MX - Espiritu Santo Circumnavigation - 2007/04/07 to 2007/04/12

Espiritu Santo, La Paz, Mexico is the main island in a group just four miles from the mainland. With many protected campsites, the beautiful island is easy to paddle around in less than a week. Cactus, fish, birds, sun, sand all await the adventurous. Just don't forget the Tequila!

We spent the day resupplying after our trip down the coast from Loreto. Rick, Bob and I were ready to join Julio, Sandra, Lisa and Bunny. They had flown in earlier in to join us for a new kayak trip out to the islands just off of La Paz. We were renting our boats again from Baja Outdoor Adventures and the very friendly and helpful Ben Gilliam. Ben has been renting boats out of La Paz for many years now. His boats are in excellent condition and his operation is reliable and punctual, all qualities that are sometimes difficult to achieve in Mexico. Manuello, his employee who does the shuttles and keeps the boats in such good shape, was right on time as he pulled up in front of the Los Arcos hotel where we were staying.

Day 1

We loaded up the usual mounds of gear into the back of the 15 passenger van and headed out of town with a full load of kayaks on the trailer. It was Easter week and the crowds would be camped out on the beaches of Tecolote, the usual launching place. It is a four mile crossing from the peninsula on the mainland over to the southernmost tip of Espiritu Santo. We decided to launch instead at Ballandra Bay, a pretty, shallow little cove some 2 miles short of Tecolote. The crowds there would be smaller, but they were still there. The parking lot was almost full. We unloaded our boats in the middle of Mexican families enjoying the holiday at the palapa lined beach. The shallow water and half tide made for a long carry out to the water's edge. But soon we were loaded. With a wind of about 10 knots, we left the little bay and paddled out to a beach just around the point from Tecolote. There we landed between the two families camping on this beach and discussed the conditions and procedures for the crossing.

From this place, the crossing is about 5 miles. With a west wind like today it is an easy crossing. But during a strong northerly wind it can be a challenge to get across. After leaving the beach, I led the group on a range run across the open water. Having several hundred meters of mountain for a range makes it easy to pick out something useful to range on. We paddle about half way across and took a break. The wind and current were causing little drift today, so there was not much ferry glide needed to stay on range. In less than two hours, we were on the pebble beach on the southwest end of Espiritu Santo, looking across the blue waters to Tecolote whence we had come. The thump of the loud music system on the beach at Tecolote that had accompanied us on our journey across the channel was still annoying audible from there.

Just up the beach was a small boat, left high and dry on the beach by the receding tide. Its outboard drive was dug deep into the sand of the beach and two older men were sitting in the shade of the cockpit awning. We went down to see what the story was. Their engine had died while they were trolling off the shore yesterday and the winds had driven them up onto the beach. They had arranged for three pangas to come and pull them off the beach when high tide arrived. I asked if they had an anchor and anchor line and they replied that indeed they did. I wondered silently why they had not deployed it when their engine died to keep them off the beach. Anyway I suggested they might want to get it out and deploy it now so that the high water did not drive them any further onto the beach. But they seemed disinclined to take that advice so we returned to our kayaks. We left the beach and paddled up along the west side of the island to our intended camping spot.

Espiritu Santo has a number of eroded fingers that point west back toward the mainland. In between these long slivers of land white sand accumulates. The water is often calm and very clear. The water is a bright turquoise. It all makes for a beautiful place to paddle and to snorkel. With today's west wind, the waves were being driven up into the little bays and the water was more cloudy than normal.

At the ends of many of the little bays are mangroves and beaches. It is a good idea not to camp on a beach with mangroves as mosquitos inhabit the mangroves and can make camping atypically bug infested. We were headed for a small beach between two mangrove areas. We arrived about 4 PM and set up camp on the small beach. It was much smaller than the beaches that we had seen on our Loreto to La Paz portion of the trip. The high tide line looked to be well up the beach. Past the high tide line the scrub and sand spurs of the harsh desert did not invite camping. We placed our tents above what we hoped would prove to be todays maximum tide. The sun beat down on us and we made a half hearted attempt to rig a sun shade. Soon however the sun was descending and with it a few mosquitos appeared. While their number and aggressiveness where nothing compared to a Chesapeake Bay marsh woodland, they were an unwelcome addition to our company. It really made the point about how nice it is to camp in Baja which seldom has the little pests around.

