Puerto Penasco , Sonora, is set in a beautiful sea side near the top of the Sea of Cortez. It is the coastal town nearest to the US in the Mexican state of Sonora. It is a place of very little history, not having been incorporated until the last century. The town was for many years a couple of buildings on the seashore at the beach with a trailer park. There was a hotel built in 1927, the Hotel Penasco, owned by an American gangster. This is where Al Capone hid after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Before that Pancho Villa, used the vicinity to sell rustled cattle to both Gringos and Mexicans. Not exactly a proud history, really it was just a safe haven, somewhere away from prying eyes and the pressure of life. The Mexican Government had planned a train route from Mexicali to Mexico City in the period between the wars. However the tracks only got as far as Puerto Penasco when the money ran out. So, there was a rail line to Puerto Penasco, but no further. During the war Franklin Roosevelt and the Mexican President Comacho were to meet in Puerto Penasco and so a grand hotel was built, but the meeting never happened. The US government thought that there might be strategic, defensive value in getting to the Sea of Cortez so they built a road from the southern border of Arizona to the Sea of Cortez at Puerto Penasco, 60 miles away, during the Second World War. However, all these seemingly unrelated activities were never enough to create more than a series of coincidences which didn’t mean that there was a city here. So, this stretch of beach welcomed Arizonans who would come to the shore and fish and swim and, generally, have lost weekends. That’s, largely, the story of Puerto Penasco, a weekend community, with no real Mexican town identity. As late as 1979 you could buy a 2 bedroom house on the beach here for around $20,000. Grant McKenzie, a native New Zealander, who now owns the RE/Max office in Puerto Penasco www.remaxpenasco.com bought a beach house here in 1979 for $22,000. “I had to sell my Corvette to do it, but it was a no brainer, even then” Today the house would be worth around $750,000. Then along came Beltrones. Manlio Fabio Beltrones was the Governor of the state of Sonora. He and a group of businessmen realized that Penasco, with it’s vicinity to the US was where the gold was waiting to be mined. In the 1990s they began developing the shore of Sandy Beach, buying the property and planning high rise condos. The idea took off. Now on Sandy Beach the real estate consciousness has moved fast. There is still a trailer park where, according to Mike Tobin of Long Realty, “ you can park your rig for $5 a day and swim and enjoy the beauty of the Sea of Cortez.” However, the trailer park is directly beside the high rises and big condo communities which are sitting next door swimming upward in cost and value. People get hives thinking about its value. I saw some of the locals itching. There is a new coastal highway from Mexicali through Penasco to Kino Bay and Guaymas which is currently being built. The first leg will be completed up to Penasco by the end of this year. This will shorten the trip from Southern California by two hours, meaning that a 6 hour trip from San Diego will become 4 hours. Governor Bours, Sonora’s chief of state has also moved the point at which cars need to be registered to south of Guaymas, almost 300 miles from here. This takes another two hours off the driving time. Suddenly Puerto Penasco will become almost as close to San Diego as are Tucson and Phoenix. It’s a smart move, very smart. Everyone in Penasco is expecting that when the first leg of the Beach Highway is complete there will be another boost in the already vaulting real estate prices here. Penasco has over thirty real estate subdivisions or high rise communities which are starting or moving forward within the next year, according to Mike Tobin. Practically everyone and maybe their cousin are looking at the real estate future and smiling. What’s the draw? Well, there are several elements which make Penasco valuable. One element is the homogenized lifestyle. This “lost weekend” town is the kind of place where the tracks stopped, the place where the road ended. Ultimately Rocky Point is a place where imagination counts. Your imagination is what defines the city. There is little of any kind of rooted identity to bump into here. The town is very mutable. It can be defined by residents in any way which makes them comfortable. Really, it’s like the play “6 Characters in Search of an Author” and nobody’s looking very hard. Within that lack of an identity is a freedom, an ease. There’s really almost nothing not to like, unless you’re looking for culture and Mexico. That’s not much available. But as a place where you get to invent a life as you will, it’s perfect. Grant Mackenzie said “The bad news is that U.S. cell phone reception is often weak and internet access is slow, the good news is that U.S. cell phone reception is often weak and internet access is slow.” He means that this is where the pressures of civilization diminish and this is where it’s hard to engage with the grind of the urban experience. After all, this is Mexico and for people who need to escape the treadmill that some of our lives have become this is, well, something else, a breath of sea air. It’s still as it was with Pancho Villa and Al Capone, a safe, easy and beautiful get away. For the first 100 years of its life it was called Rocky Point, named by an Englishman who came looking for treasure. In the 1930s Lazaro Cardenas, President of Mexico, adopted Rocky Point and “began calling it Porto Puerto Penasco, (sort of Rocky Point in Spanish).” says