Kayaking in Baja -Part 2

When the adventure turns into a daventure:

The same day that my Denver friends departed was the official arrival day for people going on the next trip, which would officially start the next morning.  I spent the afternoon doing a bit of shopping, rounding up my newly laundered clothes, charging my electronics and reorganizing my luggage.

Whenever I left the room for something, I kept my eyes peeled for anyone looking like they were going on the trip with me.  I had found out toward the end of the first trip that my new group would only have five people, including me.  I saw an older man with a metal detector sitting by the pool, but thought…nah… and kept going.  On my way back by, he called out to me and asked if I was there for the Baja Expeditions trip?  He introduced himself and told me that he’d been on at least 8 of these trips over the years.  He said that he knew two ladies who were also on the trip with us and before long they both walked up and we all introduced ourselves.  Turns out that one of the women had been on something like 12 of these trips and her friend was on her second trip.  The last member of our group happened to walk by during all of this and we introduced ourselves again.  She was on her first trip to Baja and was from Australia.  As in the previous group from the week before, I found out I was the second youngest of the new group.

After some chit-chat, everyone went their own ways.  The three who knew each other were going to dinner and invited me -but I didn’t go because I had already agreed to call Mike at a certain time that night and they were going to be at dinner during that time.  Once I decided I was satisfied with my repacking and organizing effort, I went out to sit at a table near the pool to try to organize my notes and photos from the first trip.  I ended up meeting and talking to our guide for the week, Anibal. (Sounds like Hanibal without the H).  He was very nice and I enjoyed getting to know him a bit.

I hate to admit it, but based on first impressions I wasn’t excited to be going back into the wild with this group.  (And I have no doubt they might have been feeling the same way about me.)  I was trying very hard to keep an open mind about it, but without going into the details…I was worried.  I reminded myself that I needed to chill out and that time would tell.  It is kind of normal for me to be a bit hesitant with new people. As the days unfolded, I grew to appreciate each of them for different reasons and I ended up enjoying the trip very much.

The next morning we all met up outside the hotel to load up our gear and take the van back to Ligui, the beach about 40 minutes South of Loreto where I’d last seen the Pez Sapo at the end of the first trip.  But, first we had to swing by the laundry service to pick up some sleeping bags that had been left there for cleaning and weren’t ready on time when the crew went to get them the night before.  That morning was the last chance to get them before the trip departed.

I had hoped the mud pit on the road into the beach at Ligui had dried out a bit in the two days, but I think it was even worse.  The van, again, didn’t want to take a chance crossing it -so we were dropped off and had to get ourselves and our luggage the final ¼ mile or so to the beach.

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The panga was waiting for us on shore and we quickly loaded our stuff and ourselves and were whisked away to board the Pez Sapo for our ride to our first campsite.

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DSCN0425 DSCN0427Our Captain: Oligario

It was with a sense of déjà vu that we arrived at our first camp.  Hmmmm… this looks familiar!  Oh yeah…it was the last camp from the last trip -Ballenita. I actually put my tent up in the EXACT same spot as before.   And I still didn’t really get any pictures there! There was a lot of driftwood at this beach – and Anibal reminded us to be careful of scorpions when he found this fellow:

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The first order of business? You guessed it – wet exit.  I told Anibal I wasn’t going to do it since I’d just done it a few days ago.  He wasn’t really thrilled with me.  He said, “I know you did it, but I didn’t see you do it.”  I then gave him the “look” or whatever it is I do that lets people know I mean business!  The crew had taken to calling me “Reina” the week before – It means queen.  I asked them if it was in fun -or because I am a royal pain in the ***?  They assured me it was all in fun!  (I think they meant it… they better have!)  Anyway, Anibal was kept happy watching the 3 old hands do their wet exits and all was well until the Australian piped up and said it was getting too late and chilly to get herself wet and she’d do it tomorrow.  I think she was actually a bit nervous about doing it at all -and used the conditions as a delay tactic.  Up until that happened, I think I was off the wet exit hook with Anibal.  Once she decided tomorrow would do -he started bugging me again, telling me it would make him happy if I’d do it.  Fine!  I will!  Here comes another nose enema!

The next morning we were supposed to pack up and paddle the whole way to the next camp – maybe 15 miles or so.  For some reason my travel alarm decided to reset itself to Eastern Standard Time instead of Mountain Time -so my 6:30 AM alarm went off at 4:30 AM.  Being the smarty pants I am, I decided that it was wayyy too dark out there to really be 6:30 AM -so I went back to sleep.

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Sometimes being a slowpoke in packing up pays off.  By the time I got serious about poking my head out of the tent to see what was going on, several of the group had already gotten up and taken their tents down.  Just as I was starting to do that myself, we got word that the weather (wind again) was going to keep us at Ballenita for an extra night.  Snow day!  It was decided that instead of leaving, we’d paddle a couple of bays away to a spot called Santa Marta, but first those pesky wet exits.  Another group member photographed me in action:

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We loaded up and headed for Santa Marta.  We saw a pod of dolphins along the way.

