MX - Espiritu Santo - 2003/04/12



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Dances with Squid - Espiritu Santo and La Partida circumnavigation in 4 days by kayak.




In April 2003, several kayakers from the Baltimore area did a two-stage, 120 mile trip in Baja’s Sea of Cortez. The first leg was a roughly 80 mile, week-long journey from Loreto to LaPaz. The kayakers included Kathy Carpenter, Joel Beckwith, Harding Wescott, Bill Walsek, Tom Masur and Rick Wiebush. The second stage of the trip involved a 40 mile, four-day circumnavigation of Espiritu Santo and La Partida, which lie off the coast of LaPaz. Beckwith, Masur and Wiebush did this section.

This trip report is about the adventures on Espiritu Santo, which included squid serving themselves up for dinner, encounters with colorful crabs, blue-footed boobies and flying rays, sea lions jumping up onto the decks of our kayaks and a wet t-shirt contest that we missed. I’ve also added a section to the end of the report that talks about some of the logistical details. A great way to get an idea of what these islands look like is by looking at Google Earth. Espiritu Santo is at 24.30 N, 110.20 W.


Kayakjacked on Isla Espiritu Santo

by Rick Wiebush

Death Throes


For the past 45 minutes, the squid had been driving themselves relentlessly on to the beach at Playa Ballena and we had no idea what was going on. They were coming in groups of about 12-15; each group perhaps 15 minutes apart; each of the squid perhaps 2 feet long. When they coursed through the shallows, they were rippling and roiling the water so that it looked like a strong localized wind was skimming the surface. (That’s what first got our attention and, frankly, made our hair prickle. Whoa, what the hell is that?). Then, as they approached the shore line and the water got too shallow, they used their tentacles to push off the sand until they were right at the water’s edge, lying half in and half out of the water. Expelling water from their bodies, apparently huffing and puffing, drifting slightly back into the water, bobbing with the wave action, pushing back onto the beach, alternately contracting and extending their tentacles. Then a further surprise: they actually started changing colors, from a rusty red to an almost opaque white, and back. There was a frantic and almost sad quality to it – an apparently instinct-driven compulsion – that had an unknown purpose, but which appeared to be either laying eggs, committing suicide, or both. An alternative explanation – that they were coming to visit the three gringo kayakers who had just landed – was briefly considered but then ruled out as unlikely. They stayed maybe 10 minutes until one by one they floated – apparently exhausted – back into deeper water.

Only to be replaced by successive waves: two, three, now four times. We were guessing that we had seen 60-75 squid temporarily beach themselves in this way. But, since we had never seen these creatures before – and certainly couldn’t tell one from the other – it could have been the same 12-15 squid just repeating their landing and retreat.

Whatever their number, there was one less when the curtain finally came down on that particular show. Realizing that this was some type of death throe, we decided to take advantage of the situation and helped ourselves to dinner. Baja is like this, always surprising, awe-inspiring and gift-giving, whether in the form of visual or paddling treats or, in this instance, culinary offerings. Stab, stab; Slice, slice, slice; marinade in some orange juice; cook over the stove a little bit (just to make sure); heat up some tortillas, and viola: calamari tacos! And this was just our first night on Espiritu Santo.


The Place





Espiritu Santo lies in the Sea of Cortez just off the coast of Baja and is a virtual magnet for sea kayakers. For good reason. Unlike much of Baja, it’s relatively accessible, since it’s just a 4 mile crossing from Tecolote Beach, which itself is just a 20 minute drive from the Baja Sur capital, La Paz. Moreover, it can accommodate a whole range of paddling skills: it is only about 35 miles around (including its neighbors to the immediate north, Isla Partida and Los Islotes); its’ entire western shore is protected from the prevailing winds; and the paddling conditions are generally calm (although the same cannot be said of the more exposed eastern shore of the islands). The paddler glides through crystal clear, aqua and green-tinted waters that lap - and sometimes crash - into the multi-colored walls of this volcanic outpost. The shores are dotted with a series of deep, arcing coves, most of which contain sandy beaches that are perfect for camping and viewing the splashy sunsets. Dramatic headlands guard the entrances to the coves and dusty, high desert hills reach up in the interior. It is, in short, visually stunning. Then, as the experience with the squid suggests, it is loaded with wildlife: dolphins, passing whales, blue-footed boobies, outrageously colorful fish that can be spotted 20-30 feet down through the water, and the playful sea lions that inhabit the small rocky islands that constitute Los Islotes.


