Forces of Nature: Hurricane Odile in Todos Santos and Pescadero

Forces of Nature: Hurricane Odile in Todos Santos and Pescadero

By Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures.This article first appeared in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

When the fireman tossed the first baby to her at about 1:00 AM, Karina was dizzy with fear that she would drop the little girl. She didn’t. By the time the fireman tossed the third baby to her she was confident in her skill, had an assembly line set up with hand offs to Lorena and Julio, and had the whole situation managed so brilliantly that by 10:00 AM 150 people who had lost all or part of their homes in the fury of Hurricane Odile were safe, dry and having breakfast in the Casa del Estudiante del Todos Santos.

Jayna Schweitzer of the Palapa Society with her neighbors

Why on earth would a fireman toss a baby? Down the road in Pescadero Lalo and Pili were finding out. Pili is a pretty big guy, topping the scales at 250 pounds. Lalo is a little scrawnier, weighing in at 180. The 430 pounds of them were holding onto the inside beams of their roof with their hands, trying to keep it from blowing away. They succeeded for two hours before a particularly violent gust lifted the roof – with the two of them still attached – several feet off the ground. At that point they decided not to make the trip to Oz and let go. And that’s why the fireman had to toss the children: the wind was blowing so violently through the door that Karina could not propel herself forward the two meters to take them, and the fireman had to anchor himself at the entrance or risk not being able to get back out to help others. Category 3? Category 4? Doesn’t really matter. When it’s blowing hard enough to take your roof, your home and your child’s safety, it’s blowing hard enough.

Todos Santos, Todos Juntos

Before Hurricane Odile hit on September 14 and forever changed the storyline of Baja California, the communities of Todos Santos, Pescadero and other BCS towns were already coming together to fight a manmade force with the potential for devastation far beyond anything a single hurricane could unleash – an open pit gold mine in the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. The local and foreign communities had united at huge rallies and protests across the state, and even staged a multi-day vigil to prevent the mine from illegally drilling in connection with its planned desalination plant. A feeling of unity and empowerment permeated the air, and when that air was dramatically rent by Hurricane Odile, it only strengthened the feeling of community. No one was going to back down from a fight for home.

Serena Saltzman of the Palapa Society helping her neighbors

Karina, the administrator of the Casa del Estudiante del Todos Santos – or albergue as it is commonly known – was one of the first to witness that fighting spirit on a significant scale. She’d never met Marisol, the manager at Casa Tota in her life. But when she called her to ask for help, Marisol didn’t hesitate and delivered food for 150 people in just a few hours. The grocery stores Supermercado El Sol and Guluarte’s, the restaurants Landi’s and El Zaguan – all made sure that Karina and the rest of the albergue staff could feed the people in their care in those first few critical days, even as they were struggling with their own properties. Gabriela Guluarte sent along clothing for those who had lost everything, and Kappner from Tres Santos came with boxes of much needed personal items like shampoo, deodorant, underwear and baby food. Karina and Lorena spent 17 days working around the clock at the albergue, often with 150 sleeping under their roof and up to 200 mouths to feed at any given meal. Not only did no one miss a meal, but many others were sent home with “dispensas”, or care packages with several days worth of essential food items.

But the damage was extensive and the needs were great and a surfer named Justin Lindholm who spends his winters in Pescadaro was among the first to grasp that significant funds were going to be needed to advance the recovery. “Pescadero and its people are beautiful and have made a huge impact on my life. People say hi to you on the streets, really listen to you when you’re talking, and remember stories you might have told. They live day-to-day and worry little about the future. I admire that. Starting a fund for Pescadero was something I knew had to be done. I spent the fall and winter months of 2005 with the clean up effort after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I saw what a hurricane is capable of and how helpless people are even in a powerful country like the US. I knew the people of Pescadero were going to need help to get back to normal.” Odile hit on September 14 and on September 15 Justin opened a GoFundMe account to raise money for hurricane relief in Pescadero. $6,000 was raised in the first few days alone, and people in desperate need of work were soon being paid fair wages to help clean the town and restore order.