Day 2

During the early night, the tide kept rising closer and closer to our tents. With a strong wind blowing in from the west, spray was flying onto our sleeping areas and one by one we were all forced to move further inland. Eventually, the waters rose to with two horizontal feet of where we had originally placed our tents. But by morning's sunrise, the water had receded once again leaving a sandy flat in front of our beach.

The west wind had picked up and was blowing 15 knots into the bay. With the very shallow water, the launch was easy but we needed to paddle out into 3 to 4 foot waves, some of which were breaking as they came into the shallow water. It was an active paddle for some of the less experienced members of the group. But soon we were out in deep water where the wave action was less threatening. After reaching the point we were able to turn toward the north and take the wind and waves on the beam, the paddling was much easier. We paddled along the coast of red rock. As the day progressed the winds diminished. We stopped on a small island for a break. There was no beach here so we just pulled the kayaks up on the rock bench in the lee of the wind and waves.

We continued to paddle along the coast and passed many small bays with beaches in them. Some are effectively "reserved" by the outfitters running guided trips out of La Paz. We avoided these and continued on past Isla Espiritu Santo to the next island, Isla Partida, and a small beach about in the middle of that island. There was one more beach closer to Los Islotes where the seals are. We wanted to be close to there so that we could get there before the 10 AM arrival of the tourist boats out of La Paz that turn the place into more of an amusement ride than an observation of nature. But with only one more beach before the island, we were afraid that it might be taken. There were a large number of kayak groups out on the islands. This was the busiest week of the entire season. Even so we had only seen two kayak groups on our paddle along the island in the last two days. But we didn't want to chance the 1.5 mile paddle back to this beach and the chance that it might be taken too. So we quit a little early and set up camp on a nice sand beach with large boulders and a sloping sandy bottom. It was perfect for swimming and rolling practice. The sand at the site was soft but of a coarse nature that easily was brushed off the skin.

Day 3

The next morning we struck out early to get a jump on the tourist boats. With a strong south wind it was a perfect opportunity for me to use my homemade sail. With the stiff breeze I was quickly outpacing my paddle powered friends. We easily made the three miles to the island lying just off the north shore The barks of the sea lions reached us long before we could see their rock colored bodies lying out in the warming morning sun. Pelicans, frigates, gulls and boobies wheeled overhead. Off the eastern end of the island was an arch. We followed each other through the little passage.

On the other side of the island in the lee of the wind and waves, the seal pups were playing in the waters just off the rocks. The younger ones are inquisitive and playfull, coming in quite close to our kayaks. We floated a respectful distance from the rocks where the big bulls were maintaining their territory. They can be aggressive and dangerous and should not be pressed for that close up picture.

Colonies of boobies were sitting on the ledges over the rocks. Their guano dripped over the red rocks like melted frosting on a cake. It was a wonderful experience so close to the seals, at least until the tourist boats arrived. Just about 10 A.M. four boats jammed with snorkelers and sightseers arrived and the experience went downhill rapidly. We left shortly after their arrival.

We headed down the east coast of La Partida. We were now in the lee of the island and the water was calm. The sun was warm and the sky bright blue. What perfect conditions we had. On a small rocky beach we pulled up our kayaks and looked back at the white topped Los Islotes we had just visited. The exposure of the coast to the strong northeasterly winds and wide open fetch was told in the steep beaches and cliffs and in the heavy boulders on the all rock beach. It was gorgeously quiet this day. But I could see that 15 foot surf rebounding off the steep walls and unprotected coast on this side of the island could make for a totally different day than the one we were having.

Soon the passage between Espiritu Santo and La Partida was in view. We had paddled a short five miles down the coast. Another brief stop on another rocky beach and we were once again headed down the coast. Along this coast are numerous sea caves. Some are just big undercuts in the massive cliff face where the swells from the north pound into the soft rock. Others are complex multi chambered passages allowing you to paddle in and out among the rocks. On a calm day like this, with even the soft wind blowing from the west, we had ideal conditions to investigate these caves and we took full advantage of it.