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Santa Marta is a ranch of sorts owned by the owner of Baja Expeditions.  It is sort of half-abandoned and not really in use much by him anymore, but there are some buildings there and a cool palapa nestled next to a rock wall overlooking the beach.

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original house DSCN0445   palapa DSCN0444

It was deemed too windy to bother paddling back so we were loaded into the panga and then the kayaks were tied into a long conga line and pulled behind.

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Since we were passing the Pez Sapo anyway on our way back (still anchored off of our campsite in Ballenita) we stopped to have lunch aboard.

DSCN0455  DSCN0457 dolphins

DSCN0461 Aaron & Anibal

The rest of the day was uneventful.  We tried to snorkel in our own bay with mixed results.  By then it was time for happy hour, dinner and bed.

When we woke up the next morning, the weather was better so we packed up, had breakfast and got paddling -heading for our next stop.  The weather had improved, but the waves hadn’t died down yet.  It was a bit challenging because the swells were sort of all over the place and it was pretty bouncy out there.

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About an hour or so into the paddle, we decided to stop at a beach for a shore break and snacks.  The Pez Sapo had caught up and came into the little bay and anchored while we were taking our break.

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We got back on the water and had only been paddling for about 15 minutes when word came that the Pez Sapo had broken down.  At first we thought it was just a bit of engine trouble and that they’d fix it and catch up.  Before long, we learned that the problem was serious enough that it couldn’t be fixed by the crew.  As this was going on, the water was getting a bit more bouncy and due to the situation, Anibal decided that the panga should pluck us out of the water on the fly.  One by one, we paddled up to the side of the panga.  Anibal steadied the kayak and somehow between Aaron (panga driver) and Anibal we dragged ourselves into the panga.  Then Aaron would tie the kayak to the growing line of kayaks.  It actually went quite well.  We were then driven to our next camp.

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This trip would turn out to be full of déjà vu.  Our second camp was Puerto Gato – also a campsite from the previous trip (the one with the climb to the cross).  Sigh… (I had hoped to see some new territory on the second trip).  When we arrived at Puerto Gato, there was already another group camping in the spot we’d used before.  We had to go to the other end of the beach.  Anibal went down to talk to the other camp (the competition) and told them what was going on.  They had a slightly larger panga style boat and they ended up offering to go find the Pez Sapo and tow them to Puerto Gato.  I saw this type of thing many times while I was in Baja.  I think it is so remote in some places that people really do look out for each other and are very willing to help when they can.

Pez Sapo under tow. DSCN0477

Puerto Gato is where we got the bad news:  Because the Pez Sapo was disabled -we were going to have to part ways with the mother ship.  The problem was that all of the food was stored and cooked on the ship.  Without the ship we didn’t have a kitchen or refrigeration.  There was really only one choice -and that was to return all the way to one of the base camps on Espiritu Santo where there was a camp kitchen already set up that could be used while we were there.  So, partially blaming the weather reports (North winds forecast) and mostly because of the logistics of the food/cooking situation, we were going to be sent back to Espiritu Santo the next day – basically to sit there for the rest of the trip – 5 nights.

A new panga materialized the next morning to help transport us to Espiritu Santo in tandem with the one we already had.  First, Anibal decided that we could at least paddle a few bays South to Timbabichi before we moved on (Timbabichi -been there, done that!  At least we paddled there this time instead of hiking -that was different…)  It was still bouncy out there, but a nice paddle.  When we landed, the group wanted to go into Timbabichi, but I decided to stay on the shore and wait for the pangas to arrive.

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When the pangas arrived, Juan Carlos (our chef), Aaron and our new helper, Javier, started loading up the kayaks for transport.

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After the group returned from Timbabichi, we were loaded up and were off.  It was going to be a very long ride -about 4 hours- in a very small boat with two open water crossings:  one from the coast over to San Jose island and then between San Jose and Espiritu Santo.

We were lucky to have fair weather for the trip because if you want to know what it feels like to ride in a panga on a whipped up sea -just imagine yourself tossed into a WWF wrestling ring and practicing being body slammed.  We experienced a few areas of rough water and my internal organs felt so jumbled up that if I’d been x-rayed right then, I’m sure it would have looked like a Picasso painting.

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Javier had been summoned to help us make this trip -but he needed to stop at his fishing village as we passed by to pick up his cell phone.  There were fishermen there cleaning fish -and the birds were waiting for the dinner bell to ring!

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Once we left there, we booked it for Espiritu Santo.  I could see Juan Carlos visibly relax once we’d made it to the protection of Espiritu Santo.  It wasn’t that the conditions were that bad really -it was that we didn’t want to get caught out there if some weather did move in (and there was a possibility).  After we got into more protected waters by the island, we stopped at a beach for lunch and to stretch our legs.

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DSCN0504  makeshift kitchen

The water was super clear and this needlefish was hanging around us in the shallows.  I took one picture looking down at him through the water and then I stuck my camera under the water to see if I could catch him that way too.

