MX - Sea of Cortez - 2002/03/26 to 2002/04/06

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Want to swim with sea lions, listen to whales spout at midnight, explore desert environments and relax under clear blue skies on a beautiful beach lapped by calm azure seas? A kayak trip from La Paz to Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, guided by Baja Expeditions is an unforgetable experience.

By Hank McComas

My friends and I have talked about kayaking in Baja for over a year. We all read Ed Darak's account of his solo trip down nearly the entire length of the peninsula, thoroughly browsed both his and the CASKE2000 web site as well as many other accounts of kayak trips in the Sea of Cortez. Now it was time to put together a trip and actually go.

We used the web to check out all the kayak outfitters in the Loreto and La Paz areas. Because we had never done any kayaking in Baja, we decided to go with an outfitter the first time out. We also decided to concentrate on the La Paz or Loreto areas as the travel logistics were simple because both cities have airports. We decided that Baja Outpost out of Loreto seem to offer the best opportunities as described by their extensive web site.

We began corresponding by email with the owners of Baja Outpost, but somehow we could not seem to get timely and careful answers to our questions. There seemed to be a disconnect between what we were trying to ask for and what the owner was offering. Everything seem a little too "loose". Not disorganized but rather imprecise. The requirement for full payment a month ahead of time and no credit card facility made us nervous about this outfitter. Another outfitter we wanted to use was Miramar Adventures but unfortunately they were not based in the area we wanted to paddle. They will be our outfitter of choice when we explore the upper Sea of Cortez.

Just five weeks before our Easter week vacation, an article on Baja appeared in Canoe & Kayak magazine. The author went with Baja Expeditions and was highly complementary of their skills. We had of course seen their web site, but as they seemed to cater to less skilled kayak clients looking for short (to us) paddles, we had been looking elsewhere. However, as they maintained a U.S. office in San Diego, had an 800 number, and accepted credit cards, our comfort level started out quite high. A phone call to Jean in the San Diego office soon convinced us that these people had their act together. They were running a ten day "Islands of the Sea of Cortez" boat assisted trip from La Paz to Loreto. There were already several groups signed up and the four of us would make 15 participants. They assured us that we would have access to reasonable single kayaks and that the other less experienced kayakers on the trip would be in tandems, which would allow them to keep a sprightly pace. We were warned that there would be a number of children of varying ages on the trip, but that when we gained camp after an 8 to 12 mile paddle, we could go out with the guides and do additional paddling. For our introduction to Baja, it sounded good to us - so we signed up.

By the time we decided on Baja Expeditions it was late February. The bargain air fares available after Sept 11 were beginning to disappear. Worse the flight schedules out of Los Angeles to La Paz were impossible to coordinate with an inexpensive cross country flight out of Baltimore. I finally got a good flight saving us $450.00 a person, but we had to spend 2 nights and one day in Las Vegas. I found a good price on a hotel room in the Sahara Casino, one of the few that allowed Sunday check-in. So Julio Perez, Steve Rohrs, Mary Rohrs and I were all ready for our 8:30 PM Saturday departure.

Day 1: We arrived at the airport 2 hours early and had no problems checking our bags with the SkyCap. I had packed everything into one carry-on bag, except my pocket knife which I had given to Julio for inclusion in his checked baggage. We entered the terminal with very little delay and headed for the America West gate.

There we were met with a tremendous line snaking across the large lobby of the international arrivals gate. Several hundred people were in line ahead of us and the line was moving SLOOOOWLY. Attendants were coming out and announcing for passengers of various flights to come to the head of the line so that they would not miss their flights. That of course made our progress that much slower. With 30 minutes before flight departure, we made it to the scanning station. There everyone made it through OK except me. I had forgotten about the scissors that were part of the medical kit that I had packed for the kayak trip. Since it was in my carry-on luggage I had to surrender them to the scanner cops. I still think I would be hard pressed to do much damage with a pair of bandage scissors. However, I will now be looking for a pair of round tip scissors for my medical kit.

Our direct flight to Las Vegas arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 10:30 PM local time, 1:30 AM body time. Transfers and check-in got us to the room just after mid-night. Of course the casino was all lit up and the slots were playing their hypnotic jangle of bells and jackpots. We ate some dinner and retired.

The next day Julio and I arose early and headed off for the Circus Circus breakfast buffet, arriving prior to the 7:00 AM opening. After stuffing ourselves with the array of calorific entrees chased by fruit and pastries, we set out to explore the strip. Visiting a large number of the casinos in the mid strip, and returning that night to see the lights and water fountain displays at Belagio, we had a full and long day on our feet.

