An array of bowls from Baja Woods Cookware at the Ranchero Festival. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Tradition. That is what El Mercado Ranchero in Todos Santos is selling.
For the last four years, ranchers and artisans have gathered in front of the store on Calle Morelos to celebrate their culture, share with locals and expats what they have made, and demonstrate their crafts. It started with 12 artisans, and included 48 this year.
Fresh meat is grilled during the festival in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Much of what is sold in the ranchero store comes from people living in the surrounding mountains of Todos Santos and over in La Paz. One never knows what might be on the shelves. Pottery is often there, as are skulls from bulls. People like to paint them or display them in some decorative form. Food includes cheeses, honey, butter and organic eggs. All from the ranches, not mass produced in some factory.
At the street festival Doña Mari demonstrated how to make a sugar cane candy that resembled taffy; a process that is 100 years old. The concoction was spread on what looked like a slab of granite. Then she took the substance and began working it on a wooden knob resembling a hook on a coat rack. This kneading of sorts thickened the candy and changed the color to a light brown.
Knives are like art; each is unique. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Across the way was a man heating coals in order to turn metal into knives. The blades as well as the handles are works of art; so are the sheaths. They are often a regular item at the store.
Furniture and food were for sale, as well as pottery. Marcos Agúndez, who doesn’t use a wheel for his pottery, but instead crafts it by hand, sold out of his goods in the first 20 minutes.
Baja Woods Cookware in La Paz makes items out of neems, pine, hibiscus and mesquite. With each being one of a kind, those who dawdled in their decision-making lost out to more decisive shoppers.
While the festival is once a year, the store is open year round.
Shells line the beach at Punta Chivato for as far as the eye can see. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Isolated, tranquil, welcoming and devoid of native Mexicans is what Punta Chivato is all about.
Located on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur, Mulegé is to the south and Santa Rosalía to the north. It’s about eight hours from Todos Santos. For the expats who call Punta Chivato home it’s paradise.
Normally the water is calm enough to kayak, with fishing another popular pastime. Garages are built tall to fit people’s boats.
Commercial fishing is not allowed in the bay there, known as Bahía Santa Inés. In high seas the week before Christmas three commercial shrimp boats were in the bay. Even though a Mexican navy vessel anchored nearby, it did not give chase to the boats when they headed out toward Punta Concepción. Had the boats gone north, they would have been near San Marcos Island, where gypsum is mined.
A tower of seafood at Palapa la Abuela, a restaurant on the south side of Santa Rosalía. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The lights of Punta Concepción are visible at night from Punta Chivato. It’s located at the tip of Bahía Concepción. Mostly, though, the sky is so incredibly dark in this part of Baja that the stars are the main attraction. Looking up is a reminder of how we are a tiny speck in this galaxy.
In the daylight it is seashells that will capture one’s attention. Scattered as far as the eye could see are shells of various sizes and colors.
Moon’s “Baja” guidebook says, “Punta Chivato has built up as an American housing community over the past few decades with residences ranging from modest structures to million-dollar beach mansions.”
This isn’t the only place in Baja (or the world) where people from the United States have made their own community. Turning off Highway 1 travelers first drive through Palo Verde. It’s clearly a poor Mexican village with not much in the way of amenities. A school and tiny market are visible.
Plenty of sand exists on the beach at Punta Chivato; it’s not all shells. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The expat community of Punta Chivato is 16 kilometers (about 10 miles) from Palo Verde down a dirt road. The two, like so many areas, are linked by the gringos hiring the locals to do various jobs, and the gringos giving back in charitable ways.
Roughly a couple hundred people call Punta Chivato home, though a fraction live there year round. Together they’ve built a community center, which hosts events and acts as a gathering spot for the expats. A kitchen allows for food to be made there. A housing area within the town has a pool for residents, which can be a nice change from the salt water.
Making it easy to get to Punta Chivato is the private dirt runway; assuming one has a private plane or friends who fly. This can be more convenient than driving the peninsula or flying into Loreto, the closest commercial airport.
The sunset from The Rooftop in Cabo San Lucas is stunning. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Sometimes you have to splurge. That’s what going to The Rooftop in Cabo San Lucas was all about. Oh, and the view.
