Sunday, August 28, 2016

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Espiritu at anchor in El Quemado, near Bay of LA. This particular 
early morning was like a brushed sliver of heaven. 

We've been in the Bay of LA area for a few weeks now.

The big news is we had the amazing privilege of swimming with whale sharks.

A group of 6 of the big guys came swimming around Espiritu one morning.

Now was our chance.

We donned our masks and flippers and slid beneath the surface.

Chris swims with a whale shark

The Bay of LA -- and the Sea of Cortez in general -- are two of the few places in the 
world where this experience is possible. 

The pod swam around Espiritu, anchored in the Bay of LA, and 
we jumped into the dinghy to take some photos 

Swimming amongst these great beasts was an intense, emotional experience. We knew going in that they are more whale than shark -- they have no teeth, as they inhale plankton, like whales.

Still, they are titanic creatures. One was close to 50 feet long. And anyway, who needs teeth when you've got gigantic, quivering gills that looked as if they might suck me in and obliterate me with a single deep, watery breath.

Me swimming with TWO whale sharks

At one point I was in between these two. 

I was a whale shark sandwich!

That was a daunting moment, and this Wimpy Cruiser had to take some deep breaths through my skinny little snorkel and drum up some vastly needed courage.

Afterwards, Chris and I were quiet for a long time. What a powerful experience we had! How would we top this? Humbled and deeply gratified, we settled into life around Bay of LA village.

Guillermo's restaurant and hotel is the 
cruiser's hangout in Bay of LA Village

I found this smashed guitar in a trash can in town. Oh, noes!
I have a feeling there was a night that did not end well...

Chris walks on one of the dusty streets in the village. Off in the distance you 
can see the cruising fleet in the anchorage.

Bay of LA Village has a few restaurants and hotels, and 3 or 4 mercados. 

They also have a small clinic which I decided to visit. As I swim every day (and 
sometimes several times a day) my ears are a constant problem. 

I walked into the clinic and was beckoned to the triage chair by a young man of about 18.

I told him I was having pain in my ears, and he began writing notes on the "chart."

This is my clinic chart. Welcome to Mexico! 

After I told him about my ear pain,  he promptly grabbed my finger and started swabbing it with alcohol.

"Hey...what in the hell are you doing?" I thought...then...


Without warning or explanation, he stuck me! 

He then proceeded to check my blood sugar. 

For ear pain! 


I then nervously waited for the result, as getting Type 2 diabetes in your 50's in America is now pretty much a rite of passage, like getting your first solicitation letter from AARP. 

Also, I had just had pancakes for breakfast. With sugar free syrup, though!

My result was 105. Yippee! (Normal is 80 - 120). Looks like I've managed to dodge that bullet so far. 

I realized that here in Mexico if you're older than 40 and you walk into a clinic for any reason, they automatically take your blood sugar first thing. So a typical older, overweight man coming in to be seen for a bad case of bronchitis is told, by the way, that his blood sugar is way above normal and he'd better start managing his diet and come back in and see the doctor and get this thing managed.

Great idea. They should start doing that in the states as well. 

Getting sideswiped and suckerpunched by a high blood sugar result when all you wanted was some Cipro for your bronchitis may be as effective a tactic as anything else.

Meet the cool BLA clinic doctor. He's from African Guiney. He speaks French, 
and a bit of Spanish. No English. And by the way, ya gotta love his doctor dress code. 
Shorts and flip-flops. Sign me up! 

Unfortunately the battery in his otoscope was dead. The doctor asked me in French/Spanish if I could come back the next morning after the otoscope charged overnight so he could look in my ears. No problem!  Since the whole clinic visit was gratis, I couldn't exactly complain.

After getting a clean bill of (ear) health the next morning, we decided to provision and head out to explore some of the many coves in the BLA area.

The checker at the Dos Pinos tienda is nine years old. 

Welcome to Mexico!

I had to credit my husband: a few minutes after leaving the store with our groceries, he figured out that the little girl/checker accidentally gave us way too much change (that's a downside with having a nine year old grocery checker -- limited mastery of mathematics), so he ran back and gave her the money owed.

Awwwww. I love that guy! XOXOXO 

We sailed over the La Gringa cove for the BLA Full Moon Party -- an 
annual cruiser's event we've been hearing about for weeks. 

Full moon in the Bay of LA

The reason we go to La Gringa at the full moon is because there is a lagoon and estuary which becomes a small little rushing river during the full moon tides. 

Count us in!

The "river" enters at the left, curves around the hairpin turn and dumps the floating cruisers into the sea. It's the closes thing to "running the gauntlet" we've got down here. We rode the mini-rapids over and over again all afternoon. Simple pleasures...

