By: Alec Young
On my first night in Los Cabos, I met Roberto, the stand-in unofficial manager of my hostel. He was an old blue-eyed gringo who spoke and sang near-perfect Spanish. It just so happened to be a Thursday, the busiest night of the week due to the bustling Art Walk event. After strolling around and looking at the art amongst the mob of tourists, I headed back to my hostel. It turned out that Thursdays were also the nights where Roberto – accompanied with his smoky voice and classical guitar – played Mexican and American folk songs at a nearby café. Naturally I was intrigued. After a great set, he imparted some of his nomad-wisdom to me; he spoke about his non-materialistic lifestyle, the value he places on the little things in life, the customs and culture of México, and the interesting contrasts of language. He also taught me some common phrases, mannerisms, and expressions. One expression that stuck with me was salsipuedes, which means; “leave, if you can.” He used it in reference to the challenge of overcoming mental barriers where one is too firmly rooted in their comfort zone or routine and the need to explore beyond boundaries is the antidote. While I was productive and comfortable in the office, sometimes one needs to leave that boundary so that your research stays grounded in the context of the city. I also interpreted salsipuedes as being in a place that is so alluring and beautiful that one finds it difficult to leave behind. With hindsight, I realized that I experienced both interpretations during my time in Los Cabos as an Urban Development Research Assistant with IMPLAN.
For our joint project Ezra and I created a concept-guide for mixed use developments in Los Cabos
As my fellow intern Ezra and I experienced a lull in work-flow with our joint-project of creating a plan for a mixed-use development in Los Cabos, we had to break free from the shackles of unproductivity via side-projects. This was my salsipuedes challenge; do I continue to hit the wall with research or do I look for other opportunities where my efforts will have more of an impact. Ezra found his new project rather quickly and it was related to mixed-use development and urban density. I struggled initially. I first noticed how few public parks were available in Los Cabos, and how the advocacy for the creation of a new park could be an interesting idea. Though after talking with my supervisor, he recommended a narrower focus and revealed to me that there was a more pressing deficit existing in Cabo San Lucas: the lack of a well-designed skateboard park. Currently, the most significant space for local skaters stretches about two street blocks that gets closed off to vehicles every Sunday morning during the event Ciclovia Recreativa. Led by the enthusiastic Mario Meave Ponce and his team, this event provides a safe place for cyclists, skaters, and scooterists to pursue what they love. Given the high turnout, it was clear that there needed to be more spaces made available. This was my calling; Cabo needs a skatepark.
Poor design from non-skaters presents limited “skatepark” choices for the unsatisfied skate community
Ciclovia Recreativa – one of the few outlets where skater and cyclists can express themselves
This idea resonated with me strongly as I was once a skater in my childhood and I was spoiled with plenty of skateparks where I grew up. Now too lanky and scared to be a skateboarder, I decided to advocate for and construct a half-pipe in a small neighbourhood park for the fearless ones. Ideally this half-pipe would act as a catalyst for the development of future skateparks after seeing the positive impact it had on the community. This was a small step in addressing the growing deficit of viable skatepark space in Los Cabos. I got in contact with Architect and avid skater Eugenio Sandoval who has designed many skateparks in the past (including one currently being built in San José del Cabo). He immediately supported my idea as I discovered my idea was not new. He and other prominent members of the skate community have been trying to create a skatepark in Cabo for decades. Most notably, they include Eugenio, Javier Tirado of Makus Skate Shop, and Josue Garcia Cota – all of whom expressed sincere interest in the project.
Josue García Cota – One of the most positive and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met. All things related to skateboarding in Cabo are in some way connected to this man. Eugenio provided him with the apt nickname of The Skate Prophet.
Me shoveling sand for the concrete mix in the arroyos (floodplains)
Within two weeks of the idea’s revival and inception, I was overwhelmed with support. I soon found myself shoveling gravel in the arroyos (floodplains) in the middle of nowhere to initiate the construction process. After a few hours of back-breaking work hand-mixing cement, I knew there was no going back. My commitment to the project had solidified literally and figuratively. The first couple work sessions were just Josue and I. We worked hard but the enormity of the task ahead of us was daunting. We began to doubt whether it could be completed in time. Then one day I arrived to the site and 8 young skateboarders joined our efforts. Their enthusiasm and work ethic towards the project was contagious and reinvigorated me. Since then, the project snowballed and gained efficient momentum. In particular, Josue and Eugenio have been instrumental in the planning and construction process with boundless enthusiasm and expertise. The reward of facing the challenge of salsipuedes – in this case, leaving the safe confines of the planning office to tackle urban problems head-on – was becoming clear. Taking initiative and committing to something outside my comfort zone had spawned a community effort that easily overpowered any personal struggles I might have had.
Palomilla, or “the crew” working hard
Who would have thought mixing cement by hand could be so much fun!
Makus Skate Shop 4th Year Anniversary Skate Competition – Amazing event, came here to meet skaters and promote the Codepa Skatepark Project
After two months of 70+ work hours per week (50 in the office and 20 at Codepa Park) I was exhausted and it was time to wrap things up. Ezra and I’s joint project regained momentum and we submitted our final mixed-use development plan and the half-pipe at Codepa Park was almost complete. The rewards of hard work came in the form of cheering and applause at Javier’s Makus Skate Shop 4th Year Anniversary competition as he introduced me and the Codepa Skatepark project to the wider skate community. Taken off guard, I awkwardly waved, smiled, and felt the strange urge to bow (thank god, I decided against it). That was great and all, however, the credit was undeserved – the idea had been there all along. Physically, our hard work paid off as well; with the ramps getting filled with cement the day after I left and on track to be completed by July. Through the internship program’s seed project fund I financed the majority of the project but it fell short of completion. However, because it was so close to being done, and because there was snowballing excitement and momentum, my project partners and the skate community organized a raffle to finance the rest of the project.
Among others, I met this awesome skater named Víctor Alejandro at the Makus Skate Competition
Myself and fellow intern Alexanne Dick presenting our final projects at IMPLAN
Codepa Skatepark and the Big 4 – The state of the half-pipe the day before I left. From left to right: Eugenio Sandoval, Josue Garcia Cota, me, and Javier Tirado
Outside of work, I found myself in another salsipuedes conundrum; saying goodbye to this beautiful place will be harder than I thought. Often, I was admittedly eager for fresh Canadian air and a change of scene, but the majesty of this place still took hold of me. There were things I may have taken for granted or got ‘used-to,’ like the stark and consistent blue skies, delicious and fresh Mexican cuisine, warm and friendly people, and the rugged natural beauty of the desert meeting the tropical Sea of Cortez. Pivotal moments like swimming with whale sharks in La Paz, acquiring my advanced scuba diving certification in Cabo Pulmo National Park, stand-up paddle boarding along the coast, camping on the beach during a tropical thunderstorm, salsa dancing late into the night, and eating raw clams with friends made the reality of my leaving this place hard to imagine. It is no wonder why author John Steinbeck was inspired by this place in writing “The Pearl,” and why French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau referred to the Sea of Cortez as “the world’s aquarium.” And so, the evidence stacked up and indicated that the beauty of Baja California Sur within the taunt of salsipuedes – “leave, if you can” – is a rigged against you. You can never truly leave Baja California Sur.
Pouring concrete at Codepa Skatepark
Shaping and polishing the fresh concrete at Codepa Skatepark
Cabo Pulmo National Park, arguably the heart of the “world’s aquarium.”