Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘La Paz’

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.


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 SeƱora 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.


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.



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.



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



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.



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.


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.



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.

Three Coves, Two Hikes, and One Wild Ride

Sailing across to La Paz from Mazatlan got off to a very good start. The port captain closed the bar on Friday April 5 due to large breaking waves, so we waited and snuck out Saturday morning. One of the cruisers at the marina took a video of Balance crossing the bar and posted it to You Tube. Go there and search Balance Timing the Waves to see it. After crossing the Columbia Bar in much wilder conditions Nikk says this was easy, but we sure bounced around a lot.

Saturday and Sunday the sun shone, gentle rolling waves made life grand on Balance except for a lack of wind to sail. The mainsail always stays up to steady us, but every time Nikk rolled out the headsail to catch some wind it died back to two or three knots, so the crossing was mostly motorsailing. We did have some company, we saw many Olive Ridley turtles paddling along, and manta rays jumping. When the rays get five feet above the water they crash down with a sound like someone bellyflopping in a pool. Must not hurt them that much. Here’s another common sight, what I think may be a Least Tern riding on a turtle, waiting for it to catch a fish.


We ate sandwiches and spaghetti, cooking was easy without the stove wildly gyrating back and forth like it does when we’re sailing, and at 2am on Monday morning all that changed. I was on watch when Nikk got up after only sleeping an hour and said those dreaded words “I think it’s getting rough”. He’d been bouncing up in the V-berth, but in the stern of the boat the motion wasn’t bad (yet). The winds continued to build as we were about ten miles off Isla Cerralvo which is almost to the Baja mainland. Soon the winds were 25-35 knots on the nose, and we were pitching into 3-5 foot wave chop, augmented by long northerly rollers. When the two came together we got water over the boat and into the cockpit. All the water began to find it’s way into the cabin, drip, drip, drip. In the next ten hours we used up every towel on the boat and it was almost time to start using the dirty clothes when we finally made it to a little cove right at the juncture of Isla la Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo at noon the next day. Nikk and I had on our foul weather gear that we hadn’t worn since November coming down the west coast of Baja. We were lucky to see a boat anchored at the little cove and know it was a safe anchorage, since most of the east coast of the islands is not fit for anchoring. There are no pictures or video of our wild ride because we were afraid a wave would splash the cameras if we brought them out. Even though we hadn’t eaten in 18 hours we just hung out everything wet and crawled into bed to sleep for four hours with the wind still howling but the waves only about a foot high in the cove. After a quick dinner of red snapper fish tacos it was back to sleep again with the wind still howling in the rigging.

Tuesday morning brought a brilliant blue sky, less wind, and the perfect opportunity to put the kayaks in the water and paddle through the winding channel between the two islands into the cove on the western side. We passed by two fish camps with pangas on the beaches of the channel, and barely made it through with the kayaks at low tide, but when we exited the winding channel we were in one of the most beautiful lagoons I’ve ever seen. Turquoise and emerald water over white sand, with cacti and other desert plants marching up the steep hillsides. We beached our kayaks and carried them up to what we hoped was an area above high tide, then set off for a sign marking a trail.


Imagine a trail up an arroyo filled at first with medium-sized rocks, then as the trail steepened the rocks becoming larger and larger, boulders of pink sandstone conglomerate packed with chunks of quartzite, slick basalt chunks, and sometimes reddish pumice. On up we toiled, being careful to avoid the cactus spines, past fig trees with octopus roots growing in the rock cliffs, and views of the cove which were more stunning with each ten meters of elevation gain.


Those little dots in the cove are sailboats, we will be anchored there in about two days time, waiting for some strong winds that are coming Thursday and Friday to abate. Our climb up the arroyo led us to the cave Nikk remembered from 28 years ago. I can imagine the ancient peoples of the island sheltering there, and we did too, the sun was strongly parching us.


Despite the heat we continued on above the cave to the base of a steep cliff and were surprised when we returned to the arroyo, two short-eared owls flew out of the arroyo and perched on the rocks to watch us. They are large owls, and are awake in the daytime more than other owls.


Six hours after we left the boat we were back, luckily still with the kayaks, they were only two feet above the water line when we returned. And we were so parched, our quarts of water were long gone, and we drank a really large variety of fluids back at the boat. Wednesday we sailed up around the north end of the island, listened to sea lions out on Los Islotes, and came back down the west side of Isla la Partida to anchor at El Cardonal, another stunning cove with a trail onshore past mangoves, a lagoon, and an easy hike this time to the other side of the island. We spotted Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Verdin, Black-throated Sparrows and an unidentified hawk, all desert birds. Tiny desert flowers bloomed near forests of organ pipe cactus, which resemble the saguaro of the Arizona deserts. Here is an old man organ pipe:


In a cartoon he would be wearing a sombrero.

The beautiful weather held, perfect for hiking and exploring, or just lazing about on the boat reading and eating. I made a fish stew with the last of the snapper from Mazatlan, added garlic, onion, potatoes, and carrots to a broth of mole, cumin, and chili sauce. The new moon was on Wednesday, so we had inky black sky with thousands of stars to gaze at while sitting in the cockpit at night. It did get chilly, though, I wore the crocheted hat and layers of sweatshirt and fleece jacket outside at night. And the water was only 70 degrees, instead of the 80 degrees in the ocean over by the mainland of Mexico. Too cold for swimming and snorkeling.

Thursday we motored down to Puerto Ballena, on Isla Espiritu Santo, seeing many tourist pangas from La Paz, and some sea kayakers out with a touring company, heading for the white sand beaches. We anchored in shallow water in the northernmost cove, and paddled to shore to do a little more exploring.



The arroyo we investigated was unexpectedly in bloom. Deep green geranium plants, bushes with flowers like impatiens, and then a mother goat and her all white kid on the hillside above. We are going back there now after four days in La Paz. I’ll cut this blog short so I can help Nikk get off the dock and out into the bay. We’re sailing to many desert islands over the next two weeks before heading back to La Cruz. Perhaps I’ll be able to share a few stories of La Paz and those desert islands when I’m finally back with internet connection again.

Here is one more picture of a hungry desert island denizen, a gigantic grasshopper.


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