June 22, 2010

Swarms

Of dolphins:
Which we like.
And bees:
Which we don't like...
Each day we've sailed we've seen huge pods of fast moving dolphins. The waves they create make them look like a river as they travel at high speed in long tightly packed groups. One pod appeared to be a mile or more in length and was a dozen or more dolphins in width.
The bees are another story. We're seeing similar numbers of these creatures--but there is nothing endearing about having a thousand bees show up on your boat in search of water...
Making screens has just jumped in priority.

June 20, 2010

Fishless

One of the first things we did when we arrived in Mexico was buy our fishing licenses. I've been dreaming about Sea of Cortez seafood since the last time we were down here: visions of sierra and corbina danced through my head.

The reality is we've caught only three fish and kept just one. It was a good fish, but it wasn't the bounty we had in mind. It turns out the other cruisers we've been meeting have had the same experience. They've all caught a fish here and there, but fishing has been nothing like what we experienced 14-years ago.
The sea is full of fish-but they are small reef fish, not food fish
It turns out the world-wide trend of over-fishing ,which has depleted the ocean of 90% of world's big fish, has hit the Sea of Cortez. And it's not only cruisers who are feeling the pinch. All the fishermen we've spoken with are catching less, and working harder to get it.
Hard to imagine that a panga with two guys can be the cause of over-fishing
The good news is Mexico is recognizing that their sea (one of the most abundant in the world for dolphins and whales) is at risk and NGO's are rushing to sound the alarm. We met one worker in Agua Verde. Salvador spends his days recording what is caught, where it's caught  and noting the trends--his hope is the country (and the local fishermen) will see the need for reserves and preserves and save the fish in the sea.

For our part--we're living life with less fish. Savouring what we get, but choosing not to add more pressure to the ecosystem.
A lovely yellowtail, a sight that is becoming more rare

June 18, 2010

Cave Art - Agua Verde

While scrambling up the trail we speculated; why would someone climb a raggedy cliff up to a cave? The view, across the channel past Isla Santa Catalina, was one clue--it seemed to stretch endlessly—making the vantage perfect for sighting schools of migrating fish and whales, or approaching enemies. But when we entered the cave—with a low entry and high-roofed interior that was cool and spacious—we decided it seemed like the perfect place to sit out a hurricane, or summer heat wave.
The Cochimi Indians (the Baja's extinct first people) used caves such as the one we hiked up to, all over the Baja. They left behind stone tools and middens, but the artifact they are most famous for are the murals they painted on the cave walls. Some of the cave art is abstract in design, while some walls are decorated with intricate human and animal figures.
Ours, though, was red hand prints.
 I have to admit to feeling slightly ripped off by the pre-school type art. I knew it was handprints going in, but still, when I go to see art that's been preserved for a thousand or more years, I sort of expect a wow-factor. With stick figures and swirly designs you can at least contemplate what meaning the artist had in mind. With hand prints I visualized a reckless kid getting into her dad's paint, messing up the newly whitewashed wall, and then getting punished by being sent to the back of the cave, with the bats...
 The handprints were the clearest pictures. But when we examined other faded sections of wall we saw more painting—just a stroke here and a series of lines or a faded shape there, but it was enough to make our imaginations soar a bit.

If you want to follow in our footsteps take your dinghy around Punta San Pasquel (heading West) from the Agua Verde anchorage and land at the far end of the beach: N 25° 31.515' W 111° 05.709'
Walk inland (there's a rough path over some dunes and past a few cows) until you hit a dirt road. Follow it 2-3 minutes until you hit the trailhead at N25° 31.401' W 111° 05.716'. Take a right turn off the road and climb upward to the cave along a rough trail. About 15 minutes total walking time. It's not a trail for Tevas.
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June 16, 2010

