Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gringos in Mexico, Part II

This the second half of the abbreviated scoop on our cruise in the Sea of Cortez. I have much edited it down to these two posts. There was certainly a lot to talk about, and while looking over several hundred photos it was hard to pick and choose. I keep reminding myself that this blog is supposed to be about life in the TCI. Not about our travels 'off-island'. I can kinda justify Mexico, since that seems to be one of those places that dreamers such as ourselves tend to dream about. Heck I been wanting to run away to Mexico since I was old enough read about it. This trip didn't qualify as running away of course, but it did give me a real clear picture of what living in that part of Mexico would be like.

Here is yet another Baja California Sur sunrise:

We seemed to have pretty good sunsets almost every day in Mexico, with the sunrises a little less colorful . That's the opposite of what we see here, with attention grabbing sunrises outnumbering the sunsets. Here we get the sun coming up over thousands of miles of open ocean. And in Baja the sun sets over thousands of miles of open ocean. Must be a factor, you reckon?

I also noticed how long the sun took to set in the Sea of Cortez. So long that one actually has time to notice the nice sunset, order another drink and think about it, and then still have time to go hunt down the camera. Here, if I notice it's a good sunset I have maybe fifteen minutes max to grab a camera before it's down and dark. The sunsets in Baja linger like that first serious kiss. La Gringa's theory is that since there is rugged terrain between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific that the sun is essentially setting twice and one blends into the other. It sets once when it is touching the rim of the mountains, and then puts you into an early twilight between the time when it drops behind the mountains and when it finally disappears into the ocean. That makes sense. She's pretty smart that way.

Anyhow, back to the week in the Sea of Cortez. About mid-week we anchored off this little bitty island which the charts call Isla Coyote. The locals call it El Pardito, too. It's really not much more than a big rock, but something like 20 or so descendents of a guy named Juan Cuevas live there. They have a small village and make a living out of fishing, and catering to interested tourists who come ashore to look at their homes, ride sea turtles, buy some jewelry, etc. I am not going to write about that part of it here, because since it's on the tour of course someone has already written all about it. If you want to know more, you can Google up "Isla Coyote" or even read the story of Don Juancho at

After thinking about Juan Cuervos descendents all living on one small island together for over 70 years,my six days on a boat with my in-laws didn't seem to be much of a problem at all.

What interested me about these families living on this rock was the fresh water situation. Fresh water is one of those topics I think about a lot - very much due to our own situation here in the TCI. It only rains on a few days a year in Baja. When I asked where they got their fresh water I was told that they basically bum it from various boats including the one we were on. I was pondering the mechanics of how they get the water from a boat big enough to carry that much water, up to their little village on the rock. Boats big enough to have big water tanks are also too big to anchor close to Isla Coyote. I had a mental picture of a half mile of garden hose....And then I spotted a panga headed out toward where we were anchored.

And my questions were soon answered.

This was one of the Cuevas family coming out for a load of fresh water from the "Safari Quest". He had that panga loaded up with all sorts of empty plastic 5 gallon containers:

Thats about 300 or so gallons worth. We were able to talk, a little, about panga boats. I don't know how much info actually got communicated. There were a whole lot of words flowing in both directions. A lot of smiling. I do know we both appreciate the panga hull design. I also noted that Yamaha outboards are popular here, as they seem to be in third world countries in general. I gotta admit I had never seen a 100 horsepower Yamaha with tiller steering and engine controls before this:

Ignition, throttle, and shifter are all on the tiller. Once I started paying attention, I noticed that there are a lot of those here. And panga-style boats are very very common. We probably saw over a hundred during the week. Make that two hundred, at least. The Andros one that we saw at the marina was the only non-Mexican made panga that we saw all week. I think that says a lot for Andros Boatworks. That boat left to go unload the (by my calculations) 2500 lbs of water they took on, and another boat came out for more. They float a whole lot lower in the ocean when all those jugs are full.

After leaving Isla Coyote we motored to these rugged, isolated, bird-poop covered rocks sticking up out of the water for some more snorkeling.

