San Juanico

This is our favorite spot so far.  We headed up to this large bay after the night at Isla Coronados near Loreto.  We were still looking for good protection from north winds, so our goal was to anchor in the northern side of this large bay, in between several interesting rock formations. 

Between us and the beach at sunset
Between us and the Sea.
Windswept sandstone near the beach

When we arrived there was one other boat, a sailing catamaran with a family with two little girls on board and it remained our two boats for almost the four days we stayed there.  We got to know them a bit during our stay here.  It was great to see small children for the first time in a long time!

Looking over the anchorage from the hill. We are the tiny right hand boat.

We tried landing our dingy for some exploration first in one area that turned out to be too shallow – we would have had to anchor the dingy a quarter mile out and wade in because of the long shallow run out.  The next area had too much surf going to land our full size dingy, so we ended up on the beach across from the boat and underneath a large home built on the cliff. 

Larry determined to enjoy happy hour despite the chilly breeze.
Fading light to the west side of the bay.

A trail led off to the other side of the island where there is a small bay that is open to the north with a beautiful beach. 

On our walk over to check out the other side, we met a Mexican gentleman in a pickup truck who told us he has a small ranch with goats and vegetables nearby.  His passenger was from the house, an American guy named Eric.  We later found out that Eric is a videographer hired by the owner of the large house on the cliff (and all the surrounding area one can see in the bay) to document the area.  Fortunately, the owner, a tech guy who apparently made his money in online poker, has decided against developing this area into a resort and is instead donating it to be preserved by a non-profit organization. 

The extensive home on the hill overlooking the bay.

The next day we dingied into shore and set the anchor about 25 feet out to avoid having a beached dingy when we returned.  Our anchor buddy is getting worn out so we can’t be guaranteed that it’s working anymore to hold us off the beach.  We shuffled our feet through the water to shore – there were numerous divots in the sand which could make you stumble, but more importantly we realized they were made by sting rays.  If you step on a sting ray and surprise it, it might sting you which hurts a lot.  So shuffling is the way to alert them to your presence. 

The beach here is a popular camping area.  Highway 1 passes by about 7 miles away and then a dirt road leads here.   Three sites were occupied when we walked by – we met some of the campers – one American couple in a popup trailer who had been in Mexico for months, another solo young guy in a small tent whose father who had just arrived from Alaska for his annual visit and sunburn – he had gotten the coronavirus vaccine already.   Someone had even cleared the beach of all the rocks, leaving them in neat piles and a resulting soft white sand beach.  We found the dirt road and headed off inland. 

Dusty road leading to the ranch.

After a while of walking through the dusty cactus strewn landscape we came over a rise and saw a tall orange lamppost on the left side of the road.  Totally incongruous on the dirt road. 

The single lamppost in the middle of nowhere!

Across from it was a small house marked with white painted boulders, a large chicken coop and fenced areas.  We guessed this was Jose’s ranch.  We introduced ourselves to the two men sitting on the patio and one of them took us out back to see the vegetable plots.  3 large raised beds were shaded by a fabric sunshade and full of lush green vegetables.  It was almost disconcerting to see such rich greenness after so much dust and brown.  He pulled up spring onions, beets, chard, lettuce and other goodies for us.  The goats weren’t around but we were able to buy a kilo of fresh goat cheese too.  It was creamy, mild and salty – best thing we had tasted in weeks! 

The entrance to the ranch.
The vegetable beds.
A very proud turkey.

We stayed here for 4 nights before continuing on our way north.  We will definitely return.  There are a number of other areas to explore when the wind is lower and the water warm enough for snorkeling. 

A group of horses meandering on the beach across from us at dusk.

Loreto

Loreto is one of the oldest towns on the Baja Peninsula.  The indigenous people thrived in this area for thousands of years – the Loreto area is considered to be the oldest human settlement on Baja.   Spanish missionaries and Jesuits arrived in the late 1600s and established the first mission of the Californias here.  Not many years later, they realized they needed a better water supply and agricultural capabilities, so the mission was moved into the hills about 20 miles away. 

Municipal building anchoring one end of the town square.

