleet of boats — and sometimes the rancho — running smoothly.

Marrón was there throughout the changes in the management of the hotel. First, the Walters family: the Colonel, son Chuck, to grandson, Mark, 33, the third generation Baja entrepreneur who returned to the hotel in 1979 when his father, Chuck, was stricken with cancer (he subsequently died on May 4, 1981) to assist acting managers Ted Bonney and Mauricio Hermosillo.

During this time, Marrón was one of the familiar faces present to greet the longtime guests as they returned year after year, ensuring their visit remain a family-style event.

During the ’80s, after the frantic growth of the preceding decade, the number of guests leveled out, and into the ’90s, competition increased as the number of hotels and sportfishing fleets grew.

All the while, Marrón’s legion of admirers continued to grow, even as the number of guests declined. In 2007, La Capilla Trailer park was sold and the hotel itself put into escrow with a multi-year purchase option, which ultimately expired in 2011 and Rancho Buena Vista closed abruptly.

Springing back to life with fewer rooms and no dining room/kitchen under the watchful eye of Mark Walters, along with Marrón and his son, Tomas who worked the front desk, plus a few additional employees, the re-born hotel was an instant hit with families from La Paz and Los Cabos who were looking for an inexpensive weekend getaway. Barbeque grills had been strategically placed for the guests to use around the swimming pool.

I looked forward to seeing Tony. He was one of the faces that were “family” to me when I arrived at East Cape. I intended to find time to sit and visit with him -- to listen to his stories of his early years, of the East Cape, of Rancho Buena Vista, of the Ray Cannon/Chuck Connors days. He was on my list of people to interview. I really thought I had more time …

Farewell from Friends:

“So very sorry to hear of Tony’s passing. Part of Baja leaves with him that is for sure. Rest in peace my old friend. My sincere condolences to his family.” ...Richard Shears

“So sad to lose such a good and longtime friend. We went through a lot together. A kinder, more loyal person one could not find.” … Mark Walters

“Tony was a great man who worked his whole life to provide for his family and make sure the guests to the East Cape had a good time. He was a great friend who was never afraid to say ‘I love you.’ I will miss his smile and laugh. The East Cape won't be the same without him.” … Matthew Clifton

“Rest in peace, great friend, Tony Marron, the town will always remember you as what you were — a great hardworking man and good friend!” … Barbara Albright

“Going down to The Ranch was so easy, fun, and what a great place to meet amazing people. Tony always made our stay pleasurable and memorable. His smile would light up the room, and when he'd enter the dining hall at meal time everyone would stop and say, "Tony!" like he was Norm from Cheers. That smile and little giggle he had was so authentic, and what made The Ranch what it was. He will be truly missed.” … Patti & Andy Moulds

Tackle Talk
The New Year always seems like a time to reflect on change. Witnessing Baja’s earlier years in 1969 when my son Gregg and I made our first fishing trip to Loreto, there was no paved road, nor gas stations, nor other conveniences my Roadtrek and I have come to rely on.

We flew down for that adventure, and what an adventure it was for the eight-year old and his dad. Little did I dream that I would come to know and love that peninsula as I have over these 49 years.

compositeofCOMPOSITE OF STOREFRONTS or logo.

Our adventures in Baja continued when the "Carretera Transpeninsular Benito Juarez" or translated, (Benito Juarez Trans-Peninsular Highway) named in honor of one of Mexico's most revered heroes opened in 1973.

The attraction that first drew me was the descriptions of the unbelievable fishery depicted by Ray Cannon in his columns in this paper, stories of wahoo and snook, many of which were hard to believe.

But I discovered he was right; the volume and size of the fish found inside the Sea of Cortez and on the Pacific side demanded a dizzying array of rods, reels, and terminal tackle, not to mention tackle boxes filled with a variety of lures and artificials in assorted sizes to entice the multitude of fish.

Tackle, terminal tackle and techniques were primitive by comparison and tackle shops were non-existent up and down the entire length of the peninsula in those days.

