Underwater in the Desert

Tristan here! It’s been just about 5 months for me here in Mexico since I came to visit (and then was locked down with all the covid madness), and in this downtime there have been many opportunities for amazing snorkelling, even just over seaweed, sand and rocks. Combining this luxury (there’s not been much snorkelling for me back in Australia in the last year and a half) with a newfound interest in photography has yielded some pretty neat results. Mum, Max and I have been doing a National Geographic photography course on Love and Luck with my good bud Heidi, and ever since Mum told me I could use her underwater camera while I was on the boat I’ve been taking photos of fish, rays, crabs and shrimp almost every day. Figured I’d share a few up here to see.

 

Two varieties of Mexican Barnacle Blennies

 

The Barnacle Blennies are definitely a favourite of mine, because they are so small (their heads are about half the length of my pinky nail) and yet so aggressive, peering right out at the camera from the mollusc tubes they’ve claimed.

Another classic in the Sea of Cortez would be the mobula rays, as well as the regular stingrays as well, who always find some new way to show off for the camera.

 

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These two mobula rays were more than happy to put on a show, though the regular stingrays have their own kind of charm.

 

Hermit crabs and shrimp are pretty easy to find in the shallows, and if you’re patient enough (and can hold your breath) they will come right up to the camera and have a look around; a couple that were a little more shy would be the Panamic Arrow crab, which waved its disproportionately long claws every time I got near, and the nudibranch which hid, almost invisible, in the weed upon the rocks.

 

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Hermit and arrow crabs, Mexican Dancer Nudibranchs and small shrimp make up just a few of Baja’s many colourful and exciting crustaceans and molluscs.

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Other than that, most of my photography has been largely experimental, finetuning focus settings and exposure for some really microscopic shots. A couple fish underneath that I have yet to identify, but they still held still for a photo anyway. Kudos to them for making it to the blog post.

 

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Tiny fish; their identities still elude me.

 

We are headed back out of internet range soon and hopefully near to another reef; the fish won’t photograph themselves!

-Tristan

Playa Santa Barbara – 25th and 26th July 2020

We anchored in Playa Santa Barbara, and very quickly ended up in the water for a swim, unfortunately, with a water temperature of 33°C, (91°F) it was neither cool nor refreshing.  The Bay of Concepcion is hot even at 7 pm when the temperature hovered at 36.5°C (97.7°F) inside the boat, air-conditioning would be really nice.

Julie, Mark and I headed out for a hike at 6.30 pm, following the dirt road through mangroves and winding uphill to a point overlooking the bay.  There was one empty house on the point and a numbered lots, indicating potential future development.  The view over the point was very pretty and would most definitely be a better photo op in the early morning rather than the afternoon, but it still had a nice outlook over the bay.

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View over the bay where Arena and Utopia were anchored

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Tecomate Island and the bay in the background

The morning began with an early morning walk with Andrew to the other point facing both the mangroves and the bay.  We encountered lots of mosquitoes.

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View of the north end of the anchorage and the mangroves

After Andrew and Tristan returned from an afternoon of spearfishing, Andrew took Ava and me for a snorkel over the remains of the sailboat wreck.  The water wasn’t particularly clear, but at least it was shallow enough that you could get down to have a closer look, it wasn’t particularly interesting.

We went over to Tecomate Island at the entrance to the bay and snorkeled around the island.  The highlight was definitely the reef rays that Ava spotted, we dove down and watched the pair of them chase each other, flap sand over themselves and swim around.

Isla Requeson – 23rd and 24th July 2020

Julie and her girls organized an evening walk on Isla Requeson to find a geocache.  Isla Requeson is connected to the mainland via a sandspit during low tide, when we went ashore it was high tide and so it was cut off from the mainland.  Across the mainland were tents and 4wds setting up for the night.  It took a few minutes to get our group of 16 organized to go and a bit of time to catch up.

