Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for the ‘Sailing in Mexico’ Category

Tortugas Bebes de Tenecatita(Baby Turtles of Tenecatita)

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Playa Tenecatita With Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds

In December 2016 Nikk and I again sailed south about 120 miles to Tenecatita, a lovely bay and anchorage where many cruisers gather in winter.  In the previous two blogs there are numerous details of the adventures awaiting the cruisers and shore folk who visit this area.

After anchoring Balance in a protected little corner of the bay with about six other boats, we paddled our kayaks to shore, and gratefully landed with no mayhem.  While Nikk played bocce ball on the beach I walked down to the Blue Bay Hotel area with several of the women and went to investigate the Turtle Sanctuary.  There in a concrete holding tank were 23 baby turtles, just hatched from their eggs, some with the membrane still attached, awaiting their release to the ocean, which we were told would occur at 6 pm that night.  With excitement I hurried back to tell Nikk and we agreed to stay on shore and wait the three hours until release time.

 

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These are probably Olive Ridley sea turtles

Mexico has six of the seven endangered species of turtles, and Mexico is at the forefront of turtle conservation.  This is just in time, because turtle meat and turtle eggs have been a source of food and income for centuries in Mexico.  When the military was occupied in Chiapas with the rebels some years ago, hundreds of thousands of turtle eggs were looted from beaches that had formerly been protected by the military.  Now the government is promoting agroforestry and chicken farms to provide eggs to replace the need for turtles.

Turtles come back to the beach where they were hatched years before to lay their eggs, after swimming thousands of miles to feed and then mate.  In that time they face predators, including humans, and being trapped as a byproduct of fishing boats with huge nets.  I read that recently many of the huge fishing boats have started using nets which release turtles and dolphins.  Still, of 1000 baby turtles that manage to make it to the ocean, only 1-3 are estimated to return to their beach to lay eggs.  In the Marina Riviera Nayarit  in La Cruz, I have seen several large  adult Green Turtles swimming inside the marina, looking for the beach that was there before the marina was begun in 2006.  I don’t know what they can do when they can’t find their beach.

 

Playa Tenecatita at the Blue Bay Hotel is one of several turtle conservation beaches along the Costalegre, the area of beaches in the state of Jalisco stretching from Puerto Vallarta to  Tenecatita, and then to Manzanillo in Colima state.  Four of the six species in Mexico are found here.  We often see huge turtles swimming along while we sail, sometimes we even see them mating.  The turtle conservators, who are paid by the Mexican government, collect the eggs (up to 200!) when they are laid and place them in the sand inside a pen that is guarded 24 hours a day.  A sign is erected and placed above the buried eggs, giving date of laying, number of eggs, and then later the date of hatching and how many baby turtles are successfully hatched.  The actual hatching is called a “frenzy”, which makes  me suspect that the turtles hatch all at once from their clutch.

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The sign says that there are 60 nidos (nests) and 113 eggs?

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Los Angeles Locos is the local turtle protection group

 

At 6 pm many people, young and old, gathered in excited groups at the concrete pen containing the baby turtles.  Luckily for us some of the people were vacationing from the U.S., spoke both English and Spanish, and were happy to translate the instructions and information.

 

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Two guards gathered the turtles into buckets and began to walk to the water’s edge with the humans following, eagerly awaiting what we assumed would be the guards releasing the turtles near the surf.

 

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When we arrived at the edge of the beach we were very surprised to have the guards line us up in an open rectangle and begin giving us the baby turtles to hold.  The baby turtles flailed their flippers vigorously, making them hard to keep aloft.

 

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Seeing the looks of rapt attention and the care that the children showed for the baby turtles gave me an upwelling of grateful emotions.

 

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The turtles felt cool and their shells were hard.

 

Soon it was time to lower the turtles carefully onto the sand, and they scrabbled  themselves slowly towards the surf.  There was a lot of cheering from the sidelines as one by one the baby turtles met the waves and were carried out into the bay.  Sometimes it took several waves before one big enough to carry the turtle away arrived.  The turtles were released at sunset when the pelicans and other birds were back at their nightly roosts, to avoid the pelicans snacking on the baby turtles like they do  in Puerto Vallarta when the release takes place in the late afternoon.

 

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“Goodbye little turtle”, we said, “live long and prosper on your journeys far and wide”.

With happy hearts we walked back down the beach to the kayaks, being grateful to all the caring Mexicans who help restore and conserve the turtle populations of the Costalegre, including all the people who came to the beach to participate.  The joy in our hearts was echoed by the warmth of the deep red sunset.

 

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Several sites with information about participating in turtle rescue are here:

https://www.mexperience.com/outdoors

http://www.puertovallartatours.net/baby-sea-turtles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vagabonding Once Again: La Cruz to Barra de Navidad

 

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Chamela Bay looking across to Balance anchored at the tip of Isla Pajarara.

The lure of warm emerald water and isolated anchorages pulled us out of La Cruz on December 14, 2015, and south to Chamela Bay.  Balance would have sailed out two days earlier but the remnants of a tropical storm pounded La Cruz with three days of rain.  It was a final example of the weird weather of November and December – unseasonably hot and humid with apparent temperatures of 100 degrees F many days, or unseasonably cloudy and rainy.  We splashed around the cobblestoned streets doing last-minute errands and saying goodbye to our many friends.  Six weeks in La Cruz seemed like a long time at the beginning of November, and not nearly enough when mid-December came too fast.  Three friends visited for a week in early November, and my brother and his wife came for a week at the end of the month.  The advent of visitors created good times eating and drinking in our favorite restaurants in the evening, and kayaking, hiking, sailing on the Bay, walking the beaches and birdwatching during the day.  I wound up leading some yoga classes again, taking Spanish classes twice a week, exploring  the world of science on Science Fridays with the marina kids, and taking part in a stimulating Writer’s Group at the marina on Saturdays.  Nikk kept at the boat projects so Balance would be ready to head south after almost a year in Marina Riviera Nayarit.  She weathered the six hot months from May to October tied to the dock and watched over by Gonzalo, Richard, and the wonderful guards.