One small cave had only enough space for one kayak at a time and no space for a full length paddle. I separated the halves of my paddle and entered the low ceiling cave. I got pushed too far to the left on the next surge, right after Rick warned my to stay to the right. When the next little surge came in I got pressed up into the ceiling. Stupidly I laid back on the deck of my kayak so my face got pushed up into the ceiling at the crest of the next wave. Thankfully the wave was small and the entrapment was not serious. However it put me off my game and as the small surge receded I got pushed even further to the left and the lower ceiling. On the next surge, it sent my boat up against the left wall and the ceiling again. This time I was determined not to repeat the last mistake so I put the bottom of the boat against the left wall and leaned to the side to avoid the ceiling. The surge sent my boat up the left wall, careening it to a 45 degree angle. Only a hand brace saved me from going over as the little surge receded. In the narrow passage a sweep roll would have been impossible. in the tight space, I used one half of my two piece paddle to back out of the cave. I figured I had pressed my luck far enough for that day. But nothing is more exhilarating than a dangerous situation survived. I guess its true that good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement.

After the caves we paddles along the rugged coast to a large multilevel pebble beach where we placed our third camp. It was still early in the day so after setting up camp some went further south along the coast to play around the sea stacks and confused waves while others sun bathed or snorkeled in the deep clear water off the beach or climbed on the cliffs over the beach. I laid my ground cloth out on the smooth small pebbles of the beach. I love a pebble beach, especially one in the hot sun. The warm small smooth pebbles are like a treatment at a health spa. There is no blowing sand or sand on your feet as you get into your sleeping bag. You can put your equipment anywhere and it stays clean and dry. It just makes for a great camp.

The wind had picked up and we settled in next to the rocks for the dinner preparations. Rick showed us how to properly set up a camp seat using a Thermo Rest. It was really funny. Julio was busy opening the one thousand packets of half mouthful items that come in a typical MRE. The tequila bottle made the rounds. Everyone was content.

As we went to bed the wind picked up as it often seems to do here in Baja. The gust came from several directions as they bounced off the nearby cliffs. But during the night the predominant wind direction shifted from the south to the north. i got up and turned my camp around so that my gear bags carefully aligned on the south edge of my ground cloth would now provide the protection for the northerly winds. Somewhere during that move in the dark, my little Guardian light that had performed so admirably got dropped into the stones. It was of course my fault for not properly putting it back into my PFD pocket where it belonged. I didn't notice that it was gone until the next day's camp. So somewhere on this beach is a nice little waterproof light. If you go there maybe you can find it.

Day 4

The next morning found the wind still blowing strong but from back in the south again. We retreated to a shallow cave for breakfast out of the wind. We watched the pangas trolling just off the beach and saw the surface of the sea roil with large frenzied fish feeding on a school of small fish they had forced up against the surface. Pelicans and frigates came from miles around. Most of these violent feeding frenzies are over in less than five minutes so the good times favor those who arrive early. But this one kept up for fifteen or more minutes, surging up and down along the coast. it waned and waxed in intensity as the small fish temporarily escaped the containment by the predators below. Several fishing boats circled on the outer edges, casting their lines into the center of the finny maelstrom. Success was almost guaranteed.

As we left the beach in our kayaks a new finny boil began just off the beach. Smaller and less intense than the other one, it was still impressive. i could see 30 and 40 pound rooster fish swirling and chasing just under the waves. I knew they were rooster fish because a blue-green coxcomb worn on the dorsal edge of the fish is its signature. I trolled a small jig I had found on the beach at last nights camp. With 80 pound test line and a 40 pound test leader, I was not sure what I would have done had I caught one. Probably paddle back to the beach and land it from shore. But I never had to make the decision as I got nothing. I trolled along the coast for a while and then brought in the rig as my fellow paddlers were getting ahead of me.

I made it up to the sea stacks where the others had played in the waves the day before. These large columns stood separated from the main body of the island but only the outer one was completely separated at its base. It was possible to paddle between it and the shore. So technically there was only one sea stack.

With my friends paddling onward I spent only a short time here and hurried to catch up with them. The headwind had raised a little wind wave action on the sea. As I paddled in between them and the shore, the glint from the late morning sun put a silver cast on the entire surface. It look like a giant late of silver repose from Stieff silversmiths.

Around the next point, we stopped on the outer side of a cut off lagoon. In the lagoon the rapidly evaporating water was super salty, but not yet as salty as Utah's great Salt lake. We walked along the edge of the water and into a small ravine. Signs of rabbits were everywhere and we caught a brief glimpse of Mr. Jack Rabbit before he scurried off into the pricklies where he was safe from us. The cactus and their bones were closely enough spaced to make the walking difficult, so without a trail we did not venture far. But we saw several agave in various stages and one in bloom with its flower stalk arching out over the beach like a giant fishing pole.