Day 2: The next morning we once again went to the Circus Circus buffet, but acquitted ourselves with more restraint, choosing a healthier array of breakfast delectables. Our flight to LA left Monday morning at 11:30 AM, with a three hour layover before our flight on AeroCalifornia to La Paz with one stop in Hermisillo. We arrived on the Mexican mainland in Hermisillo around 7:00 PM just as the sun was setting and checked into customs, which proved to be a perfunctory and painless process. Once again we flew over the Sea of Cortez and on to our destination of La Paz arriving well after dark. Once again we quickly passed through an inspection line and along with some other Norte Americanos, got into a van headed for the Los Arcos hotel. This is the hotel that Baja Expeditions uses to assemble its clients prior to their trips. It is just 2 blocks west of their storefront and the fanciest hotel in town. Rooms are $85 US per night.

After checking in we headed for the bar for our complementary Margarita and some dinner. Steve ordered one of his favorites, calamare, but was surprised to find that it was not fried, like the Italian version, but raw and drenched in a hot sauce. Julio and I ate most of his appetizer. We retired around 2:00 AM.

Day 3: We had arrived four days early and planned to do some sightseeing and independent kayaking based out of La Paz. Julio and I arose at sunrise the next morning and after taking a few pictures, headed out to find a place to eat breakfast. We walked up and down the street but were unable to find any place open at that hour except the hotel cafeteria line. Even Julio's fluent Spanish could not find us an open restaurant, even one away from the tourist section. We decided to wait and try again a little later. Around 9:00 we finally found a place up the street, but I found it very ordinary and a bit pricey considering what we had. Click on the underlined picture titles for larger versions.

Steve was promised by Baja Expeditions that they would help us with kayak arrangements upon our arrival. It turned out they could not rent to us without a guide and were only able to recommend the most expensive rental location around and played dumb when asked if there were alternatives - even though we would later find 5 other rental locations within a few blocks. So a good part of our first day was spent walking in the streets of La Paz, checking out the shops and stores, and looking for kayak stores. We visited the grocery stores, the central square and government building and picked up some supplies and munchables. The view from the hotel front porch was excellent.

While looking for Mar y Adventures, another kayak outfitter out of La Paz, we stopped by a marina and saw several kayaks being loaded onto a panga. Striking up a conversation with the person who seemed to be in charge, we discovered that this outfitter, North Wind, rented kayaks daily and would transport us to Tecolote, at the end of the peninsula running north from La Paz, and then pick us up after we had kayaked 15 or so miles back toward La Paz. It took some convincing to get him to understand that we knew what our capabilities were, as far as distance, as he was used to the average day kayaker going 6 miles. Having arranged a nice day for Wednesday, we repaired to the swimming pool at the hotel, quaffed a few cervesas (Pacifico), and had a nap. All that remained of this day was dinner.

We walked up the malecon, a seaside walkway extending nearly three miles along the shoreline. The beautiful siting was diminished by the fact that in its entire length, there was no section longer than a 200 feet that was not either still under construction or under repair. It seemed to be a continuous project of a small number of workers working with hand tools and just a few pieces of heavy equipment. In fact much of the city seemed to be a project waiting for completion. Second stories of building were unfinished with concrete columns and rebar sticking out. The sidewalks were cracked, full of holes and uneven. There were two or three tort actions in every block. Clearly, Mexico is not subject to the same viscous legal system that we have in the United States. If you cut your head on the rusty air conditioner sticking out into the sidewalk at 5'10"" above the ground it is just your problem.

After walking along the shore for a couple miles, we were able to find the seafood restaurant that had been recommended to us. The smells of the street vendors cooking up steak and seafood tacos and fajitas was getting us really hungry. My fellow vacationers were a little chary about the street-side vendors because of the possible intestinal difficulties that might be a consequence of eating there, but the food sure looked good and the prices were extremely cheap. So we finally went into a nice looking place called Carlos and Charlie's. This restaurant looked like any of the better Mexican style restaurants one would find in southern California. The menu was full of seafood and Mexican specialties with prices in the middle to high range for the States.

We each ordered something different and shared around. The food was excellent. Julio noticed the availability of Don Julio tequila shots, so we each had one in his honor. This was a considerable honor at $8.00 US per shot. During our meal a strolling troubadour came to our table and began a song. He was fairly good so when he finished, we requested Cielito Lindo.


After he finished and we said thank you, we offered a $1.00 American per song as a gratuity. He insisted on $2. We though that was a bit much, especially since he didn't say anything about this being a paid independent arrangement. We thought he was with the restaurant. It temporarily left an unpleasant taste in what was an otherwise enjoyable evening. The bill arrived for over $1,200.00 (pesos). Just seeing a number that big on a bill for dinner was yet another experience. We strolled back up the malecon. With our full stomachs, the aromas from street vendor stalls were not as enticing as they had been before dinner.

Day 4: The kayaks arrived at the Los Arcos hotel right at 7:00 AM the next morning, loaded on top an older long Dodge van. We were off on our first Baja kayak trip. We headed east out of La Paz on the only road, following the shore, which gently curved northward. The land was harsh. Cactus sparsely vegetated the sedimentary rocks. We bumped along the narrow road and listened as our "guide" pointed out the various landmarks for our return trip. We paid particular attention to the Cortez hotel as it seemed to be about the right distance for the day's trip and had a beach with bar service. We arrived at Tecolote beach where we unloaded the equipment, checked it over, went over our float plan, discussed contingency plans if we had trouble making it all the way and received instructions on use of the VHF radio. After a final check of our paddle floats, pumps and rudder cables, we packed our personal gear into the hatches and launched into the nearly smooth sea. We were on our own for our first Baja paddle.

