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In the early 1970s, my late grandfather, an artist and retired San Diego State art professor, took me camping to a beautiful and remote setting along Baja’s northwest coast. While exploring the peninsula’s back roads, he and a colleague had discovered a hundred-yard-long sandy cove at San Juan de las Pulgas, with glowing sunsets, a rocky point for fishing, and solitude that stretched for 15 miles, from a promontory to the south all the way up to the lonely lighthouse at Punta San José. It became known to us and our camping companions as simply Pulgas, “fleas” in Spanish.

Over the next 20 years, occasionally seeking refuge from urban San Diego, I introduced various friends to this peaceful, desolate place. Though it is only some 50 miles south of Ensenada, first-time visitors would have a hard time finding it unguided, and parts of the dirt road leading in from the highway could present challenges even to vehicles with four-wheel drive.

In the early ’90s I married and started a family, and though I did not return for over a decade, there was always a comforting feeling that Pulgas remained, untouched and unknown, apart from the few ranchers, farmers, and fishermen who made their living in the area.

In the spring of 2005, I persuaded my family to join me in journeying to this destination once again, setting out in a small pickup with our Chesapeake Bay retriever riding in the truck’s bed. Although the cove is only 150 miles south of San Diego, the trip can easily end up taking six or seven hours, slowed particularly once you turn off Mexico’s Transpeninsular Highway, 30 miles south of Ensenada, onto an inconspicuous dirt road behind the pueblo of Santo Tomás.

The rains that winter five years ago had been heavy — about 15 inches — and the hills along the 20-mile pastoral route from Santo Tomás to the coast were rich with wildflowers. While enjoying that scenery, I soon learned to watch the road because, unlike what I’d encountered in the past, enormous trucks would appear from either direction at high speed, kicking up great clouds of choking dust. By the time we passed under the portal of a wooden sign reading “Rancho San Juan de las Pulgas” and looked out upon the Pacific, dusk was approaching and several miles of the most difficult terrain remained.

Before we had gone much farther, however, we faced something new: the road down the coast to Pulgas was completely fenced off. A guard was posted at a gate as trucks came and went to a giant construction project that had now come into view to the south (this explained the big rigs). We were told that no one was allowed to enter this area, but with the late hour and an anxious family looking on, I somehow persuaded someone to let us proceed — a cold cerveza might have been offered — assuring him we were merely passing through to reach our old campsite a few miles beyond.

We were instructed to follow a large truck and did so. As we passed the site, we could see that something extraordinary was being undertaken here. There in this pristine, obscure location we could see the foundations and walls of massive buildings that were going up. While disheartening to my sense of isolation of Pulgas, I thought that as large as it was, this development might not be visible from our cove a few kilometers to the south, due to the contour of the coast and the project’s location slightly inland from, though overlooking, the sea.

It was now dark, and with headlights on we crept toward the next landmark in my recollection, the simple, rustic ranch house of Señor Morales, a friend of my grandfather’s. His home was situated a few hundred yards back from the ocean, just before the road wound sharply down around the side of a steep arroyo and crossed a creek before climbing up again. With relief I spotted a lighted house where I remembered Señor Morales’s abode to be. As we came closer, however, I was startled to see an immaculate, modern-looking home, something one might find in a suburban American neighborhood.

I got out of our truck and approached the house to greet its occupants and to get advice on the condition of the road before descending into the arroyo. Looking through the windows of the brightly lit home, once again I saw something strange. Several stations of what appeared to be sophisticated computer drafting equipment filled the front rooms. With stars shimmering overhead and waves crashing nearby, I called out into the darkness, “Buenas noches.”

I had surprised the occupants, and one of several inside came outside wanting to know what we were doing there. He spoke in English but had an accent that sounded German. He appeared middle-aged, with brownish hair, and he obviously was very disturbed by our presence. We were on private property, he said, and would have to leave at once. I explained that we were trying to reach our longtime campsite a short distance ahead. Hoping to put him at ease, I called to my wife, who speaks German, to converse with him. Although he spoke with her, he did not seem at all interested in doing so. Another accented Northern European man appeared from the house for a moment but then went back inside. The first fellow’s German sounded a bit strange to my wife, and from his vague responses during our conversation I understood his nationality to be successively German, Swedish, and finally Danish.

The encounter had now reached a level of bizarreness unrivaled in my decades of Baja camping. One of the beauties of travel in remote lower California had always been the humanity and warmth one finds among the Mexicans in rural areas. We were encountering a coldness, detachment, and almost hostility at the site of the former home of my grandfather’s friend, the amiable Señor Morales. Further, they weren’t Mexicans but Scandinavians — evidently doing high-tech engineering work in a modern-looking home in Baja’s coastal wilderness.

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David Dodd Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:24 p.m.

Mexico's lack of interest in or suspicion of the compound should not surprise anyone familiar with Mexican government. Are the people running the compound, "bad guys"? No, not in the classic sense, they don't seem to be interested in killing people or running drugs. Are they a threat to the National security of Mexico? Not likely. Do they contribute anything? Certainly. People are being paid, from the land owners to the security guards to the local stores.

No one in Mexico is going to care much about getting to the bottom of the activities there.

