Missions and minerals – Loreto, Mulege and Santa Rosalia

In my previous two posts I mentioned the towns of Loreto, Mulegé and Santa Rosalía but, deliberately, didn’t go into any detail about them because I felt they warranted a specifically dedicated post. So, here we go.

The three towns are situated in the northern half of the Mexican State of Baja California Sur and [as well as La Paz in the southern part of the Baja] are the principal provisioning stops for cruisers in the western Sea of Cortez. Having said that, you won’t be able to stock up much in “specialist” goods – though there is a rather excellent deli [called “Dali”] in Loreto which carries quite a lot of food imported from the US and where we found lamb and duck and, even more amazingly, a decent cheddar style cheese. It might sound a bit strange that a decent cheese takes on more significance than osso buco or duck breast but being a cheese lover, believe me, finding good cheddar in Mexico is a cause for celebration.

All three towns have at least one supermarket as well as smaller tiendas and “Panaderias” [Bakeries] – this one in Mulegé being quite famous for its French bread.

Panaderia Boleo, Loreto

Panaderia El Boleo – the French Bakery, Loreto

Unfortunately, I think the Baguette is a seasonal thing in Loreto – and we were there out of season, but their bread rolls were good and not sweet. I mention flavour because a lot of Mexican bread has quite a lot of sugar in it and therefore a bit too sweet for my taste.

But, I didn’t set aside these towns from my previous posts to talk about food – I did it because of their interesting historical significance and their attraction as places to visit.

Loreto and Mulegé have a long history in the settlement of the Baja Peninsula – and north into [US] California.

Missionaries from Spain started arriving in the area in C16…

P1070748…. but didn’t really start to settle until the late C17. On a very auspicious date in 1697…

P1070745…. i.e 25th October – my birthday [not in 1697 obviously!], the Jesuit priest Juan María Salvatierra landed at Loreto, with a boat load of men to establish a settlement and the first mission of the Californias.

Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto

Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto

Now, when I say a boat load of men, don’t get too carried away with your thinking as this was the boat.

P1070760 (3)However, a settlement was established, the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto was built and a centre for church, government and military activities was developed. Twenty three further Jesuit “misións” followed….

P1070749…and it was in Loreto that the Franciscan monk, Junipero Serra – who you last heard about in one of my earlier blogs when I wrote of our stop in [Mexican] San Blas – landed before sailing on to San Diego.

Because of the scarcity of imported materials and the lack of skilled labourers, the Misíon buildings are quite simple in style both inside….

Inside Loreto Mission

Interior – Loreto Mission

….and out.

Santa Rosalia Mission, Mulege

Santa Rosalia Mission, Mulege

Whilst Loreto’s mission is in the centre of the town, the surviving one in Mulegé was built in 1705 on a slight hillside outside of town. The original mission, built in the Arroyo, was swept away in 1700 by flooding.

Mulegé is noted as the “oasis” town of the region, surrounded by date palms….P1080052

…..and we remarked that it was the only flowing river we have seen in those parts of the Baja we have visited.

The missionaries made full use of the fresh water supply from the river and built a small dam for irrigation purposes.

P1080056 (2)Unfortunately the dam has done nothing to stop the flood waters. The road bridge and the area surrounding the town most recently suffered severe damage during Tropical Storms/Hurricanes John, Jimena, Paul and Odile in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2014 respectively.

Fortunately the town itself escaped the worst of the water damage though buildings were battered by high winds. Even so, many of the older buildings have survived, such as this residence….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….a number of small businesses including this “Taqueria”, where we enjoyed a nice cold beer,……

P1080060…and, most notably, the building we think was built as a centre for education for the military [plantel literally translates as “clique”].

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the area closest to the sea which took the brunt of the storms – and the shape and depth of the estuary mouth have changed many times.

Looking up the estuary towards the town, Mulege

Looking up the estuary towards the town, Mulege

Now non navigable to most vessels [including dinghies!] it is hard to believe that Mulegé even had a harbour and that, in 1719, was the site of the first shipyard in Baja California.