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Mark led the way and hit a snag when the mangrove path was ankle-deep in water, we all waited to see how Mark would fair before committing to going.  Eventually, Mark returned saying we were good to go but would have wet feet.  Steph and Jamie carried their youngest two through the water and Ava brought up the rear while endlessly chatting to the other girls, you would think she would have run out of things to talk about by now.

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It should be noted I did not make everyone line up they were all just on the path waiting to enter the mangrove.

Walking through the mangroves

After exiting the mangrove, Lucy led the way with her phone with a downloaded map in search of the geocache.  After a few false turns, they eventually found the dead cactus and spent 30 minutes turning over rocks to find the treasure, with no luck.  We all decided to head downhill for a look, and Mark immediately spots a bit of red, upturns the rock, and finds the prize.  Bronwyn was quite excited to have a look.

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View of the mainland from Isla Requeson  

The treasure hunt: Photo on left Steph and Lachlan and photo on the right the two amigos leading the way.

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Bronwyn and Sally with the loot.

Arena and Utopia decided to head back, and Andrew swam out to reach the dinghies so we could get back without going back through the mangrove.

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24/7/2020

Tristan, Max and I headed back to the island to have a bit more of an explore, trudging through the vibrant green mangroves to reach the trail.  The green mangroves are certainly a bright spot amongst all the desert background.  Tristan and Max went looking for different insects surrounding the mangroves, while I went to see more of the island.  

The island has a path around and through it and the trail is relatively visible and marked with the occasional cairn.  Apart from a couple of birds, there wasn’t a lot of wildlife, but maybe it was just too hot still.  I did love the little cacti that are dotted between the rocks and shells throughout the island.

_1200135 (427x640)Doesn’t the size of the cairn seem a little excessive for the small trail?

Aren’t these cacti cute?

The island has a few small peninsulae, one of which had a rock with a hole carved out of it.  It was a relatively short walk as we had to get back for an early dinner and after dinner drinks and cake to celebrate Mark’s (Love and Luck) birthday. 

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Max and Tristan off exploring a trail on their own.

Petroglyph Hike, Playa el Burro -22/7/2019

We ended up anchoring in Playa Coyote and dinghying around to Playa el Burro.  We had a puppy and a kitten greet us on our arrival onshore and were eager to play and ended up following us on our hike. The girls named the dog ‘Hudson’ and the kitten was called ‘Kitty’. The trail can be seen clearly in the anchorage as you can see from the photo above, but not so clear when you reach the shore.  The cruiser’s guide describes the hike starting point as being behind Bertha’s restaurant and across the highway.   We followed the instructions and then spent the next 30 minutes trying to find an entrance, not as easy as one would expect, it seems.  We ended up finding a break in trees and clambered up the rocks until we could find white painted rocks indicating a trail, of sorts. 

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The shoreline of Playa el Burro

‘Hudson’ and ‘Kitty’, named by the kids, followed us up and back on the trail.

The cruiser’s guide says that the petroglyphs can be found at the start of the trail, as we did not see any we can only guess we were not at the correct starting point.  Stephanie, Bronwyn, and Lachlan came to see the petroglyphs but after some time of not finding them, they decided to return to the boat.

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Start of the hike

The first section of the trail is marked with cairns and white painted rocks and just involves scaling the rocks between the two.  It is a steep and very hot climb, even at 7.45 in the morning.  To our surprise, the dog stayed with those in the lead and the kitten chose to stay with Ava and Ada in the rear.  Andrew and Tristan had had enough part the way up and decided to go back down to the dinghy and swim instead. 

Eventually, as it gets steeper the path becomes less rocky and more clearly defined, as it zigzags the remainder of the hill.  There were a couple of water breaks in the shade until we reached the top, or so we thought.

Rest stop on the left and the view from the top, or so we thought.

We stopped for a photo at the top of the hill, only to discover that Jamie off Arena had continued up further, so we all continued to the peak.  We stopped for another photo at the top, but Julie wandered off and found that the path continued up another smaller peak, so most of us continued. 