It’s the iconic arch that Cabo is known for that is the big draw. The rugged rocks protrude from the coast like a border of sorts. Which they are. At the point is where the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean meet. It’s magical to watch the sunset from here as that big globe settles behind the mountains of rocks. Soon the lights of Cabo begin to twinkle and the whole area looks more like a little city than a beach oasis.
The outside bar overlooks the Sea of Cortez, which at times can look more like the Pacific at this location. Waves were big enough people were surfing below.
In 2018, Condé Nast Traveler named The Rooftop one of the 10 best rooftop bars in the world. It sits on the sixth floor, which is the top floor, of The Cape hotel. The hotel opened in summer 2015.
The Sixth Floor is one of several specialty cocktails on the drink menu. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The vibe is young and hip; we definitely were in the minority that night with our group of six ranging in age from 50s to 80s. It didn’t stop us from enjoying the people watching as well as the natural scenery.
A disc jockey was spinning tunes at a level that allowed for conversations. Mixologists were working their magic in a circular bar about a third of the way in from the front entrance. Walking in there is a Champagne station with multiple choices; all served by the glass.
Various seating areas line the perimeter, with Plexiglas in place to not obstruct the expansive views. Farther back are cushy seats that open to the hills behind town. It’s designed so nearly everyone has a view.
The bill came to $133 for six cocktails and four bottles of water. Specialty cocktails come with a price like one would find in the U.S., ranging from $13 to $17. Even so, based on flavor I can recommend the Sixth Floor ($16) – whiskey, yuzu, lemon, mint and raspberry syrup.
Reservations are encouraged if you want to eat or be guaranteed a table. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Marilyn, from left, Pat and Judy point to where we should go. No one knew for sure. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Some of the best adventures are misadventures.
“I’ve seen this before.” We all said it more than once. We were wrong each time. Another U-turn.
Our destination was Marco the pottery guy who lives and works in the mountains near Todos Santos. Two of the four of us had been there before. They were our driver and navigator. Our directions were to make all lefts except the one right at the sign. We never saw a sign. We never saw Marco. We all should take an orienteering class.
Arroyos look the same after a while. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It didn’t matter. It turned out to be an incredibly fun day driving around the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. It was a bit disconcerting that one dirt road looked like another, as did other markers like buildings, retaining walls and the flora. Everything looked different and the same.
We asked more than one person we stumbled upon to direct us to Marco. No luck. Some had no idea who he was, some tried to help. These are ranchers who live in the mountains. Cow bells alerted us to the livestock not far off the road. Other times we slowed down to let them move along.
The meaning of a saddle hanging in the middle of what seems like nowhere remains a mystery. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I never felt truly lost, though it was alarming that the two in the front seats thought they saw the Sea of Cortez when it was the Pacific Ocean. When they first said this I thought they were joking because I knew we hadn’t traversed across the mountains, we hadn’t gone that far east. The fact they were this disoriented meant they thought we were going north when we were going south and vice versa.
These two were also the fluent Spanish speakers – adding more intrigue to the sojourn.
With an eye on the gas gauge, it was time to ask how best to get back to the highway. We made it – just not the way we came in.
A couple ranchers help direct the gringas back to the highway. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
We had worked up an appetite, so off to lunch we went at Hierbabuena in Pescadero. A bottle of wine was necessary to toast to a fun day, even though our original intent got thwarted.
After lunch we decided to head to the ranchero store in Todos Santos to see if any of Marco’s work was for sale. Nope. All gone. We also learned Marco wasn’t at home that day so it really didn’t matter that we never found him. We were told we could come back the second Saturday in February for the festival at the ranchero store that would feature several local artisans. I got there too late. Marco’s work was sold-out in the first 20 minutes. I just might not be destined to own any of his pottery.
Even the old doors at a store are like art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Art was in every direction while meandering along the cobblestones of downtown San Jose del Cabo, including inside the stores.
Every Thursday during the busy season several streets in the art district are closed to vehicle traffic so people can more easily stroll through the galleries, stores, restaurants and other businesses.
Those without a shop peddle their wares along the sidewalks, with the bulk being in Plaza Mijares. (The main plaza is named after Manuel Mijares, who was a war hero.)
One doesn’t have to know much about a specific art form to appreciate the work. There is something for everyone – from photography to painting, jewelry, baskets, sculpture, blown glass and so much more.
