Santa Rosalia: A French town in a Mexican Village

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IMG_2819 2Santa Rosalia was copper mining city for many years, and today, it’s also a jumping off point to cross the Sea of Cortez. With the shortest distance between two points (74nm), we will leave this town Thursday for San Carlos, on the mainland of Mexico – ending our Baja sailing season for 2018 and getting ready for hurricane season. The copper mining has left its mark with trains and mining equipment which was used to bring timber here from the Pacific NW – nearly all of the town and houses here are made from wood, which is highly unusual for the Baja.

 

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Leaving north for Santa Rosalia

 

This is our first marina since La Paz, over 3 weeks ago. We love being “on the hook” (at anchor), but it’s nice to pop into a marina every now and then to have a proper shower, do laundry, have endless supplies of electricity and explore a town.

 

 

There is a large French influence here, and it’s reflected in the architecture, the church and the bakery. The church was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel) for the Paris world fair in the late 1800s, then disassembled and shipped across the ocean to land here in this little town. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but it’s 100% steel and the internal ceiling looks like a boat with its trusses and support structures.

The bakery has delicious breads and baguettes – Mexican sweet bread cooked in 100+ year old wood ovens in a French style. Outstanding and delicious. (I had a churro here that was divine, too).

 

The bird life in the marina is outstanding – herons, pelicans, osprey, cormorants, terns and egrets are everywhere. I saw my first yellow-crowned night heron here – a lovely little heron with amber eyes and plumey feathers.

Next stop: San Carlos/Nuevo Guaymas 

Puerto Ballandra, Caleta San Juanico, Bahia Concepcion & Mulege

Sailing further north, we made a few stops and enjoyed seeing friends we have made along the way.

Puerto Ballandra is just 9 miles east from Loreto, so it’s an easy stop closest to a “big” town. We stopped here and found a great protected anchorage on Isla Carmen known for the repopulation of Big Horn Sheep (which we didn’t see, unfortunately). It’s part of the protected marine parks around Loreto, so the wildlife is abundant, and there is room in this anchorage for more than 10 boats. When the tide is low, the water table changes pretty dramatically (more than 4 feet); we were anchored in about 20 feet of water, and we woke up one morning to find ourselves in about 9 feet (the draft of our boat is 7!). We heard that there is wifi here from Loreto, but our booster didn’t pick it up. While there were no bees here, the mosquitoes here were fierce! This was the first and only place so far where we have seen mosquitoes (other than a few here or there in town). We were thinking of staying here longer, but we just couldn’t deal with these guys, so we left.

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Broad reach headed north

 

On our way to Caleta San Juanico, we had one of our best sails since being down here; a broad reach with ~15 knot winds, and we were doing about 6 knots in a comfortable heel. Quiet and peaceful. San Juanico is a wide bay that was supposed to be well protected from north winds, but our anchorage here was a bit rough and rolly. We held very well, but we decided to keep moving north (also, no wifi or cell signals). The bonus was no bees and no mosquitoes!

 

 

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The turquoise waters of Playa Santispac

The long 45 miles from San Juanico to Conception Bay takes all day, but it was a pleasant trip, mostly motor sailing as the wind was coming directly at us for most of the day. Getting into the bay is tricky as it’s very shallow on both sides of the bay; even 1/2 mile from the shore, we were still in only 10 feet of water, surrounding by submerged rocks and islands; it’s not a place you want to enter at night. The navigation markers on land are good but not plentiful, and being able to see the color of the water was one of the few ways we could tell if we were safely traveling or not. The charts were very inaccurate on the water depth. Places that were supposed to be 30 feet and deeper were less than 10 feet. We found a lovely little bay to tuck into called Santispac Beach with wifi at a couple of restaurants but no cell service.

Bahia Concepcion (or Conception Bay) is a long narrow bay that is supposed to be home to whale sharks, although we didn’t see any, we heard that they had just left a couple of weeks prior – next year, we definitely want to come back during this season! The anchorage and water here is exceptional and clean. We swam each day, snorkeled and enjoyed the lovely northwest wind that kept us cool and comfortable; with water temps in the low 80s, there was no shock when diving into the water. We were here during a very quiet period near the end of the season, but we have heard that during the busy season, the beaches are loaded with RVs and campers. With the proximity of Highway 1 just next to the bay, you do get some big rig noise pollution when they brake, coming down the hills, so although beautiful, it’s not the quietest of anchorages. No pesky mosquitoes or bees here, but we did encounter some nasty sand fleas which chewed up our ankles and shins one night at a local beach restaurant – best to stay on the boat!

