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Santa Rosalía (Dec 24, 2018 - Jan 4, 2019)

Catching Up

Arriving at the first town you've seen in almost a month means catching up on things. On the communication front, there's emailing, phoning, banking, web searches, blogging, and, if you are a masochist, checking world news. Truthfully, we tend to take only a cursory look at the latter. There's also food, water and diesel to top up (which includes figuring out where to do this) and, generally, a pile of not-so-fresh clothing to deal with. As we converted Hoku Pa'a into the "good ship laundry boat" the wind kicked in, keeping us hopping to ensure items were still attached to our temporary clotheslines. One bedsheet that breezed away into the sea was quickly retrieved but, alas, no longer fresh and half-dry. In between these sorts of tasks, we enjoyed several exploratory walks around Santa Rosalía.

Grafittied wall in downtown

Lovely mural along a Santa Rosalía street

Seeing Santa Rosalía



Museum, reflecting style of many local buildings

Santa Rosalía's history over the last century is closely tied to mining. Around the time that whaling was declining (fewer whales, plus the replacement of whale oil by petroleum), copper ore was discovered permeating the surrounding hills. A french company purchased the claim in 1885 and worked out a sweet deal with the Mexican government, "...enabling the company to be exempt from customs duties and import and export tariffs on fuel until the year 1942, exempt all their employees from military and or civil service duty, and to acquire an additional claim of land that eventually totaled 2,317 square miles" (from Sea of Cortez, a Cruisers Guidebook, 2nd Ed by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer).


French Compagnie Boleo Locomotive


Steam Donkey

Mining activities nourished a boom that saw vast quantities of Pacific Northwest lumber imported to construct buildings and shore up shafts dug to extract the ore. Walking around the old areas of town, one sees similar-looking wood-framed houses with wrap-around verandas. But, not only lumber was imported - an entire church, designed by Gustave Eiffel (the Tower guy) was constructed in Paris, spent a few years in Brussels, and then was dismantled and shipped to Santa Rosalía for reassembly in 1895-1897. Its metal panels and roof have held up well, and the church is still in use today.


Melting pot

Santa Barbara Church

Sta Barbara Church by Gustave Eiffel, built in France in 1887

Inside of Sta Barbara Church

Inside church, showing metal panel construction

Stained Glass at Sta Barbara church

The copper operation encompassed not just mining the ore, but also refining and smelting it. Several piles of depleted ore and ash are scattered around town, making artificial hills devoid of plants. Old bits of equipment can be found throughout providing decorative links to the past. An immensely long covered railway runs from the waterfront refinery up to a hilltop crowned with a tall brick smokestack. We hiked through ascending levels of town and found a sidestreet that allowed us to clamber on top of the tunnel, scrambling up the last 200 metres to reach the chimney. Some sections were rather steep with little in the way of handholds on that windy day so we opted for a different route down. We never did make it to the town's museum, so can't say why the railway was needed and why the smokestack was placed where it was, but perhaps on our next visit...


The cement-covered rail tracks we followed up to the smokestack on the hill


Same smokestack as in the photo on the left.


Several mines dot this cliffside


This tunnel had about 1.5 m clearance, and we followed it in for 50 or so metres.

Seeing the mine shafts up close was easier than in more safety-conscious countries, merely involving a hike into the hills past unfenced yards with barky (but fortunately not bitey) dogs. We picked several of the half dozen or so portals to the past we came across for a closer look. Wandering inside, they varied from cavernous to claustrophobic - probably depending on the size of the ore vein they followed. Several had branch tunnels meandering off into cool darkness, and moving in deeper, the grafitti and trash diminished until one could (almost) imagine being the only person to visit for quite a long while. A dry climate had generally preserved the shafts, though we did see entrance caverns where a deluge had caved in sections of roof and created pretty mud mosaics.

Mud Mosaic Barb standing in foyer of large mine tunnel

Barb exploring the foyer of large mine tunnel

Mine tunnel with several branches

Which way is the exit?

Food, Food, Food

Bundling Exploring together with Food always seems efficient and enjoyable. Bjarne was jonesing for a burger following a month of low-meat meals and after walking through a couple of public squares we found a small 6-table place that seemed popular with the locals, doing a brisk take-out business. Our friendly young server was attentive, and the chefs working backstage must have been inspired, because the burger (decorated with avocado, pineapple, bacon, tomato, and a few jalapeno slices) was excellent. Barb had a Papa Pizza, which was a baked spud (papa is potato in Spanish) with pizza-type toppings. Piling all kinds of things onto potatoes is just one of the great culinary practices we've seen in Mexico! So, there was cheese, chorizo, pineapple and one surprise. When Barb had asked the waiter what salchicha meant she heard salsa which was confusing but she thought, OK, salsa's good. Turns out he said sausage, also good, but apparently in this case meant weiners (not really interchangeable to Barb's way of thinking).

We had read good things about the bakery that had been around since the days when the French were running the mines, and their sign modestly proclaims that they are "World Famous". We tried a fried flat pastry drizzled with syrup or coated with sugar (similar to beaver-tails at fairs, though more flaky), and a Mexican baguette, which was sweeter and more dense than its french cousin. The latter was tasty enough but we are perhaps hard to impress since we have an excellent bread chef on board. However, to make a really fair assessement we should have sampled more items.


Should we worry about this brand of rice?

