The Cave Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco
I made it to the cave paintings! It was a total ordeal to make it there with many trials I had to face along the way, mostly having to do with my inability to speak spanish and the fact that almost no one speaks english in this part of Baja.
My journey started out here in San Ignacio. San Ignacio is a true oasis right in the very middle of Baja. It is a palm tree jungle with a creek running through it into two large lagoons. I had to come to San Ignacio to get a permit to see the Cave paintings. This was the first trial. The place where you get the permit is a tiny little unmarked door on the side of a large mission complex in the center of town. It took me about two hours to find with me asking for directions in broken spanish. I had given up twice before finding it.
For five dollars a night I was able to reserve this sweet spot. I met a family in the camp next to mine with transmission problems. They were on day 4 of 10 waiting for a new one to arrive. Parts in Baja take a long time to be delivered. I lent their kids my surf board to play on in the lagoon
That night I was woken up at three in the morning to a crazy light show on the horizon. Imagine the clouds flickering on and off with light as if flickering on and of your own light at home as fast as you can. I was sure it was aliens. I was down in the oasis so I did not have a good view. I saw a bunch of cars heading out so I decided to follow them. One of my regrets is the photos the I didn’t take. When I got up to a good viewing spot I saw the best lightning show that I have ever seen. If I had put my camera on thirty second exposures I could have gotten photos with multiple lightning strikes over the Tres Virgins Volcano.
The next day I started my drive up the Mountain to the little town where I would meet up with my guide. The road has some incredibly steep grades, but luckily most of it is paved now. What now takes about 45 minutes to make from the desert floor to the town used to take three hours.
The last three umpaved miles are pretty spectacular. They are kind of the ideal of what I picture Baja mountain roads to look like.
Arriving in town I had to ask at about four different houses to find casa de Enrique. Once again no signs and my broken spanish made this much more difficult. I found Enrique to file the permit paperwork. I was informed that I would have to not only provide my food for three days, but I would also have to provide my guides food for three days. I would also have to provide a stove to cook it on. In addition to this I would not be able to bring my own fresh water unless I wanted to rent an additional mule for three days. There was lots of water, but it would have to be purified. I said “Ok, no problema”. Luckily there just happened to be a woman who stopped by Enrique’s at the same time as I was who could translate all this.
I went back to my camp spot for the night to start to brainstorm on how I would accomplish all this. I had enough canned beans, soup, rice, tortillas and a few avocados to feed the two of us for three days, but I would not be able to use my big coleman double burner stove and 5 gallon propane tank. I then remembered that I had brought an extra coleman single burner stove that ran on gasoline. It was thirty years old and I had never used. I dug it out of my truck, and after about three beers i had it working. As far as the water situation, I remembered that right before I left the U.S. my friend Johny had tossed my a small little container of water purification tablets. They would have to do.
My next problem was what to do with Hunter. He had never seen a mule before and for that matter goats, chickens, pigs and cows were running all over the place. I had to keep him leashed up so he would not chase everything around. The guide told me we might be able to take him with us if he was well behaved and did not scare the mules, otherwise we would have to leave him in town. That worried me cause since his balls have been removed every dog in Baja was trying to have their way with him. There were many mangey dogs in that town and I could not see him lasting through three days of that. It turns out that he would not be able to come with us because it would be to dangerous. My guide left Hunter with his wife who promised me he would not be bitten or raped by the other dogs. She put him in his own little fenced in stall, and we were off.
Riding on a mule was quite an experience. You are sitting on top of this thing slowly making it’s way down steep rocky switch backs with sharp spiky cactus on all sides. You pear over as it makes a sharp turn and you see nothing between yourself and the abyss. Quite a ride.
We arrived at a ranch in the bottom of the canyon. I could not believe that anyone could live out there. It might have been the most remote spot I had ever been to. We would stay there for the night and go to the cave paintings the next day, then stay for another night, and leave the following morning. It was incredibly hot and there was not much to do accept swat away flies. The one break from this came when Tuto my guide invited me up to the ranch house to watch TV. I could not believe that they had TV out there, and was excited to do something other that swatting flies. For about two hours I watched Mexican soap operas with three rancheros and an old lady. The soap opera was very dramatic, and I felt like I could follow along even though I could not understand what they were saying.
The first night at camp after watching soap operas with the rancheros, and being a few shots deep in some Mescal I brought I started to make dinner for Tuto and myself. I was heating up two cans of clam chowder which I ended up spilling on the ground and myself. It is not easy to clean up clam chowder with limited water and no light. I forgot to bring my headlamp. I also forgot to bring my tent. This was extra bad because the camp was swarming with mosquitos. The only thing I could do was crawl inside my sleeping bag, but because it was so hot I sweated the whole thing out in a matter of minutes. So as a solution I put all my clothes back on tucked my shirt in and used my t-shirt to cover my hands. I then took my sleeping bag and wrapped it around my head leaving one small hole through which to breathe. This worked ok and allowed me to get a little sleep. The stars were beautiful that night.
This was my guide Tuto. It is another regret of mine that my spanish is so terrible. I really would have liked to have more in depth conversations with him. I feel like I could have learned so much more. I was still able to converse with him, but it was on a very limited level.
So I brought one liter of water with me hoping I could make it last for three days. I made it to the bottom of the canyon and it was gone. Tuto told me I could get water from this creek on the side of the farm and that it was fine to drink. The creek had a bunch of little snakes that would slither over and stick their heads out and watch me as I filled my water up. I put the purification tablets in the first liter. It turned the water orange and gave it a bad chemical taste. I plugged my nose and drank it hoping the pills had not passed their expiration date. The second liter of water I purified turned cloudy and after an hour all this white stuff settled on the bottom of the container. All this time I am watching Tuto drink un-purified water that looks, smells and probably tastes much better, so after all the advise I have heard about not drinking water in Mexico I decided to try it out. I took a sip and it tasted good. I waited a while to see if I got sick, and nothing happened so I took another sip. By the end of the trip I was drinking multiple liters a day with no problem.
This is the first cave we came to. It is called Cueva de las Flechas. These caves were painted between 9000 and 3000 years ago. It blows me away to think of the people there 9000 years ago and how hard it was for me to get to this place in modern times. If you look closely you can see one of the figures has arrows sticking into him.
Another view from Cueva de las Flechas, which I think translates as cave of the Hunters.
The next cave we visited was Cueva de la Pintada. This was a long series of cave paintings. In this first one if you look very closely in the left hand corner you will see a whale. This one looks like a group of people an spirits circled around a deer. Some of these paintings are over 30 feet hight leading early indigenous people to believe they were painted by giants.
Cueva de la Pintada
Cueva de la Pintada
Cueva de la Pintada
Cueva de la Pintada
View out of Cueva de la Pintada
Side view of Cueva de la Pintada.
The final cave we visited was Cueva de Soledad.
Cueva de Soledad has one of the only examples of abstract painting.
I will close this chapter of my Baja journey with a quote from a book that I am reading. “Mountains are enormous and the sea is infinite. Between to immensities, what is left but to invent the small phenomenon that is you?”