Tales From the Road – “Don’t Know Much About History”

Hola a La Bahia de Concepcion!

Prez and I can be a little backwards, sometimes, where touristy things are concerned. For example; one of the highlights of Mulege is the beautiful old mission, third oldest in Baja, that people flock to see. We were here four years before we even thought to go see it. And it isn’t hard to get to, doesn’t cost anything to view, so there really was no excuse. In fact, the idea to go see it didn’t even occur to me until after a couple of wine coolers, shared with Martha Roney, in town. “Hey, let’s go check out the mission!” I declared, and off we went.

Wow!

The mission, by its lonesome, is pretty cool – built by the Jesuits in 1705 – but it was the view, out back, that made us wonder why we’d waited so long to go there. Built on a hill, the back of the mission overlooks the date-palm tree strewn Mulege River. Honestly, I had no clue there were so many palms in Mulege before I looked out from this viewpoint. Some days you can be treated to an all-natural bird show extraordinaire! Frigate Birds, which resemble tiny pterodactyls, come to the river to bathe and drink. What a spectacle it is to watch these acrobatic flyers circling high above the river (but at your eye level at the view point), then swoop headlong to the water below, pulling up at the last possible moment to skim the surface. Their heads scoop water across their gleaming black backs and they do a wild wiggle as they fly away. Magnificent!

Of course, now we tell every newcomer that they simply must go see the mission, just as so many people had told us before. I’m not sure to what I should attribute our lack of interest in such an important piece of local history. Perhaps it’s our lack of interest in history in general? To us, for many years, Baja was ALL about the water. If we weren’t fishing, we were jet skiing, or diving, or just doing something, anything, that involved being near the water.

Being boatless, and depressed by the rapidly declining fish stocks in the Sea of Cortez, Prez and I have sought out more land based activities in Baja. How surprised (pleasantly, I must add) we have been to discover the secrets of the desert, the town, and the people of Baja.

The canyon we stayed to hike at San Basilio with the Fullpots, last week, is a classic example. The majority of the hike was just to get to the start of the canyon – but that’s OK, the view of the bay from the high hills was worth the climb. The actual canyon began in the usual Baja way – lots of cool rocks, and cactus – but was accentuated by the oft-mentioned verdantness (no, that is not a real word). In places, the desert arroyo could have been mistaken for a tropical jungle, the plants and vines were that green and thick. But, as we continued, greenery was pushed out to make way for the GIANT boulders deposited here and there by a once-raging flow of water. If you have ever wondered what a river looks like beneath the water, all you need to do is hike a canyon in Baja.

Tighter and tighter, the walls of the canyon closed in around us, creating a shadow world of an otherwise sunny day. Then, like stumbling upon a secret and ancient city, the slim gap opened into a wide bowl, the end of the canyon. The canyon walls rose up 80 feet or more and, right smack in the center, was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life…a fig tree.

A fig tree? You might ask. Yes, but not just any fig tree. This tree, perched quite precariously at the top of the canyon, has sent out an army of roots to collect water from the bowl we were standing in. These roots were at least five times bigger than the tree itself, and they snaked down the wall, and dangled from the overhang. Words, and not even photos I’m afraid, can do this tree justice. Once again, nature defies human description. (But I will attach a photo anyway, cheeky girl that I am).

It’s funny to think that we’ve camped at San Basilio for eight seasons and have only just discovered this incredible canyon. Makes you wonder what else is out there right under our noses?

Speaking of which, much like the mission, the Mulege museum is a local favorite I only just visited this year. Now, we’re not talking about the Museum of Natural History or anything near that scale, but I was impressed by tiny Mulege’s display of history. The museum is located in the old prison. What’s interesting about this prison is that it was somewhat voluntary. The prisoners were brought to Mulege by boat and left at the prison. Each morning, prisoners were let out of their cells to go work at the local farms or to do other jobs, and each evening at 6pm a conch shell was blown to signal them all to return to their cells– which they did. You may think this sounds strange but consider this: where were they going to run to? The desert is not exactly a forgiving environment and the peninsula was only sparsely populated at that time.