Finally the day came to cast off our lines and motor sail at sunrise across the Bay of Banderas 24 miles to Cabo Corrientes, around the corner with only mild chop in the usually rough area outside the Bay, and then halleluia! we turned off the engine and sailed for four hours on to our first night in tiny Ipala Bay.  Small Spinner Dolphins accompanied us for about fifteen minutes, and they really do leap out of the water and spin like a drill in the air.  That first night in Ipala Bay we didn’t even want to get off the boat and go ashore.  Balance rocked her two tired sailors to sleep that night, with brilliant stars shining above, soon it was time to make coffee and sail south with the morning sun.

Hurricane Patricia in late October spared Puerto Vallarta and La Cruz, because the Sierra Madre mountains east and south deflected the 200 mph monster hurricane.  It came ashore about twenty miles south of Chamela Bay, and we expected to see massive damage all along the coast and in the bays.  Instead many trees, cacti, and buildings miraculously survived with only some damage.  We heard that the destruction inland was much more extensive, with many people losing all of their banana or papaya crops.

Isla Pajarara lies in the middle of Chamela Bay, and there Balance dropped anchor so we could spend four days snorkeling, kayaking, and relaxing aboard our boat.

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Sunset as we paddled around Isla Pajarara

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Balance with Zoe B

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Immature Brown Booby with Heerman’s Gulls.

More fun and friends old and new awaited us in Tenecatita Bay.  Robert (the Mayor of Tenecatita anchorage)and his wife Virginia on Harmony kindly invited us to sail across the bay with them and two other couples to visit La Manzanilla (a small town in the SW corner of the bay).

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The dinghy shortly before being swamped during the La Manzanilla landing.

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Nikk with a little Crocodile buddy at the large Crocodile Refuge in La Manzanilla.

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Gordo, the 70-80 year old crocodile at the refuge.

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The Mexican who called Gordo to the bridge so we could get a good photo.

During Hurricane Patricia wave surge about ten feet high came ashore and flooded homes on the beach whose windows had been blasted out by the high winds.  We heard sad stories of homes losing their roof, or having foundations washed away.  Seven weeks later the damage was still being repaired, and one of the first places in town to be repaired was the Crocodile Refuge, because the fences had been washed away and large crocs were wandering the streets of La Manzanilla, wanting a tasty meal of cat, dog or chicken.  Luckily for us by the time we arrived they had all been rounded up and returned to the refuge (at least we didn’t see any in town!).

Tenecatita is a cruiser’s paradise.  Swimming, snorkeling, games of bocce ball on the beach, tasty meals at the beach palapa restaurant, and a two mile long estuary to paddle in our kayaks.  Robert and Virginia on Harmony organize much of the fun.  Virginia published Harmony on the High Seas:  When Your Mate Becomes Your Matey in 2011, tales and advice about the cruising life, and how to stay in harmony with your cruising partner despite the lack of space and the dire and dangerous moments.  I read the book two years ago (and read parts of it to Nikk) and I recommend it to all, even non-cruisers, for its sage advice, philosophies of love and living, and the fascinating details of how to build a harmonious cruising life.

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The Tenecatita anchorage, seen from the beachside palapa restaurant.

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Surprise! Moonshadow and Janna Banana arrive in the dinghy.

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Nick wrestling mangroves trying to get us a way through to the lagoon we visited two years ago. Sadly, he was defeated.

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Denizens of the estuary: White Ibis in a hurricane-denuded mangrove.

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A Green Heron whose relatives we see when paddling the Tualatin River west of Portland.

After four days anchored in Tenecatita Balance carefully motorsailed through the rocks and reefs to spend a week tied to the dock in Marina Isla Navidad, next to the Grand Bay Hotel across the channel from Barra de Navidad.  It’s been our goal to spend Navidad in Barra de Navidad again after the wonderful time we had two years ago.  Unfortunately I must have been very bad this last year, because Santa brought me sciatica for Christmas and I hobbled for three days.   I did manage to take a few photos of this spectacular hotel and the view of the Xmas Eve almost-full-moon.  There will not be another full moon on Christmas Day until 2034, and I wonder if I will see that one too?

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The almost Full Moon of Xmas Eve .

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Moorish architecture at Hotel Grand Bay.

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The spectacular Grand Bay Hotel from the marina.

 

50 cruisers attended the Christmas Day Potluck and the wild White Elephant Gift Exchange at the Time Out Bar overlooking the bay.  I was too busy being an elf for the gift exchange, trying to keep track of how many times a gift was stolen, and who received which gift.  Fun and hectic and no time for photos.  I can say our cruiser buddies know how to have a good time, and it was fun to see all the folks dressed up instead of in shorts and flip flops.  We did get one picture of us at the bar, so I will end with that, and with our wishes for a happy, healthy and more peaceful 2016 for all.

We are sailing south today to spend New Year’s Eve in some secluded anchorage, if all goes well, and then Manzanillo for my birthday in early January.

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Happy New Year and Prospero Ano Nuevo to all!