The best part of this story is the interaction with the locals. Mexico is a rumor mill. It thrives on rumor. All of these locals with their various ideas of what goes on in that compound! And none of them care a hoot about finding out the truth about it. Speculation is more fun.

I will speculate that Tvind has no influence in Mexico. The reason that the guard didn't take you up on your offer for a cold beer was the cameras. If you want to find out what the guard knows about the complex, go drinking with him after work. But he probably won't know much. He probably doesn't care, he would rather speculate.

But that, in a nutshell, is the real beauty of Mexico.


Tighelander Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:51 p.m.

One point this story misses is that San Diego also has these "Donation Boxes". They are red and go by the name of "USAgain". I checked these out a few years ago when they spouted around town, and even got a small community paper to run a story.


SanDiegoParrothead Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:56 p.m.

Cool article.

Looked for it on Google maps but couldn't find it (I did find Santo Tomas and Punta San Jose)

Is it down by Rancho Boca de San Jose?

Can you provide a google map link?


michaelo May 18, 2012 @ 11:57 a.m.

Here's a short link to a google satellite map view http://bit.ly/L5hyR9


mariannamaver Feb. 3, 2010 @ 8:59 p.m.

Thank you for writing this article! It's a rare account of firsthand experience with the Teacher's Group in Mexico -- and gives us further insight into the Puglas compound!

In 1984, I was hired as on as a staff teacher at a school for wards of the State of Virginia operated by the Teacher's Group (they mostly recruited and "indoctrinated" volunteers, but two of us were hired because the State required teachers to have degrees from American colleges -- we had no idea...in fact were mislead, about what the group was "all about." )-- One of the "perks" promised us as employees was the promise of travel to Mexico in the winter and Denmark in the summer... by the time myself and the other teacher showed up to work, there'd been trouble at the school-- a young student had been raped by a group of older students while the TG staff was distracted with TG work -- the State pulled their travel priviledges ... however, when the TG traveled to Mexico, they had gone to Baja, so their roots there go back at least to 1983.

You certainly described the "attitude" of TG members to a "t!" Cold, perfunctory, emotionless, pragmatic, and probably exhausted -- this is one of the cult-like aspects of the group... fun and enjoyment are not values in TG philosophy... hard, driven, serious work, 24/7, devotion and commitment to the (nebulous) cause of the group is the value...

Thanks, also for mentioning Tvind Alert, owned and operated by British Journalist Michael Durham and Danish journalist Frede Jakobsen. The two, with backing from a group of other volunteers, have been very determined in keeping the story of Tvind in the publc eye, internationally, for at least 10 years, now, via their website, www.tvindalert.com .

And I agree with Tighelander -- don't put your clothes in those USAgain clothing collection boxes... you're just feeding the wealth of this strange cult...they don't need any more money... give your used clothing to a legitimate non-profit that will put the proceeds to some good.


redundant Feb. 4, 2010 @ 4:49 p.m.

Mike: sorry about your lost campsite. I have friends living in the area who have met Pedersen there, he gave them left over building material. They say to know someone, look at their enemies. because his charities help people by starting business, hiring people, and training them to run them, he has stepped on the toes of many powerful 3rd world exploiters ,They tied him up in court for three years on false charges, then as he is leaving they have "new evidence"??? Be serious! as to the demeanor of the members; If you were being hounded by paid shills everywhere you went , cool and watchful is not unreasonable. I would probably be paranoid. Keep searching, the facts of this mans life are amazing.


JulioS Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:06 p.m.

Well, over here in Sweden they are certainly not well thought of, in fact, they are considered to be a sect and have received a whole lot of crap over the years. But they are still very active and they purportedly seem to target youths who want to do good. The weekly newspaper Zeta did a story on them highlighting the legal status of Mogens Amdi Petersen which is accused of tax evasion. The story does a neat historical background on just the legal status of Pedersen.


JulioS Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:09 p.m.

Those interested in the Zeta article can turn to the following link.


John_Walsh Jan. 2, 2011 @ 5:05 p.m.

Sounds to me as if Tvind ala Pederson figured out to,/ how to, erect a funnel and a bucket under the $billions of foreign aid that most U.S. taxpayers think only far enough about to complain.

Good for him for thinking past the problem into a resolution and taking action on it.

As to why, how and what the Tvind's do and why they would be stand-off-ish, one has only to try to get something going these days to see that unless you are protective of your organization, others will pick it to pieces.

Not to defend what they do (because I have no idea what it is)but to possibly shine a little light on the reasoning.

P.S. How do you like my photo and the great job I am doing as Secretary of Labor?


boxcarro Jan. 7, 2011 @ 6:18 a.m.

I lived in Mexico. & in San Diego, In Mexico I lived in a CASA, for $100.00US Dlls, in San Diego I slept under bridges, in alleys, and was often JAILED for being Homeless.

I see from the Comments, only 2 People really "SEE" the light. But I looked at the Fancy Buildings in Baja, A Shameful Exebition of Worldly Evil.

The help any one gives to the POOR is a Blessed Thing.

America is a Filthy Whited Secpular. The HOMELESS are treated WORSE in USA than ANY OTHER DEVELOUPED NATION in the WORLD.

Very SOON America will find out, what it is, to have NO RIGHTS, ANYMORE, AT ALL.


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