Looking north from the lighthouse, Mulege

Looking north from the lighthouse, Mulege

Mulegé’s other claim to fame [as well as its famous Misíon] came about because of that harbour. During the Mexican-American war U.S. marines and sailors fought against the Mexican militia up and down this coastal part of the Baja. On 2nd October 1847 the Battle of Mulegé followed an American attack on the harbour. Whether the U.S. forces left because they considered they had taught the locals a hard lesson or whether they retreated seems to depend on which side you were on at the time! However, Mulegé was never occupied by the Americans and the “victory” galvanised the Mexicans. As a tribute to the undefeated town “Heroica” was added to its name – as displayed on the town portal.

P1080058But, I seem to have gone off track slightly as I haven’t actually finished talking about the missions. So, I need to go back to Loreto and the museum there where we first learnt about the impact the various missionaries [and other Spanish settlers] had on the indigenous population.

P1070754 (2)In the 80 years of Jesuit missionary work 90% of the local Indian people died of recurrent epidemics of European diseases e.g. smallpox and from endemic syphilis which increased child mortality and decreased the birth rate. Whilst their deaths contributed to the demise of the missions it was the Spanish Government who withdrew the Jesuit clergy because they were thought to have become too rich and powerful! They were replaced by Franciscans, and then Dominicans both of whom consolidated congregations and therefore closed several of the mission buildings. Finally, following Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Baja became a federal territory and the governor put an end to the mission system by turning them into parish churches.

However, some good came from the mission system. Some small industries were established which remain today e.g. the “Trapiche” whereby sugar cane was made into molasses and also sweets called “Piloncillo” or “Panocha de Gajo”.

P1070752 (2)The peeled sugar cane was dropped into the centre of the mill, turned by a mule. The liquid sugar fell into a container made from cow-skin and was then transferred to and cooked in copper kettles to the required consistency. Pieces of orange were added for flavour after which it was cooled in mesquite wood moulds.

Systematic cultivation of fruits and vegetables was also introduced and the Rancher way of life developed – a “typical” ranch dwelling being depicted within the museum…

P1070755Mango trees still proliferate inside the Loreto mission museum courtyard and, in season, their fruits are free to all visitors. We took four lovely fresh juicy ones away with us.P1070758 (2)

With regard to museums we also visited the prison museum in Mulegé…..

P1080063….which operated on an “open prison” basis for about half of its inmates – those in the outer cells not considered too mad or bad. They worked as local labourers during the day, returned to the prison at night and sent their earnings home to their families. The territorial prison opened in 1907 and operated until 1974 when the inmates were moved to a new, larger facility north of Mulegé. Given my work background I was fascinated to learn that Mexico had open prisons and that on occasions, whilst not able to drink or dance, they were allowed to attend Dances and watch from the sidelines!!

The lives of those unfortunates in the inner cells was very different. No privacy, water torture and small cells shared by up to four increasingly “mad” souls. In the museum there was not much in the way of prison artefacts – probably because there was very little in the actual prison itself other than a cot and blanket per inmate – so some of the cells had been filled with bits and pieces of old carts, some ancient typewriters and a few tools. Very bizarre – and the “star” of the show is this satellite – which fell to earth and landed in the prison!!!!

P1080065 (2)We had hoped to also visit the museum in Santa Rosalía – but “Odile” put a stop to that as the “Museo Historico Minero” lost its roof. Odile caused a great deal of damage all along the waterfront. What was Marina Santa Rosalía is now a single twisted frame with what might once have been a nice two mast boat leaning drunkenly alongside. In fact the whole of the harbour, except for the SW corner where the ferry docks and where Marina Fonutur survived, is pretty much a mess.

P1080117It is possible to walk out on the harbour wall and see the remains of piers and docks. At the north side of the harbour is …. well I am really not quite sure what……..

P1080119 (2)….. and I am even less sure where the rider of this cycle has gone!…..

