Sunday, January 30, 2011

1000 Words Is Not Worth A Picture

Our blogging software, Live Writer is having “issues” so it will not publish a Post that includes pictures.  Soooo, for the moment we have posted some word-only posts. Everywhere there is a large blank space in the blog, imagine a photo.

Bob’s working on a solution or an alternative. We’ll repost with the photos when he gets it all sorted out.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another Rough Day


We woke up late today after our late night at Tom and Cindy’s dinner party (we were in bed by 9pm) to a sunny and cloudless sky. After coffee on the beach, we took the kayak out for a couple of hours. Today’s destination was a circumnavigation of a small island about a mile offshore.


From out there, we got a great view of the whole bay and the Sierra Las Gigantas.



While paddling/pedaling around the island, we ran into Doug and Jill who were out for a morning of fishing in their Zodiac with their dog Lua.  This afternoon we drove to town to collect information about a possible boat tour to see the blue whales we hear are in the vicinity.  We saw them last year, and they were spectacular.  HERE is a link to that day.  Now if we can rally enough participants to share the boat costs, we’ll schedule another whale trip.


Saturday update

We are happily camping on Playa Juncalito about 12 miles south of
Loreto, where there is a restaurant a mile away which has internet.
Unfortunately we're having technical diffculties with "Live Writer",
the program we use for blog posts and haven't been able to put up our
most recent two posts. We'll keep trying. Meanwhile, we're having
fun kayaking, re-connecting with friends on this beach, eating
delicious mexican food and trying to arrange a private Blue Whale
watching boat trip. Life is good, and we hope all is well with all of
you. It's still sunny and 70s here.

Take care,
Cathryn and Bob

Friday, January 28, 2011

Party on the Beach


Cindy and Tom, our next door neighbors here at Playa Juncalito, decided to throw a dinner party since it was Friday night. Despite the unusual clouds and coolish (high 60s) temps, the dinner was held outside. Cindy and Tom served up delicious (marinated for 24 hours) carne asada, fresh home-made salsa and guacamole, just-cooked tortillas, rice, spicy beans and pitchers of margaritas.


There were 12 of us in attendance including our Canadian travel buddies Doug and Jill who arrived here yesterday, the day after we did. Tom built a fire, turned up the music, and for the next four hours we partied on the beach. At one point there was a rainbow across the entire bay, and the seals were playing offshore.  Everyone (except for us, of course) had their dog in attendance, and they (the dogs, that is) were almost entirely well-behaved. Most of the people were too.

Kayaking Without Going in Circles


Bob has spent considerable time over the last four years looking for the perfect dinghy to use both at home and during our land-based travels. We’ve tried something new (to us) each year.  Last year it was a porta-bote, a folding 12-foot dinghy with a 5hp motor. We also brought along a cheap inflatable kayak. You can read about our frustrating and amusing day of going around in circles HERE. 


This year we brought a double Hobie Kayak that can both be paddled like a conventional kayak, or pedaled with flipper-like devices that pass through the hull and are powered by pedals like on a bike. It works great, and Bob, who really doesn’t enjoy paddling and currently isn’t running because of recent knee surgery, pedals happily. Cathryn, who is already running two days out of every three, instead paddles, getting an upper body workout.


We went out this morning in absolutely flat water and kayaked for a couple of hours. We explored the north end of the bay and saw a number of small tropical fish, starfish and sea urchins, even a few small coral heads, on the sand below our boat.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Playa Juncalito, Take 5


Here we are, back at Playa Juncalito 12 miles south of Loreto for our fifth visit. We stopped here both southbound and northbound each of the previous two winters, and though we’ve never said it out loud, even to each other, it seems this is really our favorite beach in Baja. Loreto is not our favorite town (Mulege is), though there’s lots to like about it, but we love this simple unadorned beach. We sleep to the sound of noisy waves crashing on the shore. There’s enough sand to walk a couple of miles. Kayaking is good in the mornings before the wind comes up.  Fishing is good too, according to other campers on the beach who are inclined to spend their mornings that way. This beach is not part of a town, so very rural, and has hiking available in the staggeringly beautiful Sierra Las Gigantas just across the highway on which the pink and coral lights of sunrise are so spectacular it aches.


