Monday, January 19, 2015

Baja Mexico Bahia Concepción Jan 11- 19

Baja Mexico Bahia Concepción Jan 11- 19

Ok, sorry in advance this is so long. I just write what comes to mind in my tent each night and ramble on. as my batteries die I will write less and less...

After I left Mulege I drove on down a few miles to Playa Santispac, where I had met up with Steve and Diny a few years ago. There are a bunch of RVs parked there right on the beach with a nice palapa restaurant. I celebrated the end of my road trip with a beer and pescadora con ajo.  Very nice fish with garlic. I had heard that Bahia Coyote a few miles along was nicer, less busy, more tent type campers, so I  drove on down to there. After I set up my tent the most important thing was to launch my boat in Baja waters! It was late afternoon, warm, with just a breath of wind and it was fun to sail around the little bay,  even though it was pretty slow. There were a few sailboats anchored across the way so I wandered over to check those out. One was a twin masted junk rigged schooner named Batwing that I had heard of. It is a somewhat famous boat  in junk rigged circles. ( a junk rig is a type of sail , invented by the Chinese a billion years ago, originally spelled "junque" i think, and looks sort of like a giant fan a lady would use to cool her  face. It uses several full width battons to give it shape, and is very pretty,  easy to sail, and cheap and simple to maintain. ).  As I approached, the guy on deck welcomed me and complimented me on my cool little boat!   I came alongside and we had a nice chat. He is Ron, she was Diane, they had bought Batwing several years ago, live on it,  had sailed up and down the coast as far as Equedor.  Very nice and interesting folks. Ron had a dinghy that also had a junk rig that he had made out of bamboo and Tyvek building wrap fabric.  We talked boats until dark, and I high tailed it back to my camp just as it became pitch black. With no moon until the wee morning hours, it gets very  dark very fast here after sunset .

That evening at the restaurant up the road they were having a dance so I wandered on over. I didn't dance and felt very out of place. I guess maybe that is why I was headed out for a 3 month voyage in the wilderness. I feel more at home in a tent on a beach then at a dance club.
My first Baja voyage was going to be a loop arounf Bahia Concepcion. It is a big bay off to the side of the Sea of Cortez, about 25 miles long and 5 miles wide. I thought that would be a nice warmup voyage.  The next day I spent getting  my gear and food sorted out, transitioning from "road trip" packing to "kayak voyaging" packing. It took much of the morning and was frustrating trying to fit everything in to a very small boat  and make the hard descions about what to leave behind. Even though I was packing almost exactly like I had for my Great Salt Lake voyage, it felt like I was starting all over again.

I needed to find a safe place to keep my truck for the week that I would be gone. I walked over to the NOLS camp but there was nobody there, and besides,  it all looked very modern and corporate and I guessed that they would need to have a lawyer draw up a release form and contract and would take them about a year. Never mind. I went over to the dance restaurant from last night and was introduced to Mony, the owner , and he said sure, he had a nice safe place in back near his house, surround by very big, very mean looking,  very loud dogs lunging at the ends of very strong (I hopes) chains. He laughed and said  yes my car would be very safe. He asked me how much I wanted to pay and I said how about $2  day and he said sure and we shook on it.  Done.

After lunch I paddled out to visit Ron and Diane again on Batwing. Of course we talked more about boats.  A while back they had kayaked the same section of coastline that I was going to do and they had a ton of good suggestions for me  like "take lots of fatty food. Cheese and peanut butter". They are really my kind of people.

 There was a sing along along over at the beach that afternoon with the RV folks.  Ron plays classical guitar, so we paddled over and hung out with more great people. They seemed to enjoy the tunes I banged out.

A guy named Louis came through the campsite every few days to collect payment. 100 pesos (about $6.75) per night. I was paying him and noticed my guitar and he said something I misunderstood, I  thought he was suggesting that I play him a song, but he pulled a capo from his pocket and reached for the guitar and sang for me! He played the Frito bandito song which is actually an old folk song about Pancho Villa getting his ear sliced off with a machete (I think that is what he told me), and La Cucaracha (the cockroach) . I played him Folsom Prison Blues.   We had great fun.

