[040702: 2100 UTC: Punta Pulpito, BCS, Mexico;
26º 30.9' N/111º 27.0' W]
We write this from a dramatic and isolated anchorage roughly 30 miles north of Loreto on the Baja shore of the Sea of Cortez. To our northeast is a rocky face that's 470 feet high and composed of curved but layered grey, pink and black (obsidian) rock. We're anchored about 300 yards west in a small crescent-shaped sandy anchorage formed by the tall sand dune that connects this headland to the rocky shore. There is no improved road into here and no development for miles so when we get hot, we don't need to worry about getting our bathing suits salty, we simply strip and jump in. (It's actually "cool" today, only 93 degrees but with a nice breeze). Our view to the equally isolated and uninhabited south is expansive and we can see at least 40 miles through the islands of the Loreto National Marine Park. We arrived here yesterday after leaving our last (and nearly perfect) anchorage, La Ramada, due to rising north winds and concomitant swell in the anchorage that were forecasted to increase. Our short trip (7 miles) was an eventful one. A few minutes after Philip had pondered the value of, and then added, a flasher to our purple/black feather lure; we were startled and brought to action by the frantic whining of the reel's drag. It turned out to be a dorado…40 inches nose to tail or 47 inches if you include the tail!! (This fish story will include a photo which we'll put up onto the website the next time we reach a cyber café.) The only bad part of the story is that we don't have anyone with whom to share this incredible fish and so we will be eating mahi mahi for at least six meals!
We returned this afternoon from a wonderful but strenuous hike to the top of the cliff and found poor Jake surrounded by honey bees. Honey bees are a bit of a nuisance in Baja since they are desperate for fresh water and when they find it, they send in reinforcements! We hadn't previously had a swarm like this and hope to never have one again. Philip armed himself with a can of bug repellent and a fly swatter and threw himself into the task of slaughtering honey bees. More than fifty dead bees later, we finally had them chased away without anyone getting stung (actually Jake is not saying). Jake took refuge during the battle by hiding under a towel that was hung on the lifelines to dry. Once the boat was bee-free, the poor kitty went to sleep and remains asleep hours later.
Since our last update we did return to beautiful, immaculate Loreto to re-provision using a shared taxi. Most supplies (fruteria, supermercado, ISSTE or government grocery, lavaderia, internet) are available within walking (and hand cart) distance of the shore except for propane. In Mexico, propane facilities must be out of town; in this case it was about 5 miles out of town. Our taxi driver agreed to three stops; propane, diesel and water for a flat $200 pesos ($250 with tip). What a sight we were with our fourteen jerry cans strapped to the roof rack of the van! The driver earned his money that day as he not only drove us around but lugged our jugs (at nearly 50 lbs each), too. We did end up splurging and eating dinner in a restaurant with friends. The restaurant, La Palapa (of which there is at least one with this name in every town) offers the freshest local seafood & meat, homemade salsa, roasted peppers, and frijoles refritos all cooked over an open flame and served by three generations of family in an open air palapa (palm covered roof). The youngest server was a cherubic young niño about 4 feet tall with smooth olive skin, jet black thick hair and a devilish little chubby grin. He moved quickly bussing tables and bringing refills of agua while receiving coaching and an occasional warm kiss from the adults (his family).
While in Loreto we learned that our expired alternator that had been taken to La Paz for repair by a friend was ready for pick-up. In addition, an order from a marine supplier in San Diego was also waiting at La Paz's Club Cruceros' (Cruisers' Club). So, instead of continuing north, we purchased a bus ticket for Philip and returned south to Puerto Escondido to anchor in this secure location amongst other cruisers while Philip traveled. Escondido is a natural "hurricane hole" port that has to entered by way of a narrow entranceway. A failed resort marks the shore and Philip, especially, finds the place pretty dreary, a fact we mentioned earlier. A mile up the road from the harbor is a "T" in the road where the Escondido access road meets Mexico Highway #1 and where, if you are lucky, a southbound long distance bus will stop for you. This is the main highway that runs north and south on the Baja peninsula. Think of a narrow, poorly maintained U.S. secondary highway passing through some of the driest and most desolate landscape in the world and you will have the proper picture as to what the highway looks like.
