The Saint of Punta Banda
Don Alexandro Pabloff, Founder of la Jolla Beach Camp
La Jolla Beach Camp, south of Ensenada on the Punta Banda Peninsula, is one of the oldest vacation and retirement communities in Baja Norte. Famous as a relaxed weekend beach camping spot, Campo La Jolla has weekend and summertime visitors in the thousands every year, along with a resident population of mostly ex-pats with vacation or retirement homes, Located halfway down on the road to La Bufadora (the largest blowhole in the world at the end of the Punta Banda Peninsula) La Jolla Beach Camp offers ten miles of unspoiled beach in front and a mountain wilderness behind, creating a natural, peaceful and tranquil atmosphere- only 2 hours from San Diego.
When you come to this area and ask any of the local residents about a safe and secure community to set up your weekend getaway, the universal recommendation will be La Jolla Beach Camp, which is known for treating guests and residents like family. The family who runs La Jolla Beach Camp, has a better reputation than I have ever encountered in Mexico. The visionary who pioneered tourism on this peninsula and who some call ‘The Saint of Punta Banda’ is Don Alexandro Pabloff.
It takes a pretty solid life history of good works for people to call you a saint, so I was interested in interviewing the man who has apparently had such a positive influence on the entire Punta Banda area, and who I was soon to learn, was loved and respected by everyone. The following are the highlights of my recent interview with ‘Don Alexandro Pabloff’.
Alex’s mother, came over from Armenia, with plans to settle in Boston. When her ship arrived in Boston, someone on board had a contagious disease, and as was the policy in those day, no one was allowed to come ashore. The ship ended up going all the way south, through the Panama canal and back up to Los Angeles, where she was allowed to come ashore nearly three months later-not exactly where she had planned. It must have been fate though, as Alex’s parents met in Los Angeles and married. Alex’s father worked in farming, and moved from Los Angeles to Baja Mexico in 1909, settling on the outskirts of Ensenada near Ojos Negros.
Young Alex Pabloff was one of 7 brothers and three sisters and also worked at farming with his brothers in his earlier years. Some of his siblings eventually went to Los Angeles area, while he remained in Ensenada, working for a series of Ensenada hotels doing plumbing and electrical work, driving a truck and going to the States to buy supplies for Hotel Colon, Plaza Americas, Villa Marina and others for more than 12 years, While cutting Alfalfa at Sano Hussong’s ranch near San Carlos, Alex met his wife to be’s father, who was also working there, introductions were made and Alex was married to wife Irene in 1949. (The two were married for 60 years until she passed in 2010).
As one who appreciated what could be done with a piece of acreage, Alex bought the land on the waterfront, which would become La Jolla Beach Camp, in 1954, as well as a ranch property in Ramahal, and 90 hectares in the El Tigre, above Ensenada which was later sold.
Inspired by groups who came to Punta Banda for bird hunting in the 50’s, it was Alex’s plan to offer a tourism place for camping in Punta Banda, and he put up his first sign, advertising La Jolla Beach Camp in June of 1960. His first customer came in August, who was an American who wanted to park his trailer there. In 1960, the fee was four dollars a month, or $48 a year. It should be noted that this first customer and his family still have a house at La Jolla Beach Camp.
Although Alex’s vision for Tourism on the Punta Banda peninsula was inspired, there was as yet, no road from Maneadero, no telephone and no electricity. Together with Ramon Arnaz, the major landowner on the peninsula, the two began developing and maintaining more than twelve kilometers of road, themselves, all the way from Maneadero to La Bufadora. By 1962 the road became more official, and opened up tourism place, all the way to La Bufadora for the adventurous who would discover the beauty of this, and also find La Jolla Beach Camp complete with boat ramp, open for business.
Over the years more trailers were parked, some built houses and weekend tourism destination became a community. In 1970, Alexandro went to Mexicali to negotiate the installation of a transformer sub-station in Maneadero, so electricity could be brought all the way out to Punta Banda.
Another problem to be solved back then, was the location of an immigration office in the city of Maneadero. La Jolla Beach Camp guests were intimidated by the immigration office in the city of Maneadero and the travel permit process in those days and it was hurting business at La Jolla Beach camp and La Bufadora. Alex successfully negotiated the relocation of the immigration office and checkpoint several miles south of Maneadero, removing a barrier of the flow of tourist on the pensinsula.