Yet, it’s hard to characterize the island as “wilderness”. It is devoid of development, but it’s often a very busy place. Every outfitter in the La Paz area uses Espiritu Santo for the majority of their four, five and seven-day trips. So there is often a constant stream of folks being shuttled back and forth in pangas between Tecolote and the island. For some reason, we lucked out in this regard. We spent four days circumnavigating the island and ran across just three other groups of people: one commercial group of about eight kayakers, two marine biologists from Costa Rica who had a small boat and were tracking whales, and a small group of sea lion researchers.

In spite of its appeal, Espiritu Santo was sort of an afterthought for us. For the previous week, we, along with three other friends, had paddled the Cortez from Loreto to La Paz. But in the planning stages, Tom Maser, Joel Beckwith and I had agreed that there was no way we were going to go all the way to Baja and not stay at least two weeks. So the Espiritu Santo paddle was our four-day, no-cost, high-dividend extension to the main trip.

Free Calamari and a Stunning Sunset


The first day’s weather is like almost every other day we’ve had in late March and in early April: clear, sunny skies with temperatures in the low 80’s. Luckily, the winds are very light. The crossing from Tecolote is potential trouble if the winds are high, but we have no problems. We are on the water by 8:30, complete the crossing easily, and land on the south end of Espiritu Santo by 10:15. Once we turn the corner and start up the west side, the show begins. We glide past cove after cove, sometimes dipping in to explore those that have extensive mangroves lining the inner shores. We sometimes hug the cliffs and peer down, following the slope of the rock face 20-30 feet down into the water. It’s in these places that we see most of the fish – it’s like scuba diving without getting wet. A simple glance over the side of the kayak reveals a virtual aquarium filled with tropical fish directly under the boats.

At the first night’s camp, the three of us take off in opposite directions to explore the hills reaching up in all directions from the base of the cove. Although Tom and I stay relatively low, Joel mountain-goats his way to one of the highest points on the island and gets a 360 degree view, including a clear view of Isla Partida about 3 miles to the north. It’s after I’ve scrambled back down to the beach, and while Joel is making his way down from his perch, that the first wave of squid comes flying into shore.

A little more about these squid: it just so happens that camped at the other end of the beach were two Costa Rican marine biologists. When they saw Tom and I staring down into the water for half an hour, they came walking over and filled us in a little on this behavior (not mine and Tom’s, the squids’). It turns out we were essentially correct in our guess that the beachings had something to do with egg laying and suicide. They explained that when the females are finished laying their eggs (out at sea, not on the beach), they die, and that what we were witnessing was part of the dying process. What wasn’t clear was whether the beaching part was the result of a process that was already well underway (i.e, they were now in a weakened, disoriented state and about to die), or behavior that was designed to facilitate their deaths (i.e. closer to the “suicide” theory).

I suspect that these were not the infamous Humboldt squid, since they probably only weighed 10 pounds, while adult Humboldts typically range from 10 to 50 pounds (although a few one hundred pounders have been caught.) I’m also glad that they weren’t Humboldt because those bad boys travel in packs and
eat meat. There are lots of stories in Baja about Mexican fishermen falling overboard while trying to pull up a net full of squid, and getting swarmed and eaten by them! (For more on this, go do an internet search on “Humboldt squid Baja” – it’s chilling.)





While our dinner was marinating in the orange juice, we took off on a sunset paddle around Isla Ballena that for pure pleasure rivaled anything we did during the two weeks in Baja. The island sits offshore about a mile from the beach and is a solid rock fortress that rises straight up out of the sea, offering no opportunities for landing. This night we paddled counter clockwise around it and enjoyed smooth paddling on the south side while the sun was sinking and streaking/slashing the sky with red, yellow, purple and pink hues. But as we swung around to the north side we were greeted by big wind-driven swells that provided lots of fun. We paddled and played real close the island walls, catching the swells as they came in and once again after they smashed, sprayed and reflected back underneath us. This went on for almost the whole half-mile length of the island and, by the time we noticed, the sun had set, only to create an entirely new light show against the backdrop of a now almost-black sky. It just doesn’t get much better than this, except if you can then return to a beach and have some Calamari tacos and a little Kahluha.