It’s only 13 miles from a small town called, Mulege. You can’t really safely anchor in Mulege as it’s open to the sea and there is a river that winds up 2+ miles into town, so one day, we got up early and were going to hitchhike into town along Mexico Highway 1. We landed the dingy on the beach* and started walking to the highway, when a woman stopped us and asked us if we were headed into town. She was there to pick up someone who hadn’t shown up, so we were the fortunate recipients of a ride! She had errands to run, so we met her back in the main plaza several hours later where she gave us a ride back to the beach and our boat. Wonderful!

As it turns out, she was in Mexico (living) writing a biography on her late husband, Tap Tapley, who we learned was quite a character. They were married over 30 years, and she was a treasure and delight to talk to – after doing a little research, we understand her husband was the real deal – founded Outward Bound and lived quite a rich life. His wife, Anita, was pretty modest about it all – we hope to keep in touch with her! Characters abound in Mexico – you never know who you will meet by just saying “yes” to whatever comes your way.

Mulege is a lovely town (with 4G Telcel service!). Anita dropped us off at the top of the hill where the mission was built and has survived several hundred years of hurricanes and storms. The caretaker there opened the bell tower for us, and we climbed to the roof along narrow and steep stairs where we were afforded lovely views of the valley below. After visiting the mission, we had breakfast at a beautiful old hotel in town once inhabited by beloved Mexican poet, Alán Gorosave. The interesting thing about Mulege is how lush the landscape is; it’s an oasis in the desert, mainly due to the river running through the middle, with migrating birds and forests of date palms, coconut palms, mango and avocado trees.

As we left the bay in glassy conditions, a small pod of dolphins escorted us back out into the Sea  🙂

Next stop: Punto Chivato & Santa Rosalia

*We’ve never had any problems or heard of problems of theft here (other than in Cabo San Lucas), but we always take our key and lock the engine on the dinghy, so if someone were to be tempted, they would have to procure some very large boltcutters to get the lock off the engine to make the dinghy usable. 

DOLPHINS! at Honeymoon Cove

Less than 5 miles from Puerto Escondido, on Isla Danzante (Dancer Island), is a sweet little anchorage called Honeymoon Cove. It has three small bights for just a handful of boats. We got lucky and were the only ones around for a couple of days.

The cove is quiet and well protected from all winds except from the south, but it’s a fairly deep anchorage, so you have to watch your depth and swing – giving plenty of room for the beachy shoals on one side and the sharp rock cliffs on the other.

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Relaxing in Honeymoon Cove

The wildlife was incredible here – all hours of the day and night – the mobula rays were jumping, flying fish were flying, and our last day, we had a large pod of dolphins enter the cove and swim around and around our boat for more than 3 hours. It was one of the most beautiful things to witness: they created circles and bait balls to catch their prey, slapped their tails to stun the fish they were chasing, showed the babies how to do it, and then jumped for joy after they had their fill, occasionally swimming so close to the boat that all we had to do was walk laps on the deck for our front row seat. I came close to grabbing my snorkel and mask to jump in with them, but I had some trepidation for several reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to disturb their feeding frenzy
  2. Okay, the water is still pretty cold, and I’m now a super cold wimp
  3. They had babies with them, and I wasn’t sure how they would view my presence
  4. I was quite enjoying watching them from the comfort and dryness of the boat
  5. And, maybe I chickened out – not knowing what they would do with a human in the water in the middle of their bait ball – no regrets, though!

We had friends from the Catamaran Sea Rose join us for the show – they were anchored south a ways and took their dinghy in when they saw the huge pod approaching like an underwater army marching north!*

One night, we heard a ton of splashing and went out with our flashlight to see the mobula rays swimming under our boat, jumping out of the water, and wrestling their prey. Three of them (about 3-4 feet wide) came so close to the boat that they splashed us on the deck!

