Little Altars of Faith

by | Jun 23, 2007 | Real Time Astrology, The Wandering Astrologer | 4 comments

Sometimes we don’t know why we need to follow the impulse to go where we’re called…we just go. This is the nudge I felt toward visiting Todos Santos, Baja California. My husband wanted to take a surf trip down to Baja last year and I recalled a client of mine talking about this funky, hippy oasis in Baja a couple of years prior. She and her husband had been thinking about moving here and through astrocartography -the study a person’s natal planetary lines through place- I discouraged her to settle in Todos Santos. She didn’t. Yet my own curiosity was peaked. I found Todos Santos on the map and we constructed a trip arranged around the little town I am writing you from right now – the city’s name translates as “All Saints”.

Here we are again, a second trip in two years. We’re visiting during low season again, and from la turistas who have only visited here during high season, a quieter town. Many shops say they’re open, abierto, but don’t bother. The yoga retreats apparently take place in the spring. So do the art and wine festivals, open houses, poetry conferences and writer retreats. Organic produce, while bragged about in the town paper, is hard to come by. In fact, fresh produce has all but gone extinct. When we arrived last Monday, the weather was still mild. Now it’s getting hot, testimony to our “good” room rates. As we walk past the numerous, strangely identical mutts, they’re too dog tired to bark. A thick coat of dust covers everything. The neighborhood kids come over, splash and play, washing that dust and grime off in our hotel pool, a greasy film floating atop sea green milky water – when it’s open. Every other full day it’s closed for cleaning, of course.

And we’re happy to be here, sinking into the lazy rhythm of trips to the beach, to the town grocer, the beach of the wolves, Punta Lobos, to watch our dinner come in on boats. We’re vegetarians, all, but when we travel, we eat what the locals eat. One vegetarian teenager doesn’t want to see the gutting of the pescado and says she’ll stay in the car. Curiosity takes over, and soon she’s watching too, kicking at the sand, stealing sideways glances as the fish meets its death, a fish out of water surrendering its life for ours. We prepare the fish pan fried, with butter and lime later that day. We intend to eat it as a taco, as the countless fish taco stands have created the hankering for constant intake of fish taco. But this fish is so fresh we eat it plainly, simply.

When we drive, there are altars everywhere, shrines along the dusty single lane roads. For a country with very little means, I’m again pleasantly surprised by the artfulness of the altars, the careful attention given to the dead. In these idyllic chapel structures, the flowers always appear fresh – even the fake ones. It’s no illusion that someone comes out to the middle of nowhere, a place without a town, mile marker 54, to mindfully care for the sanctuario. Cars regularly stop at these sites, prayers are said, tributes made to loved ones lost on a dark desert highway

Yes, this is the land of the dark desert highway. The famed Hotel California exists in Todos Santos. Urban legend says the Eagles wrote Hotel California on a trip to Todos Santos, which Don Henley, when asked by a reporter if this was true, denied. Hotel California is a wee taste of hype, in a land less touched by California’s glamour than its money. The Baja relationship to gringos is one like any other international relationship – economic. The real estate is California-priced, so are the T-Bone steaks, so too other indulgences a California traveler might require. The town has one beauty salon, newly occupied since last year, but the young trend-setting proprietor looks hot and restless, hanging out on the sidewalk. She’ll join other shop owners on the corner where they gather under the shade of an umbrella to smoke and watch the gringos walk by. We’ve met scant few gringos, a few we’ve met at the hotel, or overheard talking about real estate at the restaurants.

And the real estate of the desert, what does that look like? It’s sparse, dry, but it quietly exists, too. I remind myself that this too supports life forms of which I have yet to see. The Sometimes a chinchilla or a lizard darts across the road. I’m thrilled when the occasional bright red or magenta flower emerges from the bleached landscape, usually on a cactus that looks half alive. I see this as a hopeful symbol for life. Life does survive against all odds, bloom even, in a harsh food-less, water less desert. Does the bloom of a cactus know faith? On stretches of highway, the cacti look like people in various life stages. I see the bone dry cacti as abuellos, ancient grandfathers of the desert. I imagine their personalities: wise, sturdy, withstanding. The skeletal grandfathers bear witness to the life of the desert, almost as hidden from me as life under the sea. It’s a mysterious world of spirits out here.


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  1. Maggiethecancer

    Jessica this is really an inspiring article.

  2. Pat Paquette

    I second that, and these photos are awesome!

  3. Paul Bogle

    Reading and looking at the photos really relaxed me, and made me aware of how foreign and different Baja is compared to Contra Costa County in Alta California.
    Very artful writing and a pleasure to read, Jessica.

  4. Jessica

    thanks, everyone! I haven’t had internet for several days so I was late posting your comment, Paul…

    Yes, Baja is different. Primarily desert living. It’s no man’s land in some ways, an outpost between the U.S. and Mexico, neither city-fied nor uninhabitable. This is why so many people visit this way of life…

    The photographer is Sarah Shepherd, age 11. She’s discovered the joy of photography on this trip. We’re happy Sarah’s making her debut on moonkissd….

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