Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Las Tarabillas y La Giganta

The coastal mountains of Baja California between La Paz and Loreto are awesome. For days, we have been traveling north at the foot of these peaks, which rise abruptly from the shoreline - three, four, even five thousand feet, in some places within a halfmile of the sea.  The cliffs are banded with color, not consistently, but in a range of hues and rock types. We haven’t begun to learn much about the geology behind the spectacle; we are still at the stage of gazing in awe as we move past the always changing mass of rock.

These mountain ranges have wonderful, but confusing names. North of La Paz is the range known as Sierra Las Tarabillas.  I understood this for a long time as ‘Las Terribles’ – the terrible ones.  But this is spelled differently, and might refer to a bird called the ‘tarabilla’. This range has amazing bands of color.

Further north, around Loreto, the mountain range is La Sierra de la Giganta, and we are pretty sure how that translates. We are anchored now at Puerto Escondido, and the mountains here rise very abruptly and dramatically from the shore. Tonight we watched after sunset as the mountains darkened, while Venus and the Moon sat together a little higher in the sky, as if in respect of the mountain splendor.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coyotes and Lobsters

We are slowly working our way north in the Sea of Cortez, enjoying a string of very clear, very blue sky days. We spent two days tucked into San Evaristo, near the small fishing village there. The north wind blew strong, but we were sheltered and well anchored, and enjoyed watching how the strongest gusts came over the protecting mountain and swept across the turquoise green water in our anchorage.
Today we motored north to the anchorage of Los Gatos, which is ringed with rocks that are like pillows of red sandstone. (We will post photos when we have internet). The local fishermen are eager to engage cruising sailors in commerce, and came by as we were hiking among the rocks to see if we wanted them to dive for lobsters. We did, and the Captain is now working on a lobster dinner. The sun has just set, and coyotes are yelping on the shore. We are the only boat in the anchorage, and we wonder at our good fortune.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Perfect Desert Island Day

We are sailing north from La Paz into the Sea of Cortez, and today we found the conditions we had been seeking - a perfect desert island day.
We began today much too early at an anchorage on Isla Partida - around 1 a.m., when the wind began to howl from the west, and the waves built up in our anchorage. The Captain was up checking the anchor at 3 a.m., and again at first light. Winds up to 20 knots were causing steep, closely spaced waves so that the boat was hobby-horsing (rocking forward and back, like a rocking horse). At dawn, we negotiated with the neighboring boat, who had ended up sitting just above our anchor. Eventually, they departed, and we were able to leave the anchorage as well.

The morning winds abated, and the clouds cleared away, and we were able to sail the fifteen miles or so north to Isla San Francisco. Conditions turned balmy. We anchored, then took the dingy (new outboard!) ashore for a hike on this most hikable of islands. Blue, blue sky, turquoise water, steep cliffs, mellow saltflats. Now we feel as if we are back in paradise. Cactus blossoms, interesting birds .... this might be a perfect desert island day!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Baja and the Mexican Recipes

We have been tied up in La Paz for a few days, in order to provision the boat for several months of travel further north in the Sea of Cortez. But, also, so that the mate could launch a rudimentary blog/website devoted to sharing the recipes and cooking methods we have discovered while traveling in Mexico. Here is the link to "The Mexico Recipes"

Today, after major grocery shopping expeditions, we drove into the mountains north of La Paz, and visited the old mining town of El Triumfo, and ate at the remarkable cafe there.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Outboard Engines

Outboard engines are essential and ubiquitous in life along the Mexican shoreline. The local fishermen depend on their big 50 to 60 horsepower outboards to power their handsome blue pangas; you can tell by how lovingly they wrap them up when they leave the boat for the day. Gringo sailboats usually have smaller motors. Regardless of size, outboard motors are so important that they are a cause of endless concern, much swearing, and endless and repeated pulling at the starter cord.

Our very small 8 horsepower engine has been the focus of endless attention since it first malfunctioned two months ago. Professional local mechanics in Mazatlan, Barra Navidad, and Puerto Vallarta have worked on it. A dozen or more generous fellow travelers on cruising sailboats have lent a hand in diagnosing the problem. And the Captain has dissected and inspected the beast, using the good advice from the Portland dealer from whom it was purchased. Now that we have returned to La Paz, we turned to Sea Otter Jimmy, the locally respected outboard expert. For the mechanically inclined, the diagnosis was a blown crankshaft seal; for the rest of us, our outboard is toast. End of a sad story.

But we are in such good company! Our son, Sam, reminded us that John Steinbeck wrote about outboard engines in his The Log from the Sea of Cortez, first published in 1941. The quote is here (http://www.sailingstudio.us/steinbeck). . Read this, and then imagine how many frustrated motor owners have tried to start these beasts hereabouts in those intervening seventy years!

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Letter to San Blas

Dear San Blas,

We were quite sad to sail away from you yesterday, just when we were getting so well acquainted. Thanks so much for your hospitality, for the way you fold the marina and the cruising sailors into the middle of your little city, and welcome us with warm indifference.

You must be aware that your dramatic history and the ruins of your old buildings lend you an air of romance and faded glory. We admire how little you have tarted up your heritage, and how your current activities swirl around the ruins and embrace them.

Now, I don't think you are purposely playing hard to get, but I do think you are use the ploy of ignoring your visiting suitors to great effect. This thrills the heart of a gringo, who longs to be treated like any other customer at the vegetable stand or hardware store.

Truth be told, I think you are a sleeping beauty, with your lush mangroves, sleepy streets, incredible birds. Some might say that you have too many bugs, to many of those nasty no-see-ems, but I think it's rude to bring up those shortcomings. And it doesn't hurt that you sit among such beautiful surroundings, with Mantanchén Bay and the mountains as your backdrop. You might be a plain jane, without wealth or flash, but you are my current favorite.

Hasta luego, San Blas. I'll be back.

San Blas and the Birds, Part II

After a few days of exploring San Blas on our own, we made another birding expedition with a guide, Francisco Garcia. This time we went into the mountains that rise up from the shores of Mantanchén Bay, southeast of San Blas, to the small settlement called Tecuitata. The community here has declared the mountainside they own to be a forest preserve, and have stopped cutting the old timber. They continue to farm mangoes and coffee in the understory of the trees, and encourage birding and other forms of ecotourism.

We drove high up into this varied, open forest, then walked for miles, spotting an amazing variety of birds - more than sixty species, twenty of which were entirely new to the crew of Indigo. In the early morning, the canopy was alive with bird calls. The steep hillsides and tall trees made a majestic space for the swooping, fluttering, and chattering birds.

I took no photos, since I was much too busy looking around. I have blatantly borrowed a few drawings from Peterson and Chalif's Mexican Birds. The critter above is a Magpie Jay, a showy fellow, with a tufted head and long tail. The one below is a Yellow-Winged Cacique, a large, showy blackbird relative. Additionally we saw orioles, woodpeckers, hummingbirds....too many to enumerate.

By late morning, the birds began to hide from the heat, and we returned downhill to Tecuitata, where we were served a comida of Chili Rellenos by Marta, a talented local cook. We then looked around at the low key way the community processes the coffee it grows - the beans are separated from the berry by a primitive machine that runs off a truck motor; they are dried in the open air, and sorted and graded by hand.

This was a great expedition for us. We were especially happy to wander around at high elevation, after what is now eight months spent just exactly at sea level.