Six Months in Mexico Come to an End

On the last day of April I sit in the rather chilly VIP Lounge here at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, reflecting on the past six months, and especially the past month here in Mexico. Foggy brain syndrome due to the past six nights of gigantic explosions at sunset, 11 pm, 5am and 7am is plaguing me right now. It is due to The Days of La Cruz, nine days of parades, entertainment on the stage next to the plaza, and an excuse for horrific amounts of Bang, Bang, Boom. If someone had PTSD they would need to get out of La Cruz for these nine days! I am avoiding anyplace that might have explosions, so there are no pictures of the festivities.

Luckily most of April was calm, but busy. Yoga many mornings for me, Nikk listening to the Cruiser’s Net each day at 8:30am, Spanish class Tuesdays and Thursdays for me, then meeting friends for potluck dinners, nights out at local restaurants, and a lot of saying goodbye to our friends sailing off north, south and west, or flying back “home”.

Birdwatching took on new meaning when I stayed at Punta Esmerelda in an upscale condo with my friend Zoe while she was “parrot-sitting”.

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Izzy the African Grey Parrot and Rudy the green Australian parrot got cozy with us (sometimes a bit too cozy, when the big yellow beak was only cm away from Nikk’s ear). African Grey Parrots are celebrated for their intelligence and speaking/singing ability. When Zoe sang opera, Izzy tried to duet. Of course we had to closely monitor our speech, to avoid having the owners come back to a bird with a startling new vocabulary. The most recently-famous African Grey Parrot was Alex, trained by Dr. Irene Pepperberg. www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Royte-t.html

Have you heard the saying “I’d rather have a palapa in Yelapa than a condo in Redondo.”? We sailed across the Bay of Banderas twice in April to investigate the Yelapa scene, once with visiting friends Bruce and Maureen, once on the annual trip to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

On the trail to a waterfall three miles away we found a palapa, perhaps not exactly what the creator of the saying had in mind, but perfect for someone to escape the SoCal scene.

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Nikk hiked this same trail up the river to the waterfall 30 years ago, and what a change he found. Many new concrete block homes, some hippie palapas, some Mexican homes built on stilts with homemade furniture from local woods. Finally the last mile meandered through the tropical trees without any abodes, and we came to the waterfall flowing over polished granite.

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The pool below the waterfall looked way too muddy, so we climbed the slick rocks by the waterfall and found a perfect pool above the falls. Since no one else climbed after us we stripped and bobbed in the cool water, being careful not to get swept over the falls.

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The other waterfall in Yelapa is a short but steep hike up through town. Along the way there you can stop to catch your breath and look out over the little deep blue bay with Balance anchored among the fishing pangas.

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This waterfall is visited by hundreds of tourists per day, yet still conveys peace, solitude and even romance from the right angle.

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Six boats sailed over to Yelapa from La Cruz for the birthday bash. To get to the restaurant we anchored with a mooring ball, paid the panguero 200 pesos (about 13 US dollars) for the mooring ball and rides to and from the boat, gathered for drinks at the beachside palapa, hiked up the beach, waded across the fairly shallow river, hiked up some steep steps between homes, across a bridge, and arrived at Gloria’s Restaurant. The seafood was fabulous, fish in garlic and butter sauce, with rice and salad, shrimp, octopus, and oysters cooked numerous ways. Then Mike’s cake arrived, with candles, whipped cream, and a little caballito, a small, skinny glass full of tequila in the center. The Mexican birthday cake tradition is to take the first bite using no hands or implements. Mike removed the little shot glass and complied. Somehow some of the frosting got transferred to Katrina. The picture is a little blurry because we were all laughing so riotously.

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Back in La Cruz, Earth Day began with a bird watching tour where we found 38 species just by walking near the marina, through the town, and down the beach. After the bird watch we joined a beach cleanup, with many cruising families filling up huge trash bags. That night Katrina the marina PR organizer arranged a bonfire with music to thank everyone.

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Friday the 24th was the last Science Friday for the season, so we exploded zip lock bags by mixing vinegar and baking soda. The baking soda was wrapped in a paper towel to slow the mixing and production of carbon dioxide gas, which allowed the kids to pass the bag around like a hot potato until it exploded. We also made giant soap bubbles with a special recipe I found on the Internet. www.happyhooligans.ca/homemade-giant-bubbles

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We fly back to Portland next Tuesday, and until then the days will be filled with the work needed to leave Balance here for the next six months.
Instead of boring you with those details I’ll leave you with a shot of our dock taken from the third story La Pezka restaurant, where we just might have dinner tonight.

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La Paz in December 2014

When John Steinbeck visited La Paz in 1940, on the expedition with his buddy Ed Ricketts, he called sleepy La Paz “beautiful out of all comparison”. Almost 75 years later it is still lovely, a true Mexican town, but with a population of over 200,000 that sprawls away from the historic downtown area with its shops, hotels, restaurants, markets, and marinas.

Hurricane Odile pounded La Paz September 15-16, 2014, with winds howling up to 124mph and huge surf crashing into the shores. All but five boats in the anchorage broke loose and either sank or were washed ashore. Three people on boats died. Most boats in the marinas fared well, except for boats out of the water in storage at Marina Palmira, blown off their stands and piled like kid’s toys discarded after play. Unlike in Cabo San Lucas, where looting of big stores raged for days, La Paz (which means “peace”) saw little damage to businesses caused by greedy or desperate people. Several business owners told us that some homes and businesses were without electricity for over a week, and some businesses were not able to open for almost a month. A month without income is a serious liability to anyone, so we did our best to spend money in La Paz during the two weeks of our visit.