Encounters


Our second day was a short one in terms of mileage (7-8 miles), but high impact due to a series of totally unexpected, close-up wildlife encounters. The route north from Ballena passes two or three more coves on Espiritu Santo, crosses the narrow passageway (Caleta Partida) between Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, and then follows the four-mile, very cliffy and deeply-indented coast of Partida to its northern end. Three things of interest happen along this section, and one thing of potential interest doesn’t happen.

• While stopping for a break on some rocks, we see scrambling around what have to be the most ornately decorated crabs on the planet. Their shells are multi-hued explosions of deep colors in incredibly intricate patterns that are so spectacular, they look almost fake, as though they had been painted on. But no artist could ever dream up these configurations, let alone actually apply them to canvas (or in this case, shell). Against a blackish, deep-red background there are bright yellow and red dots arranged in rows, streaks of blue slashing between the dots, paler shades of other colors flecked across the shell here and there …. It is a visual expression of Latin exuberance. These guys make other crabs, which generally are pretty cool looking, look as though they have been hospitalized with pneumonia for half their lives or recently released from a POW camp. Not only that, but these Baja crabs are known to travel in packs and eat meat! There are terrifying stories of Mexican fishermen who, while pulling up a bunch of crabs… No wait, wait, I think I’m getting my Baja fish stories confused.

• After we stop marveling at the crabs, Joel decides he’s going to slip into the water here to get an up-close view of some of the marine life that can’t walk around on rocks. Major mistake. Literally within 10 seconds he explodes up and out of the water, clutching his chest, patting his arms, rubbing his eyes and cursing like crazy. He has been stung multiple times by an unknown but obviously powerful and stealthy assailant. He didn’t see a thing – got whacked apparently out of the blue. We immediately start speculating about jelly-fish (though we haven’t seen any in two weeks and he didn’t see any down there), or man-o-wars with 20 ft tentacles (which may not even exist in Baja), but really we have no clue. After a while he starts settling down emotionally, but starts breaking down physically. He feels lightheaded, a little nauseated, and starts breaking out with gigantic welts on his chest and arms that remain with him for the next couple days. He got over it, but we never did figure out what may have got him.

• A little later, we actually see one of the famous blue-footed boobies. He is standing on a rock, about three feet over our heads, calmly looking at us. For the most part, this character looks like a pretty ordinary bird – think seagull for example. What distinguishes him though is that he is wearing on his feet what appear to be day-glow, pale blue, way-oversized, rubber
galoshes. His feet are so strikingly different from the rest of him, that your first reaction is that some kind of evolutionary mistake has been made. Yes, there’s a lot of water around here, but what type of bird would need galoshes and, if for some reason he did, why would he pick pale blue? Lots of other animals have brightly-colored appendages that serve as an attention-getter for mating purposes and ultimately, species propagation. But I can’t imagine how these big-ass blue galoshes are going to be a hit with the ladies, and fear that the species may be headed for quick extinction.

What we didn’t do this day was go to the annual gringo sailors’ party in the passageway between Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. Once a year, all the folks who sail around the Sea of Cortez for the winter get together for a giant end-of-season, multi-day party. The guy in La Paz who told us about it – and invited us – assured us that there was some major debauchery, including heavy drinking, wild games and wet t-shirt contests. Since we were passing the party site at around one in the afternoon, we assumed that not much was going on and opted to keep heading north. We figured that we might be able to stop in and catch the wet t-shirt contests when we made our way back down the east side of the islands. (As it turned out, we didn’t).

Kayakjacked


Los Islotes is a set of two rocky islands that lie about 500 yards off the northern tip of Isla Partida. The larger of the two is about a quarter-mile long rocky shelf that is home to a whole bunch (75-100?) of sea lions. The other island is basically a one hundred foot high, shattered rock sea stack that has an arch in it that you can paddle right through. While it would be a fun place to paddle even without the sea lions, they are the main attraction here. Tourists are frequently shuttled out both to observe the sea lions and to get down in the water and swim around with them They are naturally curious and playful – especially the younger ones – and I’m guessing (hoping) that someone has determined that no harm comes to them by having close contact with humans.