Stolen Salt

 Los Gatos
I woke to the sunrise over the red rocks of Los Gatos and the promise of lobster. Everyday is like this. Well not red rocks and lobster specifically, but the promise of something new is always there.
In San Evaristo it was salt.
 San Evaristo at Sunset
I have clear memories of San Evaristo from last time: of walking along a dusty road, along side a dusty burro, heading nowhere specific, at a heat-induced leisurely pace. Together we crested a sun-baked hill and discovered a field of salt.
This time, when we walked the same dusty road, we only caught a glimpse of a baby burro hidden under a cactus, but there were dozens of cows to escort us. And when we crested the hill, we looked down at a much larger field of salt, as well as a half-dozen homes, which were tucked into the shade of towering date palms.
Salt is harvested in San Evaristo. Sea water is pumped across a stone breakwater into a flat field, where there are dozens of shallow evaporation pits. As the water evaporates it leaves ponds of blue-white crystal—from a distance they appear as dozens of back-yard skating rinks lined up side by side. When all the water is gone, the top layer of salt is shovelled into piles—and it was these heaps that caught my eye.

I wanted some of that salt.
We're not low on salt. We don't even use much salt. But the way the crystals glittered in the sun; the idea of going back to the boat without some was unbearable. It was like seeing a beautiful shell on the beach and not picking it up. You have to work really hard to come up with a reason to own a shell. They have absolutely no purpose other than they fill an ancient want. But they are almost impossible not to collect.
But, Evan pointed out, stealing from someone's personal pile of salt is not the same as picking up a shell. He also pointed out I had no way to carry salt. I considered emptying a water bottle for it, or filling my pockets, or just carrying it by the handful, or maybe finding a big shell to hold it.

Evan and Maia asked if I was suffering from sunstroke.
The phrase 'worth his salt' dates back to a time when men in the Roman army were paid their wages in salt. The substance had such value that enough could make you wealthy. The salt I held—course crystals, of the purist white—I had to imagine would have been most valuable of all. I tried to press it into a cake—similar to what the soldiers may have received. It crumbled and slipped through my fingers.
Salt melts in your hand, mixes with sweat and grows sticky. As I let my wealth go I decided to make a final hunt for something to carry it in. Not the camera case, not my hat, not the first aid kit, but this, the Ziploc bag that holds our toilet paper, would work. I filled it, surreptitiously—faintly aware that stealing salt is not normal. Maia joked about my possible prison sentence and the headlines, "Salt Thief Sentenced to Six Years Service in a Salt Mine". I wondered if I should take enough to give as gifts…
I only season my food with my Sea of Cortez salt now. Evan claims he can't taste the difference.
But I do.
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June 13, 2010

El Pardito

Of all the desolate places to live in the Sea of Cortez: Isla Pardito--which rises to about 40', is less than an acre in space, has no vegetation, and is one of the Sea's few inhabited islands—most begs the question why. We were told about fifteen people share the island—which has no water, no power and is quite terrible to be on during a storm.
When we anchored off the island the local pangerous came by to wave and point the way in. As we closed on the shore a fisherman waded out and helped us pull in the dinghy. We wandered through the tiny village—checking out the whale bone museum, stepping into the tiny church and buying shell necklaces from Senora Clara.

When we asked why people lived on the islet Clara explained in rapid fire Spanish how her husband's family had, had fish camps in other locations but then ended up permanently on Pardito. She may have told us the reason they ended up on the strange little rock—when all around are comparatively lush islands—but our Spanish wasn't up to the task of sorting that one out.

We learned from Clara that water and food come from San Evaristo—about 6 miles away. Or La Paz, 50 miles away. And that the children (there are currently five living on the islet) are schooled and boarded in La Paz and only return home for holidays. Life on Pardito is hand-to-mouth subsistence and we bought a half dozen pieces of Clara's pretty shell and bead jewelry—knowing the money makes every bit of difference.
It's hard not to feel like a tourist in a strange land in a place like Pardito; and wonder what life would be like there. Maia speculated we could walk around the entire island, including zigzagging across every dusty trail, in less than ten minutes. And as we wandered down to the shore, where the fishermen were preparing their day's catch to take to market, we tried to imagine ourselves living in such a place.

