Birds, cactus, and friends: exploring the Baja Peninsula and Sea of Cortez

We anchored yesterday here in Bahía San Gabriel, on the south west of Isla Espíritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez, and woke up this morning to a bay full of clouds and colour. The boat was covered in dew, the air was wet with morning mist, and sun beams shone through the grey hanging over the hills. Magnificent Frigatebirds circled overhead along with a few Turkey Vultures, at the shore there’s a Great Blue Heron, and on the water a group of maybe a hundred Least Grebes (I think, definitely some kind of grebe) moved around tightly packed together, ducking under, then chirping their way back into view. As the sunlight got stronger, cloud reflections and wind ripples on the water swirled into gently shifting patterns of blue, white, grey and green, smudgy like an oil-painting.

The shoreline here is all rust-coloured cliffs, bright mangroves, and ribbons of white sand. There are five other boats in the large bay, including a catamaran we met in Monterey Bay and just recognized this morning as they quietly motored away. Two of the monohulls were at the dock in La Paz with us. As we’ve traveled down the west coast of the States and into Mexico, we’ve shared docks and anchorages with lots of boats heading in the same direction and although everybody is going at their own pace and has their own plans, often the pace and plans overlap for a while.

We arrived into La Paz with our friends on SV Goblin and SV Mastodon. We first met them up in Bahía Tortugas, moved down to Puerto Asunción together, and ended up buddy-boating all over Christmas (in Bahia Santa Maria) and New Year (in Puerto Magdalena). It was a magical time and the first time we’d really slowed down for months! We finally had time to enjoy snorkeling, paddle-boarding, swimming, mangrove-exploring, hiking, and lots of great shared dinners and beach gatherings. We all enjoyed the entertaining, fun company of these two kid-boats and changed our plan of getting to La Paz for Christmas so we could hang out with them more. After all our solitary sailing, it was a novelty to have company, via radio, on passages, and to be able to share whale sightings, discuss fishing successes and failures and compare conditions. At the various anchorages we shared there were multi-generational lessons on eel grass, sewing gatherings, Spanish classes, a beach bonfire, card games, and bird-watching expeditions. After making our way down and round the Baja Peninsula, with a stop in the marina at San Jose del Cabo to fill up with food and water and get some laundry done, we all headed up into the Sea of Cortez. At Bahía de los Frailes and Muertos, we were surrounded by the most amazing variety of fish and jumping rays. We finally made it to La Paz only about six weeks after originally intended (!) and just spent two weeks there.

It was fun to be in a town, especially one as easy to enjoy as La Paz, and we made the most of being able to go out for meals and ice creams and playground visits. We checked out the cool whale museum and cathedral, caught up with friends we’d met along the way, and found a new playmate for Toby. We rediscovered the joy of smoothies, there was amazing street art everywhere, and the coffee shops were a nice reminder of Vancouver life. Sadly, and apparently it’s a fairly new problem for these particular areas, there is quite a bit of drug-related violence on the peninsula. Gunfire and police sirens are never too far away and after a bit of a scare in San José del Cabo we’ve been a little bit on edge – and the heavily armed police and navy presence is in itself quite an eye-opener. As always being at a dock meant it was time to get some jobs ticked off our list too, so after some hectic days trying to get parts located and everything finished, we were glad the winds calmed down and the port reopened so we could head back out to the sea with new haircuts, solar panels, fridge and cockpit cushions, and cupboards nicely stocked ready for time in uninhabited islands.

I love being on the dock for a bit, especially being able to get on and off the boat so quickly and easily and the freedom that gives, but after a while we all start craving to be back out on the water again, and ready to surround ourselves with sea and sky. The sailing-buzz kicked in as we left the channel to head up to Balandra beach and a certain member of crew was bouncing all over the place despite the calm waters.

We bypassed Balandra bay on the way down to La Paz opting to anchor instead with Mastodon and Goblin at beautiful Caleta Lobos, one of my favourite anchorages so far with mangroves, tidal pools, amazing birdlife, and tracks up into the rocky mountains to explore. Balandra is listed as one of the must-do activities while in La Paz so there are constant taxi-boats bringing visitors and its accessibility probably makes it a bit crowded at times. When we arrived there, though, on the last day of January, although there were a few other boats it didn’t feel too busy, and after being in town, it was a nice way to ease back into the quiet of cruising.

I’m so glad we stopped there. The clouds turned into a full on downpour and after months with barely a drop, it was kind of exciting to have a grey rainy day. Friends on SV Astrologer invited us over for breakfast, and oh my goodness, it was perfect. Scones straight out of the oven, papaya and banana, strong hot tea and all beautifully presented with cloth napkins and pretty cups. We were cosy in their beautiful boat, with books lining the walls, listening to tales of life as a fisherman in Alaska. I love visiting other boats and seeing the homes people create on them, the love and hard work that goes into making them both comfortable and practical.

Later that day the rain stopped and it was time to get hiking. After days walking around a town, it was brilliant to scramble up the rocky slopes, dodging cactus and watching the views open out around us. Then back down the other side, where the tour boat visitors were wading in the shallows and taking photos of themselves by the mushroom-shaped rock formations. We did the same, then headed back to the dinghy, exploring the rock pools as we went, with a Great Blue Heron, Egrets, four Ibis and various gulls for company. The shallow waters were filled with schools of fish and sea anemones, and most excitingly a Cortez Rainbow Wrasse, whose bright red, yellow and blue stood out among the darker fish.

After a rocky and rolly night, caused by all the waves built up during the previous day’s wind, we had a morning motorsail watching the gloomy clouds clothing the mountain, and made our way here, to the gentle calm of Bahía San Gabriel. Some kind of manta jumped out of the water as we arrived – I think a mobula munkiana – and a turtle crept along the sand beneath us as we were anchoring. It’s calm and quiet here, and I feel like we could easily settle in and stay for days, but SV Goblin and Mastodon are up ahead, and I’ve promised them another Spanish lesson (I trade for eggs and childcare!) and it’s about time we had another beach ceilidh so we’ll explore here a bit then head off up the island to see if we can find some whale sharks and sea lions.

On a dinghy expedition to explore the mangroves at Bahía Santa María
Balandra bay
Each beach or bay seems to have its ‘thing’ – it was starfish at Punta Belcher, sand dollars at Bahía Santa María…
Provisioning
Sea of Cortez
Still day on the Sea of Cortez
One of our many cool finds at Bahía Santa María
Fishing camp at Bahía Santa María

Thanks for reading! I am usually more up-to-date on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter – when we have phone signal. Blog posts happen now and again, when I can get the rare mixture of time to sit at the computer AND internet! We try to update our location on Farkwar too.

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