Buses in Mexico are comfortable, efficient, inexpensive and, in reality, a great way to see the countryside. The bus that Philip was taking would leave Loreto (15 miles north of Escondido) at 1000 mountain time and we calculated it would pass by the Puerto Escondido access road some 20 minutes later. Leslie accompanied Philip to the highway and we waited in the 95 degree sunshine until we saw the bus approach. Vultures circled overhead. "The bus will not necessarily stop for you, señor, said the ticket seller in Loreto, "If he has a large truck behind him he might feel it is dangerous to do so." We took a chance; it was only $230 pesos one way (about 20 bucks). Ticket in hand on Sunday morning, Philip stepped into the middle of the right lane, raised his hand to wave and the driver signaled a stop. A quick kiss from Leslie and Philip jumped aboard, the massive door closed and engulfed him, and he took the front seat.
Highway #1 south of Pt. Escondido is curving and winding road and it began to climb into the mountains almost immediately. "Curva Peligrosa 150 m" (dangerous curve 150 meters) and "Si Toma No Meneje" (don't drink and drive) were what the signs started to advise. The bus driver drove the bus fast and well but it was somewhat disconcerting to see the asphalt end mere inches off the fog line and know that the bus' tires were on the fog line. A little bit of inattention on the driver's part and the wheel could slip off the asphalt and flip the bus over an embankment. There were plenty of embankments to fall over on this route! At some of the curves were twisted guardrails showing a spot where someone had gone over the cliff. You knew that was the case because death memorials dot those spots. These memorials run the gamut from the simple miniature "chapel" with a cross on top and decorated with plastic flowers, to ornate and large varieties that you could actually walk inside (if you were silly enough to stop on this highway to try). The trip to La Paz was 325 kilometers (202 miles) and Philip saw at least one of these memorials every 3 or 4 miles!
After descending from the mountains Mexico Highway #1 runs westward and then straightens out in the agricultural center of the peninsula before turning south again. At times the highway stretched as far and as straight as you could see with just the heat waves shimmering and dancing over the road. There are only two towns of significance that the bus passed through between Escondido and La Paz, Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitucion; the rest of the trip is just desert with an occasional restaurant that cater to the numerous semi truck drivers delivering supplies to the south end of the peninsula.
When the bus finally descended into the La Paz plain and approached the city, we came to a military (army) checkpoint and the bus was motioned to stop. Boarding the bus, one unsmiling soldier said "buenes tardes" to the bus driver who, in turn, stared straight ahead and answered him in kind. Another, equally grim-faced soldier guarded the bus door while the first one walked up and down the aisle inspecting passengers left and right before turning and walking off the bus. Philip is still not sure what they were looking for.
Once in La Paz, Philip stayed for two days and was the guest of the very gracious, Jim and Jan, on their motor boat "Mañana". Jim had arranged for Carina's alternator repair and then accompanied Philip around town while he purchased some marine supplies that would only be available in a city the size of La Paz.
The return trip back to Escondido by bus was also interesting. At the same military checkpoint discussed above, the bus was once again asked to stop. This time, all passengers were ordered to disembark while their luggage and personal bags were searched. Again, Philip is not sure what they were searching for as he was the only "gringo" aboard and he doesn't speak enough Spanish to ask those types of questions.
That adventure or errand (you decide) accomplished, we bought fresh veggies, loaded up with water and headed back to the islands, stopping at Bahia Marquer and Bahia Ballandra on Isla Carmen before returning to Isla Coronados.
