BAJA CIRCUMNAVIGATION ~ PART 2
~ Chapter Twelve ~
Cabo San Lucas to Puerto Mexia
After a good night's sleep in the Mar de Cortez Hotel I awoke at dawn and headed down to the Vaka Viti. The boat was already full of gas and the weather was brilliant. Although today's route was to head in the direction of La Paz, it was unlikely I would make it past the East Cape today.
There were many beautiful beaches to explore, and I was looking forward to a more relaxed pace on the Sea of Cortez. I left Cabo San Lucas harbor and cruised along the beautiful coastline towards San Jose del Cabo. Spectacular beaches broken by low lying cliffs were postcard perfect, and another reminder why so many visitors are drawn to Los Cabos today.
I had cruised this coast in a boat once before under quite exceptional circumstances. On a trip to Cabo about 5 years ago I had run into an old high school buddy who had taken on the job of being a licensed boat captain. He had worked his way up through the ranks over the years, and seemed to love the sea. He was now the captain of the fabulous sailing vessel "Torea" owned by Thomas Jones V. Jones, the C.E.O. of the gigantic defense contractor Northrop Corporation. Dane had introduced me to Mr. Jones late that afternoon who in turn invited me to join them on a cruise along the coast in the Torea to Santa Maria Bay the next morning. It was an incredible boat and a day of sailing I would never forget.
As I found myself approaching Santa Maria Bay in the Vaka Viti my memory flashed back to the day we visited this same beautiful cove in the Torea. We had dropped anchor in about 50 feet of water that day, and I could see the anchor going all the way down to the bottom. The visibility in the water that day had to be over 100 feet! Today the water was also very clear, and I pulled into Santa Maria Bay to check out the scenery. Even though it was only mid-morning there were already people relaxing and enjoying the beach and crystal clear waters. I thought about stopping for a snorkel but I knew even better snorkeling awaited me at Cabo Pulmo, a few hours up the coast.
The Vaka Viti soon neared the Pamilla Hotel, one of Cabo's most exclusive resorts. I looked up and saw the pool area where my wife and I had run into O.J. Simson and Nicole years ago. We had snapped a photo of the happy couple by the pool, never guessing what would happen a year later.
I enjoyed cruising the Los Cabos Corridor, the 25 mile stretch of coast from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo. Open beaches, exclusive resorts, condos and luxury homes dotted the coast all the way past San Jose.
About 5 miles past San Jose del Cabo the houses stopped and the coastline ran wild again. About 20 minutes past San Jose I saw a Mexican rancher riding a horse along the beach, a scene I would see only once on my 2,000 trip. As I motored closer to get a picture of the caballeros I noticed an interesting twist of fate. On the small hill behind him I saw a bright yellow Catepillar tractor leveling a pad for a new home. The East Cape's yesterday and tomorrow...all in one photo.
After passing Los Frailes Bay I finally hit Cabo Pulmo. Among other things Cabo Pulmo is the only place on the west coast of North American where one can find coral reefs. Seven strata reefs run from the shore area to about a mile offshore, offering some of Baja's best snorkeling and diving. I dropped anchor in sand far enough offshore as to avoid damaging any reefs and jumped in the warm and clear water. I was immediately surrounded by hundreds of fish of all shapes, sizes and colors.
The relaxing swim was a welcome change from the fast pace I was used to when coming down the Pacific coast. I was looking forward to many more snorkel excursions and casual swims as I headed up the Sea of Cortez. This was fun!
After spotting more fish than I could count I decided to head back to the Vaka Viti. The tide was dropping and the top portions of the reefs were beginning to become exposed at the surface of the water. I hoisted my wet body into the boat, using the motor as a step and a brace to gain leverage. After drying off I sat in the front of the boat just taking in the warm Baja sun.
I eventually gained the strength to pull up the anchor and set course for the north. Heading north was a new direction for me on this trip, but since the land was still off to the left side of the boat it didn't seem much different that my southern passage. However the lighting was indeed different. I now had the afternoon sun on the left side of the boat which did not take long to get used to.
The coastline along the East Cape is some of Baja's most beautiful. Not far past Cabo Pulmo I noticed a familiar structure located on a hill, just up from the beach. Baja legend John Bickel had built a brick home with a round cement roof here about 30 years ago, after failing to return from his assignment from Look magazine to document Baja on a photo shoot. Seems the East Cape was just too nice for John to leave, and he never went back to work.
I had visited John several times over the years and always enjoyed his upbeat attitude and warm hospitality. During the 1991 solar eclipse John allowed me, my family and friends to stay on his property to witness the spectacular event, which included a total eclipse of the sun at 11:47 a.m. lasting almost 7 minutes. If you haven't seen the sky grow pitch black and the stars come out at noon you don't know what you are missing!
I had also stopped by for a visit with John a few years ago. Although he did not put on his violin and dancing dog routine for me this time, he did take me into his utility room to show me his latest solution for storing electricity. After years of experimenting with various types of batteries he finally stumbled upon a specific type of submarine battery that stayed charged for a very long time, and took very little time to re-charge when they did drain down. I guess you have to live in the boon-docks to fully appreciate his discovery, but it was a true joy just to see his eyes light up when he showed me the collection of cells, wires and transformers.
Things looked quiet at the Bickel residence this afternoon, so I decided to check out the action further at the coast at Buena Vista. This was a possible gasoline stop for me, but when I reached the Buena Vista area I realized I probably had enough gas to get all the way up to La Paz. But did I have enough light to make it that far today? The sun was already slipping behind the tall mountains, so I had resolved to finding a cove somewhere north of Punta Pescadero and south of Punta Arena.
As the sun set behind the mountains I dropped anchor about 300 feet from shore in a remote area of the coast. I could see the lights from a ranch off in the distance reflecting on the perfectly calm water. It had been a while since I slept in the boat, but it felt good to pull out the mat and cover up with my $12 Mexican blanket. Here I was, finally heading north on my adventure. I was both anxious and relaxed at the same time.
The sky was filled with billions and billions of stars and Carl Sagen would have loved sharing the view of the sky with Elvira from the bow of the Vaka Viti. The stars were beautiful to look at, and I briefly wondered if they played a part in the outcome of my journey. As popular as Astrology is in the world, I doubted the alignment of the stars at the time of my birth had anything to do with the type of life I would lead. The fact that Astrology was invented in the second century at a time when the Earth was considered the center of the Universe only added to my suspicions. Still the view of the bright stars against the black velvet sky was nothing short of awesome.
~ Chapter Thirteen ~
Puerto Mexia to Punta Evaritso
Up at sunrise I was stoked to see that the Sea of Cortez was as calm as a lake, and the sky was blue and cloudless. Glancing at the tattered Auto Club map to plan my route it looked like I was less than 10 miles from the point outside La Paz bay, much further up the coast than I had thought I was. I was low on gas and knew La Paz was my last reliable chance for gas until Loreto, several hundred miles to the north.
Although the natural harbor at La Paz is large, access to the main marinas in town is through a very defined and narrow channel that parallels the beach. I pulled up on the main beach in La Paz and progressed through the normal paperwork dance at Immigration and the Port Captain's office. The walk along the seaside Malecon was beautiful as I headed back to the boat to fill up with fuel.
I soon discovered that the marinas in town offered diesel fuel, but no gasoline. So I parked the Vaka Viti at the far west end of the marinas, on the beach with a dozen other fishing pangas. The green and white Pemex sign was visible about two blocks from the panga beach, and it took me three trips to fill up my main tank and 6 portable gas containers.
Ordering up a fish and chips snack at the marina restaurant I started a conversation with two sailors at the table next to me. After a brief conversation we realized that our paths had crossed in Magdalena Bay, 200 miles up the west coast from Cabo the previous week. They said they had seen me cruising down the coast from their 23 foot sailboat, and I had remembered seeing them at anchor at the north end of the bay.
We couldn't figure out who was crazier...2 guys headed to La Paz from San Diego in a 23 foot sailboat or 1 guy headed to the Colorado River from Los Angeles in a 19 foot panga. They gave me the 'nut case' award, and soon we parted to provision up our boats. I bought some film, cookies and outboard motor oil and headed back to the Vaka Viti to figure out my next move. It was only 12:30 and I could hear the sea calling me. I had been to La Paz several times in the past and really liked the town and it's people. But it seemed that the best use of my time was to head north, so I pushed off and headed out of the channel.
Unfortunately the calm breezes that greeted me earlier in the morning had been replaced by much stronger northern winds as the day progressed. The sea was dotted with whitecaps as far as the eye could see and I began to have second thoughts about pounding the Vaka V. into the increasingly larger swells. But I continued out of the harbor and into the open sea with the hopes that the winds would die down as I headed north.
To try to minimize the impact of the wind I kept the boat even closer to shore, looping inside the huge crescent bay north of La Paz. The further north I traveled from La Paz the taller the mountains became, which seemed to help stop the wind. The afternoon improved hour by hour as the mountains grew taller and more spectacular, and the winds continued to diminish. I knew there were no established villages between La Paz and Loreto, but a spot on the Baja map called Punta Evaristo looked like it had the makings of a calm bay for dropping the hook.
As I neared Punta El Mechudo, about an hour south of Evaristo, I noticed a couple on the beach setting up camp next to their kayaks. After traveling all day near shore these were the only humans I had seen. I slowed down and gave them a big wave, but I did not want to intrude on the solitude that they had traveled so far to obtain. They waved back in the spirit of lost souls on a deserted beach, but I could not tell if they were open to a brief conversation with a wacky gringo. I saluted them both as I increased the throttle on the Vaka V., and they waved goodbye in preparation of a quiet night alone.
