Aug 8, 2013

Santa Rosalia and Magical San Ignacio

It is not down in any map,
True places never are.
Herman Melville 

Cueva de la Cuesta del Palmarito - Cave Paintings
From dry desert to lush oasis overlooking old volcano
Santa Rosalia hasn’t changed much, still a blue collar mining town backed up by some government jobs (Santa Rosalia is Muleje’s county seat).  Last year we came by a couple of times and on the second occasion we found some businesses closed down, only 6-8 weeks later.  This time around, things seem to be booming.  A lot of construction, renovation (the library is getting a facelift), expansion (one of the grocery stores is doubling in size), addition (a new grocery store) and clean up is going on.  Not sure where the money or support is coming from for all of it but it is certainly very nice to see this happening.  A new commercial pier is being built for ships to be loaded via conveyor with whatever the miners dig up.  Many English speaking people are around town managing or working on this project (Fluor Co).
We are here for internet, groceries, a couple minor fixes and clean-up the boat. We want to visit San Ignacio, a small desert oasis about one hour away for our inland fix. Then we move to Bahia LA, a safer place to weather the hurricane season which will start in about one week at this latitude…
Pelican feeding frenzy in Santa Rosalia harbor
Boat in background used to belong to Howard Hughes
from 1952 to 1972...  She is 85' long and is named Destiny
This time around, we anchor in the harbor before docking the boat at the marina while we are in San Ignacio.  There are tales of what can come up with the anchor if you dare to do so; especially after the last couple of hurricanes washed down everything from cars to washing machines, tires to construction material.  We are lucky and the anchor comes up empty though muddy. 

Each evening we see a hundred or so pangas go out to fish.  We inquire about it for they all seem to leave at the same time and form a long line outside the bay, a technique we hadn’t yet seen in the Sea.  It makes for a pretty sight to watch all these twinkling small lights along the water after sunset.  We were told that for 2-3 months a year, they fish for squids.  Last year the squids didn’t show up so they are happy to catch whatever they can this year.  The fishermen get 4 pesos (32-35 cents) per kilo – barely enough to pay for the fuel to get there.  Wal-Mart sells the same product for 32 pesos/kilo, 8 times what they pay the poor fisherman for it…  They all stampede back just before dawn, making it difficult to sleep in.  We think many have other jobs and fish after hours but we are not certain.

We meet a gentleman (thank you Chuck) on a motor vessel who owns a car and takes Mike to get propane which is not walking distance from the marina, and another time takes us both on a 20 minute tour of Santa Rosalia.  We see the location of the old mine, the jail, the floodplains where many people live for free and have to rebuild their dwelling after each flood, the flea market, etc.  It’s interesting to see parts of town too far to access by foot.  We are thankful for his generosity. 

We wake up one morning to a loud THUNK near the mast and think something is majorly wrong only to find a stunned pelican.  It possibly didn’t see our side stays (the steel cables that go to the top of the mast to hold it down) and flew right into the ones on the starboard side.  There were many small feathers on deck but he was able to fly away.  It makes you realize the size and weight of these birds when something like that shakes you up… 
Mission in San Ignacio
Hanging colorful papeles cortados above from last week's festival 
Fortress-like building is now a museum of cave paintings where we paid
our fees before visiting Palmarito
View from one of the mesas we hiked.  Church right of heavily treed main plaza.  
We stayed where the large tree is to the right and down from the church.
Further view of mission with valley filled with palm trees as far as the eyes can see
No winds are predicted for nearly a week, a good time to head inland to visit San Ignacio, a beautiful desert oasis, only an hour away.  We have been referred to Casa Lereé by friends who stayed there last year and are happy to meet Jane, our gracious host.  She is an absolute wealth of knowledge on the history, culture, and art of this area.  She has lived here 10 years and is constantly doing research to collect the elders’ knowledge before it disappears.  She is also an avid plant person and has begun a small but very informative garden near the mission.  Each plant is carefully labeled with the Spanish, English, and Latin names.  She allows dogs and has two friendly ones of her own: Chivita and Bajamil…  No TV, no AC but otherwise all the comforts of home.  To us it seems palatial coming from a small and very warm boat.

The beauty of the lagoon
Driving for an hour through stark desert and suddenly enter a dark green oasis was an amazing surprise.  For a start, San Ignacio is home to a very old and impressive mission founded in 1728, completed in 1786, and abandoned in 1840.  It is in fair condition and is located near the main plaza where all activities take place under gigantic laurel of India trees offering needed shade.  The roof line of the mission barely peeks above these massive trees, helping locate the main plaza. 

