Photo by Dan Petersen © 2015
Vive Loreto tour business
Paseo Mision #170, Loreto Bay
Hours: 9:00-1:00, 4:00-6:00
Web site: viveloreto.mx
Owners: Maria Najera and
Maria and Rafael, who own Vive Loreto, declare right up front, “Fourteen is our lucky number.” Maria was born on May 14. Rafael was born on January 14. They started dating on October 14. Exactly five years later, not by chance, they were married on October 14. Since then, timing has been a critical factor shaping the ups and downs of their life together—timing as well as their ability to take advantage of opportunities and bounce back from defeats.
The handsome and charismatic couple inaugurated Vive Loreto on a lucky-number day—July 14, 2010. It was not propitious. In the middle of the U.S. Great Recession and the intense heat and humidity of a southern Baja summer, the number of Anglo residents, renters and tourists in the Loreto area was minuscule. But Maria and Rafael were undaunted. They hired a scuba instructor and launched the business with island-tour and scuba-diving trips. Between July and October, they took two families scuba-diving and one group on a boat tour of Isla Coronado.
Despite the unpromising start, today the business is thriving. The words of its logo suggest that it’s not just about offering tours: Vive Loreto—Naturaleza, Mar y Cultura (Live Loreto--Nature, Sea and Culture). Maria puts it this way: “We are teachers, and we teach how to value and respect the environment.” Rafael adds, “And our goal is to promote Loreto.” He is earning a Master’s degree at the local university, UABCS, in Economics of the Environment and Natural Resources.
Vive Loreto now offers a wide range of tourist services for all ages: island boat tours, city tours of Loreto, trips to the historic village and mission of San Javier, mountain hiking, ATV tours, whale-watching on the Pacific bays and the Sea of Cortez, bike rentals, and visits to a local rancho. At the ranch, children learn how to milk goats and make tortillas. On boat trips, they study the local fish and practice the catch-and-release method, keeping only what they will eat that night.
Maria and Rafael, along with most of their four trained guides, have taken a 200-hour course from the Ministry of Tourism to become certified nature guides. So on a mountain hike, their clients learn about the flora and fauna, and at the mountain village of San Javier, they discover its people’s history and culture.
In further efforts to support tourism and the environment, Maria and Rafael have volunteered considerable time and energy to civic initiatives. In 2011, they served on the local committee that earned the title of Pueblo Magico for Loreto, making it one of about 85 towns in all of Mexico with this honor. The designation helps preserve Loreto’s beauty, culture and history and attract federal government funding to promote tourism. And they work with the non-profit Eco-Alianza to educate residents and visitors about the environment.
Born in Mexico City to a Montessori teacher and an accountant, Rafael has teaching and organizational skill in his blood. And drive. As a youth he competed in water polo at the state level and earned a place on Mexico’s national swim team when he was fourteen years old. His schedule was rigorous: 5:30 a.m. swim practice; 7:20 school; 4:00-6:00 p.m. swim practice; 6:00-7:30 water polo. He ate dinner and did homework in the car. No time for TV or friends. So when someone embezzled the government’s fund for sending the national swim team to the internationals, he was flooded with a sense of relief. He never swam competitively again. In high school he played basketball just for the fun of it. Then, inspired by his lawyer uncle, he studied law at the university.
For ten years after graduation, Rafael worked for a U.S.-Italian firm in Mexico City, mostly in real-estate law. In 2007 he was also studying for a post-graduate degree in electronic-transaction law when the Loreto Bay Company discovered him. When its headhunter offered him a position handling legal matters related to Mexican law, his mentor at the law firm said, “Take it! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If it doesn’t work out, come back.”
He took it. In the next two and a half years, he negotiated development issues with the government and managed contracts with developers and construction crews. About this period in his life, Rafael says, “I had three months of glory with Loreto Bay Company. Then the problems began. I earned a Master’s degree in resolving problems. Name a legal problem, we had it: labor, patent, commercial, criminal, contract, corporate, environmental….”
And he was back on a tight schedule. Supervising six Mexican legal firms and living where he worked meant that meetings began each day at 7:00 a.m. and ended at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Rafael slept for only a few hours a night with a Mexican cellphone and a U.S. cellphone on his chest. Since his work was in the field, he was unaware of what was happening in the company’s sales and finance offices. So in the summer of 2009 when the news came that the company had just collapsed, it was a shock. And once again, he felt a rush of relief. To beat the gossip, he hurried home to tell Maria that he had been fired.
Her response: “Thank God!”
When Maria was growing up in Mexico City, her family called her “the business girl.” She seemed destined for the label, with a mother in sales and a father in marketing for Reader’s Digest. In high school Maria played volleyball and soccer and loved Indonesian dance. In 1994 she graduated from the university with a degree in marketing. In 1995, in a stroke of good timing, she encountered Rafael at a friend’s vacation home in Cuernavaca at a moment when they both happened to be unattached. On October 14, 2000, they were married.
Before her children were born—Fiona in 2004 and Rafael in 2006—Maria had spent ten years building a successful marketing career. At Flavors and Fragrances, she worked with the elite “odor evaluators,” managing contracts with Colgate, Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever among others. At Tupperware, she developed products and managed licensing agreements for Disney, Barbie, Hello Kitty, Nickelodeon, the NFL and the NBA. And at Grupo Ruz, the largest Mexican firm for licensed products, including its ubiquitous baseball caps and backpacks, she was the marketing manager for all products.
When she left behind her high-powered life in Mexico City to accompany Rafael to Loreto, Maria fell in love with her new home. Living in a rented house in Nopoló with two young children, she embraced the life of full-time mother, but not for long. In 2009 she began teaching marketing for tourism at UABCS, and within a year, she was proposing revisions to the curriculum. At the same time she was earning an online Master’s degree in tourism and politics through a Spanish university.
But teaching and studying while managing the household and coping with the reality that Rafael was seldom home was getting to be too much. And she was worried he’d have a heart attack. It was time for a change. So when he told her he’d been fired, she saw it as an opportunity. Still, there were plenty of things to be anxious about. They had the money from selling their home in Mexico City and his severance pay, half of it in inventory instead of cash—things like a van and some office furniture. But what would they eat? Where would they live? What about the children?
Rafael considered returning to Mexico City and his former law firm, but Maria said no. “Our kids were so happy here,” she says. “And we’re very outdoorsy. We had the taste of the good life in Loreto, not the traffic and life there.” The memories still stung from the years that Rafael had worked in Mexico City, commuting more than four hours a day on a route that took ten minutes to drive at midnight.
So they decided to put the money, the van and the office furniture to work: they created Vive Loreto. It was a good solution. It suited their temperaments, their passions, their life style, their business skills, and their environmental values. And it gave them time together.
They have now bought a home in Loreto Bay and are building the business. Instead of operating their own scuba and snorkeling tours, they have joined forces with Dolphin Dive in Loreto. The long-term guide there, Rafael Murillo, runs the operation; Maria manages the marketing; and Rafael handles administration. Maria has been attending scuba conventions to promote the business, and Rafael has recently completed a PADI course in Cancún to become a licensed scuba instructor. For boat tours, Rafael and Maria hire local captains but have purchased their own panga and tour boat, and they are considering offering surfing lessons on the Pacific coast.
As for the future, they’re here to stay. Maria puts their business plan simply: “We’ll keep improving what we do.”