Thursday, July 31, 2014

Santa Rosalia - Second Time Around

We left El Burro Cove in Bahia Concepcion early on the morning of July 5th and motored north for 11 hours to Santa Rosalia, still on Baja. It was a long hot day with no wind and not much of interest going on in the sea around us. When we pulled into the marina we were greeted by several other boats we knew from our anchorages over the previous weeks. It was fun to re-connect and several of us went to a local restaurant for dinner that evening.
Mike was in rusty equipment heaven in Santa Rosalia
Evidence of the old mines is scattered throughout the town

I wasn't sure that I would even write a post about Santa Rosalia this time around since I remembered writing from there last year. But I went back in the blog to re-read my previous post and found that it is a short and boring note. Santa Rosalia deserves more.
Whenever cruisers gather we talk about the places we have visited and when the talk turns to Santa Rosalia it seems that people either love it or hate it.

Santa Rosalia has old and dirty bits and modern artistic bits and purely puzzling bits. No one could tell me why the town's library is named after Mahatma Gandhi.

The old downtown area is shabby and doesn't seem to offer a lot. But there is the metal church designed by Gustave Eiffel, several good restaurants, the French bakery (bread, donuts and Mexican style cookies), the wildly popular ice cream store named Splash, several well-stocked hardware stores, and the famous hot dog man who sells bacon wrapped hot dogs from his stand every night after 7 pm except when he doesn't. The grocery stores are small, dark, and not very well stocked. But there is a larger, more modern market up on the hill and a Coppel department store that very few cruisers seem to know about. We found everything we wanted including good quality fresh meats and produce. It's a bit of a hike back to the marina with bags of groceries but a taxi ride was only 40 pesos which is less than $4 American.

The town has very little beach and the water is too dirty for swimming so that's a major drawback. The small beach, Playa Negra, is black sand and dirty and I cringe to see local children playing in the waters there. The waters of the marina are full of garbage and really pretty gross. Without attractive beaches, the town draws little tourist attention so it is simply a small city of Mexicans going about their daily business. There isn't the same enthusiastic welcome that we receive in the towns where they depend on visiting gringos for much of their income. And few of the locals speak English. But they are very friendly and helpful if you make any effort at all to communicate with them.

According to my limited research (details seem to vary), copper was discovered by a rancher in the area in the 1860's. In the mid-1880's the President of Mexico gave a French mining company 44,742 acres and mineral rights for 99 years plus 50 years tax-exempt status to build mines. In return, they built the town including the port and public buildings, provided employment and established a sea trade route between Santa Rosalia and the mainland. You can still see the French influence in old houses and commercial buildings throughout the town.
We enjoyed a tour of the mine museum very much but the guide didn't speak English and only a few of the signs were translated. Fortunately I was able to understand and translate for Mike most of what he said, otherwise it would not have been quite as interesting. The guide, Oswaldo, seemed thrilled at our visit. I don't think the museum gets much attention and it is another place that most of our fellow cruisers either didn't know about or couldn't find.

The history of Santa Rosalia and the Boleo mine is fascinating to me. The contrast of cultures, the town's place in the history of the two world wars and the 1910 Mexican revolution, the resilience of the people; it is all so unique and interesting. Santa Rosalia was the second city in Mexico to have electricity (Mexico City was first) and also had the first working telephone in Baja. There is so much that I would like to write about it but I realize not everyone is as interested as I am. If you have any interest at all, I recommend reading -
The recruiting of the miners (including thousands from Japan and China) and the conditions under which they worked and lived is heartbreaking. The first 100 workers were Yaqui Indians brought over from the prison in Guaymas. For a time a miner's family was granted a water allowance of only 1 bucket per day and they had to pay for that. Many died of disease epidemics and mine explosions.
One interesting bit of information was that the copper was shipped from Santa Rosalia all the way to Tacoma, Washington for refining. The boats returning from Tacoma were filled with lumber from the Pacific Northwest. It's reasonable to imagine that some of those old homes were built with lumber from my home town of Shelton, Washington.

One afternoon we walked up to the cemetery which was a hearty hike, steeply uphill under the blazing sun. It was the hike itself that made it worthwhile as we wound around the streets of a hillside neighborhood, walking sometimes through backyards or up narrow stairways with houses so close you could reach in through their windows.

The route went this way and that and always people were very friendly when we asked for directions. They didn't seem at all surprised to see gringos wandering around the neighborhood in search of the graveyard.

We stayed in Santa Rosalia for a week this time. Count me among those who love it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Bahia Concepcion

La Volante at anchor in Bahia Concepcion

One of our goals in spending a second season in the Sea of Cortez was to see some of the places we missed the first time. I don't remember why we passed by Bahia Concepcion last year, but this time we spent 6 days in four different anchorages and loved it all.