The art walk is Thursdays in downtown San Jose del Cabo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
An advantage to an evening like this is often being able to meet the maker of the art. This is an opportunity to delve into the backstory of a piece of art, to understand better how an idea became reality, and the work involved to create it. Photographer Bruce Herman had an array of photographs for sale on the far side of the plaza away from the church. An incredible shot of a baby Baja turtle captured several people’s attention. Asked if he had more turtles, he said he stopped shooting when he got the best one. So, no, would be the short answer. It’s stunning.
The concept of this walk is the brainchild of the 12-member Gallery District Association. It started more than a decade ago.
Allowing only pedestrian traffic on several streets gives it a more intimate feel.
It’s not just the art galleries that are eager to have people visit. All the shops throw open their doors, benefiting from the people sauntering by. Often musicians are playing, with traditional Mexican dancers known to put on a show as well. Restaurants are crowded. It would be wise to have a reservation on Thursdays.
A woman surrounded by traditional Mexican fabric goods looks down on the streets of San Jose. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The world’s largest salt plant is in Guerrero Negro, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Salt isn’t just for seasoning food. It has about 14,000 industrial uses – including making detergents with chlorine compounds, deicers for roads, soluble cutting oil, latex, and paper products.
The 8.5 million tons of salt that comes from the plant in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico, is mostly used by Mitsubishi, which owns 49 percent of the company. The Mexican government owns 51 percent of ESSA. The odd thing about this arrangement is that the minority shareholder is the largest client.
Micro-organisms naturally turn the salt ponds a rose color. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It is the largest salt making facility in the world, having started in the 1950s by a private individual. It covers 86,500 acres of land. Nine percent of the world’s salt comes from the plant. Most of this salt is for industrial purposes.
Jorge, who leads tours of the facility, said part of the area was natural salt flats before it became industrialized. Daily, 27,000 tons of salt are harvested. This takes a workforce of about 1,500 people.
This pile of washed salt is about 500,000 tons. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Water from the Pacific Ocean is pumped into the various ponds to a depth of more than 1½ feet. About 700 million tons of water is used each year. Some of the ponds look as though they’ve been dyed a rose extract. In truth, the coloring is from a single-cell organism known as halobacteria.
The air and sun combine to evaporate the water. Left behind is the salt. Standing in a dry pond ready to be cleared of salt it is like being in a field of snow. The bright sun made glasses and sunscreen necessary. Chunks of the salt were like small blocks of ice, only not cold. Some resembled rock salt that could be used in a homemade ice cream maker.
Salt is scooped from a pond into a truck where it is then taken to a washing area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
In an operation that resembles clearing roads of snow, a grader sucks up the salt to deposit it into a massive truck with three storage compartments. From there it is taken to the washing facility. Conveyor belts deliver the cleaned product to a large mound that eventually ends up on a boat headed to Japan.
While in some respects the salt business is a natural occurrence, on the other hand it is an environmental nightmare. The operation is now located in a United Nation’s biosphere reserve. This area of the Pacific Ocean is where whales give birth and birds call the region home, along with other species. However, on a tour last year, birds were non-existent on the 72 ponds.
An array of pianos are on display at the Museo de la Musica in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If only all that ivory could tell stories. What sweet music did they once play? Was it mostly love songs, classics, jazz or something edgy? Whose fingers caressed them?
It takes a bit of imagination to think of these relics as something more than dusty pianos in a pseudo museum in the middle of Baja California Sur. In the literal sense, that is what they are – old pianos on display for 20 pesos (about $1) in the town of El Triunfo at the Museo de la Musica. But what were they like in their heyday?
There was a time when El Triunfo was a bustling mining town of more than 10,000 people. (Today there is just more than 300.) Music in the 1800s, like today, was a way to unwind after the work was done. Some of the pianos date back to then. The building is also from the 19th century. Europeans and Asians came here to work, some trying to get rich in the silver mines. They brought their culture, which included their music and instruments.
An array of instruments beyond the pianos is a lesser part of the museum display. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Museo de la Musica, which opened in December 2003, has an organ, horn and string instruments, and old records to complement the pianos.
One display says in English, “Monarck piano: Manufactured in 1880, appertaining to Verdugo family. This piano was kept (covered and hidden) by fear to the revolutionary army that was in a war from 1910. Stayed hidden along five years, and later was rescued and gotten ready to play again.”