Antique hanging on blue-purple wall
We find Casa Lereé, a colorful old hacienda from 1885.  The entryway is guarded by a large fig tree and it is in season so we pick them each time we enter or leave Casa Lereé.  What a treat!  The courtyard is filled with various plants and antiques, a very interesting territory for Nikki to explore.  Casa Lereé is lucky enough to have water running through it so there are water friendly plants as well as cacti and fruit trees.  Jane said that in the old days a few fish would be found in the water but that she hasn’t seen them for a couple of years.  In Casa Lereé you also find a library and a small store with books and various art work, jewelry and embroidery. 
Mike reading, Nikki sleeping after a good outdoor breakfast
Reading the history of San Ignacio put together by Jane, we find out many interesting tidbits:
  • Locals used to eat turtle and burro for they were plentiful.
  • Locals grew poppies for the simple beauty of their flowers.  Chinese immigrants came to San Ignacio and started harvesting poppy sap to make opium.  No one understood what was going on until a visiting legislator noticed Mr. Fong scraping the poppies and stopped that activity.
  • San Ignacio is not very far from a lagoon on the Pacific side so it is affected by the ocean’s weather.  There is sometimes fog even though we are in the desert. 
  • Local fishermen go to San Ignacio Lagoon during fishing season.  When the season is over, they dig a hole above the high tide line and bury their panga (fishing boats) in the sand for storage until the next season instead of toting it back and forth.
  • In the 1700’s there were only 100 date palms.  After floods destroyed crops of corn and wheat, farmers let the fields go fallow and now the whole valley is covered with date palms.  These dates are not of the best quality and it is getting harder to get workers to pick them so many are not being gathered.  However other farmers are introducing better varieties of dates to revamp the date market of San Ignacio.
  • We have found date bread, date pie, and heard of date empanadas.  We also found orange bread, another product from this area. 
  • Santa Rosalia was the first city to have electricity in Baja, thanks to the mine.
  • Santa Rosalia was the largest city on the Baja side thanks to its mine.  Tourism eventually took that away and other cities are now larger.
  • In 1925 Santa Rosalia was the site of the first strike in Mexico.  Miners united.  About a decade before that some miners complained of wages.  This was dealt with by the execution of many of them; then asking if anyone else wanted to complain…  None of the other 7000 miners came forward. 
Water running through Casa Leree's backyard
Old wooden horse next to large laurel of India tree
In the middle of Casa Lereé’s yard there is a huge laurel of India filled with small fruits/pods.  When we are inside, there are so many of them falling down, it sounds like rain on the roof.  It is very peaceful.  Doves sing and a slight breeze keeps everything cool.  We rest and eat all of our meals outdoors and we cannot tell we are in the desert at all.

Beautiful pair of teal-green doors.
Whimsical giraffe in cafe's yard.  Closed for the season...
Bright colors and interesting shapes are everywhere
We hike mesas (flat plateaus) on either side of San Ignacio to get a better view of the valley.  On the third day we hire a driver and a guide to show us the cave paintings of El Palmarito.  The drive over is interesting for the road is very rough and winds through a beautiful canyon.  Our driver, Manuel, was born in San Ignacio.  He’s another person who knows the history of the area.  He is learning to make petates, a type of mat woven from reeds.  His business is named after that.  There is only one elder left in San Ignacio who knows how to make these and he’s learning from him.  He also knows how to weave palm leaves to make roofing.  He admitted to having work at Casa Lereé as a kid 45 years ago, enjoying figs and grapes while he worked – small world.

Beautiful palm leaf roofing.  No nails or staples - all natural
On our way to the cave paintings
Our guide to the cave is nearly deaf.  Manuel decides to stay with us all the way to the cave, something he doesn’t have to do or is not paid for, to help us understand what we’ll be seeing since Fausto cannot hear our questions and his speech is quite difficult to understand as well.  We are extremely thankful to Manuel.  Fausto works cow leather.  He is wearing boots he made himself, as well as a belt, a knife holder, and his water bottle.  He raises goats and we inquire about purchasing goat cheese but his reply is that there isn’t any for sale for it is too dry and they do not produce enough at this time.

Our first view of the paintings upon arrival to the cave.  Two red deer facing each other
One the way back, we only meet one other vehicle.  With each vehicle having to go to their right to avoid hitting the other one, both get stuck in the sand wash.  We dig and lay branches along the tracks to get unstuck.  It was part of the adventure; it was a lot of fun.

Many male figures (about 15) and one female figure (upper right) with breasts showing under armpits
Many of the male figures are called sack-head for they look like they have bags over their heads.
Figure in lower row and middle is called a Cyclop with its black face surrounded by red
Upper middle, small circle is thought to be a turtle
The cave is about 150 feet long and 40 feet high with paintings about 35 feet high.  There are about 300 caves with minor or major paintings in Baja.   We are lucky to see a cave with major paintings that include animals, shamans, a turtle, a woman, deer, etc.  It is believed these paintings are 7800 years old but other pigment studies have shown some of the colors to be 9200 years old and having to be brought from about 2-3 days hike from the area.  There are various theories as to how they managed to paint these figures so high and upside down with a sloping and fragile footing.  The main one supposes that they used the 50 foot palm trees that grew in the valley to build scaffold.  They also used the 30 foot wands (ribs of dead cactus) of cardóns as handles to long paintbrushes. 

Mike on stairway.  Manuel our driver and Fausto our guide on the right.
Same people, our driver and our guide looking at the right side of the cave
There is no fair description to these paintings.  We are awed at the sheer size of them.  Only reds and blacks are used in this area unlike the ones we saw in Loreto last year.  They also used white, blue, green, orange, and yellow.   

Top figure looks like a man with black boulder over his arm/shoulder.  No one knows what it represents
Mike, Markus (Austria), Roberta (Italy), and Manuel our driver. 
 We managed to share van's cost by going with them
Return to Santa Rosalia by bus
Nikki is sleepy in her Trader Joe's travel bag

No comments:

Post a Comment

We are always happy to hear from you but at times it may take a while to get a reply - all depends if we have access to the internet.