When we pull up, we notice that there are people right on the rocks, trying to sneak up on various members of the sea lion group. Our first reaction is that these are tourists who are very seriously violating visitation policies. We learn subsequently however that these are American researchers who are attempting to attach tracking devices to the sea lions in order to measure their diving habits (frequency, depth, duration, etc.) There is just one power boat parked here (the researcher’s) and no tourists are in the water.

I think that all three of us are put off by the level of intrusiveness associated with actually swimming around with these animals, and we opt to stay in the boats and paddle around the islands. We immediately get everybody’s interest and sea lion heads start slowly rising up from the rock to check us out. Most of the larger animals just shift around a little bit, apparently not alarmed, but kind of getting on guard. However the smaller, younger seals (we guess teen-agers) start diving or sliding off the ledges into the water. Pretty soon their heads are popping up out of the water about 20-30 feet from the kayaks, taking a closer look at the three 17 foot, brightly-colored intruders. As we keep paddling, the sea lions start swimming along side the boats, diving underneath the bow, surfacing on the other side, swimming for a while along side us and then diving again. This is a great show: they are very smooth swimmers, fast, agile, and terminally cute with their wide-eyed look.

It’s interesting that if we stop paddling, they seem to run off and put some distance between themselves and us. It’s like if you are interested enough in them to stop whatever you are doing, then they are no longer interested in you. I know some women like this. But start paddling and they are back swimming and diving along side.

On the other hand, based on what happened over the next 15-20 minutes, I think they may get offended if you
only keep paddling and acting like maybe they aren’t there in the water next to you. It starts with swimming along side the front of the boats and reaching up toward the bow, then sliding back down into the water. Then it progresses to actually lifting up and nibbling the bow for a few seconds. We keep paddling: this is cute. But then a couple of them actually grab the bow in their mouths as though they are trying to drag the boat away or at least get it going in another direction. This raises some concerns for us because there are stability issues here: wait a minute, what are they doing? None of us particularly want so be dumped by a sea lion.





“Dump” turns out to be the wrong verb – how about “commandeer” or “kayakjack”? I’m paddling along when all of a sudden I hear a “whack” and Joel shouting: “one of them just climbed up on the boat behind me. He scared the crap out of me, I didn’t know what it was and I spun halfway around and knocked him off with my paddle!” Whaaat? Yeah, ok, right Joel. And then it happened again, but this time one of them hops up onto, and drapes himself across, the bow of Joel’s boat. Flippers on one side of the bow, butt still in the water on the other side, stomach resting on the deck, and he turns and looks at Joel as if posing for a picture. Which is exactly what Joel does next – takes his picture. Let’s get this straight: the guy’s got a hundred pound sea lion balancing on the front of his kayak, and he calmly pulls out a camera, focuses, gets the lighting and angle just right, and takes his picture? I guess that was what the sea lion was looking for all along since, photo completed, he slides back down into the water.

Now it’s my turn. Within two minutes, some other juvenile delinquent has his flippers up on the bow of my boat. With a nimbleness that is unbelievable given the way they flop around on land, he smartly executes a move that could win an Olympic medal on the parallel bars. He lands squarely on my bow. He has just flipped his entire body up out of the water, but created absolutely no instability in the process (I swear, the boat hardly moved) and is now sitting perfectly balanced on my bow, facing me. I am totally shocked and maybe a little scared, but he just stares at me for a couple minutes and then asks if I would like to take his picture. I rapidly and profusely apologize that I don’t have a camera, because I left it on the plane on the way down here, but if I did have one I certainly would want to take his picture because he seems like a very nice and very smart sea lion and I’m truly sorry, but I can’t, but if he’ll get off my boat and go over and jump up on Joel’s instead I’m sure my friend would really like to take his picture. I guess he bought this story since he just shook his head once or twice, mumbled something that sounded like “sorry-ass motha” and then slid off and swam away.

We are somewhat stunned but totally delighted as we paddle back to our campsite at El Embudo, a tiny beach that is hemmed in by cliffs, and which we share with the sea lion researchers. They aren’t there when we arrive and we take some time marveling at the tent city they have set up. They’ve got a huge (20 x 20?) canvas tarp stretched up on four poles, underneath which is a set of equipment worthy of a year-long expedition: plastic chairs, generators, a desk, computers, coolers, etc. It’s really quite impressive, and much more so than the people themselves when we finally meet them later. They act basically like we aren’t there, or like they can’t be bothered. They make no effort to initiate conversation with us, in spite of the fact that we are about 25 feet away. They provide only clipped responses to our questions and to our attempts to start a friendly conversation. They are graduate students. University of California. Judging from their behavior, they apparently are in training to become very important professors. Very important.

