Sunday, January 6, 2013

San Javier redux - post Paul

I have had Visitors for the past couple of weeks, as regular readers will know, and this week I want to describe a trip I took them on - up to San Javier, a second Mission located about 32 km off the Highway between Loreto Bay and the town of Loreto.  I have written about earlier trips to this beautiful Mission building and the dramatic drive into the Sierra de la Gigante mountains to get there ("San Javier Revisited", November 2011) but this the first time my Guests had made the complete trip, as the road was closed partway due to construction on their previous visit.

It was also the first time I had made the trip since Hurricane Paul had channeled millions of gallons of runoff down the arroyos that have their source in this mountain range, and although I knew from various reports that the road was passable, I had heard that there had been some damage and was interested to see conditions for myself. 

The first part of the trip was uneventful with no apparent damage to the road, other than the odd stretch of broken pavement and a border of fallen rock and rubble that had washed down onto the roadside, where it ran beside steep banks or excavated cuts.   But after about 10 km (about 1/3 of the way from the Highway) we came to the first washed out part of the road, where almost the entire outside lane of the pavement appeared to have been “bitten” off and washed away down the bank.

Those of you familiar with this drive may recall that at about the halfway point there is a dramatic hairpin switchback on a steep incline, with the apex of the turn at the base of a long deep canyon that disappears up into the mountain range.  This was the location of the most dramatic evidence of the devastation that had been caused by the torrential runoff from Hurricane Paul. 

With the surrounding mountain peaks collecting many square miles of the accumulated rainfall, it was all funneled into this deep sharp canyon, with the resulting avalanche of water creating havoc as it crashed through this narrow V-shaped formation – carrying hundreds of tons of rock and rubble (some boulders the size and many times the weight of small cars).  The damage to the road began about halfway up the incline where the asphalt was stripped from the roadway and it became a pot-holed muddy track the remainder of the way up to the switchback corner. 

Approaching the corner, the rubble field from the runoff filled the gap between the roadway we were on and where it doubled back, continuing to climb the hillside.  Beyond the corner we returned to asphalt again, but after a short distance there was another huge bite out of the roadway, leaving only part of the inside lane remaining and 15 or 20 feet of 4  foot diameter drainage conduit hanging in mid air where the road has once cover it.

Making our way carefully around several of these damaged areas we were soon on smooth pavement again and carried on for about another 5 km before we came to the next eroded area where the road met the mouth of another canyon that had carried it’s own flood during the storm, followed by another patch carved away during the storm about another 3 or 4 km further on.  After we left the mountainous area and were on the high sierra the next 10 km or so of road was in perfect condition until we were about 4 km from San Javier when we encountered the final stretch damaged road.

This road on this final approach to San Javier had been all but destroyed by runoff and a detour had to be quickly upgraded to carry the many hundreds of pilgrims and visitors that descend upon this spiritual icon on it’s Saint’s Day, December 2nd, just weeks after the deluge that was Hurricane Paul.  Now, a month later, the new widened roadbed is being graded in preparation for repaving, but is once again passable to single lane traffic.

Considering the areas of havoc and devastation we had passed through to get there, the hamlet of San Javier itself appeared to be untouched by the effects of the recent storms and associated downpours.  And it should have been no surprise that the massive, rough hewn, stone edifice of the Mission itself was undisturbed, having been the spiritual center of this place for over 250 years, this building has withstood far greater challenges than the best that “Paul” could throw at it.

The rest of our visit followed much the same pattern as many previous ones; appreciating the rugged exterior stonework of the building and then stepping into the cool dusky interior of whitewashed plaster.  Walking between the simple wooden pews lining each side of the long narrow nave, where a modest crèche of plaster figures replaced several rows of the benches on one side.  Approaching the alter, the massive carved and gilded wooden screen that makes up the end wall of the transept, rises three or more stories overhead, decorated with oil portraits, (most of which have remarkably survived in the harsh climatic conditions) and the true majesty of the building and it’s antiquity reaches full impact.

Returning outside, we continue around the extended outbuildings and make our way back to the remains of the 300 year old olive grove, wandering along a pathway beside where the Jesuits created a primitive irrigation system.  Water, the secret to life in the desert, nourishing the first crops, from what had been barren desert ground, and eventually became a mainly self-sustaining settlement.  Surrounded by this living history and seeing it manifested in the simple farming practices that continue – still much unchanged today - creates a time-warp that blurs the distance between today and the 300 years of civilization that have contributed to the unmistakable spiritually charged atmosphere that permeates this hallowed place.

Reconnecting with a special place, through the act of introducing it to others - while appreciating the awesome fury of nature unleashed, and how fragile man’s infrastructure is standing against it, not bad for a half-day excursion when “Living Loreto”.