Our flight from Guaymas across the Sea of Cortez to Santa Rosalia went smoothly. I sat behind the pilot and kept a sharp eye on the fuel gauge and the GPS. I was glad to see that the pilot wore a jacket. I’ve never trusted pilots with hairy arms – in the early 60s, Mohawk Airline pilots wore short-sleeved white shirts. I was always nervous: hairy arms are highly unprofessional. The pilot’s bifocals were also clean and his hair was trimmed. All seemed well with Aereo Calafia.
As a precaution, I took a plastic bag for any vomit that came my way; however, I didn’t need it. Why do we always expect the worst when traveling in a foreign country? We always tend to sell foreigners short. The runway in Santa Rosalia wasn’t bad at all, but the waiting room was landscape cloth strung over a framework.
Ten soldiers in desert camouflage, helmets, chin-straps, boots, M-16s and grenade launchers greeted us at the airport. Sniffer dogs stood by. Customs was an open-air table near the “waiting room.” We took a courtesy airline van into town some 25 miles away. Once in town, we checked out the tourism office (closed) and the bus station (closed). No signage announced the next bus. The word on the street had it that the next bus left at 4:00. We decided to take a taxi.
Before taking the taxi, we checked out the town. At first glance, the town appears to be derelict and decaying under a layer of rust. El Boleo, a French mining company, founded Santa Rosalia in 1884. Copper (zinc, gold, and silver) was the draw. The mine closed in 1954, and the town hit hard times. Currently, the mine is humming once again. Every man seems to wear a high-vis orange vest. Dust, construction, and money is in the air. On second glance, the town feels a bit French. Most of the two-story houses have two verandas, one above the other, running along the street-side of the houses.
Aside from the mines, the town’s centerpiece is the church constructed of 30-by-30-inch stamped metal panels. The story (and I stress the word “story” because there is some dispute) is that the church was designed by Gustave Eiffel and his architectural drawings, along those of the Eiffel Tower, were exhibited in the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Originally the panels were destined for Africa, but Charles La Forgue found the church disassembled in Belgium and brought it to Santa Rosalia in 1894. I don’t care (and certainly the town doesn’t care) if the story is true. It is a good story – never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
The trip between Santa Rosalia and San Ignacio is a series of hairpin curves and drop-offs. The buff-colored, dirt and rock landscape is pock-marked with saguaro and ocatillo cactus. It isn’t pretty in a traditional sense, but it is grand in its volcanic scope and brutality. It is the perfect place to film a Clint Eastwood western.
San Ignacio is a mission town founded in 1728 by the Jesuits. It is an oasis of sorts minus the camels. A spring-fed lake and a small river have turned the town green. Date palms tower overhead and mahogany-colored dates litter the ground. Date pie is on the menu – I just may have to try a slice.
The main attraction in San Ignacio is the church, supposedly the most-perfect mission church in Baja. The four-foot thick walls of volcanic stone do give one pause. I want to write more, but I’m out of time.
Our fellow guests at Ricardo’s (we did not have to sleep in his van) who were with the whales yesterday, spend the evening talking about the transformational experience. I’m excited. I’ve been waiting a long time for my transformation.