Separation and A Long Ride Down the East Side


Joel and Tom decide in the morning of day three to get moving quickly so they can go back out to Los Islotes and mess around with the sea lions some more before we start heading south down the east side of the islands. I elect to dawdle around camp, but the plan is to hook back up near Los Islotes in 45 minutes or so. It’s only a quarter mile away, so there’s no danger of us missing each other, right? Wrong.

When I paddle up to the top of Partida, I have a clear, unobstructed view of Los Islotes. I decide not to cross, but to instead just float around and wait for them to come back. So I’m sitting there facing Islotes, looking for distant paddle blades swishing through the air. Fifteen minutes go by, and I don’t see a thing. I’m squinting, shifting positions to get a different view, thinking that my 55 year old eyes are going really bad, and now wondering whether I stayed in camp much longer than I thought. Nah, can’t be; so I sit some more. After another 10 minutes, I decide that they simply can’t still be at Los Islotes. Even if they were on the other side of the islands, it couldn’t take them this long to come back around – it’s not that big. Damn, they must have gotten mad that I took so long and took off without me. I can’t believe they would do that, but the evidence is pretty strong. They have started heading south. So I take off after them.

The run down the outside of Partida by myself turns out to be pretty scary. The morning skies had started off cloudy and light grey, but were getting increasingly dark and the wind out of the north was picking up big time. Within a half mile, the winds had built to about 25 mph, and I had a following sea that consisted of steep, two-foot waves. At the same time, a huge black thunderhead that had been developing is now starting to chase me down the island. Flying along in front of the wind and waves is kind of exciting, but with conditions rapidly deteriorating, absolutely nowhere to land on the very cliffy northeast corner of Partida, and being completely alone, I start to get really nervous and begin freaking myself out,

Like: wait a minute, I’m waaaay off shore.
Like: what if I go over in this stuff and can’t nail a roll?
Like: what if that thunderhead catches up and lightning starts?
Like: if either of those things happen, I’m in deep shit.
Like: if both those things happen, I could die.
Like: waaaaaaahhhh, get me outta here!

That was a very long three miles, artificially elongated not only by my periods of self-induced semi-panic, but also by my fantasy: while I’m out here worrying about survival, they are waiting for me at the narrow channel between Partida and Espiritu Santo, obliviously enjoying themselves at the wet t-shirt contest where no doubt all the competitors are twenty-something, drop-dead gorgeous, why-don’t-you-guys-come-over-to-our-yacht-afterwards, why-worry-about-Rick coeds.

But even if no one is at Caleta Partida, that’s where I’m going. And staying. I start heading into the channel and scrutinize every potential landing spot for their two kayaks. Nothing there, nothing there, and nothing over there. After a while, it really doesn’t matter where they are –I’m getting out of this boat and onto dry land. Pulling up onto some rocks, I decide to eat lunch and stay put for a while. But as I’m eating, I slowly realize that this just isn’t making sense. They might have left without me, but they eventually would have stopped and waited for me. And knowing Joel, this is exactly where they would have done it. So I wait another half hour and then go looking for them again. Just on the off-chance that they are somehow behind me, I slowly paddle back toward the north. I take about 29 strokes and see two kayaks parked on some rocks – they had stopped about 100 yards away from where I did. They got here 10 minutes ago. They were – needless to say – behind me.

I didn’t see them at Los Islotes because they were on the other side of the islands for a long time, playing in the water and messing around with the sea lions. They didn’t see me there because I took off after 20 minutes. They didn’t see me in front of them running down the east side of the island because they went back to our camp on the west side of the island to look for my knuckleheaded self, thinking that I must still be there. Oh. Sorry.





With apparently no lingering hard feelings, we push off again and start the nine-mile haul down to Punta Bonanza on the southeast corner of Espiritu Santo. This side of the island is very different, much more imposing and threatening. Reddish-tinted cliffs rise straight up two or three hundred feet. There are no inviting, safe-haven coves like those lining the west side of the island. The only landing possibilities are widely-scattered, narrow rocky beaches. But the wind has died, the thunderhead has moved off to the east, sea stacks jut out into the water, and the occasional sea cave invites exploration. This is great paddling in what feels like a very isolated place.



