Near the picturesque central plaza of San Ignacio is found a hidden resource and guide for the town and Baja California. Casa Lereé is a lovely blue colonial-style adobe building that was built in 1885 by Frenchman Lereé for his wife and it became the first guesthouse in San Ignacio. Today Jane Ames, the gracious owner and the town's historian, has created several rooms full of treasures waiting to be discovered. San Ignacio is not known as a shopping mecca as many popular Baja cities are, however the small gift shop offers local handcrafted gift ideas, cards and books. Casa Lereé houses artifacts that include a giant shark's tooth the size of which you won't believe. A small gallery features the intensely moving art of Clemente Arce and the fine leather work by Juan Gabriel Arce. Jane is an author of her own books which reveal little known historic facts of the area. University students have been known to make a trip here, as the collection of books on Baja California is extensive, including volumes that even the Universities do not have. Jane or "Juanita" as the locals affectionately call her, will give you a free map to get around town, as well as a list of accommodations. And often experienced in Baja, guidance of a different kind surprises and takes us beyond our perceptions.
Juanita is especially pleased with the hiking trails that she herself has founded for the more hearty traveler. For those that like a good hike into history, Jane established several routes that will take you into the place of the ranchos before the car made an appearance. When Jane moved here in 2003 from Portola Valley a clearly marked trail system did not exist. Never the less as the Chair on the Portola Valley's Trails Committee, it was natural for her to seek out the best routes. She says, "San Ignacio is a mile from the highway and surrounded on three sides by mesas, so you can get away from cars and homes in a few steps."
Quite possibly the traveler will find answers to question they never knew they had. Ms. Ames has a way about her that will lead you into the world of the past. She is a beautiful writer and her prose sets the stage. Even if you are not a history buff, she has a compelling way to create the desire to know more about the Baja you are traveling through. In the library and reading room you can sit for awhile in the quiet old house and let her prose take you back. She writes: To the north, no towns interrupt the desert; the gold strikes of the 1880’s in Calmallí have quieted down. To the south El Boleo, the copper mining giant in Santa Rosalía, is taking over ranches and threatening land rights in San Ignacio itself. Armed bands will ride these streets, lookouts will be stationed on the mission roof, women will defend their virtue and Ignacianos will die...Only wagon tracks and a footpath interrupt this scene of park and mission. But the people of San Ignacio are here, living quietly and contentedly, sustaining themselves from their orchard gardens, and harvesting a bounty of dates from a thousand palms.
The walls of this lovely home are covered with Clemente Arce's powerful oil paintings. His work reminded me of Vincent Van Gough as the colors moved with a hidden force that seemed to come from a place beyond reality. On the canvas there is a sense of torment and renunciation blended with a powerful Renaissance. I instantly felt compelled to meet the artist. With Jane's guidance I made my way into one of the back streets. Under a shade tree in amongst a jumble of castoff treasures and woodwork in progress, I spoke with him about his work. He could have been casted in a Henry Potter novel as the mysterious and humble wise man who knew the answer to life. Born in San Ignacio he realized at 20 years of age that his life was meant to be different. It would not be the traditional family man with wife and children. Now an elder with deeply quiet eyes he has captured in his work something beyond the ordinary landscape. He told me "Everyone has a melody that is just their own and everyone has a story to tell." He went on, "My melody is tart and sweet at the same time. But often times the story and its melody will never be heard." He stops and looks inward, “ Some say that my work is dark, I accept that. Why try and change what we are?” I contemplated his question, so different from my own culture's need for change, yet I was certain he meant something deeper. He continued with a grin, "I did not escape from people thinking I was crazy." Clemente is a man who paints and carves into wood and has no doubt about the meaning of life. I felt as if I had discovered the sage of San Ignacio. Rarely, are we fortunate enough to met a person of true humility and wisdom, yet here in San Ignacio I have met two. Clemente sent me on my way with these words, "Life is so mysterious, it is a great complex beauty."
Call ahead for an appointment to visit Casa Leree (615) 154-0158.
View more of Clemente's work