It was late afternoon when I pulled into the south end of the very protected cove at Punta Evaristo. I dropped bow anchor in about 3 feet of sand and soaked in another fabulous Baja sunset. Just before dark a large sailboat came into the cove trying to get their anchor lines set up before it got completely dark. I utilized the last few minutes of sunlight to give myself a wet rag bath with the melted ice water from the cooler, and then had an energy bar and a Snapple for dinner.
There were a handful of rugged looking houses spaced along the shore of the cove, and a few Mexican fishing pangas down the beach. As it became dark their generator came on, soon followed by the dim lights in their palapa-roofed huts. I enjoyed a Jimmy Buffet C.D. in the boom box, reflecting once again on how great the words to his songs are. Especially for people sitting in pangas in beautiful coves in Baja! The evening stayed calm and clear all night, and I slept under a blanket of one hundred billion stars.
~ Chapter Fourteen ~
Punta Evaristo to Loreto
In that half-dream state before waking I heard what sounded like dozens of people clapping ferociously about 20 feet from the boat. Why in the world would so many people be applauding so early in the morning? The sun was not even up and dawn was just beginning. Was this some form of alarm clock trying to annoy me out of my sleep? As I gained my senses I realized that the noise was not applause for the sleeping gringo, but hundreds of fish boiling in the water just a short distance from the Vaka V. I couldn't tell what kind of fish they were, I could only see a frenzy of splashing and silver flashing on the calm surface. Soon the local pelicans got into the act, crashing the party and creating a noise of their own. I resolved to get up and start my day, even though getting up before sunrise was against my religion.
Upping the anchor and moving north before sunrise was a break in tradition on this trip, but the glassy water was inviting and allowed the Vaka Viti her full potential of 22 miles per hour. The remote coastline was stark and beautiful, with no sign of life of any kind. It took me less than 3 hours to reach Agua Verde, a special spot on the coast I had only seen on a map and from an Aero California 737 from 33,000 feet. My desire to visit here had only increased over the last few months as I read in boating publications that the cove here was the perfect place for boaters to hang out, snorkel and meet with other boaters.
Pulling into the cove it became obvious why sailors hold such a special place in their hearts for Agua Verde. It was a very protected cove with several different locations to tuck into and drop anchor. The "yacht club" at the north end was a small abandoned brick building steps from the water where yachties gathered for cocktails in the late afternoons. The beach at the yacht club was probably the nicest place in the bay, complete with an excellent sandy beach and crystal clear "aqua" waters...the perfect place to take a swim! The urge to slip on a mask and snorkel was irresistible, and I was in the beautiful water almost before my anchor could catch it's breath on the sandy bottom. It felt great to swim in the warm water and watch the fish watch me. After 15 minutes of swimming around I headed back to the rear of the boat, stepped up on the motor to re-enter my kingdom, and dried off the salt water with a beach towel. Shower? We don't need no stinking shower!
I lazed around on the boat as the sun conquered the half way point in the sky. I put together a meal of Lunchables, complete with the 4 chocolate cookies and another Snapple. Sitting on the bow of the boat I counted 3 other boats napping at anchor in various parts of the cove, but no life on any of them. It made me think about how much time real boaters spend below deck during their long adventures at sea. I guess it is something a person gets used to. And I was living proof that a person can get used to just about anything while at sea, including not even having a below deck to go to.
All rested up and full of grub and grog I decided to put the show back on the road. Loreto was only 2 hours up the coast, and I could almost taste Mc Lulu's fish tacos as I pulled up the wet anchor line. I made a swing into a spectacular cove about 5 miles south of Puerto Escondido, discovering a protected beach I did not even know existed. I had explored the coast north and south of Loreto many times by car over the years, but had never taken the dirt road that leads to this little piece of paradise. I continued further north and made a full swing into the large natural harbor at Puerto Escondido. I counted over 2 dozen boats at anchor and knew that the number would double during the next month as additional boaters made their way around the Cape and up into the Sea of Cortez.
As the Vaka Viti slowly headed west inside the harbor I stopped to drink in the flavor of the majestic mountains that float towards the sky just west of the port. This is where Steinbeck dropped anchor and went ashore to explore a deep ravine of rocks, waterfalls, pools and longhorn sheep just west of the port during his partial circumnavigation of Baja over 50 years ago. Those in the know still call the canyon by it's nickname, Steinbeck Canyon.
Departing the harbor left me on my last leg to Loreto. I passed the large new hotel under construction in Nopolo, just south of Loreto. Little did I know I would visit the Camino Real Resort for it's grand opening ceremony a few months later while on a whale watching trip with my family. Soon Loreto came into view and I pulled into the small "darsena" harbor and tied up the Vaka V. to the brand new dock. My fancy panga with the bright yellow life raft strapped to the top drew the attention of the local kids who seemed intrigued at the whole set up. I eventually made my way to the Port Captain's office and performed the paperwork ritual in short order. A taco stop on the way to the Immigration office seemed to make perfect sense.
Mc Lulu's Tacos on main street is a popular gathering place for an afternoon bite, much like Cafe Ole is for breakfast just up the street. Lulu has been running the place for years and doubles as the unofficial mayor of Loreto. It is impossible to eat at Mc Lulu's without cars going by on the main drag honking and waving hello to Lulu. Whether in town for a few days on a fishing trip or just stopping in town to get beer and ice before heading to the Pacific side to go surfing, Lulu's was always our first stop in town. After giving Lulu a big hug and sampling a few tacos de pescado and a cold Coke, I continued west towards the Immigration office. As I walked down the sidewalk on main street I spotted a very familiar green truck that I had not seen since a frenzied night of margaritas and dancing in Ensenada several years earlier. The truck belonged to Pam Boles, the owner of Baja Big Fish, one of Loreto's best fishing companies.
I knew Pam had moved her shop from it's previous location near the water to a larger facility in town, but I didn't know where it was located until now. I stepped in the shop and was greeted with smiles and hugs from Pam and her significant other, Francisco. She had heard I was going to try to circumnavigate Baja in a raft, and she seemed quite surprised that I had actually made it this far. I guess that made two of us! After exchanging chit-chat Pam volunteered the keys to the green truck for me to get to the Immigration office and then to refill my gas cans.
Immigration was a snap, and driving the gas cans from the boat to the Pemex station (instead of walking!) was a luxury I was not used to. I set up the boat for a morning departure, and found myself with an empty schedule under a warm Baja afternoon. I took the time to call a friend in Los Angeles who had a place in Loreto, in an effort to set up a free place to stay that night. Joe Oliveri, a long time friend and Baja aficionado who wasn't sure my circumnavigation plan was such a great idea, was happy to hear I was still alive and volunteered his place for my evening stay. I thanked him and headed over to his house which was located between the town square and the seaside Malecon. Evidence of the hurricane that had hit Baja in September was all but gone throughout the streets of Loreto, but Joe had not been down since the storm and his usually meticulous property was under several inches of mud, palm frawns and miscellaneous debris. Exterior aesthetics aside, it was great to have a clean bed and warm pillow set up for the evening.
I took a cold outdoor shower and put on a semi-fresh shirt and shorts. I even brushed my teeth. Feeling fresh and frisky I headed out to walk the town in search of an evening meal. Rosalia's Tacos just north of the Pemex station was well known for it's incredibly tasty carne asada tacos at yesterday's prices. For under $4.00 I left the open palapa-covered restaurant feeling stuffed and very satisfied. It was the perfect time for a cold cervesa!
Mike's Bar is located in the heart of Loreto and usually offers an excellent guitar player and a cast of characters both local and foreign. A street side table gave me the chance to watch the town go by, listen to music, hoist a cold Pacifico and plot my course for the next day. Bahia Concepcion was located a half day's skid up the coast from Loreto, and offered some of Baja's best seaside scenery. As if that wasn't enough, I had heard about a cove an hour or two north of Loreto that was supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Baja. It was worth going to sleep early for.
I finished my cervesa and slowly started walking the cobblestone streets next to the town square in the still warm evening. I was savoring the walk and I had completely forgotten about an amazing incident that had happened to me a few years back that made me a 'wanted man' in Loreto.
During a drive-down trip to Loreto in 1997 I had made the mistake of not stopping at the border to obtain and pay for a Tourist Card before heading into Baja. I was driving down in my 1983 Chevrolet Suburban (affectionately known by those who love her as the 'Blue Burro') to drop off in Loreto as a transportation vehicle and had planned on flying the northbound route out of Loreto on a DC-9 a few days later. At the time the enforcement of Tourists Cards on Baja Highway One southbound was rather loose, and since I was flying home it did not occur to me that I would need the card to get checked in at the airport for the flight home. Well it just so happened that the night before I was to fly home from Loreto some drug-running pilot crash landed his marijuana-filled Cessna 182 on the beach just north of town and he could not be found. Under normal circumstances that event would not have affected me.
But that morning, while trying to get my boarding pass and get on the plane home, the girl behind the Aero California counter realized I had no Tourist card...I was an undocumented visitor. I had to go into a side room where I explained that I had driven down and forgotten to obtain a Tourist Card in the process. At that point the folks at the airport were just starting to get the information about the plane crash and the missing pilot, and they did not fully realize that the Gringo trying to get on the plane without a Tourist Card just might be the pilot of the doomed plane trying to make a last ditch effort to get the Hell out of Dodge. While completing the paperwork for my Tourist Card the Immigration officer casually asked me if I was a pilot. I did not know about the drug-running plane at the time so I answered truthfully that I was indeed a private pilot and showed him my license. He had some notes on a yellow pad of paper, charged me $35 for the Tourist Card and I was off. I figure we were at about 32,000 feet above the Sea of Cortez before they put dos y dos together.
I wasn't home more than a day before the first fax arrived from Santa Rosalia, the government seat for Loreto. The letter stated that they wanted to "discuss" an incident regarding a plane that had landed illegally on the beach the night before I left Loreto. The letter was very official, had a government stamp on it and had a very fancy signature at the bottom. Mexicans love fancy signatures. Anyway, I thought it was a joke from one of my buddies who knew about the incident until I called the number on the letter. It was indeed the government office in Santa Rosalia and they did indeed want to meet with me as soon as possible. Could I fly down tomorrow?