Leaving the large beach we launched into the almost calm waters toward the island of Espiritu Santo. The azure waters were only slightly disturbed by the small swells rolling in from the northeast and the deep waters of the Sea of Cortez. We turned our kayaks west along the shore and joined the many flocks of pelicans diving into the vermillion sea after the tight swirls of small fish forced to the surface by larger fish below. The area was alive with activity. The dark chocolate rock plunged into the sea in cliffs 50 to 100 feet high. Their dark surface appeared to have snow on it, where colonies of cormorants and pelicans had made their deposits. With the right wind direction, these deposits could be distressingly apparent by smell. In a few places, the ammonia wafting across the water was strong enough to make my eyes water.

The water color was fantastic as it changed from a lightly tinged turquoise similar to the Little Colorado River in Arizona to a deep blue of the open ocean Gulf Stream or Pacific. The day's weather was perfect; high cirrus clouds drifting across blue sky and a 10 knot breeze at our backs. Life was good, but my shoulder was giving me problems. I had a rotator cuff tear from weight training several weeks prior to the trip. Although I had been avoiding straining it for the last several weeks, it became clear almost immediately it would be a problem. I only hoped that it would not last the whole trip.

We rounded the northern point and headed back south down the west shore of the peninsula. The coastline here, like that on the west side of Espiritu Santo is fluted with deep narrow bays, almost like fiords that cut back into the arid landscape. We turned into the first of these. Here a number of large yachts had dropped anchor over the expanses of white sand and floated in the clear water as if suspended in thin air. We paddled along empty beaches of white sand, with plovers running along in front of kayaks. We looked over the sides of our kayaks and studied the tracks and indentations in the smoothly rippled sand on the bottom.

The next bay held a section of mangroves which crowded into a thin band of life between the tidal ocean and the burning heat of the desert. Their tough wiry existence was a strong contrast to the large and flourishing mangroves of the Everglades that I had paddle through the previous winter. There were snowy egrets and cormorants perched in the mangrove limbs, resting between fishing rounds. The mangrove roots created a habitat for algae that turned the clear waters of the open shoreline to a grey green water typical of near shore environments.

While following the double paddled by Steve and Mary into this bay, I decided to try the drafting technique I had read about in a sea kayak magazine. Because doubles have a greater waterline length than singles, they are capable of a higher speed with less effort than a single. With two strong paddlers in a double, a single kayaker can quickly be left behind. Drafting, like in bicycles, uses the effort of the person(s) ahead of you to reduce your effort. For bicycles, one tucks in close behind the leader in order to cut the wind resistance. In kayaks the person behind follows closely behind the lead kayak and rides that kayaks transverse wave in order to cut the wave resistance. To be effective, the kayaks need to be very close, so this is not a technique to be used in the presence of wind waves. It also helps if the lead kayak is going fast enough to create a transverse wave of some size. In the calm water of this mangrove bay, I was able to utilize this technique successfully to keep a pace that would not have been comfortable had I been paddling alone. When I came out from behind the doubles stern or fell too far back, I could feel the extra effort needed to stay at the same speed. When attempting this technique I found that staying very close to the lead kayak ( in fact overlapping slightly was best) and relaxing your stroke when you get "in the zone" are both necessary to gain any positive effect. This technique is much more effective if the lead paddlers are consistent in their speed and do not waggle the end of their kayak as they paddle. The more constant paddling started to make my shoulder sore so I had to abandon my drafting.

After exploring to the head of the mangrove, we paddled along the shore looking for a place to beach the kayaks. There were many insects buzzing over the sand of the beach closest to the mangroves, so we continued out until the onshore breeze seemed to have dispersed them. We pulled the kayaks up on the white sand and explored the shallow waters and rock formations along a dazzling crescent of soft sand filled with a pallette of turquoise hues. From the high rocks Julio saw large fish darting about in their efforts to catch their smaller prey. After a half hour of exploration we returned to our kayaks and headed for the next bay.

Back in the kayaks once more, we paddled out of the blue tequila waters and into the denim colored water of the deep channel between the mainland and a small island. To the west we could see a small set of rocks sticking up above the sea with an unmanned steel frame lighthouse. From these rocks we could hear the barks of sea lions drifting across the 1/2 mile distance between us. We continued on past the small round island and turned into the next cove. Here another beautiful white sand beach lured us once more onto its slopes. We walked the beach and discovered the heads of 15 or so hammerhead sharks. Their tough hide was now hard and tight around a tooth filled grimace. All other remains were nowhere to be found. During the shark migration, fisherman come to harvest the sharks and carelessly deposit the heads onto the otherwise pristine beach, instead of returning the heads to the sea where they would be better recycled.

