Monday, April 19, 2010

Forma de Ocho

Lina and I just got back from our "Plan G" trip to Baja, California Sur, Mexico. Lina was going to go on a yoga course... which was cancelled, so we were going to go to use the flight coupon to go to Central America, then we were going to Hawaii... and some other places. I don't remember. We didn't end up doing any of those things. What we did was rent some kayaks for 6 days from Sergio at Mar y Aventuras in La Paz. We were very pleased to find out that we could go unguided, and get all kinds of help with fuel, advice, rides in trucks, maps, and tolerance of my horrific Spanish from Sergio.

Our destination was Isla Espiritu Santu, and we had a plan to make the 4-mile crossing from the Baja peninsula and get around the east side of both islands whilst the weather was calm so we could shelter in the bays of the west side when the forecast winds came in. We were making the crossing with nearly 50 liters of water and all our food for 6 days on board, which thankfully was swallowed up easily by the big expedition boats. I love how much weight you can carry in a kayak without it really slowing you down much. It was a good feeling to be fully self-sufficient... as long as the water didn't leak. The wave heights of over 2 meters in the forecast had me a little apprehensive, but it was a calm morning and we set off without a hitch. The east side of the island was steep and rocky with very few spots to land, so we pushed on to La Partida, the sandy spit between Espiritu Santu and Isla La Partida to the north. We were all alone with an empty fishing camp giving a bit of a tropical ghost town air to the place.

As the sun went down the calm weather gave way to some very persistent wind. We had the tent tied down to a kayak and managed to get some sleep despite the flapping tent and crashing waves. I did have to get up at 3am to fix the blown-in front of the tent as I hadn't expected the wind to shift 180 degrees. In the morning we found sand had got into the priming pump on my stove, meaning that didn't work... and the wind blowing in our ears added to the frustration. Was this a taste of things to come? We packed up and hid behind a shed full of lawn furniture (yes, really) while I fixed the stove. With that done we were ready to brave the ocean. We abandoned our plan of heading around the east side of Isla Partida and stayed on the sheltered west side, hoping to get out to the sea lion rookery. We learned our first lesson about the weather we were to get... by lunchtime the wind was still and it was beautiful for paddling. We paddled out to the rookery, through the stone arch... and then finished the day by carrying on around La Partida and all the way to the first cove back on Isla Espritu Santu. The "Figure 8" route was born.

After a strenuous couple of days we could afford to make leisurely progress down the west coast of Espiritu Santu, stopping at deserted beach after deserted beach... swimming in the warm water and really feeling like we were on holiday. The (numerous) pictures tell it all.

The islands were unbelievably dry, with weird desert plants and hardly any living things to be found... except gekos, who love the camera. We were alone on the beach every night and only saw one other group of kayakers to talk to, we really felt that we were out there on our own.

Our last moment of nerves was the night before we crossed back to Telacote beach. Those clouds looked funny. It's windier than last night... right? Should we leave early, like we were advised... or wait for the calm afternoons we have been getting? We climbed to the top of the hill above the beach and phoned Sergio to cancel the boat shuttle back to safety... it would be more fun just to paddle it. Right? As a good omen we saw our first fellow-mammals on the island. Rabbits. Apparently they eat the water-holding underground "potato" part of the desert plants.

The morning came (accompanied by a lot of mosquitos) and we packed up and were gone in record time. I kept my eyes fixed on the cliffs on the other side of the channel... were we getting pushed to the right? Were we half way across yet? No monster-waves appeared and we made it across quickly and safely, in time for a second breakfast of fish tacos and beer on the beach. While we waited for the truck to come and get us we set up the slackline in an empty beach-bar and almost instantly made some new Mexican friends.

Back in La Paz, we cleaned ourselves... and needed to find a way a way to spend our last 3 days. Would we get the bus somewhere? The options seemed to be getting dropped off on the highway in the middle of nowhere, or in a tourist resort. We decided to stump up the cash and rent a car. Our plan was to find the El Chorro national park (with hot springs), which we were helpfully told was "impossible without a guide". Not deterred, we made a few notes from the internet (where everything you read is of course true) and set off. With a little help we found the springs and hiked up the canyon to find a nice pool. It was scenic, but the water was definitely "frio", more than "calliente".

Then on our way back we spotted someone.. who turned out to be a local cattle rancher out for his afternoon dip in the hot springs... complete with fish that nibbled your toes. Success!

We had some dirt-road misadventure on our way back north, but spent the afternoon stand-up paddle boarding at La Ventata, thanks to Captain Kirk (no, not the one you're thinking of). Then it was back to La Paz, return the car, pack our gear and get our last meal at the fantastic (and inexpensive) Super Burrito. We managed to wander through an astronomy festival somewhere in between and narrowly miss a school dance recital, but that's another story...