For ten thousand years before Hernan Cortez sailed into the long, protected, shallow bay in 1535, Neolithic hunter-gatherers wandered the peninsula that is now southern Baja California. They left multi-colored rock paintings which have been preserved. El Museo de Antropologia e Historia in La Paz showcases the paintings and dioramas of reconstructed Neolithic life.
www.tripadvisor.com/museodeantropologiaehistoriadebajacaliforniasur

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Cortez wanted to name the sandy shore Santa Cruz, but Sebastian Vizcaino declared the future name of La Paz in 1595. The Jesuits came, the Spanish plundered and pillaged the land, sea and peoples, and the natives succumbed to disease by the thousands. It’s the same ugly picture wherever the Spanish conquerors landed. By the time John Steinbeck arrived in 1940 the church of Nuestra Señora de la Paz dominated the town tied to the wealth of the sea, and superstition and supernatural beliefs vied with materialism and pragmatic progress. Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl uses these themes to tell the parable of the poor fisherman who desperately dives to find a pearl that will pay for medical treatment for his tiny son stung by a scorpion. When he finds a supernaturally grand pearl his troubles begin. The book and the movie made in Mexico debuted in 1947, both already a chronicle of a bygone era because by 1940 the oysters were mostly dead, and with them the pearl industry.

One of the many sculptures on the new 5km malecon (walkway) is a huge metallic pearl.

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Our Marina de La Paz lies at the southern end of the malecon. We strolled it several times each day, finding restaurants, ice cream stores, marine supplies and places to browse. I would need another blog to list all our favorites, so I will just show the view of the malecon looking south towards our marina with my favorite mermaid/dolphin sculpture.

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Since it was the season of Navidad, Santa Claus rode a paddleboard near shore, a Katrina dressed up for the season, and some of the boats in the marina decorated themselves.

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La Paz would be seriously difficult for anyone with mobility issues, here is why:

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Of course, there are always taxis, but if you want to walk to the markets like Mercado Bravo, the indoor market with dozens of shops, or to the church and plaza, or the uptown eateries, you need legs for strong climbing and descending. Along the way street artists decorated walls with artistic inspiration.

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We managed to tour La Paz for two weeks without any breakage or spraining of limbs, and too soon our time in one of our favorite Mexican towns came to an end. On Christmas Day Balance left La Paz and sailed all the way across to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in one three and a half day voyage of 397 miles. A new bird appeared out in the middle of the trip, a Pomarine Jaeger, that breeds way up in northern Canada and Alaska and then winters out on the ocean in the warmer latitudes.

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Before the winds came up and the seas got pretty rough for the last 24 hours, we motorsailed with calm seas and spectacular clouds. It was a Vermilion Sky instead of a Vermillion Sea, another name for the Sea of Cortez.

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Being in the midst of the stunning beauty of the sea and sky, sailing under the spangled silver stars, we came to the end of 2014, another year of adventures in Mexico and time with family and friends back in the States. Someday I may catch up in this blog.

Journeys

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and intruded depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.
John Hope Franklin, .

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hope_Franklin

This week saw many cruiser friends leave La Cruz, some traveling north into the Sea of Cortez, some traveling across the Pacific Ocean to the islands of the South Pacific. We said a heart-wrenching goodbye yesterday to Kai, Eddie and Ellis on Solitary Voyager, and watched their boat become smaller and smaller as they started the journey to New Zealand. Their leaving has finally kicked my brain into writing gear, to reflect on the journeys of last December in the Sea of Cortez. Many of the adventures and explorations of this segment included Kai, Eddie and Sarah.

The journey from Los Gatos to La Paz gave us many opportunities to “go out into the bypaths and intruded depths of the wilderness”.

As we sailed into the anchorage at Isla San Francisco memories of the cracked ribs of last spring didn’t deter me from the anticipation of more exploration, but I did vow to check each step, handhold and embedded rock very carefully. This December all the boats anchored close together in the far northern part of the bay to stay sheltered from the still-blowing northerlies.

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Hidden behind the beach lies a large salt flat. Instead of the level, white expanse of our past two visits the ground was spongy, wet and orange, with minerals leaking out of the ground and Semi-palmated Plovers in their winter grounds hunting insects on the salt pan.

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Huge cliffs of green, pink, cream, tan and ocher rise from the far side of the salt pan, perfect for following faint trails alongside the bottom of the cliff, with the pounding surf nearby.

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American Oystercatchers waited for the surf to expose a tasty morsel, they are one of the more common birds seen on the Baja coasts, but only found on the southern and eastern coasts of the U.S. They are also very skittish, so it was a challenge to get them to pause long enough for a picture.

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While I waited for the Oystercatchers to pose, Nikk scrambled high above, ready to “fly like an eagle”, or actually a vulture, which soared high above on the currents of air sweeping up the cliffside.

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The next day Sarah and Eddie joined us to hike the ridge above the southern cliffs. Once again it was a brilliant blue-sky day, perfect for a hike down the long beach of white sand, up the winding trail to the top where huge boulders perch with drop-offs on both sides. Climbing through areas like this requires focus on each step and handhold, stopping to enjoy the view, take pictures, and watch your fellow hikers move through the maze, before once again carefully working yourself farther along. One of the many things I like about climbing is the necessity of keeping your thoughts in the present, where the richness of experience is undiluted by the mind dwelling on the past or future. And on this hike came the reward of vistas of many-layered cliffs, deep blue sea, and a little trail leading to further spectacular views.

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Balance sailed further south and once again we anchored in Callita Partida, the cove in between Isla La Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo, one of our favorites. Of course we visited the hidden cave with Kai, Eddie and Sarah.
I think we’re like agile hippie grandparents to them, since they are only 25 years old.