Throughout the years as sportfishing came of age, the sophistication of the tackle and techniques has improved. Slowly, very slowly, a small contingency of dedicated sportfishing tackle stores have emerged, filling the needs of the hordes of anglers who visit Baja annually offering an unprecedented level of expertise and local knowledge to their clients.

Many tackle manufacturers have that small group of local, aspiring entrepreneurs that have sprung up as clients, stocking them with the ‘latest and greatest’ fishing equipment for their customers.

There are finally enough tackle shops scattered down Mex 1 to Baja’s tip to allow visitors to haul less tackle and to restock along the way if need be.

Here are some of my favorites:


Julio Meza, a San Quintin grower and family man who happens to be an avid sport fisherman, opened his own tackle store in Ensenada in 2011. Since that time, his shop has become a popular spot to pick up those items remembered after crossing the border, or to stop and talk about the latest fishing.

Fishco Pesca Deportiva
Blvd. Costero S/N, Plaza Marina Int. 6 y 7
22810 Ensenada, Mexico
Shop +52 646 178 2997
Mobile Phones +52 646 116 3337

La Paz

BajaMark Fishing Tackle was opened in 2011 by Mark Callahan, a well-known competitor in Baja sportfishing tournaments. He has earned the respect of fellow participants over the years, as well as gaining a reputation for having a well-run tackle store with an extensive inventory of sportfishing equipment in La Paz.

BajaMark Fishing Tackle
Allende 165 entre Revolucion y Madero, 23000
La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico
+52 612 122 5175

Los Barriles

In 2009, East Cape Tackle was purchased by Cindy Kirkwood, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada from Karen Kennedy, who had opened the store in 1996. Cindy soon doubled its size and continues the day-to-day management.

East Cape Tackle
Centrally located, just off Highway 1 in the Plaza del Pueblo, #4
Local Phone 011526241410366
Cell: 0115216241711083

Los Cabos

Soon after graduation from high school, Minerva Saenz Valenzuela met Bob Smith, a passionate fisherman, who spoke of a small fishing village at the tip of Baja, vowing that he would move there someday.

In October of 1976, they arrived in Cabo with a boat called NO PROBLEMA and a small travel trailer crammed with their sparse belongings. They found a beautiful piece of property a few blocks from the beach where they parked their trailer and set up shop chartering the NO PROBLEMA.

In 1989 their dream of opening a one-stop tackle shop became a reality that continues to prosper.

Minerva’s Baja Tackle has grown into one of the most respected business of its kind in Cabo San Lucas, where sport fishermen can charter fishing boats, buy tackle, clothing or have rods and reels repaired.

Minerva’s Baja Tackle and Sportfishing Charters
Toll free U.S. and Canada: 1 (888) 480-7826
Calling from the US: 01152 (624) 143-1282 or 01152 (624) 143-2766
U.S. PHONE/FAX: 1 (909) 266-3154

When Stephen Jansen a 6-foot, 3-inch tall Hollander traveled to Baja in 1994, he succumbed to the siren’s call of fishing that could not be experienced in his homeland. He returned every summer and in 1994, he met his future wife, Monica Aragon in Cabo and they made a trip to Amsterdam in 1999 for their wedding. Upon their return, they started their own tackle store that has become renowned for their custom designed “Cabo Killers” lures and Baja beach fishing expertise.

JANSEN Inshore Tackle
Stephen Jansen
Walmart Square, Cabo San Lucas, BCS

01 624 143 5804

There are also a series of Ferre-Mar Tackle and Marine stores located in Loreto, Insurgentes, Constitution, La Paz, and San Jose that carry fishing equipment and other marine products. Although I’m not familiar with them,  I have received good reviews from local fishermen.

The advantage of having reliable tackle shops that provide the luxury of rental tackle as well as a well-stocked inventory, plus local knowledge and insight, is priceless and undoubtedly an important “game-changer” for both local and visiting anglers.