Guillermo Munro, Penasco’s Cronista, the town historian It remains this amorphous collection of houses and businesses in Mexico, on the cusp of becoming an important commercial and residential hub. I get the impression that the peculiar lack of Mexican identity is a quality which is regarded as comfortable by Gringos and good business by Mexicans. It is a cultural hodgepodge. Ask a question in Spanish and get an answer in English. It happens constantly. Out of pesos, I bought something with US currency, and got change in US coins. That’s accommodating. There’s a bar called Bryan’s in Puerto Penasco, which really identifies, addresses something at the core of the town. It’s bar in a Mexican town with a big bold sign “Bryan’s” There it is, inside all shiny and new, the décor is flat screen TVs, a purple jersey from The Phoenix Suns on the wall, a sign for Coors Light and a menu that includes Fish and Chips. The clientele is mostly Gringos lonesome for home, looking for companions from the States with whom to watch US sports on the big screen TVs. The owner is a twenty year old American who has lived more of his young life in Puerto Penasco than in the States. A smart boy, Bryan, knows that there is a modest hunger here for home. As the Coors flows to the Gringos, Bryan is sitting in a pool of inflowing dollars. At first it appeared incorrect, not organic to the place, strangely unMexican Upon examination, it does fit; it is just a smart, sly business move. Walk in and you’re rooting for the home team, walk outside and you’re in Mexico, sort of. I stayed on Encanto Beach for the first few nights I was in Penasco. Additional to Sandy Beach there are a several other beaches. The first beach is Las Conchas which has lots on the beach for $900,000. Las Conchas (The seashells) has all the comforts: ample electricity, high speed internet and lots of expensive housing. A beach house here could easily cost $2,000,000. Next is Playa Encanto (Enchanted Beach) If Las Conchas is the Cadillac of the beaches moving out of town, then Playa Encanto is the Pontiac, soon to be a Lincoln. I’ll explain. There is an estuary which separates Encanto from Las Conchas which means that it takes 20 minutes to get there from the edge of town, whereas its upscale cousin is 3 minutes from the same point. Presently, Encanto is not electrified, so you see houses with solar panels glistening in the sun. However, by the end of this year it is supposed to have city power. Residents have all been assessed $7500 to allow this to take place. Encanto is quite beautiful, in its way unspoiled, people walking it find sand dollars on the tidy shore. I stayed there for a couple of nights, a guest of the Kerr family, who live in a beachfront house. Vickie is working with Re/Max as an investment specialist. I can tell you that I would recommend her without reservation, gracious, smart, good integrity, and knowledgeable about Rocky Point. firstname.lastname@example.org will get you to her. Later, I stayed at Casa Fuerte in Las Conchas. This is a palace, well, not exactly a palace, but polished and refined. Marble floors, high backed dining chairs, a plasma TV, parking for three cars and just in the row behind the beach houses. It rents for between $275 -$400 a night and when you want to kick back in luxe style, I’d give it high marks. http://www.vrbo.com/104485 will find it for you. Vickie took me to the Mayan Palace, (www.mayanpalace.com) one of the chain of resorts. It is an elegant beach-front, entirely time-share hotel. Inside the Mayan Palace, in his lobby office, I met Hector Sanchez, who is representing a housing development on the property, Mayan Lakes. It is in the planning stages at this point. Situated between two golf courses, one designed by Jack Nicklaus, the other by Gregg Norman will be 20,000 acres with 17,000 homes and condos priced from $300,000 to $1,000,000 plus. The lower end buys 1350 square feet 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. The upper end is up to your needs and plans and can go over 5,000 sqft. www.mayanislandpenasco.com Just down the road and in the same property we came to Luna Blanca, on the Miramar beachfront towering above the Sea of Cortez. We met Brenda Karam, the property manager, email@example.com. This is a very grand condo project indeed, 34 units consisting of 2 bedroom and 2 ½ bath, 2193 sq ft properties for $650,000, (with 4 of these 2 bedrooms unsold) and 3 bedroom 3 ½ bath 2400sq foot properties for $750,000, (which are all sold now). There is also 1 unsold penthouse, 3860 sqft www.lunablancaresorts.com which is $1,590,000. Later I met Michael Novak, a Canadian developer, who is building on a parcel off Benito Juarez, the main drag of Puerto Penasco, a little neighborhood off the highway. They have just begun putting in the infrastructure, sewers are being installed and earth for construction will be broken soon. He says, ”We’re building the first Scottsdale or San Diego style development, on 23 acres. It is a green development. We’re using what are essentially waste products from the milling and petrochemical industries, recycled which are when reused superior to other locally available methods. The construction system makes these homes superior to the competition in every way. A gated, guarded subdivision with a 40,000 sqft central recreation area and large lots, wide streets and landscaped boulevards. Our website, www.paladinmexico.com will explain it all. It’s a product sensitive to the Mexican cultural heritage, which is architecturally controlled. We are bringing genuine value and quality at an affordable price.” Prices are $250,000 to $450,000. “Each home will have its own water purifier, which