Just off the beach and wrapped around the point visible in the picture to the left, was a shallow reef of corral and gorgonians, teeming with colorful sergeant majors, wrasses and other tropical fish. Steve and Mary took out their snorkeling gear and were soon floating over the traveling kaleidoscope of marine life. Steve pursued them with his digital camera housed in a new underwater case, which, at least at first, defy all attempts at actually getting a picture. However, he soon discovered how to correctly depress one of the watertight buttons projecting from the case that made the camera look more like a porcupine than the compact digital marvel it was.

We returned to the kayaks and headed south along the shore. The wind had picked up and was blowing us along nicely. We tucked into a few more bays but did not explore them deeply. My shoulder was getting very sore and so the others were being considerate in shortening our return. We continued down the barren beige shoreline, passing the oil terminal where the large freighters unloaded all the gasoline and fuel oil for the city of La Paz. Stored in large white tanks on the shore, they made an easy landmark. Shortly after rounding the terminal point, we saw a panga head towards us. It was Jim checking on his clients and assuring himself that we were indeed on a proper schedule to arrive at our rendezvous. We only had little over three miles left to go.

That last hour went quickly as we paddled south along the shore and came into sight of the Hotel Cortez. The rebounding waves off the breakwater and the rapidly shoaling water in front of the hotel made for some interesting wave patterns as we pushed our kayaks over to the shallow reef protecting the beach in front of the hotel. Pulling the boats up onto the shore, we proceeded to the palapa holding the hotel's bar and took our cold libations and sat under the small palms until the van pulled in to load our kayaks fro the return trip to La Paz. It was a great way to celebrate the end of our first day on the Sea of Cortez.

On the way back into town, we had the driver point out a restaurant that we had heard a fellow traveler praise. The driver also recommended it and we determined that would be our dinner place for this night. After cleaning up, we walked the two miles back east along the malecon to the restaurant and were enjoying a nice quiet dinner when the entire restaurant was invaded by a group of thirty youngsters celebrating an youth group dinner. The din and the balloons and the presentations did not distract us from our delicious modestly priced seafood entrees. After dinner, one of the attendees apologized for the noise, which I thought was exceptionally considerate of someone his age. Then he asked me if I was Steven Spielberg and asked for my autograph! We strolled back to our hotel along the malecon and with a last draught of the sea air, returned to our rooms for the evening.

Day 5: The next day we toured the city on foot, visiting the few tourist attractions to be found in La Paz. We also stopped at the local bakery where delicious and exotic fruit stuffed pastries, flan, and breads of all types were available at ridiculously low prices. Some pool time and a siesta got us prepared for the main project of the day - dinner. This time we walked inland from the shore to seek another recommended restaurant. Several fish and lobster entrees were sampled here from a moderately priced menu. The restaurant, the Bismark, had a the story of the battleship namesake on the back of the menu. The English translation was amusing for the translation of "Sink the Bismark" was "Submerge the Bismark".

Day 6: The next morning, two singles and a double were delivered to the beach in front of our hotel. We loaded them up and crossed La Paz bay to the north side of the harbor. We investigated the mangroves along the shore and the abandoned hotel. Several buildings and bungalows, built at considerable expense, where total unoccupied and deteriorating in the harsh sun. Apparently, labor problems had forced the abandonment of this project just as it had an even larger hotel on the other shore. With the tax laws of Mexico requiring that all back taxes be paid on the transfer of property from one owner to another, it would seem that both properties are doomed to just languish until they completely fall down. All was left to a few pelicans and a great blue heron .

We paddled to the west along the northern shore of the bay. As this was Easter week, many Mexican families were camped along the shore and beaches. In Mexico, no one can own the beaches, so at least a Mexican citizen can never be denied access to or camping on the beach. Unfortunately, no such law has ever existed in the United States, eliminating access to the beaches for most of the coastal shoreline.

We did not get all the way to the west end of the bay, but came ashore at the beginning of the dunes and looked out across the Baja desert to the Sea of Cortez on the other side of the long narrow spit forming the north side of La Paz bay. The heat of the mid day sun on the dark sand was incredible, even in April. The ocotillo had just bloomed because of a rare rain inn the past week. The red funnels on the ends of their spiny branches were falling on the sand. The cholla stood guard in a circle around each plant. The long light bones of the frigate birds were numerous among the plastic soda bottles and other trash gathered along the shore, reminders of the 250,000 inhabitants of La Paz.

We returned to our hotel earlier than our stated 4:00 PM time for the rental and sat on the balcony over looking the beach until the van returned for the kayaks. A short nap and then we were off to a native dinner at a street stand that I had discovered on the previous day's wanderings. There we feasted on burritos, fish tacos, fajitas and stuffed potatoes, all good food and at very low prices, approximately $6-$7 for all we cared to eat. A beautiful sunset from the porch of the hotel made this another day in paradise.

