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Tropic of Cancer Los Cabos

We drove down to Cabo recently which got me thinking about boundaries and lines, imaginary ones in particular. How the symbolism of lines can have power beyond their original purpose to affect how we think, act and dream.

In the early days of commercial air travel, for example, crossing the International Date Line was such a big deal that travelers who did so were given special certificates. For me in our car driving south that day, it was curious to realize that at some invisible point, we had slipped over from the United States into Mexico. The landscape was the same, but a line determined that our context was not, and so did my perceptions have to shift as well.

We don’t usually think of it, but the Tropic of Cancer passes through Los Cabos. Look out for the markers as you enter Todos Santos and on the road to Cabo Pulmo between Miraflores and Santiago. If you believe that places can have positive or supernatural energies, then it makes sense that these two beautiful areas, one on each coast, should be linked on their own Ley line by the Tropic of Cancer. 

The Tropic of Cancer Monument Tourist Plaza is an unexpected nugget that surprises you on your way to bigger prizes- the glorious beaches of East Cape or the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. It is all the more surprising given the bucolic setting- open countryside, rolling hills, sleepy towns, cows, goats.

In the midst of this, a full blown monument with symbolic sculptures, chapel and, of course, mini shopping arcade.

I like the audaciousness of creating a tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere. I especially like the singleminded Tropic of Cancer theme to the design. You can’t miss the spherical references- the circular driveway at the entrance, the groovy globe sculpture on a circular platform like a giant spoon chunked in a full stack, the curved shopping arcade.

It would have been even better if the shops sold Tropic of Cancer themed items- little spinning globe pencil sharpeners perhaps, or a latitudes purse. Instead, they are dedicated to regional crafts and produce. 

To the left of the shopping arcade is a pretty, open air chapel with boveda ceiling. At the altar, three images of the main figures in Mexican religion: the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico in the center, Jesus and Santiago Matamoros, patron saint of Spain and pilgrims, on either side. 

A rather grand archway in the middle takes you to a space showcasing another giant globe sculpture on a round platform.

A wide stripe in the ground, presumably the line of the Tropic itself, links the two sculptures.

Follow it down the tunnel and you might even feel moved to hug the giant blue ball at the end. Unlike the modernistic style of the one in front, this Earth is funkier and much cooler. A human hand tried, not too elegantly, to shape the concrete into a smooth sphere. Hand drawn continents float in oceans of uneven and faded cyan. Out in Mongolia, an autograph from Henry + Mona Lisa. 

Its pretty evident that this is meant to be a showcase for just the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico. You will find no competition from other continents, countries or lines. The first sculpture depicts only the Americas while the other Earth is oriented so that the side with North America, Mexico and South America faces the visitor. Those pesky other lines, the Equator and Tropic of Capricorn? Gone. The only latitude depicted anywhere is the Tropic of Cancer. Its like being the only girl at a party. If you ever forget why you are there, a quick look around will sort you out. 

The monument in Todos Santos is completely yin to the yang of the Tropic of Cancer Monument Tourist Plaza. Unless you are paying attention, you could miss it on the left side of the road as you drive in: a black, thin, triangular shape made up of a metal frame split down the middle and stacked with dark glass bottles. At the top, a blue orb like an all seeing eye with shooting rays. The effect is enigmatic, a little mystical and totally in tune with the town’s Pueblo Magico designation. 

At different times of day, the light illuminates the bottles, making them iridescent and alive. When the sun gets behind at just the right angle, you experience a cool optical effect when the shadows cast by the two halves of the triangle on either side of the gap actually create the line of the Tropic of Cancer, like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. 

The monument has become something of a shrine. Visitors have left coins. There is a small plastic baby placed right in the gap between the two halves; Im not sure of its significance. Maybe a Stones inscription on the memorial plaque, “we all need someone we can lean on” from Let It Bleed, has also given the site a certain allure. 

Whatever the truth behind the design- maybe it was just a sculptor with too many wine bottles to get rid of- I like to think of it as how it appears to me at times- a high priestess in her dark robes looking over it all with her magic eye.

These monuments aren’t your usual tourist activity, but they might be worth a little side trip the next time you are in town. 

by Mei-lan Chin-Bing

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