One of the first day trips I took in California was to San Juan Capistrano, the oldest Spanish Christian mission in California. I enjoyed the lovely beaches of Laguna and Huntington, which we passed through, and by mid-morning we had arrived in the town of San Juan.
It was what we expected, an old Spanish compound featuring chapels and rooms for worship. There were, however, some interesting aspects to the place.
By far the most intriguing are the swallows that live in odd pod-like nests in the mission, under overhangs and in other quiet spots. Though neither of us had heard of them, these birds are in fact quite famous, for they do something fascinating: after their winter migrations southward,
they return to the San Juan mission every March on the exact date, which I now forget. This is apparently a huge event, and people come from all over to see the birds return. Even presidents have come to the mission to see this spectacle, and songs have been written about it.
I also enjoyed the courtyard grounds, which contained many lovely desert plants, and also a fountain filled with colorful fish.
In the famous Eagles song Hotel California, the line “There she stood in the doorway/ I heard the mission bells” is a reference to the Spanish missions, as each one had a tower bell that was rung to inform people of
services. As the missionaries essentially founded California, the song is sardonically welcoming people to the state…for much different purposes.
We ate lunch nearby, then headed home. If we’re still here in March, it would be nice to return on the day the swallows return.
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