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One night we paddled over to Solitary Voyager for a shared dinner, to once again admire the results of the five months that Kai spent restoring and upgrading the Valiant 40, preparing it for the journey across the South Pacific. After listening to a few songs, we realized that Eddie had put together a sound track of 60’s music for us.

Together with ten other boats Balance anchored in the stunning emerald water of Bahia Ensenada Grande, a perfect place for snorkeling and hiking.
Unfortunately the Go Pro pictures of the snorkeling have disappeared, but not the pictures of the epic hike that Nikk and I started too late in the day.
From the beach, the trail began to climb up an arroyo, as it steepened the rocks became larger. No worries about losing our way, though, the government had pounded rebar with direction signs into the rocks. We felt like we were in the city, with left, right and straight ahead arrows posted every 40 or so feet. This was not an exploration into true wilderness. We also found information signs.

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Along the way we found a deep well, dug to supply miners, then a stone walkway that reminded me of Zion National Park, and 1500 feet above sea level another amazing stretch of steep cliffs.

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One of the reasons I write these blogs is to encourage everyone to explore the natural world, especially the places more remote. I don’t encourage anyone to go exploring late in the day, and to turn around as the sun sets.
Nikk knows I have to get to the top of wherever we’re going, but this time Goat Woman and Nikk had to hike the last mile in the dark. There was no moon, but just enough ambient light to keep us from plunging into the open well and twisting our ankles on the rocks. We were very happy to reach the last stretch of trail alongside the mangroves which had been marked with white rocks. Nikk just rolls his eyes whenever that hike is mentioned.

After Bahia Ensenada Grande it was time to sail down to La Paz, where we spent two weeks in marinas and our hiking was done on the malecon, before leaving Christmas Day to sail the 397 miles to La Cruz. A short blog of La Paz and the holiday sail will follow.

Once again, one picture got “lost”. I’ll try again, since I love this shot.

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Sailing and Hiking in the Sea of Cortez: Puerto Escondido to Los Gatos

November 27, 2014, Balance gleefully left the bay at Puerto Escondido and sailed across to Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante, a tiny distance of only 3.7 miles. We anchored in the beautiful shallow NW cove and gave thanks on Thanksgiving Day for a break from the wind and a peaceful anchorage. Our thoughts circled around our families so far away: living the cruising life this fall meant missing all the excitement young grandchildren generate at the holidays. Many cruisers fly home for the holidays, then return to the boat in January. Instead we ate a simple dinner and gazed up at the stars shining brightly overhead, while Balance gently rocked at anchor.

After a short paddle to shore the next day Goat Woman and Nikk enjoyed some exhilarating hiking. We conquered the small hill overlooking the other side of the island, then set our sights to the highest hill, a steep, zig-zagging scramble on loose volcanic rock. Thorny trees and spiky cacti often blocked the way. At the apex cliffs plunged steeply to the Sea in front of us, and as we looked across to Isla Carmen a pod of about 20 dolphins swam by, too far away to photograph, but close enough to enjoy with binoculars. Luckily neither one of us stumbled on the way down. We discovered 8 kayakers with Baja Adventures paddling into the cove. Back in Puerto Escondido we shared the dining room with them at the Hotel Tripui where their trip to the islands was stalled by the ferocious winds. Three days later they finally arrived at Isla Danzante.

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The next morning it was time to check the internet from the “office”; a sturdy rock on the hill with a view of surf, sea and the tower in Loreto. We wanted to be sure that another storm was not due for a few days, and with internet reassurance we headed to Bahia Salinas up at the NE end of Isla Carmen. At the tip of Isla Carmen we looked for Blue Whales, the largest whales in the world at 90 feet, but to no avail. We later learned that the Blue Whales wouldn’t swim into the area until January. Bahia Salinas is named for the huge salt ponds just behind the beach. The machinery and buildings looked old and rusting, we saw no piles of salt ready for harvest, and there were only a few Mexicans at the formerly busy operation.

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As we carefully tiptoed across the mushy salt pan, we spied a Loggerhead Shrike perched on some rusty machinery, waiting for a tasty dinner morsel of vertebrate or invertebrate. It’s a striking bird, with a large black bill, white, gray and black plumage, and a few black whiskers on either side of its bill. It prefers desert habitat where it skewers its prey onto thorns or spines, and then dines one bite at a time. (see photo at the end of this blog, after further text is typed, photos can’t be inserted, arghh)

On Sunday there was still no wind and Balance motor sailed with a reefed main down to Isla Monserrat and the Playa Amarilla (Yellow Beach, or Yellowstone Beach, as it is sometimes called in cruising guides). The shallow turquoise water with soft sand became the perfect place to anchor. When the only other boats left we once again were alone to explore the rocky shore and the striking yellow cliffs. Instead of the usual volcanic rocks, these cliffs are sandstone, and once again I want a geologist to tell us why the cliffs are so brilliantly colored yellow.

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Sweating and wilting, we continued in the heat of afternoon, from the beach to the yellow cliffs behind, and found an opportunity for one of us to pose partway up the cliff face. Can you see which one is posed on the cliff face?

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On Isla Danzante, and again on Isla Monserrat we found hundreds of black and yellow butterflies washed up on the shore. Why they wind up beached dead or dying is still a mystery to us. It reminded us of the fragility of all life, no matter how beautiful or precious the life may be, death comes for us all.

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While we searched the beach near the kayaks we found an iridescent wasp, it’s colors reminded me of the dichroic glass that I used to use to create fused glass art.

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White gypsum cliffs at the top of the hills on Isla Monserrat looked like snow as we sailed southwest late in the day. Dolphins came to play in the bow wake, gliding alongside Balance, then swooping off to surface, blow and breathe, before once again joining in at the bow. From a perch way out on the bow, you can look down at the dolphins cavorting.

