Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Kayaking’

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.

El Viento (The Wind)

Fairies, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

The wind can be the sailor’s delight, but in the Sea of Cortez this fall the wind was more like the mariner’s curse, blowing for three or four days straight, and whipping up wave chop of 3-5 feet with only a 4 or 5 second period between waves. “Helmer”, our autopilot attached to the wheel, struggled to keep us on course, and Nikk often had to take the wheel and steer. Of course, if those waves are coming abeam or anywhere near that, the boat is rolling and pitching, the recipe for Jan’s disequilibrium to begin.
Yet “running on the top of the disheveled tide” is exhilarating, with Balance responding to the force of wind and waves. Often we were tucked away in a marina or anchorage with many other boats waiting out the blows, instead of venturing out to sail on the “bounding main”.

We left San Carlos November 9, with slight winds, as we motorsailed past the outside of the Tetas de Cabra (Goat Tits), the famous backdrop for many paintings and photographs of San Carlos.

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The sunset spectacular that first night revealed two “islands” to the north of Isla San Pedro Nolasco, which was mighty puzzling, since no islands exist on our charts. The mystery was solved three days later when we began sailing the 75 miles across the Sea of Cortez to Santa Rosalia, when the “islands” became the huge peaks of the Tres Virgenes volcanic complex, with one peak over 6000 feet.

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Several new birds appeared on this leg of the journey: Craveri’s Murrelets, that look like little flying penguins, Black-vented Shearwaters, and in the lagoon of Los Concinas, two White-winged Scoters among all the little Eared Grebes. I’d wondered if we were ever going to see a Scoter (there are three kinds), since we saw none on the Pacific Coast on our way down, and now we saw them in the Sea of Cortez.

The winds kicked up, we were rocking and rolling in the anchorages, but having fun watching the surf from our kayaks.

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The little Eared Grebes were entertaining us too. At a beach with rather large waves, the grebes were fishing in the surf, something we’d never seen before, usually they are paddling around and diving in much calmer water. Every once in a while a grebe would get lifted so strongly by a wave that it would go flying off the top of the wave, airborne like a windsurfer.

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This stretch of coast is mostly deserted so it was surprising to see signs posted on a dirt road informing us of future development; lots for homes and a huge, water-sucking golf course, right there on the volcanic coast in the middle of the desert of huge cardon cacti and rocks.

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At the north end of Las Cocinas there is a little bay, which protected us from the north winds and waves the last night. On the west side of the beach are the homes of fishermen, one a small shack, one a larger home with screened porch, guarded by a posse of about seven dogs, so we didn’t go ashore. On the east side of the beach, about 100 yards away, is an airstream trailer, and some new construction (real estate office? restaurant?). The airstream is occupied by an old guy who goes over to visit his fisherman friend in the afternoon, maybe to share a cerveza?

We hauled anchor and sailed across the Sea to find almost calm blue waters by the time we passed Isla Tortuga and were 20 miles from Santa Rosalia. We spotted spume, and a pod of five Pilot Whales appeared. Very exciting. They look very different from Humpbacks and Greys, especially the sturdy-looking dorsal fin, and they mostly cruise along the water’s surface.

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Santa Rosalia began as a French copper mining town, and evidence of its mining history sprawls next to the waterfront; old smokestacks, huge machinery, rotting buildings, railroad engines, and many buildings constructed of wood from Oregon and Canada in the late 19th Century. While wandering, a song by my friends Paul Korsmo and Mike Roberts, written in Australia in the early 70’s when we were teaching there, kept running through my mind.
Oliver Sachs calls this a “brain worm”, but it was a wonderful brain worm. You can check out Paul Korsmo and his lovely songs and voice on Sound Cloud, but the song, Oregon isn’t there. Also take a look and listen to Mike Roberts 18 at SoundCloud, or at Mike Roberts Music on FB.
My house is made of Oregon, it’s walls contain my dreams.
My bedposts guarded rivers, another place, another scene.
From skyline hooks to floating brooks, then stockpiled on the docks,
They’re leaving home to build a home for someone who knows not
How many eagles nested there
How many times, without a care,
I wandered through their majesty.
Did I know then that they were there?