The mission this day was 'swimming with sea-lions', and since swimming was involved La Gringa and I were all over that one. This is actually one island, with two large rock formations connected by a low area between them.

The place is thick with sea lions. The noise of them barking was tremendous. One of the island rocks has a pretty neat looking hole right through the middle of it, which the locals call "the keyhole".

The sea bottom here is pretty rocky without much sand. As far as I could see, it just slopes down, down, down into the deep:

The critters like to sun themselves on the rock ledges fringing some of the island:

Just off that part where the sea lions are snoozing there is an underwater ledge and the area is absolutely teeming with fish.

With isolation from land, protection from the wind, and unlimited fish to eat, it's really no wonder the sea lions like it here. Its pretty comfy there on that sun-baked rock. Makes you want to curl up and take a nap, doesn't it?

We swam over to that 'keyhole' formation, just to have a look at it.

It does indeed go all the way through the island:

The sea lions were acting a bit shy, at first, and staying away from the snorkelers. I was trying to keep an eye out for them underwater, but for the first half an hour all I saw underwater was fish:

Well, fish and La Gringa swimming down below me to harass the fish:

Of course I caught her while she was clearing her ears.

Eventually, we started seeing the sea lions rocketing past us underwater. I tried several times to get photos of them, but they are so danged fast that by the time I brought the camera around they were already past me and pulling away:

These swam right under me:

I found out later that the juveniles are usually the curious ones that will get right in your face underwater and of course the young ones were all snoozing in the sun while I was in the water. The ones I was seeing swimming under me were the adults, which are not nearly as inquisitive. Just my luck to show up at nap time.

The expedition leader , naturalist Kevin Martin, had some great cameras on board. Big Nikon digital SLRs with lenses that almost needed their own support team. Beat our little pocket digital all to heck quality wise. (ha ha but mine goes underwater). He took a group on a rubber boat ride later to get some better photos. These next two were taken by Kevin. First, a young sea lion now awake and in the mood to play:

(photo by Kevin Martin)

And one of the grumpy old adults, showing teeth that certainly appear to me to be fully functional. I also noticed he's got a fair number of scars on his neck as a record of past encounters with other grumpy old adults. Somehow, I can sort of identify with this one:

(photo by Kevin Martin)

That guy looks like he's seen some stuff in his life. Probably got some stories to tell. I didn't get close enough to ask, though. We were warned that the crusty old timers could be cantankerous. Same everywhere, I guess.

While these rocks are pretty impressive, they are not that rare in the Golfo de California. We saw some others in the distance throughout the week. No time to explore all of them. This one, for example:

Without going into a biological litany of all the other animals we saw on this trip, I do want to mention that we got into the largest pod of dolphin I have ever seen in all my travels. I am sure there were several hundred of them. I took a lot of pictures with our little camera, but the light was beginning to fade and once again Kevin's Nikon lenses did a much better job and I am going use a couple more of his photos here. Because they're better than mine.

(photo by Kevin Martin)

And the kids loaded into the rubber boat for a closer look:

(photo by Kevin Martin)

After the dolphins, we ran into a bunch of short finned pilot whales. Well, we didn't actually run into them literally. It's more like they flowed around us like they were a river and we were a rock. They pretty much ignored us. But that's certainly better than them running away. I did manage to get some photos of them from outside our stateroom door looking down:

The puffs of mist are from them blowing when they surface.

Here's one while he was blowing:

And here's another one of Kevin's excellent shots:

(photo by Kevin Martin)

So that's basically pretty much what we did for the week. Motored a few hours each evening, dropping the anchor in a protected cove or behind an island. Days were spent snorkeling, riding mules, hiking, kayaking, looking at critters, and just enjoying a very pleasant cruise. Eleven of our party were between the ages of 15 and 22, so they were hitting the water sports pretty heavy. Any morning when the water was calm...

