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Lying Low in Loreto

Destination: Baja California

Hooking up with sport fish and an all-inclusive resort

June 08, 1997|JOHN BALZAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LORETO, Mexico — In summer, the billfish come to the Sea of Cortez under the heat of the sun.

We knew about the sun; we learned about the billfish. We also learned about the quite satisfactory state of affairs these days at the one-horse resort of Loreto on the eastern Baja California Sur waterfront halfway between the U.S. border and La Paz.

As sometimes occurs with spontaneous travel, we had to take a chance. To begin with, my wife, Stephanie, and I were not the only ones with the idea of going south into the Mexican seaside desert, stretching out the weekend, reading, romancing in the moonlight and lunching on grilled fish tacos oozing guacamole.

The long-range planners among you were ahead of us--never mind the certainty of sizzling weather for four days in mid-May.

Given a week-and-a-half's notice, obvious destinations about which we had heard, such as Cabo San Lucas, were heavily booked. So were the most convenient direct flights. Lethargic travel agents were little help.

Then I saw an advertisement. Loreto, it said, was "Baja's oldest newest resort."

What I could determine about the place was not encouraging. My colleague and friend, Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds, whom I trust entirely, ventured here in 1993. He had a wretched time. The town of Loreto was unappealing, its single outskirts resort was sullen and lifeless, and the setting absurd: One lonely hotel along broad and empty boulevards where a government-sponsored tourist development had stalled 15 years ago.

We banked hopes on secondhand word-of-mouth that things had gotten better. And they have.

When Reynolds was here, the Loreto resort hotel was the Stouffer Presidente. Two years ago, another in a long string of new owners set about trying to make it a success. Now it is the Eden Loreto Resort, part of a chain with a second hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

Instead of sullen and lifeless, we found it energizing. As for the lonely setting of our hotel in an unfinished development? Why, many resorts sell seclusion at a premium.

For instance, how many more than a couple of Jet Skis do you need buzzing in your ear? Will you regret the absence of para-sailers, or are frigate birds on the glide enough? How awful is it, really, to ride a bicycle down a boulevard landscaped in flowers, trees and cactus without any traffic whatsoever? Or, how does the night horizon twinkling with fishing skiffs compare to the halogen glow of high-rises? At your back, would you rather have a string of other hotels or the shadowy profiles of desert mountains the color of Mars?

So that I don't create a false impression, I add that this was not a whispery rest home, nature preserve or recovery ward. Our all-inclusive payment ($1,350) covered air fare for two from LAX, airport bus transfers, a room from midday Thursday through midday Tuesday, all our food (three restaurants and a snack bar), an endless supply of drinks (including beer, blender cocktails, wine, robust three-ounce tequila shooters and, oh yes, fruit juice), two pools, a small beach, an even smaller and easygoing clothing-optional beach with its own hot tub and bar, an assortment of bicycles, sailboats, sail boards, foam kayaks, snorkel gear, a soccer field, volleyball court, shuffleboard, championship tennis club, greens fees at a seaside golf course, nightly open-air stage show and a disco throbbing until 2 a.m.

Only those things with an engine cost extra: golf carts, taxis to town and fishing skiffs, locally known as pangas. For example, a one-day fishing trip begins at $120 for boat and guide and $35 more for rod rental, beverages and live bait.

Now to be candid, I know very little about resort life, so this is a beginner's report. When you earn your living traveling to discover, as I do, then discovery becomes a serious habit. Only later do you realize that you've never discovered the arranged escapism of the Baja beach resort.

Yes, they snap a plastic bracelet on your wrist when you check into the Eden Resort to mark you, like an inmate or patient, as one who belongs here roaming the halls. But who would not accept worse indignities for all the free-flowing beer you can drink in the dry 96-degree sun? If, that is, you ever tire of other recreations.

In fact, what persuaded me to take a chance on Loreto was the simple pleasantry of inquiring: I called the tour office of the airline Aero California that books packages. A human answered the phone, not a machine. And to my cautious but willing ear, she seemed convincing. The 16-year-old hotel had been refurbished in the last few years, and the new owners were attracting crowds again. The resort was "adults only," but all variety of adults would be on hand. The agent had seen this with her own eyes. I would have a swell time.

Naturally I didn't believe her.

I waited a hour and called back. Different person, same script and attitude.

OK, why not? It was this or nothing.

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