Thursday, August 4, 2016
Santa Rosalia: A Taste of French Colonialism
The architecture of Santa Rosalia such as this government office feels a bit like
Disneyland Main Street -- with a tropical twist
Santa Rosalia is halfway up the eastern coast of Baja
After the beautiful desolation north of Loreto, we were excited to explore the "Big City" of Santa Rosalia. There is no safe anchorage there, though, so we splurged and tied up at the Fonatur Marina.
Clouds and pelicans at the Santa Rosalia waterfront
The marina is $18US a night, but if you stay for a week you get 20% off. Amenities include electricity, water, showers, laundry, WiFi, the air conditioned "cruisers lounge (AKA the marina office)" and a swimming pool.
Count us in!
Also living at the marina is Rex the drug dog.
Rex is ready 24/7 to sniff out any suspicious boats that may arrive in the harbor.
Rex fun fact: Rex, like Shamu, is not one single german shepherd. When Rex's drug sniffing duty becomes exhausting and he needs a break, he is seamlessly changed out under the cloak of darkness with a new, identical german shepherd, who, like the new Shamu, will still go by the name Rex.
Rex may be a highly trained Mexican drug dog and killer for hire...
...but he's also a softie who loves a good belly scratch. :-)
The small pool is on the rooftop, with an ocean view
As we were smack dab in the middle of a sultry Baja summer, the pool was
the place to be in the scorching afternoons.
Emily and Oliver of s/v Alert enjoying the marina pool
Great swaths of copper, cobalt and zinc were discovered in the ground in the 1800's -- and the town of Santa Rosalia was born.
A mining company from France requested permission from the Mexican government to build a mine here, and with the financial backing of The Rothchilds, the mining began.
The French spared no expense, and shipped wood here from the Pacific Northwest, which made the colonial-style architecture possible.
Luis Pasteur street
Jean Michel Cousteau street
We heard a rumor that the mine, which still runs today, provides tours upon request.
DOUBLE count us in!
Wow. I've never been in a mine. Sounds kinda exciting and scary.
Going a couple of miles down in a real Mexican mine...
What could possibly go wrong? YES! Let's do it!
We went to the mine office and arranged for the tour, which would happen in a few days.
Interestingly, while the French long ago sold the mine back to the Mexicans, in recent years a Korean company has assumed management.
We heard that when Hurricane Odile hit here in 2014, the only fatalities were three Korean mine managers, who were swept out to sea inside their car.
When we arrived at the mine office at 9AM ready to go, they told us the tour was inexplicably cancelled. Permanently.
Me and the "visitor" mine hats at the mine office. Looks like this is as close as we
would get to going a couple of miles down in to the mine.
Ah, well...whatcha gonna do?
With the mine tour cancelled, we explored the cute little town of Santa Rosalia.
The French have long ago returned to Europe,
but their influence remains -- baguettes!
This painting on the wall of a restaurant in town has a definite political slant --
note the crazed eyes of the European invaders (also notice the famous
Los Arcos rocks of Cabo San Lucas in the background).
One major side effect of the mining is the resulting pollution. The slurry from the mine is dumped in the ocean, which has left the beaches of Santa Rosalia a dirty black.
Santa Rosalia black beach. Not exactly Kauai.
There are 3 or 4 large, well stocked grocery stores here in Santa Rosalia
This bug was actively, happily climbing around inside the sealed, packaged rice on the shelf.
Welcome to Mexico!
I met these nice Korean women in the grocery store.
Their husbands are mine managers.
They moved here from Korea only a few months ago,
so our ability to communicate was severely limited.
But an authentic smile is the international
language, is it not? :-)
There's even a small department store here in Santa Rosalia.
Instead of "Forever 21" clothing, they feature "18 forever."
Splash Ice Cream is the social center of Santa Rosalia. With it's $1.20US price for a large scoop of the cold stuff and their very powerful air conditioning, the place is packed with kids, grandparents and everyone in between until 11PM.
Seating is limited inside the popular Splash Ice Cream,
so we had to get creative with the seating with
our buddy Steve of s/v Kashmira.
During the French heyday of Santa Rosalia 100 years ago, Gustav Eiffel crafted a church back in France which was shipped to Santa Rosalia and erected here.
The steel girders inside the church designed by Eiffel
have a definite "Eiffel tower" feel
Now that's what I call really fresh tortillas! I felt bad for this woman, though.
It had to be 130 degrees inside this tortilleria.
Me in front of the "Mahatma Gandhi Public Library."
Pretty cool, huh?
We were there for primary and Jr. High graduation day, which was pretty cute.