Loreto served as the capital of the Baja region until there was a major storm in 1829 and the capitol was moved to La Paz.  There is a very small marina in the town that handles pangas and other small fishing boats but is not equipped for larger size vessels, which is why Puerto Escondido has become the focal marina in the region.    

In the 20th century this town was refashioned into a tourist haven, and is very popular with American and Canadian tourists and ex-pats.  We rented a car for two days from the marina in order to hit the grocery stores and farmer’s market for provisions and to do an excursion into the hills to see the Misión San Francisco Javier. 

Namesake of our destination mission in the hills.

We drove the 14 miles along the well-paved highway passing a few resort communities and a lot of land marked private for a ranch.  Once we entered town we got the lay of the land and scoped out where the grocery stores were before parking and walking to the town square area.  There are obviously a lot of restaurants and shops with tourist goods.  We were struck by how few people were around in the middle of Saturday morning.  It is clear the pandemic has almost completely closed down the tourist business here.  Unfortunately, most of the few tourists we did see were maskless, despite the Baja-wide mandate to wear masks. 

The street in front of the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto in the middle of town was all torn up, so we weren’t getting close to it.  There is a Malecon on the water which is reportedly good for strolling, but each day we passed by it, we were struck by a strong odor of waste so it wasn’t very appealing.  This must be unusual. 

Town square photos taken mid-day on Saturday – you can see the notable lack of people!

The town square has many shaded benches for relaxing.  We got fish tacos from the King of Tacos and took them to the square to eat.  They were absolutely fantastic! 

El Rey means the King. This is worth a stop!

We hit both of the grocery stores and a small delicatessen styled store with gringo favorites like cheddar cheese and real crackers.  I had a nice conversation with the owner.  She asked if I had left my husband in the car and I said yes, we were minimizing how much we went into stores if not needed because of COVID. This led her to thank me for being so careful, and to talk about how scary it was for them because they (Mexican citizens) have to take care of themselves, they cannot rely on the healthcare system, and it is a very scary time.  She wanted to know if I was going to get the vaccine (yes, for sure).  She had heard that possibly by May she might be able to get one but wasn’t confident in how the government was rolling out the vaccine.     

One of the nicely shaded streets with tourist shops.

The next day our plan was to stop by the Sunday farmer’s market in the town square and then head to the hills.  Unfortunately, it was clear as we approached the square that morning that there was nothing going on.  An attendant in front of the town offices explained that because of the pandemic the market was only held every few weeks. 

Vista from the drive – looking out to the Sea.

So, while disappointed and knowing we had to make a future grocery run to stock up on produce, we continued on the drive up into the hills to the Misión San Francisco Javier.  The drive is stunning – winding roads, parts of which have some guardrails, other times not.  There are beautiful canyons with lush greenery in the arroyo beds, and some lookouts with views out to the Sea. 

There were many shrines to accident victims, like this one, along the road.

On the way into the little town of the Misión, we passed what we believed to be a pilgrim fast-walking his way toward town, followed very slowly by a woman in a car.  They appeared at the church a little while after we arrived.  As happened in many areas where the Spanish settled missions, most of the population died from disease, so both the town and the Misión were abandoned.   Both have since been restored and rejuvenated as a destination site.   Services are held at the Misión but it appears it is not otherwise open to the public currently. 

Behind the church are the grounds where the monks raised crops and built aqueducts to manage water which comes from a spring.  They made wine, and there was a guy on site with locally made wine to try.  Larry wanted to support and buy some, but we just found it not at all to our taste.  We believe it was his son who served as our “tour” guide to the 300-year-old olive tree, so I tipped him an enormous amount instead. 

The 300 year old olive tree planted by the missionaries. Photos above are the aqueducts and view of the cultivated fields.

There were a smattering of other people visiting the area too, but overall it was very quiet.  We were able to have lunch at an outdoor table before heading back down the twisty highway for another round of provisioning before returning to Marina Puerto Escondido.     

One of the numerous luscious lemon trees. None were within arms reach for picking!

Puerto Escondido

After about 10 days on the hook, knowing there were a series of norther windstorms coming up, we headed from Agua Verde to the protected marina and anchorage area known as Puerto Escondido – or Hidden Harbor.  We had planned to stay here last year and had placed a deposit on a month’s moorage for last April but didn’t get to use it, so we hoped they were still going to honor it.   