P1080116Santa Rosalía’s roots are very different from those of Loreto and Mulegé. It is rather confusing that it is called Santa Rosalía because the river of the same name is the one at Mulegé and the Mulegé mission was Santa Rosalía. However, Santa Rosalía it is and was founded and built in 1884 by the French Copper mining company “El Boleo”. The mining company built wooden houses for its workers……











….and the building style is also reflected in the town hall…..

P1080102 (2)…and the Workers Union Offices.

P1080100The name of the library came as a bit of a surprise….

P1080091…and it was very interesting to find that the church was designed by Gustav Eiffel.

P1080093It is made of steel and was acquired in Belgium by the manager of the mining company, shipped to Santa Rosalía on the company sailboat “San Juan” and dedicated to Santa Barbara, the patron saint of miners. The church was enlarged to meet the growing population and the walls modified. It looks as though some of the original exterior walls now make up the ceiling of the extension.

P1080095However, attractive street planning and nice architecture does not, in itself, make for “the good life”. Frequent explosions, lung disease, cholera, yellow fever, TB etc claimed the lives of hundreds. Fresh water was in short supply and wages were low.

The Boleo Company owned and ran the mine from 1885 until 1954 when it ceased production. However, to prevent the economic collapse of Santa Rosalía and surrounding communities, a Mexican state-owned company assumed control and reopened the works using basically the same [rather archaic] equipment and process used by the French.

P1080111The operation was never really profitable, and the mine was closed again in the 1980s, when lower-grade ore and old technology made continued operation impractical.

A Canadian firm began intermittent exploration of the El Boleo mine in 2010 and subsequently, in partnership with a Korean Consortium has recommenced work in the area, but has developed new sites leaving the old workings now in complete disrepair.P1080104

My friend and past work colleague Paul [Holt] came to mind when I saw this….P1080108

….and he might be pleased to know that the town celebrates its heritage with a rather better model.

P1080089For visitors wanting evening entertainment we saw a band performing in Loreto [it was actually part of a fishing tournament prize giving]…..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

….and we strolled along the Malecón in Santa Rosalía.

Overlooking the harbour at dusk, Santa Rosalia

Overlooking the harbour at dusk, Santa Rosalia

There are a couple of decent restaurants in Mulegé and a very nice ice cream parlour in Santa Rosalía but our favourite town for eating and drinking was Loreto where there was a home brew pub…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mike very much enjoyed the “Tombstone” and the “Rattlesnake” – but didn’t get round to trying the El Bandito

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext door to “1697” was an excellent restaurant – “Mi Gourmet”. Prior to enjoying Fish Fillet Vera Cruz [Mike] and King Prawn wrapped in bacon [Me] we shared a starter of the local Chocolate Clams baked with Mozzarella.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name comes from the colour of their shells. They were delicious though Mike actually preferred the raw clam – eaten like an oyster and washed down with tequila.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough this would be a good place to finish I feel I need to say something about the anchoring/berthing at these three towns.

Mulegé is an open roadstead and, if you remember from earlier, there isn’t really anywhere to take or land a dinghy. The town itself is also a good 20-30 minute walk down the estuary. We didn’t take the boat there. We took a bus from Santa Rosalía and spent two nights in a nice small hotel.

Loreto is also an open roadstead but during calm weather several boats anchor outside the small fishing harbour. We spent three comfortable nights. If you don’t like roadstead anchoring or the weather is against you then just 14 miles to the south is the almost totally enclosed anchorage of Puerto Escondido – a good hurricane hole where you can also rent mooring balls from the marina – which only has about 4 actual berths.

At Santa Rosalía is the small Fonatur marina with berths for about a dozen yachts and all the same facilities as the other Fonaturs.

There are fuel docks at Puerto Escondido and Santa Rosalía and, in an emergency, fuel could be jerry canned from Loreto or Mulegé.

Fuel dock and naval vessel, Santa Rosalia

Fuel dock and naval vessel, Santa Rosalia

Apologies if this post has seemed to jump around but it is just the way the writing went. I never really know when I start to write how it is going to work. But, I hope you got at least a taste of the three great little towns which we are really glad we visited.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2016/08/16/missions-and-minerals-loreto-mulege-and-santa-rosalia/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.