Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Alley Cat goes to La Paz

I have written here before that the best part of Living Loreto is on the water and whenever I have had the opportunity to get out on the water it has been a memorable occasion. So it is with great pleasure that I offer this weeks guest blog written by my good friends about a recent trip that Jill and her husband Ben (Capt'n Benito) took on their 33 foot trawler The Alley Cat from Loreto to La Paz, and back.

We finally did it! Our first trip by boat to La Paz. We have talked about it for three years and after some 3-5 day trips to closer anchorages, and minor maintenance on the boat, Captain Benito felt it was time to venture to the big city of La Paz. Our two amigo's, Dewain and Julie, who are also permanent residents of Loreto, agreed to make the voyage with us.

A day and a half was spent at the Marina here in Loreto stocking the boat with food, clothes, lots of SPF-50 and even SPF-100, ice chests, block ice, fishing poles (they were Dewain's) and other "stuff". We set out early on Wednesday, May 13th. The sea was like a mirror with no wind and a good forecast for the week. Our first stop was Puerto Escondido, 14 nm (where we usually keep the boat) for fuel and to fill the water tank (150 gallons) Pulling away from the fuel dock, the engine decided to quit. This was the return of a nagging problem Ben has been working on, an air leak somewhere in the fuel lines, but after bleeding the lines, we were on our way. Time for ham sandwich's and a beer.

Our destination for the first evening stop was Bahia Aqua Verde, 23nm's. There are numerous islands along the way, and each is spectacular with their contrasting layers of soil and rock. This area of the Sea of Cortez has many pinnacle's rising out of the water. There are also numerous reefs, so careful navigation is required. Dewain, being the fisherman he is, threw out two lines, over the stern and behind the dinghy on the swim platform. We were trolling at 6.5 knots with a dorado feather. Not quite the fishing boat you normally see in the Sea. Well - wouldn't you know it, he got a bite! And it was a BIG bite! We had no idea what was on the line, but he battled the fish for about 15-20 minutes, and sure enough, he caught a yellow tail!!! Guess-ta-mation was 30-35 lbs. Our dilemma was this - no net or no gaff - the fish was finally pulled along side the boat, I grabbed the camera and Ben took a picture of the fish, as Dewain had the line wrapped around his hand. Try as we might, we knew we could not get the fish aboard and the line finally broke, and his fish swam away. That was the first edible fish caught aboard the "Alley Cat". I think when we get to La Paz, we need to buy a gaff, don'tcha think???

In the late afternoon, Bahia Aqua Verde was in sight and we pulled into the bay looking for anchorage. We had been here in April, 2008, and decided to anchor in the same spot, near a narrow sand isthmus. Other power boats and sail boats were anchored at the other end of the bay, so we had the spot to ourselves. Time for a drink and some hors d' oeuvres. A few minutes later we had a visitor. As we were anchored near the reef, our visitor was a turtle just swimming around and watching us. She visited for about an hour and we took pictures of her. The wind started to blow, so we pulled anchor, and went across the bay where the other boats were anchored - much better with no wind. Bahia Aqua Verde is a very popular anchorage and with good reason. Not only are the beautiful green waters and surrounding mountainous lands spectacular, it has extras here that makes this a perfect spot to stay for a couple of days. There is a very small fishing village with a tienda (store) and even a school for the ranchers children. For hiking, there are many areas to explore and if you are into snorkeling and diving, there is a beautiful array of sea life. We decided to take the dinghy over to the sandy beach and look for shells. Dewain got the prize for the spiny star fish. Our meal that night was spaghetti, and salad. We had about an hours entertainment watching the local fishermen chasing the small fish (bait) into a net by going in circles. We settled down in our staterooms for the evening and looked forward to our trip the next day. The wind came up around 3 a.m. and the Captain got a little anxious. We were all awake by 4:30 when the engine roared to life and we were on our way South, heading for the next stop, Isla Espiritu Santo, 73nm's.

Julie and I went back to sleep, and when we awoke around 8 a.m., we both took a sea sick pill, and headed back to bed. Needless to say, it was just a tad rough. Somehow the Captain managed to make sunny side eggs for him and his new First Mate, Dewain. This was the one area of the Sea of Cortez that I particularly wanted to see, as it is noted for it's cave paintings, and red rock bluffs. You follow the dramatic Sierra de la Giganta's (which is the mountain range that surrounds Loreto). It's a very jagged and rocky mountain range that gives the appearance of rising straight from the Sea of Cortez. Needless to say, I saw none of it. Finally around 2 p.m. the wind died down as were now in the area known as the Canal de San Jose. Isla San Jose is an equally impressive island which spans a length of 16.5 nm's. It reaches the dramatic height of 2100 ft. Feeling much more chipper, I joined the Captain and his new First Mate above decks. No fish were caught, but whale sightings were reported, along with manta rays. A short time later, Julie emerged, and we all enjoyed the rest of the trip to our anchorage for the night, Ensenada Grande, on the North end of Isla Espiritu Santo.