Playa Juncalito borders a bay about a mile wide and deep, so there’s land in the vista on both sides of our campsite and islands offshore to provide visual interest. On top of all that, our first time here we made friends with Carl and Chris (American and Brit) and spent several great afternoons sailing on Carl’s boat. We also made friends with Tom and Cindy, folks from the U.S. who live here on the beach about eight months each year, and Tom’s brother owns a very successful restaurant in Loreto.  We met Bill and Tey (American and Belizean) who own a palapa-house on the beach in the tiny village next door and had dinner with them several times, and we joined the Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port) Yacht Club at the semi-fancy port a mile south. So we have connections here that have lasted through the many months we’re away, mostly via email, but we also visited Chris and Carl overnight at their cabin in Canada on our way to Alaska last May.


Today we arrived to find only five other RVs camped on the beach, in sharp contrast to previous trips in which there were at least 30 (and we got one of the least attractive spots to set up unless someone else left and we moved into their spot later). Today we had our pick of spots so set up next door to Tom and Cindy who have already been here since October.

The pelicans are dive-bombing out front, the beach is as gorgeous as we recall, and we had a quiet happy hour by ourselves with one beer and our books this afternoon. The weather, as usual, was mild and mostly sunny and in the 70s.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Good-bye Bahia Concepcion


Today was our last day at Bahia Concepcion until our expected return sometime in March. After 5 nights here, we’re ready to move further south, so will depart Wednesday morning.

Today we went into Mulege once again to check email and buy groceries, sat in the sun and read our books, took another 2-mile beach walk, and bought more vegetables from a beach vendor.


For an hour before the sun went down, we played another game of Bocce Ball with Jill, Doug, Debbie and Greg.  Last time, Bob and Cathryn were on the winning team along with Jill – tonight Debbie, Greg and Doug prevailed. Again, it made for lots of laughs and fun, and we’re considering asking one or more of our kids to buy us a Bocce Ball set for our birthdays so we can add it to our “toy collection” before next winter’s trip to Baja. 

As a final note: we got up Wednesday morning to depart, and who should greet us in the bay just off the beach but a pod of 25-30 dolphins! They put on a great show, breaching, spy hopping and staying in the vicinity for a good 20 minutes. Jill, Doug, Greg and Debbie jumped in their kayaks to join the fray, but our kayak was already loaded on top of the Arctic Fox, so we watched from shore. A nice way to end our stay here. 

Dinner on the Beach


As has been our practice when we’ve traveled the Baja alone  previous winters, most evenings the 6 of us get together for cocktail hour(s), then go our separate ways to our individual rigs for dinner and what’s left of the evening for reading/blogging/movie watching.


Last night we gathered at our camp spot for margaritas, and our conversation was interrupted by two local fishermen returning from the day to pull their panga out of the water at the adjacent boat ramp. Greg, Doug and Cathryn wandered to the water to ask what they’d caught, but none of us knew the word “caracol”, and even when they opened their buckets to show us, we weren’t sure what we were looking at. 


It finally became apparent these were a most unusual snail, they gave us a dozen, and Debbie and Cathryn disappeared into our kitchen to sautĂ© them up with garlic, lemon juice, pepper and butter. We probably won’t buy more, but all agreed it was an interesting addition to our repertoire of Bounty From the Sea.


Next we all wandered to Doug and Jill’s rig where tables and chairs were set up on the beach, Bob plugged in his iPod and mini speakers, Jill lit candles, and Debbie cooked chicken in the oven, and shrimp, lobster and more barracuda in her wok, while Jill prepared a salad of avocadoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese.


We had a feast on the beach next to a fabulous campfire courtesy of Greg and Doug, with the dark sky glittering brilliantly with stars (what makes stars appear to sparkle, anyway?). Unusually late for us (9:30), we announced it was Baja Midnight and retired to bed back at our own campsite. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Walk and A Short Hike

Today was the day to test Bob’s knee which is recovering from arthroscopic surgery done December 1 to repair a torn meniscus.


We began with a two mile walk along Playa Santispac, a nice flat and firm surface.





Later in the day we went on a hike with Jill, Doug, Debbie and Greg up an arroyo across the highway and into the hills in search of petroglyphs which Greg and Debbie had stumbled across on a previous Baja trip.







