Baja Bliss

Ten Perfect Days of People, Places & Plaster
Jeremy Mistretta
November 12, 2021
It all started in Park City, Utah.

In 2005, at the infancy of my plaster career, I traveled to Park City, Utah to plaster a bar/restaurant called “The Corner Store.” @thecornerstore_pc  When I first entered the space, I was greeted by the owner, “Max.”  He had a big smile as he gave me the brief tour.  I shuffled through the myriad of construction tools noting the toll that years of bar life had taken on the walls.  New stitched in sheetrock planed out with old walls stained with the visage of blood and alcohol.  His walls told a story and encapsulated Park City’s collective sense of the ski community.  He was expanding his space, and wanted to “keep the vibe alive.”
With a repeated smile and a tight timeline, I got to work the next day.  I plastered for days without worrying about crisp inside corners, and perfect trowel strokes.  It was an ideal project for a newbie plaster installer. Max’s countenance and kind nature would keep us in touch and close friends for years to come.

As time progressed, so did my plaster skills.  I found solace in the therapeutic rhythmic motions of the trowel.  The walls I completed echoed my soul. While my business was growing, so was Max’s.  “The Corner Store” was expanding yet again, and in 2018 Max called for my help.  More than a decade had wrinkled the store’s walls even more.  Ski bums cheers-ing hard earned beers on a powder day, mountain biker’s tattered hands caked in mud, and hungry patrons slathering their spicy wing sauced extremities all came to cataclysmic accumulations on the existing walls.

We were busy at home in Montana with installs, so I solicited the assistance of Gabriel Franklin and Isaac Tolpinrud @theartofplaster and @iket77.  Their vibe’s mirrored Max’s and they fit perfectly into “The Corner Store” climate.  We plastered in harmony, pushing for a pseudo adobe vibe. We were able to turn our perfectionist brains on autopilot and just plaster.  For six days, we laughed, sang, and troweled.  When complete, Max was even more ecstatic than he was in 2005.  He said the cool, calm, and collective walls reminded him of Mexico.  One evening after work with a cold and refreshing cerveza in hand, he went into detail about his many trips to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.  He’d fallen in love with the topography, the ocean, the food, and the people.  He’d driven an old Toyota Landcrusier to the southern tip of Baja, and left it in a storage unit, encouraging me to use it whenever I wanted.  The Mexican travel seed was officially planted.

Gabriel Franklin & Isaac Tolpinrud
Bound for Baja

After the Park City project, my family and I continued to work and travel as much as we could.  In the aftermath of a harrowing experience exiting Morocco at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we decided that our next international travel experience should be “muy tranquilo” in comparison to the year prior.  Equipped with vaccines, passports, and Max’s promise of a 1994 Landcruiser, we boarded United Airlines in search of white sandy beaches, sunny skies, and plastered walls.  We were rewarded with all three.

We landed in Cabo San Lucas on April 16th and found our way to the Landcrusier quickly. We were mobile in a matter of minutes and headed to the JW Marriott @jwloscabos for a quick and easy night before we fully immersed ourselves in Mexican culture.

The entry of the hotel is grandiose.  The walls are tall concrete stucco edifices.  Almost all of the construction in Mexico is comprised of concrete block and rebar.  The walls are stacked and the internal sections of the block are packed with concrete.  As a result, all of the surfaces must be coated with plaster.  The majority of the plaster and stucco in Mexico is concrete.  Most of the concrete in the Baja is manufactured just south of the US border in Ensenada.  In its simplest form, concrete is the result of Portland Cement being mixed with water to create a paste.  Once the paste is created,  sand known as “aggregate” is added to the mixture.  Through a process called “hydration,” the paste hardens in a rock-like mass called concrete.  The aggregate can be large or small depending on desired strength and look.

The walls of the Marriot are pigmented with a soft brown ochre pigment and troweled smooth with the help of some finer sand.  The cream from the cement rose to the top and was then hard troweled.  The hard troweling created depth and texture where the cream was burnished.  The look is beautiful.  We stared in awe at the giant walls and imagined the crew of workers it took to stack and finish them.  After a walk on the secluded beach, and a fantastic Pacifico it was time for bed.

The next day, we awoke and headed north to the East Cape.  We arrived at our vacation rental and were greeted by crashing waves and a concrete infinity pool.  The same hard-troweled technique that was employed at the JW Marriott was also used in the swimming pool. I spoke with several workers around the property.  They described in detail their love of concrete plaster and the soothing nature of the trowel.

East Cape of Baja

For dinner one night, we visited Villa del faro, @villadelfaro_baja a bed and breakfast nestled perfectly into the hillside overlooking miles of private beach, close to our vacation rental.  The property was procured in 1989 when the East Cape of Baja was largely undiscovered.  The owners envisioned a business steeped in unique Mexican architecture, art, and culinary delights.  Most of the work was completed by local artisans who specialized in “boveda” or arched ceilings, hand painted tiles, and “balustrades,” or columns.  We were especially taken by the balustrades.  While their placement celebrates function, the beautiful plaster fissures celebrate form.  Every room we entered had a skillfully plastered column attached to a boveda ceiling and a palapa roof.  Their rooms capture the visitors and hours could elapse before you would want to wander towards another.  One of the owners, “Candy” suggested we visit Cabo Pulmo the next day.