That evening a group of bikers (bicycles) road in camped near me. They had been riding from Seattle and were headed to Venezuela. Hard core kids. 4 of them were brothers, (all with big bushy beards)  and   another guy they met up with was from Columbia. He had flown to New York City, bought a bicycle and started touring the country for the last 8 months. He was headed back home to Bogata, expecting to be on the road for about another 4-5 months.

The next morning the weather forecast looked good for another day before a Norther  (wind storm) blows in. These happen when there is high pressure over the Great Basin of the US, and low pressure over the sea of Cortez, and it can blow like stink for a few days. This one looked to be fairly moderate, winds in the teens this afternoon, and building over the next few days and settle down by Thursday.  I was all packed with a weeks supply of food and water,  the boat still floats, I parked my truck over at Mony's, and I shoved off headed north towards the mouth of the bay to start a clockwise circumnavigation of the bay.  there were several safe havens along along the way so when the wind kicked up I could duck in and wait it out. There was no wind at all yet so I was paddling, and it was easy going. I paddled 4 miles up to Punta Arena, and since there were not many good safe camping places beyond that I decided to cross over the mouth of the bay to the east side where it is very wild and remote, with good camping almost everywhere.  The bay  was only 2 miles wide at this point ,  it was late morning, still no wind, all was calm ,so I decided to go for it. It was a beautiful tranquil crossing. I saw a dolphin jump about midway. Just before I made it across the wind picked up so I set the sailed and coasted on across in proper style. I pulled the boat up on a cobbled beach and wandered around for a while. There was a game trail in the bushes back behind the beach that was loaded with some sort of dog tracks in the soft dust. . Very odd, I assume they are coyote, and it looks like a dozen animals must run up and down that trail every night. There is a fish camp about a mile along but I walked up there and didn't see any dogs. Must be coyote. I hope so. I was telling the sing along folks that on this trip  I have been hearing coyotes sing almost every night, except in Bahia Coyote! That's up with that?

I had a snug camp set up in case the winds came in stronger but it settled down before evening and was dead calm . the nights are very wet with dew. Everything is soaked by morning, mostly the tent which protects everything else, but even inside it gets pretty wet and I have to spend time everyday drying out.  I suspect the dew is the only moisture the plants here ever get so they must soak it in. Even the soil gets wet from dew.

The next day I wanted to move camp about 4 miles south, but the winds were expected to kick up about noon so decided to wait for that and get a free ride. There are big rugged mountains rising up above the bay here and it looked like a nice hike.  There are very few trails here,  and even as dry as it is, the brush grows pretty thick and thorny along the flats leading to the peaks.  Bushwacking would be a bloddy task. I found an  arroyo that had been scoured clean by the hurricaine and it seemed to lead in the general direction I wanted to go.  Eventually it pinched off and got brushy so I  worked my way up to a ridge and wandered up until that got too steep and the talus under foot was so loose it was starting to get dangerous, so I headed back down. I was about half way up the peak.  Rough country.  As I came down i saw some alcoves cut into the rocks in the arroyo next to one I came up so I dropped in to investigate. There were several, all pretty small, and loaded with animal evidence. Then I found one  that was quite large, almost 8 feet tall in front, 10 feet deep and 15 ft wide facing north so it would be quite cool.  The floor was covered with mollusk shells. Other than humans, I can't think of any other critter that would have  hauled that many clams that far to eat in a cave. I am sure this cave had been home to someone one upon a time.  There was no other evidence of habitation that I could see.  John Steinbeck traveled this region back in the 40s and described people living here that were desperately poor. It would  not be surprising to learn that people lived in this cave within the last century!

