Bahia Salinas, Isla Carmen – 10/7/2019

Leaving Isla Danzante behind we headed to Bahia Salinas on the western side of Isla Carmen.  After a late lunch the kids took the dinghy ashore to have a swim, while Andrew and I recovered from our morning hike.

Andrew and I went for a snorkel on the sunken tuna boat in the middle of the bay.  The 120 foot boat sunk in 1981 and has since split into two pieces.  The wreck is great for either diving or snorkeling, as part of it is only a couple of meters below the surface.  The site provides a variety of fish and a wreck with its cargo holds to explore.  The water visibility has been terrible over the last week and although it had improved today and the water was warmer, the water clarity was still not great.

We met Totem on the beach at 5.30 to explore the old salt mining operation, which closed down in 1984. In 1995 a program commenced to reintroduce desert big horn sheep onto the island. Isla Carmen is one of only a few privately owned islands in the Sea of Cortez and as such you are not permitted to walk inland from the beach.  Rumor has it, that the island is owned by a Mexican ex-president from the 1990s, Carlos Salinas de Cortari. Today set among the decaying ruins at Bahia Salinas is a hunting lodge, where for a large sum of money you can visit and hunt ‘desert big horn sheep.’  Mmm, anyone else wonder why they started the reintroduction project?  There is even a website advertising the lodge: http://mexicohunts.com/carmenisland.html

The site mine is home to not only the hunting lodge, but also a beautiful church, some dilapidated buildings, rusting equipment and a vast area of salt pans.  Our first discovery was a school.  What was interesting about the school was the exterior walls on either side, which are covered in shells.

I decided to go for a little wander to have a look at the salt ponds, while everyone else continued on.  I had seen pictures of large chunks of white crystallized salt in the cruising guide and had hoped to see some.  My endevours were in vain, as the ponds were quite far back on the private island and with signs in Spanish, I decided to not push my luck and turned back.

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One of the most photographed buildings at the site is the church.  The white church is in fabulous condition and is really pretty set against the desert hues of the island.

I finally caught up to everyone else in front of what looked like a grain silo.  From what I could find out online, some say it was used to store salt, while others said it was for water storage.  However, today there are seats surrounding it and it appears to be a place to relax for a drink for paying customers.

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It was at this point that Ava found a rotting turtle carcass, near the remains of a pier.  The rotting pier is the resting spot for brown pelicans, while recovering from their dive bombing into the water in search of fish. Ava and Siobhan disappeared to have a closer look at the turtle carcass and to collect shells, while the rest of us continued on. 

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Among the crumbling buildings are small touches of the past life here, whether it is a typewriter in a building which is slowly caving in, a collection of old toys or a piece of rusting machinery in a room.

Scattered throughout the settlement and near the salt ponds are rusting equipment; cars, forklifts and trucks. The lodge has added small touches to the vehicles, like a cactus driving the forklift.

Inside the buildings are long forgotten household items or signs on buildings advertising past services.

Even without the personalised touches to the buildings and vehicles, the crumbling structures with the desert landscape is a photographers dream.

I loved the site, the full circle of life.  The environment was destroyed or altered to create both the salt mine and a settlement and now in just three decades the buildings and machinery are crumbling and the natural world is reclaiming what was theirs. My opinion of beauty may be a little different, as Ava is begging me not to make her visit any more boring salt mines.  Oh well you can’t please everybody.

Honeymoon Cove Hike, Isla Danzante – 10/7/2019

Written by Ava (age 13)

On the 10th of July at eight in the morning, my family and our friends, Totem, ventured to Honeymoon Cove, on Isla Danzante, or otherwise known as Dancer Island. The anchorage has three lobes and can only fit a handful of boats. From our position on one of the ridges, we had a great view of Sierra de la Giganta.

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Leaving Utopia behind for our hike. 

We drove in our dinghies from the northern lobe, where our boat was anchored, to the southern lobe. There, we hiked from the white, sandy beach, to a stony ridge. After spending a few minutes staring out into the deep blue abyss we carried on our hike and arrived at a very rocky and testing mountain foot. All four teenagers; Mairen, Siobhan, Max and I, started off first while the adults lagged behind. By the time we had arrived at the halfway mark we were tired and sweaty, and had to stop for a water break (Max and I did, the others continued marching on). Although we pushed through and it turns out that the further you hiked the tougher it became. The rocks were loose and the dirt didn’t give a lot of grip. I was scared that a rattlesnake would come and bite my exposed arms and legs.