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View from the top, oh wait it goes even higher

We finally considered that we had reached the top as the path became less clear and took a few photos before the long downhill walk.

Photo 1: Julie continues on up, so we all eventually continue up. Photo 2: Sally and Riley PHoto 3: the rest of the group at the top.

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View from the top, finally, overlooking Playa el Burro and Playa Coyote

Jamie and Max’s long legs easily ate up the distance getting them back downhill the quickest, the kids passed me, and eventually, Julie, Mark and I reached the bottom.  Mark had a geocache on his phone so we did a slight deviation off the path to see what we could find.  I’m not sure if the petroglyphs we found was what we were looking for, but I’m pretty sure they were not the authentic ones that were supposed to be at the base of the trail, but someone had drawn a pretty good goat.

The hike back down

The Pteroglphys we found was a little different from the one in the cruiser’s guide, not sure we found the right ones.

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Mmmmm, I’m pretty sure that this one is a modern interpretation of a petroglyph.

A long swim off the back of the boat ensued when we finally reached our boats to cool off.  It is so hot this time of year.

We left our boats at 7 am, but really to do the walk in the summer you probably need to go even earlier, and ideally, the hike would be better in the spring of fall.  The hike is probably not really suited to younger kids, but a kitten and a dog followed us up and made it fine, so maybe it would be okay.

Goodbye San Domingo Bay – 21/7/2020

Our morning walk took us inland at San Domingo Bay.  There were lots of jackrabbits, some sort of ground chipmunk and lots of birds.  But the coolest part of the walk for me was when we spotted a jackrabbit sitting under a tree, he bounded past us and dug a little hole and then laid his belly in it.  I had the camera snapping him and he tolerated me before growing bored and hopping to the nearest tree for some food.  I was amazed at how close we got.  I did discover that I have photographed a lot of vermin over the years it seems, we photographed lots of squirrels in the parks in London, chipmunks in the Grand Canyon and now jackrabbits in the Baja.

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Upon returning from our hike, we were even more inundated with bees and so we decided it was time to find a new anchorage.  During our motor to Playa el Burro, we encountered dolphins, large dolphins.  In fact, I think these dolphins are the largest we have ever seen, they happily rode our bow waves turning their heads to watch us.  There were a couple of younger ones in their pod that stayed close to their mums’.  Some of the dolphins had scratches, all over them, Andrew theorized it was the males fighting.  They stayed with us for about 10 minutes before drifting off.

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After going into the El Burro anchorage Andrew decided he wasn’t so fond of it, so we went around the corner to Playa Coyote.  After 4 months of not seeing people, it was a bit of a shock to see tents on the beach, people kayaking, pangas taking people to the nearby islands and even a jet skit, clearly the lockdown elsewhere doesn’t apply to Concepcion Bay.  We had a nice afternoon swimming and snorkeling at one of the nearby islands.

Santo Domingo – July

Our first stop in the Bay of Concepcion is Santo Domingo.  Santo Domingo has a white sand beach, littered with shells, and a beautiful mountain backdrop.  We were very excited to discover warm water and eagerly enjoyed a long swim, unfortunately, our excitement over our new anchorage was overshadowed by the hundreds of bees that had come aboard during that time.

Tristan and I went to ashore at about 7.15 pm when it had cooled down slightly to explore, but very quickly split up, he went to explore the smaller creatures of the desert and I went looking for the bigger photo opportunities.  

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More desert scenery photos, I like the reddish tones found in this area.

Tristan and I eventually met up again each happy with our discoveries.  While I enjoyed the desert landscape, Tristan discovered the skeleton of a deer, minus its skull and a detached leg with flesh and fur still on it.

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Photos courtesy of Tristan Deeley

It was a hot night and the temperature hovered at 34 degrees celsius or 93 Fahrenheit at 11 pm.  We awoke to more bees, and I was stung for the second time in 24 hours,  So despite the beautiful anchorage and the fact that we have internet, I think we will be moving on pretty quickly.

