11 March 2014
March 5, 2014
It seems everyone wants to go to Puerto Escondido. There is so much buzz among the yatistas about this hidden port, I had to see it for myself. They talk about the beauty and the fact that it is one of, if not the safest harbor on the Baja coast. They talk about the friendliness within the cruising community and the annual Loreto Festival held every May. They talk about Loreto; a quaint Mexican town, rich in history, and only 14 miles north of Puerto Escondido. You can get supplies there and you can get fuel in Escondido. In fact, Escondido is the only place you can get fuel between La Paz and Santa Rosalia. All good reasons to visit.
But then there is the flip side. They talk about the moorings. The moorings are notorious for slipping. Rumor has it nineteen boats lie in the sand beneath these pristine waters. (It is a wonder this place isn't haunted.) They talk about the politics, too, and who operates what at the moment. Today it is Fonatur that operates the marina. Fonatur is an agency of the Mexican government that once planned to develop marinas all throughout Mexico so that one could sail from port to port in a day. Puerto Escondido is one of these ports. I understand they took it over with high hopes of upgrading the surroundings, charting out new waterways and building more slips and amenities. They did just that. They started, but they never finished.
The marina is gated with a palm tree-lined entrance giving it a grand appearance. Then there is one empty palapa sitting on the beach and a bridge leading to nowhere. The Fonatur offices are in a nice new building, but then there are other new buildings that lie unoccupied. A condo development was started but never completed. Was it the Mexican bureaucracy, or did they just run out of money like so many other projects here in Mexico. Who knows? What I do know is it is not uncommon to see communities like this that have the ruins of half-built dreams cluttering the shoreline.
Maybe that's why I have so many mixed feelings about Puerto Escondido. Despite it's beauty, I detect a sadness here. As if they bought her a new dress, but then canceled the party. There is so much potential. If only someone would step in and stay committed to the cause. What a spectacular setting for what could be the king of all ports.
Puerto Escondido truly is a hidden port. Heading north, it is after you pass through the Canderleros Channel, or what some mariner's call, “the pillars of Hercules.” (Massive rocks, tiny islets and reefs that one has to dodge.) Once there, you will find three anchorages, as well as a few slips in Marina Fonatur. There are also some slips in Marina Puerto Escondido back in the half-finished canals off main bay. All are protected from most every direction, nestled between cactus-filled hills and the magnificent Sierra de la Giganta mountains.
Upon arrival, the first anchorage you will see is The Waiting Room. I was wondering what everyone was waiting for until I read that the vessels with deep drafts used to wait in this cove for the tide to rise so they could pass through the narrow and very shallow channel that leads into the main bay. This is where the boat yard is and where you can get fuel. These days there are many cruisers who grab onto a mooring in The Waiting Room and make it their home. The protection from the north hills, the amazing view of the Sea beneath the mountains to the south, along with the incredible diving, and sea life is quite the draw. On the other hand, we have been told the anchorage is deep and there are old mooring chains and sunken vessels lying beneath the water that can fowl your anchor.
Moving through the very shallow channel, reportedly nine feet at mean low tide, one will pass The Hidden Port Yacht Club. An interesting building made of stone and brick. It, too, has a view of the Sea. Continuing through the channel is The Ellipse off to the left, or south side. Originally intended to be a marina, this is another abandoned dream. Now there are several moorings with more live-aboard yatistas in a half-moon bay surrounded by a cement wall in disrepair. The stairs, leading from the dinghy dock, are not unlike, but a wee bit better, than those at Turtle Bay.
The bay furthest in is called the main bay and it is huge. There are several moorings and plenty of room to anchor. This also has the incredible back-drop of the Sierra de la Giganta mountains and is surrounded by cactus-filled hills with two windows at the north end. This lets in a breeze that can be refreshing, particularly when the bobos appear. Bobos are these little tiny bugs that don't bite, just annoy. They seem to hang around the mangroves of which this cove has many. There is a fee to stay here, whether anchoring or mooring. I am told there is no fee for anchoring in the Waiting Room. Off to the left, or south side, is where you will find the office of Fonatur. This is where one must check in. The marina offers laundry and showers in exchange for thirty pesos. They also have free internet. Which is a coo as there is very little internet available in the Sea.
Also available is a mini market. It may be small but it has a good selection of foods, namely frozen meats and some fresh vegetables. It even has some wines. Of course it also has beer and many packaged staples. Motor oil and water too.