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We’ve visited Agua Verde twice before, you can read about it and view some gorgeous pictures from a previous blog in 2013 The Magic of the Sea of Cortez . This time in the fall of 2014 we thought the calm, tranquil little East Cove to be the perfect spot. We pulled in near Solitary Voyager, a Valiant 40 which is a cousin to Balance. Sometime in the night the winds came, kicking up wind waves in the anchorage and by 8:30 am, after a very bouncy night in the V-berth both boats got out of Agua Verde. Solitary Voyager disappeared around the north side of the sandy island Arrecife San Marcial, while we motored east through the passage with our mainsail up for stability once again. As we turned to the south the northerly winds kicked up four foot waves that overtook us from behind. Balance sailed with main and headsail, but Helmer the autopilot failed to keep us on course and Nikk took the wheel for the next two hours until we arrived in the little protected north cove of Los Gatos at noon. Nikk placed Balance in only 11.5 feet of water, as close to shore as we could get to avoid the pounding waves wrapping around the headland. Last spring the bay was filled with boats, now we were the only boat once again until we saw a sailboat far to the east, making its way towards Los Gatos. It was Solitary Voyager! We thought they were sailing for Mazatlan, but their skipper, Kai, just wanted to sail farther out and down to islands to the south. The huge chop, with waves 3-4 feet high coming one after the other every 4 seconds made that a really uncomfortable ride, and the safest thing to do was come into Los Gatos to anchor. We got on the VHF radio to let them know it was OK for them to anchor right behind us to avoid being tossed around by the waves. Their skipper, Kai, paddled over on his surfboard on his way to the beach. Little did we know then how many adventures together awaited us.

It was a dark and stormy night…..oh wait, it was dark and bouncy, not stormy. I bounced and rolled in the forward V-berth before finally getting up and settling down on the settee with the lee cloth keeping me from pitching onto the floor when we rolled. Before dinner I had baked some chocolate chip cookie bars and after getting up in the morning, kayaked over to Solitary Voyager to deliver the treats, since I could tell that the captain and crew were pretty young. In fact, they were 24 or 25 years old, two Kiwis and a Canadian with a Kiwi father. They met at Uni in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, and were traveling together in the Sea after Kai bought the boat in San Carlos and spent several months fixing her up to sail in Mexico and then across to New Zealand in the spring. Nikk paddled over to visit, too, and with lots of laughter and stories, we started getting to know this fun trio. After Solitary Voyager took off for San Evaristo Nikk and I paddled to shore to explore some more of the area, promising each other not to scale the highest hill and try to bushwhack through cacti and scrub like the first time we were here.

The geology of Los Gatos makes it look like the Southwestern United States, with red and cream sandstone bluffs, easy to climb. I wouldn’t want to try climbing them after a rainstorm when I bet they would be a slick ride.

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The last picture shows a Hermit Crab we found, maybe a relative of Pepe, the famous Hermit Crab who lived aboard a sailboat for a short time.

In the next installment we travel from Los Gatos to La Paz, with many epic hikes and beautiful anchorages.

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By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea.

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

Hola Amigos. Much pondering has occurred these past two weeks in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, trying to decide how to summarize our three weeks of traveling in the Sea of Cortez from Santa Rosalia to La Paz in late November and early December.
We discovered sailing in the fall over on the Baja side to be very different than sailing in the spring. In the fall the strong northerlies blow for three or four days, then there will be a day or two of calm before the next blow hits. Not at all like the calm seas we experienced most of the time in the spring. We escaped from Santa Rosalia Nov. 19. After checking out, saying goodbye to Isabela in the office, then provisioning with fruit, vegetables and fish, we finally untied the lines and began sailing at a little past noon, a late start for us. Balance captured the remaining north wind with her mainsail and head sail, giving us a good run at over six knots down inside Isla San Marcos and through the shallow Craig Channel, with Moo (the wind vane) steering. Turned past Punta Mezquitito and into Bahia Santa Ines just as the sun set over the low mountains to the west. Because the beach there is famous for its beautiful shells we went beach combing the next day.

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Here are a few of the former homes of the mollusks we found there:

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The following day we planned to go down to Punta Pulpito. Last spring we found some sea caves with emerald green water, a giant obsidian cliff, and a stunning little cove there. Unfortunately for us, the wind decided to blow from the south, making the Punta Pulpito anchorage way too rolly, and even the little cove north of Bahia San Juanico was not protected enough, although we tried it out, and then left to anchor overnight in San Juanico. We had company traveling down from Bahia Santa Ines. Another sailboat, Calypso, with new friends we met in Santa Rosalia; someone to talk with on the VHF and someone to share trying to decipher the changing winds and currents.

I’ll include a picture of Nikk kayaking at Punta Pulpito (pulpito means octopus) in calmer waters last spring:

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Bahia San Juanico filled with boats getting away from the northerly predicted to blow for the next two days, as well as campers occupying the beach, there for the winter from Canada and the US. Hurricane Odile in September churned up so much sand onto the beach that it blocked the little estuary that stretches back from the bay for about half a mile. Now the water will evaporate, providing lots of food for the birds until it goes bone dry. Maybe another storm will fill the estuary next summer or fall with enough water to carve another channel to the bay? We hiked along the estuary after paddling to shore, then up a hill above the obsidian-collecting grounds to capture a view of the anchorage at sunset. The bay looked so calm, when outside the bay the waves were foaming and rolling.