Looking for advice from friends in the U.S. it was unanimous...if I did fly down to Santa Rosalia I would probably not be getting back home any time soon. The U.S. government was applying pressure on the Mexican government to get serious about the drug problem and, if nothing else, the Mexicans would probably make an example out of me whether I was guilty or not. So I did not call back and the incident apparently went away with the passing of the newly elected officials a year later. Still I always find myself a bit on guard when I am landing or taking off at Loreto airport!
~ Chapter Fifteen ~
Loreto to Bahia Concepcion
Sleeping in a real bed was a dream come true, and it was hard to justify getting up too early. But I was very excited about the coastal scenery I would be seeing today, so I slid my lazy carriage out of bed and headed for the small marina two blocks away. There she sat sleeping in her slip, my girl, Vaka Viti. She seemed to be enjoying her morning seaside snooze, and I hated to wake her up and put her to work. But I had places to go and people to meet, and I couldn't do it without her. So I climbed on board and duct-taped the Auto Club map to the center console. It was time to go north!
I pulled out of the harbor at about 9:00 a.m. and followed the coast. It wasn't long before I passed by one of Loreto's most famous landmarks, The Pent House. This seaside brothel had dished out plenty of servings of short-term companionship over the decades, and was still in business with a new pink paint job. Rumor has it that the best girls now head to La Paz on the weekends where their services garner a better price in the big city. Things looked a little slow at the shop this morning, so I continued north to take a closer look at Isla Coronado, a small island just northeast of Loreto.
The brilliant white sand around the west end of the island combined with the crystal clear water made it difficult to judge the depth of the water. The sea was so clear that, at one point, I actually stopped the boat to see if my prop was near the bottom. Not to worry, I was still in over 10 feet of water! I pulled into the spectacular horseshoe cove at the southwest end of the island. Fish and stingrays swam near the bottom, which started to get pretty shallow as I headed further into the cove towards the inner beach. The water was scene was so beautiful I just had to take a picture. Clear water foreground, bright white sandy beach, green ocean, pristine coastline and the tall La Gigante mountains in the background...what a view!
Within an hour I pulled into Bahia San Juanico, the same name as the cove I had stayed in on the west coast of Baja at Scorpion Bay. After reading about this Sea of Cortez jewel in a boating publication I had big expectations. It was touted as being a completely protected cove with various secondary mini-coves, several small islands, wild geological spires, pinnacles and walls, plus clear waters filled with beautiful reefs and friendly fish. It was a lot to live up to but it was definitely all here. Being a snorkeling fanatic I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I gave the cove a slow tour in the boat and then dropped anchor near the north end. I was in the water blowing snorkel bubbles before you could say 'puffer fish'.
The warm water flowed across my body like a wet blanket. The underwater view from my mask was filled with both sandy and rocky bottom, various reefs, plus schools of fish large and small. I saw a large shell on the bottom and used it as an excuse to hold my breath and test my lungs. The water was so clear it was difficult to tell how far down the bottom was. The depth became more evident on the way back up as I exhaled and slowly watched the surface become closer and closer. I finally broke the surface out of breath and happy, shell in hand. After examining my treasure for a short time I dropped it back into the water and watched it slowly sink back to the bottom. I snorkeled several additional islands in the bay and then headed back to the boat to dry off and relax. After a while I started to get hungry and decided it was time to explore the beautiful waters of Bahia Concepcion, a couple of hours further up the coast.
It was hard to leave Bahia San Juanico, but I resolved to return and stay for a few days next time. As I pulled out of the bay I looked back and felt proud that I had the opportunity to indulge in the joys of one of Baja's best coves. In less than two hours I rounded Punta Concepcion and then entered the large bay itself. A half dozen dolphins greeted me as I closed in on Playa Santispac, a large protected cove where I knew I could find food and drink. Before pulling up on the beach I stopped the boat about a quarter mile from shore, turned off the motor, and just sat and watched. People were playing in the water, laying on the beach, sailboats were at anchor, and fishing boats were floating just off the beach. If there was a main focal point for the huge Bahia Concepcion area, this cove was it.
Anybody who has driven down the Baja Highway south of Mulege has been mesmerized by the beautiful scene of Playa Santispac and it's offshore islands. After all there are few places in the world where you can pull up off the highway in your vehicle and park within inches of the water's edge and just set up camp. Throw in two restaurants, a bakery and some bathrooms and it is a vacation experience hard to match.
I pulled up the Vaka V. on the beach and walked 100 feet to Anna's Bakery. A fresh roll of sweetbread and a cold Coke were all I needed to slip even further into Baja time. The sun was warm and it was another glorious day. I had nothing to do and all afternoon to do it.
I eventually headed back to the beach where I caught a couple of people checking out my boat. Because there is usually very little going on at Playa Santispac, something as insignificant as a new boat landing on the beach can create a moderate stir. Soon there were 5 people standing around me chatting and trying to figure out if my story was true, or if I was just suffering from sunstroke. In the end it seemed like most of them believed that I had indeed circled the Cape from Los Angeles. But of even greater interest to most of these folks was the rumor that tonight was Cheeseburger Night at Bertha's Restaurant, a couple of coves down the coast. We all vowed to rendezvous there in a few hours and continue the stories.
The large bay was still as calm as a lake and I decided to take a cruise south and explore the beauty of the area. I thought it would also be a good idea to track down Bertha's Restaurant while I still had plenty of light to work with. I motored past a few incredibly beautiful bays and decided to pull up on one particularly nice beach and walk around. I landed on the beach in front of a palapa with a Volkswagen camper next to it, and started chatting with the couple sitting in beach chairs at water's edge. Carla and Jim were fun to chat with, and shared a bit about their lives with me. Carla was yet another one of those people I had met on my trip who had recently experienced a life threatening health issue and decided it was time to drop the traditional fast-paced values of society and start enjoying life more often. Jim, who was big into bicycling and had biked across both the United States and Australia, was currently working on a crab boat off Alaska. They both enjoyed the wide open spaces of Baja, and were looking forward to a nice dinner at Bertha's Restaurant, located just back from the beach. Looks like I picked the right beach to take a walk!
The calm cove seemed like a great place for me to scrape off the moss that had accumulated on the sides and bottom of the boat over the last three weeks. It was also a good time to set up the boom-box on the beach and play a little tropical music. Reggae seemed to fit in with the beach scene, and soon the air was filled with the sounds of Bob Marley and other ganja-puffing artists. Several visitors had come by and commented on how my masthead pumpkin Elvira was looking a little beat up from her exposure in the Baja sun. I had seen her melt a little further into the raised fiberglass area at the bow of the boat each day, but found it hard to think about putting her to sleep. But as I cleaned the boat it became obvious that her days were numbered. I resolved to keep her alive as long as possible, as long as I could keep her out of pain.
The hot day gradually melted into a warm evening, and eating seemed to be the logical next move. People were already trailing into Bertha's Restaurant and I sat at a table with a dozen people, some who I had met throughout the day and some I had not. And contrary to the rumor around the bay, it was not Cheesburger Night at Bertha's tonight, it was Seafood Night. Perfect!
We ate super-fresh seafood, drank super-big margaritas, and our conversations solved none of the problems of the world, but we joked and laughed all throughout dinner. It was more fun than watching girls jump on trampolines! But all good things must come to an end, and table by table we spilled into the night and bid farewells before heading back to our temporary homes. My trek was not far as the Vaka V. was sitting in 3 feet of water right in front of the restaurant.
~ Chapter Sixteen ~
Bahia Concepcion to Mulege
I woke up to another warm and clear morning. It seemed I had experienced perfect weather every day on my trip, and I wondered if my luck would hold out for the rest of the adventure. It didn't, but that's a different part of the story.
Carla and Jim were up and out, and were also amused with my pumpkin masthead Elvira, who was slowly nearing the end of her life in the hot Baja sun. It was a hard decision to make, but collectively we decided it was time to put her down. Seems I had a few choices for her burial.
As common as life is in Bahia Concepcion, so is death. Stories of people sneaking their recently dead spouses across the border in sleeping bags on top of their cars is not uncommon, as the paperwork to do it legally is just too much. Gringos who have decided to live in Bahia Concepcion also find themselves with pets that die while they are south of the border. Getting them back in the U.S. is not always important, but a proper burial often is. Thus it was inevitable that there would be a place to put these cats and dogs to rest in Bahia Concepcion, affectionately called Dead Dog Island. Located about 10 minutes offshore this was the perfect final resting place for Elvira. Rest in Peace, my pumpkin companion.
After the burial ceremony for Elvira, an aged and leather faced Mexican man slowly walked up to me on the beach and asked if I was interested in purchasing the cow skull he had discovered out in the desert, complete with long horns spiraling east and west. Was it mearly coincidence that I just put my last traveling companion to sleep and was in need of a new figurehead for the balance of my adventure home? I think "fate" would be a better word. He started with an asking price of $35. I did not want to beat this poor guy up on price, but the fact was I was getting low on gas money and I had to be careful with my non-essential expenditures. We settled on $18 and some change and I was now the proud owner of a perfectly maintained cow skull. Wouldn't my wife be proud. I placed it on the bow of the boat on a towel, right where Elvira had rested just an hour earlier. Jim had suggested I call him "Tex" and the name stuck like peanut butter on sandpaper. I took Tex all the way to the Colorado River (even though one of his horns fell off in a wind storm south of Bahia de los Angeles). He wasn't Wilson, but he wasn't bad.