A Wagner from 1937, a Steinway from 1857, a Wurlitzer – are all part of the display. The latter was donated by Carmen Romano de Lopez Portillo, first lady of Mexico from 1976-82.
A Cuadrilongo Steinway from 1857 is part of the collection in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Some pianos are simple, some more elaborate. With a little care, the wood could shine again. Fully restored, a single piano could be worth six figures in U.S. dollars. Most keys need some attention. Undoubtedly they all need tuning. While it’s understandable the public is asked not to touch these artifacts, a little attention might bring them back to life. More information would be helpful to understand their history.
Next to the display room is a concert hall of sorts with a grand piano on a stage three steps up from the main floor that is filled with folding chairs set for an audience. The museum on occasion hosts concerts. No schedule was available.
So much potential exists to make this museum a destination instead of an afterthought, especially with it being on the main road through town.
Note: This story has been updated since it was first published on Jan. 4, 2019.
The mining museum in El Triunfo is a treasure worth exploring. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Driving through El Triunfo it’s hard to believe this was once the largest town in Baja California Sur. Today there are about 300 residents. In its heyday in the late 1800s there were more than 10,000 miners. They came from the United States, Europe and China to strike it rich in the gold and silver mines.
Like so many mines of yesteryear, when the work was gone, so were the people. (The town was first settled in the 1500s.)
A series of mines once dotted the landscape. Today the major visible remnants of the past are the two smokestacks.
Mine carts from the 1800s. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
For the past few years there has been a concerted effort to bring the history of El Triunfo to life. It started with a private-public partnership to restore the nearly 155-foot-tall smokestack known as La Romana, while the other brick edifice is called Julia. While people claimed La Romana was designed by Gustav Eiffel, that has since been proved false. A sign near the base has been erected to help erase the myth. In part it says, “… there is no record of this structure in the Eiffel archives in France.”
The Museo Ruta de Plata (Silver Route Museum) that opened in November 2018 tells the story of this pueblo from 1750-1930. Interactive displays, oral stories by local residents, photographs, and stagnant artifacts spill forth in what becomes an interesting history lesson. Information is in Spanish and English.
The smokestacks in El Triunfo are stable after being restored. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Watching the short film (also available in both languages) is a good launching point for the main exhibit hall that is across the grounds.
The demise of mining in Baja California Sur is in part tied to the United States. The passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890 saw the price of silver go from $1.16 per ounce to 69 cents. The legislation was eventually repealed in 1893. By that time, though, the effects were felt in Mexico, too.
The mining museum opened in 2018. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Mexican miners also had to contend with other economic travails, devastating hurricanes, and the remote location of their spoils. Most mines in the Baja California Sur area had closed by 1920.
Since the museum opened, a trail to the smokestack and other remains has been created. It’s a fairly easy walk, with good signage. Informative panels in Spanish and English explain more history not contained at the museum. “The chimney was designed to achieve high temperatures for the wood fires used to process silver and gold, and to disperse toxic smoke away from the valley’s inhabitants to reduce public health risks.”
No inscriptions are on the tombs at the English cemetery in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A tour of one of the mines is available, though a minimum of four people is required. This is arranged by calling the number on the sign outside the locked gate and waiting 10 minutes. With only two of us there that day, we didn’t get to go inside. We did keep walking the path that led to a wonderful view of the smokestacks and town. Headed in the other direction is the English cemetery, with large above ground structures and no markings to know who rests there. Chinese and Mexican graveyards are on the other side of town.
While mining may seem to be in the past, the resurrection of mines and exploration of new ones continues in Baja Sur. Mexico City-based Invecture Group with Vancouver, British Columbia-based Frontera Mining Company owns the Los Cardones open-pit gold mine near Todos Santos. The project has been in and out of the court system because of its environmental documents. Many locals are opposed to the project, fearing what it will do to the landscape, the flora and fauna in the sensitive and protected biosphere of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains, and the eventual impact to the town’s water supply that originates in those mountains.
Map of El Triunfo (Image: Google Maps)
From Todos Santos, take Highway 19 toward La Paz. Take Highway 1 toward El Triunfo. (It’s well marked.) The highway goes through town. The museum is on Calle Ayuntamiento.
Closed Tuesdays. Open 10am-5pm.
Cost: non-residents 100 pesos, BCS residents 75 pesos. Annual memberships available and other pricing based on age.