There were five other boaters down at the fish shacks—charter guests from Mexico city. They invited us to have freshly made (as in in front of our eyes) clam ceviche with them. As we chewed through Chocolate clam after clam doused with lime and chillies, one of the Mexican men told me he had been visiting the island for 30-years and that it hadn't changed in all that time. He told me that it was a special place that he loved bringing people too. I looked around at the weather-tired shacks and barren rock, and glanced at the jagged reef, washed with currents and bubbling with fish—and saw a hint of what he seemed to feel.
I asked if he knew why the first fishermen had settled on Pardito. "I never thought to ask them," he told me as he passed me another clam and with that simple gesture teaching me: it's enough that they are here.
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June 12, 2010

Stuff Breaks

It's pretty much a law of cruising that your stuff will break. Maybe not everyday, and maybe not all at once—but if you take all your possessions and expose them to heat, humidity and lots of shaking they just don't last as long as you might want. This means you need to do lots of preventative maintenance and become really comfortable with taking stuff apart. Because, for the most part, warranties really aren't that useful out here...
The problem is, once apart, things don't always go back together. No matter how carefully you disassemble them you always end up with a random spare part. Over the years we've probably ended up with enough bolts, bushings and whatchamadingies to build an entire somethingorother.
The other law of stuff breaking is it never breaks in a convenient location. Stuff gives up the ghost only after you've left a harbour with repair shops. Right now Evan is trying to fix two spear guns, do maintenance on two BCs, nurse two computers with intermittent faults and convince our camera it really wants to hang in there for a few more weeks. Our options for finding spare parts for this stuff is just about 0. So we either cobble together the repair—or learn to live without.
Sort of and intelligence test VS. enforced simplicity.
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June 11, 2010

Diving In

We've lived the past few days at the frenetic pace of a good vacation. Up for a nice breakfast-then out for a day of exploring.
Yesterday we pulled out the Scuba gear, and for the first time in what I finally calculated was 10 years!!, we went diving with Andy from Savannah.
 Andy's amazing photos
It's not quite like riding a bike.
Most of the skills did come back to me, but when a curious sea lion (lobos marinos) bumped me from behind I inhaled in shock and shot to the surface. I decided it counted as good practice to head back down again. And taking measured breaths I descended and ended up face to face with a big parrotfish who reminded me why I wanted the hassle of having dive gear aboard.

At the end of the dive we let Maia try breathing under water. She swam around with Evan-at about the 6 foot mark, bobbing to the surface now and again, but smiling hugely. Her only complaint was she missed seeing the big bull lion that suddenly appeared at our fins, making us decide it was time to head home.
There was no rest once we got back to the boat. After cleaning our dive gear we headed to shore for a hike. We decided our trail through a baked arroyo, over red rocks and through scrubby cactus must have been a bit charmed-each time we got lost a big desert hare would appear on the trail and get us back on track. The last time we saw it was when we were just metres from the beach and the dinghy.

Over dinner with the Savannah crew, Maia complained as the folks on what looked like a nearby charter powerboat pulled out every toy imaginable. They spent the evening (up to the last moments of a perfect sunset) wakeboarding, jet skiing, paddle boarding, kayaking and snorkeling. I thought the pace looked exhausting, but I understood. It's hard not to live every day as fully as you can out here.

But today, with Savannah headed back to La Paz and us heading north it feels like a regular day again. We'll sail to our next anchorage and catch up on a few chores-we may snorkel or hike, but we won't try for everything. The problem with living life like we're on vacation is, we're not. Although it's awfully fun to pretend we are.
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June 10, 2010