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When we arrived at the peak of the mountain the sun too had almost reached the top. It was nice to be able to sit on a rock and drink refreshing water, while staring at the view below and around us. The glistening shades of the blue water, ranging from turquoise to navy blue along with the surrounding mountains and cliffs created a picturesque view. Staring below we could also see turtles bobbing their heads up and down, and rays flying through the shallow waters.

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Us at the top of the mountain

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The view of Danzante Island from the top.

After enjoying a relaxing break, we had to trek back down the mountain. Now that was difficult. The rocks were even looser and shifty. You couldn’t grip much, otherwise the rocks would fall. I slipped multiple times but only fell once. It was actually fun, slipping around (creating miniature landslides) and trying to talk to the others. Although, I’m sure it wasn’t entertaining for the adults. 

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Max and I at the start of the downhill hike.

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The view on the way down.

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With great certainty I can say that by the time we arrived at the dinghies we were dirty and dusty. Though, the good thing was the beach-side water, which was cool and refreshing, and surprisingly enough the water bottles still were as well.

 

 

Baja Dazzles Again with Dolphins and Seals – 28/6/2019

Jacques Cousteau once described the Sea of Cortez as, ‘the world’s aquarium’ and he was certainly right.  Baja has continued to dazzle us with its amazing display of both wildlife and landscape.

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Andrew did a bit of research to find out where the seal colony was located on the island, while Ava and I made a delicious pecan streusel coffee cake.  Once the baking was finished, we packed the snorkeling gear in the dinghy and Andrew and I headed off, the kids chose to stay behind.

We had no sooner rounded the corner of the island when we came across a huge pod of dolphins.  We slowed the dinghy as we approached and watched as they herded fish.  A large dolphin let us know through lots of tail slapping that he didn’t want us to get too close.  We watched for a while and then I jumped in.  The dolphins are edgy and it wasn’t long before they were diving down deep.  It was amazing being in the water with them to get the perspective of how large the pod actually was.  It was like watching a huge school of giant fish.

Back in the dinghy we continued our search for the seals.  Have you ever wondered what they call a group of seals?  Turns out there are lots of different names, ranging from a bob, bunch, colony, crash, harem, herd, knob, plump, pod, rookery and a team of Seals.  Who you knew there were so many.  A knob, really?

After getting two thirds a way around the island, we found them.  Our first contact was with a pair of female seals or cows.  They were very cute cuddled together, basking in the sun.

Moving around the rocky point was when we spotted a gorgeous baby.  We watched him/her for ages as he lazed in the sun, dipped in the water to cool off and occasionally lifted his head to see if we were still there.

We had our swimsuits on and snorkeling gear all ready to go, but as soon as we had arrived the male slid in the water and started barking.  The warning was received.  The females were not worried about us at all and were rather curious.  They would swim near the dinghy in groups of two or three and watch us.  It was so tempting to get in with them, but we just weren’t sure what the male would do. So instead I stuck the camera in the water and snapped some photos, hoping that I was actually capturing a seal.

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The largest of the harem of girls sat sunning themselves the entire time, with the occasional tussle and barking between them.

In between the little groups of seals scattered on the rocks was one star performer.  Rather than just lazing in the sun, she did some pretty spectacular stretching, which would make any yoga instructor proud, I’m certainly envious.

I think the seals are definitely my favourite in the underwater world, thank you Andrew for sharing the fabulous experience. Ava was very envious and wished she had come, so tomorrow we are all heading back again.

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29/6/2019

This morning we did another dinghy trip to visit the seals with Totem.  It was a little earlier than yesterday and the seals were less active, content to just relax on the rocks and pay little attention to us.  Ava thought the baby seal was adorable, I think they are all pretty cute.  Interestingly, the male seal was missing today, maybe out fishing.

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We continued around the point, donned our snorkel gear and swam along the rock edge to the end of the point.  The current was strong, so we stayed in the sheltered bay and explored.  I think it was Mairen who discovered a stone fish, which are prevalent in Mexico and of course there were lots of puffer fish.  Andrew and Jamie were quite excited about the number of large coral trout they spotted while snorkeling.