The waters here were turquoise in color, with lacy rock cliff sides and a white sand beach. Julie and Dewain decided to go swimming or I should say "noodling" and Ben and I took the dinghy around the various coves looking for shells. We saw numerous fish that we thought only belonged in a salt water aquarium and marveled at their beauty. After our adventures, we settled down for our dinner of BBQ tri-tip, fresh beets and pasta salad. Just before dinner, we were given the unforgettable pleasure of seeing schools of "golden rays". These are a definite golden color and look like butterflies in the water. They are fairly large and just magnificent to watch. They stayed around the boat for quite a while and finally left. We did get some pictures, but not as good as we would have liked. Tonight the stars seemed like they were falling from the sky, and the Captain was feeling no pain, (neither was his First Mate) so he decided to unzip the bimini. I yelled "NO" but it was too late. Soon, we all had pelican raisins in our drinks and all over us from the collection that had accumulated on the canvas shade cover. After a good laugh, bed was beckoning us, so we all hit the sack. And guess what, just as we were getting settled - wind again - thank goodness we were well anchored, but it sure did blow and rock the boat. After a leisurely breakfast the next morning and feeding the puffer fish cantaloupe, we pulled anchor and were on our way to La Paz 27nm.'s away.

It was a calm ride and we saw an occasional whale spout, a seal on his back sunning his tummy, and finally the harbor into La Paz. La Paz has a very tricky harbor entrance, and you need to stay in the buoy marked channel so you don't run aground. The channel follows the malecon (boardwalk) and it makes for a very impressive entrance into La Paz. This city is now the state capital of BCS (California Baja Sur) and is growing in population each year. Historically, Loreto used to be the capital of BCS until about 1830 when it was moved to La Paz following a devastating hurricane. With over 200,000 population, La Paz is also the largest city in Baja Sur. This is one of our favorite cities in Mexico and we were all looking forward to the wonderful restaurants, shopping and a real marina where we could plug into power (our first shore power since the Alley Cat arrived in Mexico in Nov. 2005), have internet access and long showers.

We stayed at Marina de La Paz from May 15th - May 19th. Our slip was only 10 slips from the Dockside Restaurant, so we had an American breakfast every morning and afternoon drinks and hors d' oeuvres on the deck looking at the other yachts and sailboats. This restaurant makes the largest plate of nachos I have ever seen, served on a large dinner plate and looking like a volcano it feeds 4-6 people easily..Yummy!

div>And soooooooo many large yachts! One yacht tender was larger than our 33' boat! Talk about feeling humble. They had the audacity to unload and load the owners and their guests in the empty slip next to us, they actually took the owners back in the large tender and had a small one just for their purchases. We did manage to talk to the crew and the boat was from the Grand Cayman's. They were all dressed in their whites and looking very cool. We found out that as soon as the owners leave, the crew hang around in shorts and tee's..

Our Captain was biting at the bit to hit the marine stores for spare parts, and all items we cannot get in Loreto. Since Dewain was an electrician in his previous life, they had plans to fix most everything electrical that wasn't working. Not surprising, but there is no West Marine Store located here (our favorite!) but lots of other marine stores and some of them they carry West Marine items so the guys were happy.

Now for us girls - I just wanted to window shop and see if I get could get the feeling of shopping in California. Nope, but La Paz has some very high end stores, lots of coffee shops, a very large mall, huge cinema, Wal-Mart, Sams Club and City Club, and can't forget McDonald's, Applebee's and Burger King. I am sure there are many more American influence stores, but we didn't go into them. We did find "Galeria La Paz" and both of us came home with treasures. I could have spent hours in that store just aahhhhing and oohhhhhhing...

Julie and Dewain have a favorite restaurant on the malecon that serves the "BEST" shrimp taco's - Shrimp taco's and beer it was. It was our first stop - Ben and I have been there before and we agreed that they indeed serve the best shrimp taco's we have ever had. One thing I can say is that there is a large variety of excellent restaurants. We found "a new find" two blocks from the Dock and ate dinner there twice. It's called Bandito, and it's an outside restaurant with seating under huge date palms. All the trunks of the palms have bandannas wrapped around them ( like bandito's) but the highlight of the restaurant is that the food is cooked on a grill under the hood of the front of a 1957 Chevy. They lift the hood and cook on the grill under it. Both nights it was packed, mostly with locals, and I would have to say, it was the best ribs and hamburgers I have eaten in Mexico.

We met a couple on a sailboat which had the slip next to us. They were from Colorado and took two months off to sail the Sea of Cortez. They were headed to Loreto after La Paz and said they would come by the house to visit with us. Well, as I write this log, they showed up and we are having them over for a shrimp dinner.

