01/31/2012, Island off the cost of Mainland Mexico
This destination would be our first test as a couple with a significant passage, and proved to be a very successful one. In all we sailed 252 miles (400km) in approximately 44 hours, and slowed down deliberately so we would arrive at daybreak rather than in the dark. We spent a full 24 hours in winds of 25-30 knots with higher gusts and 6'-8' seas and ran completely under the control of our wind vane steering system. All in all the success of the passage under the control of our wind vane steering encouraged me to be confident that the boat and its systems are capable of doing what we aspire to. It also gave us pause as the island is 1.5 miles north of its charted position, so we must take care to arrive in new destinations in daylight.
Isla Isabella is a small and beautiful island bird sanctuary, with researchers from Norway on site. It has been filmed by both Cousteau and National Geographic and is considered to be an ecological treasure. We arrived at daybreak and it did not disappoint. The harbor was small with two boats at anchor and so we chose to anchor off the southeast corner in the lee of two prominent rock towers called the Monas (Mannequins). As we finished anchoring we were treated to whales jumping out of the water, admittedly some distance away. Phoebe had two closer sightings but we got no photos of the whales. Birds, on the other hand, were readily available to photograph as evidenced by the accompanying album. Every tree on the island housed at least 2 or more frigate birds, the shores had boobies nesting on the ground, and other unique species in less numbers flew around the heights. After a short nap we took the dinghy to shore and explored, returning to the boat for a quiet evening and night. In the morning we rowed the dinghy around the Monas then departed for Puerto Vallarta early afternoon, with the intention to sail overnight and arrive in Banderas Bay in the early morning.
12/31/2011, Ensenada el Candelero
So named for the formations on the sandstone cliffs along the shore and the more defined profiles on the island that stands candle like in the middle of the bay. We sailed there after overnighting at Isla San Jose, and encountered a large pod of dolphins as we approached Isla Partida en-route.
Candelaros is a beautiful bay, and we saw a couple of turtles around the boat shortly after our arrival and schools of fish dancing on the surface in a swirl of water and fins. They were likely trying to avoid something from below but inadvertently drew the attention of the pelicans from above. It becomes more apparent every day that small fish are the basis of the food chain of the sea, and we had better take steps to ensure their health. Unfortunately Candeleros is open to the southwest and that night we had a consumel wind, a local phenomena that comes off the heated land from the southwest, and it was uncomfortable though it seemed to bother me more than Phoebe. The bay compensated for it in the morning. There is a very old trail at the head of the bay behind a small by attractive sand beach. The trail took us past the interlocking stone floor and wall footing remains of a Mexican Navy cabin and the old well that served its occupants at one time. About the area of the cabin were some lovely red flowers that were likely remnants of cultivation by earlier occupants. Climbing it further we came to a dry waterfall and some amazing fig trees that openly root in every crevice to obtain water. The sandstone cliffs were sculpted by the wind in smooth flowing formations and the trail hugged their faces. En-route we encountered the first animal we have seen in the islands, 3-4 small greyish chipmunks too elusive to photograph, undoubtedly there because of the availability of fresh water as evidenced by the well and dark damp looking soil in the old water bed.
Later that day a young couple in a kayak greeted us with their daughter. They were from Banff and headed to the beach to camp for the night and came by attracted by our Canadian flag. There are quit a few Canadian flagged vessels in the La Paz area and it is easy to see why. The cruising is beautiful, provisioning is generally inexpensive, the anchorages are usually pretty secure and an easy day sail apart, and the people are very friendly and helpful.