Day 7: This morning started with loading the luggage form the hotel onto the roof of the Baja Expeditions van. The timely arrival of the guides well as all the clients was an auspicious start for the adventure. We then walked the two blocks to the outfitters office, where we were fitted for snorkel fins and wet suits, received our drinking cups and a brief explanation of the days itinerary. We then loaded into the van for a short drive to the marina where all the luggage was loaded onto the support boat Rio Rita. This working boat's stern was piled up with coolers containing ice, sodas and food. All was stowed away and the Rio Rita and an open 25' sport fishing boat with several of the passengers headed out into La Paz harbor. As we steamed to Isla Espiritu Santo on the Rio Rita , we passed layers of alternating sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Now we felt we were now officially started on our Baja trip.

Upon arriving at Candelero bay on Isla Espiritu Santo, the boat anchored and while we awaited the previous trips departure from camp, we were served a delicious lunch cooked in the open gallery of the boat. As the previous group still had not vacated that evening's camp, we steamed to some rocks off a point several miles north for some snorkeling. There we saw many schools of fish as well as common reef fish such as wrasse . The underwater pictures taken without lights do not show the true beauty of the scene.

Even though we were provided with 3 mil full wet suits, many soon became chilled after an hour in the water and they returned to the boat. After steaming back to Candelero Bay, we were taken to shore in the panga, a traditional style Mexican open boat. There we selected tents at the permanent base camp set up on the beach and rested under the awning. In later days we would appreciate the shade that the open weave of that large awning provided.

After settling in at camp, Steve, Mary and I wanted to go out in the kayaks before dinner. One of the guides, Diego, accompanied us as we followed the shore line south and then over and around Little Whale island. Swells reflecting off the shear sides of the island created a crossing pattern of steep and irregular waves and in a few places some cloptis (where the intersecting wave trains actually accelerate some water into the air.). Frigate birds and pelicans circled in the air over the island. A small independent party of kayakers was camped in one the many small bays on the main island. we did not intrude on the solitary encampment.

As the sun declined in the western sky, we headed back to our own camp/ Julio, who had stayed at camp in order to explore the shoreline and observe the birds was able to get the picture of us returning to camp. We pulled in just as the sun began its spectacular evening entertainment. We could not stop taking pictures of the beautiful scene that seem to get more and more incredible every five minutes. Here are some of the best shots from the end of a great day.

Day 8: After an early morning walk along the beach and a hike up into the cliffs behind the camp, the entire camp enjoyed the first of many hearty breakfasts. Juice, fruit and flap jacks, cereal and yogurt. Eaten under the tarp at the edge of the sea, it was a great start to the day.

The first activity for today was to transfer to the boat and steam to the north end of Espiritu Santo island to sea lion rookery on Los Partidos islands. There we were instructed in sea lion observation etiquette, donned our wet suits, and slipped into the cold water. The sea lions were hauled out on the rocks with the larger males stationed at respectful distances from each other and their harem of cows sunning themselves around them. The pups were in and out of the water, diving and cavorting around each other and their weird looking visitors. I tried to get a close-up of the sea lions as they twisted, turned and flashed by me. But they were so quick underwater that it was very hard to keep them in the camera's field. When I tried to get a close up as they came by, they apparently took the bright yellow underwater camera as a great little toy and attempted to snatch it from my hand. This made getting a good picture of them almost impossible.

The pups were playful and the cows were demure but curious. The bulls were just plain huge. To see that much bulk surging through the water at such speeds was intimidating. One snorkeler drew too close to a bull hauled out on the rocks and he made it clear that he was not happy, rising up and bellowing with large teeth showing from his wide open mouth. When this person failed to respond promptly to this warning, he was reminded by the guides that as a visitor here he should respect the resident's request that he watch from a greater distance. After the snorkeler backed off, the bull quieted down and resumed his sun bath.

I found that if you tried to observe the sea lions closely, they tended to move off. However, if you went and started investigating something else, they would come around and see what you were up to. Also they like to bite onto the ends of your diving fins and tug at them. A found a large fishing lure and some line on the bottom, and in the process of retrieving it and taking it back to the boat, I had to protect it from two very curious pups who wanted to play with it. With two large treble hooks on the lure, it would have been a very dangerous toy. The sea lions here are often injured by lost tackle, lines and netting, some of which could be seen cutting into the flesh around the neck of several of the larger sea lions. Baja Expedition owner, Means, mounts rescue missions to capture and remove dangerous entanglements several times a year.

When the cold finally penetrated our wet suits, we returned to the boat and began a steam from Espiritu Santo island to Isla San Francisco about twenty miles north. The sea was calm with almost no breeze. Half way between the island we began to see pods of dolphin, 15 to 20 in a group. The Rio Rita changed course to run along with one of the pods for several minutes. They jumped the waves off the stern and played in the bow wave. We also saw the spouts of several whales, one of which was identified when it sounded as a fin whale. The whales did not linger on the surface and we were unable to get close to them. We also encountered many manta rays lounging on the surface of the water, the twin tips of their wins breaking the water 15 feet apart. These rays were very very large. As the boat would draw near them, they would whirl and dive into the blue depths.

