It wasn't until we began planning this trip that I took any interest at all in geography. When more and more people began talking to us about different routes and their favorite locations it became apparent that I had quite a bit of learning to do. And in the process of reviewing globes and maps I found myself wondering "How will we ever do this in five years ... there are just too many miles to cover -- too many places to see!" While the last two months have only reinforced that thought, they have also shown me that in many many ways our expansive world is really "A small world after all". Along those lines I've always believed that there might be just a bit of truth in the "Eight degrees of Separation", but now I am fully convinced! Perhaps you'll become convinced too ...
We left behind the circus of Cabo early Monday morning (Jan 19th). We were finally headed up into the Sea of Cortez. Other than the no wind factor, the day was beautiful. We gave Pedro Jr. (the electrical auto pilot) a break ... I took the wheel while Chris enjoyed a [very large] book. With the rocking motion of the boat, the sun beaming down on me, and the relaxed atmosphere, you can easily understand how it is that I began drifting off (to sleep). And you can just as easily imagine my surprise when I happened to lazily open my eyes and see two fisherman in a small ponga-like boat less than 15 yards off our starboard side! "Oh Shit!" I said, sheepishly smiling at Chris as he jumped up ... "What do you mean you didn't see them there???". Luckily the two fisherman didn't look too disturbed, I'm sure they had to wonder why we choose to motor by so close when we had the whole damn ocean, and I hope we didn't ruin any big catches for them ... but if they knew how close they came to cleaning the bottom of our boat they'd probably not care too much about the fish! While I can easily joke about it now, I learned my lesson and no longer sleep while driving.
We had planned on stopping in Punta Los Frailes, but as the day wore on, the wind and swell picked up ... and of course they were both coming directly into our bow. With the engine at full throttle we were barely making headway. We went for the sails, but of course that meant tacking in order to try and hit Frailes. It soon became clear that we weren't going to make Frailes before nightfall. Rather then enter the anchorage in the dark we decided to continue up to Ensenada de los Muertos (the Bay of the Dead). We arrived in Muertos around 7 a.m. on the 20th. There wasn't much to the bay, some nice condo-like houses (owned by rich white people) and a "yacht club" (which seemed extremely out of place). We've heard from a number of sources that there is some great diving and snorkeling in this area (although we didn't stay long enough to actually verify this -- plus the water temperature was still too cold for me to motivate).
We did a little bit of land exploration and decided to treat ourselves to a meal out and a cold beer (at the yacht club). During our lunch a couple of guys were nearby watching a whale just outside the harbor. Chris started up a conversation with them ... it turns out that Dave, a Canadian who is traveling through Baja in his land yacht "Nooki" along with his girlfriend Anna and dog Wood, was motor-biking at Punta Colnett Christmas Eve.
Punta Colnett: Our first international anchorage w/ Billabong's anchoring spot and Dave's Location
He recognized our boat and remembered Sea Pilgrim and Koinonia. Dave had even taken some photographs of Billabong in the setting sun while anchored at Punta Colnett and had attempted to signal us with a flash light from shore! Currently they had motor-biked from La Ventana (where they were wind surfing) to Muertos for the day. Before returning to Billabong, we gave them one of our cards and told them we would be in La Paz in the next day or so, for at least one to two weeks. What were the odds that we would run into them at Muertos?
We returned to Billabong planning to nap, have an early dinner and then head out towards La Paz. As we were preparing to lift the dinghy engine, we were interrupted by "beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep beeeeeeeeeeep...". It was a new alarm noise for me, so I just stared blankly on as Chris began lifting our floor boards (turns out it was the bilge pump alarm). We were just a bit disturbed to find a good seven inches of salt water (Chris did the taste test) floating around. "Where could this be coming from?" Chris mumbles as he kneels over the water. "Um, I didn't close the foot pump or galley through-hole" I mention timidly. In that superman speed that I'm now becoming more accustomed to, Chris was under the galley sink closing both. Sure enough it was the foot pump. Apparently the pump was broken, and now siphoning water INTO the boat! We spent the next few hours pumping out all the water, mopping up the bilges, and sorting through wet ziplocks (thankfully we tightly closed everything in the bilges). After we had the mess somewhat cleaned up (rather than the naps we so desperately wanted), we decided to stay the night and leave for La Paz the next morning.