I decided to take Tex for a spin, show him around the bay. I headed south even further into Bahia Concepcion to another beautiful bay called Playa Buenaventura. I had met the owner of the resort there several times before, Olivia, and she always kept a clean beach and restaurant. Dropping anchor right in front of the restaurant proved once again that my choice of using a panga for this trip was the right decision. I walked into the spotless restaurant the same time Olivia did, and she gave me a smile and a big hug. Someone had been in the restaurant a few days earlier and informed her of my adventure, so she was not completely surprised at my arrival. I ordered a cold cervesa and a hamburger, complete with fresh avocados, onions and mucho mas. Jimmy Buffet would have been proud...this was truly a Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Soon Olivia's smile turned into a very anxious look. She had just gotten word that the cancelled caravan of 21 motorhomes that was suppose to spend 3 days at her resort were now going to show up after all...in about 30 minutes. And she was almost out of beer! I volunteered to make the run to the nearby village of Mulege to fill up the trunk of her car with Dos Equis, Sol and Tecate cervesa. It was usually a half hour drive from her resort to Mulege up the coast, but the road had gotten washed out from the hurricane in October and the asphalt was missing in several locations. I still made the round trip in a bit over an hour, just as the RV crowd was entering Olivia's bar for Happy Hour.
Olivia was extremely grateful for my help and I was happy to have made the beer run. But I realized it was getting close to dark, and I needed to get up the coast to Mulege to get gas for the boat before it got completely dark. We hugged goodbye and I waded out to the Vaka V. to head north.
It took Tex and I about an hour to reach the mouth of the river at Mulege, officially named the Santa Rosalia River. My plan was to head two miles up the river to downtown Mulege and park the boat along the banks of the river about 3 blocks from the Pemex station in town. After filling up with gas I would head for the Serenidad Hotel for the traditional Saturday Night Pig Roast.
I knew the river was shallow and I had planned my late afternoon trek up the river at high tide to increase the likelihood of a successful gas run. I got about 300 yards up the river when the regular whine of the motor stopped and all hell broke loose. The motor bucked like a mad bull for a time that seemed like forever, and the prop made banging noises against the bottom that made me cringe. I jumped to shut down the motor, but it was too late. As I hinged up the motor to examine the prop it was almost unrecognizable. My heart sank as I realized this might be a significant problem. Although I had brought along an extra prop for just such an emergency, the prop arrived the day before my departure and I did not have the opportunity to try it on before I left Los Angeles.
Once again I placed the electric motor (that I had hoped I would never need to use) to the transom and slowly made my way over to the dock just west of the Serenidad Hotel. I could hear the music and chatter coming from the outdoor barbecue area and decided that the prop problem could wait until manana. It was time to party!
Walking into the busy outdoor patio area of the Serenidad with my backpack on and my ragamuffin hair left me feeling a bit out of place in the well groomed crowd. Finding a way to be less conspicuous was my first goal. I placed my backpack in a corner by the bar, and slipped into the pool for a quick body rinse and head dip. The evening was still warm and there was really no reason to leave the pool with it's convenient swim-up bar. I ordered a Grande Margarita and was taken back by how large it really was. I sipped my drink and watched the crowd of young and old Baja aficionados mingle the night away.
Many of those in attendance had arrived in small planes, as has been a tradition at the Serenidad for many decades. Don Johnson, the owner of the resort, had always gone out of his way to provide a good runway and a clean hotel for those who dared take their birds south of the border. His daughter Diana was playing an increasingly important role in managing the hotel as a pilot-friendly destination. Some of the pilots attending were part of a group called the Flying Samaritans, who head into Baja from the U.S. on a regular basis to provide free health care to needy villagers throughout Baja. Don's Pig Roast was a traditional stop before they headed back to the States on Sunday morning.
I eventually left the confines of the pool and secured a seat on the dry side of the bar. Before long I was exchanging stories with others around the bar, and the word soon got out that I was the knucklehead trying to circle the Peninsula in a panga. During the middle of a conversation a robust man with an award winning smile walked up to me and said "You aren't Carlos Fiesta are you?". I stood up and sheepishly pleaded guilty as charged. He threw his island-sized paws around me and said "It's me, Captain Mike!". Mike, someone I had never met before but had heard about my adventure on the Internet message boards, had contacted me by e-mail just before I left Los Angeles and asked if he could fly down and meet me somewhere on my journey, and maybe buy me a beer. He flies to Baja often, and thought it would be cool to catch up with me somewhere along the line. But we never set a place and a time to meet, so it was mere coincidence that I ran into him at the Pig Roast. It was great to finally meet him and he did indeed buy me a beer. We chatted throughout the evening and agreed to get together again back in the U.S.
Soon others were buying me drinks to celebrate my journey, and then it was time for dinner. I sat at a table of new friends, each who had questions about my trek around Baja. I was more than happy to oblige them, until the music started. Then I became the target of several ladies who had the urge to dance but nobody to dance with. I did my best to keep them all happy, but finally reached a point where I was all tuckered out and in need of some well deserved sleep. Thoughts of my broken prop filled my sleep and nudged me out of bed early the next morning.
~ Chapter Seventeen ~
I started tinkering with the prop at daybreak, but soon realized that the fittings to hold the prop onto the shaft did not fit. Major adjustments were necessary, and I did not have the knowledge or tools to get it all to work. As the margaritas and beer from the night before wore off, I realized that sometime the previous evening Captain Mike had introduced me to the bartender at the Serenidad, Alejandro. Mike had mentioned that, in addition to being the best darn bartender this side of Guaymas, Alejandro was also a very good outboard motor mechanic. It seemed logical that I should try to contact him about my prop problem.
I headed over to the front desk of the Serenidad Hotel and asked the gentleman at the front desk if he happened to have Alejandro's home phone number. He seemed willing to give me the number, but wanted to run it past the boss just to be sure. He called Diana, Don's daughter, who said it would be no problem giving me the number. Calling him early on Sunday morning seemed to be a risky move, but if I asked with extreme care he might understand my situation. Indeed he was home, and said he'd be happy to drop by the hotel to meet me in a little bit. I had traveled to Mexico enough to know that 'in a little bit' could mean almost anything, and within 2 hours he showed up and shook my hand. We walked the 100 yards from the hotel to the river's edge and he got to work on the Yamaha 40 outboard in a jiffy. Soon he figured out how to make it all work, and said he'd meet me back at the Serinidad bar at 4:00 p.m. when he started work that afternoon, with the finished project.
My mood had quickly turned from apprehensive to optimistic, and even though I had not planned on spending a whole day in Mulege, I thought it would be a good time to become reacquainted with one of the most unique towns in all of Baja. But first it was time to fill up the boat with gas.
Looking at my fuel needs for my next leg of my trip to Punta Sanfrancisquito, I knew I had to fill up all of my tanks. I poured the remaining gas from my auxiliary 5 gallon cans into the main tank, and then proceeded to make my first of 2 runs to the Pemex station. Diana Johnson had suggested I head for the newer station south of town which was actually a closer walk from the Serenidad Hotel than the one in town. Although the walk to the station with empty cans was a snap, I dreaded the walk back when they were full. I didn't need to worry. A Gringo in a white open-topped Volkswagen Thing saw my plight, pulled over and offered me a ride. He took me and my loaded cans all the way to the Vaka Viti. I had even better luck with the next gas run. As I was just beginning my walk to the gas station a local Mexican pulled up and offered me a ride. The car was barely running and many parts were missing inside and out. It looked like it had been hit by a meteor. But somehow he kept it running, and took me to and from the gas station in record time. I put 10 liters of gas in his car at the gas station to thank him, and he was very happy to accept. Full of gas and ready for a morning departure it was time to explore the town.
I walked 2 miles along the shady dirt road on the south side of the calm river, all the way to the quaint town square. I sat on a park bench and watched 3 kids playing on a very noisy swing set. My attention was soon drawn to a young couple attempting to use a Mexican telephone. It's not really a difficult thing to do, but some basic knowledge of the system is necessary. As the drama continued I felt an obligation to help them out.
Walking over to introduce myself I volunteered to help them make their call. Jerimy and Laura were appreciative and soon they had completed the call to the young woman's parents to let them know she was okay. After the call they came by to thank me and talk. They were from Crested Butte, Colorado, and had come to Mulege on a last minute whim. I was only mildly surprised when they informed me that they were staying in their car, as I had slept in my car several times in the past when visiting Baja. And besides, who was I to talk? I was sleeping on the exposed deck of a small boat.
What really got my attention was when they informed me that they also lived in their car back home in Crested Butte, Colorado. Housing had gotten expensive in Crested Butte, they said, and living in the car allowed them the opportunity to get by with very little need for money. There were times when it got pretty cold, and that's when they planned their road trips. They occasionally worked when they needed money for food and gas, but the jobs were always short, lasting just long enough to put away enough money to get them by for a few more weeks. Soon they thanked me again and left, and I sat there thinking about all of the different choices we human beings make as we trudge our way through our time on this spinning planet. It's a crazy world, and there are plenty of ways to fill in the time between life and death.
Soon I ran into a local gentleman who I had seen once before in Mulege. He could often be seen walking slowly through town, using his rugged walking stick to help him along. This guy's pace made a sloth look fast, but it was obvious from his stooped posture that he was very old. In the past I had never asked him how old he actually was. This trip I had the time and the nerve to approach him, and to say "hola". He spoke no English, but he seemed to understand when I asked him how old he was. "Cien anos y poquito mas" he replied, indicating that he was a tad past 100 years old. Over a century old and still cruising the main drag looking for chicks. You gotta admire a guy like that.
It was time to head back to the Serenidad to meet Alejandro for a progress report. While I was waiting for him at the hotel I ran into a couple I had met in Bahia Concepcion a few days earlier. Jeff and Jenny were from Hermosa Beach, California, about 10 minutes from my home in Torrance. They were on Margarita Patrol poolside and I decided to give them a little professional help. The discussion centered around the large turtle they lost a few days ago in Bahia Concepcion, and they couldn't figure out how it got out of their car. It was indeed hard to picture a 14 inch turtle crawling out of the window of a Toyota Camery, but there was no other solution. As the sun slipped behind the mountains we gradually wrapped up the party, and soon Alejandro checked in for work.