This is an unusual area in that it is a basin protected on nearly all sides by land formations.  On the west side there are the tall Sierra de la Gigante mountains, on the north side there are a couple of small islands that have land bridges between them that form “windows” to the north, so the bay and marina are protected from north swell but not from the wind, and other land rims the rest, except for a small opening to the south.   John Steinbeck came here on his travels in 1940 and described the variety of marine animal life in the bay and also how he and his companions were taken into the hills for a big-horn sheep hunting expedition.  He found it more enjoyable to sit in the sun than to actually shoot anything and loved looking at the landscape. 

A view of the marina, roads and mooring ball field.

This has long been an anchorage with a very large basin with mooring balls that could easily hold 80 or more boats, and in recent years there has been a concerted effort to build a very nice marina, called Marina Puerto Escondido.  Since the late 1990’s there have been several efforts to build out luxury homes, complete with wide cement streets and sidewalks laid out prior to 2008, but at this point there are only two homes, and it’s not clear to us that this would really be a favored place to have a home, since it is 14 miles away from the town of Loreto and there isn’t beach nearby. 

The marina staff are all wonderful and the most helpful of any marina we have been at in Mexico.  There was a bit of confusion as we pulled into the marina though, and tried to go to our assigned slip, only to find it was occupied, then to be told to go to a different slip and then were waved off that one because they realized we were definitely too big for it.  In the end we were placed on the outside of the breakwater for the marina, which put the north side and the entire bay on our port side.  This became important the next day as the predicted norther came in with strong winds and the resultant wind powered chop that started slamming us against the cement dock.  We spent a lot of time monitoring the boat movement, ended up putting out all 13 fenders that we own on the starboard side and had a noisy and rocky night.  In the end no damage, and the marina folks moved us to the inside of the breakwater where it felt like we were in a different marina for the rest of our time, and a couple more northers. 

The marina has all the amenities one could need – very nice bathrooms and showers, a laundry facility – which does not have hot water, but the machines worked – and a restaurant with good pizza that is apparently expanding their menu slowly under new management.  There is a shop with the MOST expensive beer you will ever buy as well as high end supplies for the gringo crowd, a fuel dock, and they do in-slip pumpout, although we were told for larger boats it didn’t work well.  There are also some charter fishing boats based here.

View of the marina from the upstairs level.

Coincidentally, there were 8 other Nordhavn boats in the marina while we were there, so we got a chance to see several fellow owners that we know and to meet some new folks, appropriately distanced, of course, which was great.  The marina was not full, and when we dingy toured around the anchorage one evening we realized that the majority of the 40 or so boats on mooring balls were there for storage –almost all sailboats, with their decks clear and all sails removed, no signs of life.  The pandemic has taken a toll on the usual business of this area.

Helpful trail map on boulder.

One of the benefits of the area is the meticulously laid out and maintained trail system up into the hills overlooking the harbor and out into the Sea.  The creation of this was led by a previous long-time expat resident who was a vigorous and devoted hiker.  We did a couple of the trails – the first time slipping and sliding some on the loose rock, so the next time we broke out the hiking boots.  We do beg to differ with the published description of these as being “easy” hikes, but they are worth the effort for some magnificent views from the ridges. 

Looking out to the Sea and nearby Isla Danzante from the ridgeline.

On my birthday we ran into this pair of young burros in the scrub brush.  Later on, we learned from a guard that the burros were originally part of a threesome owned by a local, but one of them died, and they are going to be sold in May. 

They were so sweet and clearly hoping for a snack, which I didn’t have.

When we weren’t feeling up to the vertical climb of 650 feet in half a kilometer for the hill hikes, we walked the perimeter of the area, which included the Marina Rescate (think Coast Guard) dock and building.   

The marina makes it easy to rent a car for $35 a day, so we also spent two days exploring Loreto and some nearby sites, which will be in our next post! 

Agua Verde

Agua Verde is right around the corner from Bahía San Marte, so we had a short but windy and wavy cruise to the anchorage.

Northern lobe of the anchorage.
Great day and wonderful spot.

