Baja California Sur

[NOTE TO READERS: This next series of posts relates to a kayaking expedition we made at the end of October 2018 in a remote part of Mexico. During the trip, we were unable to communicate with the outside world and upon our return to the USA, events in Florida overtook us – the birth of our first grandchild and the marriage of our son, Trevor. Consequently, what follows is the recollection of that trip from a faded memory and a smattering of notes, nine months after-the-fact. It may not be fully accurate, but I hope you’ll find it interesting none-the-less.]

We were thrilled when our good friends and neighbors in Washington, Barb and Scott Wood, asked if we’d like to join them on a kayaking trip in the Gulf of California, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

Barb and Scott had enjoyed kayaking there previously and Scott had been communicating with a Canadian tour organizer about a trip that the operator, ROW Adventures, now known as Adventures Unbound, called its “Loreto to La Paz Expedition,” a 10-day paddle along the remote eastern coast of Baja California Sur.

Like us, Barb and Scott (having grown up in Hawaii) are water-people and they’re the perfect pair to paddle with: recently retired teachers, Scott being a former Coast Guardsman and Barb having an artist’s eye – and both being fun and adventurous and experienced kayakers. They were the ones that motivated us to buy sea kayaks in Washington and we’ve been on several outings together in the Pacific Northwest.

The four of us flew into Loreto, Mexico, on the same flight out of Los Angeles, although we had departed from Washington, they being already in California visiting family. We took a cab together from the airport in Loreto to our waterfront hotel, La Mision, where we had a brief orientation with our guides for the expedition, followed by a seafood dinner as the sun set behind us, before turning in for the night.

Kayaking Day 1, October 29, 2018

We had been pleasantly surprised to discover that, ours being the first trip of the season for ROW, the four of us would be the only paddlers on the expedition, yet we would have two guides, Mario and Lino, for the entire excursion. For all practical purposes, this was going to be a private trip, rather than the group tour we had originally expected. Mario, as the “trip leader,” would paddle with us; Lino would be nearby in the panga, our chase boat.

The general outline of the trip was straightforward: drive from Loreto to the beach at Auga Verde (Green Water) to launch the kayaks; paddle south along the coast to Punta Coyote; then, drive to La Paz. As you can see from the map, below (red rectangle), there’s absolutely no development along that stretch of coast – but, of course, that is why we had come!

From Loreto, it’s a 3-hour drive to Playa (or Bahía or Puerto) Agua Verde, the last 25 miles of which is along a rock road through arid countryside, cows and goats occasionally grazing alongside – or right in the middle of – the road.

Once into the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range that runs parallel to the coastline, it became a somewhat hair-raising drive, the road being only moderately improved, but the scenery spectacular.

At last we descended to the coast.

I’m going to get the history lesson out of the way here; this, from Encyclopedia Britannica:

The state [of Baja California Sur] has shared much of its history with the rest of the peninsula, which remained in Spanish possession until 1822, the year after Mexico gained its independence. In 1830 La Paz was named the capital of Baja California. In 1887 the peninsula was divided into two federal districts. They were redesignated as federal territories in 1931 and became states in 1974. The government of Baja California Sur, which includes a judiciary system and a unicameral legislature (the State Congress), is led by an elected governor who serves a single six-year term. The state is divided into local governmental units called municipios (municipalities), each of which is governed from a city or town.

In case you missed it, Baja California Sur was a territory until 1974 when it became a state! I graduated from high school that year and the residents of this part of Baja were still living in a “Territory” then. Woah. Talk about the Wild West!

We continued driving along the coast for a few miles. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky.

Eventually, we reached Auga Verde and our kayaks, already prepped for launch. We had been fitted for life-vests and given water-proof bags the night before so that we could repack our personal belongings (clothing, snorkeling gear). We stowed our personal gear, sleeping bags and pads into our individual kayaks; community gear, like the tents, latrine, cook table, stove, coolers, food and water, were all carried in the panga.

The panga, by the way, was locally built and sported the outboard engine favored in this part of the world, a Suzuki. I have learned that there are three essential parts to every motorboat: a sound hull; a working engine; and, a good pilot. The hull and engine were relatively new and in good order. The only unknown at this point was the pilot, Lino.

We were soon on the water, adjusting our seats, life vests, skirts, foot rests and rudders. We had requested (and paid extra for) solo kayaks, the 17-foot long Seaward Tyee, rather than the 2-person double kayaks ordinarily used for this trip.

Not far offshore, Lino pulled alongside in the panga to take a picture of the group while we were still fresh (from left: me, Barb, Mario, Scott, Dale):

And we’re off!

Nearing the end of the first day’s paddle at Punta La Ballena, about 6 miles to the south from our launch at Agua Verde, Mario took us briefly into a cave he had previously explored.

We couldn’t go very far in because the ceiling quickly dropped to the water.

It was a nice, leisurely day’s paddle, as Mario and Lino took stock of our competence and abilities. Another 2 miles further on we beached, just north of Lino’s ancestral farm at Santa Marta. it had been a nice, sunny and calm day, reminiscent of our days in the Florida Keys.

Dale’s kayak was an earlier version of the Tyee with less kick in the nose than the newer versions the rest of us had, but it served her well.

We ended our first kayaking day by beaching at the north end of Bahía Santa Marta. Lino anchored the panga and we helped unload the group gear onto the beach. I sensed from the grin on his face as he swung the loaded cooler over the gunwale onto my shoulder that I was being tested; he wanted to see if I would be able to wade to the beach with the load without dropping it or toppling over into the water. Growing up on the ocean in South Florida and the Bahamas, I had my eye on him, too.

As Dale and I set up our tents and Barb and Scott set up theirs,…

… Mario and Lino set up the “kitchen” and “dinner table,” using two paddles as uprights from which to string a few lanterns. They also set up the latrine, downwind at a distance.

Though Mario, serious and intellectual, was the designated tour leader, it soon became apparent that Lino was the heart and soul of the operation: always cheerful, fun and aware.

And he was a great cook. Tonight’s fare: Sea Bass tacos.

And, of course we had to end the day with a pitcher of Margaritas as we watched the sky reflect the sun, setting behind us.

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