The next morning we sailed to La Paz to provision for our crossing to the mainland, anchoring in a cove north of the customs house and ferry terminal to get our import permits for the boat. Christmas was a week away and we had plans to film a Mexican themed Christmas greeting for our family and friends before we left La Paz.
|La Paz and Surrounding Islands||
12/31/2011, Baja Islands
When on Isla San Francisco two weeks earlier we could see this large saltwater mangrove lagoon on the south side of Isla San Jose, the next island north and had determined that given the opportunity we would like to see it for waterfowl photos if possible. As it was a short sail across the channel from San Evaristo to the southwest corner of the island, where we would be sheltered from prevailing NE winds, we settled in early afternoon and dinghied to shore. After looking for shells on the beach we took the dinghy around to the south shore and through the breach in the sandbar into the lagoon. We saw Ibis and egrets and attempted to get a good photo of two elusive ducks that we had not seen before. It is a beautiful large lagoon, apparently the largest in the Sea of Cortez, and teeming with waterfowl and fish. Unfortunately the water close to the mangroves was too shallow for easy dingy access, and prompted us to renew our commitment to obtain a kayak. The return allowed us to run the rapids of the ebbing tide through the breach and a rapid return to the good ship "Three Sheets". Beware of the no seeums of San Jose, an appropriate caution.
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12/31/2011, Baja Sur
Population 200 in season. Dale had told us of this modest fishing village on the coast of the Baja where she had kayaked and come to know the villagers well. It is also one of the respected anchorages in strong winds and one we had attempted to reach on our prior trip to Isla San Francisco so we were easily persuaded to make it a destination. We arrived in front of a forecast for strong northerlies after an overnight stay in Coleta Partida and settled in for what turned out to be three days. We had a great dinner in what is the most modest diner I have experienced to date. A couple we met who were capable in Spanish helped us arrange to have a fish dinner prepared for 4 people, ourselves and another couple anchored in the harbor we met that day. We arrived at 5:00, since it was on the beach with limited lighting, and feasted on generous helpings of delicious fresh fish tacos, salsa, grilled peppers, beans and pasta salad served under a galvanized steel and tarpaulin cover seated in plastic lawn chairs in the sand accompanied by the owners dog, who was charming, polite and eager and a story in his own right. We really enjoyed the meal, it cost 300 pesos per couple which included 3 Cervesas and a 20% tip. After the meal we met the owner's daughter who prepared the meal and hosted us and some of the children of the village. We enjoyed a limited exchange of conversation and gave a few gifts for the kids. Once again we were reminded of how limited our experience will be in other cultures without better command of the local language as I would have liked to spend more time getting to know them and their families.
Bobby the dog greeted us on our first walk in the village and was a great solution to our need for a pet fix. He was affectionate and followed us on our hike unless distracted by critter holes and other smelly attractions. Phoebe managed a few photos of some birds, including a local woodpecker, despite Bobby's efforts scouting ahead. Eventually he introduced us to Ensalma, his master and the owner of the pallapa where we had dinner. She is the daughter of one of longstanding citizens of the village and our understanding is many are connected through family. There is obviously a lot of what we might consider poverty in Mexico, but the community was very welcoming and appeared content and proud. In addition to fishing there was a large salt flat with a few people raking and gathering the salt, and the fishing boats seemed well kept and powered by fairly large and modern engines. It seemed familiar, but not to the same scale, as my youth as the son of a local tradesman who made his living taking care of the needs of the wealthy cottage owners who came in season and hired us to do the stuff they didn't want to do. We were considerably poorer but quite content, much as I think this community appeared to be.
We bought some fish and took leave of Bobby, who wanted to jump in our dinghy and snorkeled again on the morning of our departure to San Jose island and the mangrove lagoon we wanted to see before we headed back to Ensenada de Candelaro, La Paz and eventually across to the mainland.