Some years later there was a fire that destroyed two houses and two cabins in one week at Campo La Jolla. In order to get fire department response, someone had to drive all the way to Ensenada and the Engine had to drive all the way back-taking hours. Alex’s response to this was the establishment of a fire department at La Jolla Beach Camp to protect his residents and guests. Several Americans helped negotiate the donation of a 1974 Fire Engine from Chicago, which was brought out by train to Los Angeles, then driven down to La Jolla Beach Camp where it still is in service today.
In those days, Alex obtained a CB radio to talk with the fire department, but had no radio license, which was a big deal to obtain in Mexico at that time. His radio privileges got taken away by the local government. Later,when there were several fires in Ensenada, the Ensenada fire Captain would drive all the way to La Jolla Beach camp to ask for help with Alex’s fire engine. In appreciation for Alex’s help with fires in the city, the governor himself granted Alex a radio license, so the two fire departments could communicate better with one another. The current fire station, whose Captain is Alex Pabloff Jr. one of Don Alexandro’s six sons, and is staffed by local Mexican and American volunteers who respond to all manner of emergencies, perform controlled burns and lend help on larger regional fires in the Ensenada area.
Years later, Alex donated a piece of land to the telephone company in exchange for installation of a transmission station that would provide telephone service to the entire area as well.
Another of his sons, Michael, who is an architect and house builder, has constructed many of the houses at La Jolla for local Americans, and also became the mayor of Maneadero twice. Other sons Roy, Steve, Mathew and Billie are involved one way or another with the running of La Jolla Beach Camp and have businesses of their own as well, incluiding backhoe/excavation services, water delivery, Baja Race car fabrication and farming trees and vegetables at the Pabloff Ranch in nearby Ramahal.
Over the years, La Jolla Beach Camp became more popular with Americans tourists, Mexicans all the way from Tecate and Mexicali running from the heat in summer, and huge migration of visitors on Easter Holidays and the Fourth of July. Hobie Cat Races, started in 1973 were held at campo La Jolla more than 25 years. Various college outdoor groups use La Jolla Beach Camp as their take-off point for overnight camping on the beautiful Todos Santos Islands and beach combers, surf fisherman and boat launchers among others enjoy the beach at La Jolla every day.
Local residents of LJBC organized their own Yacht Club, built a meeting hall and a 125 seat theater was donated by Sol Pearlman and named after his wife. The theater regulary hosts visiting theater groups from as far as New York and produces several of their own shows every year. The retirement community at Campo La Jolla can only be described as ‘very active’ with continuous parties and events of all kinds, clubs, public outreach and mission work and an overall adventurous lifestyle. Every other house either has a boat, Baja travelers with regular forays to the Wine country, San Felipe, Guerrero Negro, The East Cape and Cabo, as well as many more lesser known secret Baja destinations.
Alex donated the sites for a Mexican Pentecostal church and an American Christian church on the La Jolla Beach Camp property, to help with spiritual needs of his local residents as well. It seems Alexandro’s vision for a successful tourist enclave has been fully realized.
Christmas time at Campo La Jolla is the home to an amazing outpouring of help and support for the local community as well, also organized by Alex Pabloff. For more than 25 years he has distributed boxes of food and clothing to hundreds of needy families in the remote villages up in the hills and for the poorest in Punta Banda and Maneadero. Many of the local La Jolla community residents now get involved in the organization of boxes of clothing and food distribution. Many rely on Alexandro’s generous Christmas donations for their critical survival needs during this time.
Alex’s personal interests these days hearken back to the ancient practice of ‘dousing’. His eyes light up with a sparkle as he is happy to demonstrate his copper dousing rod and the conversation quickly goes to finding sweet water for well drilling in the local mountains behind the camp to buried pirate treasures from the 1750’s on the north side of Ensenada. According to him, more than a quarter ton of pirate gold was buried in a well to hide it during the war between Spain and Mexico. He was very specific about where it is located.
When one considers the impact of the man’s life on many others, the dedication, hard work, and service Alexandro Pabloff has contributed are truly admirable. This soft spoken and humble man is always cheerful and he emphasizes that he wants all his guests at La Jolla Beach Camp to feel like family and to have a good and tranquil place here. It is an unusual privilege in this day and age to meet someone who has worked so hard and contributed so much for others without a thought of thanks for himself. That’s pretty saint-like according to this author.
White haired, spry and pushing 90 now, Don Alexandro can be seen patrolling his property every day in his green truck with three of his favorite dogs following along, or supervising road work and excavation along the La Bufadora road even though the government is supposed to pay for it now, or putting in a day of work at the camp. These is always something to be done. His Truck stops more frequently there days, dropping everything to talk to this old friend or that one for twenty minutes or half an hour. With so many friends to talk everyday, it is amazing he gets anything done at all!