MX - Loreto to La Paz - 2007/03/30 to 2007/04/05 - 110 Miles

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From Loreto to La Paz, Baja's backbone lies against the deep blue water of the Sea of Cortez. A string of islands with familiar names, San Franciso, San Juan, San Jose, Santa Catalina lie a few miles off the rugged shore. In between, we paddle with the whales.

Beautiful beaches, fabulous water, fantastic weather - what's not to like? So it doesn't take much to get me to go to Baja. In fact, all you have to do is mention it. So when the topic came up for another late winter trip to Baja I was ready to go.

Last year we started in Bahia Conception and paddled south to Loreto. Five years ago for my first trip to Baja, I had taken the easy deluxe option of a boat supported trip from La Paz to Loreto with Baja Expeditiones. I really liked the independent paddling of the later trip. The scenery on the first trip was better. So when it looked like the consensus of our group was for an independent trip from Loreto to La Paz, I was really pleased.

This time we rented out boats from Ben Gilliam of Baja Outdoor Adventures (BOA). We had had troubles with the quality and preparation of the boats we had rented from Gabriola in Loreto, so we were concerned to not repeat the troubles for this trip. Ben assured us that his boats were all top quality and meticulously maintained after each rental by his own employees in his shop. Reassured, we set out to arrange flights and hotels.

We stayed at Los Arcos hotel in 2001 and had been very pleased with the accommodations. While it is one of the most expensive hotels in town it is certainly the nicest I have seen. By U.S. standards the prices are not high and we booked accommodations for two double beds at $95.00 per night.

Getting to La Paz can be somewhat difficult. You used to be able to get a flight out of Los Angeles for $250.00 on AeroMexico. That is about the same price as the flight from Baltimore to L.A. The logistics were bad, requiring an overnight stay in the City of Angels. Still, when we did it last year, it worked out O.K.

This year the AeroMexico flight cost over $500.00. Ridiculous - so we looked for alternatives. We found that one could book direct into Cabo San Lucas from Baltimore for $550.00. Then we could hire a van and drive the 140 miles to La Paz, set up in the Los Arcos overnight and get the BOA shuttle up to our launch south of Loreto the next morning at 8:00 A.M.

So after a number of meetings of our group, arrangements for boats and car handled by Rick and each of us making their own flight arrangements on Delta airlines, we were set to go. I had booked the first flight out of Baltimore, arriving in Houston with Gina and Mark. Rick and Bob were arriving one and a half hours later on the next flight. It wasn't until I arrived in Houston that things started to go bad.

We arrived in Houston on time, but 10 minutes after we were to board the flight, a flight delay was announced. That delayed time came and went. then they made the announcement that the flight was cancelled. By the time we got to the desk, all the empty seats on the next flight out were gone. The hassled attendant at the desk told us that the best she could do would be to get us out on a flight leaving Houston at 9:00 A.M. the next day. What a freaking disaster! Half our party was arriving in Cabo that day at 2:00 P.M. and the rest of us wouldn't be there until 11:00 A.M. the next morning. Besides we were scheduled to leave by shuttle for Loreto the very next morning. What a cluster!

We walked down to the gate of the later flight to Cabo which was now only 15 minutes from boarding. There we met Rick and told them what was going on. then we went to the desk and I tried to talk to the gate desk attendant about our situation. She looked in the computer and verified that her flight was full and there indeed was nothing else going to Cabo that day. Our hopes sank.

But I persisted. "Look," I said, " We are going to La Paz as a final destination. This cancellation is ruining our vacation. Can you find some way to get us to La Paz, perhaps on another airline?"

More computer keyboard work, as we stood at the desk feeling more bleak by the moment. After a long session on the keys, she looks up and says, "I have a AeroLitoral flight leaving in fifteen minutes for Guadalajara, Mexico and then there is a flight from there that gets into La Paz at 5:30 P.M. Would you like me to book that?"

"Absolutely." I replied. "What about our luggage."

"I will try to get the luggage put on this flight. If I can't get it done, I will have it put on the flight with your friends."

In case our luggage showed up in Cabo on Rick's flight, we gave our luggage receipts to Rick so he could claim our luggage in Cabo. Then we ran off to the soon to depart flight to Guadalajara. We got on board and watched out the windows for our luggage to load onto the plane. We didn't see any of it.

