Guaymenas Indians, with a reputation for "fierceness", were the earliest inhabitants of the San Carlos area. Seri Indians, expert fishermen and more recently carvers of ironwood, live to the north, with settlements near Kino Bay. The Yaqui live east and south. In the 1600’s, Jesuit priests and Spanish military forces traveled through the San Carlos region, but it was not until 1769 that Captain Antonio Soto seized Bahia San Carlos for Spain. In the 1780’s the Jesuit order was replaced by the Franciscan order of friars. They noted great hardship, suffering and death among the Indians because of illness, probably imported by the Europeans. Spain began to lose control of the American lands, and Mexico was born.
The early 1800’s saw the port of San Carlos beginning to flourish as a major supply center. In 1847 the war between the United States and Mexico began. The U.S. captured the ports of San Carlos and Guaymas. In the 1850’s, the French pirate Captain Rousset began to carry out business in the Sea of Cortez. Somehow, he was eventually overwhelmed by local militia forces and in an astonishing display of overkill, was hanged, shot and beheaded in the San Carlos town square. U.S. wars were good for port business, and both the Civil War in the 1860’s and the war against the Apaches in the 1870’s saw San Carlos flourish as a military supply port.
La Revolución in the first two decades of the 1900s saw San Carlos continue to serve as a military supply point for General Francisco (Pancho) Villa and his army. The next revolution was instigated by Hollywood; in the 1960s the movie Catch-22 was filmed on location here, causing many of the participants to fall in love with the area forever, and two resorts were born on Playa Algodones (Catch-22 Beach), Club Med and Plaza San Carlos Hotel. The little fishing village/war port was reborn as a resort destination.
Between then and now, San Carlos has boomed as a resort community, creating opportunities and pitfalls alike. It remains a town caught between two or more worlds in its development. It will continue to redefine its identity as time continues to pass, thankfully slowly here. Americans we ran into complain everything is mañana, forgetting that’s what was a huge part of the attraction that brought them here in the first place. The unhurried pace, the graciousness and sense of timelessness that is opened up by this attitude.
As a closing thought and perhaps moral lesson as well, (ugh, I hate that moral stuff, what am I doing??), on one of our last days in San Carlos, we drove to El Caracol, just a stone’s throw away from our posada. The gated, upscale, mostly American community on the Caracol peninsula has breathtaking views of the bay and marina. The sign at the entrance to one of the houses Mi casa es mi casa caught my eye as a perversion of the gracious and welcoming Mexican saying, Mi casa es su casa. The owners of the luxury home were probably trying to be tongue in cheek and expressing pride in the house they built with their money, but it made me wonder… The steep, cobble-stoned one-way road took us higher and higher up the hill, until we crested and looked down on the harbor. On the harbor side, building was going on beneath us, another luxury home taking form as the work crew busily hammered away. Later that evening, we happened to mention our excursion up the hill to a local Mexican resident of San Carlos. He rolled up his eyes, telling us the people with the stunning views and expensive houses didn’t seem all that happy. When the hill was opened up to development years ago, there was already a community of Americans and Canadians living on the flatlands near the ocean. Everyone apparently got along great, living happily and cheaply in lovely San Carlos village. The first people that bought lots and built houses on the hill enjoyed their spectacular views for a while, but soon many others were buying and building, ever higher and higher up the hill. Our local informant told us the man who built his large house on the very top seldom even lives in this impressive structure, generating ire from lower down neighbors whose views were compromised. The latest development has been that some newer homes are being built lower down on the hill, but required dynamiting to create large enough level areas to begin building. You can guess what happened: the explosions had a similar effect to a minor earthquake, causing cracks and damage in the homes above. Our friend said the people on the hill aren’t getting along that well with each other anymore. Which once again demonstrates that wealth can be a complicating factor in peoples’ lives.