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Southern Sea of Cortez
December 9 - December 15, 2015
Bahia los Frailes December 9-10
The very best thing about our first anchorage in the Sea of Cortez was the smell. Although we were in the tropics, and it was much greener here than the outside of the Baja, there were no large sumptuous flowers we would have associated with such a delightful fragrance, yet somehow whatever there was worked in concert to produce a rich scent that smelled, well, tropical.
After some post-passage rest we naturally had to check out the underwater life. The water temperature (about 25 C) was down a couple of degrees from Magdalena Bay but there were lots of different types of fish over the rocky bottom near the cliff. We re-visited the reef the next day for a longer bout. We spotted various parrotfish, surgeon fish, sergeant majors, butterfly fish, cornet fish and puffers. Usually the marine life either ignore us or move away if we drift too close. It's quite exciting when they interact with us. A large school of silvery fish, about a foot and a half long each, clearly modified their course to place us at the centre of their circle while they streamed by. These Bigeye Trevally seemed content to swim around us, with no suggestion they were sizing us up for lunch.
Three of the boats who stopped in Cabo San Lucas while we carried on arrived later that afternoon. In the middle of a happy hour crib game, Konami invited us to a fish curry dinner. We had been looking forward to a quiet evening but quickly shifted gears. The game was set aside, beer biscuits were baked and the dinghy was inflated, lickety-split. It's important to be ready to spring into action when cruising. Besides, the opportunities to visit are often time-limited. All three of the afternoon arrivals left the next morning, keen to reach La Paz. We were pleased to have some flexibility to linger and explore a bit. Our fresh provisions were low but we were at no risk of starving, and figured any pending bills would wait for us.
The next morning we set our sights on climbing to the top of one of the two “frailes” (the two hills there are called Los Frailes). Due to a rather indirect approach, we did eventually get to a good height, but the midday sun peaked well before we managed to. We left the beach and headed off into the fairly thick vegetation, pausing to watch birds of prey soaring over the arroyo. There were tantalizing signs of paths, not the least of which were burro prints and piles of dung. However, the paths would peter out (sometimes ominously ending in sun-bleached animal bones), requiring us to push through scratchy brush and sidestep cactuses. The brush started off about waist high but got taller as we moved inland, making it harder to see our way through the prickly plants. We never did reach the bottom of the hill this way, although we found many new-to-us plants to look at and wiggle past.
We retreated toward the beach looking for clearer access to the hill and began to clamber up jumbled small and large boulders. Much of this part of the climb required use of hands as well as feet. Part-way up we were amused to intersect a well-marked path to the summit that was much easier to travel on. It had started closer to the east end of the beach. We stopped at a plateau, munched on granola and regretted not bringing more water. The view was great and we took deep breaths of that wonderfully fragranced air. Wanting enough time that afternoon to snorkel, we began our descent. Sticking to the trail made for a much quicker return trip.
Back at the boat, lunch plans altered when we discovered that our leftover rice had gone bad. Food management is a challenge without a fridge, and things like unexpected dinner invitations complicate it more - not that we're complaining about the invites! We fed the bad rice to the fish, and switched to baked beans on tostadas (like flat crunchy tacos) with lip-burning salsa – that is, once we skimmed a questionable patch of growth out of the salsa. The last grocery store was many miles behind us after all.
The sweat from the hike (and the salsa spice) was rinsed off by re-visiting the reef. Freshwater showers afterwards were a bonus, courtesy of our watermaker - a well-appreciated luxury. A school of small rays swam around the boat as we showered (couldn't they have showed up while we were still in the water?). Los Frailes is really a very fishy place. All evening after sunset we could hear splashing - a flashlight in the water revealed that it was teeming with various fish.
It was time to consider the next jump so we pulled out the cruising guide often referred to as Shawn and Heather's book (Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser's Guidebook, by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer). In a sonorous voice, Bjarne read for us from the Book of the Sea of Cortez. The plot was a bit thin but the moral of the story was clear - stay two miles off-shore between Los Frailes and Los Muertos.
A tease of a breeze had us sailing out of the bay early in the morning, but 15 min later the engine was on. We only managed an hour and a quarter of sailing in this 46 mile, 10 hour passage. Regretfully, we passed by Pulmo Reef in Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. No anchoring is permitted but one can arrange to access the reputedly excellent diving. As we motored north we passed back out of the tropics, but being in the Sea of Cortez was ample compensation.
Bahia de los Muertos December 11-13
We anchored fairly far off another long white sand beach, this one with a restaurant at one end and a resort at the other. Moving inland and uphill, behind the restaurant, are some large fancy homes. Casa de Costa Plenty, Bjarne said. Marketing people have been at work - the community and the resort were branded as Bahia de los Sueños, changing the Bay of the Dead to the Bay of Dreams. At the restaurant we were able to connect with the Internet briefly and pour some water on the most pressing fires (and have lunch).
Back at the other end of the beach, strolling about, we were astonished by a bunch of discarded fruit just outside of the boundary of the resort. Most of the fruit looked perfectly fine except for having been cut open. Was it leftover from a buffet? It couldn't have been laying in the sun and sand for more than an hour or so. As people who dislike waste, we were disgusted by this and speculated as to how many fancy fruit drinks (with umbrellas) could have been squeezed from the leftovers. We were quite pleased, however, to recover half a dozen undamaged oranges and grapefruits that looked (and tasted) as fresh as any from the grocery store. Being out of any other fresh provisions we were tempted to scoop up some of the cut items but resisted as we didn't really know how they had been treated to that point.
Wandering into the hills where the luxury homes were scattered we discovered that there were many surveyed lots apparently available for sale. The lots were undeveloped but cactus-covered and would have undeniably nice views. The signs seemed pretty weathered, with some missing the number entirely, and one lot contained a long-neglected partially-built house. Perhaps the resort community had not taken off at the speed the developers hoped for. We followed a road and were surprised, as was the sleeping guard, to come across a gate and a guard house from the back side. We hadn't realized we'd been wandering around a gated community. The road eventually lead back to the beach, wending its way through a forest of all sorts of cacti with many interesting shapes. Some were very old and many were much taller than us.
Playa Bonanza December 14-15
It was just before dawn and we were getting ready to pull up the anchor - well, who knew you could see the Southern Cross this far north? Not that we will regularly get up at 5h30 in the morning to see it. We tacked our way up the Cerralvo Channel until the winds became too light for sailing. The highlight of this passage was a huge fish, probably a 4 foot marlin, leaping out of the water maybe 20 times! Wonder what was chasing it?
We anchored at Playa Bonanza with just enough time before sunset for a quick swim in remarkably clear water. The beach is beautiful but we did not give it its due. With every intention of returning, we left the next morning. La Paz, the Internet and fresh provisions were calling.
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