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No matter how many star fish you see, they never cease to capture the interest of both children (teens) and adults. 

After our snorkel, on our route back to the boat we spotted a large pod of dolphins, probably the same ones as yesterday.  There were lots of oohs and aahs as we watched them.

After returning to the boat, Jamie and Andrew went off spearfishing on the mainland, returning within 2 hours, which is pretty quick for them, with 6 large coral trout.  Looks like we are having fish for a few meals.  I think they were both pretty impressed with their catch.

El Refugio (V-Cove) – 20/6/2019 – 21/6/2019

The anchorage at El Refugio is a small V-shaped cove with white cliffs on either side and a sandy beach at the V.  The cliffs are home to numerous sea caves, a few are large enough to take the dinghy into.  It’s a small anchorage and fits two boats comfortably and three at a squeeze.

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Our first day at the cove we went for a snorkel along both cliff walls and in a few of the dark caves, where there were many large trumpet fish and snapper. The highlight for me on the trip was finding a nudibranch, which I was very excited about it. There were many Christmas trees and sea stars of every colour and shape clinging to the rocks.

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We stopped at the beach for a look and within a few minutes Ava had accumulated quite a pile of puffer fish skeletons.  The sand was hot, so we didn’t stay long.

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The cove seems to trap the heat and by late afternoon it had gotten really hot, so we went for a drive in the dinghy and floated by the cliff walls in the shade.  We took the dinghy into a couple of caves.  

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At the end of one of the cliff walls the edge is shaped like a face.  I thought it looked pretty cool, particularly as the sun when down casting it in a golden glow.  We finished the day with fresh snapper that Andrew caught.

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21/6/2019

The kids had a morning of school work, while Andrew and Jamie went spearfishing returning with coral trout for dinner. There had been dolphins in the cove all morning working in groups of about 10, herding fish to eat.

Looks like coral trout for dinner tonight

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One of the dolphins spotted from the boat.

After lunch we took the dinghy out to get a closer look at the two different pods of dolphins nearby.  The dolphins had been riding the bow waves when Andrew went out this morning, but this afternoon they had all become camera shy and rather reluctant to stay above the surface for long.  We did manage to get a few photos.

It appears that the dolphins weren’t so camera shy after all, as they put on a sea world worthy performance just before dusk in front of our boat.  Truly memorable.

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Isla Coronados – 16/6/2019 – 18/6/2019

16/6/2019

We decided mid-afternoon after the Loreto anchorage became rolly, to make the short hop over to Isla Coronados. As you approach the anchorage you have a sweeping view of the island, with its volcanic cone in the background and white sandy beach dotted with black volcanic boulders and turquoise waters in the foreground.

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We had the rest of the afternoon free so we went to shore to have a look around. Unfortunately the water is still freezing, only Ava and Andrew went knee deep into it. Ava and I went for a wander around and spotted a bird squawking, Ava thought it was a seagull, I was adamant it wasn’t. Eventually the beige coloured bird started chasing after a seagull, who turned out to be its mother. I guess Ava was right.

The kids decided to stay on the beach with the kayak and do some exercise. Andrew and I went across to another beach for a look. As we moved closer to shore we noticed a lot of stingrays below us, in various sizes scoot away. It appeared that this area was the seagull rookery as there were baby seagulls everywhere, almost the same size as the parents. The babies were curious, but a little intimidated by our presence and very slowly moved as a group closer to us to have a look, until Andrew went for a swim and they all scattered.

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It was hot and I’d had enough, on returning to the boat we discovered about 40 bees inside buzzing around. As Max has a bee allergy we did have to resort to some spray to try to get rid of them and closed a lot of the hatches to prevent their return. Thankfully it appears at sunset the bees disappear.

17/6/2019

The kids had a morning of school work before we headed ashore to have a BBQ with Totem. On our way in Andrew spotted large dolphins.  We dinghied nearby and cut the engine to watch, while Max kayaked past us.

The National Park have erected palm leaf covered shade structures with tables and seating, which is great for the tourist who come from Loreto and the cruisers. We had a nice time chatting, while Andrew Barbecued and Jamie and Behan used their solar oven to make some bread rolls to go with the sausages.