The trip to La Paz was (thankfully) uneventful. Rather than enter La Paz at night we were going to anchor just outside at Puerto Ballandra. However, while the chart we had showed we should've been in 18 feet of water, we were still showing 60 feet. We kept inching closer and closer to shore, but were no where near 18 feet and it felt as though we were practically inches from some of the rocks. "Screw this" ... we went for La Paz.
I was entertained by dozens of jumping, flipping rays. They were black on top and white on bottom, and came sky rocketing out of the ocean, high into the air, and then ... black-white-black-white-black-white they flipped back down into the ocean with a loud splash. They always seemed to jump in pairs, the second ray launching just as the first ray touched water. I imagined a little competition going on down below; Ray1 "check this out", Ray2 "oh yeah, watch this ... I got at least two more inches than you" ... and so on. Or perhaps they were determined to fly ... "Come on Ray1 you can do just give a huge jump and flap away" .... "almost, here let me try ....". Friends of ours who had cruised Mexico last season told us about these rays in Frailes, describing them as "popcorn" (because so many of them were jumping/landing that it sounded like popcorn popping). Since then I have looked forward to Frailes, and therefore was a bit bummed when we missed it. Seeing them on the way to La Paz made my day!
The entrance channel into La Paz is long and quite shallow. We made our way easily enough, although the depths (hitting less than 12 feet at times) were be a bit disturbing at times. At the end of the channel, you can cross over to anchor in the "Mogote" or you can anchor in the "Virtual Marina". We decided to anchor in the Mogote. We reviewed the charts to find the "entrance" (a sandbar separates the Mogote from the channel, and can only be crossed over to at one particular spot). Chris was at the helm and reading off the depths ... "18 feet ... 15 feet ... 12 feet ... oh shit". At that moment we hit 6.5 feet and hit bottom. To say "hit" might be a bit of an exaggeration, it was really more like a nudge (we were going at an extremely slow pace). Chris quickly backed the boat up before we got stuck. We looked at the chart again (according to the chart we had been perfectly centered on the opening) ... knowing that the hurricanes that hit last season most likely made our charts obsolete, we were also basing our decision on the types of boats anchored in the Mogote ... i.e. we decided that the opening was most likely not near the catamarans. We radioed the fleet asking for advice. We were told to 'line-up' the municipal peer (on the mainland) and the fisherman's cross (on the Mogote). The sun had already set, so we could not spot the fisherman's cross. We guessed and tried across again -- with the same results (touching bottom). It was a bit more difficult to back out of this one, it seemed when we backed up, Billabong swung just enough to back us up onto a different sandbar ... but with good maneuvering by Captain Chris we made it free again. "Why can't we just anchor on this side" I asked. At the time we weren't sure what the difference was, and Chris agreed that he'd rather anchor then try across again. We could always move in the morning (when hopefully we could see the fisherman's cross).
It was two days later when we learned we had anchored in the "Virtual Marina" (aka Marina Santa Cruz"). The rumor has it that they have been trying to build the marina for a number of years, but every year one hurricane or another comes and wipes out their work. In the meantime they charge you to anchor there! Now that's entrepreneurial! But at 30 pesos (three US dollars) a day, and access to trash, a dinghy dock, and showers we figured it was a good deal and stayed. It also made for a drier dinghy ride to shore (less distance).
We spent most of the next day walking around La Paz checking in. This was our first port with a Port Captain, and therefore the first time we actually had to go through the entire process. It starts with a visit to Immigration, next move on down the road to pay your port entry fee to API, then walk to the near edge of town ... nowhere near any port ... to the Port Captain's office. Think you're done? Nope. The port captain's fees must be paid ... but due to past years corruptions (at least that's the rumor I heard), you can't just pay the port captain directly. Instead they give you the "bill", which you then take to the bank (which is way back in town, and nowhere near the P.C.'s office). After paying at the bank, you have to take the receipt (which shows you paid) back to the P.C.'s office in order to finish the process. All in all we figure it takes about three to four hours to do a full check-in or check-out (to check-out you have to repeat the whole process).