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The temperatures in the Sea were a lot colder than we expected them to be, the cold weather to the north, and the winds blowing the water south, caused the water to be in the high 70’s, which meant wet suits for snorkeling. I’d forgotten how tight my wetsuit is….I think it took me ten minutes of pulling, tugging, stretching, and sucking in my breath to pull up the zipper before I was ready to go explore around the little island in the bay. Between the island and the shore stretched a very shallow rocky area, with corals and fish. We carefully navigated in two feet of water and captured some Sergeant Major fish swimming past the rocks and coral. Can you find the one rainbow wrasse?

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The next day Balance sailed out of the anchorage, one of Nikk’s favorite “skipper tricks” when the wind cooperates. A little weather window gave opportunity to travel down to sheltered Puerto Escondido, one of Baja’s most protected harbors, with an inner bay and anchorage about a mile wide surrounded by hills and two “windows” where the beach is built up like a levee. Hurricane Odile and the storms of October created a shallow sand bar at the far northern end of the anchorage, where we usually sit during northerlies. We somehow missed the sand bar while sailing across to anchor, then suddenly the water went from 22 foot depth to 10 as we backed down to set the anchor. Hijole! Maneuvering back and forth we finally found a safe spot to anchor and settled down for the night to wait for the winds. This time the forecast was accurate. By the middle of the night the winds were howling up to 40 knots from the north, and although we didn’t get jostled by wind waves due to the protection of the nearby hills, we did get spun around, and then back, and then around again all night long while the wind howled in the rigging.

In the morning we paddled 3/4 of a mile over to the marina Fonatur dock, using our spray skirts to protect us from the waves sloshing over the top of the kayaks. All the Fonatur marinas have the same construction, with a short dock which doesn’t leave much room to get the kayaks snugged up to the dock in between the dinghies tied off in the small allotted area. The marina still doesn’t have a restaurant after raising the rent so much last year that the restaurant owner left and set up in Loreto. There is a new tienda at the marina, with snacks and a few supplies, where we could use the internet. And there is a bathroom with cold showers, just like at the Marina Fonatur at Santa Rosalia, but no tienda up the road next to the Hotel Tripui like existed last spring, it’s been bulldozed to create additional parking for the trailer park. We did connect with Daniel, who managed the Hotel Tripui last spring when we were in Puerto Escondido. He came down from Nopolo with a friend who teaches yoga, to meet us at Hotel Tripui for drinks, and it was fun to hear his plans for studying yoga and teaching.

We were surprised to find that the wind had died down to almost nothing by the time we walked back the half a mile to the marina. We forgot our flashlight, and the night was very dark, with no streetlights but many many stars above. Somehow we managed to stay on the road and not wander off into the cactus and scrub. We foolishly left our spray skirts in the kayaks to paddle back to Balance, and halfway across the wind kicked up, hurling wind and waves straight at us. The paddle took a lot longer, and a lot more muscle, and we were fairly “knackered” when we returned (thanks to the Brits for that great expression).

The winds blew all night, and blew Nikk’s kayak paddle off the boat. By the next morning we knew that paddling the kayaks across the bay to the dock was going to get us completely soaked from the chest up, so our friend Jerry on Calypso volunteered to come get us and take us to the dock in his dinghy. He and his wife were supposed to share a rental car with us that day, but the waves were getting so strong that he worried about capsizing the dinghy (and almost did, returning to his boat from the dock). He was also worried about dragging his anchor in the bay, so they stayed on board for the day, and we went to Loreto in the rental car. His premonitions were correct, they did drag anchor due to the winds, and were able to re-anchor the boat, but the dinghy flipped over, with the engine attached, so Jerry had to drain and repair the poor engine. These are the moments that a cruiser will remember for years.

The winds created eight foot waves surging onto the beach in Loreto, surrounding the beach palapas and coming through the openings in the sea wall that normally let rainwater from the streets out into the bay. We drove through a foot of water to get to our favorite little coffeehouse.

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Before going to Lays to provision we decided to take a trip up into the mountains west of Loreto to visit a little mountain town, San Javier, about 37 km away. The roads had been seriously damaged by Hurricane Odile, and there was still a lot of water flowing across the road. We counted seventeen crossings in thirty-seven km. One crossing was so deep that Jan waded across up to her knees to test the depth, then took a shot of Nikk gunning the engine and blasting through the water, sending up a wave that really washed off all the salt we collected from the seawater on the roads of Loreto.

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Jan kept a close eye on these two critters getting a drink and cooling off.

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The huge, cross-shaped church in San Javier was built in the 18th century, and the olive groves planted by the Jesuits are still there, with large gnarled trees four or five feet in diameter.

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Nikk was feeling frisky, so decided to ride a bull.

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All the way up and back from San Javier there was evidence of monstrous floods coming down from the steep-sided mountains. Heavy moving equipment like track hoes must have been working for days and days to make the road safe for travel.

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The journey to La Paz will be continued in the next blog, I am late to meet friends for a special dinner to celebrate our current visitor Ken’s birthday.

Leaving San Carlos for the Sea of Cortez

It’s been a strange five months for Balance, left with hundreds of boats in dry storage in San Carlos, Sonora, up on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez. Two and a half weeks ago we came back to Mexico, Balance went out into the work yard, and several days later was proudly sporting a new coat of bottom paint and finally back into the water in the marina. It is a strange feeling watching Balance on a giant trailer heading out onto the highway, and then being slowly backed into the water at the marina. Nikk and I did a lot of projects on the boat while she was in the work yard. Of course, when she was back in the water we were very happy that there were no leaks, the engine started right away, didn’t quit (!), and she slid safely into her slip at the marina.

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We were lucky to be able to stay with Theo and Marion, cruising friends on Marionetto, in their new home on land in San Carlos while Balance was in the work yard.