The kids and even some of the big ones messed around on the kayak, paddle board and pool float after lunch. There was lots of laughter, splashing and talking going on.

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San Cosme – 11/6/2019

Another early morning stop leaving the anchorage at 7.45 am headed for the hot springs of San Cosme.  The boys anchored, while I admired another beautiful backdrop.

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A beautiful backdrop with Totem in the foreground.

Another beautiful view.  On the right is Siobhan french braiding Mairen’s hair while dinghying to shore, not an easy task.

We used the cruiser’s guidebook’s description to find the area where the hot springs were located, which Behan found first.  The water is definitely warm and on a warm day like it was the nearby cool waters out of the springs was a welcome relief.

The springs has 5 or 6 little jet streams of bubbles coming from the rocky floor and rising to the surface.  Interestingly the jet bubbles start and a few minutes later stop and it is then that you will notice another jet start up somewhere else.

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Its an interesting stop for about 45 minutes.  The kids wandered over the rocks looking for interesting things.  The anchorage is a fair weather anchorage and with the weather prediction forecasting increased wind we pulled up anchor and continued on to Bahia Candeleros.

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Bahia Candeleros offers something very important, internet.  After a week the kids needed to catch up with some school work and we needed to check in with Josh and Tristan in Australia to make sure they were okay.  It looks like a couple of intensive school work days ahead for Max and Ava, as the end of term and assessments close in.

 

Agua Verde – 10/6/2019

Agua Verde is a small village located on the Baja Peninsula, close to Loreto.  The village’s name, Agua Verde is derived from the greenish waters that fill the bay.  The village population is close to 200 people and its main industry is fishing.  The village has two restaurants for both locals and tourists with a fish based menu.  The area also has goat farming and it is possible to buy both goat cheese and a goat if you want.  The village offers hiking, snorkeling and diving opportunities and nearby you can also visit cave paintings or bathe in the hot springs.

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One of the local restaurants in town offering fish tacos

We left our anchorage at Puerto los Gatos at 8 am for a 2-hour sail to Agua Verde, also on the Baja Peninsula.  As we approached a next anchorage we past a small rocky island or the San Marcial Reef and all we could hear was seals bellowing.  After anchoring we decided to go and explore seal island before the wind picked up and it got too rough.

Andrew, Jamie, Ava and I geared up in our wet suits and packed up the dinghy with all our snorkel gear in the hope that we might be able to swim with them.  On arriving it soon became apparent that we would not be swimming with them.  It is mating season, and, on the island, there were two very large males.  The males were surrounded with 6 or 7 female seals.  The males made it very clear from the beginning who was boss with their bellowing.  Within minutes of arriving all but the largest male and one sick looking seal were in the water, swimming around us with the male continually barking.

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We enjoyed the show.  Eventually the largest male gave in and joined the others in the water.  You don’t really appreciate how big the males are until you get that close to them and you can understand why on Espiritu Santo you are not allowed to swim with them until breeding season is over in August.

Eventually the largest seal had, had enough and managed to lumber his large body ashore.  There was a small seal who had remained on the rocks the entire time we were there and apart from lifting her flipper and head a couple of times she didn’t move or go in the water.  We can only imagine she is sick.  Poor thing.  It was a fantastic 45-minute visit to the island.

After our seal island trip, we stopped at the pinnacle, aptly known as the Roca Solitaria for a snorkel and the water is getting colder the further north we go.  You definitely need a wetsuit.  Despite the cold and the crying of the gulls, we had a good snorkel.  The rock floor is scattered with starfish of various colours, shapes and sizes all gripping onto the rocks.  We even saw a few crown of thorns among them.

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The pinnacle where we went for a snorkel

Some of the many starfish and crown of thorns we spotted.

I did spot a couple of Christmas trees which I haven’t seen in a while and just as we were getting in the dinghy Ava spotted what think was a snake or I guess it could have been an eel.

We ended our day by going ashore at about 5 pm to the village, just as the goats were meandering up the steep slope. 

The village consists of a few houses, two restaurants and a few small tiendas, shops.  Among the houses were more grazing goats, kids running around, dogs playing and a turkey all ruffled up. 