He rolled into the hotel bar area and we walked over to put on the prop. It fit like a glove and I was totally stoked. Now I was really all set for a morning departure! In typical Mexican fashion Alejandro refused to quote me a price for his efforts. I told him I would catch up with him at the bar later on and figure it out.
I had a wonderful dinner at the hotel restaurant, and eventually wandered over to the bar to square up with my favorite mechanic. And I had a plan that would save my limited cash flow situation and still treat Alejandro right. I had brought several cameras along on this trip, including a nice Pentax with a zoom lens. I asked Alejandro if he would prefer cash or the camera, and he fell in love with the camera immediately. Seems the payment made us both happy, and soon I was walking down the runway headed for the river and a good night's sleep in the Vaka Viti.
~ Chapter Eighteen ~
Mulege to San Francisquito
Sleeping in late is impossible on a panga beach, or even a panga river as was the case in Mulege. Pangeros can be a pretty early bunch of hombres, heading out to sea early with the idea of catching as many fish as possible while they are still biting. The weekend was over, it was now Monday morning and time to get busy. Even though I wasn't going to work I did have a lofty goal of reaching a spectacular destination...Punta San Francisquito. This coastal hideaway is one of the most remote beaches on the Baja Peninsula and I could not wait to get there. But I just couldn't get the boat to start!
It was frustrating to have the prop issue resolved and now have a motor that wouldn't start. I played with everything from fuel filters to plug wires and must have done something right because after half an hour of fiddling she finally came to life.
Leaving the protected waters of the river and heading out into the open sea I noticed much more wind chop than I would have expected this early in the morning. But soon the wind died down, the water turned to glass, and I got back to my favorite Sea of Cortez past time of chasing sitting ducks.
It's not that I have anything against ducks, it's just that it's so much fun to watch them make decisions once they realize you are coming at them at warp panga speed. Basically they have two choices if they want to avoid becoming duck soup. They can either choose to start flapping their wings while running on water in an attempt to fly away from the incoming idiot, or they can choose to do what comes naturally for ducks...they can duck. Which is probably why somebody decided to call them ducks. Anyway, the fun begins when they become confused, not knowing whether to try to fly away or duck. One particularly dingy duck started his escape by dipping under water, then changed his mind and surfaced to try to fly away. Loosing ground he then gave up and hit the deck a second time when he realized he was almost history. It was tail feathers and bubbles all the way down and it left me laughing hysterically, which shows you how little it takes to entertain someone who has been out at sea for 3 weeks.
I decided to make a gas stop at Santa Rosalia, to top off my cans before I headed even further into the remote Baja waters. Just like in Mulege, I decided to abandon the proper procedure of making landfall by first checking in with the Port Captain, Immigration and then pay the port fees at the bank. This was the law when traveling in Mexican waters. But it was too time consuming and too expensive, and as long as I didn't get caught I could stay out of jail. The problem in Santa Rosalia was that the Port Captain's office was directly across from the Pemex station. I would literally have to drop anchor in front of the Port Captain's windows, slip over to the Pemex station with 2 bright red gas cans, and then slip back into the boat and depart without being seen. Now this is my kind of fun! I pulled it off without a hitch, and soon found myself headed north towards empty Baja waters.
The sea was smooth as I closed in on Punta San Francisquito in the early afternoon. I pulled up on the waveless beach and decided to get the gasoline routine out of the way. I walked up the the palapa restaurant and found Charry the owner working in the kitchen. I had known her for many years from my annual road trips to her rustic resort and she gave me a hug and a big smile. After small talk about my trip she confirmed that she had gas for me and asked me to bring my gas cans up to her pickup truck. Soon I was full of gas and ready to go snorkeling.
The main beach at 'Francisquito was framed by two extended rock promontories at either end, with the resort located somewhere near the middle of the one mile long sandy beach. The north end was a bit more protected from the wind today, so I walked down to the end to explore King Neptune's domain. The snorkeling was great and I spotted an octopus, several stingrays and even a lobster. The bottom was covered with white sand and huge granite boulders, along with a variety of shells and lots of fish. It was a refreshing dip after a hot day at sea. The day was growing long and I was getting hungry, so I decided to get out of the water and head back to the main palapa for a pre-dinner cocktail. But before heading back I took a short nap on the still-warm sand, just above the shore. It was a spectacular place to ponder the joy of just being alive.
Most of the visitors to Punta San Francisquito arrive the old fashion way...they fly in. Although arriving by vehicle is not impossible, the 12 hour drive from the border on a two lane road followed by a three hour dive on a one lane dirt road tends to thin out the traffic. The resort gets busy on weekends from fly-ins and drive-ins because that is when most Baja aficionados can slip south of the border, away from the responsibilities of their jobs. However today was Monday and there was still a few birds on the ramp and a few stragglers at the resort. We watched the sky grow dark from the outdoor patio and then settled into the open air palapa restaurant for hot yellowtail, cold beer, and lukewarm conversation. Bedtime hits the resort early and the generator is usually shut down by 9:00 p.m. I set up my bed on the boat and fell asleep counting shooting stars.
I don't know what it was that caused me to wake up at about 2:00 in the morning, but I'm sure glad I woke up when I did. It was pitch black and the wind had picked up, so I thought I would check on the front and rear anchor lines. I grabbed the flashlight and pointed at each of the anchor lines. They both went straight down, not at an angle as I had placed them when I set them for the evening. It was impossible for the tide to have risen so far that the lines could head straight down so I checked to see how far I was from shore. There was no shore to be found anywhere.
It began to sink in that not only was I not anchored to the bottom, I was nowhere near the coast. I had no idea how far offshore I was, the dark night left no clues of land in any direction. And the wind started to blow even harder. This was getting scary. I again searched the horizon for some sign of land and finally spotted a dim blinking light a long distance away. I had no idea where the light was located, but unless it was attached to a boat it was probably located on land. And that is exactly where I wanted to go as soon as possible.
I started the boat motor and very gently pushed the throttle forward. I could not see anything in front of me, so I moved forward at a snail's pace just in case I hit something. I continued in the direction of the light for a period of time that seemed like an eternity. After 2 hours of anxiety I neared the light and pulled back on the throttle. I was exhausted and I still wasn't sure where I was. But the glow of the light on the surface of the water led me to believe that going any further could prove to be disastrous. I shut down the motor, set the hooks front and back, and then collapsed into a sound sleep on the mat in the front of the boat.
~ Chapter Nineteen ~
San Francisquito to Las Animas
I woke up well after sunrise and poked my head up over the gunned to see where I had ended up after my early morning adventure. I found myself sitting 50 feet off the beach next to the rocks at the north end of San Francisquito Beach, right where I had been snorkeling the previous afternoon! The light I had been following was a navigational aid located at the outer end of the rocks. Of all of the places I could have ended up after the madness that took place the night before, I could not have hoped for a better place to end up. I motored down the beach to the resort and pulled the Vaka Viti up on the beach to clear my tab with Charry. The bill for the gasoline, cocktails and beer totaled $73. I gave her $85 and thanked her once again for her wonderful hospitality.
My goal today was to reach Bahia de los Angeles, a funky fishing village in a spectacular natural setting only 85 miles up the coast. As it turned out I never even got close. The first of several obstacles throughout the day was a dangerous rip current which we had named the 'standing wall of death'. This current was almost always active at the far tip of the north point at 'Francisquito and the boiling white water and criss-crossing waves could usually be seen from the cabanas and the dining area at the resort. I had seen it from shore many times before but I did not know what to expect going through it in a boat. It would have been possible to go out and around this bubbling caldron if I wanted to head a bit south and then around, but I preferred to take the most direct route north which went right through the middle of the madness. The boat flipped and flopped as I moved slowly forward through the whitewater, but soon I was passed the rumble and tumble and headed north on calm seas.
The wind and water did not stay calm for long. Within 2 hours I was fighting a direct 20 knot head wind accompanied by 2 to 4 foot seas. The wind only continued to get worse and the sea was now a canvas of whitewater in all directions. I held my breath each time the hull of the Vaka V raised up and then slammed down into the trough of the next wave, only to heave up and slam down again and again and again. I reached a point where I was questioning the integrity of the boat, even though she had fared well under other rough conditions on this trip. Soon I found myself guiding the boat between 6 to 8 foot swells and realized that it was nothing short of stupid to continue on. Forget Bahia de los Angeles, just get me to a cove to ride out this wind storm.
It was very difficult to read the map and drive the boat through the waves but I had to find a place to hole up. The Auto Club map was not detailed enough to show smaller coves, so I pulled out the guide book I had used to walk my way through some of the other coves further south. A small cove dubbed 'Animas Slot' seemed to be my nearest refuge, but mile after mile it eluded me. Finally I noticed a cove that had similar characteristics to the one mentioned in the book, and I pulled in hoping for the best. After rounding the corner and slipping past the island in the center of the cove I entered a very protected cove, complete with calm waters and a sandy beach. If I was going to be stuck anywhere, this was an awesome place to be stuck.
The sun was on the second half of it's journey across the daytime sky and it was even a bit warm when I found a protected pocket away from the wind. The residual swells from the wind wrapped into the cove and prevented me from landing the boat directly on the beach. So I anchored her in 4 feet of water and took the lifeboat to shore. Although it was a beautiful place it was devoid of any life and I had never felt so far from a Krispy Kreme store in my entire life.