We stopped by to visit with the staff of our friend's (Dean Baker) tour business, Espiritu & Baja Tours. Business had been slow due to the Swine Flu scare (none in BCS) but they did have a tour out that day. Dean was in California, so we didn't get to see him this trip. Monday night we decided to just walk across the street and have Italian food at "Ciao Molino". Again, we have eaten there before and looked forward to an Italian meal. We were not disappointed.

Our plan was to head back to Loreto on Tuesday, May 19th by boat. Julie and I decided that we would take the bus back to Loreto as it was only a 5 hour trip! Tuesday morning we awoke to lluvia (rain). The Captain was not too happy, since the day before we had the boat all waxed and cleaned. The worker started at 9 a.m. and finished at 7 p.m. He offered to come to Loreto and work for us, but we aren't that fancy of a boat and sure don't have the funds to support him and his family. Since the tourism is down, everyone here is looking for work. We were glad to help him out for the day, and he did a good job. We told him that we would be back in the future and he gave us his phone number to contact him the next time we were in La Paz. Really a hard worker and a nice man.

Now...about the bus ride...

I have ridden a Mexican bus before on various trips to mainland Mexico and I am familiar with what it means when the term "chicken bus" is used. This time I was assured that this was not the case. In fact you can chose the level of comfort you want on a bus, by choosing different classes of service. The fare was $31.75 USD from La Paz to Loreto. Our bus had a bano (toilet), a/c, 4 t.v.'s, velour reclining seats and blue velvet drapes. So on Tuesday, we arrived at the bus station just before 9 a.m. and away we went. Our first stop after leaving La Paz was a military check point. Everyone got off the bus and suitcases are randomly pulled and the contents checked. I think they checked 6 suitcases, and then everyone got back on the bus. It stopped at a few rural spots on the highway to let people off and our first stop for snacks was the town of Constitucion. It has a population of over 20, 000 and is primarily a dairy town. It also produces a large variety of produce that is shipped to the U.S. This is where a lot of the imported "winter" produce comes from for the grocery stores up north. Anyway, back on the bus after 15 minutes and on to Loreto. We arrived in Loreto around 2:30 p.m. and found it was much cooler than La Paz where we had temps at 99 degrees. Juan Carlos, the owner of Mita Gourmet restaurant (across the street from "Casa Benito") came and got us at the Bus depot and thus Julie and I ended our trip.

Did we have fun? Yes...would I take a planned trip to mainland on the boat? Nope!!! There is not enough duct tape in the world to go around my mouth . Would I go back to La Paz on the boat? Yes....

Now for the guys trip back to Loreto....

They left La Paz around 10 a.m. and it was slightly raining. The forecast was for thunderstorms and they wanted to get ahead of them. It was pretty uneventful coming across La Paz bay but they did see some rain squalls behind them. Once they entered the Canal de San Jose, they saw "The World" ship anchored around Isla San Francisco. If any of you are not familiar with "The World" cruise ship, you purchase and design your own staterooms at a cost of over a million dollars. They have 165 staterooms. You pay a maintenance cost of $10,000. a month. Pretty hefty prices for the common people like us!

The weather was still really good with smooth waters. Towards evening, they lit up the generator and took out two rib-eyes we had purchased in La Paz, boiled some potatoes, did the BBQ bit, drank the rest of the beer, pulled in the fishing lines (no fish) and as they passed the end of the channel, they saw a magnificent rainbow. They said the sky looked like it was on fire. But alas, not all is perfect. The seas started to build as nightfall was upon them. They decided to just keep going and not anchor. As they passed the outside of Bahia Aqua Verde, the seas kept building. To ease their tension, they had a bag of popcorn and each a shot of bourbon. All the ice chests were strapped down, as they were sliding all around. About 3 a.m. the dolphin show began in the phosphorescent seas. They were racing towards the boat and then proceeded to follow the bow. I guess they were quite a sight with their bodies all lit up from the phosphorus. The winds diminished at they came around the backside of Isla Danzante and as they entered the inside passage between Danzante and Isla Carmen, they had to pay special attention as it was so dark. Carmen was soon lit up by the beckoning lights of Loreto and the seas calmed down. They anchored off the Malacon in Loreto, in front to the La Mision Hotel at 5 a.m. and decided to sleep until 8 a.m. Total non-stop running time from La Paz, 19 hours. The Captain and his First Mate had arrived back home!

Thanks to Jill and Cat'n Benito for sharing the wonderful experience of their trip to La Paz. The magic of the Sea is at our doors and yet, for many of us "Land Lubbers" who live here, we loose sight of the bountiful experiences that are so close to us. Learning to appreciate the land, by observing it from the Sea, that too is part of "Living Loreto!"