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12/31/2011, From Todos to La Paz
After Todos Santos we travelled by car to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo to see the geography and architecture and we love road trips. Heading back to La Paz we decided to take a coastal road to Ensenada de los Muertos, one of our anchorages on our way north to La Paz weeks ago. On the Mexico road map it was shown as a modest road through two small villages El Cardonel and Boca de Alamo. Well it was paved as we left highway one at Los Barriles but as it went into the hills/mountains the quality of the paved road quickly deteriorated, with more than a few pie shaped wedges 4-6 feet into the road completely washed out and steep ravines on the sides. Reaching El Cardonel and returning to flat lower ground, the road improved and we became more optimistic. This quickly changed when we turned north and the road went to sand. We circled back only to confirm the sand road was our destination, even though it was now one lane it at least had broad shoulders if we met oncoming traffic. Ominously there was none. At Boca de Alamo it went downhill, where the road become a narrow jeep track through brush, and then quickly became a rocky narrow bulldozed ledge overlooking the Bahia Los Muertos from varying heights and none low, until the road plunged down to the few arroyos that fed rainwater into the bay in season. But then it was immediately back up a steep grade with large lose rocks and gravel, some the size of footballs and a return to the narrow ledge and steep slopes down. On two occasions Phoebe left the car, and I jokingly suggested she wanted to capture my demise as I plunged off the road, but in one case we could not get up the slope so I am sure the weight reduction helped however slight, and in the second case it was just to relieve the stress. We were getting very anxious, me quieter and concentrating on driving, Phoebe not so quiet and lacking the requirement to concentrate was focused on the fall. We were both very concerned we could get stranded there as it truly was worse than any road I have previously been on including the logging roads in the north. We were at least an hour covering 8-10 miles and greatly relieved to have made it without obvious damage to the car. The photos don't do it justice, just don't take this road to re-live our experience. If a person was driving anything other than a jeep or ATV they would had to have our luck to make it, and we were somewhat the beneficiaries of driving a narrow track vehicle. Never again, or at least until the memory fades......
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12/31/2011, Todos Santos
We took a 2 day road trip to the town of Todos Santos (All Saints) due largely to a chapter in my past. At the conclusion of my high school years, six because I loved French so much, I was a friend of Dale Townsend. Dale is/was one of the locally famous Townsend girls, 2 sets of sisters, all blond, attractive, smart, ambitious and elusive. After high school Dale went to nursing in Kitchener and I went to university in Saint Catherines and we lost contact. I heard years later that she was living in Mexico, married with a family. I have often wondered how she was doing but never took the initiative to locate her. So, in Cabo San Lucas, Phoebe picked up a magazine or two, and a few days later sailing north to La Paz I was reading it and there on the back cover is a real estate advertisement with Dale's smiling face. Dale was the owner of her own brokerage primarily selling property in Todos Santos, and had lived there for 35 years. I emailed her and we got together for dinner on a Saturday in La Paz, with a little apprehension on my part at least, since we hadn't seen each other for 45 years and could have evolved into complete strangers. That was not the case, we had a great time (I speak on behalf of the three of us) and Phoebe and I agreed at Dales invitation to take a road trip to Todos Santos if the weather kept us land bound in the coming week.
Our road trip was in the smallest Dodge/Hyundai rental I have ever driven (this is important detail for the next chapter) but comfortable and air conditioned. Dale gave us a great tour of her community, she is obviously an important part. Being one of the first "gringos' and English speaking realtors in the area she has introduced many new people and assisted in a large proportion of the real estate development in the community, as well as founding a community organization to further the English education of the native Mexican population. The town is what you would expect of a traditional Mexican village, with the large church, picturesque town square, and many buildings of a much earlier period. It is well maintained, and boasts many restaurants, craft shops, hotels and a very attractive original main street, on which sits Hotel California. We saw many Hotel's California across Mexico and California and the local management deny this is the one famous in song, but controversy remains, and they play "Hotel California" at the bar as a theme. We stayed there and had a great room with a small patio.
It is apparent that Dale has made a good life in Mexico with her family, and graciously invited Phoebe and I to her home. We had the pleasure of sipping on more wine and sat on her patio overlooking a small valley watching the sun go down over the Pacific with whale smoke going into the evening sun. How does it get better than this? A beautiful home with a great, perhaps the best, view in the midst of a large but spacious development north of the original village. It contains many beautiful homes that reflect much of the traditional architecture in a modern design. There is at least one local architect with a storefront in the village and all of the homes are unique so I expect the character of the new community is a result of this profession. Dale's home and some she pointed out in our tour of the town were custom designs of owner and architect collaboration. We had a great dinner in a small outdoor Italian restaurant with more wine and the only casualty was a broken heel on a shoe and a small headache for yours truly. It was great to be reacquainted with an old friend and to be comfortable, and I hope we get a chance to do it again.
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