In Todos Santos The Palapa Society – a nonprofit  whose mission is to help educate the children of the town – had an emergency meeting on September 20 to discuss what they could do to help the community. The meeting was over at 10:30 AM, and by noon they had set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for hurricane relief for Todos Santos. By 2:00 PM board members Oscar and Tori were with Karina at City Club in La Paz, where she was using the $1,000 advanced by Palapa to great effect. And by 9:00 AM on September 23 when the next meeting started, over $30,000 had already been raised. Before long people were getting new roofs, remote ranch families were receiving food, and people in need of work were getting it. Outside the venerable old Todos Santos Inn a hand written sign appeared, Todos Santos, Todos Juntos.

Viva México!

The sight of Mexican troops crossing the US border to help Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina discombobulated many US citizens (“poor” Mexicans helping “rich” Americans?), but disaster relief is actually a core competency of the Mexican military. Todos Santos woke up to Odile’s handiwork on Monday, on Tuesday Army and Navy troops were in the neighborhoods handing out emergency food and water, and on Wednesday they were also handing out sleeping pads, clearing debris from the streets and parks, and helping to ensure that the looters from Cabo didn’t make their way into town.

But in a democracy, military action is just an expression of political will, and on Thursday a helicopter carrying Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto flew over town. Skeptical gringos likened this to W’s infamous flyover of New Orleans after Katrina and rolled their eyes. But this helicopter landed, Peña Nieto got out, and he went and met with Karina and Lorena at the albergue. He toured the town, he made a speech, he made promises and he left.  By Friday morning the military was helping with the cooking chores at the albergue, and on Saturday 120 workers and dozens of trucks from CFE – the Comisión Federal de Electricidad – arrived to begin restoring electricity to town. Not only did they work around the clock to get the town running again, they stayed in hotels and B&Bs across town and paid for the service. Todos Santos is a town fuelled largely by tourism, and it is hard to know if people were more grateful for the restored electricity, or for the income provided at a time when repair costs were soaring, employee needs were escalating, and cash flow was crashing in the wave of cancellations that wiped out reservations for September, October and even some of November. The town swelled with gratitude for CFE, and the skim boarders started returning to Playa La Poza to enjoy the late summer afternoons.

God Bless Rock ‘N Roll

One of the reasons that it’s not the end of the world as we know it is that Peter Buck loves Todos Santos. The lead guitarist of REM bought a house in town, and started the Todos Santos Music Festival in 2012 to raise money for the Palapa Society; he believes in and wants to further its mission of serving the educational and health needs of the children of Todos Santos. So when Odile struck, Peter and the music festival immediately fronted the Palapa Society $10,000 from ticket sales for the 2015 event to help with the rebuilding efforts in town.  Said Peter, “We will donate all of the profits from the 2015 festival to help people in Todos Santos reconstruct their lives, homes and businesses.We also hope that the festival’s return in January will serve as a symbol of Todos Santos’ resilience and ability to bounce back from this terrible tragedy.”

Peter Buck and his friends have shown Baja that insanely talented and successful rock stars can also set the gold standard for generosity, so perhaps the area was not that surprised to learn that one of Mexico’s most-loved rock bands, Maná, was also pitching in to help in the aftermath of Odile. Maná’s nonprofit, Fundación Ecologica Selva Negra, working with the large Mexican corporation Verde Valle and the regional director of WildCoast, arrived at the port of La Paz on October 5 with 15 tons of rice, lentils, beans and other food basics. In Todos Santos 20 families in one of the hardest hit areas, Nuevo San Juan, directly received food from Selva Negra. They made sure that 50 families in their neighborhood benefitted from the bounty. Out at Cerritos, live music started flowing again.

The Beatles Got it Right

Oscar, Benny and their crew at a neighbor’s house working on the roof

When the communities of Todos Santos and Pescadero asked for help, the world answered. Americans, Canadians, Europeans. People for whom these communities are seemingly just vacation destinations reached deep, found their inner rock stars, and gave. They made their friends give. They held fundraisers in their communities and they showered social media with notes of support. As of this writing the fund for Justin’s hurricane relief effort for Pescadero stands at about $15,000, and the fund for the Palapa Society’s hurricane relief effort for Todos Santos is over $80,000. And they’re getting things done.

