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State of Baja California Sur: San Jose del Cabo.

State of Baja California Sur: San Jose del Cabo

Some places are hard to leave. My favorite, the village of Cabo San Lucas, on the southern tip of Baja California, is only one of the cape region's communities that beckon the traveler with an interest and beauty all their own. San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos, and La Paz are all linked with Cabo San Lucas by a paved, 150-mile loop of highway that ensures a quick and easy return to each, through an infinite variety of moods and landscapes.

The first road joining Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo was opened in 1927--a narrow, single lane clinging precariously to the hills. Along the modern coastal route, unwinding some 20 miles from Land's End, shades of that bygone era linger still, rejecting a total takeover by the tourist trade.

Here and there, a car or a pickup truck, coated with dust in lieu of paint, wearily awaits its next tour of duty alongside a dwelling aflutter with children and chickens. From tiny homesteads life is miraculously wrestled from inhospitable soil, much as it has been for generations. Cattle crop the grass by the roadside, oblivious to the clatter of paving crews. In the arc of a hairpin turn, a lone horse--or burro--defies quick death, intent only on a constant search for nourishment where none seems to be.

Above and below the highway, the gray of scrub and rock rises and falls, dipping in breathtaking contrast to the gold and turquoise of beach and sea.

Some 20 miles from Land's End, one can leave the desert temporarily and enter a mirage-world of lush tropical growth. From a small highway sign on the right, vaguely pointing with arm askew to "Santa Rosa,' the turnoff eases down a gentle slope and, flanked in brilliant green, meanders through rich farmland. All about spring prickly pear shrubs, wild grapevines, occasional blazes of bougainvillaea--and utter stillness.

Slowed to a snail's pace, windows full-down, we take great breaths of fruit-scented air. Suddenly, from nowhere --shouts and laughter. Two young boys appear alongside, pushing an enormous cart filled with mangoes and papayas. Immediately, they make a game of their chores, drag racing us along the winding road, a full barrow-length ahead of the car. Of course they "win.' And reluctantly we part when, with triumphant waves, they veer into the hacienda gateway, their loaded burden teetering precariously on the narrow path.

It is possible to blink and miss Santa Rosa. The only landmark building appears to be an ancient church, possibly dating from the mission era, though indifferently restored. A bare light bulb, hanging from a long wire over the door, signals its hookup to the 20th century.

Leaving the hamlet behind, the narrow dirt road winds through an orderly profusion of tomatoes, bananas, dates, and sugar cane. This is no desert illusion, but rather the result of the periodic trenching of a fresh-water lagoon that builds up behind a berm of sand along the shoreline and forms a natural reservoir between land and sea. The lagoon is fed by the Rio de San Jose, running underground from the mountains. And since the days of conquistador, padre, and privateer, it has spelled survival to settler and seafarer alike.

San Jose del Cabo sits on a small rise about two miles inland, heralded by a beacon of blooms running riot in every dooryard. Within the town itself, narrow, winding streets bordered by neat shops curve down to a shaded central plaza, where a steady stream of cars jockey for parking before spilling their cargoes of camera buffs into the sun-drenched melee. Here, canopied refreshment stands offer an array of small cakes, pastries, and cold drinks. For sale nearby--displayed from the back of a pickup truck--mounted game fish stare out with glassy eyes. On the steps of the municipal hall, a child with the face of a modern Madonna cradles a sleeping baby almost half her size. In open doorways, shoppers chatter and argue, fingering merchandise ablaze with color.

Here is the hub of a modern community that, Janus-like, still looks over its shoulder into the past.

The Casa de Cultura, to one side of the plaza, houses as part of its library collection the comprehensive History of Lower California. The History was written by the respected historian Pablo Martinez, a native son of San Jose del Cabo and one in whom the local residents take great pride. Nearby is the theater complex, where folk dances, crafts, and tableaux keep alive the rich cultural traditions of the region.

Brooding over all is the cathedral, which dominates the square. Completed in 1940, it commemorates the founding of the first Jesuit mission on the cape, by Father Nicolas Tamaral, at San Jose del Cabo in 1730. On the morning of October 3, 1734, Pericu Indian rebels seized Father Tamaral, dragged him outside, and cut off his head. Above the main door of the cathedral, a mosaic depicts his martyrdom.

As we once again rejoin the highway above the town and head north toward La Paz, it suddenly becomes clear why laughter always lightens suffering in this strange and fascinating land. Every roadside has its cast of stand-up comics in cactus costume, saluting the traveler as he passes, with an endless repertoire of poses in motionless mime. The furry teddy bear of the cholla, the lumbering trunks of the elephant cactus, the towering saguaro, and--most amusing of all-- the sinuous boojum tree, twisting in multiple-jointed acrobatics. It is impossible to remain heavy-hearted for long on the roads of Baja California.

Photo: Up-to-date facilities and amenities like bathing beaches (right) have lessened the pristine sense of isolation that still pervades Baja California. Tourism, boosted greatly by paved highways, has become a mainstay of the local economy.

Photo: The harbors of Baja once provided refuge on the last leg of the grueling Manila-to-Acapulco run. Today yachts have replaced the imperial galleons.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:all across Mexico
Author:Harrison, Tina
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1987
Previous Article:The quality of mercy.
Next Article:State of Yucatan: Chichen Itza.

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