Roadside Shrines of Baja
A desert landscape of folk art and faith
We’ve seen many roadside shrines on our drive so far, and stopped at several. Some are found in the vast desert, while others sit high on the coastal cliffs, exposed to the salty wind. The first one we stopped at was in the middle of the remote Valle de Cirios, a large ofrenda with candles flickering in the middle of the day that make you look around for whoever must have lit them.
But there are some stretches of road that contain more shrines than others, including along the highway between La Paz and Loreto. Outside Ciudad Constitución, we stop at the largest we have seen. Its blinking lights, sputtering candles and fake flowers surround the Virgin of Guadalupe, blending Catholic tradition with Mexican folk art. It’s an uplifting display of color on an overcast day. A family kicks a soccer ball around as Molly and I stretch our road-stiffened legs and pay respects.
Seeing so many shrines has an effect. They are spontaneous icons of grief, a reminder that life is fleeting, and that no day is guaranteed. It’s impossible to visit them without thinking about mortality, and the mortality of our loved ones. In a way they might keep us in the moment, grateful to be alive.
Some shrines along this stretch are plain, unadorned crosses, others are draped with wreaths of painted flowers. Some are little boxes, with keepsakes and candles inside. Some are huge and splashy, offering travelers a place to slow down and take a break from driving to pray, meditate, eat a sandwich, or kick a soccer ball.
I later read that not all of the shrines are built to mark places where people have died, but can be built to mark any misfortune. It’s a curiosity that I’ve come to love and appreciate while driving Baja.