By Gene Kira, May 10, 2004, as orginally published in Western Outdoor News:
It isn’t every Baja book whose cover photo shows the author standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, at age six, with his finger up his nose.
But that’s Lou Federico, a living Baja legend, who has just published his memoirs, “One Hell of a Ride: The Life and Times of Lou Federico.”
There probably isn’t one Baja aficionado in a hundred who can say why Federico, now 79, is so important in the history of the peninsula, but suffice it to say, he’s the man who built Hotel Punta Chivato, the legendary remote resort south of Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur, Mexico, in 1966, and before that, Mulegé’s Hotel Rancho Loma Linda, in 1961.
To appreciate these accomplishments, you need to keep in mind that the Transpeninsular Highway was not completed until 1974; the brown-ochre decorative stone used at Punta Chivato was ferried by barge from the hills behind Mulegé.
Ultimately, Federico lost his financial interests in both properties through the most blatant Mexican “estafos” (land title frauds) you’d ever want to read about, and he names names and pulls no punches in describing the characters involved--in Mulegé, at Punta Chivato, and during a hair-raising coerced trip to Mexico City, escorted by gun-toting, government thugs.
For anyone interested in the mysteries of Baja’s Golden Age, this book comes as a revelation. I read the best parts two or three times, savoring Federico’s first-person knowledge and brutal frankness. This is one hombre that, if he needs to pick his nose, dammit, he’s gonna pick his nose, no matter who’s watching.
All the requisite celebrities are there of course--Duke Wayne in his declining years, Jayne Mansfield in a sad, sad travesty of a wedding ceremony, and Earle Stanley Gardner arriving with not one, but two, helicopters--just to name a few. And there are the important but mostly forgotten Mexicans--Chi Chi and Quirino Mesa, and their sister, Chayo, who speared giant snook in the Mulegé River with Ray Cannon; the faithful, double-duty hooker-maids who offered their bodies in an effort the save Hotel Punta Chivato for him; and some fascinating detail from the courtship days of those other Mulegé legends, Don and Nancy Johnson of the famous Hotel Serenidad (!); and many, many others, all sharply rendered in this marvelously personal account of Baja’s Golden Age.
Lou Federico has indeed had one hell of a ride, so full of adventure that he can write rather matter-of-factly about the fly-in Hotel Rancho Loma Linda’s early landing strip: “By the time I left the hotel, there had been eighteen crashes.” Doing the math, this must have occurred over a time span of less than five years! Amigos, we just don’t get that kind of action in Baja anymore!
(Some stories remain to be told. For instance, Federico explained just recently how the hotel’s original name, “Borrego de Oro,” commemorated a desert sheep that he had shot near the south end of Bahía Concepción, but how the name was changed to “Punta Chivato” because that was the way early pilots found the location by using the AAA road map.)
Federico concluded his Baja hotel-building career without finding huge monetary riches, but he did get a gorgeous wife out of the deal, the former Lana Green, Miss San Francisco of 1961, and toward the end of his book, he describes with affection the passing of his old retriever, Amigo, “...probably the slowest Labrador I’ve ever seen, but he always got the job done sooner or later...”
In the end, it is the memories, the passions, and the stories that count, not the money, and Lou Federico found plenty to fill a lifetime in the little stretch of Baja coastline between Mulegé and Punta Chivato. You get the distinct feeling that he’d jump at the chance to do it all over again.
Thank you, Lou, for your adventures, for resolving a hundred mysteries of Baja’s Golden Age, and for bringing these people--many now gone--so vividly to life.
(Related Mulege articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Mulege information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Mulege area in "Mexico Fishing News.")