Returning to Tenacatita

IMG_0308Have you ever loved a place? I mean really loved a place? With the same intensity that you’ve loved a person? The other night, I was  sitting in a palapa on a beach in Mexico talking to my friend Mary Ann. Is it strange to love a place as much as you love the people in your life, I wondered. Solar-powered Christmas lights twinkled along the fringe of the thatched roof and the air smelled like the pounding surf.

“But our love for this place–it is about  people,” Mary Ann pointed out. “About everyone we’ve known here over the years, about the community.”

“Good point,” I said, rattling the ice in my tequila.

Fear is the shadow of love. When you love something or someone with any intensity you start to worry that the object of your devotion might be snatched from you. Living in the moment and loving selflessly is all very well in theory, but most of us don’t have that capacity. When we have something truly precious we see the shadows at the margins of our happiness. I’ve been worried about Tenacatita for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, I knew it was too good to last. We watched the other great camping beaches get built up or taken over completely by resorts, and we worried. A perfect beach in a perfect bay, with rose-colored cliffs at one end and a reef at the other. Clean sand and clear water, sunsets through the palms, and then the starriest sky you’d ever seen.

the author at Tenacatita, circa 1983

the author at Tenacatita, circa 1983

But yeah, it was about the people too. Every year, the beach attracted a rotating cast of like-minded individuals, gringos who liked to get off the beaten path. Cheapskates, birdwatchers, fanatical fishermen, and idle drunks. We lived in huts facing the sea and spent a lot of time in hammocks, speculating about the waves, the weather, and the fishing. The people who could afford to return every year were either smugglers or the seasonally employed: commercial fishermen, cannery mechanics, loggers, contractors, and the occasional grower. Americans and Canadians, mostly. The two groups had a healthy rivalry, which erupted in the occasional Americans v. Canadians volleyball match, but mostly consisted of Americans trash talking Canadians for being bad tippers and having a poor grasp of Spanish, and Canadians bragging about their health care system.

Tenacatita was a haven for those of us who shied away from the crowd. And it was a haven for Jaliscans who couldn’t afford the big resort towns, who just wanted shade and seafood and reasonably safe surf. And it was a source of income and pride for  the local people: fishermen and restaurant owners and waiters and storekeepers and palapa builders and the families who owned plots of land that they rented to campers. The beach supported the nearby village of Rebalsito and was governed by the local ejido, or land cooperative.




Unlike the typical resort, which tends to foster a tourist/servant relationship between visitors and locals, our communities were truly interlaced. We gathered to mark births and deaths and rights of passage. We celebrated every year at the annual fiesta and rodeo. We grew up and grew old together. We were bonded by our connection to the playa libre. On a coast where so many public beaches had been turned into exclusive playgrounds for the rich, we all knew that Tenacatita was different, and special, and important.

In 2010, when a development group illegally took control of the beach and barricaded the public access road, that love of place united us in a fight against the Rodenas Corporation and the powerful lawyer Andres Villalobos. The local ejido fought back hard and the gringo community supported that fight. The ejido hired lawyers and filed petitions, marched in protest, pressured the governor, attended endless meetings, and kept the story in the press. We held fundraisers. We gave food boxes to people who had lost their source of income. We paid legal fees, we paid for transportation so people could attend protests or file paperwork, and we documented and publicized the abuses perpetrated by the development group’s armed guards, which ranged from looting to intimidation to environmental destruction to physical violence.

After five-and-a-half  years of fighting and countless setbacks, Playa Tenacatita is once again truly open to the public. On Sundays local families pull up in pick-ups and unload sun umbrellas, coolers, and pop-up shade tents. Kids play in the surf and couples walk hand-in-hand on the sand. Campers are free to drive the beach road, and to linger as the sun sets and then rises.

The fight is not over. Rodenas guards still occupy their disputed 42 hectare claim, which extends part way up the beach on the swamp side and into the coconut grove that fronts the ocean beach. The owners of the individual plots that make up this swathe are fighting for their parcels on a case-by-case basis. So far, the judge has ruled in favor of more than ten of the small property owners.