The peninsula that first brought my son and me to fish has changed. Equipment is easy to come by. There are few kids on beaches with tin cans hand-lining fish they caught in the surf. There is less hassle in packing your gear on flights, because of the excellent quality of tackle on most charter boats and the availability of stores along the way with modern tackle. Enjoy your Baja fishing in 2018.

Happy New Year.

Is Baja Safe?
Among the most frequently asked questions is whether traveling in Baja is safe. My short answer has been that if you are looking for trouble, it can be found. However, this year like every other year for the last decade, I have driven the entire Baja Peninsula in my trusty Roadtrek, a one-ton van conversion – alone – from border to tip and back countless times without incident.

Violent acts are not happening on the streets every day, although drug-related homicides have increased, as they have in many countries. A word of caution: it is important to be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to events around you, and stick to the tourist beaten paths.

BY OCTOBER 2017, Baja California Sur’s total homicides had exceeded 560, almost all the result of drug-related violence.

Although there have been more than 1,200 additional Federal law enforcement and marines put in place to fight the increase in drug-related homicides, they haven’t been able to curb the violence within the cartels, although they have managed to influence its containment within the cartels.

Remarkably, in the time frame of the current drug war, only two foreigners have been killed in unrelated incidents or drug disputes.

The bloodiest two years in Tijuana’s history were quite some time ago, 2009 with 1,118 homicides and 2010 with 1,256. The city has already broken the record for the most murders in a year – more than 1,000 so far – a milestone reported on August 21. Most of these murders were associated with rival cartels disputing over territory.

At the other end of the Baja Peninsula in 2014, Baja California Sur was relatively free of drug-related violence that had made headlines in other parts of Mexico. From January to July of 2014 there were only 27 homicides in the entire state, making it one of the safest states in Mexico.

But, by the end of 2014 that had changed and Baja California Sur accounted for 92 drug-related homicides. That number nearly doubled in 2015, rising to 177 as the drug cartels battled for territory control that continued into 2016. The death toll continued to climb to a disturbing record of 247 murders, including several “public” incidents and civic assassinations.

By October 2017, Baja California Sur’s total homicides had exceeded 560, almost all the result of drug-related violence. The most affected cities have been La Paz and San Jose del Cabo with Cabo San Lucas not far behind. However, every city has been affected, including Mulege, Guerrero Negro, Loreto, Cerritos, Pescadero, Constitución and the Pacific region of Comondu.

Sensational headlines were emblazoned in local, national and international press resulting in the addition of the 200 Federal Police to augment La Paz and Cabo San Lucas law enforcement.

But the battle became more “public” in La Paz with the assassination of a police commandant, the head of the Human Rights Commission and three police officers on the La Paz Malecon in front of many residents and visitors the last few months of this year.

In late November, the military assumed command of both the Los Cabos and the La Paz police forces to coordinate counter measures. Unlike other cities on the peninsula, the command was not assumed for corruption, but rather to more efficiently approach the problem with more experienced personnel.

What has affected foreign visitors living in BCS is the increase of car theft, robberies and even in some cases virtual kidnapping.

Baja California Sur has the fourth fastest growing economy in Mexico and it is almost entirely a result of increased tourism, both national and international. All three major airports in BCS have seen significant increases in travelers in the past three years. The head of the Los Cabos Hotel Association recently called the cancelations resulting from the news, "Just a bump in the road."

You can make your voice heard by simply calling your Baja travel reservation office and asking, "What is your policy on reservation cancelations due to the increased violence in the state?" The major chains and both the La Paz and Los Cabos travel associations track this data and hopefully they will appreciate your input.

Traveling anywhere is not without risks. Even in the United States or a foreign country, travel itself demands a healthy dose of vigilance and caution… now more than ever, regardless of how safe a destination seems to be. It's not about being afraid, it's about being aware.

Tourism remains the primary source of income for many in the state of Baja Sur and removing that would only make the criminal element even stronger, and Mexico is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its visitors. So, despite the dangers, travel in Baja California is still considered to be fairly safe and visitors should feel welcome in the area.