Playa Santispac
The most common complaint I've heard (the only complaint) about Bahia Concepcion is that it's unbearably hot. In fact, we met a few people headed south on our way north who said that they wanted to stay in Concepcion longer but just couldn't handle the heat. Maybe we got a lucky weather window or maybe we are adapting, but we didn't find it any worse than the other places we have visited this summer. Temperatures everywhere seem to hover in the upper 90s with 3 digit days now and then and always high humidity. The difference I noticed in Bahia Concepcion is that the water is too warm for a refreshing swim, 85-87 degrees just doesn't do much to cool me off.
There are several good anchorages but don't expect much in the way of services. There are a few beachside palapa restaurants with good food, beer and strong margaritas (beware), a couple of small tiendas for limited supplies and not much else. Power is by generator and the Mulege cell tower's signal doesn't reach into the Bay. But the beaches are gorgeous, the snorkeling is awesome, the people are friendly, and the lifestyle is so laid-back and mellow that you almost feel like you are just melting into blissfulness and never want to wake from it.
Underwater rock shelves with thousands of fish and crystal clear water perfect for snorkeling

And then, out of nowhere, comes a Chubasco to shake you back to attention. A Chubasco is a thunder and lightning storm with strong winds that happens in the middle of the night. If you look up Chubasco on the internet you see words like: severe, unpredictable, and violent. I spent a good part of last summer worrying about getting caught in a Chubasco but the reality was not that terrible. We were in a small, protected anchorage with a good-holding sand bottom and although the winds were 43 knots and the water was choppy enough to slam the boat around, our anchor held and the storm only lasted about 2 hours. That's one good thing about a Chubasco, they don't last very long. It was quite an experience and, although we did stay awake in the cockpit keeping an eye on the situation, it wasn't really scary. Fortunately they happen at night when most boats are safely anchored. I wouldn't want to be caught out at sea during one but more because of the lightening than the wind or waves.

Every little cove and island in Bahia Concepcion is worth exploration but our favorite was Playa Buenaventura where Mark, Olivia and Nathan will offer you the warmest welcome and the friendliest atmosphere you could possibly hope for.
Mark and Olivia's Playa Buenaventura

One of Nathan's tasty margaritas, this one made with fresh-picked cactus fruit
Nathan is a margarita mixologist extraordinaire!

With a gorgeous sandy beach for swimming, good food and drink, wi-fi, a pool table, and television, in a well-protected anchorage right on Hwy 1 where you can easily hitch a ride into Mulege for supplies, Playa Buenaventura is an ideal spot for criusers.

We would happily have stayed in Bahia Concepcion for several more days but a non-functioning water maker and dwindling water supplies necessitated moving on to a marina in Santa Rosalia.

But first, the Fourth of July cruisers' potluck in El Burro Cove, sponsored by Gary who provides grilled hot dogs and fireworks. An expat who lives on the cove, Gary is famous not only for this annual "come one, come all" celebration but he is also the weather guru we all depend on for our morning forecast on the ham radio net.

So, this is how cruisers party:

Friends, Swimming, Beer

Wherever Gringos gather, the locals will come to sell us things

Friday, July 18, 2014

From San Carlos - mainland Mexico

This morning I received an email gently reminding me that I haven't posted anything here for almost a month. We've covered a lot of ground since then so I guess it's time to catch up.
As of last Saturday we are in San Carlos on the mainland having crossed the Sea of Cortez for the 5th time in less than a year. Why we are here instead of north as planned is a story in itself but I'm a bit obsessive about keeping things in chronological order so...

Mike loves rusty old equipment!
We left Puerto Escondido just before noon on June 21st. We didn't have far to go. I wanted to see Bahia Salinas on the eastern side of Isla Carmen. It is the location of an abandoned salt works as well as a sunken tuna boat where I hoped to do some snorkeling. The wind was not favorable and it took us 5 hours to travel the 20 miles. We anchored with plans to explore ashore the following day.

Long hot road leading to the salt ponds
It blew all night from the southeast so we didn't have a comfortable night, the sea was too rough to snorkel, and even early morning was much too hot and humid to walk to the salt ponds. After a brief exploration of the abandoned buildings and rusty equipment we decided to leave Isla Carmen and move to Isla Coronados.

Once again the wind was not in our favor and the short trip took much longer than expected. We anchored just at sunset joining 8 other boats in the cove.

With so many cruisers in the anchorage, it was inevitable that there would be a party. Everyone came ashore for a potluck and we met some great people. Unfortunately the bees were also in attendance so it was a brief gathering. We left shortly after I was stung. These little guys are not particular aggressive but their sting leaves a hot, bright red, painfully itchy welt about the size of a dollar bill and it last for 4 or 5 days. Most unpleasant.

From Coronados we sailed to La Ramada, a somewhat small anchorage just north of Caleta San Juanico where we stayed last year (see post "The Best of Times; The Worst of Times). When we arrived we were the only boat there but a steady southeast wind made Caleta San Juanico uncomfortably rolly and La Ramada soon was filled to the max with 6 boats in the anchorage and several others in Juanico waiting for a spot to open up.

We stayed in La Ramada for 5 nights, swimming, beach combing, fishing from the dinghy, visiting with other cruisers, and snorkeling around the cove.

Next stop: Bahia Concepcion for the 4th of July