After our floaty river rafting afternoon, we dingied onto the beach for a potluck.

Desperate for any kind of diversion in this isolated place, our fellow cruisers have come to rely on Chris and I for musical entertainment at these get togethers.  They're a captive audience!

Chris happily fiddles next to the green 
estuary teeming with wildlife

Me and Brenda of s/v Firefly performed our locally-world-famous version  
 of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." Note DeeAnne in the upper left corner. 
She appears deeply moved by our rendition -- or she's got indigestion. :-} 

As the sun went down, this cloud appeared lit from within

This, give or take several boats, is our hardy "Summer in the Sea" crew: s/v Mystic Island,
 Stryder, Neeltze, Kashmira, Linger Longer, Firefly and Manta. 

We fashioned a fire pit out of a discarded tire rim.
Welcome to Mexico!

Next, we sailed south to the El Quemado anchorage.

Sailing south, we passed this amazing natural rock formation. Something dramatic 
happened on this spot millions of years ago!

Espiritu sits at anchor in unspeakably gorgeous El Quemado anchorage

One evening after dinner, I was in the galley doing dishes when I heard the unmistakable hooting and hollering of a drunken party boat outside the window.

Whaaaa? A Cabo-style drunken party boat? Here? In the middle of nowhere?

I scampered out into the cockpit.

The party-hardy, whooping, hooting and hollering was not a Cabo-style party boat.

It was a pack of howling coyotes on the beach! 

Note: howling Cabo partiers sound exactly like howling coyotes.
(courtesy of

It was interesting to note that pretty much the exact moment the sun fell behind the mountains at sunset is when the coyotes started howling! It couldn't have been a coincidence. Chris pointed out that they were probably excited because nighttime means: the hunt. 

And, not unlike Confederate soldiers crying a Rebel Yell as they go into battle, these coyotes were hungry and ready to head out and find some prey.

Human, coyote and great blue heron footprints on the El Quemado beach

I can climb it! I can climb it!

A rare fog bank hovers over the desert

In places like El Quemado, Chris and I really thrive. We spent our days here snorkeling and spearfishing the vibrant reef, walking the beach and exploring. 

Now that our summer in the Sea of Cortez is nearing it's end, I have to say that it has exceeded my expectations -- impossibly clear and warm water, clean air and blue skies all around with unlimited views of the distant mountains.

We're so happy just being here. 

Just being. 

Catching our own food, living off the grid, making our own water and electricity via our solar panels -- it's an amazing way of life. 

Fortunately we like each other's company. I feel happier, more relaxed and more connected to the natural world around me at this moment than ever in my life.

It's as if we're rats who have removed ourselves from the Rat Race. For now, anyway. We know that eventually we'll have to go back to work. But now now. Not yet.

I'm thinking -- quite irrationally, I know -- that I don't want it to ever end.

I'm feeling a bit like Thelma in my favorite movie, "Thelma and Louise."

Thelma: "Let's keep going..."

Do I sound a bit crazy? Well, maybe I am.

Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. They have that effect on you. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Our First Hurricane

Remnants of Hurricane Javier enter Bay of Los Angeles from the south

We left San Francisquito with two buddy boats and headed north to our ultimate destination of summer in the Sea of Cortez: the Bay of Los Angeles.

The map shows our route from San Francisquito 
north to Bahia de Los Angeles

It was flat calm and hot -- a perfect day for a motorboat ride.

S/v Vivacia motors north alongside us through the tropical heat

About halfway through our journey, Captain Chris suddenly yelled out: "Oh, no!"

He quickly killed the motor, turned over the helm to me and scampered down to the engine. 

"We're dead in the water," he said.

We called our buddy boats s/v Vivacia and Stryder on the radio and filled them in. Chris was fairly certain we blew a bolt in the raw water pump. He couldn't be sure, though. We needed to get to a safe harbor where Chris could take the engine apart, diagnose and fix the problem.

Unfortunately, as there was no wind, we could not sail.

Jeff and DeAnne of s/v Stryder volunteered to tow us to Bahia de Los Angeles.

Wow. We couldn't believe their generosity -- and we gratefully accepted.

Our good buddies on s/v Stryder tow Espiritu to 
Bahia de Los Angeles

We passed the majestic Coronado Volcano as we entered the Bay of LA. Wow! I was inspired -- excitedly I announced on the radio to our buddy boats that we MUST climb it! But first, we had an engine to fix.

We entered the harbor, Jeff and DeAnne dropped the tow line and we promptly dropped the anchor.

The next morning Chris awoke early and began working on the motor. Within 2 hours he diagnosed the problem and repaired the damaged raw water pump.