19/7/2020

After a very hot night, Stephanie picked Julie and me up at 7.30 for our morning walk.  I try to find something interesting on our walks and today Stephanie found it, quite literally.  We were walking around the rocks on the beach and next thing we know Steph is screaming. Julie thought it was a bird that flew at her, I thought she was slipping on the rocks but it turns out it was a bat.  It’s quite amazing how a nurse’s brain works because Stephanie’s first thought (in the 2 seconds) was rabies, Julie thought cool and went looking for more and I just thought gross.  We also found an intact skeleton of a turtle.

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The kids spent the afternoon swimming, playing on the beach, and using Sally’s shark teeth to create necklaces.

20/7/2020

Today’s morning hike with Stephanie and Julie started along the beach, where there were tracks along the shore and not the normal hermit crab or seagull ones.  We think it may have been deer.  Our walk took us inland where we saw lots of different birds, jackrabbit, and……. a deer.  I didn’t get a photo as it disappeared too quickly, but it was the first one alive that we have seen on the Baja.  There was also a cool rock formation.

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Cool rock formation in the middle of nowhere and view of the boats in the anchorage.

San Nicholas Bay – July 2020

Finally, after months of basing ourselves in San Juanico, we have headed north stopping just past Punta Pulpito in the Bay of San Nicholas.  We enjoyed a couple of days exploring the beach, dunes, and dirt roads in the area.  The area is very isolated with one house a few miles from the beach, reachable by dirt road, so we did not encounter any people while we were there.

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Andrew and I went for a walk along a dirt road and decided to take a short cut back to the dinghy.  While the path started off straightforward it abruptly ended at a dry river bed, which we followed before scrambling through the brush to discover a large scattering of bleached cow bones.  We eventually ended up back at the beach with a few scratches and stones in our shoes. _1190834 (640x427)

The kids excitedly discovered a couple of mako shark heads (fairly recently deposited there) on the rocks at one end of the beach.  Tristan and Sally decided to become dentists while we were in the bay and went back to the shark heads a couple of days later.  Were they smelly you may ask?  Yes, they were stinky.  Sally extracted some of the teeth from one of the sharks for future jewelry projects and Tristan spent hours extracting the jaw and teeth of the other one.  So far he has removed the flesh, put it in muriatic acid and it is now sitting in bleach.  He may have left it in the acid a bit long as a couple of the teeth have gone soft, but I guess only time will tell as to how the project turns out.

 

Photos 1 and 2 of the two different mako heads, Photo 3: Tristan pushing the head down to the water to flush out all the bugs, Photos 4 and 5: Tristan extracting the jaw.

Julie, Stephanie, and I walked the dirt road one morning and ended near the gates to the lone house with its own small runway and possibly a helipad?

The Bay of San Nicholas has been a pleasant change from San Juanico, as it has no bees, and a cool breeze, although we did get 33-knot winds at about midnight for a couple of hours the first night and had to hastily retrieve clothes off the lifelines.  But a new place is definitely a break in the monotony this year.

Cruiser’s Shrine and Hike – July 2020

After being in San Juanico for 3 months we finally visited the cruiser’s shrine.  Ava collected shells and wrote our boat’s name and year with nail polish ready for our visit.  Max accompanied Ava and me on our visit to the tree, really it is spread over three bushes.   There is an eclectic assortment of memorabilia that has been left on the bushes over the years and it is truly astonishing that some boats have visited every year for over 16 years, I hope we will not be continuing this tradition.

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Some people have put a lot of thought and creativity into their boat’s signage and it is an easy way to spend some time perusing it.

 

Some of the interesting cruiser’s signage

 

There are all sorts of paraphernalia including a woman in a bikini?

