March 29, 2010

San Borjita Cave Paintings

Baja is home to more than 300 hundred known sites of ancient cave paintings that are the oldest on the American continent. The paintings at San Borjita have been carbon dated to 7,500 years. This Great Mural Rock Art consists of prehistoric paintings of humans and animals, often larger than life-size, on the walls and ceilings of natural rock shelters in the mountains of northern Baja California Sur and southern Baja California. San Borjita is part of this group included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. We are lucky to be living in this area so close to so many sites, even though they are often remote and difficult to access. Many of them take several days of traveling by mule. An excellent book has been published on the subject by Harry W. Crosby, The Cave Paintings of Baja California.

Yesterday we drove to San Borjita—a nearby site of pinturas rupestres or cave paintings. We have driven past the turnoff sign on the highway countless times, wondering what we would find at San Borjita. The government requires that anyone wishing to see these caves hire a guide. So at 7 am we were waiting by the highway at Palo Verde to meet up with our guide Salvador Castro Drew of Mulege. He had told Esperando that the whole trip and back would take 7 hours. Once he arrived we started on a marathon drive across a bumpy rocky back road—the kind that should take several pounds off but never does. Although the site was only 21 miles from the highway, the road was so horrid that it took 1 ½ hours to get there. In places we drove across wide arroyos of compacted scattered stone that chattered as the truck bounced along. Prior to Hurricane Jimena these arroyos had been studded with forests of Palo Verde and Palo Blanco trees. Now they were scoured rivers of rocks washed devoid of any vegetation. You could see the remains of broken and uprooted trees that had washed down the arroyo to stack up like trash against the canyon walls and the few stronger trees that had remained standing.

We passed several ranchitos of ranchers eking out a living from their cattle and goats. Finally we arrived at the ranchito whose owner had the property on which the cave was situated. After collecting a key from him, our guide told us that this rancher had come there many years ago from Sinaloa. This rancher was a tiny blonde man of some forgotten gringo descent for he was Spanish speaking and not a recent immigrant. He was quite wrinkled and had lost all of his teeth. His grandchildren hung around listening to him discuss the road to the archeological site with our guide. Surprisingly there was a granddaughter, a blond little girl of about 8; and a grandson, a handsome green-eyed young man of 13 years, both with very gringo features and paler skin. It would have been interesting to know their long history. I wished I had thought to bring a bag of candy along for the children, but I didn’t know there would be any children way out here in the middle of nowhere.

Now we had to go to sign the government registry book that was kept at another rancho. So on we bumped on another 15 minutes. We came to a beautiful but empty rancho that the government had constructed, complete with a cute little restaurant and baños (yay!), but the whole place was deserted except for blooming fruit trees and cooing doves. It was so lovely and peaceful we both just wanted to sit and stay forever. Esperando signed our names in the book and we got back in the car and to drive another 15 minutes back to the cave site.

Next we spent about 30 minutes hiking up to the side of a canyon, initially criss-crossing a lovely little stream decorated with tiny little frogs, skimmer spiders and cow pies, then finally climbing over scree and boulders to get up to where the cave was. I was sure I was going to break my ankle, or worse my neck.

Finally around a bend we approached a deep cave. It had a low ceiling but was quite spacious and there was enough daylight to penetrate to the back of it. There on the ceiling of the entire cave were figures of men in red or black or less frequently white, many superimposed on one another, juxtaposed at various angles. Some of the figures were divided lengthwise with one side black and the other side red. There were a few paintings of animals, but mostly they were of men, many of them pierced by arrows. Once sensed the drama of warfare in these paintings. Were the figures of the people they fought against and killed; or were they members of their own group that had been attacked? Who did they fight in this empty land and how did they live?

They would have had to erect scaffolding here to paint on the ceiling, it was too high to be reached by hand from the ground. The camera captures the pictures better than our eyes can because of the glare coming from outside. Even though the images were well protected from the elements in this deep cave, they had eroded substantially. No one seems to know who these ancient people were or what the meaning of the paintings is really about. It is just one of the many hidden and intriguing mysteries of ancient Mexico.

Cave Guide for Mulege area (includes San Borjita and La Trinidad)
Salvador Castro Drew, based in Mulege, speaks English
215 161 4985

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The fellow who gave you the key is Fernando Saracho. He owns the adjacent ranch. The San Borjita cave is on the Rancho San Baltazar; owned by the Gorosave family since Don Vicente Gorosave purchased it in 1889. I'm one of his great grandchildren. The road has improved since your visit although not what is once was!