They were up for some boarding, even before breakfast:

The crew rigged up a nice knotted rope swing, and there were some real creative belly flops going on. Especially after a few beers on the after deck. Here's the swing just before sunset:

(photo by Kevin Martin)

Finally, as all vacations go, it was time to start heading home. The weather had started turning a bit rough with winds and waves kicking up from the north so it was a good time to end it. Pulling into the harbor at La Paz, I noticed a lot of sailboats up on blocks, or 'on the hard' as them sailors have been known to say... It struck me how close together they were positioned:

and at first I thought "wow, if one of those gets blown down they all will fall like dominos.."

But then I started looking at them closer, and I think I got it figured out. It would be pretty hard for the wind to blow one of them over. They are so close together that they probably support each other to the sides. So rather than single boats with a lot of room around them in case they fall down, these guys get them acting more like a solid block of sailboats that simply cannot fall down. Has the added benefit of fitting a lot of boats onto a small area, too. Clever people, these Mexicanos.

So, now I am wondering what happens if I owned one of those boats, and called them up and said I would be down for the holiday weekend and wanted my boat launched from somewhere right there in the middle of that dense pack......hmm. Anyone know how they handle that? I know in some marinas they would say "Okay, no problem" and then pray fervently for something to delay me for a few weeks while dusting off that old standby...."we can't find the work order...who did you speak with, again?" But the Mexicans seem so efficient that I am sure they must have some solution. Maybe it's as simple as the boats here being stored for the duration, until boat launching season. Whenever that is.

We had a few hours to kill in La Paz, and La Gringa and I wandered around the streets doing the tourist thing. You know, getting away with being exactly the kind of people we complain about at home? If I could have rustled up a pair of black socks to wear with my Crocs, and a flowered shirt, I would have completed the image exactly. We were also finding out once again that there are two kinds of money: the money you work to keep in your wallet at home vs. the money you are just looking for excuses to blow when on vacation. (Ever notice that if you convert your home currency to the local currency it suddenly somehow gets much easier to spend? ) The price tags say something like $137. on an ashtray, and somehow a financial giddiness takes over when you realize how cute that ashtray is, that you don't need, when the real driving force is that you can spend $137 and it's really only ten bucks...."Here, Honey, let ME spend some this time!!!"

Mexican paper money is pretty neat, too. They have these little clear plastic windows in the bills. They look like this:

Twenty pesos is worth something around a buck forty six. I don't know how they can print money that fancy with a durable plastic window and still make money at it, you know? And who is going to counterfeit a bill worth $1.47 US? Still, I do like their currency. There is a pride and craftsmanship inherent in the Mexican culture that I really appreciate. Something about that money makes me want to slip a couple aces up my sleeve and sit down to a poker game with a shot of tequila and a loaded .45. Growing up with too many Western movies I guess. Hey, did you know that the Texas Rangers once hand-made their five star badges out of silver Cinco (5) Peso coins back in the 1800's? (that was the educational portion of the blog)

La Gringa picked up a bunch of long, loose dresses that she likes and which work well in the TCI, and one of those Mexican pullovers just in case we got caught in Mexico City in the cold on the way home. I didn't take many photos in La Paz, although it is a pretty colorful little city. The people are great, the food is fantastic, and La Gringa has discovered Herradura tequila. I got a couple of t-shirts. And Diet Coke is called Coke Light here.

I really got a kick out of all the artwork scattered along the waterfront. There are a lot of whimsical, nautical themed statues scattered all over town. Things like these three shellfish musicians:

The trip home was pretty boring. I know I shouldn't complain. I don't think we would prefer "exciting" flights. Boring is good when you are talking commercial airlines. It was La Paz to Mexico City, kill four hours over enchiladas and airport window shopping, change planes and arrive in Miami late. We could not get a flight from Miami until the next morning so we took a room at the Miami International airport hotel. I think we will try to avoid that in the future. What a hassle after a long day. The rooms there, well let's just say they are sufficient for a few hours sleep if you have an early plane to catch. But they have to be some of the smallest rooms for the price I have ever seen. So small you have to leave some of your vices outside. And the only place to eat at midnight was Burger King...first fast food we have had in over three years. Wasn't bad, actually. It even had a brief floor show provided by the manager telling some rowdies from a nearby bar that no, they could not bring their beers into Burger King to enjoy with the cuisine. We finally crashed at 2 AM in a room that was so small, that every time we tried to grin our teeth would touch the wall...