The prison, alone, is neat to see (although, I’m sure it was not so “neat” to be an inmate in one of those teeny cells with no light and only a stone floor to sleep on), but there are also lots of artifacts to look at. The oddest display at the museum, and the most talked about, is “the thing that fell from the sky!” This “thing” is some sort of man made, space object that fell from orbit and landed somewhere in Mulege a few years ago. There is much speculation, but no one really knows what it is. In the museum, it resides in a rusty wheelbarrow, in the courtyard, with no description attached. It is spherical, hollow, and big enough for me to fit inside. There are no identifying markings but you can tell where the object began to burn as it hit the atmosphere. Weird. (Cue the Twilight Zone music).

Touring the museum and reading all the little information sheets (I am such a sucker for any kind of brochure, plaque, descriptive writings, etc), I began to think about history. How important is it? Why do some people value it highly while others could care less? At what point does the old shovel some guy tosses out become a “historical artifact”? Could this laptop someday be sitting in a museum with a spoiled, blonde tourist looking at it and thinking, wow, they were so primitive!

I like history in a Trivial Pursuit kind of way and I know it’s important to learn lessons from the past, although I’m not sure if we (meaning ‘humans’) have learned all that much. But I also believe the past can be dangerous, can pull our focus from the present, and the future, to ages that become more and more romanticized as time goes by. How many times have I heard people say they long for the simpler times of yesteryear? Simpler? Are you kidding me? I’m not saying our lives aren’t too busy or complicated but let’s be real – go back in time and give Suzie Homemaker a microwave oven and a stack of Lean Cuisine’s and see how fast she dumps that apron in the garbage!

Take a stroll through the Mulege Museum and you will realize, very quickly, that nothing about life here, “back then”, was simple. Appreciation for the present, I do believe, is one of the best reasons for preserving history. But don’t take my word for it, next time you feel like a taco, instead of driving to Taco Bell, try growing the corn yourself, picking the cobs and separating the kernels, drying them over a wood fire, grinding them with a stone matate, mixing the ground corn with water, forming tortillas, and baking them – and that’s just the first step!!

This always happens, as I near the end of my time in Baja I start to get all philosophical ‘bout stuff. It looks like this may be Mom II & HQ’s last year here. When they go, Posada will be losing a big piece of its history. The house which now serves as the hub of the park, will be occupied by someone else, the familiar sight of HQ on the front porch like some misplaced southern gentleman, and Mom II bustling around helping twelve people at once will be replaced by…? Who knows? All our memories of them and this house will be stored in our own little museums. The rest, as they say…is history.

QUESTION: What would you put in your museum?

p.s. – OK, I’m not one to blow my own horn but I have to share this with you because…because I am JUMPING OUT OF MY SKIN!!! A short story I wrote has won second place in Writer’s Digest Magazine’s short-short story contest (I found this out yesterday via email). This is a big contest and one I never dreamed I would even place in at all, in fact I’d completely forgotten about it. Yesterday I called the magazine and was informed of what all I’d won – $1500 cash, some great books, my name in the June edition, and (the very best part) my story published in their competition anthology!! Published! I’m finally going to be published!!! Brian, the guy from the magazine, said there were over 8000 entries and some really spectacular stories. WOW!!!

I always promised myself that as soon as I was published I would drink a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Well, here I am in tiny Mulege where finding a stick of butter is often impossible, where exactly am I going to find any champagne?? Then Mom II says to me, “Oh we have a bottle! HQ got it as a gift but he doesn’t really drink it so we were just going to take it back home when we go.” Coincidence? It gets better. She also had bought a full set of champagne saucers at a local garage sale recently. “I remember thinking I didn’t know why I was buying them; we don’t even drink champagne.” Fate? So last night we celebrated with bubbly in fancy glasses – I love Baja.

Funk over. Princess happy! Life is goooooooood!!

Until the next post, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!

The (soon to be published) Princess 

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2 Responses to Tales From the Road – “Don’t Know Much About History”

  1. Glen says:

    Hey Congratulations on the publishing!!!! thats huge!!! Glad to hear Baja has been good, those are some crazy pics!
    until next time, Glen

  2. Kristene says:

    Hi Glen,Thanks so much! Yes, I am still on cloud nine – not sure when, or if, I will be coming back down. Baja was good, but it\’s good to be home, too.

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