There are many Roca Blancas and Roca Negras along the coast, but this one is called Roca Solitaria. It greeted us as we entered the anchorage.

We nestled into the northern cove of the anchorage, seeking protection from westerly and northerly winds. Of course, at one point southerly winds kicked up, and we ended up moving away from the beach farther out into the cove. We are still learning the winds around here!

We went to shore with the intention of hiking, perhaps into town, and getting some awesome photos from higher up.

Larry smiling because the boat is in a great spot!

There is a steep short rocky road leading up out of the northern bay that starts in front of fishing shack inhabited by a sweet elderly man and his dog. I suspect it was he who put this sign at the top to prevent people getting stuck in front of his home. It also is a warning to walkers – I ended up sliding on some rocks and skinning my knee pretty well on the way back down at the end of our walk.

This says “Peligro” – meaning danger. 4×4 only

We walked the ridge road until it connected up with the main road. The connector to Aguaverde comes off the main highway 1 that is the main paved highway along Baha. This road is over 20 miles of dirt road.

The village itself is clearly more prosperous than other fishing villages we have seen. The houses are very well kept, have solar panels and many have various things like kayaks in the yard, which to me means more disposable income available.

The walk to the village from the north anchorage is about a mile and half. We were glad we brought water – it was fairly hot and dusty.

This cow didn’t make it.
This was the first time I had seen this type of tree – I called it a ghost tree. Turns out it is quite common.

The next day we kayaked around the anchorage during a calm period.

When the time came to up anchor, we experienced the most sea grass on the anchor yet!

I love the cactus in the bottom – seems to be saying Yay!

Bahía San Marte

After Tembabiche, we continued to make our way north exploring anchorages on the Baha Peninsula, seeking protection from the sporadic westerly nighttime winds that kept coming. Our next stop was Bahía San Marte, a wonderful unpopulated little anchorage with some beaches and purported hiking to explore.

There we are, all by ourselves!

After ensuring we were well anchored, we put down the dingy and headed for a beach. The guidebook had said there was good hiking in the area so we were all prepared with good footwear, hiking poles and water.

Promising beginnings to a hike.

It looked to me like we could make our way up a ridge, although we would have to pick our way. But, we reached the limits of our capabilities – we tried multiple ways on two separate beaches, but the arroyos petered out quickly and there seemed no way to pick our way through prickly cacti wearing shorts on very uneven rocky and loose ground. So we walked the lengths of the beaches and found some cool things to look at.

I was surprised to see this whale vertebra lying on the beach. Totally cool. There were no other whale bones around, and it is obviously well weathered. Wonder how long it’s been there!

View looking up into the surrounding hills where we attempted to hike. This bush with green bark is one of the typical bushes around here – but I don’t know what it’s called yet.

These were my favorite shells on the beach.

This beach had more interesting shells than we’ve seen so far. At one end there were tide pools. Unfortunately there were no signs of urchins, anemones or other small animals I was hoping to see, except for some hermit crabs. We are starting to get the feeling that while we do see numerous schools of fish and the dolphins chasing them in deeper waters, the seashore itself feels oddly sterile. We’ve both read John Steinbeck’s Log of the Sea of Cortez from his 6 week voyage here with his buddy naturalist in 1940, just 80 years ago, and their vivid descriptions of the shore teeming with life of all kinds, even in Los Cabos and La Paz bay. It seems that there has been a precipitous decline in numbers and variety of sea life in the intervening years. The Mexican government is trying to protect what’s left, creating some 19 National Parks and Biosphere Reserves around the Baja California Peninsula.

The anchorage was tucked up under Punta San Marcial and provided very good protection from the Westerlies… we hardly noticed them until we pulled out the next morning to head around the point to Agua Verde, where we encountered brisk winds and whitecaps.

Tembabiche

On our way to Tembabiche from San Evaristo, we passed the tiny remote fishing village of Nopolo. It is perched on the edge of the Sea tucked behind a rocky point so they aren’t even visible from the north at the base of a steep, high mountain peak. Can you imagine living in such a remote hard to reach place?

We reached Tembabiche and saw we would have the anchorage to ourselves for much of the time. Pelicans and other sea birds clearly find lots to eat there, as there were many of them grouped near the estuary side of the anchorage. A few fisherman trailer their pangas to launch from the beach here, and there is a tiny fishing village not far away, hardly visible to us from the water.