Final verdict: Bob’s knee did just fine, with no ill after effects!

Life at a Different Rhythm

Our life at home has a certain rhythm to it, and sometimes gets busy (though our kids find it laughable that we think so, as their schedules are much wilder than ours ever get since we retired 4 years ago).  Life on the Sea of Cortez has its’ own rhythm, much different than the one at home.


Camped at the far northeast end of Santispac on Bahia Concepcion, we’re parked right next to a small sandy boat ramp where several Mexican men keep their pangas on  buoys just offshore.  Some fishermen depart early, while at 6am daily others return from night-time shrimping, starting up their trucks and dragging their boats onto a trailer. This wakes us, but we don’t mind as we’re always in bed before 10pm so have had plenty of sleep. 


Vendors begin appearing by 8am selling their food wares. We know if we want to go for a run, we have to do it early before it gets too hot (almost never a problem at home).  And if we want to go kayaking, we need to get out early too, as the wind invariably comes up briskly between 11am and noon, and whitecaps appear, making it no longer fun to be on the water.


Days we plan to drive the 12 miles into Mulege to run errands, we have to do it by 1pm as the internet cafĂ© closes then, as do many other businesses, for siesta until 3 or 4pm.  All of this leaves our afternoons with little to do, so that’s when we go on walks or take a hike, read our books and take a nap.


And while this it not part of the daily rhythm, it does happen occasionally that a truckload of soldiers dressed in their camouflage uniforms and holding their weapons drives slowly up the beach checking to see what’s going on. They always have stern faces until we smile and wave, then they also break into a big grin and wave back.

As usual, we find we adjust readily and happily to this Baja rhythm.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bounty From the Sea


Camped here on the beach, vendors come by in their trucks each morning offering fresh-picked vegetables, fruits, water re-fills (we have no hook-ups here), fresh baked bread, tamales, and empenadas. In the afternoons more vendors appear offering blankets, sombreros, jewelry and art objects.  Our favorites are the veggie, fruit and seafood vendors.


For lunch today we had quesadillas stuffed with sauteed chard, onions and cheese.  Next up, Bob heated salt water from the Bay in our pasta pot and cooked a lobster. Note to son Ryan: Cathryn was unable to watch this cooking and cleaning process without re-living David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster”, thus Bob had to do all the work to turn it into food.


Finally, when we gathered for cocktail hour with our travel mates, we ate barracuda on crackers, two fish caught by Greg in the morning and prepared in a soy, orange juice, chives, garlic and ketchup (unlikely ingredient, but it was delicious) sauce by Debbie. 


Bob and Cathryn have seen lots of barracuda in Caribbean waters while scuba diving, but didn’t know it was edible and were pleased Greg pulled out his Fish Book to show us the description, including that it was “good to eat”. In fact, it was a delicious flaky white fish, and we all agreed we’d be happy to eat more if Greg or Doug would catch it. 


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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday night on Bahia Concepcion


We’ve always heard Ana’s Restaurant on Playa Santispac is “the place to be” on a Saturday night, but we’ve previously avoided the crowds and loud volume. Doug, Jill, Debbie and Greg convinced us we had to give it a try, so last night we did.  We were joined by John and Elizabeth, two Aussies from Brisbane who are traveling the world (literally) in their modern-day Unamog (see photo above, Google it if you’ve never heard of such a thing), which they shipped here from Asia and are now headed to Alaska.


We arrived at Ana’s (photo above) and the music  began at 6:00 with a great DJ who looked to be well into his 70s. We were told to order dinner soon because they’d run out of food long before the night was over. We had tasty ribs (Bob) and chilles rellenos (Cathryn), and excellent margaritas. Despite not having the usually required 3 scotch rocks, Bob accepted  Cathryn’s  invitation every time she requested a dance all night long, which was more than a dozen times! The crowd was entirely age 50-80 or so, and it was funny to be dancing with a group in which we did not feel “old”.  Despite the good music, food, dancing and fun, we still left the restaurant at 9:30 (Baja midnight, remember?) and wandered the 1/2 mile back to our campsite and tumbled into bed.

baja 11

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Reunited, Bahia Concepcion

Yesterday we left Ray’s Place at Mulege and headed south to Bahia Concepcion, one of the most beautiful spots on the whole Baja Peninsula, and the place we’d agreed to re-connect with Doug and Jill, Greg and Debbie.  Sure enough, they were set up at the northeast edge of the bay at Santispac, a place we’ve spent up to a week on previous trips.  We settled in nearby, 25 feet back from the turquoise waters of the Bay.