I launched the boat about noon, and the wind was blowing a moderate rate. I wanted to land at a particular camp about 4 miles south  that I had heard had a trail up into the slot canyon back up behind it.  There are very few definitive land marks along this coast, but i had a GPS coordinate for the camp that was set back into a little cove that would offer a little landing zone protected from the waves.  as I sailed along  the GPS was saying I was close,  but  I  didn't see any indentations in the shoreline. I ended up almost half a miles past where it supposed to be, no little cove. The shoreline seemed dead straight. I pulled onto the shore (the waves weren't that bad today so it was no real problem to land just about anywhere ) and when I stood on the land, it was obvious how the shore curved way in to form the cove I had missed sailing by. That was odd, I had never experienced that before. From a hundred yards offshore it looked perfectly straight! I got back into the boat and started tacking back and forth against the wind to get back up to the cove. That was fun, much more fun than just drifting along downwind.  Any stupid old kayak can sail down wind, but it takes a Vagabunda to sail upwind!  I pulled up onto the beach, and started exploring and never did find the camp or the trail I had read about. Maybe the hurricane had obliterated that too. Oh well. I did find a nice place to camp anyway, and  I will hike up the arroyo there and see where that leads.

The winds are expected to be 25 knots for the next 2 days so I may stay put here for a while.

I carry a little solar panel  to charge up my tablet that I write this blog on each night in camp. Today was pretty overcast, so it didn't charge very well. Argh. That never happened with my pencil and paper.

Wednesday. The day started overcast and calm, but big winds were predicted for later so I went for a hike. I walked up a big wash and soon startled a big old jack rabbit.  Later a big something took off crashing thru the brush. I got a glimpse of it and my first impression was that it was a burro. I had seen very small horse tracks around, and horse piles as well,  so it could well be. But there were also cow sign everywhere so I am not sure. I followed the wash until it reared up  steep into the mountains, up towards some cliff bands that the wash cut thru. The boulders were huge, the going was pretty tough beyond there so I wandered back down. The wind picked up about noon, and building,  so by mid afternoon I measured 17 mph winds on the beach. Pretty strong for a small boat. I actually think I would have done OK but it was predicted to be has high as 25 today so I was fine hanging on shore. By now the clouds had cleared and it was hot out of the wind. I hunkered in my tent for protection from both sun and wind. I dozed, ate, played guitar, repaired 2 drybags that had cactus punctures.  The solar panel got my tablet almost completely charged. I have my new little guitelele with me this time and it is a joy. So small and fun to play.

The area around me (and most of baja) has many cardon cactus growing. They are very large, to as much as 30 feet tall, about 18 inches in diameter. They can have multiple trunks,  but mostly are a single trunk. The bark is green and holds the chlorophyll, and is  covered with long thorns.  Pretty interesting, the trunk is sort of pleated vertically, and when it rains, it swells to hold water until the next rain, which could be years.  Inside the trunks are long straight rods that form the pleats . I saw a horse corral and some buildings  made of them split into long rails and the rods were firm and straight Even after many years in this harsh desert climate.  Tough to work with I bet, tho, with all those thorns.  They seem to be the bird perch of choice. I see gulls, herons, ospreys, kestrels, little song birds, all perched atop them.

Cactus of every type would continue to play a major role in my camping in Baja.  As cactuses die the thorns dry up and get blown around and the ground is covered with them. Before I can set anything down, I need to scrape it with my foot a few times to clear the area of thorns. Clearing the tent spot each day is a big task, as just one thorn would puncture my air mattress and maybe come all the way they and draw blood. Many of them at more than 2 inches long.  I scrape with my boots, get down and inspect the area inch by inch to get them all. I have gotten stabbed a few times and they have a barb on the tip that makes them very hard to remove and the barb stays in there and continues to sting for a few days. Already I have had 2 dry bags get punctured (that I know of) and need to be very carefull all the time, and inspect them regularly. I have a patch kit with various tapes and gops,  I hope I have enough!

With the wind today my tent and my ears  are full of very fine dust. I took a bath down at the shore to rinse off the grime of the last several says. What a fine feeling. Even bathing with salt water I feel like a new man.