Marquer was recommended to us by other cruisers as a site for "chocolates", a common and delicious clam with a striped chocolate brown shell. Here we first learned to identify their characteristic "nostrils" in the sand in 6-8 feet of water. These guys are wily though and as soon as you start to dive for them, they retract without a trace, so you have to watch carefully while you dive so that you can dig them up. One day while diving for clams we were visited and shadowed by a small school of lovely gafftopsail pompano fish which are about 10 inches long, a bright silver color with a few vertical stripes and with brilliant gold arching fins that extend nearly to their tail. They seemed to be interested and amused by us and shadowed us shyly during our entire outing.
The Marquer anchorage looks west towards Puerto Escondido and from it we could observe whales and dolphins nearly every day. During our first evening, there were also hundreds of brown pelicans attacking schooling fish about a quarter mile off in a feeding frenzy that lasted hours. Peeeuuuwww; the next day the air was thick with feathers and a hint of guano. Our last morning in Marquer we were visited by a panga with three fishermen who asked to borrow our fillet knife. We handed it over and they proceeded to the beach across the bay, returning later with our knife and a gift of fresh corvina (a type of fish)! We thanked them with genuine zeal and gave them in turn some water and a package of galletas (sweet crackers) before they zoomed off to continue fishing. We never did get their names but always try to remember to …
Bahia Ballandra, or Balandra depending on which chart you believe, is a large bay with a deep underwater canyon that extends well inside and only a narrow shelf for anchorage. The shallows in the bay were mostly sand and as clear as glass; here we were anchored in 7-9 feet of water and you could see nearly every grain of sand on the bottom below. Philip had pictured this to be a good refuge in the event of a tropical storm but, as we had been advised, it turned out to be only marginal.
Back at Isla Coronados, we were surprised to find we were alone (but for the pangas with fishing charters who beach here for lunch) in this expansive anchorage where we'd been one of ten boats on our previous visit. Here we returned to the ground coral and shell beach and collected more "wedgies". These are tiny clams that are just bigger than your thumbnail and are very sweet and tender. It takes a bucket load to make a meal, but it's quite worth it.
Our last two anchorages (before our current location, Punta Pulpito) were really part of the same peninsula, that is San Juanico and La Ramada. San Juanico is large, varied and very popular. We were disappointed, not only because we couldn't find protection from the prevailing steep SE swell but because there was a mansion built on the hillside just above the choice anchorage and there was a small army encampment on the beach. Disheartened after one night, we moved around the headland to La Ramada that is connected to San Juanico by a short, rough road and walked back to explore the cliffs for fossils and take in the mementos left at the cruisers' "shrine". While walking along the shore of we happened upon a three foot long by two foot wide diamond ray in less than six inches of water consuming the tentacles of a giant squid! These rays are generally considered harmless but will inflict a painful wound if stepped on. One is coached to do the "stingray shuffle" here because these rays will bury themselves up to their eyeballs in shallow water along sandy shores. We later saw another such giant squid (they die after reproducing) on the beach and took a picture…so be on the lookout because it's almost hard to believe this thing! Walking back to the road over the hill and to Carina, we were intercepted politely by the army contingent and were "interviewed" briefly. Antonio and Roberto were nice enough but you could tell that they were checking us out while (Antonio) kept his automatic rifle at the ready position on his chest. They mentioned it was quite hot and we had to laugh since we were in shorts, tank tops and tevas and they were in full, heavy green army uniforms with black calf-high combat boots (they laughed too)! Content we were cruceros (cruisers) with no intent, they bid us farewell and we trudged our way over the hill back to Carina lying at anchor in the bright turquoise water.
Tomorrow or the next day (depending on whether the weather cooperates and our mood is right) , we'll move a bit further north to an anchorage called either Caleta San Sebastian or Bahia de las Puercos (Bay of Pigs), both have been used. It's a tiny little slot in the cliffs that can hold only one boat comfortably and has a spring, lush palms and a few isolated cottages. If this looks too tight, we'll push on a bit further up the coast.
Sus amigos del velero, Carina
Philip, Leslie and el gato guapo, Jake