In Pescadero, Alec, April, Bridget and Hesed held a community meeting at Baja Beans, and 150 people showed up to see how they could help their neighbors. Sam, Ronnie, Epi, Mario and Ana Maria formed cleanup teams with the local teenagers, who have been competing to see who can clear the most debris. In Todos Santos, the Palapa Society hired two contractors, Oscar and Bennie, who are coordinating the work of 3 teams to put new roofs on homes. Over 150 houses have received new roofs so far, and the work is not slowing down. They’ve created two designs for simple wooden homes for the families who lost everything, and hope to have those under construction soon.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg, and scarcely begin to convey the enormity of the effort underway to restore the shelter, food, work and normal life ripped away by Odile. It is impossible to relate the countless acts of kindness, generosity, selflessness, humor and grace that saw our communities through the immediate aftermath of the storm, and continue to rebuild it all these weeks later. Robert Hall, the town dharma dude and defacto non-religious spiritual leader, says that The Beatles had it right all along. “All you need is love. Odile was so powerful that it was able to tear the fabric of our lives, but the healing is love. Love is what makes it possible when we barely have the saliva to swallow these big bites of reality. Love is all you need.” Just off shore, the humpbacks returned for the winter, singing their sweet Baja serenades.

We’re Not Distracted

Water = Life. Businesses of Todos Santos Against Toxic Mining

It was about 2:00 AM when the French doors in Wendy’s bedroom started banging so violently that she had to throw her body weight against them to try and keep the storm out of her house. As the doors heaved and she pushed, a side length of her nightgown swept between the two doors, which then promptly slammed shut. She was pinned against the frame, completely unable to move. At first she was gripped by panic, but then she started to laugh.  Because really, a tiny woman fighting a huge storm being trapped by her nightie is kind of funny. And while she waited for the rhythm of the storm to shift so she could retrieve the trapped material, she thought about all the wonderful water the storm was bringing, and how it needed to be protected from the lethal chemicals connected to the gold mine. She thought about the next steps the citizens of Baja California plan to take to protect our water and our lives. Because really, a tiny woman fighting a huge corporation as part of a determined community is pretty serious indeed. It’s a force of nature. Love is all you need.

Jamie Sechrist, Tori Sepulveda, Serena Saltzman, Erick Ochoa, Alec and April Tidey, Ana Maria Peters, Sam Sitkin, Ronnie Barkas, Ivo Mondragen all contributed to this story.

Get involved!

If you would like to contribute to the continued reconstruction of homes and lives in Todos Santos and Pescadero please donate to the following funds (and don’t be shy about getting your friends to contribute too!):

3 Perfect Days in Todos Santos: The Weekender’s Guide

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

While most of the pleasures of Todos Santos are accessible throughout the entire week, the weekend does hold a few special treats that make it a great time to venture to town.

Weekender’s Friday: A Little Todos Santos Magic

Erick and Michael of Michael’s at the Gallery

Each weekend on the main street of Todos Santos a subtle transformation takes place. At the Galeria de Todos Santos long-time Todos Santos resident and artist Michael Cope calmly cleans his brushes, puts them away and pulls out his knives. His wife Pat coolly closes the gallery’s books, sets them aside, and lights a series of fires in the garden. His fellow artist Erick Ochoa collectedly covers up his latest canvas, dresses in black and prepares his mind for delivering to the people of Todos Santos exactly what they deserve. Which happily turns out to be mouthwateringly delicious Asian Fusion cuisine served in what that morning was the sculpture garden of Galeria de Todos Santos, but is now this evening one of the best restaurants in town, Michael’s at the Gallery. This transformation takes place only on Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights, and being a part of it is worth the trip to Todos Santos alone. Michael mans the open-air kitchen and what a great show it is. He cooks up Vietnamese crab cakes, tuna poke, seared tuna with wasabi butter, shrimp and scallops in Szechuan or red curry sauce, filet mignon, Mu Shu Pork, wok-tossed fish in Chinese black beans, and fish in teriyaki or wasabi sauce. Every dish is excellent, every time. Erick mans the bar and he and Pat work together to make sure guests always feel well attended and have what they want. Fire pits throughout the dining area add to the lovely ambiance of the garden and help ward off any chill night air. It’s a wonderful Todos Santos experience. Reservations strongly suggested. Tel: 612-145-0500