Another encounter: half-way down the island we are surprised by a whole bunch of little rays who have decided to take care of the business of knocking (what I think are) parasites off their undersides. This is quite a show. The rays take these gigantic flying leaps up out of the water, flapping their wings to gain altitude (they get about 6 feet up in the air), and then belly-flop with a resounding smack back down on to the surface of the water. One shot doesn’t do it, so this process gets repeated five or six times. Whoooosh, whooosh, wooosh, slap! Wooosh, wooosh, wooosh, slap! And, when there are 10 or 12 rays all doing this at the same time, there’s a whole lot of amazing and pretty comical launchings and landings going on.

Finally around 6 PM, we drag into our camping spot at Playa Bonanza. And what a playa it is: the beach stretches out forever, fringing the bay in a sweeping sandy arc for two miles until it is terminated by a high rocky headland at its’ southern end. In several spots, the area behind the beach is covered with those dense cactus gardens that contain multiple varieties of cactus including cardon, dollar, barrel and the occasional cholla. We’ve run into these gardens all over Baja and they serve as a constant reminder of how rich and subtly varied the desert is, in spite of its reputation as a lifeless, barren place.

The good news is that in terms of scenery, this is a great spot for our last night on the island. The bad news is a lot of other people think it’s a great spot too. Specifically, anchored in the middle of the bay is some kind of giant tour or cruise boat that is periodically spewing forth groups of waverunners that take delight in screaming noisily from one end of the bay to the other. This goes on until sunset but, after the initial shock, we realize it’s to be expected. After all, we’re only about 6 miles from Tecolote and, after all, tomorrow is our last day in Baja. We have to start re-emerging at some point, and this is it. That said, it is still a great night on the beach. Once its dark, we can’t see the boat, only stars and the fire. Once its dark, the waverunners and the increasingly frequent pangas are gone, leaving only the lapping sound of the Cortez. (Well, ok, once its dark, Joel and Tom get into a major argument which kind of drowns out the idyllic picture painted here, but it’s an interesting and heated argument, so that’s ok too.)

Civilization Strikes


I’m not sure about the others, but this morning I’m feeling finished and ready to go. These two weeks and 110-120 miles have been spectacular, but it’s now enough. Up and out, we round the southeast corner of Espiritu Santo and stop for a short break at a spot close to where we first landed on the island four days ago. An uneventful (dead calm) crossing takes us back to a very eventful Tecolote Beach. It’s Friday afternoon, and apparently everybody in La Paz has decided to come to the beach. More striking than the numbers though is the level of activity they generate. There are things going on everywhere: people swimming, fishing, riding in boats, playing soccer on the beach, drinking beer, eating, walking, cars pulling into and out of the parking lot, construction going on in one of the buildings; a crew of guys painting the wall between the parking lot and the beach, outfitters picking up and dropping off kayaking tours - it’s a swirling mass of humanity.

Dominating the scene however is a gigantic plastic car driving in the water. The Mexicans have (at least I’ve never seen them in the U.S.) these surf mobiles that are about 25 feet long, 10 feet high and which look like inflated, brightly-colored tinker toys. They are ride-on-tops with a “seat” that is a tube that extends from the front to the back of the vehicle and which sits well above the water. They hold about 10 people (mostly kids) who use pedals to turn the huge wheels and send this thing lurching through thigh-deep water. They look like big drunk bugs with wheels – “drunk” because they sometimes tilt steeply to one side or the other as they are moving along, periodically dumping passengers unceremoniously into the water. Looks like fun, but man are we back in “civilization”. The upside to all this commotion is that we can go get a celebratory beer, so we do. In fact, we celebrate several times over the next hour, while we are awaiting our shuttle van and hauling our boats and all the equipment up from the water’s edge to the parking area.

I’ve been feeling fairly proud of myself for being able to communicate in Spanish with some of the fishermen and other locals we’ve come across in the past two weeks. I’m clearly no Don Francisco, but have been able to say and understand enough to get us by, and feel pretty good about it. What happens next however puts my linguistic capabilities in sharp perspective. When the BOA (Baja Outdoor Activities) van shows up, it is also dropping off a couple folks who are taking a double out to Espiritu Santo. This double is huge, so we lend a hand getting it down from the roof of the van. While we’re doing this, I notice that the paddlers are speaking Spanish to the driver – and doing so rather comfortably – in spite of the fact that they look very gringo-y. Then, while we are carrying the kayak down to the water, they start speaking fluent English with us, albeit with a slight Germanic-type accent. Intrigued by this, I ask where they are from and the reply comes back: “Finland”. Excuse me? You’re from Finland and can speak both Spanish and English that well? “Well, we do ok, but our French and Russian aren’t that good”. Oh.

