House battery at 6 am: 12.47
Yesterday was one of those days when things just fell into place, perfectly, from dawn to dark. I rose at the usual time, and caught the Amigo net weather while enjoying coffee and breakfast. Saturday and Sunday were forecast to be calm, but winds were predicted for Monday afternoon. I had thought we’d spend Saturday night at Punta Mangles, 7 miles south of San Juanico, however after hearing the weather, I decided to move on down to Loreto, in case we needed to move on by Monday. Loreto has no marina facilities, just a small boat basin. Cruisers visiting Loreto must either anchor out front of the boat basin, in open roadstead, or go 13 miles further south, to Puerto Escondido, and then take a taxi back to town. I figured the settled weather on Saturday and Sunday would allow us time to anchor out and explore Loreto, before the Monday winds arrived.
We got underway at 8:40, and stopped off at a fishing hole near the entrance to San Juanico to try my luck. I caught one small fish, which I put on ice, but only one. I tried for a half hour, and then we resumed our southerly cruise. As we neared Punta Mangles, Sandy saw a spout off the port bow. A single gray whale was alternately spouting and sounding. We got several good looks as our paths crossed. Further on we saw a small group of dolphins. I trolled a big lure behind my deep sea rod, but again without luck. Punta Mangles is a dramaticly beautiful headland, with contrasting bands of red, brown, and white rock. After rounding Punta Mangles we needed to keep a sharp watch for Mangles Rock, a reef and pinnacle rock area, just barely awash, and over a mile offshore, right along the logical route for cruising south. We visually located it, in its charted location, and gave it a wide berth.
Isla Coronado was our next waypoint on the way to Loreto. We were intending on heading straight for Loreto, but I began thinking about how long it had been since we’d been able to shower. We were both feeling quite salty and grungy. I decided that a short stop at Isla Coronado might afford a good chance for solar showers and donning fresh clothes before arriving at Loreto. With its lack of marina facilities, I knew public showers wouldn’t be available there. As we approached the broad eastern anchorage, I could see a large number of pangas and fishing boats on the beach at the north end of the anchorage. However, the bay is large, and the southwestern end terminates in a sheltering hook, over a mile from the pangas. The water is shallow there, with broad expanses of sand bottom, which gave the water a lovely bright aqua color, reminiscent of waters we’d seen in the Bahamas. Best of all, no one else was around. A perfect shower stop. I anchored and went for a salt water swim while Sandy showered, and then took my turn. The solar shower was up to 110 degrees, we sat in calm waters with light winds. It felt great to clean up and put on fresh clothes.
We took our time cruising the final 9 miles to Loreto, motor sailing most of the way. We located the boat basin by watching the pangas as they headed in. As we neared the breakwater, I decided to poke our nose in, to see if there was any chance we could tie up inside. We dropped centerboard and rudders, secured the dinghy on a short painter, and idled in. The boat basin is perhaps an acre in size, with pangas tied up on all sides to the breakwater, bow in and with sterns secured to small floats. There are 2 small floating docks, one on each side, both with 2 short finger docks. A couple of large sport fishing boats were tied up to the far docks, and it looked like it was used by a charter fishing service. The other is located just inside the breakwater entrance, and the slip space along the entrance to the boat basin was unoccupied. The length looked to fit our boat perfectly. We slid on in and tied up. I could see no signs or indications of limitations or prohibitions to our being there. It was a perfect spot, and well sheltered.
After securing the boat, we walked over to the charter fishing office, and found a guy who spoke English. I asked him if there was any problem with us tying up there. He didn’t think there was, and asked some other guys hanging out there in Spanish. No problemo. With that, we turned our backs to the boat basin, and started our explore of Loreto. We wandered over to the town center, with a first stop at the Mission Church. It is the oldest mission in Baja, and has been beautifully restored. The doors were open and we looked inside. The altar area is beautifully decorated with colorful and gilded statues and liturgical art work. Next door is a mission museum, which we wandered through. It told the story of the mission period in Baja quite thoroughly, and contained some remarkable artifacts. Afterwards, we did a little shopping, and then walked back toward the waterfront, in search of a restaurant. The walkway down from the church is landscaped with a series of small hedged trees, arranged in pairs, and trained to grow together over the middle of the street. These hedged trees form a series of green arches for several blocks on either side of the church. It’s a very lovely and inviting street.
For dinner we selected La Palapa, a nice, traditional Mexican restaurant near the waterfront. The roof is thatched palm leaves, and the walls are woven mats. The atmosphere was warm and colorful, and the waiters had energy and style. Our waiter had a bright red crewcut, but was clearly a true Mexican. He had a good sense of humor, spoke fair English in a heavy accent, and served us well. We ordered margueritas, and they brought us an excellent salsa tray. Sandy ordered shrimp, and I had scallops. The food was excellent. After dinner Sandy wanted to try their flan. The waiter asked if I would like some Mexican coffee. I hesitated a bit, then said Si. He beamed and gave me the “right on” arm pump. A short while later he returned with the flan, and a tray with coffee cup, an alcohol flame holder and two metal cups. With great flair he heated the tequila in the two cups, then flamed the contents, and proceeded to pour from one to the other the flaming tequila. He created a flaming stream over a foot in length. It was quite a performance, finished off by pouring a little flaming tequila on Sandy’s flan, and the rest into my coffee. Perfect way to complete a delightful meal.
