Oil drilling operations in the small town of Lobitos began in the early 20th century with the establishment of Lobitos Oilfield Limited. The company quickly led to the drilling of 250 oil wells in the region.
This led to the development of an urban industrial compound made up of club houses, administrative buildings, a pier, housing developments, a church, a market, an oil treatment plant and the first cinema in South America.
It was in this place that a life of luxury could be found right in the middle of the desert, until that is, the government nationalized the camp and the army occupied the settlement. Years latter the government abandoned the facilities and Lobitos entered a downwards spiral towards total abandonment.
The last few years of the 20th century saw the worst times for Lobitos as the soldiers left in charge were reduced in number to a measly dozen. Away from their unit and under the command of a single officer some of the men spent their time systematically looting the ghost town. Entire houses began to disappear as well as buildings such as the fantastic cinema which were all sold as scrap wood or junk.
The most devastating losses came in 2008 when the grand casino, the pier, the school, and many other structures were taken down and sold for parts. Two officers, Edwin Salazar Ayla and Leonidas Dupont Perez face charges for profiting from illicit sales. These crimes could have continued if it had not been for a local petition led by the families of surfers and the fishermen’s union which reported the destruction of the place.
The history of Lobitos as a surfer’s paradise began in 1998 with the last Niño phenomenon raking in terrible showers which caused mud slides through out the North. Lobitos was one of the worst hit areas, things were so bad that the only access points were through the sea. The town’s old buildings also paid the price. But as all clouds have a silver lining the natural phenomenon only led to the creation of wide white sand beaches where perfect waves could be found. Thus, Lobitos’ fame around the surfer world began to spread and it became internationally renowned.
Among the first to settle here was Jose Antonio Sangüesa, a surfer who decided to move here in 2001. “I used to live in Nuevo Lobitos but after I realized that the wooden houses were more beautiful I rented one from the government and I moved in 2003. Everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to live like a hermit in a house with no light or running water in a state of almost complete abandon.” Jose Antonio went on to restore his home with the money given to him by his friends and build lodging for other surfers staying in the area.
Time passed and more and more people came from every corner of the world, all with the dream of riding the perfect wave. It was calculated that in 2008 2.500 tourists came to stay in Lobitos. Many followed the footsteps of Jose Antonio and rented homes from the government. In exchange for restoring them the government promised to lease them for many years. The town administrator, Lieutenant Salazar called on the dwellers and told them that if they continued to fix up the houses eventually the government would sell them the land. Many of the families living there today feel cheated by the government.
Why is it then that Lobitos pulls in the surf crowd, so much so that one of the ASP world summits was held here bringing together Sofia Mulanovich and the rest of the surfing world’s elite? Juan Carlos Rivera, president of the Neighbors Association VML explained that tourists are often marveled by the combination of factors which make Lobitos such an amazing place to visit.
First of all there are the waves. Even though the sea is cold almost all year round its geographical location makes this spot perfect for surfing no matter the season. Secondly there is the wind. Even though a strong cold wind usually blows over the beaches of Lobitos, which makes sun bathing impossible, it allows for water sports such as kite surf or windsurf. Lobitos would not be the same without this third factor which is its urban and majestic feel thank to the oil drilling history and grand old buildings. The fourth factor which has made this development possible are the people who have rented houses from the government and who have offered tourists somewhere to sleep. The development has been fueled only by the neighbors who in the course of four or five years have set up small businesses and created a tourist influx.
Rivera states that all that the neighbors of Lobitos have worked for could be put at risk. Eviction orders and the going ahead with the ProInversion project would affect 80 families directly and 500 indirectly because tourism has created a local market whose growth shouldn’t be stunted. The fishermen’s union has urged ProInversion to try and come to some arrangement but they have never been given a proper response.
After being notified of the pillaging and looting in Lobitos in October and November of last year the INC took action and had all the wooden buildings in the region declared as historic buildings. In spite of this Edwin Salazar Ayla and Leonidas Dupont Perez kept up their illicit activities.
But then why is the Ministry of Defense in such a rush to kick out all these families? Some of whom have lived in Lobitos for over 30 years. And why aren’t the complaints regarding the looting made by the dwellers and backed by the INC made public? The answer is the same as in many other cases: the wish to sell it all. The Ministry of Defense has give ProInversion the task of selling the 70 hectares of land on which the buildings are located.
Juan Carlos Rivera says that the people he represents do not wish to stop the development plan drawn up by ProInversion. They merely wish to add to that plan. If Lobitos is to become a big tourist attraction then a quaint neighborhood full of restored old homes would only add to that. They wish to save the spirit of the place and that is why they are petitioning to buy the houses they have put so much of their effort and time into. The neighbors have even presented a Recuperative Participation Plan to the INC. They stress their desire to work side by side with the INC to both better and preserve their home. If you are looking to invest in a slice of paradise then why not consider Lobitos, a surfer’s heaven on earth.