After getting anchored up and reveling in our isolation, we dingied to shore to explore. A pelican took off at just the right distance for me to get some great action shots.

In 2017, the lagoon area here, as well as a number of others on this area of the coast, was declared a protected area with no fishing allowed to support the rejuvenation of fish and other wildlife. We walked around the edges and spied a number of birds in the mangroves and perched on cacti. Herons, egrets, ospreys, sand pipers and pelicans enjoyed the lagoon. 

While we were walking around the estuary, we saw obvious signs of animal meanderings and heard some cows off in the distance. During happy hour, we again heard the sound of farm animals from the beach, and there they were – a couple of cows, grazing on the beach.

The next day we set off for a different part of the beach and a walk to reach the fabled Casa Grande – the ruins of a grand home built years ago by a fisherman with a windfall that has fallen into disrepair. We found the dusty road that the fisherman use to bring in their pangas and followed that for a while.

The road went through some great cacti.

Casa Grande itself was surrounded by a few obviously occupied small houses, but we didn’t see any people. We took photos quickly and then walked out to the beach, realizing that the river was dried so we could walk across the arroyo back to our dingy.

We saw a number of carcasses of various animals on the beach. The most disturbing to me was a large turtle shell and a large ray, which was almost entirely intact, but ossified. They were right next to each other, which made me wonder whether they were discarded from fishing by catch. I didn’t even take a picture because it made me sad.

Some other finds were more interesting.

We are fairly sure this is a ray from the shape of the head.
After consulting some guides I think this is a balloonfish, not a pufferfish.

We were taking a nap when a young fisherman in a shorty wetsuit came to the boat and asked if we wanted lobster.  Sold us 3 langostas – we had to revive them a bit in sea water to ensure they were good.  He had a hard time keeping the outboard engine for the panga running but did a great job maneuvering up to our side just to do the exchange.  Larry cooked them up into several fabulous meals.

On our last day I managed to haul myself out of bed before sunrise to try to get some good shots of the sun on the mountains and on Casa Grande. The golden hour is fleeting, and Casa Grande was far away, but these capture a flavor of what it was like.

You can just see the Casa Grande in the right side of the photo.

Isla San Francisco

Isla San Francisco has a beautiful large anchorage called “the hook” which features a long sandy beach and good depths and holding.  We approached this large bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon with very little wind.  When we arrived, there were 4 sailboats in the NW side of the anchorage, and we found plenty of room further East along the beach.  The anchorage has good protection from wind and swell, except from the SW… more on this later.  On the beach a party of 6 women were set up with a tent and a lavish arrangement, waited on by a male crew member.  They had a good time into the evening back on their catamaran.  We settled in for the night, listening to voices and music from other boats, and saw lots of bioluminescence and fish activity in the water after sunset. 

The anchorage with the Sierra de la Giganta mountains across the way.

In the morning we were having coffee during sunrise when we heard exhaling and saw a few dolphins jumping near the boat.  We went on deck and realized there was a large pod of them in the anchorage, having a wonderful time cavorting with each other in and around our boats and swimming back and forth to the rocky points at either end of the bay.  They came and went during the much of the morning and we were even able to go out in the dingy with them.  They swam off our dingy bow, turning sideways sometimes to look at me.   They treated us to an impressive aerial show with pairs of dolphins leaping out of the water together just yards from us.   It was life-affirming to be so close to them. 

The mystery bird from one of my earlier posts reappeared in this anchorage.  I caught them on film as they swam around during the dolphin visit.  It’s a bit challenging as they don’t stay on the surface for long at all, they pop up and then quickly dive again in rapid succession.  I am fairly confident that they are lesser grebes.  They look delicate from a distance and curve their bodies and extend their necks as they dive, but they look much more substantial in up close photos. 

Now that our dingy engine is healthy, we have more options for shore excursions.  If I was a hardy soul like the guy who came in on a catamaran the second day, I would swim to shore, but the 65-degree water is still a little cool for me.  Soon though! 

There are two anchorages, we were in the one on the left with the long white beach.