All of the clothes that had been laying on the deck had gotten wet with sea-spray and I was also soaked to the bone. I brought a shirt and shorts to shore and laid them in the sun so I might have some dry clothes to sleep in later on. It seemed unlikely that I would be getting out of this cove anytime soon, although I had hoped the wind would die down as sunset neared. I walked the 100 yard beach to gain a bigger perspective of my new found home. I found what appeared to be an old campfire in the northwest corner of the cove. It probably belonged to some unfortunate pangero who got stuck here under similar circumstances. I eventually reclaimed my now-dry clothes and rowed the raft back to the boat. I set up the deck of the boat for the evening and then realized that I had not eaten all day. I nibbled on a granola bar and took a swig of water before going to bed just after sunset. The wind continued to howl all night long.
~ Chapter Twenty ~
Las Animas to Bahia de los Angeles
I got up at sunrise and was disappointed that it was still windy. But the wind did not seem quite as bad as the day before so I thought I would at least take a gander out of the cove to see if I could take the boat further north today. I knew I could always come back to this protected bay if I needed too.
As I left the cove and headed up the coast I began to question the idea of leaving the cove. The waves were smaller but still significant and the going was tough. I looked on the map and set up several 'bail out' points where I could tuck in and wait it out if things got worse. These pit stops were each a good 10 miles apart so I put myself at risk for a considerable distance between them. But nature seemed to cooperate and each time I hit a safety point I decided to continue north to the next one.
I soon motored past a picturesque fish camp called Las Animas. I had heard about this remote village along with a story about the 'Naked Girls of Las Animas'. Seems a high school teacher from southern California takes a caravan of his senior students to this beautiful beach each year to get in touch with nature and learn about flora and fauna. Although it is mostly a controlled learning event, the 'Naked Girls' rumor does help him sell Baja calendars to help pay for supplies for the annual trek.
The wind was not getting better but it was not getting worse, so I continued towards my next 'safety net' at La Unica. La Unica is a wilderness resort of sorts where adventurers get dropped off on an empty stretch of beach with minimal improvements and supplies in a spectacular outdoor setting. The mile long beach is protected by a beautiful offshore island, and I have had the opportunity to stay there twice before. I always considered La Unica (translation: the one and only) one of my favorite places in Baja, and I hold special memories of the time I spent there with my family.
The last time I stayed at La Unica a group of us went out on a boat for a sunset cruise and found ourselves surrounded by a pod of huge finback whales. They were literally all around us as the sky turned orange and yellow from the setting sun, and it created a memory I have never forgotten. I had also been to La Unica once before when the wind came up, even worse than it was today, and I became (probably) the first person ever to surf the breaking waves in front of the usually waveless open air restaurant.
Tex and I swung in the cove on the inside of the island and slowed the Vaka Viti down. There was a lone kayaker sitting on shore and I could not tell if he was alone at the camp. I gave him a big wave and he waved back, then I completed my loop around the island and continued my northern quest. I was less than an hour south of Bahia de los Angeles and it was beginning to look like I would make my destination after all.
As I rounded Punta Malo just east of Bay of LA the waves and wind diminished and I was able to pick up a little speed. I was cruising so fast that I went right past the entrance to one of northern Baja's most protected hurricane holes, Puerto Don Juan. In the past I never had the opportunity to check out this beautiful cove, and now was my chance. The natural harbor was roughly a half mile long and a quarter mile wide and the water inside was perfectly calm. I rounded one sailboat at anchor in the middle of the cove and then headed to the south end of the bay were a sandy beach was too much to resist for a pair of kayakers. This was a perfect half day kayak adventure from 'downtown' Bahia de los Angeles.
I headed back out of the bay and continued west towards town. My destination was Guillermo's, a pretty slice of beach at the south end of town with a bar, restaurant and a reasonable walk to the closest gasoline. I pulled the boat up on the beach and started walking towards the main street with my gas cans. I got about 50 feet before 2 young men from Colorado on quad-runners asked me if I needed a lift. They took me to a house just north of town where gasoline was sold from 55 gallon drums, and off they went.
Jose Luise Ortega was a warm and friendly man and happy to be of service selling me gasoline. As we chatted we realized we shared a common friend in Los Angeles. Sid Syverson is the owner of the huge real estate franchise Re/Max of California and buddy I had shared many Baja stories with over the years. Jose had developed a close relationship with Sid and his wife Diane over the many years they visited their home at the south end of the Bay. Jose asked me to tell Sid and Diane hello when I got home, and I assured him that I would. He topped off my tanks and gave me and my gas a ride back to the boat in the back of his pickup truck.
The sun was still warm as I pulled up a chair under the palapa at Guillermo's for a cold beer, chips and salsa. I chatted with 3 people at the table next to me and we all enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. I had heard that there was a small hotel about 2 miles south of town called Larry and Raquel's that offered satellite Internet access, and thought it might be fun to check my e-mail. I had walked about a quarter of the way to the hotel when a Volkswagon camper pulled over and offered me a ride. It was the same three people I had sat next to at Guillermo's, and they gave me a ride all the way to the hotel.
It takes a lot to make regular dial-up Internet access connection look fast, but the satellite Internet access at Raquel's did the trick. It took me forever to pull up my Hotmail account and I asked the girl at the front desk if the service was always this slow. She said the service was usually not too slow, but sometimes the satellite access slowed down when the winds picked up. This made absolutely no sense to me, but then again I know very little about satellite technology. Hell, at this stage in my trip I was having a hard time holding a beer and eating chips at the same time, let alone try to figure out how the wind affects the Internet. So I trudged through my mail at a snail's pace and then decided I had had enough technology for one day.
When I arrived back at the beach I was surprised to see the Vaka V. sitting on solid ground. The tide had gone out...way out, and my girl was sitting there listing to one side, obviously quite embarrassed by having her underside fully exposed for the world to see. Tex just sat there in a trance at the front of the boat, not caring one way or the other. Guys. I new it would be at least 4 hours before the boat would be floating again, and I didn't want to sleep on her at such an awkward angle. Having another beer at Guillermo's and a bite to eat seemed like the perfect way to kill time. But as I walked up from the beach a small Mexican woman approached me speaking in Spanish. My Spanglish is not good, but I did understand that she was inviting me, the lost soul from the panga, into her home for dinner. I was honored at the request and entered her little casa just as the sun went down.
Rosa's husband had died years ago and she lived alone in her modest home on the beach. She had no electricity so she lit candles so we could see our meals. She served me a warm plate of 3 tacos, fish, beans and rice. Not only was the food delicious but I was able to avoid spending a lot of gas money for non-essential fancy food at Guillermo's. Her home became dark as evening enveloped the small village and I thanked her for a wonderful meal. She waved goodbye as I headed down the beach to Guillermo's for an after dinner drink.
Things were starting to heat up at the bar at Guillermo's and I could smell a party brewing! The 2 guys from Colorado were hoisting a few cold ones, plus a crew of 3 Irish kids (2 gals and a guy) got in on the act as well. Pete, a retired football player, joined the act and the next thing you know I was headed back to the Vaka V. to grab some C.D.'s and my stereo. The Irish party offered me the use of their shower which I gladly accepted. Back to the fiesta, the party evolved from the bar to the restaurant to the beach. We brought the music out on the sand and sang and danced and laughed until late. It was hard to believe I was stuck in a deserted cove when I woke up this morning!
The 2 guys from Colorado were playing their cards with the 2 Irish girls and I could sense it was time for me to hit the sack. The tide had come up and the Vaka Viti was floating again, just as I had hoped. Dreams of my next destination, Bahia de Gonzaga filled my mind. Would the wind finally be gone?
~ Chapter Twenty One ~
Bahia de los Angeles to Bahia de Gonzaga
Up at the break of dawn I peeked over the rail of the Vaka Viti and noticed Rosa sweeping her front porch in the bright morning sun. Tex was still sleeping. I thought it would be a nice gesture to thank Rosa again for dinner and her hospitality from the night before, so I shuffled across the moist sand to give her a hug say good-bye. I handed her a few dollars for the dinner and a fly swatter for a gift. She graciously accepted both and I waved adios and smiled at her as I headed back to the boat.
I pulled up the anchors and tried unsuccessfully several times to start the small outboard motor. It sounded tired and I was sympathetic to the cause. The 1993 motor was almost 10 years old. She had served me well during my long trek and had performed admirably under the trying circumstances. But my journey was not yet over and I needed her to come to life a few more times before putting her out to pasture. She finally sputtered then started and we slipped out to sea with the hopes of calm waters and Bahia de Gonzaga as my afternoon destination.
The scary thing about today's leg was the lack of ports to tuck into in the event of high winds. I remember reading about the feedback the local fishermen gave Graham Mackintosh when he inquired about walking along this desolate 100 mile stretch of coastline a few years back. The local vote was unanimous...don't do it. The cliffs rise from the sea almost vertically most of the way and there are no beaches or coves to provide shelter. But since Graham was one of the few people who had encouraged me to take on this coastal adventure, I knew that somehow I could complete this leg successfully if luck was running with me. Unfortunately the wind picked up even more before I was even 10 miles north of Bahia de los Angeles.
But the winds were just part of the problem. Another annoying feature was the occasional "wash machine" churnings of the sea in various areas. In the past I had heard that the Sea of Cortez ran deep in this location and that the upwellings of water from lower depths often came up to the surface with turbulent effects. But hearing about these sections of choppy water during a conversation over a cold beer verses the reality of actually plowing through them in a small boat was two different things. Throwing a strong wind in the mix made crossing these cauldrons a tricky test of wit and muscle.
As if it wasn't enough that I had winds, cross-waves and no place to hole up in an emergency, I developed a new problem. The motor started to run rough and then it finally died right in front of one particularly nasty section of cliff. I had to think fast because the current and the winds were pushing me quickly towards the rocky shore. I had to make a decision to either drop the anchors or keep floating and push hard to trouble shoot the engine. Thinking I had a minute or two before I got too close to the cliffs, I decided to see if I could get the motor running again. It didn't take long to figure out the problem...I was out of gas!
