by Michelle Monroy
I had the pleasure and honor of chatting with Mr. John Ireland, a long-time family friend and owner of Rancho Leonero Resort – aka The Ranch – for over 30 years. As we sat in the dining room of the hotel overlooking the Sea of Cortez, I couldn't but help think how John's love for the area is contagious and inspiring, especially if you have been bitten by "the Baja bug," as many of us have. He is loved and appreciated by many, including generations of faithful returning hotel guests, which in his own words, “makes it all worthwhile.”
MM: When was your first trip to Baja and what was it like?
JI: I came down a long time ago, it was 1969, we drove Hodaka motorcycles and made it down as far as La Paz in that first trip. I was a surfer in Malibu and Santa Monica, so I came down for surf a few times with friends, but never to the East Cape. The first time I came to the East Cape was around 1979. I knew Mark Walters from Rancho Buena Vista, so I came over and visited him. Then in 1982 or '83, I ran into the Rancho Leonero property and purchased it in January of 1985. When I found the property it was very inexpensive, Los Cabos in general was inexpensive, no one was interested in this area, and about a year or so after I bought the property Cabo just boomed. When I purchased the property, there was only one house on the property, and the original porch is still here. I slept on that porch many nights with a kerosene lamp, staking out my property.
MM: ...something that Rancho Leonero visitors really like is the rustic look of the buildings...
JI: Yes, the rock comes from the mountain behind the ranch. You see this rock all over Cabo, it all comes from that mesa. We have a quarry on the property and we quarried all the rock. It used to be by necessity because it was the cheapest way to build, and so were the palapa roofs, which now are very expensive. Now every cargo has to be federally permitted, and they only cut the palms five days before the full moon and 5 days after, that's the time of harvest because they think the bugs will eat it, did you know that?
MM: Do you remember the moment when you decided that Baja had to be a part of your life forever?
JI: It was when I first snorkeled the reef in front of the hotel. When I first came to see the property it was a beautiful and perfect day, I had my mask and fins with me. I went out there and schools of jacks, among many other fish, were surrounding me. It was pristine. I came out of the water and I said - this place is magic. The property is like a park, I couldn't believe it was for sale, there must be a catch.
MM: What is your favorite or most memorable fishing adventure story?
JI: We lost a big marlin once. Our manager back then had just bought all new equipment, it was his second or third time fishing. He'd been reading an article about tying all the rods together when you get a big fish. We put it out right in front of the ranch and hooked into a huge marlin, probably over 1,000 lbs. The biggest I've ever seen. We got it onto the swim step, and I saw that she had no bill. I was in a little 20 ft boat and I couldn't get the deckhand to put the gaff in because he was afraid it would sink the boat. Finally, it rolled off of the swim step and went straight down, and took all the poles that Gary had tied together with her. That is my most memorable story, the one that got away.
MM: How would you describe your relationship with fishing? Do you enjoy the thrill and game side of it? Or is it more about being out on the relaxing water?
JI: Fishing is like life in many ways. When it rains it pours, it comes in bunches. You never know for sure what you're gonna get. I like the unpredictability of it. I also like to drive the boat and figure out where we're going. Rancho Leonero actually started as a diving resort, and then I figured out everyone else around was fishing. Divers are transients, they don't come back, next time they go dive a new site, so that's why we transitioned into a fishing resort.
MM: How would you describe the essence of Baja? What is Baja?
JI: Baja is special. It's unique. It's so close and accessible to the USA, yet it feels so far away and remote. I think that's the attraction, and also the ideal weather we have. And of course the people. The locals are so nice, and such good hearted people.