After paddling a short distance up the coast, we came ashore again for lunch on a rocky beach. The water here was gorgeous and several took advantage for a quick dip in the cool water. It was a lovely site even if the steep rocky beach was a little difficult. One of the kayaks decided to launch itself off of the beach. I reached it just before it got away. We sat in the shade of a large rock or broiled under the intense midday sun of Baja.

Back in the kayaks we paddled past the last rocky headland on this side of Isla Espiritu Santo. The conditions were easy and we were all enjoying the paddle. Around the point was a large bay and a 4 mile long beach. All we needed to do was to decide what part of the beach to land on. We had the whole thing to ourselves. We paddled across the wide shallow bay over glorious turquoise waters.

We had chosen to come ashore near a little tree. It was the only tree we had seen on the entire island. I think it was a mangrove escapee from the lagoon behind us. We naturally named it the Wie bush, for our expedition member Rick Wiebush. We set out our snacks and tequila under the sturdy branches. Its shade was most welcome under the harsh sun.

The tree grew on the side of a 15 foot high dune that ran along the length of the beach. There were nice tent sites on the broad top of the dune overlooking the beach and the low area inland. Fortunately the low area was dry so there would be no bug problem. The wide beach stretched for miles in either direction. Sandra and I spent a good part of the rest of the afternoon walking to the far end and back to camp.

Day 5

The last day began with a hot looking sun rising up out of a languid sea. We packed our boats for the short paddle down the remaining coast of Espiritu Santo and the four mile crossing to Tecolote. It was with very mixed emotions that we left this beautiful beach. With a light chop of a east wind we guided our kayaks through silvery seas. With a last stop on the southernmost point, we had completed out circumnavigation. Now we started across the open channel to Tecolote in calm seas. Soon we were on the other side and we could only look back at the idyllic island that we had just left.

The beach that had been jammed with campers and partying Mexican families just five days before was now nearly empty. Under the shade of a beachside palapa we drank Tecates and looked over the azure waters of Tecolote. Soon a big plate of Tacos de Cameron was brought out and we were all delighted in the best tasting food we had the entire trip. Now all that was left was a short paddle around the headland to Balandra Bay and the pick up for Rick, Bunny and Bob. Sandra, Julio, Lisa and I were planning on staying out one more day and paddling back to Baja Outdoor Adventures in La Paz. We were staying a few more days in La Paz while the others were returning to the States the next day. We paddled in and were met by the BOA van right on time. With the kayaks loaded we parted company with our friends and headed back out to the outside beach in Balandra Bay to camp for the night. Along the shore was an interesting balancing rock, the object of many plastic souvenir knickknacks in La Paz.

Out on the beach we found a large overhanging cave. there we pulled our kayaks up on the sand and sat in the shade of the overhang. After some snorkeling in the shallow waters, it was time to fix dinner. The sun went down hot just as it came up in the morning. The wind dropped and it looked like it would be a quiet night. But once again Baja had something else in mind. About one hour after the sun went down the wind picked up and began to blow hard in from the west.

Day 6

The next morning the wind was stronger - about twenty five knots. After our wonderful day the day before some just couldn't get motivated to face this day. We waited for the wind to drop but it did so only a little. We held out to about 11:00 o'clock and then we got in the boats and headed out into the wind. The paddling was difficult into the strong wind. Even though we had been told that the west wind dies later in the day ( it did), it was getting quite late to start our paddle and our hearts just were not into this. We all decided to paddle back into Ballandra Bay and see if we could get picked up there. Borrowing the use of a cell phone from one beach goer, we contacted BOA and they were able to accommodate us. Within an hour we were stacking the kayaks onto the trailer and we were headed back to La Paz. Our trip was over.

Day 7

We spent a last day enjoying La Paz, walking the malecon, checking on other tour options and eating ourselves silly at very inexpensive street restaurants and moderate high end eateries (Las Tres Virgenes) . We relaxed in the very nice accommodations at the Los Arcos hotel. It was a pleasant end to a great trip. All that remained was the drive to Los Cabos airport and the hassle of the return flight. The airport in Cabo was jammed as we were told it is every weekend. Long lines through check in and baggage made for an unpleasant start to our trip. Our flight was delayed and we were rescheduled to an earlier flight which was then delayed itself due to mechanical problems. Are connecting flight in Dallas was also delayed so we did not arrive back in Baltimore until 4:00 A.M. It was a long and tiring process and only slightly better than the nightmare that was our flight to La Paz. But that is another story. I don;t think I will ever fly American Airlines again.




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