It seems like Santa Rosalia isn’t a popular stopping point for most touring cyclists. On the one hand, that makes some sense, as the palm oasis towns of San Ignacio and Mulege are more-attractive stops on either side of it. But on the other hand, it’s a historically- and culturally-unique part of Baja, so we felt it was totally worth the two nights spent there.
The town was created in 1884 by a French company, to support their copper-mining operation. So, quite unusually, nearly all the buildings, including our hotel, are characterized by wide wrap-around porches shaded by their low-angle hip roofs. Each room had chairs outside on these porches, where I sat in the cooling afternoon breezes to relax and do some writing.
We weren’t lucky enough to get a second-floor room with an unimpeded view of the sea, but even our courtyard room let us see the blue water to either side of those rooms that now blocked our view.
Other unusual amenities of our hotel were the coffee in the lobby in the morning, and the the (chilled!) drinking water that we could fill bottles with from a dispenser on our floor.
Last night we decided to learn how the “traditional”, full-service Mexican laundromat works. Rett tried her best using Google Translate to communicate “delicate cycle” when we dropped off our clothes on the way to dinner. We realized we hadn’t been given any sort of ticket (only a “eh, it should be done by 7pm”, in Spanish), which made us slightly nervous. But “luckily” dinner took so long (they had to make fresh pizza dough for Rett’s pizza) that we were already able to pick it up, nicely folded and tightly bagged, on our way back. All for about $4USD, just slightly more than the do-it-yourself version in Guerrero Negro, but way more convenient!
One big reason for Rett to stay for a second day was that Santa Rosalia was home to a Coppel, a big fancy department store roughly equivalent to a Target in the US (we had first seen one in Vizcaino a few days back). She made an expedition over there to stock up on beauty products after translating the labels.
Our hotel was on a hill a bit north of the main part of town, so in the late afternoon we finally walked south, down a couple of tall sets of stairs carved into the hillside, to the tight, active town filling the narrow valley.
Again, the structure of the town seemed unique for Baja. The streets formed a grid, rare enough on its own, but here those streets were narrow and lined with a mix of businesses and residences on every block, unlike other towns where the streets are wide and get quickly emptier as you depart the main highway. I don’t know if that’s due to the French influence during the town’s founding, or simply due to squeezing the town in between the hills, but it gave it a very different feel than any other town we’ve been in.
Our first stop was a visit to Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, an all-steel church supposedly designed by Eiffel, the guy who did the tower in Paris. While there is some dispute about the actual designer, there is apparently no dispute that it was displayed the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris that also introduced the tower, and then brought over to Mexico by the French mining company. Definitely a unique, if austere, building, and rather appropriately-themed for a French mining town!
Then we just spent an hour or so doing something we’ve rarely done: wandering the streets of a town and getting the feel of a place. It was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon, and we were able to cover nearly the whole length. Near the far western end, we turned around at a big high-quality soccer field. Seeing a bunch of people, of all ages, turning up in their uniforms, some with their parents, for practice/games made the place feel a lot more middle-class and less-foreign than my usual feelings in these relatively small towns. We also then walked by open doors to various buildings where we could see people inside doing workout routines, dance classes, and volleyball practice. To complete the “did we teleport back to the US?” feeling, we even saw a couple walking their dog, on a leash, something we’ve barely seen at all in Mexico!
And I guess since we were noticing those American-feeling cultural elements, we went to dinner at Tonka’s (which uses the logo of the toy-truck company), an “American” restaurant. Another fancy garden restaurant hidden behind walls and stuck between dusty garages on the edge of town, its out-of-the-way location, Spanish-only menus, and other clientele made me feel like it’s not actually the gringo-focused place I was embarrassed to be visiting, it was more just a place for locals to have “foreign” food. Anyway, the burgers were really good! Which is exactly what you’d expect from an American restaurant in a French city in the Mexican hinterlands, right?