by Kennia Thackaberry
As a La Paz native, I like to spend most of my time at the beach. But on those rare occasions when I wander away from the water, I enjoy taking short road trips to the nearby towns.
One of my favorite day-trips is to El Triunfo, a Baja ghost town. Only 45 kilometers south of La Paz traveling on Highway 1, you will stumble upon this enigmatic row of one story houses, a church and a convenience store along the main road. The small compound is nestled between the mountains, with a tall brick chimney looming in the background like a sentinel. Many have probably passed El Triunfo on their way to the East Cape or Los Cabos, and didn’t think much of it. From the first impression, it is hard to believe that at some point in history, it was one of the largest cities in Baja.
The early discoveries of gold and silver in the area lead to the first mining activities and the establishment of the small town. However it was not until the mid-1800’s when the English company El Progreso took over the mining operations that the town witnessed its boom. People from Italy, Germany, France, England, the United States and China came to work in the industry and El Triunfo became a cultural center with a busy social scene.
Upon arrival, I like to stop by the fonda (a small budget-priced restaurant) across from the church. The shaded patio and the smell of fresh flour tortillas coming from the rustic kitchen is a good way to start the day. There are only a few breakfast items in the menu, but none will disappoint you if you are looking for authentic local food. Make sure to try burritos de machaca, a dry shredded meat sauté with diced tomatoes, chile de árbol and onions rolled in a flour tortilla. You will get refried beans and delicious queso fresco as sides.
After breakfast, make your way into town by crossing the street and entering the colorful church. The building is well kept and has a mix of elements from past and present. Walking along the street, the architectural details of the restored houses transport you to a different era. The craft store is the next stop. It has a wide variety of items from hand carved wood picture frames to abalone shell jewelry that make the perfect souvenir.
To find relief from the hot sun, I recommend visiting the Music Museum. Inside one of the great mansions from back in the days of the mining boom, you will discover a surprisingly large collection of pianos from around the world. Most of the items in the collection were brought when Francisca Mendoza, a local pianist that study classical music in San Francisco, came back to teach and performed for the wealthy. The fee is 20 pesos (less than $2 US) and you can navigate easily around the rooms and read explanations in Spanish and English. If you are lucky, the friendly curator will have time to give you a private tour.
A short hike from the museum and you will discover the 35 meter-high smelter smoke stack design by Gustav Eiffel (yes, the same Eiffel of the famous tower in France) and a group of ruins from the old mining era. The spot has been left untouched and the remaining brick structures offer a great opportunity to take pictures.
The restoration of El Triunfo is still an undergoing project. Hopefully in the near future we will see the salvage of more buildings and old mining artifacts that currently lay under the desert sun. In the meantime, take the opportunity to explore this little town and let its ruins take you back in time.
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