Thursday 15th . big winds predicted today but I had 6 miles I wanted to cover before they built too strong so I got a somewhat early start, 8:15 after I listened to the weather . I paddled for about an hour, covering about 2 miles. A light breeze filled in so I unfurled the sail was cruising right along. It wasn't long tho til it picked up , not sure the wind strengths but it was predicted to be in the high teens and things got jiggy. I was barreling along at about 6 mph, with surges to 7 I bet. The waves were not too big but i did get few over the deck. My new spray skirt worked perfectly to keep the boat dry.  We handled it all pretty well but I was getting nervous that I was on the edge of being out of control so at the first little cove I saw I ducked in and reduced sail, then out on it again. That made a big difference and I felt better about being in those conditions but I did feel some relief when my destination came into view and we pulled in.

I pulled in to an arroyo and found a little compound of dilapidated ranch\fish camp buildings. They were very rustic, made all from native materials right from that spot, with the exception of some palm fronds that must have come from across the bay , and a few small pieces of plywood.  It looked to have been abandoned for a long time,  but besides the ancient buildings there was more recent stuff lying about like a broken radio and an old rubber boot.  An odd mixture of ancient and modern.  There were many many  piles of mollusk shells lying everywhere. Big piles,  at least 4 ft tall and 20 feet around. I cannot imagine how many years and how many people it took to gather and eat that many clams. I need to learn how to gather them too. I could live like that.

I walked up and down the beach, and up into the arroyo a ways. It didn't not seem to have gotten the same kind of storm damage that the other beaches that I have visited got.

The peaks back behind my beach are quite dramatic, big rocky ridges with white dikes of volcanic rock streaking up thru them. I wonder of the climbing would be any good up there?

Spent some time playing guitar, trying to memorize some songs I have been playing for a while but still need my cheat sheets.

My meals out here are simple, pretty much what I eat at home.  For breakfast I brought a supply of my dried apples and apricots from home, along with some rolled oats and powdered milk. I put it in a bowl  each evening to soak all night and it is ready to eat the next morning without needing to cook. I forgo coffee in the morning,  GASP I hear,  but true. Too much trouble to set up the stove and brew up when I need to be getting going. (And besides, coffee makes me pee to much which is fairly inconvenient in the boat..)  When I am at the truck I splurge and brew up a big cup every morning.   Lunch is trail mix and peanut butter on my home made zucchini crackers.  Supper is a gruel of my pre cooked (and dried) beans and rice, with a big handful of my dried tomatoes. I have a system where I just soak it in the pot for an hour while I play my guitar, then bring to a boil, and put the pot into the little insulated pot cuzee I made. After about 30 minutes in the cuzee it is still mouth burning hot and ready to eat.  I chop up some onions and cabbage to add and it is really good. I like making it thick and dipping into it with tortillas. I also slice off a big gob of cheese and snack on that to get more fat and heavy calories. One unique aspect of this type of camping is since I have to carry all my water as well as food, it does make sense to carry fresh and canned foods since I am going to have to add water anyway.  I have a few cans  of soup that are OK, a tomato basil bisque that is pretty good. The minestrone not so much. My  beans and rice gruel is so much better. But the fresh stuff, like apples, carrots, cabbage, onions, really make a nice treat for the first several days of any voyage.

Tomorrow needs to be an early start. I need to cross the bay, 4.5 miles, and need to be under way before daylight at about 6:30 or 7.  By starting  paddling in the wee hours I will have only a short distance more to cover when the winds kick in about 9:30 and I can sail the second half.

Friday. Got up early, on the water by 6:30 to try to beat the big winds. Paddled at first but the wind kicked in early and I was sailing within an hour. I had already reduced sail and had my spray skirt on ready for big conditions and they came on fast. The waves were already big left over from yesterday and it didn't take much coaxing from today's new wind to bring them on bigger faster. I took a few waves over the deck but my little boat  just shrugged it off and I had no problems. I was sailing across the wind and waves which was a more comfortable situation that downwind like the other day,  seemed like I had total control no matter what would happen.