The state police patrol the beach to make sure that the guards don’t hassle visitors. Local custom requires that the police receive meals when they visit the area. Tenafund had been helping pay to feed the police, and local cooks have been preparing the food. We are grateful for the police presence: without it, the Rodenas guards would continue to harass visitors and campers.IMG_3584

As many of the plots of land are still in dispute and the future of the beach is up in the air, no new palapas may be constructed. When I visited this year, I felt lucky to inhabit the lone remaining shade structure, which somehow escaped the match when the Rodenas Corporation burnt down the rest of the palapas. The lone palapa has subsequently weathered two hurricanes, but is in remarkably good shape, all things considered. The other camps on the beach are making do with tarps and pop-ups for the time being. As they wait for the go-ahead to re-build their once-palatial hut, Mary Anne is replanting her garden.

I spent three weeks camping on the beach this year, and it felt like a benediction. As the lone palapa, we entertained a constant stream of visitors, who came to marvel at the view of the bay and our great good fortune. I sat in the shade with my old friends  and we were amazed to be together again,  eating ceviche, drinking cerveza, talking about the fishing, and listening to The Rolling Stones. We appreciated the waves, and the clarity and warmth of the water. We appraised the sunsets and sunrises. We marveled that a small underfunded community had managed to subvert the game plan of a well-financed corporation. We rejoiced to be back home. In this difficult and heartbreaking world, how often do you retrieve what you’ve lost? This year, we returned to a lost love to find it whole and perfect.


19 Responses to “Returning to Tenacatita”

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  1. Chile says:

    Got us crying while I read this to Mary Ann.

  2. Joe & Judy Smith says:

    We miss the solitude and the beauty of the Bay, and also the very pleasant people. We would very much like to return with our Motor home and spend 5 months as before at Oscars RV Park.

  3. I to can say i loved Tenacatita like a person Some of my fondest memories were spent playing along the beach only to seek shade and a smile form Chile and Mary Anne up at their palapa. My Dad would often be there or neer by with a drink in one hand and the other out stretched to me. I had a lot more freedom when i visited my dad, and as you might imagine this place was like haven for a little city girl. Frankly, Tenacatita was the first and only place i ever loved like a person.

  4. Omar says:

    I haven’t been there since 2010 and won’t go back until it is truly free. I’ll try and stay positive.

  5. Tina says:

    Seems like a miracle, doesn’t it? But tenacity and generosity and unified effort, a true David and Goliath story, with a sprinkle of miracle. Thanks, Churps, for the moving update.

  6. Lorena says:

    Thank you Churpa for sharing your visit with a very old friend who is dear to many of us..

  7. Craig Caffall says:

    I was moved to be able to be back at Tenacatita this year, hanging with the author of this piece and her palapa mate, back around a bonfire on the beach playing my guitar in time wit the surf, and also getting to play music for a benefit to help fix the schools and such. The townspeople of Rebalsito were truly grateful and it showed in their faces during the show.
    I am feeling very positive about the progress being made there and I have said I will be back next year to play more music for Rebalsito and to hear the surf pounding the beach at Tenacatita.
    Thanks Chirps (and Mario)

  8. dobie says:


  9. Jeffrey A. says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. May the community in and around Tenacatita prevail in their fight against the evil Rodenas and Villalobos.

  10. Mary Ann says:

    You don’t conger up moments and memories like this w/o shedding a tear. As I just read this, I felt your tear Churpa run down my face. Thanks for telling our story with such beautiful feeling.

  11. -El Codo- says:

    Beautiful piece amiga. The setting to me is mere seasoning. The gourmet cuisine is the Mexicans. My choice of las playas mexicanos, with no tourists steered me away from Tenacatita early on, but without a doubt it is one of the top locations on the Pacific coast. 300-miles to the south the “beach” is almost open ocean with some huge pinnacles offering limited protection from rough waves, but it is “home” nevertheless.

    Holding class “en Ingles” in the afternoons, has become the norm on the patio. But extraneous visitors are quite rare. Spending the day in la enramada with Jesús, Brenda, and the 4 girls allows me plenty of time to visit, gaze out to sea and critique the surfboarding returns of a dozen “lanchas” onto the beach right next to the structure.