The 23rd was Chris's 37th birthday! We celebrated with a trip into town and fish tacos at Chris's favorite taco stand (one that he had visited 10 years ago when down with a friend on the friend's boat). Chris took me to the "Market", where I sighted my first skinned cow's & pig's heads! Back on the boat I made him carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and we devoured cake while he opened his presents (and yes, I sang happy birthday for him ... although so out of tune he probably would've preferred I'd skipped that part!).
A day later we pulled out the kayaks and paddled over to the Mogote. We decided to land our kayaks and do some exploration on foot, which due to a 'swamp' inlet required some wading through the water, where I was stung by something (our best guess is a jelly fish), after which my knee sported fat red welts. Our attempted shortcut across the little island-like sandbar found us traipsing through a very dense mangrove forest (mainly because we were to lazy and hot to turn back and re-trace our steps). The next few days were pretty mellow, we spent most of our time walking about town or relaxing on the boat. I made plans to return home in order to pick up our French Visas, and as it turned out, a friend of ours was coming down to Mexico and would be in the area the same week I'd be back in the states.
Prior to my departure we moved Billabong to Marina Palmira ... we didn't want Chris to be "single handing" in case bad weather hit, and this way he would be free to visit La Ventana with John (our friend who was coming down). Nothing in cruising can come easy, and apparently this includes docking. We confirmed with the marina three times which slip we were to take and that it was a starboard tie (we had even visited the Marina a few days prior to look at the available slips and get a feel for the place). After the last two month's events I'm not sure why we were both so shocked to see a boat already docked in "our" slip. Luckily the slip next to it was open (however it was a port tie), so as I frantically ran around moving fenders and dock lines, Chris tried to adjust our course for the other slip. I'm sure we didn't look too graceful, and we had to call out to some guys walking down the dock for help, but we managed to park without ramming into anything and so I suppose you could say we were successful! (The next time we entered the marina a few weeks later we prepared both the starboard and port side with dock lines and fenders ... just in case!!!)
In order to use mileage to fly home, I had to book my flight from Cabo San Jose, which meant a three hour bus ride from La Paz to Cabo. After riding on the "about town" buses, and our few attempts to get time schedules for the inter-city buses (where we struggled with our little Spanish, pictures, and lots of hand motions) I was more than worried about my ability to make it to Cabo. Would I get on the right bus? What if we got the times/locations wrong and I ended up in Timbuktu? Would I be able to get from the bus station to the airport? Would there be farm animals aboard (ok, this may seem like an odd one, but I'd heard stories ... later realizing the stories I heard were a good 10-20 years old!)? I tried to convince Chris to take the bus with me, and then ride back with John (his plane was landing in Cabo an hour before my plane left). But Chris assured me I would be fine. And of course I was. There were two buses loading at the same time, but I managed to get on the right one. And when the bus stopped in Cabo San Lucas, my Spanish failed me when I attempted to ask if this same bus continued on to Cabo San Jose ... the passenger kept saying no, and just as I was about to get off (very confused), an American (who spoke Spanish) helped me out. All I can figure is that the passenger thought I was asking if we were in San Jose, not if we were going to San Jose. And the bus itself ... nicer than any Greyhound I've ever been on ... all that worrying for naught!
My week home was spent running around town, and back and forth to Los Angeles (for the French Visas). Chris spent his time hanging out with John in La Paz and La Ventana ... mostly learning to kite board (you can read about his week 'alone' here). I was a bit jealous (of Chris) because I felt that I was in a constant rush trying to get a list full of errands done, while Chris was hanging out ... and for the first time not worrying about or working on Billabong. When it's just the two of us (Chris and I) and we are anchored out (versus tied up in a Marina), Chris is constantly watching Billabong, watching the weather, checking the tides and currents, and so on. But during this week, with Billabong safely tied to the dock, he was able to relax and just hang out ... I wanted to be there for that!!! I wanted to walk around town with him, without stopping to look out at Billabong or commenting on wind shifts. On the other hand I was extremely happy that for once Chris was focused on other things (like kite boarding) and not "working on the boat"! It was a week Chris truly deserved. I realize that Chris was also missing out too, after all I was the one getting to see family and friends. Seven days isn't much time though. I left Ventura still aching to see so many people and a bit depressed that I didn't fit in a trip to Arizona to see the twins.