The rest is just winding down: back to the hotel, shower, revisit the Laundromat, stop at the ceramic tile store (great place), walk on the Malecon for a while. We then spend most of the evening sitting in the hotel’s little court yard, drinking Negra Modelo while listening to the neighbor’s dogs bark at the darkness. Sitting there in that mellow, post-trip space, we reflect that: 1) it’s hard to believe what we’ve done; and, 2) we actually will be flying back home tomorrow. After two weeks this place feels very comfortable, like we belong here. The campsites on the beaches, the watery roadways of the Cortez and the streets of La Paz all feel like a really good fit for us. Yes, we’re ready to leave, but there’s little doubt that we’ll be back soon. In fact tonight we are already talking about next trip possibilities: Mulege to Loreto? Around Isla Cerrevalo? How about the Pacific side? Our enthusiasm increases in direct proportion to the number of cervezas consumed and we are soon considering doing the whole 800 miles of the Baja Coast. Great idea! By the time we stagger off to bed, we also are totally confident that when we return to Baja for our epic journey, our Spanish will be impeccable and we’ll have a good command of Finnish as well.


Note: Some Logistics


The best time to go is mid-March to mid-April. During this period: 1) air temps are 75 – 90; 2) water temps are mid 60s; and, most importantly, 3) the El Norte winds – that blow frequently in the winter months and can pin kayakers down for days - typically die down after mid-March. October might be ok too. Summer gets extremely hot.

I always fly to LaPaz or Loreto through LAX. Southwest Airlines often has very cheap fares to LAX. Aero California, Aero Mexico and others fly from LAX to LaPaz. I always use Aero California. They are consistently cheaper than Aero Mexico and have reliable service. R/T from LAX to LaPaz is about $250-275USD. It’s easy to get there in one day from BWI. Take an early SWA flight and arrive LAX around noon. Aero California flight to LaPaz is typically around 4 PM, getting there around 7 PM. On the return, get 8 AM flight direct to LAX, arriving around 10. Then get a noon flight back to Baltimore, arriving around 8 PM

There are several outfitters in LaPaz. I have used and recommend both Baja Outdoor Activities (www.kayakactivities.com) and Mar Y Aventuras (www.kayakbaja.com). Single rentals are about $155 – 165 per week. They only rent to experienced sea kayakers. Rentals come with paddle, spray skirt, pump. They also rent stoves, which is important since taking your own stove can be very problematic due to airline restrictions. They also rent porta-potties, which are now required for people camping on Espiritu Santo. Both companies provide shuttles to Tecolote, which cost about $15 per person. Both will also provide shuttles to other destinations.

There are lots of hotels in all price ranges in LaPaz. Mar Y Aventuras runs their own little hotel (Posada Luna Sol) which is really, really nice and inexpensive (45-55 USD/night). Also, check with Aero California to see if they have any hotel package deals. I once got two free nights in a luxury hotel AND a lower air fare by doing a package deal.

Other stuff: There are big grocery stores in LaPaz, where you can get pretty much anything you want/need, except freeze dried foods. White gas is available at hardware stores. Baja Outdoor Activities will provide a simple map of Espiritu Santo. Nautical charts of northern and southern Baja (with a large scale insert of Espiritu Santo) are available from the Fish –n - Map company (www.fishnmap.com). You have to carry all your water for the Espiritu Santo trip.

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EVEN THE BEST BOATERS CAN FIND THEMSELVES IN SERIOUS TROUBLE ON THE MILDEST OF DAYS ON THE WATER. PARTICIPATION IN THIS SPORT IS A STRENUOUS ACTIVITY. CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE UNDERTAKING ANY SUCH ACTIVITY. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT EACH BOATER TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OR HER OWN SAFETY, AND IS TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ASSESSING THE DANGER LEVEL AND ACCEPTING THE CONSEQUENCES OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS SPORT.


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