We walked back to the waterfront as dusk settled, and then strolled the malecon back toward the boat basin. We walked out to the end, where our boat was slipped. A family group was at the small gazebo on the end, a man, two women, a young boy and two dogs. We walked down to the boat, closely followed by the boy, who displayed an intense curiousity about the boat. He peered over the side, trying to see what was inside. One of the women came down, I think to make sure the boy wasn’t being a problem, and she too became extremely curious about the boat. I tried to explain things in spite of the language barrier. She asked about sleeping area and “banos” facilities. I showed her how our little boat handled these things. I told her it was our “agua casa” or water house. She got the idea.
I went on deck to put up the sail covers. While working on them, I heard a loud splash behind me. I thought it was a pelican diving on fish, but saw that it was the man, standing at the end of the finger dock. He was working a throw net. I watched his next throw and marveled at how he achieved a perfect circle as the net hit the water. I have such a net, and have tried many times to get the hang of throwing it, but never succeeding. It always splashes into the water in a hopeless wad. I told the man how much I appreciated his skill, and then pantomimed that I’d tried, but couldn’t get it to work. He immediately motioned me over to his net, and indicated that he would show me his technique. I was hesitant, but he was insistent. He first looped the end of the retrieval line around my wrist, then carefully gathered up the line and the top portion of the net in a series of folds, held by my right hand. He hooked a portion of net over my right elbow, and then gathered folds of net also into my right hand. The remaining net was gathered up into my left hand. I then twisted myself counterclockwise and then tossed the whole affair out toward the water in an exaggerated frisbee toss motion. Expecting my usual wadded up mess, I was astonished to see a broad circle of net splash into the water. Both the man and I cheered my success. I slowly pulled the net in, feigning much strain, as though it was full of shrimp. It came in empty, but I was delighted nonetheless. A little while later, the man did finally get one shrimp, which he proudly gave to me. I decided to offer him a beer. He nodded, but misunderstood. He went over and tried to give me one of the few beers he had with him. I shook my head, and then got beers and cokes from the boat. We all celebrated shrimp netting from the dock. We exchanged introductions. He is Leo, his wife is Victoria, and the boy is Roberto. I don’t recall the name of the other woman. Our little bit of time spent together was a joy, and deeply memorable, a fitting cap to a perfect day in Baja.
Today was a layover day, however we rose early, because we wanted to attend the7 am mass at the mission church. While sipping my coffee in the cockpit, shortly after 6 am, an older man walked out to the end of our slip with a fishing rod. He eyed our boat and, in fine English, admired it. We struck up a conversation which was most interesting. He once had worked for the Baja Department of Agriculture, and explained how he had been involved in a program to eradicate cattle screw worm in Baja. It was apparently a big problem. My friend, who introduced himself as Bill Gusman, would drive out to all the ranches in Baja, no matter how remote, and test the cattle for screw worm. If he found infected animals, he would go out to the nearest phone, and call somewhere in Texas. A DC3 plane would take off, headed for the affected area. Bill would mark the target area with a big circle of gypsum, and when the plane arrived, he would signal with a mirror. The plane would then drop small boxes containing up to 1 million sterilized screw worm flies. These flies would then breed with the wild flies, and after a couple generations, screw worms would be eradicated in that specific area. He mentioned with pride the date in 1981 when over 400 people who had worked on this program gathered to celebrate the total eradication of screw worms in all of Baja.
Shortly before 7 am we walked up to the mission church. Unfortunately, the mass had already started, but we did attend the last half, and heard some beautiful hymns sung to the accompaniment of guitars. After the mass we walked over to a cafe and had breakfast. I ordered huevas Mexicana and Sandy had huevas nopalita, which is scrambled eggs with diced cactus leaves. Both entrees were excellent. After breakfast I found a table in the shade and caught up with my journal. We managed to locate an internet cafe at a place which was combination gift shop and bar. The people were very friendly there, and offer free WIFI. Of course, we did a little shopping, to show our appreciation. I was able to catch up on e’mail, and send son Ken the latest journal entries and photos.
We then located a car rental agency which the folks at the internet cafe had recommended, and arranged to rent a car tomorrow, so we can drive up to visit Mission Xavier, the second oldest mission in Baja, and reputed to be one of the most beautiful. We also did a little grocery shopping before returning to the boat. We just hung out in the shade of the bimini and sunshade during the afternoon. While sitting in the cockpit we saw the woman and dad that we had met in San Juanico. They had run in to pick up crew. A little later we were hailed by Howard and Pat, from Tuna Time, whom we’d last seen in Santa Rosalia. They came aboard and we caught up on our experiences since seeing each other last.
We fixed dinner aboard this evening. I fried up the fish fillets and our one shrimp, while Sandy sauteed up onions and squash, spiced with a little jalapena pepper. We really wished we’d had a few more shrimp, and a little less jalapena. The dinner was most enjoyable nonetheless. Afterwards, we went for a walk up and down the malecon. We weren’t alone in enjoying this simple pleasure. Many people were out walking in the comfortable evening air. The street itself was jammed with cars, cruising up and down, with Mexican music piped loudly from CD players. It was like American Graffiti, ala south of the border. We ended things off with dessert at a fine waterfront restaurant.