 

Ava’s contribution to the cruiser’s shrine

Near the cruiser’s shrine is a pathway built into the hill, I’m guessing it was constructed by the man who owns the three large homes, ranches and land surrounding the bay.  The pathway leads to fantastic views over the bay as well as to a paved road that takes you past the homes ending at a well or to another beach.  Max and Ava joined me for the walk, which is not strenuous, but well worth the views.

 

The trail to the cruiser’s shrine and hike uphill is shown on the map below in pink.

San Juanico ‘Oasis’ – June 2020

Having been in the San Juanico area isolated with our small bubble of boats (Love and Luck and Arena) for 2 months now we have explored the trails and dirt roads pretty extensively, but Julie and I were surprised when we wandered into a little oasis, quite by accident.  We followed a dirt path that was an offshoot from the road and found ourselves on a path that meanders beside a brackish stream, lined with green banks of desert plants and dotted with cacti.  The winding path eventually reaches a shell lined beach.  After months in this sundrenched area, it was such a pleasant surprise to see green in the desert.

I have walked the path surrounding this ‘oasis’ numerous times now and it is not easily seen from the water or the shoreline making it a bit of a secret garden.  The path continues the length of the stream which level falls and rises with the ebbing and flooding tides.  There is so much life along the banks with small creatures like dragonflies, butterflies, moths, bees, and crabs, as well as larger ones like flycatchers, pelicans, turkey vultures, and jackrabbit. 

This little guy, an Ash-throated flycatcher was very curious about what I was doing and twisted his head from side to side to watch me.  There are dragonflies galore along the stream.

I discovered a pair of turkey vultures feasting on fishy remains on the beach and they decided to follow me on my walk, not sure if I was to be their next victim?

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I think its a northern cardinal, very pretty

We have seen the horses (3 horses, a mule, and a donkey) that freely roam at the beach in the evenings, and on our hikes, I suspect this is also one of their retreats given the number of hoof prints and manure.

On one of our hikes we got up close with one of the horses, a mule, and a donkey, Stephanie petted one of them.

There are other sections of greenery from when it has rained in the arroyos, although they are quickly turning brown.  Below is another sea fed tributary. 

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Another little green oasis closer to the south anchorage within walking distance of Santa Ana Ranch

If you find yourself in San Juanico, take your time and explore the hidden gems in the area.  The hiking trail is shown in blue on the map.

Punta Pulpito – June

After a couple of days spent in Loreto topping up on fresh fruit and vegetables, we headed north to Punta Pulpito, with Love and Luck. 

After a relaxing night, we headed to shore for an early morning hike.  Unlike last time we visited, it was low tide which added to the difficulty of finding a landing spot while not puncturing the dinghy.  Love and luck towed their kayak and transported everyone to shore before anchoring their dinghy and rowing in. 

After a gentle climb up the sand dune, we reached the trail.  The initial part of the trail and surrounding sand is scattered with obsidian shards, Tristan enthusiastically collected a pocketful with the intention of later creating jewelry.  Willie eagerly took the lead, towing Mark behind as we began the steeper more slippery section. 

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The early part of the trail

After a few stops for drinks, admiring the view and chats we reached the point that Andrew and I stopped at last time, where he convinced me the next summit was only a goat track.  Julie confirmed that it was of course a hiking track and we decided to explore it.  The summit Punta Pulpito offers views over the towering rocky cliffs, crashing waves, pods of dolphins (if you’re lucky), and endless sea.

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Nope, not a goat track, looks like we are going up….

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Sally, Lucy, and Tristan in front of one of the cairns on Punta Pulpito

We retraced our steps and went to the adjoining bluff that we had visited last time, which overlooks the crescent-shaped bay with our anchored boats, and is backdropped by the tawny desert mountains.

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View overlooking the bay

We returned to the boats, hot and sweaty, and all eager for a swim to cool off, although Willie couldn’t wait and had a swim before getting back to the boat.

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Hot and sweaty on the hike back down.

Punta Pulpito is a great family hike for older kids and teens, as there are steep drop-offs and no barriers, I probably wouldn’t take younger kids on it.  The trail is marked below.