Fluent Spanish makes a difference
21 June 2011 | Santa Rosalia, Baja Mexico
We are living in air conditioned comfort at the marina in Santa Rosalia. Our neighbors Ed and Connie Quesada (SV Sirena) are friends that we first met in Mazatlan. Ed's an ex-racer so he is not so easy to keep up with but we finally caught up with him here. He was slowed to stationary by his love for his air conditioning. He has attached himself to the dock and even drove his car down from Newport Beach. Ed is fluent in Spanish. He is Not just a little fluent. He was born in Bolivia where his father was a mining engineer and moved to the US when he was a teenager.. He was 14 when he moved to the US, when his parents immigrated after a change in government in Bolivia. Bolivia is known more for its revolutions than they are for their mines! His great great grandfather was the President of Bolivia and also owned a lot of mines. Those were lost with the change in governments and nationalization of industry in the late 1950's. All this is amazing but that didn't really help his dad, who found being an immigrant difficult (as all immigrants do). He did overcome this and had a career as an engineer. Ed has no accent, but he really didn't learn his english until he had to when he moved here. When he was younger he took english but his teachers told him he would never be able to speak english because he just wouldn't pay attention to the structure. Somewhere that changed because now he speaks "southern Californian" just fine. Its a heck of a story and it gives light to the fact that 67 years of living has a lot of adventure in it.
Anyway, when Ed comes into the restaurant or shop or museum, the place lights up. Suddenly we are the most welcome guests and everyone can talk to us (through Ed). Ed has no accent and he even understands humor in Spanish. And everywhere we go, Ed drives us (with the air conditioning ON!). I haven't seen any buses like we have been using everywhere else in Mexico so this saves a lot of walking.
With Ed's help we've really come to understand the mines and through that the history of the town. There are some amazing things that simply aren't pointed out. For example there is a chimney that has a flue running from the water (where the smelter is) to the smoke stack about 2 miles away on the top of a small hill. It's all built of concrete and steel and it winds through the town. I wonder if it works when it is that long? The mines are a long way away from the smelter. There were a system of aerial trams and railroads that transported the raw ore out of the mine tunnels, up the hill, down the hill and to the smelter where it was turned into copper ingots. Copper ingots were important then because they are part of artillery shells that penetrate steel ships (in addition to the electrical uses that continue today). The mines were operated by the French, labor varied but included convicts from the mainland, native Indians, Chinese, and Philippine immigrants. You know it is low pay when Mexico has to import its labor. The safety record doesn't sound too good. (22,000 dead in 10 years time). The ingots were transported in square rigged ships and later steamships direct to France and also to Oregon. They hauled wood back from Oregon and as a result all the buildings are made of wood. This stands in contrast to the buildings on the mainland which are all rock and concrete. Termites would have destroyed these buildings years ago on the mainland... but not here. They look fine.
This must have seemed like the end of the world to the people that came here. There are no trees or even bushes and it is just hot impassable piles of dirt everywhere. Moving over land had to be very very difficult. And there was nowhere close to move to. But the water is full of fish. We can see schools of them in the marina. The town is NOT depressed. The mine (which closed in 1985) is being reopened and there is much work going on to create the infrastructure needed to operate a modern mine. In contrast to the earlier operation this looks like it is going to be a beautiful modern mine, supported by massive equipment and connected to the world through huge ships. It is not real clear where the ore will be smelted, but it won't just be Copper. It will also be Zinc, and Cobalt.
The picture shows Ed and Connie at a statue in front of the museum.