No doubt the chance to watch tortilla production at Tortillería Elvis would not be a highlight for a local but these tourists thought it was fun. From a tray, the worker took individual dough balls and dropped them one at a time between two plates, which were squeezing together like cymbals in slow motion. The now-flat dough fell onto a conveyor, passed through a heated tunnel and came out nicely browned. Racks were set out underneath several large fans to cool the tortillas quickly that were going to be stacked and sold later. We got ones hot off the press and found ourselves gobbling them down before we even got back to the boat.

Tortilleria Elvis Description Description

We enjoy browsing local shops (tiendas and mercados) that carry items we don't find at home, but for major provisioning runs we prefer one-stop-shopping. Santa Rosalía has a Ley's, which is a big chain store selling all kinds of things, not just food. The only problem was the Christmas holidays had cleaned them out of Castillo rum. We didn't panic because we weren't out yet, and recalled there was a place in Bahía Concepción where we had found it for a good price. Apparently this Ley's is a fairly recent addition since a resurgence in the mining happened. We hear the town is growing.

New Year's 2019

Food is a focus for other cruisers too, and so the occupants of four boats at the dock collectively decided to dine out on New Year's Eve. We weren't sure how many venues would be open, but someone more familiar with the town made reservations at a place they knew. During our 15 minute walk through town to the restaurant we admired various Christmas-themed decorations in, on, and beside the houses. Some were just as over-the-top as in Canada: motorized reindeer, Santas with audio tracks, and inflatable Snowbodies. We didn't spot any real snowbodies. The restaurant of choice seemed more to cater to gringos with gringo wallets, but the food was tasty enough and the walls were decorated with old photos depicting earlier life in the town.


This is where 2018 is buried :-) Interesting to note that graves range from rock mounds to ornate monuments

After dinner, at around 1900h, we still had a lot of time to kill before midnight. Ice cream at Splash! seemed like a delicious dessert option, though it wasn't all that warm outside (nights had been dropping as low as 10°C). If you can't find snow in December, at least you can eat a cone. The locally-made ice cream came in about 20 flavours and was of an excellent quality.

With ice cream melting in our bellies we wandered back to the dock, where someone remembered that they still had a 2 liter bottle of eggnog in their fridge, which they wanted finished off before they returned home in a few days. This Costco Eggnog wasn't plain either - it comes pre-mixed with rum, ready to drink. Our hosts poured everyone a generous cup, sprinkled some nutmeg, and passed them around. These drinks lubricated the conversation, which was fortunate since we were now all past our usual bedtime (2100h-ish) with 3 hours still to go...

It had been pretty quiet on the streets leading up to midnight - only faint wisps of music drifting around punctuated by a few sirens. With about 10 minutes to go we started brainstorming on how to make some noise to ring in the New Year - particularly important since one couple, unable to stay awake any longer, had already retired to their boat. Fortunately, vessels are usually equipped with a good assortment of sound signalling devices: air-horns, conch shells, fog-trumpets, and bells. We grabbed our trumpet and conch from Hoku Pa'a, and the other folks grabbed their air-horns. After a quick count-down, a brief bedlam erupted. We're sure the folks on the sleepy boat heard us :-) We weren't the only ones making noise though - sporadic fireworks, horns honking, and more sirens came from various parts of Santa Rosalía. In the sky, glowing balls began sailing out over the water. There was a great deal of eggnog-fueled speculation about what we were seeing, settled by a pair of binoculars - these UFOs were paperbag-style lanterns. Welcome to 2019!

Harbour Happenings

The harbour was a haven for plenty of birds, and our 11-day stay provided us with some great viewings. Perched atop a 10 metre metal scaffold was an osprey nest that we were told had been inhabited for many seasons, and its size reflected that. This prime location overlooked the harbour, and a good fishing ground. One morning on our way to the (hot running water!) showers, one of the osprey pair had snagged a decent trevally or jack and was ripping into its breakfast while its mate called out occasionally, possibly demanding breakfast-in-bed delivery.

Osprey aerie Osprey with caught trevally perched on pole

The pelicans were very active, creating loud splashes that were sometimes startlingly close to the boat; imagine the sound of a large Christmas turkey being dropped into the water from 30 feet. Herons and egrets also stalked and strutted the docks. We were especially impressed at the tightrope skills shown by balancing on a swaying dockline while eyeing the water for movement, and then quickly darting the beak in to catch a fish, all the time hanging on despite boats surging in the strong wind.

Egret Strutting the dock

I'm the best fisher, ever!

Osprey Claws

Closeup of the osprey's claws. yikes...







We really enjoyed our stay but it was time to move on. Departure day found us scrambling to wash the Santa Rosalía dirt off the boat while we still had access to fresh water. The cold weather had deterred us the previous day but today there was sunshine, making the task almost pleasant. We were amazed to discover dust coating even vertical things. The sun, plus obvious activity aboard our vessel, brought chatty folks out of the woodwork so we were running a bit late for our planned departure. Not so late, mind you, that we couldn't fit in one more hot shower! With our fellow dock rats waving us goodbye, we headed out of the harbour for an easy downwind sail to Punta Chivato, trying to follow our friend Cheryl's advice: "my gawd people, get to warmer water!"


Looking along the run-down malecon, which workers were fixing up


Closeup of the timber structure from an earlier era


With waves like this it's not hard to see why we stayed in port as long as we did!

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