One odd/humorous note: the piped in instrumental background music which inspired happy tears in parents watching little Julio nab his certificate was "Strangers In The Night."
There's a big gymnasium in the center of the town, and it's constantly in use. Day or night, there are basketball leagues or volleyball games, women, men, kids. Sports are clearly very important here as well as throughout Mexico.
We were shocked to see these kids doing yoga after a long basketball session.
Wow. Yoga kids. In Mexico. Who knew?
The paramedic van in Santa Rosalia was bought second hand from Manhattan Beach in SoCal. This is the case for countless buses, trucks, vans, etc. -- bought used from all over the states and shipped down here to Mexico. I loved how they left the name of the ritzy beach enclave on the van -- sort of as a status symbol, I think.
OK, this was weird:
In a small pharmacy in town, on the shelf between fruit juice
and baby formula, there was this for sale:
Professional, hospital style IV bags of D5W and .45%NS.
Over the counter.
Well. Flashback to my hospital days.
I actually considered buying one or two to keep aboard Espiritu for emergencies, but there was one minor problem: there was no tubing or IV catheters for sale, so I had little use for the IV bags and put them back on the shelf.
Welcome to Mexico!
A store in town sells a wide variety of tiaras...
...because everywhere around the world, parents love their little princesses.
There's a well stocked music store in Santa Rosalia
There's also a beautiful cultural center in town, and we checked it out.
Guitars at the cultural center...
...and art as well!
They told us about a musical jam there later that afternoon, open to the public.
We came, and I bravely picked up a guitar and joined in!
These local guys gamely let me dive in and play along with their beautiful vocal and instrumental renderings of Latin music. We played music from Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and of course -- Mexico. If you look closely, I'm the only one sweating. Thats because these guys were not only acclimatized to the heat, they are amazing musicians. What an experience!
Back in 2014 there were two marinas at Santa Rosalia, but when Hurricane
Odile blew through, the old marina was destroyed.
A sunken sailboat and the destroyed remnants of the old marina
are all that remain from Hurricane Odile
A few days later, we received a surprise e-mail -- the mine tour was back on again!
Steve and Chris looked so official and kinda handsome in their safety gear and hard hats
Chris looks down at the Auchwitz-style mine workers barracks. Well, I'm sure they
only LOOKED like Auchwitz-style barracks, and the mine workers (almost
all Mexican citizens) can come and go as they please.
Halfway through our tour, it became clear that we would not be allowed to actually enter an actual mine during our tour (let alone take a rickety elevator 2 miles deep into the earth). This tour, given free for positive PR, was all above ground.
But since it was free of charge, we couldn't really complain.
And anyway, who was I kidding? While it sounds exciting in the abstract, the idea of actually going down 2 miles into a Mexican mine in a rickety elevator is probably completely out of my league, emotionally speaking.
I am, after all, the "wimpy cruiser." :-)
The mine workers were all gracious and adorable. These guys were cooling
off the cobalt after it was melted down and poured into molds.
A miner scarecrow keeps the birds
away from sensitive areas
Another reason we decided to stay for awhile at the Marina in Santa Rosalia was we felt it was important to watch the Republican Convention, available here on YouTube. Although Chris and I are progressives, these are tumultuous times in American politics and we wanted WiFi access to watch Mr. Trump's speech live.
On the night of Trump's acceptance speech, we brought our laptop to the local coffee house and nabbed a spot in the far corner of the place. Deep inside Mexico, and definite Trump enemy territory, our mission was on the down low and super top secret. We donned our earpieces and hid behind the laptop so that none of the flow of local citizens coming and going in the coffee shop would see what we were watching.
Donald Trump's main theme is "Making America Great Again." This means to most (white) Americans, I think, going back to the halcyon days of the 1950s. Ah, the 50's -- a time when you felt safe walking the street, crime was low, and kids could climb into the back of a pick-up to drive down to the pond for some fishing.
I think it's sort of ironic that Mexico is made out to be the big boogey-man by Mr. Trump.
Because in many ways, Mexico today is alot like the America of the 1950's.
Gun ownership is low amongst the populace. Mass shootings are non-existent (except for isolated drug killings, which are rare and decreasing in number in recent years). Kids and families play and relax together in parks and in the streets until late in the evening.
Mexico: the land of little regulation, where kids can ride around carefree in
the back of pick-up trucks. Just like American in the 50's!
Anyway, we threw off the dock lines and left Santa Rosalia at 1:30 AM, a few hours after Trump's acceptance speech. There was nothing to say. Unlike Mr. Trump, Chris and I were speechless.
There was nothing left to do but pull off the dock lines and sail north into the stormy night, amidst 30 knot winds, lightning and thunder.
It just felt right.