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Before long we were back at the bay on Espiritu Santo that holds the base camps.  The beach is quite long and is divided in the middle by a rock outcropping (there’s a way through it/around it/over it).  The first time I was there, we camped on the far South end of the beach.  This time we were on the North side of the rocks, right next to them.  There was one more base camp at the far end of our section of beach.   I climbed the rocks to take these pictures:

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Hours after we arrived, the Pez Sapo was towed into our bay for one night.  They took all the food, drinks and supplies off the boat that we were going to need for the rest of the trip. The next morning, the Pez Sapo departed under tow for La Paz and that’s the last we saw of her. Our camp was the last one for the trip.  We stayed there for 5 nights.

DSCN0511    DSCN0516 moon and venus

Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot abide what I call “out and back” exercises.  I will walk across Spain (12-18 miles a day) but I won’t walk to the corner and back.  The next few days were threatening to be nothing but “out and backs” and there was at least one unhappy camper (guess who!) in camp.  Anibal suggested that we take a morning paddle around the small island called Ballena (whale) that was just offshore of our beach.

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DSCN0519 crabs out on the island

I wasn’t buying what he was selling until he said we would land in a small cove South of our beach and that there was a hike we could do up and over the rocky outcrops and down into an even smaller cove next door.  That sounded a bit more interesting.  He got my full support when he also said that he knew where there were some pictographs up there and he’d show us them.  The pictographs are all done in red and are very faint, but we saw several of them.  In the end, only Steph and I did the hike part with him, but it was nice.  I especially liked the second part where we made our way down an arroyo to the second beach.  The arroyo was narrow and full of tumbled rocks.  When it rains, the arroyos become the vehicle for water runoff and so they often have little pools of water -and even waterfalls when the water is flowing.

DSCN0521  We climbed up that “hill” in the background    DSCN0522

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DSCN0541 Looking back the way we’d just come

After that, it was a quick paddle around the corner back to our camp.  There was a fresh-water well back toward the arroyo behind our camp.  It was nice to be able to have fresh water available for rinsing off after swimming and taking little open air baths!

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Everyone wanted to go see the sea lions so the next day we got up and left early to beat the crowds.  There was concern about the water being too rough (based on the way the wind was blowing in camp) but we went anyway.  After we left the protection of Espiritu Santo to make the short crossing to the colony, it became obvious that it was too rough to continue, so we turned around.  The rest of the day was sort of a lazy day at camp for most of us.  OK…probably mainly me… 😉

We had one more chance to get to the sea lions the next day and we took it.  Conditions were much improved and we were able to swim with them.  As you may recall, my one regret from the first trip was not being able to film them with the GoPro. Oddly enough, I still have that regret…  😦   The day before, Barb’s camera, which was just like my Nikon, died.  Since I was planning on using my video camera, we put her SD card into my Nikon and I handed her the camera to use.  No sooner had we suited up and jumped into the water, I realized that my GoPro battery was inexplicably drained and that there would be no video of the sea lions …again… Sigh….  I’d specifically been saving my GoPro in case I got a second chance.  I have no idea what happened.  Luckily Barb got some good photos with my camera and shared them with me.

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Once again it was time for our farewell “fiesta”.  Our last night.  We all stayed up a bit later than usual, but since they wanted us up and completely packed by 7AM the next morning -we called it a night by about 8 PM!  Yeah – we were wild and crazy out there.

Even though I wasn’t thrilled about sitting on Espiritu Santo for most of the trip, the good part about it was not having to put my tent up and down a bunch of times.  The bad part was that after so many days in one spot, the floor of the tent was starting to resemble a kitty litter box and it looked like my duffel bags had violently thrown up all my clothes!

For our last day, once we were packed up we decided that we’d paddle South along the island’s coast as far as we could before lunch and then the pangas would catch up to us and we’d load up for our trip back to LaPaz.  That day, we probably had the best conditions of the whole trip!  The water was relatively smooth and it was sunny -a lovely day.  This is the last picture I took:

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Right after that, my camera died.  It seems to have the same problem the other one in the group had.  It will be interesting to see if it can be fixed or not.

When the pangas caught us, we stopped at a beach, had lunch, loaded up and headed in.  On the way we did a little side trip in the big bay that La Paz is located on looking for juvenile whale sharks.  We found one!  It was pretty cool to watch it for a few minutes as it swam along just visible under the surface (then it dove deeper).  Whale sharks can reach a length of up to 65 feet!  The one we saw was maybe 10-15 feet.  Thank goodness they’re not the kind that have big teeth!

Once again, I was ensconced in the Hotel Marina.  We managed to round ourselves up for a farewell dinner and that’s the last I saw of my fellow adventurers.  I stayed in La Paz for an extra day and used my time to pack and wander around on the malecon for awhile.  They have lots of sculpture on the malecon and I got a few pictures with the GoPro.

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It was hard to believe it was time to fly home.  First, I had to take the van back to the airport.  Luckily, the driver took the route along the Eastern side of the peninsula -which made the trip about 3 hours instead of 4.  I was ready to go home, but it was also hard to leave.  As I said in the beginning, Baja is a very special place to me and I know I won’t wait another 15 years to go back.

Last sunset in La Paz DCIM100GOPRO



Categories: Baja 2013

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