We went ashore and gratefully took Jeff and DeAnne out to dinner in gratitude for their above-and-beyond help during our engine failure.

A Trump speech was playing on the TV at the restaurant -- YIKES!

We poked around town, exploring for the first time. We heard the town had hired a band and there would be dancing, so we checked it out!

I'm blurry because I'm dancing to the music!

We nabbed some WiFi and got the latest weather. 

Oh, no. Category 1 Hurricane Javier was south of Cabo San Lucas and predicted to head north. According to this weather map, it could be directly over our heads in 72 hours.

Well. Here we go. 

The next morning, the several sailboats in the greater Bay of LA area all headed into 
the nearby Don Juan anchorage, a well known "hurricane hole."

The odds were on our side, though. The reason we're all up this far north for the summer is that hurricanes tend to peter out before they arrive at this latitude.

Several of us settled in to the beautiful Puerto Don Juan to await Hurricane Javier

Once we all arrived at Don Juan, we had some time to kill as we waited for the storm. Jeff of Stryder did some serious clamming on the beach and invited us all over for a clam bake!

Clam bake!

I might look excited in the photo, but actually I was a "Wimpy Cruiser." That's because I had never actually tried clams before.  Clams, oysters, snails, liver -- you know -- foods that tend to squeak when you chew them -- these I had avoided until now.

But I dug deep and bravely dove in -- and of course, I'm now a convert. Simply delicious!

By the next morning, Hurricane Javier had already been downgraded to Tropical Storm Javier, and was rapidly losing strength to become Tropical Depression Javier. 

A coyote ambled by the anchorage in Puerto Don Juan, 
unconcerned by the weather report

In the end, all we got was a bit of rain, some 30 knot winds and a a 
not-so-exciting story to tell all of our friends.


Relieved, we pulled anchor and returned to the Bay of LA village anchorage, where we did have some  unsettled weather for a couple of days as the storm remnants blew through. 

Weird cloud over Coronado Volcano

Whitecaps in Bay of LA

The next day Bay of LA bloomed with green!

It's inspiring how little rain it takes to make the desert spring to life

And did I mention it's hot? 

Each afternoon, at the moment the sun falls behind the mountains, folks in the village slowly emerge from their homes. Gentle smiles slowly appear on face after face, 
as one by one they go down to the sea.

They enter the water like a sacrament, as if to say 
"Yes! We have survived another blindingly hot desert summer day, and it is good to be alive."

Now that we've emerged unscathed through our first (and hopefully only!) hurricane scare, we plan to spend the next few weeks exploring the Bay of LA and the islands that surround her.

Gracias a Dios!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Shark Hunting in San Francisquito

                         "In the desert, you often get a sense of being in a trance
                                                       -- of time standing still. 
                                                 It's a special kind of existence."

                                                                              -- Martin Scorcese 

Me on heavenly Bahia Santa Elena near San Francisquito. Note my 
footprints through the deep, sugar-soft sand... :-) 

After shoving off from Santa Rosalia at 1:30AM, we sailed north through 30 knot winds and lightning and arrived at San Francisquito the next day.

The map shows Santa Rosalia and Bahia San Francisquito

We followed our buddy boat s/v Kashmira into the tiny Cala San Francisquito, 
the eensy-weensy inner harbor.  They had recently anchored there and assured us that the little harbor is 11-13 feet deep -- more than deep enough for us.

According to our cruising guide, teeny Cala San Francisquito is supposed to be only 4-9 feet deep,
 as the image above shows. 

Espiritu rests in 13 feet of water at Cala San Francisquito -- 
NOT the 6-9 feet as the guidebook shows

Take this information with a grain of salt -- but 5 year old guidebooks say this little harbor is 9 feet deep, and now it's 13 feet deep. Climate change/sea level rise deniers, take note... #justsayin' 

Not 10 minutes after we dropped anchor, we saw this sight off our starboard bow:


What in the hell...?

In all of our years on the ocean, this is the first time I've actually seen a 
Jaws-like shark fin slice through the water. 

Coincidentally, our friends Steve and Sue of s/v Kashmira were excited to take us ashore and introduce us to their friend Beto the shark hunter, who lives just off the beach. 

Wait -- Beto the shark hunter?

Is this some sort of shark haven? It didn't say anything about that in the cruising guide...

Welcome to Playa San Francisquito -- evidently the shark capital of the Sea of Cortez!

Thousands of little pink crabs swarmed the beach in great waves 

Note the grumpy little face and the one giant pincer. This is not a birth defect -- 
they're all this way, apparently an evolutionary adaptation over the millenia.