Friend of a Friend

The first time we headed off cruising, we left with a list of boat names and route plans-these were for people that friends, or friends of friends, knew were out sailing, somewhere. We also carried letters of introduction--an old-fashioned way to make the acquaintance of someone you might otherwise never meet.
I had almost forgotten these quaint (if inefficient) ways we used to use to meet people. After all, the cruising community is a tight knit one-and when we meet someone new, that six degrees of separation thing tends to be, at most, three. Add blogging to the mix and it's pretty much guaranteed that any new boat that shows up (especially if it's a catamaran with a kid aboard) will seem a bit familiar.
This is how it was when S/V Savannah pulled in to our anchorage yesterday. Unlike land based life, where it's considered nosy to stare at your neighbours, it's perfectly normal to openly observe other boats (or eavesdrop on them when they talk on the radio). So as they settled in, I was able to inform Evan and Maia that Savannah had a family of three aboard and the boat looked like a one-off cat, similar in size to ours. I put down my binoculars when they all loaded into their dinghy and sped over to our boat.
"We know someone in common," Monica told me. And she went on to explain how they had met good friends of ours (Cindy and Doug-Annapolis liveaboards) at an Annapolis boat show a few years ago and that they now kept in touch through blogging. Cindy had told them to keep an eye out for us. This is when I realized I had read their blog about Savannah over the winter-but the last time I had checked they were still a ways from being ready to leave San Diego.
We continued the conversation as we went to shore and hiked up a steep arroyo together. Maia helped 4-year-old Jake, while we filled in the gaps that our quick intro hadn't covered. Later we visited them on their boat for appies-and the wine and snacks stretched late into the night. So we made plans for diving today-just to stretch the meeting a little further.

I came across some of our old letters of introduction when we were preparing for this trip. The formal language seemed silly and stilted, but I thought about keeping them. Then I realized blogging and email had taken the place of those letters. I felt a bit nostalgic when I recycled the letters go-thinking a quick intro by email could never really replace those long missives, filled with flowery prose that extolled our virtues to a stranger.
But this morning-as I look out the window at Savannah, and realize we easily could have shared this anchorage and never learned that Andy is an underwater photographer, Monica makes a tasty ceviche and Jake can climb like a little mountain goat, it seems clear that any introduction is a good one.
So thanks, Cindy.
*I'll add Savannah's blog to my list when we next have email, but you can find it by clicking on Zach Aboard and them checking Cindy's blog roll.
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June 8, 2010

See Life

We woke feeling it was like a holiday. I finished my last emails, and then we pulled up the anchor and left the Internet and our final connection to land-life behind for a couple of weeks. I felt a bit jittery at the thought of no Interweb. It's funny-how something that was barely invented the last time we went cruising has grown into such a tether.
But un-tethered we sailed, until we reached a little anchorage near Isla Islotes.
Islotes is a Sea Lion breeding rookery where some of the Sea's 30,000 California Sea Lions breed and give birth. Birthing season starts in May and ends in July-so right now the isla's rocks are covered in new pups. They are also filled with protective males, who snort, and burp, and bark, and chase away any threat to their families. Because of this aggression, June isn't the optimum month for a visit to the rookery. But we were told if we were respectful and let the Sea Lions come to us, it would be safe to swim with them. Yup, swim with them…

If you've ever seen a Sea Lion up close, you'll know they are big. And when you're in the water with them and one wants to look you in the eye, they appear even bigger.
Our behaviour seemed to mirror the Sea Lions when we jumped in the water. Our big male (Evan) got in first a made sure things were safe, then me (the mama) got in with her pup. My pup was a bit nervous as we got our bearings and she held my hand tightly. But Islotes is a park-and the life is big and varied, and pretty soon Maia was fascinated by all the fish that were new to her and was free diving down to have a closer look.
Then the first Sea Lion came to see us. It was a playful juvenile and Maia grabbed my hand tightly and squealed as the little Sea Lion swam up to us and did a backward flip away and then reappeared from behind us. Maia continued to cling as more and more Sea Lions came to see us-at first it was just the curious juveniles, sleek and agile they swam circles around and below us--making us giggle at their antics. Then a mama brought her pup to see us. It clung closely to her on their first few circuits-riding on her back but eyeing us closely as she circled around us.

My pup held on tightly too-her eyes big as saucers, her breath coming in excited gasps while she watched the pup watching her. Then I watched as the mama pulled away from her pup and let him come see us on his own-I was a bit awed by her bravery, even though it felt familiar.
"I want to dive down, on my own, like the pup," Maia told me as she let go of my hand. And I watched her dive-sleek and curious-without me.
*we have neat videos of both Maia freediving and the mama and pup circling that we'll add to this post when we next have Internet.
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June 7, 2010

She's Got the Cruising Thing Down...