Fighting the wind, waves and choppy waters that morning had caused me to burn off much more fuel than I normally would have. I quickly grabbed a 5 gallon tank from the front of the boat and poured it into the main 15 gallon tank. I added a container of oil to the gas, and then pulled the starter rope. The Yamaha came to life with the first pull and I moved forward with very little time to spare. After getting far enough away from the cliffs to feel comfortable I stopped and put two additional cans of gasoline in the main tank. I could only hope that the remaining gas on board would be enough to get me to Bahia de Gonzaga. There were no other fuel stops or fish camps along the way to bail me out.
I grew optimistic in the afternoon as I neared the southern end of Gonzaga Bay at Punta Final. I knew once I rounded the point I could always hug the coast of the large protected bay and work my way over the six miles to Gonzaga. To my delight the winds diminished as I headed west around Punta Final and the water actually became glassy. My worries melted like a cup of yogurt on a hot summer day and I began to put on my fun cap again. I had always wanted to explore the various pristine coves just east of the Punta Final sandspit, and this seemed like the perfect time to do it. This collection of small emerald bays was known to the locals as Snoopy Cove because it resembles a beagle from a skyward vantage point. I slowly motored into the protected bay and discovered cove after cove just begging for snorkeling or a picnic.
After I explored every square yard of the Snoopster I headed across the calm bay to the center of attention in Gonzaga Bay, Alphonsina's Resort. 'Resort' is a term used loosely to describe this outpost, but seems almost appropriate considering the remote location. Alphonsina was spending less time running the show each year, but her son Juaqine was a very conscientious young man with a lovely bride and a new son, and he was doing well filling in his mother's zapatas.
I knew the tide was going out so I dropped anchor in 6 feet of water and swam to shore with my gas cans. I was offered a ride to get gas at nearby Rancho Grande by a worker named Miguel, so we drove one mile to the main road to fill 'er up. It was always nice to get the gasoline routine out of the way, knowing I was ready to motor at the drop of a sombrero. Back at Alphonsina's I started talking with a couple of guys who had just driven in from Dana Point, California. They had heard about the spectacular kayaking in and around Bahia de Gonzaga and immediately started to provision for a late afternoon paddle. I headed to the Margarita Deck above Alphonsina's and decided to drink in the spectacular view while capturing my thoughts in my journal. With 2 shrimp boats sitting at anchor in the harbor and the water glistening like a mirror, it was one of the best views in Baja.
I noticed Juaqine talking downstairs with several gentlemen from the Mexico Tourism Office. I had seen these same men talking to Guillermo in Bahia de los Angeles the day before about the proposed "Nautical Ladder" along Baja's coast. The idea was to set up a series of ports on both coasts of Baja for boaters to obtain services, and input from the resort owners along the coast was a very important part of the planning process. Later in the afternoon, after the meeting was over, I told Jaquine that it might help encourage boating tourism if visitors didn't have to stop in every port and go through the Immigration/Customs/Bank routine. I explained that I started off an honest sailor on my trip, but soon started ducking the system because of the time and money involved in doing the process properly. He was very sympathetic to my feedback and said he would bring the issue up with the authorities at his next meeting.
Soon the sun was setting and the sky turned bright yellow. The kayakers had returned as the last slice of daylight melted from the sky, and we all sat down to a meal of shrimp, rice, beans, tortillas and baked potatoes. Full and tired, I swam back to the boat and played a little music on the C.D. player. I hoped to make it to San Felipe tomorrow, my last stop before heading to the top of the Sea of Cortez and entering the Colorado River.
~ Chapter Twenty Two ~
Bahia de Gonzaga to San Felipe
The sea was completely still in the early morning as I awoke and it was already getting hot. The beach was lifeless as I pulled up the anchors and plotted my chart for San Felipe. I steered the Vaka Viti out and around Cactus Point at the east end of Gonzaga Bay and immediately noticed something was missing. The lone cactus that had stood guard at the point for so many years was gone...another victim of the hurricane that hit Baja in October.
As I headed south I glanced west and saw Papa Fernandez Camp, a small collection of homes and a restaurant that had evolved over many years from the labors of Papa himself, who had just died the previous year at 104 year old. I was fortunate to have enjoyed a meal with Papa a few years earlier and was surprised how spunky he had been for his age. But his years finally caught up with him, and his legacy now continues through his family in this small seaside village. The black and white photo of Papa and John Wayne still hangs in the small cafe in town.
I could now see the "Enchanted Islands" as I motored north. This collection of four islands was not far from shore, and I had been warned by someone at dinner the night before that there is a very shallow shoal between one of the islands and the shore. I kept a sharp eye out for light green water and motored slowly in the middle of the channel. Although I did see shallow water I was able to avoid getting too close to the bottom. I became excited as I noticed the small hill at Puertecitos on the horizon. If ever there were a truly funky place in Baja, Puertecitos is the place. But this strange town did have one redeeming quality that captured my heart, the Hot Springs at the south east end of town.
I had been to Puertecitos several times before and even spent time in the Hot Springs here, but this time was different. Whereas before I enjoyed the springs as a Baja novelty just for fun, this time I was in true need of her liquid magic. I had been battered by nature's wind and waves for several days, and my skin was crusty with dried salt. My muscles were spent and in dire need of a hot water soaking. I pulled up into the cove and anchored at the rocky south end near the springs.
It was a short walk to the pools and I wondered if the tides would be right for the sea to moderate the scalding hot sulfur springs at the tide line. Although the highest of the 3 pools was indeed too hot, and the lowest was now too cool, the middle pool was about 102 degrees and crystal clear...perfect! I laid down in 18 inches of water on the small gravel stones on the bottom of the natural pool with my head resting just above the surface against a smooth bolder. I closed my eyes and drifted into a half dream state, savoring the spectacular feeling of the hot water all around my body. It was heaven. At the time it seemed like the whole trip was worth the luxury of that one endless moment.
I don't know how long I laid there...time seemed to stand still. But when I finally opened my eyes I was beyond relaxed. I slowly crawled out of the water and let the warm sun dry my body as I walked back to the boat. I enjoyed the swim back to the boat in the refreshingly cool Sea of Cortez. I eventually garnered the energy to start the motor and hoist the anchor. I knew I was only 50 miles from San Felipe and the flat sea surface presented no challenges for the run up the coast. I passed the lighthouse at El Vergil and then the beautiful round bay at Playa Santa Maria. I could see Consag Rock, a 286-foot-high pointed island 22 miles offshore, and knew I was getting close. Soon the bluffs at Punta Estrella came into view with the beaches of San Felipe in the distance. I thought how I could terminate my adventure there and still feel I had accomplished something significant. But I had set a goal to travel from Los Angeles to the Colorado River, and I was too close to call it quits yet.
I grounded the Vaka Viti on the main beach in San Felipe and unloaded my gas cans onto the sand. I could have walked the three blocks to the Pemex station but the Hot Springs in Puertecitos had drained most of my energy. I flagged down a taxi on the waterfront Malecon gas cans in hand. The taxi driver took a good look at my 4 cans and then looked at me, wondering if it was such a good idea to risk exposing his car to the odors of gasoline. He finally agreed to make the round trip, and before you could say "lleno" (fill 'er up) I was back at the boat full of fuel. The $5 taxi ride was money well spent.
The next move was a no brainer. I was in the land of the ultimate fish taco and I couldn't wait to get my molars into a few. I headed towards the south end of town along the waterfront to Plaza Maristaco, the largest collection of taco stands on the Sea of Cortez. Three fish tacos loaded with fresh guacamole, lettuce, salsa, onions and cream washed down with an ice cold Pacifico Cervesa...it just doesn't get any better than that. Rubio's Restaurants back in the States had gotten the idea of serving fish tacos north of the border based on Rubio's travels to San Felipe. As good as they are they can't come close to the real deal in San Felipe.
My last run up into the Colorado River would be tomorrow, so grabbing a room for the night was my next move. And the El Pescador Motel was just the place to hang my backback. It was right across the street from the beach, the rooms were clean, and at $40 I had a warm bed and a hot shower to prepare myself for the final leg of the adventure.
After checking into the hotel I remembered how badly I must smell and how all of my clothes were pretty grungy. I walked over to a corner vendor and bought a brand spanking pair of shorts, a tee-shirt and a pair of sandals...all for $18. After a quick shower and shampoo I felt like a normal person again. Walking around town I realized that the tide had gone out and left the Vaka V. stranded on the sand. I then realized that if I wanted to take her north in the morning I would have to anchor her in much deeper water when the tide came in at midnight.
The tides in the northern end of the Sea of Cortez have the third highest fluctuations on Earth, behind the Cook Outlet in Alaska and the Bay of Fundy in Canada, just north of Nova Scotia. In San Felipe the shoreline drop between high and low tide can be as much as 22 vertical feet. And at the mouth of the Colorado River that tidal fluctuation can be over 30 feet. This extreme tidal range in conjunction with the northern gulf's extremely shallow beaches can expose over a half mile of previously covered sea bed. So I made a mental note to anchor the boat as far offshore as possible later that night.
On the west end of town I walked past the famous Clam Man Restaurant. For many who had visited San Felipe in years past this restaurant serves as a sort of landmark for the town. Indeed for decades it was hard not to laugh as you drove by the restaurant with the lettering on the side of the building which bragged "our clams make you horny'. Pasqual "Cruz" Guerrero has moved on to the big clam bake in the sky, but his daughter Theresa still serves up the butter clams just like her dad did years ago.