This island has several options for walks, so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs every day.  We went ashore and hiked up the ridge on the S side of the anchorage where we could look down over the whole scene.  We didn’t stay long because the tide was going out and the dingy was gradually being left high and dry.  If the water receded completely, we’d wind up having to wait for the rising tide to get back to the boat.  This kind of thing happens all the time in the PNW, where the tidal range is quite large.  It’s not as big down here, but enough to cause problems.  We have routinely used an “anchor buddy” which is an elastic line that attaches to the dingy on one end and a small mushroom anchor on the other end.  You throw it over when you get close to shore, plant the bow anchor on the beach, and then let out a bit of line. The anchor buddy pulls the dingy back into the water where it stays afloat in place.  Unfortunately, last year we lost the mushroom anchor trying to anchor in a snorkeling spot that had way too much swell.  So when we narrowly avoided having to spend hours on the beach, Larry fashioned a makeshift replacement from one of the small volcanic rocks on the beach.  The anchor buddy is back in business, but Larry will need to improve the lashings for the rock. 

Once we had the anchor buddy back in service, we could go off for longer hikes without concern.  At first glance, it feels like the terrain is nothing but dusty brown and red rocks scattered with cacti of various shapes and sizes, all of them prickly.  Once we started walking through the salt pond and sand dunes, I saw a whole range of flowers popping up as I slowed down and really looked at what was around me, rather than rushing through on a purposeful march.    

The southern part of the bay is rimmed with a steep rocky ridge and a twisty path leads to the top.  It extends to the southern edge but is truly scary with steep rocky drop-offs on both sides.  A misplaced step from poor balance would not end well, so we skipped that part and explored the views to the northern side of the island and across the Sea.

Larry with the peak of the south ridge in the background.

We checked out the rocky points on either end of the bay which are supposed to be good snorkeling areas.  They appear to have shallow depths of less than 12 feet, so we will likely try these out when we return later in the spring when everything has warmed up.  Near shore, there was not a lot of activity in the crystal clear water.  I found it notable that on one dingy landing, there was a large black boxfish near shore but no other fish, which is why he caught my eye.  There aren’t any urchins or anemones, but there are clearly crabs living there, we just haven’t seen then. 

Our fellow bay residents turned over, and only a sailboat remained during the day on the northern edge of the bay.  We had watched their boat pitch and roll dramatically in the first morning and wondered how they were faring, and during the course of the day watched what we imagined was a drama playing out, with lots of solitary morose looking activity, and even their two dogs looked downcast.  They were still there the next morning.  New boats came in, including some folks on a Nordhavn 46 whom we met from a distance.  It seemed to be a fairly equal mix of American, Canadian and Mexican cruisers, but only a half dozen of us, which is sparse compared to what we have heard this bay often holds. 

For a while it was just us and the small sailboat.

After a couple of wonderful days, we had a look at the weather forecasts and saw that Westerly winds were expected the following day.  We decided that we would move over to the anchorage on the other side of the hook the following morning so we would have protection from the waves.  We had the right idea, but we were too late.  At about 1:30 am we awoke to the wind and swell suddenly picking up.  It went quickly to 20+ knots and stayed there all night.  Winds and swell were from the SW – rolling right into the anchorage, and we were pitching like crazy.  This was the dreaded situation in which the boat would be on the beach if the anchor didn’t hold.  It did hold but made for a sleepless night on anchor watch for Larry, and a restless night for me too.  The winds died down in the morning, but the swell remained, so we pulled up anchor right after sunrise and headed to the little fishing village of San Evaristo, which is on the mainland and has good protection from westerly swell.

Sunrise against the Sierra de la Giganta Mountain range as we left in the morning.

Los Islotes

On Friday afternoon, after dealing with several issues, we were able to head out for another island weekend, hoping the predicted westerly winds would not materialize. These can make the anchorages uncomfortable as they are all open to the west.

There were 3 catamarans in Ensanada del Candelero (otherwise known as Candlestick Cove) which dictated where we were able to anchor. We are learning that they are often charters and may leave in the evenings to head back to La Paz.