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I wonder how many people think about the giants who gave up their lives so people could live inside a home of wood?

Santa Rosalia has one building made of metal, the Iglesa Santa Barbara (the Eiffel Church), designed by the same Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but built in Brussels, Belgium, and then disassembled, shipped to Santa Rosalia, and reassembled in 1897. It is still in use today, and has some beautiful stained glass windows inside.

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Santa Rosalia was hammered by Hurricane Odile in mid-September. About eleven inches of rain fell there. It is a hilly town, we probably climbed over 200 feet of elevation to some of the homes in the old section of town. From what we could see, a wall of water about four feet deep came rushing down the streets and into the bay. A car with two people in it was swept into the bay and the unfortunate people drowned. The old marina with boats moored there broke loose and boats sank. We are following the progress of one boat Gold Eagle whose owner Ron has her pumped out, but with much damage to the boat and contents. Really sad.

Because Santa Rosalia is on Hwy 1 that runs down the length of Baja, many vehicles a day drive through, right by the Marina Fonatur, where we stayed.
Crossing the highway to get up into town at night gave me a scare a few times, hoping that the vehicles would actually stop when we wanted to get across. We enjoyed our lengthy stay, though, going up into town to explore, shop, get a meal at one of the three or four good restaurants, and then going back to the boat to relax. Isabella and the other people at the marina were helpful and friendly, and they are doing work to try to restore the second floor with its pool and bar. All Fonatur marinas look alike and are falling into disrepair, unfortunately.

Somehow the osprey nest on the tower managed to survive the winds, I wonder if they had to rebuild after the hurricane?

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Santa Rosalia is where we first met s/v Good as Gold, and s/v Calypso, and here we are in La Paz in the same marina. But before we got to La Paz many more winds did blow, scenes of beauty came and went, and the two explorers on Balance had a good time sailing, kayaking, snorkeling and hiking. Those adventures will be told in Parts Two and Three, to be written as we sail across to La Cruz, 300 miles away. We leave the day after Christmas, and tonight, Xmas Eve, is the big Cruiser’s Potluck at the clubhouse here in Marina de La Paz. Time to start cooking! Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo to all!

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.

Birds of the Costa Alegre

Once more the speeding train of time has swiftly moved, and here I am, back in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle after over a month in Portland, Oregon, helping my daughter’s household run smoothly after the birth in mid-December of the new, lovely granddaughter. With two older boys, 7 and 4 also at home, I was pretty much busy from 7am until about 9pm. So here at last are some pictures of the birds we saw in November and December as we explored the Costa Alegre (see the two previous posts for more about our adventures).

This post might be titled The Cacti and the Mangroves, because our closest sightings of birds occurred on the islands populated with huge cardon (?) cacti, or in the estuaries populated with mangroves. Very different ecologies, and very different bird sightings. The cacti were roosting spots for Magnificent Frigatebirds, Black Vultures, and Brown Boobies. Brown Pelicans roosted in nearby trees, and the occasional furtive dweller back in the thick tangles of vegetation would tease me with a quick sighting that defied identification. I was surprised to see Brown Boobies perched on cacti.

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The Brown Boobies were nesting underneath the cacti, and even out in the open on the occasional grassy spots, which is why Isla Pasavera is so popular with the birds, because of it’s steepness, there are areas where the vegetation is mostly grass.

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Just like on Isla Isabel last spring, the Boobies were hardly disturbed by our presence, I don’t think that too many people climb up the steep hillside above a tangle of cacti and other plants, to take pictures of the birds. We found this pair, were they greeting, courting, or fighting?

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At Punta Perala, and again at Tenecatita, there were long estuaries to explore with the kayaks, sometimes wide open, sometimes close and dense, so dense that in one place we needed to take apart our paddles and use just half the paddle like a canoe paddle, dodging the mangrove roots that closed in around us.

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After about two hours of paddling and exploring in the Tenecatita estuary, we came out of the thick growth of mangroves to find a lagoon perhaps a half mile wide, with a deserted fishing camp at one end.