We wandered the small village waving to the kids and admiring the local artwork on the buildings.  Behan actually pointed out that the paintings had paintings within them of their local landscape and people.

Eventually we found a lady who had goat cheese, made into a heart shape.  With our cheese in hand we went back to the dinghy. 

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Reaching our dinghy we found the beach population had exploded with kids swimming and jumping off a local fishing boat, others running along the beach, pelicans fishing and fighting for space on any available boat, dogs barking and parents chasing kids, it was all happening.

We decided to retreat to the quiet on our boat for sun-downers with crackers and fresh goat cheese.

Puerto los Gatos – 9/6/2019

We had an early morning start or at least by our standards, leaving at 8 am.  We continued to Puerto los Gatos arriving at lunchtime.  Puerto los Gatos is well known due to its smooth rocky formation that rise from the water in variegated shades of pinks and red.

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I didn’t go in to shore until later in the afternoon as it was too hot.  So when Andrew returned from spearfishing I went to explore.  On one end of the bay along the pebbly shore are more vertical rock formations.  In fact the rock was rather brittle flaking off a bit like shale.

On the left the view of the bay from the southern end.  On the right the flaky rocks, some with peculiar rocky growths, also on the southern end of the bay.

Now the other end of the bay, I think has the really beautiful rock formations.  The rocks look a bit like ice-cream or marshmallows that have slowly melted. 

P1130718You can climb on the rocks and see the spectacular range of pinks and admire the view over the bay.  If you look closely in the crevices you may find a skeleton of a bird or sea creature, but hopefully not a rattlesnake or scorpion.  The sand surrounding the rocks was filled with tracks or varying sizes and shapes, I don’t want to imagine what creepy crawlies you would find.  In fact, we spoke to somebody camping who said in the evening the beach comes alive with hermit crabs, everywhere.

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We didn’t explore too far, but there are many other little bays which Jamie explored finding a midden and a geode among the strata layers of rock.  I think this has been the most beautiful anchorage so far.  A few more pics to show its beauty.

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Early morning view as we were getting ready to leave the anchorage.

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Isla San Jose – 8/6/2019

Bahia Amortajada

Our first stop for the day after leaving Isla San Francisco was Bahia Amortajada.  However, our plan for a dinghy trip through the estuary had to be delayed until the tide had come in further to allow us entry with the dinghy.  Apart from hitting the bottom a few times it was a peaceful and serene trip.

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We stopped at a rocky spot that Totem had visited in 2009 and went for a look.  It was only a few moments later that Jamie and Mairen had spotted the skeleton of a puffer fish, followed by skeletal remains of trigger fish.  The kids happily ambled along collecting various treasures, I think Mairen collected the most with everything from the exoskeleton of a crown of thorns, bird bones, trigger fish skeletons and some other unknown bit.

Behan and I sat and chatted as the kids continued scouring.  Siobhan raced over with her excited discovery, a nudi branc.  It turns out Ava had spotted it and was keeping an eye on until we could get there.  After stumbling along over the rocks for a few minutes, the two girls eagerly pointed out their find in the shallows of the water.  I must admit that I have not seen one before or I have overlooked it, but it was very cool.  I did discover as soon as I zoomed in with the camera I would lose it, so Siobhan helped out by keeping her finger near it so I had something to focus on.

We had planned to stop at a little beach on the way back to the boat, but after a few attempts and hitting the bottom we gave up.  No one was keen on accidently stepping on either a sting ray or a stone fish to pull the dinghy in.

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We had a relaxing trip back to the boat before we pulled up anchor and continued on.

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Punta Salinas

Our second stop on this island was at Punta Salinas.  Punta Salinas was once home to a large salt mining operation, but today it largely resembles a ghost town.  The beach is scattered with rusting and slowly disintegrating abandoned buildings, vehicles and other debris.

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Max stayed onboard our rocky anchorage while we dinghied to shore.  Its safe to say it was our worst beach landing yet.  The beach slope is quite steep and with the waves it made it difficult to get out and move the heavy dinghy quickly.  The dinghy was swamped and partially filled making her heavier.  Andrew quickly bailed her out as we all scrambled ashore with her.  We finally got up the slope with both the dinghy and us all very wet.