Mornings in Miami International .. What a mob scene!!. It did not help that American Airlines changed the gate from D 34 to E 22 just as we got there. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the plane we were expecting to fly us home was actually going to Antiqua..we were the last two people to board the correct flight. Out of breath and sweating from a fast couple miles through that danged airport. But we made it.

We were very glad to get off the plane in Providenciales, clear immigration and customs, and find the Land Rover dry. It tends to fill with water when it rains hard. It was also nice to hear that the funny noises seem to have stopped in the drive train. That was a last minute scramble on my part right before we drove the Land Rover to the airport for this trip. (Oh, I guess I didn't explain that I now know all the grease fittings and how to fill a front differential...thanks to the Internet)

Then we stopped by the "Pampered Paws" kennel to bail old Dooley out. We heard him barking and yipping when we pulled into the parking lot. There was no doubt that he had heard the Land Rover's diesel coming from a half mile away. I tried to get some movies of his excitement, but it was impossible. He would not hold still long enough for me to get him into the frame. I kept getting photos of a blank spot where he had just been. I did get one shot from a distance while he was rattling against the cell bars like he was screaming about his innocence:

Not a good photo for a number of reasons, but Dooley is the alert little knee-high-to-the-other- dogs thing commandeering the cell gate. We noticed that he was in a pen with six full-sized dogs. I guess he graduated from the puppy-sized kennel, and no longer gets housed with the Fifi's, Fluffy's, and Snookums. Nope. Dooley has been doing time with Killer, Zeke, and Boris.

I gave up trying movie-mode at this point, but managed to get a few quick images of him greeting La Gringa after ten days in the cage. Please notice that at no time are all four of his feet touching the deck:

All this was followed by an attempt to climb up into La Gringa's lap. Which of course doesn't exist while she is standing up. If we could get some flippers on those back feet, I believe he might be able to hover... They were just a blur..

It was hard to get a sharp photo of him. He was bouncing back and forth between us like a richochet on Dexadrine. Like a bullet in an oil drum. Found out the new camera keeps taking photos for as long as you hold the shutter down. There are few displays of pure excitement that can rival Dooley the Dervish when he gets cranked up to this level. That dog could make a hummingbird look sluggish.

So, after a day at home spent recuperating from the trip, and catching up on emails and messages, we are ready to get back to life in the TCI. And as I was writing this, our friend Preacher just called and said he had the fiberglass patched up enough on "Cay Lime" to maybe try launching her !! He's managed to get his hands on a 200 horsepower Evinrude. He also wants us to ride over to Middle Caicos on Sunday..So we should be having some more TCI photos to post in the not too distant future. Back to normal.

So it's Gracias, México. Hasta que nos encontremos otra vez.


Anonymous said...

Looks like a great time was had by all (except the travel part, that is), but it's always good to get home ain't it.
Been wondering where y'all been, haven't seen you at the usual haunts.
Great pics. as always, but I like the GOM and Carribean better than the West Coast.

Anonymous said...

Gringo , had a stay in that Hotel myself once, ya gave a good description.
Great pics as usual, sounded like a great trip for you all.

Anonymous said...

We like the Caribbean area better, too. It's just gentler water, and a whole lot clearer. Warmer. Friendlier.

As for the Miami Airport hotel, that was pretty claustrophobic. If we opened the doors of the cabinet to see the TV, we couldn't squeeze between it and the bed with the cabinet doors open. I will say the bed was comfy, although it essentially took up all the floor space of the room. And the drapes did do a good job of shutting out the outside light, and the view of the ductwork on the roof next door. And it was quiet.

Its a place to crash out while waiting for a flight home. Thats about the best thing I can say about it.

Cassie said...

Great pictures, you never disappoint! Dooley is such a little rock star! My brother is in Mexico right now, I hope he comes back with pics like this!