Todos Santos Pages
"Hotel Where"

 

"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." -- Eagles

"Hotel Where" by Joe Cummings
(from El Calendario de Todos Santos, copyright ©2000 Joe Cummings, reprinted with persmission)

Joe Cummings: Cabo Handbook
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As a frequent visitor to Todos Santos, Baja's headquarters of hip, I often wondered about the story that Don Henley, singer and drummer for The Eagles - a country rock group from southern California who became international pop stars during the 1970s, in case you somehow missed it - had in some way been involved with the town's Hotel California.

todos santos hotel california

I only stayed at the hotel once, and it was pleasant enough, like a mom-and-pop motel in rural Arizona except twice as expensive. A modest two-story box on Avenida Juárez near the tiny town plaza, the hotel contained the same sort of rustic wood-floor-and-Indian-blanket decor that came to be associated with Southwest chic during The Eagles' heyday. And it was right around the corner from the 19th-century Nuestra Señora de Pilar church, whose bell tower could be seen from the rear of the hotel.

church del pilar tower

The Henley/Eagles story was so often repeated, even in big-city U.S. newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, that it took on a life of its own. Former managers at the hotel made various claims. One said Henley had once been part owner of the inn. Another said the singer had holed up in the hotel to write the lyrics for The Eagles 1976 hit song and album of the same name, "Hotel California." They were always vague about the exact timing of Henley's visit and/or ownership. The more I heard the stories, the less they rang true. The hotel closed in 1998, so there's no one left to refute or corroborate the story.

Not too long ago I happened to find myself in the Texas Music Office, attached to the state governor's office in Austin. Knowing that the office catalogued contact details for virtually every working musician born in Texas, I asked if they might help me contact native son Don Henley. Within a few minutes I had Henley's direct fax number in Los Angeles.

Figuring it was probably a long shot, I faxed Henley a short letter explaining the Hotel California stories, and asking him for comment. To my surprise I received a fax back the very next day, signed by Don Henley himself, in which he stated that "neither myself nor anyone in the Eagles has ever had any association, either business or pleasure, with the Hotel California in Todos Santos." He went on to say that he had heard the stories about the hotel and his supposed involvement, and that he considered it a total fiction dreamt up to capitalize on The Eagles' massive hit song and album of the same name. The following day Henley's manager Irving Azoff followed up with yet another fax basically stating the same thing, that there was no relationship between Henley and the hotel; The Eagles and the hotel; or the song and the hotel.

don henley fax
click image for larger view (81k)

So perhaps it's time to bury the myth. Certainly anyone who listens to the lyrics of The Eagles' famous song will note it has nothing whatsoever to do with any hotel in Mexico or anywhere else, but is rather an allegorical statement about 1970s Los Angeles.

Todos Santos has plenty of appeal without the apocryphal Hotel California tale. Most of the tourists who come to see the hotel are day trippers anyway, stopping off in Todos Santos only long enough to snap a photo in front of the hotel and walk twice around the block, perhaps buy a Cabo San Lucas-made Hotel California T-shirt before getting back on the tour bus for a return to Cabo. Their money stays in Cabo, and Todos Santos gets nothing.

Unless it's all a cover-up. Unless Henley really did take a dusty second-floor room, circa 1974, looking out on the cantina across the street. He waits till the town falls asleep, picks up a Mexican guitar he bought from a souvenir stand, strums a few chords. Scribbles words down in a school notebook belonging to the manager's daughter, who comes home only on weekends, when there are no classes at the Universidad de La Paz.

Late one Saturday evening the power goes out, drenching the hotel in darkness just as he's halfway up the stairs. She appears in the stairwell with a candle, and leads him back to his room. Next morning at sunrise, while her father and everyone else in the Hotel California sleeps, they unlatch the back door and walk toward the beach. He hears the mission bell, and thinks this could be heaven or this could be hell.

 

Todos Santos is located on the Tropic of Cancer in the southern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico just one hour
north of Cabo San Lucas and one hour south of La Paz. Long known as a cultural, artistic and agricultural center, the
town is a desert oasis, 1 kilometer from the Pacific Ocean at the foothills of the Sierra de La Laguna mountains. Since
the mid 1980's, the area has become a tourist / retirement destination and home to numerous art galleries, artists,
fine restaurants, elegant hotels, unique vacation rentals and local festivals.

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last update: April 28, 2007