We spent about 45 minutes wandering around the site admiring the pink salt pools in the distance.  Although the guide book said the mine was closed it did look like there were ponds on the other side of the island in use. There remained a couple of cars and a bulldozer, although they scarcely resembled the pictures in the cruising guide book.  I guess years of salt water and air has rusted some things beyond recognition.

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A few windowless buildings remain standing with views over either the beach or the salt ponds.  In fact, one of the floors still had perfect sections of tiling amongst the crumbling debris.

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While mindful of snakes, we did step on some of the myriad of cactus needles scattered amongst the sand and ruins, you definitely need some type of footwear.  Leaving the beach in the dinghy thankfully was easier than the arrival, but that may have been because we waded the dinghy out past the shore break.

San Evaristo

Due to the rolly anchorage and wind on Isla San Jose, we continued to the protected anchorage of San Evaristo.  The following morning with the rising sun gave a beautiful view of the anchorage.

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Isla San Francisco – 6 – 7th June 2019

Isla San Francisco is located about 44 nm north of La Paz.  The island has a beautiful crescent shaped bay with a white sandy beach, although it has a pinkie hue from the red pebbles.  The bay is surrounded by a ridge of rocky, pink cliffs and has the backdrop of the Sierra de la Gigantas on the Baja Peninsula.

6th June

We arrived mid-afternoon from La Paz and anchored in this beautiful, somewhat busy bay.  Andrew and the kids jumped off the boat for a swim and discovered that the water was ‘freezing’.  Siobhan and Ava paddle boarded to shore, while Andrew and I took the dinghy and walked along the beach.

The shoreline looks pink from the wet, red rocks which lie beneath the water.  Interestingly there were also a lot of shells with pinkie tones to them.  We walked to the point and back watching lizards sunbathing on rocks or floating across the bushes and dry ground, their feet barely ghosting the ground.

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Andrew enjoyed a relaxing drink on deck in his bean bag chair, which hasn’t been used in a long time, while watching the sunset and listening to the Eagles.

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7th June

Mid way through cooking an English breakfast we had a call from Jamie on the radio, wanting to know if we were up for a hike along the ridge.  I had been keen to do the hike, so Andrew readily agreed.  Ava was not so happy as it was disrupting her routine and she couldn’t understand why we couldn’t do it in the afternoon.  It’s a desert Ava, its going to be stinking hot in the afternoon.

By 10 am we had dragged the dinghy up the shore and were all clambering along the sand and up the rocky slope to reach the ridge.  Mairen spotted a cute little lizard sunbaking on the way and a backbone, which Jamie thought was either an eel or a ray.  Behan spotted hermit crab tracks and what she and Andrew suspected were snake tracks.  Andrew is a little anxious after having read that there are both rattle snakes and rattle less rattle snakes.  If it doesn’t have a rattle, then how can it be a rattlesnake?

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As you ascend to the top and walk along the ridge it affords you beautiful views over the boats anchored in the bay in turquoise and blue water and surrounded by the rocky cliffs in different shades of pink.  Gorgeous!

Looking down into the water below was a big black ball at first we thought it was a submerged rock, but discovered that the ball was moving.  Andrew thought it was a bait ball and Behan thought it was a group of stingrays.  We watched intermittently as the ball moved and also as another one on the other-side of the bay formed and moved too.  There was an occasional jump as one of what we suspected was rays leapt from the water.

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When we returned to shore we saw a smaller ball of black move past us and sure enough it was stingrays.

We returned to the boat so the kids could do some school and Andrew and I got al of our gear ready to go for a snorkel.  As we got in the dinghy we saw the black ball again and went for a look.  Jamie and Behan soon joined us and within a flash Behan was in with the stingrays.  I did go in too a few minutes later.  There was at least a hundred of the small rays moving in a pack.  There appeared to be smaller olive coloured ones that swam closer to the sand and also larger grey ones.  I managed to get a few photos of them, not wonderful but if you look closely you can decipher what they are.

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While Jamie and Andrew went spearfishing and returned with dinner, the rest of us relaxed or finished school work.  The kids gathered later in the day to play games or go paddle boarding.

Andrew enjoyed sundowners on the bow and I joined him briefly as we watched numerous turtles surface around the boat and two seals in the distance frolicking in the water.  A very cool day.

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