The wind in the Sea of Cortez at this time of year is pretty much all or nothing. The predominant wind runs north west to south east along the inside length of the Baja peninsular, so basically cruising the coast northwards is a continuous beat against the wind. Most boats move about during the lulls, in-between the strong ‘northers’ that accelerate their way down the coast every few days creating very short steep waves. Sailing against this sea is second only to beating from Panama to Puerto Rico, not a pleasant experience.
After leaving the wonderful anchorage at Bahia Los Muertos we made our way up to a small bay called Bahia Falsa just a few miles from the town of La Paz just in time for another norther. It had great protection from the wind and sea with turtles surfacing around the boat and a resident osprey keeping us entertained as she circled above and landed on her favourite cactus. Looking out at the huge waves rolling past the entrance to the bay towards La Paz, we were pleased to have such good protection. The harbour in La Paz is often closed in these conditions and not surprisingly so.
When the weather settled we kayaked around the small coves in the bay, landed on the beach and caught a taxi into town for some much needed provisions. I am pleased to say the stores in La Paz are plentiful and well stocked so we filled our boots with fresh fruits and veggies. It’s also great to be able to afford to treat ourselves to lunch when we are out, the food (and beer) here is excellent and such good value.
We had been settled in the bay for a few days, two northers had come and gone, when we discovered our friends Ted and Barbara were also in La Paz so we took the opportunity to go in to the harbour and anchor near them for a night so that we could go out to dinner and catch up. Boats at anchor here are known to do the ‘La Paz Waltz’ as current overtakes wind and boats do all sorts of strange things depending on their keel shape and size so boats keep their distance from one another to avoid collisions. It was great to spend time with Ted and Barbara who we first met in Cuba and haven’t seen since Panama, and of course to sample some great Mexican cuisine together in town.
With a brief break in the weather we made the short hop to a beautiful island about 18 miles north of La Paz, Isla Espiritu Santo which translates to The Island of The Holy Spirit. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 and is a designated protected area for flora and fauna. Now uninhabited, this ecologically rich island was once home to the Pericu Tribe who were known to be fisherman, hunters with bow and arrow, and seed and root gatherers. They were a nomadic pre-Hispanic race, living in caves all along the desert Baja peninsular and on the numerous islands. It is believed that they populated this region for around 30,000 years, vanishing more than 200 years ago. Analysis of the Pericu skulls has found them to be linked to the aborigines native to South East Asia and the Pacific.
The island has some great anchorages and a few challenging hikes into the interior. Ensenada de la Raza provided good shelter from yet another northerly for a few days in the lee of a beautiful pink cliff. We kayaked to the small beach surrounded by mangrove and scrambled the hill to get a view of the bay, admiring the many flowering plants thriving in the rocky terrain.
We found ourselves totally smitten with a small cove called El Mezteno (meaning The Untamed). It certainly lived up to its name, with a family of three ospreys visiting every day, a dozen or so pelicans diving for fish, the odd blue footed booby, a sea lion hunting around the boat at night and a small seal during the day. We have watched rays leaping from the water, one ray did 8 leaps consecutively which is the most we have ever witnessed, and a Mahi Mahi chasing a school of fish by the boat occasionally breaking the surface of the crystal clear water with his wing-like dorsal fin.
On our first afternoon in the cove we had attempted the hiking trail which follows the arroyo, the bed of a dried watercourse which runs through a steep sided canyon, actually it’s more of a rock climbing expedition than a hike as the arroyo is full of huge boulders and rocks. After 2 hours of climbing and searching for the cairn markers, little piles of rocks marking the rough course of the trail, it was clear that we were nowhere near the end as the arroyo continued to twist and turn around the hills. So we turned back to make sure we would get back to the beach before dark, intending on trying again the next day and making a day of it. Actually we ached so much the next day that neither of us fancied another rock climb so soon. So after a chill out day watching the diverse nature in the bay (and I varnished the handrail) we made attempt number two this time making an early start (well, 10.30am is early for us..) armed with a packed lunch and two bottles of water. Our second attempt was much quicker as we had more of an idea of the route to take and what we were in for.
It was a wonderful day of discovery, and a few more cacti injuries. It’s incredible how these things pop up in a small crevice of a big boulder, and for some reason your hand is drawn to it like a magnet.
The island is a fascinating mixture of rock types and formations, cacti and wild flowers, all surviving in this harsh landscape. We have seen a variety of lizards, a round-tailed ground squirrel, hummingbirds, song birds, crickets, a miniature frog which I almost stood on, as well as all sorts of buzzing insects and butterflies making the most of the wild flowers.
I really wanted to spot the Babisuri, a ring-tailed large eared cat known to live here, but all we saw of this illusive creature were its droppings! We also finally spotted the song bird that we have been listening to for a few days, singing his heart out on a boulder just above us. From the photo I was able to identify it as a Canyon Wren. I found this lovely description in the Audubon field guide, it fits exactly with our findings!
One of the best songsters in the west, the Canyon Wren is usually heard before it is seen. Surprisingly elusive and skulking even in open terrain, this dark rusty wren disappears and reappears as it creeps about the jumbled rocks of an eroded cliff or steep canyon wall. If the observer waits, the bird will eventually jump to the top of an exposed boulder to pour out another song, a rippling and musical cascade of notes, well suited to beautiful wild canyons.
After a hot 2.5 hours over some tough terrain and a scramble up the last few metres we were rewarded with spectacular views over Caleta Partida (our next anchorage) in between Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida to the north (named ‘The Island that Parted’ as it was once joined to Espiritu Santo). A tuna and sweetcorn roll never tasted so good.
There was a slight hindrance to the proceedings when the soles fell off both of Jez’s trainers! He climbed some of the way up and most of the way back in just socks, as you can imagine that’s a recipe for disaster where our prickly little friends are concerned (not to mention the Babisuri and squirrel droppings!). We arrived back at our kayak waiting patiently on the beach, with a few scrapes, pricks and bruises (thats us, not the kayak), just as the sun started to make her daily retreat below the cliffs of the mainland in the far distance. What timing, we had really earned our beer o’clock.
We were so pleased when Ted and Barbara caught us up for a couple of days, and we had company exploring the fascinating sea caves by dinghy on the east coast of Espiritu Santo.
The anchorage at Caleta Partida, which we had looked down over from Espiritu Santo on our previous hike, was very pretty and full of life although a little wind-blown. It’s incredible to think that this anchorage was once the crater of a volcano, over thousands of years the crater eventually eroded below sea level losing its western and eastern edges. The pretty beach here also had cat foot prints, more firm evidence of the Babisuri. While I hadn’t been so mean to laugh at Jez when it was his turn to be attacked by a cactus, I must admit I did have a little giggle when he trod on a porcupine fish skeleton on the beach. The spines on these things are evil, it took quite a tough pull to get the thing out as he hopped around in pain and was like pulling the cork out of an upturned bottle of claret. Good job he’s a quick healer. It’s very strange that there appear to be so many dead porcupine fish littering the beaches and we have seen a few pelican skeletons too, but maybe that was the Babisuri.
Ensenada Grande was our final choice of anchorage on Isla Partida, it is a beautiful bay with three small coves inside and another adventurous but shorter hike – but not before our muscles and my knees had recovered from the last one.
Our time on these islands has been truly magical and unforgettable, I hope we get a chance to return before we leave the Sea of Cortez. But now we continue to bash north.