I eventually ended up in one of my favorite watering holes in Baja...Francisco Arostegui's 'Bar Miramar'. Part bar, part sports lounge, part swap meet...for over half a century it has been pretty hard not to have a good time at Bar Miramar. And between the Juke Box, live music and Karaoke there was always some kind of music to dance to. From Mick Jagger to Waylon Jennings something was always pumping. I ended up sharing a big table and small lies with a couple from Colorado. Neil and Adrienne were on Margarita Patrol and I helped them with their quest. After all I was a professional (don't try this at home). They seemed amused with my circumnavigation story and wished me well in the morning. As midnight approached I knew it was time to take the Vaka Viti into deeper water and prepare for my morning departure.
The water seemed cooler at night than it did in the day, but refreshing nonetheless. I anchored the boat well offshore thinking that she would still be floating when I got back to her in the morning. I set the hooks far from shore because I knew the tides in San Felipe were extreme and when the tide went out here it went w-a-y out. I swam back to shore and headed for the El Pescador for a good night's sleep. I could not believe I was almost at the end of my adventure.
~ Chapter Twenty Three ~
San Felipe to the Colorado River
Amelia Earhart was on the last leg of her adventure when she disappeared on her around the world circumnavigation. She had made it through bad weather, getting lost and many other trying circumstances along the way. When she made it eastbound to the mid-Pacific she probably thought she was home free. She was never seen again.
I had also been through significant adversity on my circumnavigation but I new it wasn't over until it was completely over. Several issues made this last leg of my trip very scary.
During this entire trek I had gotten used to using the shore on the left side of the boat as a kind of safety line. If anything went wrong I could always jump out of the boat and swim or raft to shore. An indeed that theory worked for me when the motor died south of Bahia Magdalena on the west coast. But now, because of the extremely shallow shoreline as I approached the Colorado River delta, I had to stay several miles offshore to be sure to avoid running aground on the sand or shoals. And if I did have to bail out, the shoreline was the kind of thick muck that was impossible to walk on. I had heard of a kayaker who had recently gotten stuck in the delta for several days and almost died.
Also because of the flat terrain I could not judge my progress as I motored forward and landmarks were non-existent. For the first time on my trip I could not see my progress along the passing coastline. It was just miles and miles of open water in all directions. My trusty Auto Club Baja map was now useless. This was a whole different kind of navigation and it gave me a lot of respect for real sailors who actually know how to navigate in open seas.
Another scary thing on this last leg was the clarity of the water. During the Pacific and Sea of Cortez runs of my trip, I could always see deep into the clear water. Reefs, sand and other underwater obstructions were usually easy to spot and avoid. This was not the case in the upper delta. The water looked less like sea water and more like the muddy Mississippi River. The water visibility just north of San Felipe dropped to almost zero, and it was very unsettling not knowing how far it was from the bottom of my prop to the bottom of the sea. And I had no extra prop in case I lost this one.
And to top it all off I remember reading that quiet a few people in centuries past had died while heading up towards the mouth of the river in an attempt to prove that Baja was a peninsula not an island. Although several Spanish adventurers such as Francisco de Ulloa and Jesuit Padres Eusebio Kino and Fernando Consag were individually successful in making it some distance up into the river, many other explorers who made the attempt were never seen again. The allure of proving Baja was an island and in finding a possible shortcut to the Northwest Passage was strong for these explorers, but the unforgiving terrain in the upper gulf was even stronger. Uncharted waters, no visible landmarks, extreme tidal fluctuations and an unforgiving mucky bottom joined forces to bring down some of the best of those who ventured this far north. Who was I to think I could make it and live to tell about it?
So it was with significant apprehension that I headed north the 50 miles from San Felipe towards desolate terrain of the Colorado River under a new set of motoring rules. After all of the drama I had been through over the last 4 weeks I was more nervous today than I had been on the entire trip.
One element I had in my favor was that I had waited for a rising tide to depart San Felipe and that the tide would continue to rise until it peaked at about 1:00 p.m., which is when I had hoped to hit the river mouth.
At first there were a few fishing pangas scattered about in the water and this gave me some degree of consolation. But as I headed further north towards the mouth of the Colorado River these boats disappeared from sight and I was definitely on my own. I guessed that the more brackish the water became the less the fish liked living there.
Isla Montague was a flat island of significant size at the mouth of the Colorado River. On several of the maps I had reviewed it looked possible to navigate north past the west side of island and actually head into the Colorado River itself, leaving the Sea of Cortez altogether. I thought it would be fun to head well up into the Colorado as far as I could motor. But the murky water and risk of getting stuck outweighed the thrill of heading too far north. Sometimes it's hard to know when to stop, and I was getting close to that point.
As I motored north I spotted something unusual. Off to the right side of the boat I began to see hills in the distance. Mainland Mexico! For the first time on my trek I could see a sliver of land off to my left and small dusty hills off to my right. I was getting close to the end of my journey.
As I continued motoring the small land formations of mainland Mexico on my right became more distinct. At the same time the water color had deepened from a light brown to a dark brown. I slowed the Vaka Viti down to about half speed. This was definitely river water and it was impossible to see through it. I had no idea whether I was in 12 inches of water or 12 feet of water and I became very worried that I might get stuck. Common sense got the best of me and I finally slipped the motor into neutral. I didn't dare shut it off altogether in such a remote location. If I did turn the motor off and it wouldn't start again I would be in deep Bandini.
I stood on the bow of the boat and surveyed the horizon. I noticed a group of dolphins to the south of me. They were jumping out of the water and I couldn't tell if they were trying to tell me not to go any further north or if they were just celebrating the completion of my journey. I assumed it was both!
I snapped a couple of pictures of the dolphins and then got back behind the wheel. The air was getting hot and the water was very calm. It was time for me and Tex to go home.
I felt a little bit like the old fisherman in Ernest Hemmingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". I had fought the sea, accomplished my goal, but could I get back to civilization to show the world my catch? Unlike the old man heading back to Havana from his mighty adventure at sea, my luck stayed with me and I met no adversity and I guided my small craft back to port.
We rolled back into San Felipe about 2:30 in the afternoon. I pulled up on the main beach in town right in front of Rockodile, a famous watering hole on the Malecon. I jumped out of the boat and walked across the sand to the street. As soon as my feet hit the pavement I saw my wife, daughter and my good friend Dave Denis drive down the street in Dave's Toyota 4-Runner with the boat trailer in tow. They had just pulled into town! We had planned 4 weeks ago that I would probably complete my adventure on this day sometime in the early afternoon in San Felipe. It was remarkable how accurate that prognosis actually was.
My emotions swelled as I hugged my wife and daughter. I felt very fortunate to have completed this journey safely and be back in their lives again. There's nothing like a good road trip to put some perspective into your life and I had just completed the biggest adventure of my life.
As if to say welcome home nature had a surprise of her own for me that night. One of the largest displays of meteors ever was on display late in the evening and we headed a few miles south of town to enjoy the show. The Leonid Meteor Shower started off with a beautiful display of one or two meteors lighting up the sky every minute and it was quite impressive. But soon the number of meteors increased to 10 or more per minute and the sky was literally filled with bright streaks of light. It was nothing short of spectacular under the dark Baja sky and the perfect climax to an incredible adventure.
It has always been hard for me to look up into the night sky and not think about the Big Picture in life. This was especially true after completing my circumnavigation. Although I really had developed no more insight as to what life is all about after I completed my adventure, I did have a greater appreciation for being alive. Our time on this planet is short, and being here is a gift that we don't always fully appreciate. Deep down we probably know it's a special thing to be alive, but I think we sometimes forget. One of the goals in life might be to remember more often how fortunate we are to be here on this spinning blue planet.
~ Chapter Twenty Four ~
Colorado River to Los Angeles
The next morning we left San Felipe and headed north to spend the night in Ensenada. We stopped for tacos and tortas at Taco's Manuel, and then checked into the Rosarito Beach Hotel for one final night in Baja.
Physically I was in Rosarto Beach, there was no denying that. But mentally I was somewhere else, somewhere on the ocean. I was having a difficult time re-adjusting to my new reality of people, traffic and activity in all directions. And I wasn't even back in Los Angeles yet!
Somebody famous once said "The unexamined life is not worth living". Although that statement might be taking a good idea to an extreme, there is indeed great value in stepping back a bit and viewing one's life from a different perspective. And my time on the boat around Baja seemed to be a pretty good step back for me.
Did my priorities in life change after my adventure. Probably. I took this trip because I was pushing 50 years old and I was beginning to understand how short life just might be. After the trip was over I felt an even greater understanding of the brevity of life, and of what is really important. The more I thought about it the more I realized that chasing dollar bills and building a large net worth had definitely dropped a few notches on my ever changing list of important things to do.
Some of us in society, pushed by advertising and good ol' Yankee competition, have bought into the idea that success can be defined by this collection of material goods that we acquire as we live our lives. Indeed there is nothing wrong with these material things, and they can add great joy to our lives. But they can be a waste of time if they are the thoughtless end to our efforts rather than the actual means to a good life. If we spend more time pacing the cage than actually enjoying life then why are we here?
The end game in life is a little bit different for each person, but the word "enjoy" seems to come up quite a bit when people try to express their ideas about living life to the fullest. It seems the idea of 'joy' is worthy ideal, but we sometimes forget where to draw the line once we have accomplished our initial goals.
Dudly Moore, in his roll as Arthur in the movie by the same name, summed it up pretty well when he was told by his butler that he had had 'enough' to drink. His reply was quick and to the point, and not unlike the all-American chant. "I want more than enough" he quipped. Seems like many of us have the same idea. We want more than enough...to the point where we are never quite satisfied with what we already have.
In the words of Aristotle "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence". To be happy, to enjoy each day, is a definition of success that seems worthy of our consideration.
2003 update...the Vaka Vita has once again been taken south of the border and is now semi-retired in the Mexican fishing village of San Juancio. Carlos visits the boat on a regular basis and helps get her ready for fishing excursions for special guests, but Carlos has not taken the Vaka Viti back into the ocean since completing his adventure.