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~ 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.