We approached Isla San Francisco where we were scheduled to kayak several miles over to Isla San Jose. The wind rose from the north as we approached the southern side of San Francisco and the kayak trip between the islands was abandoned. We rounded the northern side of San Francisco and passed the small fishing village on La Partida. There approximately 60 people in about 8 building were living on a small islet and subsisting on the fish and shellfish of the surrounding waters.

We continued up past the southern tip of San Jose and anchored in a large, curving bay, just offshore from the northern outlet of a mangrove channel. The kayaks were off loaded from the boat and towed into the shore. Passengers were shuttle from the boat to the shore in two waves. There the long promised instructions on wet exiting were given and each person had the opportunity to try one. Julio, Steve and I assisted in the training which helped the session go faster. When it was discovered that the group was one paddle short, I returned to the boat to fetch one. On the return to the shore, the waves running up against the very shallow bar protecting the mangrove bay made for some interesting but brief surfing opportunity.

The kayak group paddled up the mangrove lined channel. Unlike the strip of mangroves clinging to the shore near Tecolote, the mangroves were more extensive here with several channels and small ponds extended from the main channel. Small oysters and underwater growth hung from the roots of the mangrove trees. The usual denizens lurked among the roots, snappers, puffers, and small fish of many types. The mosquitos also were active. These were the only mosquitos we encountered the entire trip and they were making up for their reduced range with a very healthy concentration within the mangroves.

We followed the mangrove channel to its southern end where it opened into a shallow bay separated from the open Sea of Cortez by a narrow strip of beach. A channel no wider than two kayaks allowed a gentle stream of water to flow out of the bay. Unable to clear the bottom of this rocky road, we walked our kayaks over the 50 foot section and reenter them in the extreme southern side of San Jose island, paddled around the southwestern tip of the island and returned to the Rio Rita late in the afternoon. After transfer the passengers from the beach to the boat, the kayaks were strung together by their bow painters and like plastic pearls on a necklace, were towed behind the panga as we steamed north to our camp for the evening.

While we were underway, we were treated to a prolonged display from a juvenile humpback whale which repeatedly jumped near the boat, once within 20 feet. Even our guides, Carlos and Diego, were excited. Diego kept remarking how this was something that even his girlfriend, who is in marine studies, had not seen. It was quite remarkable.

Once again we had another beautiful sunset over the towering mountains of the mainland coast as we continued to steam to our camp. We arrived just a night fell, transferred to the beach in the dark and set our tents up for the first time, also in the dark. Everyone had enjoyed quite a busy day, filled with new activities, animals, fish and beautiful vistas. Soon the camp grew quiet and all were asleep.

Day 9: Another beautiful morning greeted us as the crew brought in breakfast on the panga. I walked down the empty south facing beach toward the mainland some 5 miles distant. In the clear dry air, it did not seem that far. Several people remarked that they could hear the whales spouting out in the deep channel between the island and the mainland, although I personally heard nothing.

Today we were going to walk in the interior of the island, through the cactus and playas to the backbone ridge of the island just to the east of camp. We left about 10 in the morning before the worst heat of the day. We crossed a dried up salt pan and into the back-country, through palo verde, palo blanco and many types of cactus. We saw several donkeys browsing the sparse vegetation and a few birds flitting from thorny perch to baking rocks. Reaching the ridge we could see down the other side of the island to the Sea of Cortez.

We returned by lunch time to a wonderfully delicious "seven seas" soup with shrimp, lobster, fish, octopus and chopped vegetables. I personally had three servings. Made from fish purchased from local fisherman and a few caught by the crew, it was immensely popular. Unfortunately, most of us suffered some intestinal distress later that afternoon.

While the rest of the group rested in the afternoon, Steve, Julio and I, the three amigos, took three single kayaks and headed south along the western side on San Jose island, backtracking our course the previous evening. We paddled for about 5 to 6 miles with a favorable current until time required us to return. As we made our turn the wind picked up out of the south and swells increased against the current in the channel between the island and the mainland. As we neared the camp, the small waves had grown large enough to provide some tame surfing action. We were all enjoying the ride when one caught Steve by surprise and over he went. In the unfamiliar boat his first roll attempt failed and in his second the ill-fitting and sun-damaged skirt popped off and Steve exited his boat. Julio and I quickly crossed over to his boat and we did an assisted rescue, as we had practiced many times before. Steve easily regained his cockpit and after pumping the "hundreds and hundreds of gallons" of water form his boat, we paddled the last quarter mile to camp.

We all relaxed at happy hour in celebration of Steve's birthday and he had a visit from the Queen of Baja, in sea weed drag, shell bra, shell castanets and kerchief veils. Once again the western sky lit a vermillion backdrop to the cardon cactus and octillio. Night crept in as the lapping of the waves on the beach diminished to a soft murmur.