For my return to La Paz, I had new worries ... mainly customs (and physical strength). I was bringing back about 100lbs of boat stuff. How would I carry it all? Would I get through customs? As we were landing and I was filling out the customs form, one of the questions asked about fruit. I happened to have eight oranges from my Grandpa (you might wonder why I would bring oranges back, but unless you've tasted these you just wouldn't understand). For obvious reasons I did not want to get stopped by customs and have to go through all my bags and possibly pay taxes on the gear I was bringing in, so I check "no", no I was not brining in any fruit. My plan was to simple throw away (sorry Grandpa) the oranges while waiting for my baggage. My plan faltered when I realized there was no good place to do this inside. Uh oh. Now I started worrying that if I got the "red" light (meaning I had to be 'searched') and they found the oranges, then they would definitely go through everything that much closer. I explained to one of the custom official helper guys that I had checked no, then realized I was carrying a few oranges. He said just to check yes as well and explain it when I was passing through. Oh great, now I had both "yes" and "no" filled in ... could I be any more of a target? I picked up my luggage and drudgingly headed towards the customs area ... images of spending the next few hours explaining the 100lbs pounds of gear in my bag and trying to avoid import taxes lingered. A very unsmiling female reached out for my form as I started to say, "I ...", ignoring me she said "Press the button". I pressed and got the green light (for those who haven't been to Mexico, after gathering your luggage you go to a red light - green light stop sign, press a button ... if you get green you are free, if you get a read light then you are 'searched'). She didn't even look at my form, not even one glance, she started to ask "What were you say.....", but I just picked up my bags and went for the door ... oranges and all! I decided I definitely stress too much!
When I finally made it back to Billabong (entailing another three hour bus ride to La Paz and a taxi to the marina) I was welcomed by Dave and Anna (and of course Chris)! They had hooked up with Chris at La Paz, and later in La Ventana and were back in La Paz for the day. After hearing tales of La Ventana and Baja Joe's (www.bajajoes.com) it was decided that Chris must take me there! We hitched a ride with Dave and Anna the next morning. I'll let you read Chris's description of La Ventana and Baja Joe's (available here), and just add that it was great ... the place, the people, and the wind! Like Chris I also took lessons from B.J. (www.bjsadventures.com) and only wish we had stayed longer so I could get in more practice. Unlike Chris I cannot get up (on the board) for longer than five seconds ... which means I was digesting quite a bit of salt water! My more competitive side insists that I inform you that I did not spend as many days in La Ventana as Chris and did not have the prior kite training either (no way can I let Chris be getting up on the board sooner than me!!! Ha Ha). Chris also bought me a couple of early Valentine's Day presents ... a smaller kite (which he flew but I have yet too ... wonder who that kite was really for!!!) and a harness. After my lessons I learned that he was relieved that I can't really get up yet, otherwise we would need another board too!!! He also bought me a necklace that one of the kite boarding pros, Chris Gilbert, makes "on the side"! Oh, and it just happens that one of Chris Gilbert's sponsors is Billabong (the surf company)!!! Small world huh?
We hitched a ride back to La Paz three days later with Claire, another guest of Baja Joe's that was returning home. Maybe you aren't yet impressed with my small world coincidences yet, so here's another ... Claire works for an oil company (up in Alaska) ... it just happens to be the same oil company that one of Chris's friends (Eve) from Ventura works at -- and of course they (Claire and Eve) are friends! Claire took some pictures of us and Billabong to email to Eve.
Chris had a bit of a shock the next morning, when he was randomly bitten by a dog (right in the behind ... or buttocks as Forrest Gump would say)! Of course our first concern was rabies. We spent the morning tracking down the dog's owner ... turns out the he wasn't officially owned by the Coast Marine (a local store at the Marina), but they did take care of any stray dogs who wondered into the Marina / Boat Yard. They said that they take them to the Vet, get them fixed, and get them all their shots. So Chris was safe! They were concerned that he just bit Chris like that and said they'd keep an eye on him ... I learned that he had just come back from the Vet the day prior, from being fixed ... and well, if I was him I might be a bit irritably too!