Onward to Cabo Pulmo

I had visited Cabo Pulmo a few times in the early 2000’s.  The deep blue sea and the glowing coral reef hadn’t changed at all in 20 years.  There were a few more homes and a handful of newer commercial businesses focused on the beautiful sea.  Most of the homes are owned by Americans or “gringos” who flee the shoulder seasons of the north and bask in the tranquil glory of Cabo Pulmo.
The small village of Cabo Pulmo was officially established in 1987.   It wasn’t long until the surrounding sea was dedicated as a national marine park.  Travellers from all over the globe come to Cabo Pulmo for world class snorkeling and diving, whale watching, and secluded plastered bungalows.
We snorkeled for the day with Eco Adventures @cabopulmoecoadventures where we swam with sea lions, manta rays, and schools of jacks.  I’m not sure who was more excited, the kids or the parents?

Los Barilles

After a thrilling experience in Cabo Pulmo, it was time to travel a bit north toward Los Barilles.   Located 45 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas and 65 miles south of La Paz, Los Barilles is a hot spot for kite surfing and sport fisherman from around the world.  We stayed just north of town at Punta Pescadero. @puntapescaderoparadise Burrowed in the cliffs above the Sea of Cortez, up a bumpy one-lane road, the compound is an oasis that boasts 340 sunny days a year.  All of the villas are sculpted with beautiful white painted stucco to help mitigate the heat.  We had great chats with the employees every evening.  Javier, the manager stressed the internal concept of community during their COVID lockdown.

While many establishments laid their employees off, Punta Pescadero invested more into their business.  They remodeled rooms, perfected their landscaping, and re-plastered several areas.  Because COVID is such a respiratory virus, Javier told us that they packed all of the surrounding tree bases with coral to foster oxygenation of the trees and create more of a living and breathing environment.  We met with Omar and he proudly showed us some of the concrete plastering work he completed himself with no training.  He mentioned that he “re-tucked and pointed” every rock by hand without masking tape.

Upon our departure of Punta Pescadero, we stumbled upon a sign that read “Happy Hour Margaritas.”  How could we not stop even if it was 11 a.m?  To our surprise, it was a margarita bar in conjunction with pickle ball courts.  Tres Palapas resort @trespalapasresort is a racquet oasis on the northern end of Los Barilles! Pickle ball is like tennis only with slightly altered rules.
We took a class and played for hours as a family. During a set break, I toured the property and marveled at the beautifully plastered artistic installations and the concrete showers.  It was evident to see and feel the love that was placed into the resort, and the collective “tranquilo” vibe that flowed through their employees.

Southwest to Todos Santos

From Tres Palapas and Los Barilles, we drove southwest to Todos Santos over the mountain pass to El Truinfo.  El Truinfo was a booming silver mining town in the late 1800’s with over 10,0000 residents.  The current census calculated just over 300 inhabitants.  Like most of Mexico, the aged brickwork and plastered walls were stunning.  We stopped for a few pictures and moved south to Todos.

Todos Santos is a vibrant community full of happy locals, tourists, and gringo ex-patriots in search of a slower pace of life and amazing surf.  We toured the markets, ate fish tacos and stayed at Cerritos Surf Town @cerritossurftown where we took surfing lessons and slept in one of their small stucco bungalows.

On our final evening in Todos before heading back to Los Cabos, while eating mouth watering fish tacos at the “Pacifica Fish Market” @pacifica_fish_market  we met Mehry Eslaminia.  @mehryiris

Left image by @badbeard

When the pandemic halted her Broadway debut, Mehry moved her talents south and shuffled from NYC to Todos Santos to contribute her skills to her friend Dillon Porter’s, “Teatro Pescadero.”   That night was the debut of their play “Dillon on Dylan.”  After a small chat, Mehry cordially invited us to the debut! Cozily seated amidst sand and sea, we watched in awe as the cast executed the stream of consciousness play and the clever plot detailing the love affair of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie.

photos by @badbeard

As we drove south in Max’s landcrusier the next day to catch our flight, we marveled at the serendipitous events in our lives that had led us to this trip.  Fifteen years prior, plaster had brought me to Park City, Utah where the initial seed was planted to tour Mexico in search of a vibe that “The Corner Store” embodied.  In the midst of this serene quest, we stumbled upon amazing arts and culture that came to a booming culmination at an underground theatre.  We never had a plan, only a loose itinerary and said, “yes” to every opportunity.  We were rewarded and will continue to say “si,” as good vibes, exploration, and a simpler way of life seem to fall at the words footsteps.   Plaster walls tell a story.  While the look of each wall varies, from Morocco to Mexico to Montana, the care and creativity that lies behind every stroke evokes beauty and unites both the viewer and the plasterer in a utilitarian form.  With excitement and wide eyes, we will continue to travel this beautiful planet in search of human connection, amazing food, arts, culture, and plastered walls.