In January of 2016, Cat Sizemore and her husband Chris left their home in South Carolina and hit the open road. They made their way to Mexico, surfing and soaking up the adventure, calling their van home. While the journey did teach them how to live with less and to experience the “home is where you park it” lifestyle, living together in such tight quarters wasn’t always easy. “There were definitely some tense moments where we had to pull over on the side of the road and have it out,” Sizemore says. They were searching for a simpler life, one more connected to a community. They found it in Saladita.
“When we came here [Saladita], I felt like I was home,” she says. “I’m in love with this place and can’t see leaving unless someone makes me.”
Sizemore established herself as an online health and wellness coach, but it wasn’t as satisfying as the idea of working locally. As luck would have it, Lourdes Valencia, known as “Queen of Saladita” and respected by locals and travelers alike, was looking for a change herself.
“When I moved here, Lourdes was showing me around Los Llanos, helping me find a place to live, when she said, ‘Why don’t you just rent my restaurant?’”
That conversation led Sizemore down a new path in life. “I grew up in a foodie family and have worked in restaurants my whole life, so the idea of taking over Lourdes’ was actually really exciting,” Sizemore says.
Lourdes was eager to let the restaurant go. “She wants to spend more time with her son, and the restaurant is a lot of work.” However, the Sizemores have been accused of “ruining Lourdes’s” and giving her an unfair deal. “Lourdes is actually really happy. We rent the restaurant from her, so she doesn’t have to run it anymore. She kept her little surf shop in the back, which is what she wanted.”
Sizemore knew that in order to maximize the ideal location and draw of Lourdes, it needed an upgrade. So in March of 2017, she approached the owners of LOOT, a surf lifestyle brand and store/restaurant in Zihuatanejo that are also involved with several other local development-type projects. At that time, Sizemore’s Spanish wasn’t so hot, and there was a rush to get Lourdes Bar & Grill up and running for Mexilogfest, Mexico’s traditional longboard event that Saladita hosted in April. “LOOT had no option but to go with other partners at the start,” she says. “But when the original partners had to return to their projects in Troncones, I was waiting in the shadows with my hand up, saying, ‘I’m still here!’” LOOT and Sizemore formalized their partnership in October of 2017. Sizemore immediately started taking one-on-one Spanish lessons and applied for her work visa, which she expects to come through any day. Only then can she start earning her keep. “Right now it’s all passion work,” she says with a laugh. Good thing her husband can work remotely as a web designer. “It’s definitely nice to have his support,” she adds.
One of the biggest reasons Sizemore was excited to take on the Lourdes project was because she’s passionate about giving back to the people of Los Llanos and Saladita. “There were things that needed to be addressed, like plastic pollution, and water quality. I also felt strongly that the Valencia family needed to benefit from the business opportunity here.” To support this idea, Sizemore volunteers with the Azulita Project, a local conservation organization that aims to reduce plastic pollution. “We’ve given presentations in the schools to explain why plastic is a problem and how kids can help.” Tall collection bins dot the local streets and beach, and on most days, they are full or overflowing. “We also don’t serve anything in plastic at Lourdes, not even our straws, or water bottles,” Sizemore explains. “We really want to set the example.” The team has also installed a new hand-painted sign explaining surf etiquette. “It’s important for visitors to respect the lineup and surf etiquette rules or else it will no longer be fun for anyone.”
Sizemore’s new business isn’t alone in the progress game. Tucked away in a corner of the building is a model of a future condo and surf club development. A company called El Punto plans to build 17 condos as well as a pool and lounge area, rooftop bar, restaurant, and a surf shop just south of the river that borders the point. Longtime local surfer Leon Perez Yanez purchased the property 20 years ago, knowing he was sitting on a goldmine. At El Punto, he plans to also house Mexico’s first Surfing Museum, which will feature his and other surf heroes’ trophies, as well as his philanthropy project, Share the Stoke, which donates 16 of Kelly Slater’s FireWire surfboards each year to local kids. Yanez not only tracks the kids, he coaches them. “It’s going to be true surf village,” says El Punto partner and Saladita local David Mowry.
But can such a small area accommodate this surge in growth and activity? “A condo development here is really scary,” Sizemore says, fearing such a change will threaten the natural beauty of the landscape. “During the rainy season the sky is crystal clear, and from the lineup you can see each notch in the mountains. It is breathtaking. I think for all situations, change is scary. Who will come? Who will live here? I’m anxious about what’s to come for this little paradise.” But Sizemore is optimistic about El Punto. “They’re making an incredible effort to build an environmentally friendly complex and that makes me very happy.”
What’s uncertain is how these two new projects, both with local roots and elevated environmental morals, will pave the way for other projects, ones with lower standards. Many visitors and expats fear a more crowded lineup. Some think it’s already too late. “I think Saladita has kind of blown it,” said one frequent traveler who believes the cause is unchecked development. “There were 45 people in the lineup at sundown yesterday.”
Sizemore hopes that development can be sustained organically. “I personally wish more people would move here full time so they can immerse themselves in the workings of becoming a solid community. I want neighbors . . . particularly those who have the time and energy to start a life here and contribute,” says Sizemore. “The original families in Saladita have paved the way for their children. It is now our responsibility to continue their vision and contribute in the best way possible, for our children, their children, and the future generations long after we are gone.”
Editor’s Note: Amy Waeschle is the author of Going Over the Falls and Chasing Waves. Contact her at www.amywaeschle.com