El Rancho de Lino

Kayaking Day 2, October 30, 2018

I’ve always been a morning person, perhaps a result of living most of my life on Florida’s southeast coast and the islands of the American Caribbean. Mornings are cooler in the Tropics.

In my younger years, I would occasionally greet the morning sun from atop my surfboard, facing east and awaiting the next set. More recently, I would wake early to watch the sun rise from the rear balcony of our house in the Florida Keys – and now from our southern exposure in Washington, though there I see mountains instead of ocean.

But, I have never seen sunrises like those over the Sea of Cortez:

You might have noticed that there is the outline of a dog in the photo, above. That’s one of Lino’s dogs.

The beach we had camped on at Bahía Santa Marta was part of a 320-acre tract of land that had been in Lino’s family for years, until his grandmother recently had to sell most of it for financial reasons. But Lino has retained rights to the ranch his family built there where he keeps a horse and burro, raises a few cows, pigs, feral goats and chickens, and grows date palms and prickly pear cactus. Lino is the 11th generation of his family to live on the Baja California Peninsula and he’s not going anywhere.

Lino loves his dogs and they love him; they had sensed he was back and had come down to the beach to welcome him home. Lino’s actual home – where his wife and son live permanently – is in Loreto, but he splits his time between the ranch, guiding tours, and Loreto, as needed. He has a cousin that stays full-time at the ranch as a caretaker.

After breaking camp on the beach and loading up, Lino gave us a tour, starting with a walk through his date palm orchard, dogs in tow.

Past the date palms, we wound our way through a tangle of mesquite trees to the cactus farm and animal pens.

The structure in the top half of the photo, below, is where Lino’s cousin lives. There are no utilities here. Cooking is done with wood or bottled LP gas and water comes from one of the wells on the property, dug by hand years ago. The whole scene was reminiscent of what I imagined the house of the protagonist in John Steinbeck’s 1947 novella, The Pearl, to look like; ironically, Steinbeck named that character Kino.

Also in the photo, below, you’ll see a horse in the top half (center) and a burro in the bottom half (off to the left). While there is a track to the property from the distant paved road, Lino said it’s faster for him to ride his horse into town than to attempt to drive.

We felt quite privileged to have Lino share his ranch with us and to show us how difficult it is to scratch out a living from the land on this barren coast. But we couldn’t linger, this was going to be a long day in the boats.

Although there are a number of places between Auga Verde and Punta Coyote to beach and camp, there are also long stretches of rocky shoreline where that is not possible. This was one of those stretches. But we didn’t mind having a full day on the water. It was calm and gorgeous and the scenery seemed only to improve as we made our way south, swirls of clouds above reflected in wavelets below

We rarely saw Lino and the panga while we were paddling. He was normally out of sight, but within radio range, fishing or checking out the route ahead. But, Mario and Lino each carried handheld VHF radios so that they could maintain contact with each other and with home-base and get updates on the weather.

Not that the weather changes much this time of year. It’s always hot and sunny and being in the rain shadow of the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains, it almost never rains. And though it can get windy and rough on the water when a frontal system makes its way this far south, hurricane season (June-October) had just ended, so there was little chance that we would run into any really foul weather.

Lino, having grown up here, knew every nook and cranny of the coast, but Mario, who had moved to Baja from Mexico City only a few years prior, was the leader and the one mainly responsible for guiding us. For navigation, he used dead-reckoning and the Baja Boater’s Guide,Vol. II – Sea of Cortez, by Jack Williams. From the guide, Mario chose Punta Prieta as our destination. Lino, by now, had proven to be a more-than-competent mariner. We felt quite safe with Lino and Mario, come what may.

We stopped twice to stretch: once for a swim; and, a second time for a ceviche lunch. As we paddled, we saw a couple manta rays, their wingtips slicing through the water like shark fins, and several smaller rays briefly airborne, leaping from the sea as if attempting to fly.

Since the water was calm and we had no headwind to contend with, it wasn’t a difficult day of paddling, although for me – because the strap holding my seat’s backrest upright was broken – it was a little uncomfortable. Once ashore, however, Mario was able to make the repair.

As it turned out, I was the first casualty of the trip, and not having anything to do with my broken seat. I stupidly beached by running onto shore at a perpendicular, mistakenly assuming that the beach continued at the same gradual slope underwater – it did not. With my bow firmly planted onshore, I slowly rolled sideways and swamped my kayak, breaking the ice for everyone else of miscarried beachings to come.

Punta Prieta is 10 miles from Lino’s ranch and we were pleased with our progress for the day; but it felt like we had paddled more than that. And so it was! While writing this post, I checked the GPS location metadata of my photos and it turns out we had not camped at Punta Prieta; we beached at Punta el Toro, two miles further south, making it 12 miles paddling for the day!

But, wherever we were, it was spectacular, surrounded by beautiful sandstone relief. As we bathed in the sea, Lino surf-cast from shore and caught a sea bass – to be used for a future meal; tonight, he was cooking chicken mora with a dutch-oven cake for desert.

With the boats hauled and the kitchen and tents set up, we relaxed and congratulated ourselves for a day well paddled.

As night fell, we finished dinner with cold vino y cerveza, the last of the trip since our ice had now melted. And then we caught sight of the night-time wildlife: the biggest moth ever!

It appears the moths here prefer Modelo.

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