Reflections by Kirk - September 22, 2015
18 December 2015
(photo: Anchored at Ensenada el Quemado near Bahia de Los Angeles)
We are on the way back south towards La Paz. Summer has turned into fall and the temperatures have cooled considerably. Water temps are down seven or eight degrees. We are putting flannel sheets and light blankets on the bed at night. We have even donned long pants and a fleece sweater a few times. It was with some nervous anticipation that we decided to spend the summer up in the Sea of Cortez. We knew that it could get quite hot and the idea of going through hurricanes at anchor is downright frightening. So far there have been no hurricanes. Even though we complained of some discomfort with the heat, we survived; and now that it is cooler, it does not seem to have been so bad to keep us away from the northern Sea again. We really liked it up there.
All of our time was spent within a day's sail of Bahia de Los Angeles. BLA is on the east side of the Baja Peninsula in the northern third of the Sea of Cortez and there is a small village there. They say maybe 800 people live there year round. The population grows when the weather up north in the US and Canada starts getting colder. Then people migrate south to their BLA homes or come down in RVs. Despite the lack of cell service or even mail service, despite the limited services of any kind, and despite the limited (by US standards) selection of food products at fairly high prices, people still flock to BLA. Most of the Norte Americanos live off the grid with no utilities to their properties or RVs. They have generators for electricity and go to the community well to fill large tanks with water that is hauled back to their places in pickup trucks. Refrigerators are run on propane. There seems to be a sense of community that is more pervasive and stronger than any place that I have ever lived in. Neighbors help out neighbors regardless of nationalities. There is a special feeling about the place that I do not think could possibly exist in La Paz, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta or any of the bigger cities. And that is only one of the reasons that I have for really liking Mexico.
The natural surroundings are also quite different from anywhere else that we have lived. This is desert, but different from what I have always envisioned deserts to be. I learned long ago, mostly from watching old black and white cowboy movies or books by Louis L'Amour that deserts were ridiculously long expanses of dry open country. Mountains way off in the distance, many days of walking away, would offer the salvation of shade and a trickle of water. Other movies depicted the endless rolling mounds of sand in the deserts of the Sahara, where your trail was a series of staggering footprints interspersed with articles of clothing, discarded canteens, weapons and cameras. This desert, our desert, is surrounded by ocean or great seas on all sides except for a small portion that represents the US/Mexico border. So this area where we have been living, on the small intersection between land and sea is a desert with humidity. But the air is very clear. There are a few vehicles running around, belching noxious fumes into the air, but other than occasional burning at the dump up in the hills there is nothing else to pollute the wide-open expanses of sky. During the day, we could see islands many miles distant with enough clarity to make out individual ridges and crevices. During cloudless nights, unless the moon shines too bright, we see gazillions of stars and the gauzy stripe of the Milky Way shining from horizon to horizon. This is a bit different than the typical conception of tropical paradise. We see mountains everywhere, even on the many islands. Broad sloping plains, with a scattering of low desert shrubs and cactus make the margin between mountains and the sea. Lush palm tree covered beaches happen somewhere else; but this desert, in its own way, is quite beautiful with a much larger variety of animal and plant life than one might expect.
The sea life has been extraordinary. Fishing was successful whenever we wanted fish for dinner. There are either lots of fish up there or the gene pool has left only really stupid fish if even I was able to catch them. The whale sharks had to have been the highlight. There were so many that we always operated the big boat or the dingy at slow speeds in the areas they tended to congregate so as to avoid the possibility of running into one. On many occasions, they would approach our boat and circle around a few times. One spent about 15 minutes scratching itself on our anchor chain. Another ran into the boat in the middle of the night. Must have been sleep swimming. There were also several whale encounters. We think that most of the whales we sighted were Fin whales. One day we were fishing out in the deep-water channel and just after I landed a nice Dorado, a fin whale surfaced near the boat and circled us twice before disappearing. We wonder whether or not he was attempting to chastise us for removing a fellow sea dweller from the water. Another time we were anchored in about 15 feet of water and two fin whales swam very close to the boat. Even when they went down we could easily track the movements as they left a huge disturbance on the water surface. Porpoises were commonplace and sea turtles appeared occasionally. Snorkeling rewarded us with lots of colorful fish along with rays, eels, crabs and snails of one type or another. Snorkeling or just jumping in the water and hanging on to a rope attached to the boat were preferred methods for cooling off. Lots of time was spent watching various types of birds diving into the water for fish. Pelicans are a delight. Just floating around on the water, they appear rather homely, not terribly attractive. But they are beautiful creatures in flight; and watching these large birds plunge down headfirst into the water, leaves us wondering just where they keep the Advil.
We did not do as much terrestrial exploration as we might have. Most of our time on land was spent in the small village or walking beaches. Exploring beaches has been one of our favorite pastimes for many years. Beaches yield treasures of different varieties--beautiful shells, weathered bits of glass, gnarled bleached wood pieces, stones brightly polished by being tumbled in the sand, skeletons of land, air or sea creatures or interesting trash from all around the world. Walks through the desert were not the norm. I was a little apprehensive about the presence of rattlesnakes and scorpions, but have since been advised that my apprehension was mostly unwarranted, as these creatures would prefer to avoid me rather than confront me. Some students participating in an extended outdoor adventure/survival program had a black light that would make scorpions glow in the dark. I did not see this myself, but they said that there were maybe thousands of scorpions, revealed by the black light, within a short distance of their campsite. But we have taken walks on some dirt roads or trails into the desert. It is easy to see and follow tracks of animals that live there. There is an almost constant scurrying of small lizards. Coyotes are abundant as evidenced by frequent sightings on the beaches and lots of tracks through the desert. Yes, we do see the distinctive tracks left by snakes wriggling about, but have only seen one or two resting in the shade of a rock. Often times we see goats, cattle or horses roaming about or at least see prints or telltale piles of poop. As we are always somewhere near the edge of the sea, much of any rainfall that does fall will make its way down to the areas that we frequent. As a consequence, we have seen the desert plants in dry brown withered states as well as lush green and in flower. This is a much different climate/ecosystem than anywhere that we have lived, but in its way is every bit as spectacular as the green maritime/mountain confluence of the Pacific Northwest or the rugged beauty of the Colorado mountains or the many charms or the Middle Atlantic States of my youth.
We really liked it up there and have learned enough things to make another trip even better.