This is really two stories in one. The first, our road trip; the second, the Jesuit missions and baja.
Our three day road trip began in the city of peace (La Paz) in a Fox Rentals, late model VW Jetta. Unfortunately, for me, this Jetta is far from a performance vehicle; once again, handicapped by an automatic transmission. Side trips, in addition to the city of Loreto included Mulege, Puerto Escondido and my first attempt at visiting the San Javier mission high up in the mountains.
I chose the word attempted on account of a certain back seat driver. For almost three months, I have not driven, on account of our present full time cruising status; and the almost 1500 miles separating us from our USA vehicles. Suddenly, thanks to Fox Rentals, I am driving again!
And now that I am so thankful, I might as well be thankful, for gradual old age. With older age, comes a diminishing return on ones short and long term memory. For Patti and I – this is a plus, as we both tend to be “the cup is always half-way full sort of people.
Two days following our road trip, I still clearly hear me saying that she (Patti) is now fully “banned for life” from all present and future road trips! Period. No exceptions. Except for where I chose not to be the designated driver.
May long term memory prevail! As of today, one full day after the event; I am still quite certain that I would prefer a root canal, by an untrained Mexican vet, than endure another kilometer of back seat driving.
Not the usual back seat driver sort of comments like, when to speed up, change lanes or a preferred course to take – those comments I can easily take. What I’m referring to is this full-on and well seasoned version of back seat driving.
“Your speed is now creeping (progressively louder) up there; no, no, no, (still louder) no, don’t p a s s now !!!!!! The worse – feet rapidly stomping on the passenger floor mats, and (yet louder) but now threatening voice, while simulating jumping out of the car; and while the vehicle is in full motion. And, if you don’t already know, some of the best drivers trained me; i.e. federal,state and military services, though many moons ago now, muscle memory rarely forgets. You have your evasive, your protection detail, your high speed persuit, and your other wordly driving techniques.
On the road to the San Javier mission; (certainly not the Camino Real of Roads) a herd of goats suddenly and without much warning bolts across! These goats progressively increase in size, with the full-on Billy leader leading the rear charge. The sheep herder, not a man as expected but, a lone sheep herding dog about the size of a small lab or large chiguagua.
In her defense, I also acknowledge that, after the last paved water crossing, the paved part of the road suddenly gives way to dirt. Not just any kind of dirt but, dusty, gritty sandy dessert type dirt. In addition to the dirt road, a hair pin turn also suddenly appears, jutting almost straight up the side of this mountain.
But, as I easily gave in by suddenly turning around, with half a car length, on either side of the road, before the sudden drop off. A mile away we now see a full size van loaded with what apears to be paying tourists, a toyota pickup pulling an empty horse or burro trailer, and a smallish clown car. Small car as in the kind driven by Shriners during parades.
All these vehicles coming our way at about the same time, I once again attempt to turn around. I say to myself and the back seat driver, now sitting next to me.
“If a clown car can make it, then so shall we?” Apparently not in her back seat driving kind of world.
At some point in our drive after Loreto she s l o w l y gets the message; and begins to settle down; a 60 km per hour turn now becomes a 120+ km turn. Still, some back seat driving, but, less and less as the miles slowly wear her down.
Seriously, I can easily take gripping of the car seats, panicky shifting of her rear end or excessive grabbing and holding onto car parts. Anything, so long as I don’t have to endure a running commentary on speed or when not to pass.
For some reason some people in Mexico still believe that Alto means Stop; and also that the actual speed posted is the real speed limit. And I might as well add that she believes, that the only thing that has saved us so far, is her holding onto the car door as tight as possible.
And if we are ever found in the wreckage of a terrible accident in Baja; please note, that if she had held onto the car door tighter, then this wreck would probably, never have happened.
The term Camino Real (Royal Road) refers”El Camino De Las Misiones” or The Mission Road system stretches for more than 3,000 miles up baja and what used to be Mexico. This road system stretches from where we are now (Loreto) to what was once called upper California. The first of these missions – Loreto – was built in 1697. The original road system incorporated what possibly once started out as animal game trails or indiginous roads.
Camino Real refers to a the “real roads” roads built and repaired with the kings approval. These were the roads considered safer and most preferred by travelers vs any other side roads. Just who traveled these roads; try the natives, Spaniards, Hondurans, Germans, Italians, Croatians, Scotsman and even Portuguese.
Today, names associated with past missions include cities now standing in California such as San Juan de Capistrano, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and San Francisco.
Armed only with their faith in god and a dedication to a life of selfless servittude Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscan, monks and priests, carved out what we experience today. Using the available floura, fauna and natives population as a resource; the dessert we see today whizzing by, dare I say at a whopping 120+ km is still a hostile environment, not quite easily suited or adapted for human existence. Very much a virgin land, with Mexico’s highway 1, at about as wide as a new US mall parking lot stall. Barely wide enough to accomodate a full size semi-truck and always lacking in any shoulders.
Imagine the early challenges of these missionaries? Trying to train a somewhat hostile work force in the ways of a new government that included a new religion, civil, military and economic factors that make cities go. And as a side note, the mission in San Jose de Cabo was established in 1730. And, it also once served as a U.S. fort during the Mexican American war (that most here tend to believe – never really happened).
The mission in La Paz was founded in 1720 and due to the constant hostility of the local natives was abandoned in 1748. The La Paz cathedral whose clock is now once again working was built in 1861.
Guess what was the number one reason for a mission failing?
Lack of self sufficiency and epidemics of the native populations top the list; add to that native population attacks and/or natural disasters such as hurricanes.
Although he only stayed one year here the bay of California forever carries his name, the Sea of Cortes. The Spanish rule of Mexico began in 1521 and ended in 1821. The conquest of baja, unlike the mainland Mexico came from the Catholic church and not the military.
Conquering baja took almost a full 170 years; much longer than on the mainland.
And that my friends, is our first baja road trip adventure.