Saturday, July 20, 2013

Santa Rosalia

And I thought the sidewalks of La Paz were interesting!

Santa Rosalia is a working class town with a population of a little more than 10,000 people and a very interesting history. Copper was discovered here in the late 1860’s and the French developed a large mining operation. That French influence can still be seen in the architecture including a church designed by Gustav Eiffel, the names of some of the businesses, and the so-called French bakery, Panderia El Boleo, famous since the early 1900’s for their French baguettes. At the same time, Santa Rosalia is the most purely Mexican of the cities we have seen in Baja. There is almost no tourism, no ex-pat community, and we never heard English spoken beyond the small marina. 
Church in Santa Rosalia designed by Gustav Eiffel

There is ferry service for pedestrians and a few vehicles between here and the mainland. The ferry terminal is just behind where our boat is moored. The docking operation is interesting and I took several photos. After traveling overnight across the Sea of Cortez, passengers are greeted by several well-armed military personnel and a drug sniffing dog. 
An hour or two after I took this photo of tractor/trailer rig driving off the ferry, we walked by the terminal and saw dozens of military men as well as local, state and federal police, armed with automatic rifles and wearing bullet proof vests unloading the truck. There were also a few pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back. The truck they were unloading looked like it was full of scrap metal. We saw a lot of copper pipe and a jumble of junk. A little later I walked by again and saw that the soldiers and police were now tossing small bricks of something wrapped in what looked like aluminum foil. The process went on for hours and they amassed quite a pile of bricks. It was unnerving to spend the day so close to what was obviously a huge drug bust and I was relieved when they loaded everything into a large van, took their machine guns and drove away. I wondered why a drug smuggler would choose the ferry where he would obviously be caught and was told that the drug sniffing dog had only been in service here for a few days. It must have been quite a shock when he drove off the ferry and into the waiting arms of so much law enforcement.
We will leave Baja tomorrow at about 2 am and make the crossing to the mainland. We are planning a short trip home for supplies, boat parts, and a little respite from the heat. After that, who knows? I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Best of Times; the Worst of Times

On July 12th we sailed into Caleta San Juanico, my favorite anchorage so far in spite of all that went wrong there. It is a gorgeous setting with pinnacles of rocks jutting out of the water, several beaches to explore, hiking trails, sea shell collecting, rock hunting, beautiful water for swimming and snorkeling. It was not calm, though, while we were there, and I fought sea sickness for the entire stay. Our alternator failed again and we will have to manage without it until a replacement can be purchased. Worst of all, though, was on the second day when we took the dinghy to explore ashore. Mike had been to the same beach the evening before with no problems, but this trip turned out to be very different. As we got close to shore we saw the crashing surf but not in time to change our course. Just as we decided to turn away, a wave caught the dinghy and threw me overboard.  I was in only a few of water but I couldn’t get my footing and the waves tumbled me over the rocks to shore at the same time as they pushed the dinghy onto the beach.  I could never describe the battle to get back off the beach and through the surf. Only if you have done it yourself could you understand the experience. Long story short, the dinghy was flipped, throwing me into the water once again. As the dinghy with its motor, gas can and battery flew into the air and landed upside down, I dove to the side and was rolled to the beach one more time. Eventually, with Mike rowing like a mad man, we made it off the beach, through the surf and into safe waters. Lucky for us, the only other couple in the anchorage had chosen that time to go exploring in their dinghy and towed us back to our boat where Mike cleaned salt water out of the outboard motor and I nursed my multiple scrapes and bruises. It was quite an adventure!
Mike, Becky and Kelly in front of the so-called Cruisers Shrine, a tree hung with artistic bits of flotsam and decorated with names of boats and crew who have visited this beautiful cove over the years.

But, through it, we met Kelly and Becky who were not only our rescuers on that day, but later our tour guides to the area. They took us hunting for Apache tears (nuggets of obsidian), hiking the trails, and swimming in a beautiful, calm cove behind the hills.­­ They also invited us for a dinner of freshly caught dorado and we spent several pleasant hours visiting with them during our 4 days in San Juanico Cove.

The road to peaceful Ramada Cove
Kelly and Mike on a viewpoint over Caleta San Junaico

Beautiful Ballandra

Aside from the bees, Ballandra was the anchorage of my cruising fantasies. We had the entire cove to ourselves, swimming off the boat during the day, then, as evening approached, watching glorious sunsets followed by the twinkling lights of Loreto in the distance. 

The phosphorescence was dramatic with hundreds of fish surrounding the boat and stirring up the waters throughout the night. 

Then, in the early morning hours, coffee in the cockpit as the sun rose pink and gold behind the hills. We left reluctantly in order to spend a day doing errands in Loreto before heading north.

Loreto is a lovely town; friendly and somewhat tourist oriented but easy and laid back.

Like most stops along the way, I could have spent a lot more time there exploring the history, enjoying the waterfront, admiring the architecture, and visiting with the people. But, Loreto offers only unprotected roadstead anchorage so it was not a place we were comfortable staying overnight. 

