Like a single flower on a cactus, the Museo Ruta de Plata in El Triunfo, Baja California Sur is a gem in the middle of a desert. The area is truly beautiful. Mountainous, rocky but lush in its own desert way. The air is dry, warm and dusty, but carries the perfume of the plant life struggling to survive. Much like the town. There is no surfing; no kite boarding; no fishing; no marinas, no beach, really no water, since it is in the middle of a desert in the Cacachilias Mountains of the southern Baja. That really sets it apart from other tourist towns in the Californias.
Locals like to point out that they were called California long before the US state even existed, which is an amazing story unto itself. We visited on a Sunday, which is paella day at the award-winning restaurant that shares the beautiful lush courtyard of the century old tannery buildings. The “Funktastics”, a talented La Paz band, were playing many of my favorite tunes so I have to be honest, everything was just perfect that day. From my many years working in the museum and attraction business, I can truly recommend a visit. I even contemplated settling down here as real estate is quite affordable. This is a world class museum with bilingual exhibits, funded primarily by iAlumbra, the philanthropist foundation of Christy Walton, heiress of the Walmart billions.
For me, El Triunfo was hauntingly memorable. The town reminds me of Cumberland, BC and other resource based communities of our Province. Now about 350 people live in El Triunfo, but it once boasted a population of over 10,000. Besides the Museo, there are abandoned mine tours, restored buildings and many archeological sites including the restored 47 metre tall “La Ramona”, which when built was the tallest smoke stack of its glorious kind. Mining began in the late 1700s and the mines and town shut down in 1926. Without jobs, the people quickly moved away and El Triunfo became a ghost town. The forced migration was hard on the people left behind, but helped preserve the rich history of the area and a vital story of the Baja.
Snooping around, I ran into the museum curator, Juan José Cabuto. Señor Cabuto was a mining engineer and his smile and enthusiasm were infectious. We talked about many things: how awesome working in a museum is, similarities between El Triunfo and much of British Columbia, the expansion of the Museo and the two more museums slated for the town. There is already a music museum, due to the town’s history as a cultural hub and a cactus sanctuary since the Baja has over 120 species, with more than half found nowhere else.
Wherever I go on the Baja, I am reminded of home. Just like Canada, a European nation conquered in search of gold and riches. Then came miners and settlers who pillaged freely and with the help of the Catholic Church, decimated the native populations and indigenous cultures. Now we share many of the same issues with multinational corporations, and don’t forget who we share as a neighbor.
Just like home, the mineral rich Baja peninsula still holds valuable resources and there is international pressure to resume mining. The future is looking good for El Triunfo though, as the Mexican government is keen on boosting ecological and cultural tourism in favor of natural resource development. There is a very real fear of an accident, like the mining tailings breach at Mount Polley, in 2014.
The incredible biodiversity and cultural heritage here is spectacular. Mexico boasts an impressive list of protected areas, national parks, marine reserves, heritage and biosphere reserves. Wherever we go, we keep seeing examples of a government and people interested in fighting to save the gold they have, and I am not referring to the mineral.
Disclaimer: I tried to cross-check my facts, but the limited Internet access I have living on my sailboat is a challenge. And, well, you certainly can’t trust the Internet even at the best of times!