When visiting Todos Santos and staying at the famous Hotel California, I took a tour of Todos Santos with Sergio from Eco Adventures. Sergio is a very knowledgeable man and during our walk around the town he gave me the insight not only to history of Todos Santos town but also to history of Baja California and the rest of the Californian peninsula.
It all started when Hernan Cortez, a great talker and conqueror, escaped from Cuba with 500 men and 5 ships without the Cuban governor’s permission. They arrived to the Mexican coast where they founded La Villa Rica de Veracruz, nowadays known as the city of Veracruz.
Cortez with his men found the Aztecs living a pretty good life in there ruled by Moctezuma II who was more interested in his clothes than ruling. Being a kind of posh Luis XVI who could wear his clothes just once and then they had to be burned, Moctezuma II got scared when he saw Hernan Cortez.
It all came down to the legend of Quetzalcoatl he remembered – a white tall bearded man coming back and who was supposed to punish Moctezuma II. The Tenochtitlan ruler thought he would avoid getting punished if he gave presents to Cortez so Cortez received a silver plate, a gold plate and women for all his men. Moctezuma II also gave a native woman to Cortez himself. She is famous now as La Malinche.
As for the Aztecs, the best looking women were those with their eyes crossed so they all looked that way, however Hernan wanted to change his woman because she did not look like a European ideal beauty he was used to. But she was a very clever princess and after she had been a present to the Aztecs before and then they got rid of her to give her to Cortez and thus insulted her, she learned Spanish from Cortez and helped him to defeat the Aztecs finally in 1521.
But you must be asking now what all this had to do with Baja California? We are almost there!
Spain became the biggest monarchy and wanted to send Hernan Cortez to conquer China. After leaving from Acapulco, he arrived to what is now called Baja California. It was in May, too hot with hardly any water – hot oven hell they called the place so they decided to leave and continue on their journey to China. But one of Cortez’s men found a pearl in the sea so for the next 2 years they stayed there and were looking for pearls. The sea was named after Cortez – The Sea of Cortez is the name of the Gulf of California nowadays. For 430 years Baja California was the richest place in pearls in the world.
Once the Cortez left, the Jesuits managed to convince the Spanish emperors to give them that part of land who no one ever wanted – too hot with nothing really happening there – Baja California, Sonora and Sinaloa (that’s how we call now those 3 Mexican states).
The Jesuits started building missions with the first one being in Sinaloa in 1591. The missions were built where there was water and always within 1 day walking distance between two missions. It took them 100 years to build missions up to the North of Sonora and exactly the same long to cross the Sea of Cortez and build their first mission there in Baja California named Loreto. Then they were slowly moving down the peninsula building other missions in Baja California Sur.
In the Cultural Centre of Todos Santos you can see a traditional house and rooms of the Jesuits in Baja California. In the museum there the rest of the history is explained with maps, photos, statues etc.
After the Jesuits were expelled from the New World in 1767, the Franciscans and later the Dominicans took over the place. This was the beginning of history of Baja California.
Today Baja Californians say that their land, like a bride, was not conquered by force, but by love.