One day back out, and Maia has the cruising thing down to an art. Her hammock is strung between the dinghy davits and is in the shade of the solar panels. Her snazzy suit is a custom, lycra jellyfish guard we had made at Katty's in La Paz (cost <$30--check the Club Cruceros guide for more info on how to get one.)

She didn't stay chilled out that long--pretty soon we headed off for a snorkel and to visit some newly hatched seagulls.

June 6, 2010

Leaving La Paz


 We left La Paz today. After stocking up with everything we thought we might need and finishing as many projects as we could before the heat makes them too difficult, we spent a final couple of days just enjoying the town and getting to know a few more people. Then we hauled up an anchor rode that was growing mussels, filled our fuel tanks and set out.

  The Dockwise boat, loaded up with vessels not making the 'bash' back up to Washington and BC. These boats are going home after months or years of cruising.

We’ve hit the point in the cruising season where those who are going elsewhere have gone, those who are heading home are on there way and those who are leaving their boats and heading to cooler climes are packing up. The heat is rising, hurricane season is beginning to seem more real, and our numbers are dwindling.
 The goo on our anchor chain tells us it's time to go

The good part is we’re almost done with goodbyes for the summer. Pretty much from here on out, the boats we hang out with will be the ones who are summering up in Camp Cortez.

I remember the last time we summered in the Sea as one of the most relaxing and magical periods in my adult life. So tonight as we watch the light change on the red desert rocks, and let the red wine seep in, it’s hard not to feel just a little excited.

The fact that a manta ray just came by to greet us only adds to the pleasure.
 

June 3, 2010

So Close.

I was sitting in the dentist's waiting room, reading the local Gringo Gazette, when a headline caught my eye: “Post Office to Assign Street Addresses.”

Many buildings in La Paz don’t have numerical addresses. And the ones that do--well, they picked them themselves. This means you can be walking up the street and (true story) in the same block pass a house with no number, then two houses that both have the number #16, then a store with #802 and another with #1115, while across the street you might see a #10 and a #304B. When I asked about the variation, I was told (in a tone that made it obvious that the answer was obvious…) that people simply chose the number they liked for their address.
 Shops and stores will have just about any detail you need noted on the exterior--just not an address
You don’t need street addresses when mailing things to La Paz, or when finding places in La Paz. Real addresses look like this: Altamirano e/ Bravo y Ocampo, which means the business or home in question (or, in this case, my dentist) is found on Altamirano--somewhere between Bravo and Ocampo Streets but not as far up as Ruiz. This is great, and a perfectly straightforward way to give an address, unless the street is particularly crowded, or the building has a bunch of floors, or (and this is key) if it’s in a place where 80% of intersections don’t have street signs…

Luckily I’m familiar with Ocampo Street. So I began walking up it in search of Altamirano. After several blocks I found one street sign, which was broken across the middle. And because street names are actually things like “Ignacio Altamirano” and “Prof Marcelo Rubio Ruiz” in full, a break in the middle turned out to be a pretty big issue.
 Finding places tends to be a trial and error thing--typically we'll set out for one store and fail to find it, but find a suitable substitute
So I decided to head across to Bravo, hoping it might have more street signs. And then after going what seemed like too many blocks, I backtracked a bit. Normally, we use a map and count off streets. I was distracted by a really cute shoe store though (which had really nice leather flip flops--utterly impractical) and forgot if I was on Prieto or Serdan when I began counting, so I wasn’t sure if I had five more blocks to go, or six.

By the time I found my dentist I circled three extra blocks, which was pleasant enough, and pretty much par for the course, and also the reason I gave myself extra time to get there. It was also a minor enough getting lost moment that it left me time to read the news story about addresses. I thought, as I pondered the headline, how straightforward it would have been to simply know the street number of where I was going. I thought about how well the whole numerical order thing works in so many other places…

So I read through the story eagerly—the article explained the numerical system, told readers how to get their numbers and then finished with the tidbit that numbers are optional and not many people are planning to try the new system.

So close…