I had a GPS coordinate set for my destination across the bay but it was dark when i started and didn't look at it , i just picked a mountain on the other side that looked about right and headed in that direction.  but when I was about half way I across I checked the GPS and I had been headed a bit too far south. I corrected coarse which took me tighter into the wind and made landfall about 2\3rds of a mile too far south and  exactly 2 hours after I started. Not too shabby. I first landed in a really nice little bay and beach called playa Armenta, but had heard really good things about playa Perla up the coast a bit so I  tacked up into the wind and waves to get there. It was nice too, a nice palapa that has given me really nice protection from the wind, but turned out it is a pay playa, 100 pesos ($6) per day like  Playa Coyote. Dang.  I should have stayed at Armenta! It was free. Oh well, this is nice and I have it all to myself, and have the wind break and don't need to set up my tent, and I am that much further along on my voyage.

I puttered about, took a walk, explored, like I do.  later I even layed out my pad and took a nap!  The mountain above this beach has a natural pattern of reddish lava rocks on it and someone has gone up and outlined it in white and it looks like a giant flame. Actually pretty cool. What an artistic labor of love to lug all that paint up that steep loose rock slope.
Saturday. Up early again, i have  6 miles to go and it will all be against the wind when it picks up. But it never did until afternoon. I was back at my car on Playa Coyote by 11 and no wind. It was a delightful paddle along a very nice rocky coast line. There several isolated coves that I thought would make great campsites. In fact I met another kayaker coming towards me from Coyote and visited a while, he had been getting provisons and was headed back to his permanent camp in the cove I had just been admiring! I guess he lives there for months at a time. He is a US fellow  but is family is Mexican. He was admiring my sailing rig and wanted to do something like that to his boat. I was admiring his camping homesite .

Back on land, I got my car and loaded up. My friends on Batwing had moved up the coast to Santispac so I drove over there and paddled out to them. We had a wonderful visit, talking about their Earthsip in Taos New Mexico and off grid living. that evening there was a pot luck dinner on a big catamaran next door and all the boats in the bay were there. I had bought some scallops from some Mexican divers on the beach and Dianne prepared them to bring. There were several musicians in the group, a fiddle and dobro player, along with Ron's classical guitar,  and we had a blast jamming to the wee hours (yeah. were were done and in bed by 8:30...). So much fun. Good folks.  some of them knew my friend  Steve S from SLC and his boat Harmony 27 , who started all this boating in Mexico nonsense for me years ago. .

And when I pulled up onto the beach to my truck in the dark, some people in a car next to me called out to me " hey, didn't we meet you last week in the plaza at San Ignacio? We saw you out paddling today" wow. Small world.

road trip flash back

On one of the early days along the Baja drive I stopped for lunch in the shade of a nice big tree along the road. It was farm country. I set up my little traveling table and chair ànd As I was preparing lunch a man came across a field , crawled  through the fence and said bola. I asked him if it OK if a stopped there and he graciously said of course, please be welcome. It turns out his English was about as bad as my Spanish so we had a fine time chatting. The farm there was his, and his brother was next to that. I was not able to figure out what he grew. His name was Alfredo, and he assured me that when I came that way again and needed help with anything he would be glad to help. He went back under the fence and returned a short while later with nice boots and hat, said he was going to town to make a phone call. He brought me a big bunch of limes and oranges from his place.  What a nice man.

Eventually the road came down out of the mountains to the Sea of Cortex and the town of Santa Rosalia. It is a very old and rough mining town. The silver mine has just been reopened after being shut down mor many many years. The town is booming, trucks driving everywhere. Steve and Diny and I spent some time there a few years ago before we crossed over to San Carlos. The mine was ramping up but not yet functioning, the town was clean and quiet, and there was a really funky old yacht marina there with several cool old boats and very cool characters who lived aboard their boats permanently. But last fall the hurricane destroyed the marina and most of the boats, and it is all a messnow.  2 yachts were still there, one sitting in the mud in the shallow water, tied up to the seawall to prevent it from falling over. I hope it can be recovered, it was was such a beautiful boat. All very sad.  But it looked like the town was booming!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Baja Mexico jan 3- Jan 10 2015

Baja Mexico January 2015
I left Salt Lake on Jan 3 driving with my kayak on top. My trip had been delayed a bit while I fiddled with car repairs but got that all resolved and the truck is running well. I spent 2 days getting to California and spent a few days visiting old boat buddies at Dana Point. I launched my kayak there and sailed off shore about 3 miles and saw a grey whale rise and spout a ways off, and sailed through a big pod of dolphins. Excellent start to my trip I think!