We went ashore early in the morning, did our chores, posted to the blog, had lunch, and then moved on to Candeleros in the late afternoon.  Candeleros seems to be a favorite stop of many cruisers but I wasn’t crazy about it. We left early the next morning without exploring ashore and without even taking a photo. It is the first anchorage of our trip that I don’t have a picture of.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Puerto Escondido and Beyond

Everything about our 9-day stay in Puerto Escondido was delightful. I wouldn’t have minded staying longer but we have made plans to spend August back in the States. With only 3 weeks left on the Baja side of the Sea, we need to keep moving.
Puerto Escondido doesn’t offer a lot in the way of services but the cruising community there is exactly that, a community. Some have been there living on their boats for more than a dozen years, a few have moved ashore but are still cruisers at heart, and many others come and go with Escondido as their base. Some, like us, are just passing through but all are warmly welcomed into the family. I was happy there.
We made some great friends and spent a lot of time with them. I had previously heard about Thea from a mutual friend in La Paz and, in fact, had read about her in a book about the Camino de Santiago. I think that we were meant to find each other. They had left Vancouver, Canada last August within a day of our leaving Seattle. We had stopped at many of the same places along the way, hung out with some of the same people, and ended up sailing into Escondido within 15 minutes of each other. We thought we would buddy boat and explore the islands for the next few weeks but mechanical problems kept them from leaving and it was a very sad good-by.

While in Escondido we rented a car and spent 2 days exploring on land with Thea and her husband, Jonathan. We spent one leisurely day in the nearby town of Loreto and on the second day, drove 30 kilometers over a winding mountain road to visit the 18th-century Baroque style mission at San Ignacio.

 We spent last night here in Ballandra, a large and well-protected bay on Isla Carmen. It is lovely but the welcoming party, dozens of thirsty bees, is impossible to deter and I have already been stung. The bees are quite a problem for cruisers throughout all these islands, coming to the boats in search of fresh water. Last night I rinsed off my beach shoes with fresh water and this morning they were covered in bees. A dripping faucet, a sink full of dish water, even damp laundry will bring them in by the dozens.

From here we will wander until we cross the Sea of Cortez to Guaymas where the boat will be hauled out of the water for a fresh coat of bottom paint. After that, back to Baja or venture south? We have no schedule, no itinerary, and no plan other than to keep on cruising at a snail’s pace, living in the moment and making our decisions one day at a time.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

La Paz to Puerto Escondido

There are contradictions and conflicts when cruising. It feels like living inside a dream sometimes. Long, lazy, peaceful days seem to pass in a blur. With no schedule or time table, we are able to luxuriate in the moment and fully savor every experience. But, looking back over the past 2 weeks it seems to have flashed past us.  It is easy to lose track of days or even weeks out here.
 We left La Paz for the second time on June 24th. Our first night was spent in Balandra. We hadn’t explored on our previous stop and didn’t intend to do so this time. Deploying the dinghy is time consuming so we don’t always go ashore when we drop anchor for the night.  On this stop we were tired and just looking forward to a relaxing evening before moving on early the next morning. Then we saw a small sailboat rounding the point with its strobe light flashing. Knowing this to be a distress signal, we tried to hail them on the radio but got no response. There was another sailboat near them so we thought they were getting help and briefly assumed that all was well. We left our VHF radio on, just in case, and, as the sun was beginning to set we heard a call for assistance from the boat which had lost engine power. In fear of being blown onto the rocks they had thrown out an anchor and wanted a tow into safe harbor. It took some time to get our dinghy into the water and Mike set up with proper safety gear, tow ropes, and flashlights, but eventually everyone was safe in the harbor and settled for the night.  With our dinghy already in the water, we took some time to explore Balandra Cove the next morning and I’m glad that we did. It is a lovely stop although often busy with small charters, party boats, and jet skis.
Next was an overnight stop in Ensenada Grande, before we moved into new territory and spent a few nights at Isla San Francisco. It was another somewhat crowded anchorage with charters and jet skis, but we thoroughly enjoyed hiking across the salt water evaporation ponds to hunt for agates on the eastern beach.
Our next stop was San Evaristo, a small and isolated fishing village on the mainland. We shared the anchorage with one other boat and left early the next morning without going ashore. We were able to sail a little but we have had to motor a lot more than expected. The winds, always from the south, kick up in the morning for a couple of hours and again briefly in the late afternoon. We are not sailing as much as we had hoped. And diesel fuel is not always easy to come by.

The trip from San Evaristo to Bahia Agua Verde was magical with dolphins riding our bow wake and cavorting in the water around the boat for several miles. Agua Verde is another treasure where we went ashore to buy fish from a panguero on the beach and then took a walk through the small village. We bought a few staples from the tienda and delicious freshly made goat cheese from Ramona. One of the farmers invited us in pet his 2 week old goat kids. He was a very gracious gentleman and we visited for a bit, as much as my limited Spanish would allow. We spent a couple of nights in Agua Verde. It was the perfect cruising experience, a quiet and peaceful anchorage with ample opportunities to explore onshore. We were able to interact with the villagers and connect with other cruisers who were anchored there. In the evening we sat on deck under a starlit sky and played in the water with a stick, writing our names and stirring up bursts of sparkling phosphorescence. It is one spot where I am sure we will return; even if only to restock on Ramona’s goat cheese.
We are currently in Bahia Excondido, just south of Loreto. There is no cell phone service. Internet access requires taking my laptop for a dinghy ride and then sitting on the ground outside the marina office, but the people are wonderful and we love it here. I don't know where we go next or when I will be able to blog again, but be assured we are having an amazing time wherever we are.