Weekender’s Saturday: Art & Theater
Last night you met Erick Ochoa in a supporting role but today you’ll meet him as the President of the The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, AC, a Mexican non-profit that benefits the children of Todos Santos. The Palapa Society has had a huge impact on the local community through Bridge-to-English, its after-school English language program that pairs local kids with native speakers of English. The Saturday morning art classes run by Erick and other artists such as Gloria V are not only an opportunity for the kids to gain some excellent instruction from established artists, but an extension of the opportunity for them to hear and speak English. Volunteering

Volunteering at the Palapa Society

with the art classes is a tremendous amount of fun, a great way to get involved with the local community and a nice path to being an active part of this artists colony for a while. Art classes are usually held at The Palapa Society, but the class often spearheads public art projects around town – you can see their handy work in many places, including their latest mural of the fisherman’s beach along the back wall of the Parque de Pinos. The Palapa Society is such an exciting thing to be a part of that Peter Buck of the rock band REM now organizes an annual Todos Santos Music Festival to raise money for it and help fund the numerous scholarships that it provides not only for the Bridge-to-English program, but for the high school and university education of Todos Santos students. For more information contact Donna Viglione:

After your volunteer session, mosey on over to one of the town’s many great food establishments for lunch, taking your pick of several charming cafes, killer local joints, and taco stands – Caffé Todos Santos, Cafélix, Ataxcon, Taco George’s and Miguel’s are all great options. But be sure to leave room for dinner this evening at El Teatro Luna Azul – Blue Moon Productions. Started by long-time Todos Santos residents Isabel Smyth and Raul Cavazos, El Teatro Luna Azul brings the idea of dinner and a movie to a whole new wonderful level. Once in a blue moon, i.e., whenever they feel like it (which tends to be most weekends during the season), Isabel and Raul invite the public to their huge, open air theater space where they show fascinating, hard-to find movies ranging from classic to controversial, musical to mystery, altered lives to the altered planet. Prior to some shows – but not all – they serve creative meals featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables fresh from their on-site garden, prepared in their open-air kitchen. The movies are great fun, but they are perhaps more famous for their live theatre productions in which they use local talent to bring comedies, musicals and the performing arts to the community. Isabel and Raul also host full moon drumming and music nights, and they’re known to get in hot bands for nights of salsa dancing. All-in-all it’s worth checking into their web site periodically to stay up-to-date:

Now if it happens that Isabel and Raul don’t have what you’re looking for on the Saturday night you’re in town, it’s always worthwhile to check in with the Hotel California and the Hotel Guaycura as they both regularly book fun bands in on the weekends. The Groovetrotters and Tim Lang are great additions to the music scene to be on the look-out for, and it’s worth noting that the Todos Santos Music Festival will be in January at the Hotel California.

Weekender’s Sunday: Bird Watching and Dharma Talk

Costa’s Hummingbird

After the excitement of Saturday night, a calming Sunday morning of reconnecting with nature and your inner serenity is just the ticket. The early morning quiet of Sunday morning is the perfect time to get out in the lovely surroundings and observe some of the 135 bird species that have been spotted around Todos Santos, including several endemic species such as Belding’s Yellowthroat, the Cape Pygmy Owl, Xantus’ Hummingbird, and the Mexican Thrasher. Todos Santos’ unique confluence of three different eco systems – desert, ocean and marsh – attracts a large diversity of birds and most visitors add to their lifetime birding lists during their stay.

Then head over to La A.R.C.A. in the historic district where ordained Buddhist priest, passionate poet, avid artist, renowned physician and somatic therapist Robert Hall gives a Dharma talk on a particular topic each Sunday morning, followed by a period of guided meditation. A founder of the Lomi School and member of the Spirit Rock Mediation Center’s Teacher’s Council, Robert has focused his long career on the integration of mind, body and spirit. He has taught thousands of students all over the world and served as a mentor to hundreds more. Now, in his so-called retirement in Todos Santos, residents and visitors alike can be inspired by his Dharma talks, and find calm in his guided meditations.

