After a full day of sitting on the beach, my parents and I decide it’s time to wander beyond the poolside of our hotel and venture on a tour of the nearby town, Todos Santos. We’re ready to discover local art, culture and history beyond the Spring Break culture of the nearby city Cabo San Lucas. Renowned for the song “Hotel California” by The Eagles, the tour of Todos Santos seems promising to all of our pursuits and curiosities. Loading into a van with backpack and camera ready, I wonder, will Todos Santos fulfill all of my expectations? In some ways it does even more.
Our first stop is an area outside of Todos Santos in the desert where the ocean lingers off the coast. Here, a family carries out the tradition of weaving handed down through generations that is in danger of becoming extinct. Wandering through the family’s shop, I can see the precision and care embedded in the loom that creates these elaborate flowers and bright colorful Mexican designs that reflect the smile of the mother, Justina. Many things are for sale beyond the traditional blankets that take about two weeks to make, but it’s the handicraft of the blankets that catches my imagination. I find myself thinking of a piece of the family woven into each blanket, the orange flowers a reflection of Justina’s welcoming smile and the blue and green a symbol of her son Victor’s quiet, resilient nature. I don’t think I’ll be able to look at the Mexican blankets I find stocked in yoga rooms the same way anymore.
In the city of Todos Santos, there’s plenty of silver jewelry salesman, shops selling tourist trinkets and t-shirts, and retired Canadian and Americans with boutiques along the dirt roads. Where I find authentic artistry is not within these stores, it’s within the workspace of the sculptor Benito Oretga Vargas. His studio has been taken over by a ship with small figures inside enjoying the ride. His sculptures of wood, plaster, clay, and bronze range in all sizes but are nothing short of magnificent. His work shows how he listens closely to the material, letting it guide how he carves and shapes the piece, rather than letting sketches dictate his moves. The materials speak to him as he determines his next part of the process.
Finished with our wandering through the main plaza and dirt road, we make our way back to the van and to San Jose del Cabo. Our tour guide informs us most people in tourism only make $5 a day, while those at the front desk make $20 a day and tour guides make about $25. He’s thankful his father made sure he is bilingual so he could make a better living. He passes along this desire to improve his own children’s lives by encouraging them to attend college so they can make a better life for themselves. Immigration is a tricky subject, but our guide tells us that although he grew up in America, he chose to return to Mexico. Most people might think everyone wants what those in developed nations have, but perhaps that’s all relative. Not everyone wants or needs the same luxuries, but for them I hope they can have more sustainable income than during tourist season. I hope their work, whether it’s as a blanket weaver or a hotel maid can be seen as valuable for the work they give to their local economy. I hope that one day my hope will be more than a that, it will be a reality. One day, those who govern and shape the world will listen to and value the voices of the creators and the workers the same way Benito listens to his sculptures as he brings them to life.
Note: Cover Photo is sculpture from Benito Ortega Vargas.