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The estuaries are rich with life, the vegetation and water and air supporting all the animals, from the tiny gnats and spiders to the large herons and egrets, all part of the teeming variety of creatures there. We didn’t ever see a crocodile in these waters, I’m not sure if they have been hunted for flesh and eggs by the local Mexicans, if they are really elusive, or if we just didn’t spot any. Here are some promised shots of some of the birds we saw.

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White Ibis

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Tri-colored Heron

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The first picture was tweaked with Snapseed, to make it really green. The Great Blue Heron and the Great Egret look like they ingested green dye instead of fish. The next bird is a Lesser Yellowlegs, doing the Stroll. (That’s a dance from the early 60’s, in case you never saw American Bandstand).

In the mangroves we also saw Belted Kingfishers, Green Kingfishers, Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Black-necked Stilts, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a Common Black Hawk, Mangrove Swallows, Tropical Kingbirds, Great Kiskadees, and we startled a Paraque, which usually is active only at night. Hope you’ve enjoyed this cactus and mangrove tour. For something different, the next blog will probably show shots of this past week, when I worked for two days in a spay and neuter clinic, and then got to do chemistry with four young friends here in the marina.

Costa Alegre, The Cheerful Coast

Finally I am posting a few pictures from our sail (actually from our mostly motorsail) down from Punta Mita to Barra de Navidad last month. That stretch of coastline is called Costa Alegre, which translates to The Cheerful Coast, or The Happy Coast. It’s a remote stretch of a beautiful junction of long, pristine beaches and rocky islands and outcrops. Some development has taken place, especially in Careyes, where a Club Med occupies one end of the little bay, and a stretch of very colorful mini-mansions and condos marches down to the former Bel-Air hotel at the other end.

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Little Tehuamixtle on Ipala Bay. We anchored here two nights and explored the town and hillside above. Nikk climbed the lighthouse and scared off the resident Black Vulture.

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We snorkeled in most of the bays we anchored in, and even found an old wreck right off the beach of Tehuamixtle. We have definitely decided that I am purchasing an underwater camera when I go to Portland in January. The kayaks also had a lot of use, taking us to shore for some landings in the waves that were way too exciting, or inland on the estuaries to look for birds, or around some of the islands.

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Those last two shots show the different kinds of kayaking in peaceful estuaries or rolling waves. I don’t get pictures of the exciting landings through the surf because the camera is safely stowed away in the waterproof case, but that’s another reason to invest in a Go Pro waterproof camera that I can strap to my head.

The islands are mostly protected for the nesting birds. I’m going to do another post to show some of the birds we communed with on the way down.

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This is Isla Passavera in Chamela Bay, home to frigatebirds, vultures, and Brown Boobies, who all roost at the tops of cacti, a strange sight.

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To Be Continued….our friends are waiting for us to paddle in to spend a day ashore.

. If you travel this section of the west coast of Mexico by boat, you must find a bay with shelter from the prevailing swell, or have a rocky and rolly night. If you travel by land, just take a road off Hwy 200 coming down from Puerto Vallarta that travels west to the beach. There are magical spots for camping on or near the beach, just have plenty of insect repellant. We have specially-made screens for the hatches and the companionway opening, the screens are extra-fine mesh that keeps out even the tiny, horrible biting gnats called Jejenes, and we are so grateful for them!

When we sailed into Carayes, we felt like we’d been transported from rural Mexico to the Riviera.

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Careyes refers to the Careyes Turtles which lay eggs on the beach just south of the little village of Careyes. These are very endangered turtles, and the area has been turned into a closed and protected preserve. If you have a car you can drive to the preserve and ask to help in December, when the turtles come ashore, or later when the eggs hatch, to shepherd the little hatchlings safely to the ocean. I’m sure they would welcome contributions of money, too.

There was only one restaurant in Careyes, Playa Rosa, with pink bungalows for rent. We paddled in and ordered lunch and drinks. The lunch of fish in a delicious garlic and wine sauce, with rice and vegetables was very tasty, but we gagged when we received the bill of 900 pesos (about $78US)! I had to use the favorite expression again, “Hijole!”. (Holy crap!)

Hope you enjoyed the pictures, I will try to post a blog for those birders out there soon, but if that doesn’t happen for a while, then I’ll say Feliz Navidad!

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