Sunday, January 31, 2010

San Antonio and El Triunfo: a fun day exploring!

When we were in La Paz last week we met a couple who told us about a hike they’d taken that sounded interesting. There are two small towns right on Mex 1 about 40 km north of here, San Antonio and El Triunfo. You’ve read about the latter in a previous post, where we toured the Music Museum that was full of ancient pianos and other instruments. It’s been one of our favorite places. San Antonio has up to now just been one of those places we drove through. As of today, it’s now one of our favorite places, at least as interesting as El Triunfo, maybe more!

There’s an old road built long before the Mex 1 highway, back during the 1800’s when the gold and silver mines were active, that connects these two towns. It runs sort of parallel to Mex 1, but a mile or two up into the hills. The distance between the towns is only 8 kilometers via the old road which is built of cobblestones for the first four kilometers, and of dirt the second half. We set out today to check it out.

We had to inquire of a local resident to find the entrance to the road, and when we found it we continued up into the hills. The cobblestone road was narrow, bumpy, and set in gorgeous terrain with occasional ranchos on the side and lots of cattle. It’s clear the road is still maintained because the edges are occasionally marked by freshly painted white rocks, and the dirt portion of the road is relatively well graded. We came across a group of 4 hikers on our way up who said they’d done the hike both ways many times but didn’t see another car or truck the entire distance. About half an hour after leaving San Antonio, we arrived in El Triunfo.

After parking the car we headed on foot slightly higher into the hills to explore the ruins of the former gold and silver mines. See the photos to get a glimpse of these mines. We met a middle-aged Mexican man accompanied by his elderly mother who took the time to tell us a lot of the history of the mines, including pointing out the walled cemetery where the English miners and their families were buried. These mines were active from the mid-1700s until the late 1800s.

We wandered back into town for lunch at El Café Triunfo, a place we stopped for coffee once, but Russett, Jim and Phebe had all recommended as a great lunch spot. Bob ordered salami pizza, and Cathryn a pulled pork sandwich. Both were absolutely outstanding, and the setting is gorgeous!

We’d planned to head home on Mex 1 from El Triunfo but because we enjoyed the trip up the rustic road so much we decided to take it back through the hills to San Antonio. While stopped to take a few pictures a local resident approached and asked if we had any questions or needed help finding anything. This chance encounter led to an interesting couple of hours. Xochitl Diaz Lecona, who tells gringos just to call her “Gypsy” (because it’s easier and is her artist name) and her sister are working hard to establish a local cultural center for the arts and history of San Antonio. While the center is closed on Sundays, she offered to open it for us and show us around. In the center there is a small clay studio as well as a gift shop that contains photos of local scenery. The town’s children make clay objects and woven baskets which are for sale. Xochitl spent more than an hour telling us about her life and the history of the town. Her family has owned a rancho in the hills for more than a hundred years, and while she has lived in Ensenada (near the Mexico-U.S. border) and several places in the U.S. much of her life, she now spends half the year in San Antonio and plans to start building a house for herself on the family ranch this spring so she can move back full-time.

She has a laptop computer that contains wonderful photos of the area taken by a photographer who died last year. She had some work done on her computer recently and all of her files ended up on several USB drives instead of her hard drive, and she doesn’t know how to transfer them back. She also owes several people emails with photos attached and hasn’t learned how to do that. We offered to meet her again tomorrow morning so Bob could show her how to do those things, or do them for her. We also suggested that the photos were so fabulous they should download them on CDs or DVDs and sell them! She doesn’t know how to do that either, but has some blank CDs and DVDs, so Bob will make a bunch and show her how to do that too. Xochitl had a 19-year-old son who was murdered in Chicago 15 years ago, but no other children. She also was an elementary school teacher in San Diego for some time and is now retired at the age of 53. She’s quite passionate about San Antonio, its’ culture and history, and her family’s life on the ranch.

Xochitl directed us to the surprisingly large local cemetery which we visited after leaving her. During its’ mining heyday, San Antonio had 10,000 residents, so the cemetery is much more populated than you’d expect given the tiny size of the current town. Inscriptions on the tombstones indicate the first people were buried there in the mid 1700s, and others as recently as the last year or two; it’s pretty lovely. Mexicans do not feel their cemeteries are at all creepy or scary, but rather wonderful places to visit and reconnect with the spirits of their loved ones.

We hope to do this trip again while Lynn and David are here, perhaps hiking the length of the old road in one direction if we can find someone to join us who will leave another car at the opposite end, or if we can figure out the local bus schedule for buses running up and down the Mex 1. What started out as a day in which we planned merely to take a short hike turned into one of our most interesting days of the trip this year.

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