Sea of Cortez - Mission San Javier

February 2019:

Aside from a small burst of wind at about 2:30AM, we had a quiet night in Bahia San Evaristo for the most part. Occasionally we’d wake to the boat rocking crazily and the noise of an outboard screaming past the boat – the pangüero’s check their fishing lines at all hours of the night and they don’t slow down going through the anchorage. It’s actually really disconcerting, especially on a dark night.

After a leisurely coffee on deck, we headed out to meet our friends aboard Winterlude, Laird and Glenda and their most important crew member, Quinn! They had overnighted at San Francisco and we would be meeting them in the channel to travel to Puerto Escondido together, with a quick overnight stop along the way at another small fishing village, Agua Verde. We traveled along companionably with Winterlude, a little bumpy at times as we left the channel but calming as we turned the corner into Bahia Agua Verde.

Standing sentinel at the entrance is Candelaria, a large pinnacle rock jutting out of the water with a dangerously shallow reef surrounding it. A haven for birds, it’s not so for the fish as the reef is a perfect fishing spot for the locals. The bay is wide and exposed to the prevailing north winds at this time of year, so the only protection is at the west end of the bay. There were quite a few boats already anchored and with more barely submerged reef and large underwater rocks noted on the chart, it was a stressful hour finding a safe spot to drop the hook and allow us to let out enough scope for the night.

We apologized to each other for what we said while anchoring, dropped the dinghy in the water and took a run over to the beach to stretch our legs. We walked past a few scattered huts, one of which was a restaurant. Heading inland along a dirt track found us at a small shop in the yard of a family just sitting down to dinner under a palapa. A cacophony of dogs, chickens and kids heralded our arrival and a lady with a lovely smile rushed over to usher us into the store. It was surprisingly well stocked considering it’s remoteness. Not wanting to keep her from dinner we bought a few essentials, wished her a good afternoon and made our way back to the dinghy. After a quick tour around the bay we headed back to the boat for a lovely dinner aboard Winterlude. I don’t think there’s many things that can beat a lovely dinner with friends while looking at your boat gently bobbing in crystal clear water over yonder!

We slept well with no wind or swell to worry about and were surprised there had been a light shower overnight, which had washed the salt off the decks – always a fabulous bonus! We left for our quick 3 hour run up to Puerto Escondido under cloudy skies and nary a breath of air. We hadn’t seen much of Agua Verde on our quick stopover but our guidebooks told us there was much to see and the beauty of what we had seen during our short stopover meant we’d be making our way back for an extended stay at some point in the future.

The marina at Puerto Escondido is lovely, nestled at the foot of the majestic Sierra de la Giganta mountains about 20 kms from the small city of Loreto. We got settled and checked in just in time for happy hour of course and made plans for the next few days of touring around the local area. We were renting a car with the Winderludes as there is much to see and I was looking forward especially to Loreto and the San Javier Mission.

The next morning had the five of us piling into the car for our drive through the mountains to San Javier, one of the oldest missions on the Baja Peninsula. The road twists and turns and despite occasional herds of cattle meandering along at times, is very well kept – thankfully so, as we climbed higher and the palm trees in the oases on the valley floors below us became smaller and smaller. Rugged and hot, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to transit these mountains on the back of a burro 300 years ago.

About half way up we came across a small chapel on the side of the road. No village or town, just a chapel and a house on the other side of the road. No idea who built it or why, but it’s obviously well loved by someone as there were flowers and other offerings on the altar. How lucky for me! Bonus church!!!

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó (San Javier for short) was founded in May 1699 by Francisco Maria Piccolo, a Jesuit priest from the Loreto Mission. The Loreto site was found to be unsuitable for a settlement due to a lack of water and arable land. The local Cochimí Indians told the Jesuits about an encampment they had in a valley in the mountains, about 12 miles from the coast, and so with some Indian guides and a few soldiers, Piccolo set up camp a mile from the current mission church and promptly went about baptizing the locals. Returning in October of 1699 with more soldiers and Indian converts, work continued on the mission but it was shut down in 1701 due to Indian unrest.

The Jesuits returned in 1702 but didn’t have much success growing crops due to lack of water. In 1710 it was decided to move the mission a little further south, closer to a natural spring. Dams, aqueducts and buildings were constructed using the slave labor of the Cochimí, and by 1758 the church was completed. The most incredible olive trees are still fruiting 300 years later, the irrigation channels are still in use by the local farmers and the romantic in me wants the orange trees planted in front of the church to be the descendants of those brought from Seville three centuries ago. By 1817 the mission was deserted and the Cochimí people were extinct as a culture and a people, ravaged by the old world diseases inflicted on them by the missionaries in their quest for souls and slaves.

The church has been somewhat restored by the Mexican government and is still in use. Mass is said every Sunday and for a donation of a few pesos you can visit a small museum in the undercroft to see some beautiful relics from years past. Sadly though, there's much in the way of disrepair and the local parishioners don't have the money to support an ongoing rehabilitation program, and neither does the government in this country of a multitude of very old, very dilapidated churches. Mexico is obviously not the epicentre of the Vatican church restoration program!

TL:DR

There was a very old church in the mountains. Darrin waited patiently as Linda took 500 pictures of the church and tried to read every.single.plaque/sign/story/gravestone on the site. They ate lunch. The end.

After a lovely few hours wandering all over the mission site and the tiny village, we headed back down the mountain into the town of Loreto for lunch before going back to the marina. A nap and Happy Hour followed by dinner at the little resort restaurant across the street rounded out another wonderful day, and we were going back into Loreto in the morning to see the town before we had to prepare the boats for departure. We needed to get back to La Paz and the Winterludes were heading north to Santispac.

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