means that you can drink out of the sink. The entire property will be using grey water (shower water) recycling for the landscaping” The community has some remarkable energy savings due to a kind of high-tech construction system which, Novak claims, “ creates a house with an insulating factor of R50.” It is almost 3 times the insulation value of a typical US home. This is amazing, truly amazing, it’s a higher factor than Adobe and would create an “energy consumption cost of 30% of a standard US home.” Important in a country where electricity costs are higher than in the States. What’s to do in Puerto Penasco? What’s beyond Bryan’s Bar for those who have interests other than sports and Coors? Puerto Penasco has English speaking AA three times a week at Calle 18 and Luis Encinas at 5PM Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It also has Golf, Fishing, Snorkeling, Kayaking, Diving, Para Sailing, ATV Rentals, Sunset Cruises, Curio shopping and just plain goofing off. There are Lions, Masons, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, The Penasco Theatre Group, Rotary, a book exchange and loads more. It’s all in the Rocky Point Times newspaper written in English (011-52-638-383-6325 or 602 476 1939) There is no expat’s club per se. There are, obviously, many other clubs where English is spoken. There are two hospitals in Puerto Penasco, some with doctors who speak English. One is open to the public and the other is a state hospital. However, according to Dr. Jesus Gonzalez, “The Gringos don’t get the same care at the public hospital as they expect from the States. That’s why we opened 1 Stop Medical Clinic here.” They provide a health plan where for $660US per year where there is basic coverage of most illnesses. They have a CTscan machine, X rays and ultrasound equipment. “We are building a hospital which will be operational in two years and I will be in charge of the medical staff.” His One Stop Clinic (011-52-638-383-4422) is in Plaza Freemont off Freemont Boulevard. There’s a small local airport with a private airline, kind of a shuttle service, Morgan Jet, www.morganjet.com which connects to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and other airports bringing people to Penasco as a kind of connecting shuttle. There is CEDO, The Center for the Study of Oceans and Deserts phone 3830113 www.cedointercultural.org which does pretty much what the name describes. There is a children’s home Esperanza de Vida 3834888 an orphanage, run as a charity. The list of charities is long and full. Restaurants are plentiful. One that I liked was “The Blue Marlin” a little 7 table spot just up from the malecon where the boardwalk edges around and the daily catch of shrimp is sold. I asked the owner for the address and he shrugged, “No street address, Senor” They serve wonderful shrimp tacos. I had lunch at the Hacienda del Fuego on Freemont, excellent coconut shrimp in a refined atmosphere. Owned by Larry Large, a developer, it caters well to expats. Puerto Penasco doesn’t have a movie theatre or bowling alley. It’s another beach town where the evenings are quiet and peaceful. Many houses have satellite TV, Dish or DirecTV, a VOIP phone, and high speed internet. Life moves pretty comfortably. What about lower end housing? There is a community which I saw while I was in Penasco which looked attractive and at the affordable end of things. Las Cupulas (www.las-cupulas.com) which has 3 models between $105,000 and $190,000. There is a house with one bedroom, 891 sqft for $105,000, 2 bedrooms 1363 sqft for $170,000 and a three bedroom model 1654 sqft for $190,000. These are attractive homes in a gated community, around a pool. It’s highly livable housing at a good price. There is Mariposa, a neighborhood with smallish houses, gated with 24 hour security, away from the beach, and a pool. I saw two houses with similar floor plans at 1100 sqft at different prices, one was $155,000 the other was $179,000. The price differential can be explained by Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. Ultimately, I visited a stunning beach community, Rivera Real 2 15 storey towers, with 114 condos and 12 beach homes, between Las Conchas and the Mayan Palace. The smallest condos are 1249 sqft and sell for $360,000. there are three and four bedroom units planned. Sales have begun but construction has not. Curt Johnson, email@example.com , of Long Realty in Puerto Penasco showed me a house he is building on the second row back from the beach on Las Conchas, Las Mariachis is what’s called a share house, for $150,000 you get a 6 week allotment. This is shared 8 ways. Each owner has a storage closet, there is a common vehicle and a grill for cooking and furniture, closets for your private items to be stored while others are using the house. It comes fully furnished and seems a good idea now that costs for Rocky Point beach property are so high. There are lots of share houses in Rocky Point. By the way, another good choice for real estate is Mike Tobin the owner of the Long Realty franchise in Puerto Penasco. He and Curt work together and know the full range of the community well and can give good counsel. I’d give them high marks. firstname.lastname@example.org will reach him. Sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same. The safe haven of Puerto Penasco’s history remains its central draw and that’s what is still present in very large measure. Ultimately, Puerto Penasco is clearly set for a bright real estate future, it’s got that single element which is always at the core of all brilliant real estate transactions, location, location, location.
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