We arrive in Guadalajara, had a two hour layover, and then we were on the flight into La Paz. We arrived, but our luggage did not. So we went to the desk to inquire if our luggage was still with Delta or would be arriving on a later AeroMexico flight. I had to explain the situation several times to the attendant who did a very nice job considering it was a very complicated situation in her non-native language. But the bottom line was that her computer had no record of any luggage for us and she could not access the records of Delta to see if our luggage was on the other flight into Cabo. I had visions of our luggage circulating in Mexico for the next 100 years.

So I asked for the number of Delta airlines for baggage claim. I got the 800 number and called to get one of the bored telephone attendants who always seem to inhabit these types of customer service desks. I explained the situation and she told be that in order to inquire about the status of my luggage, I had to be in the city of final destination. "You mean I can't find out about my luggage unless I am in Cabo?" I asked incredulously? "Yes that's right." she says. "When you get to Cabo, I can help you."

"God damn it, I'm not going to Cabo. My final destination is La Paz, and it's your fault that I couldn't get to Cabo and I'm not going to Cabo." I said.

"Well I can't help you any way because you don't have the numbers on the baggage claim check. Without those I can't help you." she says.

"Don't you have the baggage claim numbers for my luggage as part of the flight information for my departure from Baltimore.? I replied.

"No." she says "That information is only available from the final destination. You'll have to go there." she says.

"Good God," I say, "you're kidding me."

So we filed a missing luggage report for AeroLittoral with all our information about where we were staying and that we needed to have it by 7:00 A.M. the next morning. We piled into a local shuttle and got to the hotel and tried to check in. But the office desk had never heard of Rick, who had made the reservations. We piled our luggage in the foyer, got a couple of cervesas and sat of the porch looking out over the harbor. About thirty minutes later Rick and Bob show up and they have our luggage.

So after a long, harrowing ordeal we wound up all arriving at the hotel at approximately the same time. The only tragedy was that Bob lost his carry on bag in the crush of all the luggage of five passengers the poor fellows had to carry through customs by themselves. In there were foods and equipment he would not be able to replace here in La Paz.

Day 1

The next morning we got up early and Rick and I went up to BOA's compound on the east end of the malecon. We talked with Ben and made arrangements for 25 gallons of fresh water and a gallon of white gas for our stove. We briefly checked the boats and went over the equipment we would need. The van would pick us and all our gear up at the hotel at 9:00 A.M.. Ben kindly lets us keep our extra luggage in his equipment room inside the compound, so we did not have to leave it at the hotel. Manuel arrive right on time. We loaded the gear into the back of the big van and set out on the road north toward Loreto.

It was a long ride up through the desert. For the first half hour, the cactus and sparse desert plants kept us all looking out the window, but after an hour or so a few succumbed to the long hours of traveling of the prior difficult day.

We were headed for Ensenada Blanca, a half moon shaped bay south of Loreto and even south of Puerto Escondido. With the long drive up and the packing of the kayaks once we got to the launch, we had a short half day of paddling planned.

Once up over the mountains that push right out to the coast (we would be paddling along this nearly unreachable coast), we dropped down a twisting unguarded road to the blue of the Sea of Cortez. Just as we reached sea level once more, we turned onto a bumpy dirt road, which I am sure is impassable if the weather is wet. But since it had not rained in almost 6 months that isn't very often. We arrived at our put in beach and began to unload the van.

Ensenada Blanca is a shallow embayment well protected from nearly all wind directions. The 15 knot wind blowing from the north pushed waves into the mouth of the bay which then refracted around the point and came tumbling onto our beach. The tide was part way out and the beach was wide and nearly flat. The sand was firm so we did not have to deal with any mud as we positioned and loaded the kayaks. All our preparations were watched carefully by a vulture perched next to this palapa. We hoped it wasn't a bad omen for our trip.

After some panicked moments when we thought we didn't have the right number of large spray skirts for the larger boats, we finally got the skirts and boats sorted out and our mountain of gear loaded into the hatches. The boats were in good condition as was all the supporting equipment, although it was the typical low end stuff one finds in almost all rental outfitters.

The twenty five gallons of water disappeared into numerous dromedary bags, making each kayak so heavy with supplies and equipment it was a struggle to lift them into the water. The rising tide made it a little easier as the water had come in to our boats while we loaded them. We tested them for trim and with a few adjustments of the load, we were ready to leave.

We left the little bay, paddling out into the swell coming down from the north. As soon as we cleared the point we turned east and then south, picking up a nice assist from the north northeast breeze. We came to Candelero Chico, a small little semi protected bay with a really nice camping beach. Rick and I stayed here one night on a trip last year. It was the southern most point of that trip.