We anchored next to this – Roca Monumento , which sits in the middle of the cove.
This wall was on our other side. Unfortunately we were too close for me to get a photo with the full scale of it.
A little hard to see as it was overcast in the morning, but there are two beaches bisected by a rocky prominence which forms the head of the bay.

We spent a lovely calm evening. As we sat on the back deck in the growing darkness of twilight, we were joined by the Turtles. They were quite active around the back of the boat, swimming around and raising their heads, seeming to gaze right at us. We enjoyed talking to them. Later we thought maybe they were wondering what the heck we were doing there.

We slept well in the total quiet, until being awakened at about 1 am with the feeling of being on a hobby horse rocking back and forth. Larry got up to check our location and whether our anchor had dragged. All was well on the anchor alarm, but we proceeded to be awake for much of the rest of the night in a state of drowsy wakefulness – the result of knowing the anchor is well set, the boat is rocking, and several times an hour we’re jerked awake by the knocking, thumping and crashing of waves on the hull, or the voices from a neighbor boat as they pull anchor and flee.

Over coffee, unable to download the weather forecast (a blog post on this coming soon!) but knowing the previous prediction was for at least 24 hours of westerly wind, we decided to weigh anchor.

Approaching Los Islotes.

Some sightseeing was in order, so we headed along the length of Isla Partida to these small islands about a mile offshore called Los Islotes. They host a California sea lion rookery. Once we got close, we could hear the bellowing, barking and general noisiness of the sea lions.

Most of the islands were covered with groups like this.
One of the striking examples of the pink sandstone of the area.
Face up to the weak sunlight.
We had never seen so many sea lions with this tawny golden color.

I’ve learned that California sea lions live in one of five genetically distinct populations along with west coast of the US, Canada and Mexico. There are two distinct populations on the western side in the Pacific, and 3 that divide up the Sea of Cortez into north, central and southern regions. The western groups migrate north outside of their breeding season, but the Sea of Cortez groups do not.

It is possible to swim or dive with the sea lions here and there were a few panga diving groups onsite. It would be a lot of fun, but anchoring and leaving the boat is not recommended in this area, so we didn’t even discuss it. Not to mention the water temperature is currently is in the mid-60s, so a bit cool even for us!

He posed for quite a while looking off into the distance, then leaned over as if to comment to his mate.
The vultures were right at home here too.

On our way south we stopped at tiny bay called Las Cuevitas which is reported to hold a blue-footed booby rookery. It was clearly unoccupied and had very little guano remaining, so seemed like it hasn’t been populated in some time. I later found that their mating season is in the summer, so perhaps they are only at home part of the year. One of my hopes is to see one of these birds up close and get some good photos while we are here in the Sea!

Caleta Partida

Striking rust brown sandstone hills rise steeply around the north and south sides of this ancient caldera which has subsided back into the sea.  A white sand beach protrudes from Isla Partida to form the eastern part of the circle.  A complementary rocky protrusion from Isla Espiritu Santo housing the park ranger’s cabin pairs with the slip of land from Partida to form a channel between the two islands.  To the west, the bay opens to the Sea of Cortez with a view of the mainland Baha ridges in the distance. 

Looking out toward the entrance of the bay.

I hear the laughing of gulls, and the splashes in the northern part of the bay from pelicans dive bombing into the water.  Jumping fish splash, and a turtle pops its head up from time to time, and I swear I can hear him take a breath before submerging again.  Tens of small black and white diving birds repeatedly dive in unison, sometimes making it appear that a school of rays or jumping fish are coming at us.  Black vultures with small red heads circle high up near the glowing cliffs and also scavenge on the beach. 

Cacti grow right up to the edge.

There is an unoccupied fish camp with a half dozen shacks on one side of the beach. A shrine at one end also supported the channel light.

The camp on one side of the bay.
This shrine perches on the rocks at the far end of the spit looking into the channel between the islands.

This was our setting for our first three day weekend at anchor after arriving back in La Paz.  We could not have asked for a more magical setting that embodies the reason we came to Mexico.