Enjoy a nice lunch at one of the town’s enjoyable lunch spots such as as Bistro Magico, Compa Chava’s, El Pastorcito or Pura Vida before heading back to Cabo or La Paz in the afternoon.

The Nature Lover’s Guide

The Food Lover’s Guide

For more information please contact us at or

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2013

The Saints of Todos Santos: Artist Erick Ochoa

Erick in front of Yandi Monardo’s “Angeles Protectores”

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

This is the story about the son of a carpenter who goes on to become a teacher and inspire those around him. The one born in Mexico City.

At age 21 Erick Ochoa found himself working in his father’s carpentry shop in Todos Santos, wondering what the heck he was doing there. By his own standards he wasn’t a very good carpenter. Trouble was, he didn’t know if he was good at anything else either. He’d studied engineering and architecture in college, but had dropped out when the courses failed to excite him.  Erick was a young man seeking inspiration and, as Mick Jagger would say, sometimes you find you get what you need.

Which, with respect to Mick, is sometimes exactly what you want. One day a man named Jack Hall walked into the carpentry shop, and couldn’t help but notice that Erick seemed underwhelmed by his current circumstances. He asked Erick if he had any interest in art. As it happened, college had not inspired Erick but the local art museums certainly had. Jack therefore made the introductions and soon enough Erick found himself working for renowned artist and sculptor, Michael Cope, helping Michael and his wife Pat run Galería de Todos Santos. At that point Erick understood a fair bit of English, but spoke relatively little. This was the first of Erick’s skill sets that was to undergo a drastic transformation with the Copes.

The second skill set emerged shortly thereafter, when Michael (sometime in 2000) asked Erick to help him prepare some clay for sculpting. In lieu of payment, Erick asked Michael to teach him how to draw. He had no idea what he was in for. Michael demanded dedication and hard work, and Erick found himself spending hour upon hour sketching and drawing, drawing and sketching. It was a year before he was allowed to move on to colors and oils. Michael wanted Erick to prove – to both himself and Michael – that he truly wanted to learn, and that he had the talent to succeed. Neither of them was disappointed. In the process of finding his path in life, Erick also discovered the incredible power of a mentor and a teacher to change your life. He learned what it meant to have someone invest significant time, energy and talent in you. More than just another skill set, the Copes had helped him discover passion and purpose. This was something he wanted to pass on to others.

Erick and his painting, “Icono del tiempo”

Like many families, the Ochoas like to get together around the dinner table and solve the problems of the world. Just as Erick was contemplating how he might turn some of that talk into action, Donna Viglione came knocking on his door. Donna was the president of the Palapa Society, a non-profit whose mandate is to improve the lives of local Todos Santos children. She had built up the Bridge-to-English program (an after-school English-language class for local kids) and wanted to offer art classes in English to kids who excelled in the program. Erick – now fluent in English and an established artist in this artist’s colony town – was a natural choice for the job. His third skill set inspired by the Copes soon emerged: teaching, mentoring, passing it on. It’s been a great success for everyone involved. “We now have up to 20 kids between the ages of 4 and 12 in any given art class, and 8 of those are quite serious. Some of them have real potential, and one has already told me that he wants to be an artist. This is so exciting to me and I’m so happy to have this wonderful opportunity to pass on what Michael taught me.” Erick is perpetuating a great cycle. The Palapa Society now has 8 scholarship students who will graduate from university next year, and – inspired by Erick, Donna and other Palapa Society volunteers – they all want to return to Todos Santos as teachers themselves.

Erick is now the president of the Palapa Society – a job which pays him very well in satisfaction – and spends a great deal of time on the program during the school year, not only teaching but going to the local schools to work with the Palapa Society scholarship kids and their teachers. He only has time to paint two to three hours a day when school is in session. “But in the summertime I paint all day. Everything in Todos Santos inspires me. The days are beautiful, with light so unbelievably crisp and clear. Todos Santos is always a study in contrasts with the desert and ocean. But in the summertime it gets even wilder – we’ll often have a huge thundercloud formation over the mountains, at the same time that we have an incredible sunset over the ocean.” Same carpenter’s son, same home town, a different world entirely. The magic of our pueblo magico revealed.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2011