By Linda Kelly
When my cousin Roberto Jones first visited Huatulco with his father and younger brother in 1974, they drove by Jeep from Puerto Escondido, where the family had had a summer house since 1962. The drive from PE to Pochutla, on a new highway, took only about an hour and 45 minutes. The drive from Pochutla to Huatulco – on a dusty, hilly, bumpy, rough mountain trail – took seven hours.
Roberto’s father, Bobby Jones, had discovered Puerto Escondido in the early 1960s and had a regular group of American and Oaxacan friends who’d fly their private planes to the landing strip in PE and stay in the trailer park that bordered the “airport.” The group would make their way to Huatulco for the excellent sports fishing and SCUBA diving.
The first trip was one of discovery – the Joneses had not come prepared for the primitive conditions they found in Huatulco – no electricity, no water source, no lodging. On subsequent trips to cruise the pristine bays and beaches, and to SCUBA dive in the clear waters, they brought all the provisions they’d need, including their own tanks, compressor, and generator.
As their visits became more frequent in the mid-1970s, the families of the local fishermen lent the men their palapas for camping and prepared delicious meals from the day’s catch of fish, lobsters, and oysters, supplemented in the evenings with venison and armadillo, abundant on the coast.
On one of the last SCUBA trips to Huatulco, Roberto’s family explored Tangolunda Bay and were surprised to find a ranching family living there, in the isolated bay so far from the small settlement at Santa Cruz. The self-sufficient family had fresh water from the nearby river, were able to grow all the fruits and vegetables they needed, hunted for deer, and fished in the bay.
Bobby Jones saw the enormous potential for development of Oaxaca’s Pacific coastline and was keenly aware of the lack of services. Fiestas in PE meant warm beer, as there was no source of ice and no electricity for refrigeration. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Bobby Jones built an ice and water factory in Puerto Escondido and began selling to the local fishermen and businesses in Pochutla and Puerto Angel. He had the vision that this area would eventually become a seaside tourist haven.
In the early years, before the Mexican government expropriated the lands around Santa Cruz in 1984 and began to develop Bahias de Huatulco, Mr. Jones’ ice business served the local communities, including a thriving turtle meat vendor called La Piosa in Puerto Angel that needed the ice to keep the harvested meats cold and fresh. This was in the era before sea turtle protections were enacted by the Federal government (in 1991), and turtle meat was a staple to the locals.
Around 1982, then Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid visited the Huatulco area via yacht with one of the owners of the Camino Real hotel chain, Eugenio Martínez Ostos, who had a home in the Tangolunda Bay area. Shortly thereafter, the government expropriated the lands around Santa Cruz and began developing the master plan for a centrally planned tourist community called Bahías de Huatulco through the government’s tourism development arm, FONATUR (El Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo).
Meanwhile, Roberto went to university in Mexico City and studied to be a CPA. He then decided to enter the hospitality industry and did a one-year apprenticeship with Hoteles Posadas de Mexico at the Hotel Fiesta Americana Los Angeles Lopez near Manzanillo. When Roberto learned of the FONATUR development in Huatulco, he became interested in returning to the area. He was pursuing a few opportunities with the resort hotels just starting plans to build in Huatulco, when his younger brother Eduardo, who ran the ice and water company in PE started by their father Bobby, called to suggest that Roberto join him and set up a business in Huatulco. Eduardo had been delivering ice and water to Huatulco for the past few years, making the drive each week from PE, and he’d already been in conversations with FONATUR representatives about building an ice factory to serve Huatulco’s development. In 1985, FONATUR agreed to sell the Jones brothers the land needed to build an ice factory, but it would be five long years before they provided a water source consistent and pure enough for ice production. Nevertheless, Roberto persisted and thus began the seeds of Agua Vital in Huatulco.
His incredible story continued. It was now 1988, and the Huatulco airport had been completed, yet there still were only a handful of hotels and no real apartments or lodging for those involved in Huatulco’s development. The first hotel in the area, Posada Binniguenda, became the default home to the early investors and developers in Huatulco – the architects, engineers, the director of FONATUR, the director of the Santa Cruz marina, and the head of the golf course all lived in Posada Binniguenda when in Huatulco (yes, the hotel is in the same location today). Roberto had no interest in living there, and luckily, a very good friend from university, who was the controller of the newly-opened Sheraton, was living in Huatulco with her husband. Roberto lived with Andrea and her husband for four nights each week then returned to PE for the weekends.
In 1990 FONATUR developed the area’s eight wells near the Rio Copalita, and Agua Vital finally obtained its Huatulco water source. When Agua Vital production first began in Huatulco, the operation consisted of one delivery truck and one driver, who delivered water and ice to the early hotels and restaurants during the week; Roberto worked the weekends. Often, he’d be out at the restaurants and discotheques – La Crema (originally in Chahue), Magic Circus, and Medio Carlos y Charley were the first – until 2 am, return to his apartment, shower and head out to begin loading the truck for deliveries.
Despite the superior water from the Rio Copalita that Agua Vital – and all of Huatulco – enjoys, Agua Vital maintains a strict ten-step water purification process.
1. Untreated well water arrives at the factory.
2. The water is chlorinated to eliminate contamination.
3. Fine sand filtration removes suspended contaminants.
4. Carbon filtration eliminates toxins, remaining chlorine; removes residual taste and color from chlorination.
5. Water softening removes minerals and other components that create “hard water.”
6. Purifying filtration removes residual suspended particles.
7. Filtration by reverse osmosis eliminates micro-organisms.
8. The water is sterilized with ultraviolet light.
9. Ozone treatment eliminates any remaining bacteria, improves shelf life and storage time.
10. The water is bottled and hermetically sealed to guarantee purity.
Agua Vital now has a fleet of 35 delivery vehicles, 28 for water and 7 for ice. Agua Vital has taken over the ice factories in Pochutla and in Puerto Angel, but competition in the ice and water industry remains stiff. Roberto attributes much of his success to his personal and hands-on approach to service and management. This vigilance and attention to detail has served the business well. As one might say in Mexico, “Camaron que se duerme, se lo lleva el corriente!” (The shrimp that sleeps, is taken by the current!)