At 4:30 the six us convened for margaritas and a game of Bocce Ball, a new game for us. We quickly learned there are few rules and a person of any age or athletic ability can play – it only requires the ability to toss a small weighted ball to a spot on the ground somewhat accurately.  With 2 teams of 3 players, we spent an hour laughing and playing, then retired to the beach patio outside Greg and Debbie’s rig for another hour of visiting.


This morning after Cathryn went for a run on the beach, we left for 90 minutes of exploring the area in our kayak. The water is crystal clear, relatively shallow throughout the bay, and fairly cold.  We saw few fish, mostly pelicans, cormorants and seagulls, along with several fishermen who seemed to be not catching much. It remains sunny and in the 70s, with no wind this morning – perfect kayaking conditions.

Friday, January 21, 2011

“Ray’s Place” and “Hacienda Habana”

Charmed by the location, we’ve now spent 2 nights at Hacienda Habana, a camping spot a couple miles west of the town of Mulege (which as of last night has wireless internet). And now we know why it is so named.


Last night we ate at "Ray’s Place”, the on-site restaurant owned by Ray and Favi Lima who also own the campground. The meal was spectacular and has only once been matched by any other in our 3 winters in Baja (the paella dinner we had in La Paz, Valentine’s Day 2009). We started with Oysters Rockefeller, freshly harvested oysters topped with spinach, home-made hollandaise sauce, a drop of lemon juice and tabasco, a bit of cheese and baked in the oven. We couldn’t imagine working our way through all 15 oysters, but we did, in no time.


Bob ordered Calamari for an entree, as he’s always in search of the best calamari the world over. He previously declared the “best ever” was at The Monsoon restaurant on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania, Africa.

He thinks last night’s calamari was definitely an equal, though quite different. Instead of being in small rings, it was more like a “squid steak” that had been pounded out to a thin, tender meat, then sauteed. Cathryn had Camarones Papagallos, 4 large shrimp stuffed with scallops and a bit of cheese, wrapped in bacon, and baked. Both were absolutely delicious, and two of the stuffed shrimp came home in a box for today’s lunch.


Ray talked with us occasionally throughout our meal, and we learned he was born and raised to the age of 10 in Cuba, a place we visited only 2 months ago and found fascinating. He seemed not interested in discussing that time in his life, and we suspect his family left there at the time of the Revolution. He grew up in the United States, including for a time in Sequim, Washington, only a couple hours from our home. 15 years ago he moved to Baja, Mexico, and 10 years ago married Favi, who was born and raised in Mulege.   They’ve made a wonderful life for themselves in this gorgeous spot surrounded by placid mountains and citrus trees and running Ray’s restaurant, and they’ve been fabulous hosts during our time here, friendly and helpful. We will definitely stop here again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Discoveries in Familiar Places

This, our third winter in Baja, we established a goal to find new places to explore, as well as revisit our favorite locations.

The past two winters in Mulege, we stopped for a day and focused our attention on “downtown” Mulege, spending our time shopping, doing laundry, filling our water tanks, and eating out.


As part of today’s search for new discoveries, we drove east of town along the bank of the Mulege River to the fingertip of land at the mouth of the river, parked our truck, and had a picnic lunch on the beach. Afterwards we walked uphill 1/4 mile to the town’s lighthouse, which provides outstanding views of the lay of the town, the Sea of Cortez, and the surrounding area, all the way north to the city of Santa Rosalia through which we passed yesterday.


This remains one of our favorite places on the Baja.

Mulege Comes Back

We first visited Mulege  in January 2009 LINK  when we camped on the beach 10 miles south of town at Playa Santispac on Bahia Concepcion LINK for a week.  Mulege is in a date palm oasis a mile off the Sea of Cortez on what, as far as we know, is the biggest river on the peninsula.  We quite enjoyed this pretty little town that provides a clear Mexican feeling despite a strong gringo presence.