We climbed the steps and approached the house of Beto the Shark Hunter. He greeted Steve and Sue warmly, who have known him for many years. 

This shark mural greeted us on Beto's front porch

Sharks teeth hang on the wall of the house of 
Beto the Shark Hunter!

Now a bit concerned, I started peppering Beto with questions, like: "Well, the sharks around here are smaller, less lethal species, right? There aren't any great white sharks around here, are there?"

"Oh, si there are..." said Beto the shark hunter. 

Whelp. Really? Great whites? In the Sea of Cortez?

I had more questions:

"Well, in all of the years you've lived here, you've never heard of any swimmers actually being killed by a great white, have you?"

Beto: (pause) "Well...when it's your time, it's your time!" he said with an impish grin and a wave. 


Chris sits with Beto the Shark Hunter on his comfortable porch.
Beto told us that five different rattlesnakes had slithered onto this very porch in the last 24 hours. 

Lift those feet, Chris!

Here's the thing about Beto, though. Don't be fooled by his humble appearance. He is actually educated and quite sophisticated. He lived in New York City for several years and is quite the businessman -- he owns and rents out the vacation properties on the beach.

 I started to think that Beto was having fun with me and slightly embellishing his shark and snake tails for his own amusement. 

But I couldn't tell for sure. 

The towel rack in Beto's bathroom is an actual whale bone

We thanked him for his hospitality and returned to the beach.

One of Beto's beachfront rentals in San Francisquito

grass and sand

Steve and Sue told us about a gorgeous beach called Santa Teresa -- about a 
mile walk across the desert. We headed off.

The trail to Bahia Santa Teresa

Chris stands next to a gigantic cactus -- hundreds of years old!

Me taking direction and running on an abandoned runway

Finally we arrived at beautiful Bahia Santa Teresa 

There was an abandoned vacation house on the beach. While it had been battered
 by hurricanes in recent years, it still had good bones. 

We fantasized about buying the house with 
s/v Kashmira and fixing it up together

The house was open, so we went in and poked around.

Oh noes! The abandoned vacation house had a "World's Most Dangerous Sharks" poster on the wall! 

Soon my imagination began to run wild...what actually happened to 
the owners of the house, anyway?

Eaten by great whites, perhaps?

Wasp nest under a spray deodorant can in the 
medicine chest of the abandoned vacation house

We walked back back across the scorchingly hot desert to the anchorage.

On the hike this giant sticker cluster seemingly jumped off the ground and imbedded itself under my skin. Once they've pierced the skin surface, they expand and are very difficult to remove. I was worried for a few minutes if it had pierced my achilles tendon.

I was finally able to remove the stickers, and we continued on through the desert.

Once we arrived at the anchorage, sharks be damned, I went for a good long swim.

Chris went spearfishing and brought home two bleeding triggerfish without getting mauled by one of the big guys -- yay!

Amongst cruisers, San Francisquito is not known for marauding sharks or poisonous rattlesnakes, but for that other virulent attacker: bees.

The next morning we awoke to find dozens of the little buggers swarming the cockpit, which presented a problem: We were out of underwear and we had to do laundry.

I reminded myself that the bees don't want me -- they are in search of water. So I washed our laundry in the kitchen sink, took a deep breath and scampered up to the bow to hang the laundry.

Immediately the bees swarmed from every direction, and I only got one sting as I quickly and bravely clipped the clothes to the lifelines.

The bees took great gulps of water as they swarmed our clean laundry.
I guess I should thank them -- they helped the clothes to dry more quickly.

Unfortunately my bee sting developed into a large cellulitis on my thigh. I treated myself with Keflex and within 48 hours the infection had cleared. 

I had a dream that I was ambushed by a giant bee/wasp mutant that had two stingers -- one so large that he carried it beside him like a great appendage...gee...wonder why I had THAT dream? 

(Sometimes a stinger is just a stinger...)

The next day we welcomed s/v Linger Longer, Stryder, Firefly and Vivacia to the anchorage.

cactus and boats 

This giant moth desperately wanted to enter Espiritu. About 6 inches across, 
he pressed himself desperately against our bug screen.

Ted and Brenda invited the fleet aboard s/v Firefly for a potluck. At sunset, we all stood on the bow in silent amazement and watched the International Space Station gently float across the darkening sky.

The next night we had a bonfire (AKA trash burning party) on the beach.

Chris and I brought our guitar and mandolin to the beach bonfire

Beach bonfire at San Francisquito

After 10 days here, we pulled anchorage and headed north to Bahia de Los Angeles
 without seeing another 
shark since that fin sighting on day one...

...which meant our stay here was pretty spectacular. :-)   #grateful