I went on down to San Diego and connected with my old friend Barb, who had moved there from SLC a few years ago. We had lost contact for quite a while and it was nice to see her again and rekindle an old friendship.

I crossed over to Mexico at the brand new San Ysidro facility into Tiajuana. While I was in the queue there for my visa, a guy asked me if that was my kayak out there on the truck. Seems I look like a dirt bag boater no matter how fancy I dress. Turns out he also is traveling with a kayak to the same place I am headed. We hoped to connect somewhere along the way. He seems like a pretty experienced Mexico traveler.

My plan is to drive about 450 miles down the Baja highway to a town called Mulege. I am in no big rush so I am taking my time, enjoying the drive and camping along the way. The road is paved but in only fair condition in many places. It is steep, windy and narrow with no shoulder. The pavement is pretty uneven and bumpy so I drove pretty slow most of the way. Rarely did I go faster than 50.  Everyone driving was pretty nice and accomodating,  even the giant trucks,   by trying to make it easy to pass or be passed when needed. The road winds around near the Pacific coast for the first couple hundred miles, weaving in and out of the steep hills that rise up off the ocean. The road passes through dozens of tiny towns every few miles, most with no paved streets except this highway. There are really big speed bumps all the way through every town to really make sure that everyone slows down! They are really poor towns, very dusty, with many tiny shops and markets, many looking like just a tent near the road or a plywood shack with a spray painted sign announcing they sell tires or pharmacy or shoes or fish tacos. Other than in Tiajuana and Ensenada, there are no big stores like Walmart or Home Depot. Everything was home grown in these little towns, life looked pretty tough and basic.
 I camped the first night in the dunes near the ocean  near San Quintuin. I couldn't see the ocean from my camp but it was very near and very loud, the big waves pounding onto the shore with a loud cannon-like boom. I was glad I was not having to land or launch my kayak in those conditions , but one the books I am reading is about a guy doing that very thing along that very same stretch of coast. (But I think he tended to find a sheltered bay, not trying to land on a surfing beach...) A chorus of coyotes sang to me as I made supper. That was to become a tradition almost every night of my trip!

The next day I drove on along  through very dramatic Sonoran  desert with every kind of cactus growing  I think I have ever seen. Every so often the road would drop into a valley where there was much cleared land and farming. There were vineyards everywhere, I guess this is the new Napa Valley.  There were also huge fields covered with gigantic shade cloth structures, I guess to protect the plants from the extreme heat (but a guy told me that they had snow there at Christmas! ) I was not sure what all was being grown but I saw cabbages, and beaver tail cacti in huge fields.  Along the way there was  a long line of cars stopped in the road from an accident up around the bend. I guess it was pretty bad,  a guy had died, and it was going to close the road for quite a while. But fortunately right at the end of the line of cars was a really rough 4 wheel drive track heading off into the desert  that allowed us all to bypass the accident and rejoin the road a mile or 2 along. Sweet!

I camped that night at Guerrero Negro, the town nearestest one of the big gray whale calving lagoons. I will explore more of that on my way home. It was raining a bit as I made camps, and then turned very foggy all night and much of the next morning.  My  tent gear was soaked by morning but I slept comfy in spite of that.

I drove on the next day to Lagoona San Ignacio, another whale calving lagoon  area. I got there about noon and spent the day drying out and exploring.  There several camps of fiber folk living out there, in old RVs or plywood shacks, some had cement block homes, all very small. There is no electricity or water out here, they all had a water tank on a little tower above each home, and a solor panel or wind generator. Whole families are living out here, kids playing in the dirt track, ladies doing laundry in barrels, men working on small boats  and fishing rigs. I wonder if the kids live out there their whole life? I did not see any schools. The nearest store or water was 25 miles of good and very bad slow road.

jan 10   I drove into Mulege about noon.  tanking up with water and tortillas and then head on down to where I expect to launch the boat for a 5-6 day cruise around bahia Conception.