In October 2009 we visited again. Unfortunately a hurricane had hit the town the month before. Many of the date palms had been knocked down, and the heavy rains turned the peaceful river into a raging flood.  Many of the buildings along the river had water over their one story roofs and destroyed them.


Today we were pleased to see that most of the town is back up and running, and the people look prosperous again. We were a little surprised to see some of the riverfront homes, most owned by gringos, are being reconstructed! People seem to think three hurricanes in five years was a fluke.  Maybe it was, as the last one before that was 59 years ago.


While we shook our heads, we were not really surprised to find a brand new section of what looks like a future malecon (waterfront boardwalk) under construction. This 1000-foot section is well outside town toward the mouth of the river and quite substantially constructed.  We hope it doesn’t end up like many major developments we’ve seen in Baja: half finished and abandoned some time in the past. It seems like every time there’s a change in administration, the last government’s bright idea is canceled to pursue the new government’s bright idea.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Actually, in this case, it wasn’t.  After spending a week with our new travel companions, this morning we all had aspirations to head to different places, so we did. We drove together from Bahia Asuncion where we camped last night, through Santa Rosalia back on the Sea of Cortez to Mulege, well more than halfway down the Baja peninsula.  From there, Doug, Jill, Greg and Debbie continued south, headed for different destinations, and we turned west 3 miles on a dirt road up into the wide valley behind (inland from) Mulege.


For a couple of winters we’ve intended to spend a night or more at Hacienda de la Habana, but never made it for one reason or another. It’s a highly recommended destination in Mike and Terri Church’s book “Camping Mexico’s Baja” which is sort of the bible of RV campers in this part of the world. The place is unlike any we’ve stayed in the Baja. It’s a large spread containing several homes, a two-story renowned restaurant run by Ray and Favi (the owners), and includes a large, green grassy field containing full hook-ups for RV campers.  There are bathrooms and a swimming pool as well.  Our camp spot is lined with a small orange grove on one side and large hills on the other.  It’s quiet and pretty. We’re glad we came and may stay more than one night if we like it as much as we think we will.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Partial Retraction

Recall yesterday’s blog post in which we described how complacent we’ve become with the driving conditions on Mex 1?  Well, we still mostly feel that way, but today gave us pause and slid us backwards a bit on the continuum toward hyper-vigilance any time there is an oncoming vehicle.

We left Bahia Asuncion in very heavy fog this morning, something we’ve never before experienced in Baja, though highway signs warn of it in many places. IMG_0073-1 When we got back on Mex 1 some 50 miles later and away from the huge lagoons which are the birthing grounds for Pacific gray whales, the sky cleared and driving was normal again.  We were following Doug and Jill, and being followed by Greg and Debbie. Suddenly our windshield was sprayed by a large quantity of broken glass, and we wondered if the truck that had just passed us, or Doug and Jill, had experienced a broken windshield.  Doug and Jill almost immediately pulled to the side of the highway (another lucky experience in finding a rare pullout), we all pulled in behind and got out of our vehicles.

It turns out the extended mirror on the driver’s side of Doug and Jill’s motor home had collided with the mirror of an oncoming 18-wheeler and shattered with what they reported was an extremely loud crash.  Ascencion to Mulege

We learned this is the second time this has happened to them in the 4 winters they’ve now come to Baja.  Doug and Jill seemed to us to be admirably  calm under the circumstances, and Doug pulled out a spare mirror, mounted a ladder, and duct-taped the spare onto the broken skeleton of the old mirror.  While it didn’t provide a perfect rear view, Doug felt adequately comfortable, and so we continued on.  We did note from that point that we all seemed to be hugging the right edge of our highway lane even more closely than before. 

Note to self and other Baja-bound RVers:  don’t leave home without a spare mirror and plenty of duct tape!

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Other Side of Town

Part of our group relocated today to the north side of Bahia Asuncion to a boon-docking site, and that’s where the six of us convened for happy  hour  this evening.IMG_0054

As the evening wore on things loosened up a bit and we were visited by Mr. Spock.


If we haven’t mentioned it before, Greg and Debbie have a picture of the Starship Enterprise on the back of their motor home.

Also at this site we found a sign that “explained” the rules about taking sea life like lobster and abalone out of tide pools. We don’t think they used a Google translation.