With the breeze and the half meter rollers pushing us along, we easily made the 9.5 miles to camp at Playa Triunfo. This pleasant, steep terraced pebble beach is around a small point with some protection from the worst of the weather coming out of the north. We try to camp at locations with some protection from that quarter as that is the most likely direction for heavy winds. Local sunset had already arrived when we got there and the beach was already in shadow from the steep cliffs to our immediate west. I spread out my ground cloth and sleeping bag as the others struggle with their tents in the swirling winds near the cliff. There was a small cave that provided protection from the wind for our kitchen. Soon a billy was on the boil and dinner was prepared. All were soon to bed after a long day.

Day 2

A warm orange glow of the rising sun came up over Isla Monserat, reflecting silver off the nearly calm sea. We began the daily ritual of camp activities - breakfast, clean up, kayak packing and preparation for the day's paddle. The sun felt good on our backs as we loaded up the gear into the hatches. The brown soil of the nearly barren range took on a golden hue in the early morning light. As soon as the sun cleared the horizon the light level intensified, shining through the plastic boats an revealing the contents of their hatches in a shadow diagram. By the time everyone was packed and ready the sun was full up with another bright blue cloudless Baja sky overhead.

Today the winds were very light and the sea calm. The perfect blue sky overhead was unmarred by even the slightest of clouds. The shore varied from brown/red mountains that gradually tapered to the water to silver cliffs of hard rocks pocked with caves carved by the battering ram of winter's swell. Lone sentinels stood watch over the waters, impassive to our passage. Pelicans worked the fish in the waters and rocks immediately off the shore, equally unimpressed with us.

We cut across some of the bays, at times being a mile or more offshore. The weather was good and we took advantage to cut off some of the distance to our next camp at Playa San Marte.

We arrived at the south facing beach of sand and smooth stones around a high headland that protects Playa San Marte from the north. The large beach stretched around to another headland on the south. Immediately to the east was a 100 meter headland. The beach was backed by a 10 meter cliff with a gully wash giving access to the desert behind the camp. With the late hour there wasn't much time for exploring in the evening, as camp chores and dinner preparation took up the remaining daylight.
Day 3

Ah! Another exquisite day in Baja. This morning we could not see the sun because it came up behind the very imposing Punta San Marte to the east. With more time this morning I got a chance to climb up therefore a spectacular view south along the coast and down into the harbor where two yachts shared the peace of this little bay with our encampment. Our five kayaks looked like little toys way down on the beach, giving perspective to the enormity of the desert behind them. From the steep sea side cliff I could look back up north from where we had come the previous day.
On the way back down I found a little gully that broke through the wall on the north side of Punta San Marte. In the cove of stones I ran off two sea lions sunning on the beach. Actually, they barked and ran for the water before I saw them. I followed the gully back up into the desert.

By the time we got on the water, the little breeze that I felt coming up the steep cliff and rippled the water in large patches extending far out into the Sea of Cortez had disappeared. Now it was absolutely flat calm. The sea surface turned into a languid mirror of sky and mountain. Even the consummate gliders, pelicans, had nothing to work with and could do nothing except skim the surface the best they could to extend their glide before rising to flap their broad wings once more.
With the wind down and no waves, we could hear the little speckled rays pop as they landed back into the water. there were so many of them it sounded like a pop corn maker. The rays were small about 1/2 meter across. They would jump about 2 meters out of the water, flipping 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 times before landing with their wings bent down to make as loud a sound as possible. Their numbers were incredible and we could hear them for great distances. Unfortunately, they were mostly too far away for a picture.

The rocks on the shore were a conglomerate of grey/silver sediment and beach and river stones of red and black colors. Brightly colored crabs skittered over the protruding stones at the waters edge. Devilishly difficult to get a picture from a kayak as they move cautiously away from an approach, I caught this one coming up over a ridge as my kayak sat quietly in the still water.

The conglomerate was a fairly soft rock and the pounding surf had managed to create a few caves deep into the cliff. With the calm conditions it was a perfect time to explore them. This first one had a very high ceiling and wedge shape that was quite wide at the mouth so that several kayaks could enter at the same time.

Outside the cave a group of diving birds nervously swam away from the kayak, finally taking off with a mad flutter of wings and paddling feet. Further down the shore, two large osprey nest perched high up on two sea stacks.

Occasionally the cliffs would be interrupted by a wash, arroyo or dry river bed that made it out to the sea. Some were filled with a respectable amount of vegetation and some had date palms. These were usually the sites of campo de pescaderos, fishermen camps. South of one of these places we stopped on the beach for lunch. The pelicans were taking a break from their morning fishing session, waiting for the action to pick up once again toward evening.

More to come...................




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