Day 10: Another day in paradise. Today's activities included crossing from San Jose island to the mainland immediately west of our camp. There we would snorkel in front of the fish camp and then take another kayak trip north to our new camp site.

Starting from the beach in front of the camp, we headed due west with several doubles taking the lead and Julio Steve, Mary, myself and the guides in singles. The panga followed behind ready to assist and off-load anyone not up to completing the crossing. The wind was light once again and the channel crossing went without incident.

The village consisted of 8 small residences constructed of concrete in the shelter of a south facing bay. nestled between two large rock outcroppings. We anchored off of the village, had lunch and snorkeled in the harbor. The area was remarkable free of garbage except for numerous Modelo beer cans on the bottom. The area had more fish than I would have expected so close to the fishermen's home, but it was not particularly interesting place to dive. I think that the crew was visiting with some of the residents and our presence gave the people in the village a chance to sell some of their homemade crafts.

The subsistence fishing that goes on here is made even more difficult by large parties of Mexican fishermen who come across the Sea of Cortez from the Mexican mainland by the hundreds to net and fish for the hotels and their clientele. They use destructive drag nets and long lines, deplete the fish population and make it so much tougher for the local residents to make a living. It certainly did not hurt us to contribute in some small way to their livelihood by buying a few of their goods and purchasing fresh seafood from them.

There is an effort spearheaded by Baja Expeditions to get the local residents to agree to turning this stretch of the coast into a national park. This would do several things. One it would secure the beach and precious water resources from being exploited by development and destroying the incredible vistas we were enjoying. Secondly, it would protect the local fisherman from the commercial exploitation of the mainland fishermen. Thirdly, it would protect the outfitters from competition from additional outfitters and independents as all trips in the area, even those coming down the coastline, would have to be licensed for the national park. As someone interested in taking my own trip here someday, I have mixed feeling about this last point. However, on balance, I think it is probably a good idea.

After our snorkeling, we once again embarked in our kayaks and paddled north along the coast. The shoreline was an unbroken wall of steep escarpments tumbling into the sea and continuing down under the water to great depth. Large sections of rock, fallen from the cliffs above, lay in the waters close to shore, making a garden of sea life in the alternating rocks. Some barely broke the sea surface but sat on the bottom 25 feet below.

We pulled up a magnificent long beach facing Northeast into the Sea of Cortez. The vista here was more than could possibly be contained in any camera lens. I liked this camp better than any other we were in. Walking up the beach, Julio, Mary and Steve explored a stand of date palms at a rancho.

Once again we were forced to suffer through another ugly sunset , this one a pearl pink against the black curtain of the Sierra de la Giganta mountains. This show was exceeded the next morning by the incredible sunrise scenes, which just kept getting better and better and better.

Day 11: Leaving this beach was difficult, but we had a beautiful day again with absolutely no wind. The glassy waters had neither a swell or a ripple on them. The mirrored surface reflected our own image and the tiny kayak wakes were visible for a mile or more. Another group of 6 kayaks headed down the coast as we made our way north. Most full time kayak tours between Loreto and La Paz go north to south to take advantage of the prevailing southerly wind. With our boat support we could go the other way.

We could easily see fifty or more feet down to the bottom as we paddled over rocks and schools of brightly colored fish. In the shallows were beds of Sargassum weed. Although I had seen lots of it floating along on the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic, I had never seen any of it actually growing.

We paddled about 6 miles an were scheduled for lunch and a rest. However we had finished this section in just a few hours and it was only 10:30. We talked several of the other kayakers into just having a short snack and continuing on up the coast. Some of the children and a few of the adults decided to continue up the coast on the boat while the rest of us did another 7 miles, where we can ashore once again and had a late lunch. After lunch most decided on snorkeling, but Tom and I talked Diego into kayaking on up to Puerto Gato, our destination for the night. The three of us departed, while the rest stayed aboard the Rio Rita and later dove off a point on a very nice rock garden with many different schools of fish.

The three kayakers continued up the coast. As we cut across the bays along the coast we varied from being right along the shore to about one half mile off shore. The wind was coming in from the northwest at less than 5 knots with waves less than 1 foot. As we cut across another bay, I began to notice a wave train coming in from the west, from the shore to our left. I was in the lead, with Tom several hundred yards behind and Diego trailing him. This was turning out to be a long day for Diego. I waited for the others to catch up. The westerly wave train began to get bigger and it seemed strange because these waves were not moving in the same direction as the wind. The shore did not look steep enough to cause a reflection and these waves were as big if not bigger than those aligned with the wind. I did not actually realize what all this meant, but I did realize that it was strange. When Tom arrived I suggested that he put his spray skirt on as he was sitting in the cockpit with it loosened from the coaming because of the heat.

In just a few more minutes, the waves were explained by a hot blast of wind off the desert mountains at 30 knots. This wind, called a Chinook, sirocco or foehn in other parts of the world, came blasting off the sides of the mountains to our west, compressing, drying out and heating up the already hot, dry air of Baja. The waves I had observed were generated by this wind that was reaching the water close to the shore. that air then rode up over the air that we ere in that was still blowing in from the Sea of Cortez. These signal waves gave us just a few minutes notice of the wind that was headed our way.