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San Carlos is definitely worth a visit. Only a few hours from Nogales and Arizona, it’s a booming retirement community, with Mexican culture still intact. Up on the hill above the marina, gringos have built many vacation and retirement homes, some quite surprising.

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We’ve had a good time here during these two weeks, despite Nikk having lots and lots and lots of boat projects. When not occupied with boat projects we’ve had a good time visiting with cruising friends, getting to know the good spots for breakfast and dinner, hiking, and finally getting the kayaks in the water to spend a couple of hours working our rusty paddling muscles going out to circle some islands in the bay.

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In the background of this picture you see the Tetas de Cabra (“goat tits”).

The first hike we did resulted in some great bird sightings, including two Green-tailed Towhees, and this little buddy just hanging out on the road.

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Today we’re leaving the marina to head up north a little ways to San Pedro, a nice little cove for anchoring and snorkeling, then up to Las Cocinas (The Kitchens) for even more snorkeling, and before big winds come up in a week’s time, we’ll sail (or motor) across the Sea to Santa Rosalia, a formerly French town on the Baja side, and then work our way back to La Cruz by the end of December. No telling whether I’ll have good internet until then, but glad I could squeeze in one more post before we leave.

Two Rescues

In the history of sailing tales, there are many stories of epic rescues from danger, and just in case family and friends got worried by the title of this blog, we did not capsize, run aground, get run over, hit by a tropical storm, or otherwise endanger ourselves in the Sea of Cortez. However, we did participate in two rescues.

After leaving La Cruz April 2, only three days after getting back from Copper Canyon, we once again mostly motorsailed in a headwind or no wind up to Mantenchen Bay near San Blas to overnight, then across the 40 miles to Isla Isabel, the island of thousands of nesting birds. ( See the post Island Mystique to see how we viewed Isla Isabel during our eight-day stay a year ago.)
One afternoon Nikk and I were sitting on Balance, watching the island, pinnacles, sea and shore, when we saw a female Magnificent Frigatebird struggling in the water. Frigatebirds have huge wings which don’t have the oils needed to resist waterlogging, so they can’t land in the water and fly off again like many seabirds do. We watched the bird flapping, hoping she would drift over to shore, but instead she was only being taken near shore by the current, and soon would be past the island. Nikk hopped into my kayak and paddled to effect a Frigatebird Rescue, and was soon joined by Ian from our buddy boat Freyja.

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It looks like the bird is struggling, but according to Nikk she was so tired that she just let Nikk fold up her wings and stow her between his legs in the cockpit of the little kayak. He did face that long beak away from this body, in case any readers were worried about Nikk’s delicate parts being in danger. Ian towed Nikk, kayak and bird to shore with his dinghy, and the bird was carried to a small tree, since frigatebirds nest in trees on the island. The poor bird was so tired that it soon fell out of the tree, and it got too dark to see her on the ground, but the next day she wasn’t there anymore. There are no predators except humans on the island, so birds can safely nest and rest on the ground. During our five days anchored at the island we watched many frigatebirds soar, and wondered if we were watching the bird we saved from a watery grave.

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On April 8 the voyage of the “vagabundos” continued across the Sea of Cortez to Baja California Sur. Ian received a weather report on his SSB that the next few days would see NE, and then light SSW winds. So much for weather reports, we had 15-20 knot winds NW on the nose, and had to motorsail first west, then north towards Mazatlan, going way out of the normal sailing course for La Paz. Instead of taking a little over 2 days to reach Puerto Ballandra, 12 miles north of La Paz, it took 2 days and 18 hours. Freyja kept falling further and further behind, due to babying their engine which had problems with fouled fuel filters. Balance had to anchor at Puerto Ballandra in the dark at midnight, surviving somewhat ferocious headwinds the last 10 miles. We kept in touch with Freyja all the way across the Sea, and they were only about two hours behind us, but the next morning they were not in the anchorage, and were without their motor, which had conked out in the middle of the night, forcing them to tack back and forth in the strong headwinds. The next morning the winds died, and they couldn’t reach the anchorage, so we headed out to tow them in the last mile to Puerto Ballandra.

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Puerto Ballandra was the perfect place to begin our weeks of traveling to desert islands and sheltered mainland coves; white coral sand beaches and clear turquoise/jade green water for snorkeling, mangrove estuary for paddling and birdwatching, rocky cliffs for hiking and scrambling, and all overarched by the blue sky, hot sun and high clouds during the day, and myriads of stars at night. Nikk helped Ian fix his engine, we enjoyed four nights at Puerto Ballandra, and then continued on our way, with no internet, no phone, and only the iPad to remind me that we had not traveled back in time at least twenty years.

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Now it’s May 2, and we are spending three days in Puerto Escondido, an anchorage with a poor excuse for a marina (no tienda, no restaurant, no friendly guards, no marina lounge). We are half a mile away at the Hotel Tripui, in the middle of the desert, we walked here today to get internet where we didn’t need to sit on metal steps while checking email. I know, I know, I’m sounding like a spoiled whiny #@*ch, Marina RIviera Nayarit spoiled me. I’ll try to be more grateful that we have a secure anchorage in the protected bay, and that it was easy to rent a car yesterday to go get provisions in Loreto, about 15 miles away. Tomorrow we are going to hike up Steinbeck’s Canyon a ways, if you read The Log From the Sea of Cortez, you can read about his camping trip with Mexicans and mules up this very canyon to see petroglyphs in 1940. The giant cardon cacti are starting to bloom, just like the Saguaro, which look similar, do in Tucson in late April/early May. I hope some will be blooming up in the canyon, drawing birds and lizards.

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