The days were warm and sunny, and after our first evening the winds were quite calm.  We moved in closer to the beach and the southern side of the cove after our first night.  This moved us close enough to hear a faint bleating, which really sounded like a goat to me.  Periodically through the day on Saturday I scanned the hillside with binoculars but never saw a moving life form.  During happy hour, a mewling whiny animal sound started, much more frequently.  It affected me the same way a crying baby does – I just wanted to make it stop!  It was getting dark so I couldn’t see anything, and fortunately we went into the cabin for dinner as it cools considerably after the sun sets.  I was relieved not to hear what sounded like a dying animal through the portholes while I was trying to sleep.  The next day I didn’t hear anything.  Larry didn’t think an animal could be dead on land as we would certainly see a horde of vultures circling.   

The vultures loved hanging out in this area – hard to see the bush loaded with them farther back.
The friendly marine park ranger checking us off after talking with us.

As we were finishing our morning routine, the marine park ranger pulled up in his panga to check whether we had renewed our annual park pass – Pasaporte de La Conservacion –  which helps funds protection of these islands and is required to anchor and go ashore. It sounded to me like they had a registry of boats that previously had passes and they had a record of us from last year, but they didn’t have a record that we had just renewed.   Espiritu Santo and Partida are within the Golfo de California Biosphere Reserve.  The Sea of Cortez holds a number of marine parks. 

I asked the ranger whether there were animals on shore, trying to describe what I had heard in my broken Spanish.  He said there are goats on the islands, non-native pests that need to be removed as they are eating all the vegetation.  Just like in Olympic National Park in the US.   And sure enough, at cocktail hour we saw a family of goats on shore.  And later, we saw and heard the annoying baby goat who had lagged behind as the adults walked down the shore, crying for them to wait for him.  He looked quite healthy, which explained the lack of vultures.   

Goats onshore, they actually seemed to be drinking the sea water as we watched.
The incredibly whiny baby goat, wandering in the wrong direction.

We kayaked around much of the bay, explored the beach and the unoccupied fish camp.  I loved the dramatic rocky landscape, and how I could watch through the clear water to see fish going about their business.  It felt great to get my kayaking muscles working again after so long away.  At times we were the only boat in the bay.  Occasional panga tour boats flew through the channel between the islands, and each night there were one or two catamarans anchored across the bay from us, but no one ever joined us on the beach or out kayaking. 

We didn’t see many fish, but this school of some type of boxfish or puffer fish came right up to shore.
Beachcombing found this porcupine fish dried carcass as well as one of the few items of trash.
These tracks show something about the social life of crabs and birds.
Pelicans coming over to visit during sunset.

Settling in …

We all need some distracting reading away from the news of the day, so here’s an update on stuff we are finding as we reopen the boat.

This used to be a red, green and white Mexico flag – what happens in 9 months of exposure.

We know the temperatures here were around 100 for a few months during the summer time, and the humidity was quite low. Despite the record number of hurricanes this year, none of them hit this area at hurricane strength. The boat was looked after by some local boat watchers, but we still had some interesting findings. All of our canvas and screens were intact and in place, with the exception that the dingy cover had blown off and was hanging by a bungee cord, and the cover on the spotlight looked like it got burnt!

Not sure if this scorched canvas means we got hit by lightning!
Some of our lines were allowed to remain in the water and now have quite the beard of marine growth.

I have been pleased to find that all my galley preparations have meant that we did not return to a bug infestation – one of my big fears. I had tossed anything open, sealed stuff with my vacuum sealer and cleaned out the fridge and freezer – no mold in there either! The weirdest thing I found was that the tips of my rubber gloves were all melted away into a sticky goo.

And I thought I was using all natural products! Or maybe it was the 100+ temp.

Inside, the boat was covered in a thick layer of dust which I have been working through, and along the way we discovered that tools with rechargeable batteries, like our small vacuum, are all dead.

We have been spending much of the day, after having a good breakfast and relaxed wake up with coffee, working on our extensive task list. In the afternoon we are settling into a routine of siesta after late lunch, then walking the marina to get some exercise. The temperature is just lovely at mid-70s during the day, with a good breeze that can get stiff at times. In the evenings we enjoy the sunset, a beverage, and watching the birds.

All of our good tequila is intact!

This will be our typical day for the month of January as we work through a bunch of tasks, get the muffler replaced which is scheduled for late in the month, and watch the weather.

These two had quite the conversation about the fish in the left guy’s mouth.