    I get the willies when I am forced to return to Los Estados Unidos. It’s thoroughly alien to me up there. Two days and I’m homesick. I am forced to eat commercial grade foodstuffs. Everything is so bland. Geezo, a day without tortillas y chili is like a day without sunshine.

    Your appreciation article awakens me to just how fortunate I am. Mil Gracias!

  12. Linda Beil says:

    I am so very happy to hear Tenicatita is coming back into it’s own. I love it so much, and did go there twice over the takeover. It seemed the only way I could stand with the wonderful people trying so hard to get their beach back.

  13. Karen says:

    What a beautifully written article. Thank you for sharing this with us. I will talk to the universe every day that Tenicatita win the good fight.

  14. Tomas says:

    In January, 1973 we spent 6 weeks on the Point, camping in the grove of bushes that separated about 7 sites. Each was filled with amazing, wonderful people from all over North America. We free dove for protein, visited Manzanillo once a week for food from the open market,and the little local store for vegetables unrecognizable; and waited for the beer truck for bottle exchange and ICE!! The days passed as if in a wonderful dream. We would hike 200 yards over the ridge in the evening and watch the gorgeous sunsets while sitting in the warm breeze. On special occasions we would hike down the beach and eat at one of the three palapas which served a whole fish, rice and beans for 20 pesos. Often someone would be playing a guitar and harmonizing with friends. Tenicatita holds a special place in my heart. It continues to be one of the best times in this long wonderful life. Was very touched by and appreciated the article much. Thanks T

  15. My wife Cindy and I visited Tenacatita recently in our boat. It is a beautiful anchorage both in the area you mention and the bay just to the south. We had long heard of the land issues there,and were warned that the estuary that traverses between the two bays had been blocked off as well by the same developers. This estuary is a lovely bit of nature with birds and crocks and other wildlife that has been a favorite dinghy adventure for cruisers and campers / tourists as well on panga excursions.
    While we were in Tenacatita, a work party was organized consisting of the local panga men and visiting cruisers to go in with chain saws and helping hands to clear out the wood from the water that had been blocking the entry into Tenacatita. This has now been done, opening another beautiful piece of this paradise which had been locked away as a result of the land dispute.

  16. Yes, it is wonderful that about 18 Mexican families have had their lots returned to them, and of course, no one fights over bad land. But in talking to Librado, the owner of Hotel Paraiso mid Bay, he has no idea how his family can afford to repair and rebuild that lovely little hotel. He said that “they” (Rodenas’ corporate police?” ) took everything of value, bathroom fixtures, copper tubes, air conditioning units, wood doors, and it will cost millions of pesos to get the place running again. He cannot even start this year because of the expenses we all experienced from the damage of Hurican Patricia in October. Other land owners have told me the same story, such as Lola and Cato who will probably continue their restaurant in their La Manzanilla location. But yes, it was good to see that the gringos are returning to the almost free camp sites on the beach. (Notable that one comment was by El Codo). And of course the locals have appreciated any help they have been given. But, as some locals have told me, it is the lawyers who have gotten rich, and Rodenas will just pursue their claim until everyone else has run out of money to fight. But, as the author of this lovely article points out, it remains a paradise which we can visit again without being subjected to van searches and rudeness and facing automatic weapons of the Rodenas corporation. I never stopped spending days on that beach, and appreciating all that nature offers there, but sometimes the glaring losses of the people and the continuing corruption in Mexican politics resulted in waves of sadness for the losses of hard working honest people.

    • Felisa Rogers says:

      Thanks for writing. I have written many posts in the past about the losses suffered by local landowners and the people of Rebalsito. In no way did I mean to undermine that loss in this piece. But I grew up at Tenacatita, and being able to return was emotional for me. That’s what I wanted to express in this article. I understand that it’s not a perfect victory, and that it’s complicated. But we’ve suffered a lot of setbacks in this battle, and I think it’s important to celebrate and enjoy any victories. The situation is always fluid.

  17. Miriam says: