In what some saw as a miracle, the springs returned in 1981, bringing back ranching and organic farming.
Three years later, two lanes of Highway 19 were paved from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas, running smack through the middle of Todos Santos. Artists arrived, led by painter Charles Stewart, a refugee from Taos, N.M. Surfers and hippies followed, and so did expats seeking an escape from the "L.A.-ization" of Los Cabos. Todos Santos got a reputation as an artist's colony and an "Old Mexico" outpost.
Today, the town has a few more paved streets and a population of about 5,000. The main thoroughfares are lined with fine-art galleries and shops selling Mexican wares. But beyond that, the dusty side streets have the Third World look of chickens roaming rubble-filled yards under laundry drying on the line.
The restaurants mostly are small, serving up locally grown produce and the sea's bounty. In the tidy town plaza, workers had strung banners overhead in preparation for a weekend art fair.
The chic Hotel California, which has a restaurant, bar and interesting gift shop, is the top tourist attraction, helped, no doubt, by the urban legend that it was the subject of the Eagles' hit song. Writer Joe Cummings, now a Todos Santos resident, tracked down Don Henley who denied that the band had ever been there.
Todos Santos is revered by people who go there for what it doesn't have: condos, nightclubs, time shares, jet skis, beach vendors and McDonald's.
"Not yet, anyway," said Juerg, the innkeeper.
All are keeping a watchful eye on a new designation by the Mexican government in which Todos Santos became Baja's first member of the more than 20 Magic Towns of Mexico. These "Pueblos Magicos" were chosen based upon their historical, cultural and architectural significance, reflecting their value as tourist destinations.
"What we found when we got here was a very laid-back, typical Baja village," Juerg said. "It was an old hippie place for Americans to come to. I don't want it to become a party town like Cabo, but we cannot expect time to stop after us."
A column in the February issue of Travel + Leisure magazine asked: "Where do T+L staffers go to get away from it all?"
The answer: Todos Santos. The secret, never well kept, was out.
There are no chain hotels, but several inns have been refurbished or created in historic buildings to accommodate the visitors who are showing up. The loveliest may be the Todos Santos Inn, a restored, grand old hacienda in the heart of town. But when Juerg and Lubische visited in 1997, they discovered an untapped niche for their dream hotel.
"We wanted to have a stay on the shore, and there was nothing," Juerg explained. "We wanted a meal on the shore, and there was nothing."
Posada La Poza was built with the water in mind. The town's natural springs created a lagoon and bird sanctuary that draws up to 70 species at a time. The inn looks out onto the lagoon, and guests are given binoculars and field guides at check-in.
Beyond the lagoon is the creamy sand lining the unruly Pacific. The waves that draw surfers to the area pound the beach, creating a nighttime lullaby that sounds like rolling thunder.
The road in front of the inn ends at a rocky trail that runs at the foot of a hillside and leads to the beach. In winter and spring, guests from the inn get a special treat as pods of passing gray whales cruise the coast. Spouts, sometime three and four at a time, shoot from the surface, and the whales often come close to shore and seem to be playing in the surf.
"They're cleaning themselves," Juerg said. "They come into the beach to scrape the barnacles off."
AN ELOQUENT BARTENDER
Todos Santos Eco Adventures will take you on a historical tour of town, then drive you to a waterfall in the desert. The adventure company also offers the chance to fish with fourth-generation local fishermen or head to the beach for surfing lessons with the promise that you will definitely ride a wave.
Most visitors, however, stroll the streets you can tour the whole place in an hour visiting the boutiques, art galleries and craft shops.
Shut Up Frank's sports bar advertises the "best burgers in the Baja," and Cafe Santa Fe is said to have the peninsula's best Italian food. But, hey, we're in Mexico! I went for a fish taco at Taco George's stand, world-renowned chile rellenos at Miguel's, fat shrimp simmering in garlic sauce at Las Fuentes and "tres licores" margaritas at the Tequila Sunrise Bar.
The bar is across the street from the Hotel California and capitalizes on the mistaken Eagles connection, with the band's farewell concert playing endlessly on a video screen. The group was singing "Life in the Fast Lane" when I asked owner Manuel Valdez Vazguez how many times he had heard the tune.
"You mean today?" he asked.
Vazguez is an articulate, loquacious man who will expound at length on the ingredients of his legendary margaritas, or give his take on the local politics that have propelled Todos Santos to the forefront as one of Mexico's Magic Towns.
"We use our own bottled tequila," he said as he poured generous amounts of the liquor over ice. "This last ingredient we call 'the ladies' happiness.'"
"Do you have a bigger bottle?" asked a woman awaiting one of the drinks.
Squeezing the juice of four lime halves into each glass, Vazguez moved on to the politics that might bring more development to what once was the backyard of the Baja.
"This town has been magic for the last 25 years without the designation," Vazguez said. "I'm not against the growth if we control it with a good personality."
Then, with perfect enunciation, he said: "What we want to protect against is the noninvited invasion of superficiality."
That was a mouthful, even without one of Vazguez's tongue-tying margaritas.
For sleepy Todos Santos, the significance of being named a magical place could be lost with the arrival of too many "improvements" like the one announced in the local newspaper on the day I left town.
Developers from La Paz, which is an hour's drive to the northeast, said they plan to build a hotel, condos, golf courses and a marina.
"Company executives assure they will maintain the architectural and cultural elements of the town," the newspaper said.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch - www.stltoday.com
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