The only wildlife we didn’t like here were BEES. They weren’t aggressive, though, and they were mostly honeybees in search of fresh water. They literally swarmed our boat in the morning when the dew gathered on our lines and decks in the shade, and they swarmed us in the evening before the sun went down. We had to go to our “happy place”, shut up the boat (after the first night about 100 bees were trapped inside!), and play cribbage!

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Playing Cribbage in Honeymoon Cove

*We met Brian and Sue in Agua Verde; they have been sailing around the world since 2000, and in talking to them, we realized that I actually met them when I was in the Panama Canal aboard the Sea Shepherd, and they are also friends with one of my Sea Shepherd crewmates, Henri! What a strange, small world this is….

SAILING NORTH: San Evaristo, Agua Verde & Puerto Escondido

San Evaristo (May 10-11)

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Trash drop off with a seashell holding donations (at the base of sign in the old tire)

Continuing north, we found several great spots to anchor and tuck in while the SW winds were blowing. We arrived in San Evaristo – a tiny fishing village – to spend a night in a protected cove. There was a restaurant, and although it said it was open, it was closed. We asked the locals about it, and they said (as they usually do), “maybe mañana?” They have an honor trash bin, which means you can drop your trash and recycling off while leaving a tip – money just sits out in the open, and no one takes it.

This is Mexico 🙂

The small tienda (store) had a few things, and we bought delicious pears that were just delivered from the US – a real treat!

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Flying north at 7+ knots with new friends aboard Linda Marie & Wishlist

Agua Verde (May 11-13)

We sailed north to Agua Verde on a strong S wind which pushed us into a beautiful cove where we spent a couple of nights. The green water against a backdrop of mountains and white sand beaches is quintessential Baja and quite hard to describe the peacefulness.

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Agua Verde – looking out over the Northern Anchorage

We met quite a few other cruisers there and had an impromptu BBQ/bonfire on the beach. The next morning, we took a 5 mile hike up into the sea cliffs to see cave paintings/petroglyphs with incredible sea views, an ancient cemetery and a secret little oasis with fresh water and palms – it reminded me of one of our favorite hikes  just outside of Palm Springs.

In Agua Verde, they have a small restaurant run by a start-up all female co-op funded by the Mexican government where women and young girls learn how to cook, run a business and serve customers. It was a great little spot, and we were happy to give them our business. When we ordered something that they didn’t have on the menu (e.g. beer or soda), they just popped over to the store nearby to buy it for us.

There is a small tienda here that sells a large selection of fresh fruits and veg as well as local goat cheese – all of the goats live free in the mountains and you can hear the tinkle of their bells or their sweet bleating as they climb up and down the hills in search of their next meal.

Puerto Escondido (May 13-17)

I had work to do Monday morning, so we were seeking a spot with wifi. We heard that it could be found at an anchorage in Los Candeleros with a large resort nearby, but we didn’t want to risk it, so we went into Puerto Escondido, a hurricane hole just south of Loreto (confirmed later with friends that wifi signal is in fact strong there!).

On our way there, we had one of the most rewarding wildlife days since we have been sailing. There wasn’t much wind, so we were motor sailing, and we happened through a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins – hundreds of them swimming and jumping from west to east, so we turned the boat around and paralleled their path so as not to bother them but in the hopes that they would join our boat (which of course they did). Dolphins seem to love interacting with people. They enjoy swimming in the bow or wake of the boat, but our observations are that they stay with you longer if they can see you – I always jump to the bow of the boat and wave to them, talk to them, and they are always on the side of the boat that we are on – when we move, they move. They are simply the loveliest creatures alive, and with a brain larger than ours, and language more complex, I’m almost certain that they are more intelligent than humans. <PLEASE DON’T PAY TO SWIM WITH THEM & DON’T VISIT A DOLPHINARIUM>

The dolphins swam with us for about 30-45 minutes, swooping in and out, jumping and spraying us with water from their blowholes as they surfaced next to us. They are such adroit swimmers that when we sped up and turned, they sensed our movement before we made it, and with a flick of their tails were quickly out of the path of the boat. Immediately after we turned away from the dolphin pod, a baby humpback whale surfaced, slapping his tail on the surface of the water.

