El Triunfo, a glorious quiet townBaja Living, Culture, GALLERY, News, STORIES — By Mark Edward on August 18, 2010 at 9:40 am
One doesn’t arrive in El Triunfo as much as you stumble upon it. Only a few blocks long and even fewer wide, on the high winding road between the gulf and the main road between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, you could be excused for missing it.
A collection of rustic brick facades, with cracked mortar and empty windows, stand perilously close to the narrow road asking to be noticed. It has that colonial feel – a faded glory. Further off, a few streets beyond those facades and over a cobblestone bridge, two testaments to a bygone era are less shy in grabbing attention. And if you’re fortunate enough to stop, and maybe listen, you’ll come to know this special town of music and minerals, of ivory and silver.
Silver was first discovered in El Triunfo in 1862. New fortune seekers and those who failed in the fabled rush of 1849 in California (so called “forty niners”) came in droves. English, Americans, Russians, Italians and Chinese all found their way deep into the peninsula and toiled in the hills hoping for redemption in this far away place. For the fortunate the hills opened up and shared their bounty. For others it was not so kind. Many ended their lives in El Triunfo and are laid to rest beneath simple stone markets in the ethnic cemeteries dotting the hillsides.
At about this time Francisca Mendoza – famed musician from California – came at the request of the well heeled and began hosting piano concertos in the shade of warm summer days. At one point El Triunfo boasted more pianos per capita than all cities in Mexico. The Piano Museum, on the main road and open for hosted tours, happily plays on your imagination.
In 1865 the population of El Triunfo was 10,000 people – the largest in southern Baja at the time. And now, with the mines largely silent (the largest mining company closed operations in 1926) the tall columns of a former glory stand silent over a quiet town of not more than 400. But stop. Take the time to listen. Walk quietly along the cobblestones. You’ll hear the music still.
photos: Romana Lilic and Mark Edward