As 2018 unfolds, I will be returning to Baja California for all the reasons that have lured me there time after time over the years: The remote deserts, the Sea of Cortez, the beaches, the fishing, old and new friends. They all are part of my Baja, and I refuse to give them up. So I hope to see you once again in my Baja travels.

Coci … my fish spotting dog
When I first met Coci, he was a little bundle of white fur, huddled underneath a rusty car fender in the muddy yard of a rental we owned in Southeast San Diego on a rainy day. Soggy, but personable, out he came with his tail wagging with no fear of either me or the pouring rain.

Over the next few months, I fell in love as I watched the puppy grow into a young dog. When I would stop by on the first of the month to collect the rent, the white, mostly-Bichon terrier mix with hazel eyes would race to the gate, his whole body wiggling as though to show me how happy he was to see me. It became harder and harder to leave him behind to his very dirty food bowl and often-empty water bowl.

regardlesscociREGARDLESS, COCI SECURED his reputation as an extraordinary fish spotter, and I spent many hours with my best buddy by my side.

The tenants were a couple that I had originally met when they rented the small one- bedroom house … they soon started a family and within a year they decided they needed a two-bedroom unit.

As luck and fate would have it, I suppose — we did. I gave them the address and after looking at the apartment in a complex with other units, they called to see when it would become available. They loved the spacious complex, however, pets were not allowed in the building.

They didn’t know what they would do with their pet, Coci, and I immediately offered to take him off their hands. Little did I know the role he would play in my life.

A few days later, I arranged to pick him up. Dirty and smelly, Yvonne and I took him straight to a DIY Pet Spa and bathed him several times before the water running off him was finally clean. We guessed he had never been inside a house, because we had to begin the basics of house training him when we brought him home.

Beach fishing was a big part of our lives at our Baja home, “Rancho Deluxe,” and I couldn’t wait to share it with Coci. On our first trip down together, he seemed to share my passion for the beach, racing into the water and discovering “fish.” After being coaxed onto the ATV the first time, riding with me became his right. He would leap into his “seat” — a basket I had fastened on the front, and lie in wait for me to come and start the bike for our miles of exploring and fishing the beach. Before long, Coci became a fish-loving dog who spent many hours by my side, not leaving if he had spotted anything in the water.

OVERLY EAGER, AS we were winding our fish in for a release, he would paddle out and bring the catch to shore in his mouth, dropping it at our feet.

By the time we began offering guided trips to our Baja on the Fly anglers, Coci had become quite at home on the beach and in the water. He developed his own set of fish-spotting skills, and stood at attention at the very least commotion in the water, sometimes leaping from his perch in the basket, barking and racing toward the feeding fish within a few feet of shore if I was driving away.

When clients or I hooked a fish, Coci would be at our feet coaching us along. However, Coci didn’t always share the “catch and release” ethic. Overly eager, as we were winding our fish in for a release, he would paddle out and bring the catch to shore in his mouth, dropping it at our feet.

Regardless, Coci secured his reputation as an extraordinary fish spotter, and I spent many hours with my best buddy by my side.

He never had to be told it was time to head for the beach in the morning nor did I have to find him for trips in the evening. Often, he would already be in his basket while I still had coffee or a drink in hand, waiting for me. He was perfectly willing to spend as much time as I was on the beach, never leaving my side until the last fish was spotted or the evening turned to night.

Even as he aged, his enthusiasm for the Baja beaches we prowled together never waned.

Back on our beloved porch as the silence of the warm Baja night wrapped around us, an exhausted Coci would sprawl on his belly on the cool terrazzo floor, surveying his kingdom.

Yvonne and I chuckle over the number of photos our clients and visitors had taken of our marvelous “Fish Spotting Coci” … he even had a full page in “The Drake” magazine! Not many anglers can boast of that!

Both Coci and Rancho Deluxe have been gone for many years now but he left behind memories that are priceless. We are so very fortunate to have shared a few years of our lives with Coci!

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