Then, 10 minutes later, we were greeted by a large manta ray feeding at the surface, gliding in and around the boat as we slowed, which then caused us to see 3 pilot whales just off the starboard side of our bow. It was an incredibly rewarding day and reminded me of all we have to be grateful for on this planet and how much responsibility we have to protect it!

Puerto Escondido is tucked into a hard to see harbor, protected on nearly 4 sides of mountains and low lying land – if you needed to escape from a storm or hurricane, this is just about the best place to do so. There is an office with wifi and meeting room, a restaurant, a small market, and an honor laundry where you pay the office for how many loads you do. They have a small chandlery and haul out as well as a small tour office for diving.

The bay is a field of mooring balls – easy to pick up and tie off. For those of you who have never done it before, you simply pick up the line in the water with a boat hook, tie off one end of your dock line to a cleat on the bow of the boat and then string the dock line through the loop on the mooring ball and go around the bow to create a V (or bridle)

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Looking east through one of the two “windows” in Puerto Escondido, tied to a mooring ball

and then tie off the other end on the other side of the boat on a cleat. We doubled tied ours with two docklines just in case. We asked the office when they had been last inspected, and they assured us that they were safely attached and secured.

 

We like being on mooring balls – it’s easier and more restful than being at anchor and yet you are still free and clear of other boats and people to have a quiet experience. There are supposed to be 117 mooring balls (1-40 for boats under 40’, 41-112 for boats over 40’, and higher numbers for really large boats), but we didn’t see that many – we tied up at #106.

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Kirby changing engine & generator oil while in PE

Loreto

If you want to visit Loreto, this is the best place to stay and leave your boat, as Loreto doesn’t have protected anchorage or a marina. And, if you want to get into Loreto, the best thing to do is arrange a car rental. The car rental will drop off your car at the marina office (Alamo) and pick up the car when you are done. We had a Volkswagen with A/C for $40/day including taxes and fees. If you get a taxi to take you to town and back, it will cost almost double that rate. With a car, you can load up on supplies and run any errands. We did some sightseeing but also ran some errands.

The mission and plaza are the highlights here, as is the Malecon. You only need a couple of hours to see the town, and it’s lovely with everything you’ll need to provision from an Autozone to grocery stores. You can reload/recharge your SIM cards in several markets (including Big markets) as there isn’t an OXXO in town.  There is also a farmer’s market on Sunday mornings in the plaza, and the BEST bread in town can be found at Pan Que Pan – delicious and light with a staff that is friendly and speaks English. You can also enjoy their fresh juices named after Superheros.

THIS PLACE IS LOUSY WITH TURTLES

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Sunset from Lodos

We were looking for a place to anchor and hide out on our way north with protection from the Coromuels (SW wind, similar to Lodos in Turkey), and we stopped at a national park called Isla Partida, which is just north of Espirito Santo, another national park. As we approached, there were leaping Mobula rays all around us and as we got closer into the island, we noticed so many turtles. I joked to Kirby that this place seemed to be just “lousy with them”! 🙂

After anchoring here for a couple of days, it turns out that we were right.

Isla Partida and Caleta Partida (our anchorage) is a sunken crater created from an ancient volcano. It’s a beautiful lagoon with a sand spit that you can dingy across in high tide, with numerous sea caves.

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The turtles are magical here. Dozens of them circled and swam near our boat each day – the sound they make when they surface is similar to an old man coming up for air after being below water for a long time. We watched a research group out of La Paz operate here, too; they have a camp on the beach with surface nets that they would drop and then check multiple times a day. We watched them haul out turtles, take them to camp, measure and tag them before releasing them. Each time they would see one in the net, a cheer would go up.  To me, it’s proof that when you protect a place, nature can rebound immensely!

There are a couple of fish camps here, too. There is a little old man on his fishing boat (panga) that makes his rounds each day asking for stuff from the boaters. Yesterday, he asked us for triple A batteries and today, a gallon of water. Paying the karma forward, we happily give these fisherman something and hope it helps them look kindly upon the people that use the waters that they claim as home.

Next post(s): San Evaristo, Agua Verde (30-50 miles north) & Puerto Escondido.