One of our favorite things about Puerto Escondido is the restaurant, Porto Bello. Or should I say, the owner, manager, waiter, and bartender, Pedro. What a delight this man is! He is welcoming and helpful, whether you desire food, drink, help with the internet, or a ride into town. He is there to serve and provides delicious meals. For years, he worked for a large hotel chain, traveling the world and learning his trade. Now he owns two restaurants and two markets in the area, one of which is the mini-market on the first floor. He is a very successful entrepreneur and I can see why. His charming personality and good food entices people to come back. On top of all this, he has a beautiful voice! One minute he is serving a meal and the next he is playing the guitar and serenading us with song. His joy is to entertain and he does it very well.
One evening, as we were leaving Porto Bello, we ran into Eric and Pamela from Emma Belle. They had just arrived from Agua Verde, and tired of their fish diet, were enjoying hamburgers while visiting with two of their friends. They were on their way to Loreto in the morning and asked us how one gets up the road. They were thinking of hitchhiking; an easy, inexpensive and quite common way to get around Baja. We had just arranged a cab with Pedro, so offered them a ride in with us. They were to meet us in the parking lot the following day at 0900.
We were standing in the parking lot at 0900, just as Pedro suggested. It was a clear, cool morning and we were excited to finally get to visit Loreto. But where is the cab? Suddenly far off in the distance and outside the guarded gate is Nexdor, our cab driver waving us over. Why he wasn't allowed through the gates and into the parking lot got me thinking. It made no sense. But then there are many things in Mexico I don't understand. All six of us piled into his van. Good thing he brought the van, I thought, because it was only two of us when we had made the original arrangements.
Loreto is only fourteen miles up the road but it took us about an hour to get there. They were working on the side of the mountain, building a new road. I don't know what came first, the slide or the road, but I guess it doesn't matter. It was quite the spectacle, waiting by the side of the mountain as they cleared up the rocks tumbling down the hill. There was a line of vehicles in both directions, including about twenty-five RV's right behind us. (Whew! So glad they weren't in front of us.) We all got out, chatted for awhile, enjoyed the view and took photos. Thirty minutes later, we were on our way again. A tad nervous, though, as we peaked through our windows, each silently wondering when the next boulder would fall.
Loreto is a very old town, over 300 years old. It's historical status lies in the fact that it was the very first city in the Californias as well as the first capital. But after the hurricane in 1829 that destroyed Loreto, the capital was moved to La Paz and interest faded. Years later, it is beginning to regain its notoriety and has become a tourist destination. It charms with its cobblestone streets and colorful merchants and has been given Pueblo Magico status, a supreme compliment. It is home to the first mission, Nuestra Senora de Loreto, founded by Padre Eusebio Bino in 1697. Beside the church is a museum housed with Loreto's history. There are some beautiful hotels here, like the Hotel Posada de las Flores. The restaurants are great and the malecon stretches over a long strand of beach overlooking the Sea and Isla Carmen. There is plenty to do, whether you want to fish, charter a boat, or just take a stroll through town. Unfortunately, we only spent a day here, but it was a fun day filled with good food, a little souvenir shopping and some provisioning. Jay and I hope to come back here and stay at Hotel Posada de las Flores. Did I mention the ceiling of the lobby is a clear view of the bottom of the pool on the roof? Just a little hint about this hotel's incredible décor. It is a visual delight.
Too soon, Nexdor picked us up and drove us back to Puerto Escondido and our boat. We had more prep work to do before heading out in the morning to our next port of call. We found our dinghy and puttered over to Cadenza with our provisions and some water.
Out of all three bays, Jay and I chose to anchor in the main bay. It was a lovely setting with lots of space. By choosing to anchor, we didn't have to worry about a mooring slipping. We spent a total of six days here. Three on the way up into the Sea and three on the way back. We found Puerto Escondido the perfect place to re-provision, refuel and regroup. We were able to catch up on our laundry and took time to clean the boat, inside and out. It also provided the internet for business purposes and fed the need to connect with our family, albeit brief. We exchanged books in the Hidden Port Yacht Club library. We even took a mile walk up the road to visit Tripui, a beautiful hotel and RV park with a restaurant and pool, surrounded by a flower garden.
In the end, I now understand why Puerto Escondido is a must-do stop. Maybe the next time we come she will be wearing her new dress and the party will have begun.