We ground our way straight upwind into the protection of the shore, turned north once more, hugging the coast. As we ducked behind the bluffs, the wind was almost completely blocked, but we were exposed to the wind as we came to the valleys, the wind pushed us back. Diego, not too keen on the trip from the start, declared "This is no fun." So we beached our kayaks and turned them so they could be observed easily from the sea. In about 40 minutes the Rio Rita steamed up from the snorkel site on its way to that night's camp. Seeing our kayaks on the beach, they headed in and picked us up. we enjoyed an easy ride up to the beautiful anchorage at Puerto Gato, so names for its ring-tailed cats. Several small sail boats where already anchored in the circular bay open only to the southwest.

It had been a full day of kayaking. In spite of an aborted third leg, I had done about 15 miles, had an adventure with no bad consequences and leaned something new about "signal waves' in Baja.

Day 12: This day was spent near camp, looking at the interior mountains and practicing kayak rolls. ( kayak roll movie.) We also hiked up the 300 foot hill on the northwest side of the harbor, from which the outline of the coast we had just paddled could be observed . The rock formations reminded me of many I had seen in Utah, Navaho sandstone and red rock .

Day 13: After recording another beautiful sunrise over Isla Santa Catalina, we embarked on our kayaks and kayaked past the cliffs we had climbed the previous day. we continued along the coast in very still conditions.

Everyone stopped at another small fishing village nestled among thick date palms backed against a cliff. The outfitters were seeking more signatures from the residents for the National park petition. This gave us an opportunity to walk through the village. I did not get very far as one of the ubiquitous yellow mutts took a dislike to me in particular and growled and skulked along with hackles raised. I decided to retreat to the beach while the others explored. The village consisted of a few small residences put together with scraps of wood and galvanized metal, some animal pens made of ocotillo limbs and shelter for the animals from the sun. Date palms scattered throughout the village spoke of a water source as did the well for the livestock. We were told that the well for the people was up the valley a greater distance. We also learned that many of the villagers were having severe pain and bleeding from kidney stones. Don, one of our trip members and a doctor from Salt Lake, stated with certainty that this was caused by minerals in their water supply. However, since the village had only one source of water and no money or opportunity to obtain another source, there seemed little chance of getting the pure water they needed to solve their kidney problems. Rick Means, the owner of Baja Expeditions, later said they were trying to help the villagers by developing a simple solar still that would produce fresh water from the sun and the salt water that the village has in such great abundance.

Around the next point from the village was Rick's rancho, a collection of interesting Baja items including some massive bones from a blue whale. The bleached vertebrae and mandible gave one some idea of the massive size of these ocean leviathans. During the stay, we got a close look at a scorpion, which we were told could "rain" from the palmetto frond thatched roof .

As we gathered on the beach, a panga with four Mexican army guys landed on the beach, apparently for personal relief. Fully armed with M-16s wearing camouflaged uniforms and high shiny black boots, they looked as out of place as they acted. Apparently they had interdicted a panga of ganja the previous night. The burnt remains of the fiberglass hulk lay at the north end of the beach. The drug runners had fled into the interior and escaped. Late in the afternoon, Baja Expeditions would drag the hulk out to sea where it would sink into the depths so it would not mar the beauty of this beach.

This evening a concentrated on taking pictures of the members of our little group. I managed to get pictures of most of them without being observed, although I did get caught by some.

Day 14: On our last day on the water, after a final Baja sunrise, we snorkeled from the beach. The highlight of this location was a cave that ran back into the cliff for about 100 feet. i was able to get this water level shot from almost at the back of the cave. The other snorkelers heads can be seen at the entrance. At the very far end, Steve and Mary looked like demon amphibious cave dwellers.

We packed our personal gear and said farewell to the tents that had been our homes fort the past week. Another group would be replacing us for a return trip.

Aboard the Rio Rita once more, we steamed past Isla Montserrat and many smaller islands to dock in Porto Escondido where we were met by the Baja Expeditions van . After checking into a nice hotel, we made arrangements for most of the gang to have dinner together. We walked down the malecon and into the center of town, where we ran into Diego and Carlos with their girlfriends. Loreto, much smaller and more tourist oriented than La Paz, is a much more pleasant town. However it is still plagued by works in progress.

Day 15: Today we leave Loreto via the one o'clock flight to Los Angeles. After a hearty breakfast., we toured an absolutely gorgeous Hotel Posada De Las Flores and the mission in the center of town. I would have been done in by the change in time to daylight savings time, but Baja Expeditions was on top of it. They provided a van ride to the airport and we were soon saying good-bye to our wonderful Baja adventure.

Day 16: A long over night flight brought us into Baltimore at 5:30 AM. The adventure was over, Time to start planning the next one.
Go to our 2006 Baja trip from Bahia Conception to Loreto .............




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