We have seen two types of clams in the Sea of Cortes. The white ones (Blancas) are usually rounder while the brown ones (Chocolates) are more irregular. Funnily enough, the Blancas have brown tubes and the Chocolates have white tubes, which are the only parts of the clam you can see as you dive down and dig them out of the sand. Michael and I usually start looking for clams in about 2-3 meters of water; you search for two round holes right next to each other – like the unluckly end of a shotgun – and you want to try and sneak up on them, which mostly means don’t touch the seafloor until you are ready to strike. Make your hands into shovels and position them about a foot either side of the little holes, take a deep breath (figuratively), and bury – quickly because those little dudes shoot back into the sand really fast once they know you are there.
Clam diving is even eaiser than fishing, and by the time we split from the fish magicians on Lunasea we fancied ourselves pretty decent fishermen. I mean, we had to be because we were almost out of cat food and the next restock wasn’t until Loreto. Sushi chefs would balk at Tigre’s diet for the month and half we cruised the Sea of Cortes: raw Tuna (especially the blood meat), raw Trigger Fish, raw Grunt (which makes him crazy), clams etc… we even fed him lobster when we were sick of it. He really liked raw Barracuda, two of which we caught in Agua Verde, trolling with the dinghy at sunset.
Agua Verde, our next stop after Puerto Los Gatos, is one of the sleepiest of the sleepy fishing villages and is desperately hard to get to by car yet relatively easy to get to by boat. We ghosted in under momentum alone until I finally broke and started the motor, not realizing that an afro of kelp that had gotten wound round the propellor during the steady sail from Los Gatos. We anchored under reduced power, fianlly dropping our hook in front of the main beach, new neighbours to our friend Kim on Philiosophy.
We were so excited to find friends in Agua Verde; when you live in a city, bombarded with people every hour of every day, it is easy to lose compassion and even affinity for your fellow human beings. Out on the ocean, stuck with yourself every hour of every day, a set of friendly sails on the horizon is always followed by a smile. We finally rendevoused with the tenacious Jay and Erwin on Windsome, who gave me an awesome receipe for No-Knead Stovetop Bread, we met Bernard on Simple Pleasures, we met the guys on Interabang, and Kim even gave us a few ducats to scrub the bottom of his boat. Azul, as a business, was doing well.
Unfortunately, the water was cold and green and Michael couldn’t spear anything, so we decided to go on a land adventure and got pretty lost trying to find some ancient handprints next to a cave. This is not unusual, Michael and I have gotten lost many times trying to find good climbing: we got so lost trying to hike up to Jah Man in the Utah Desert that we had to come back the next day and try again. Fortunately, our misdirection has taught us to always bring lots of food and water, so in Agua Verde we were prepared and simply toured the neighbourhood instead of the ancient art.
We stayed until the urge to move became too great to ignore; Michael pulled up our hook (just in time, too, as the anchor line had fouled on itself) and we sailed up the coast to Los Candeleros Chicos (Little Candlestick Cove), aka Mano de Dios (Hand of God Cove), a little scoop of water ridiculously protected from everything but due North. Local pangeros identify the giant, hand-like rock formation that marks the east wall of the little bay, hence the name Hand of God Cove. A two boat anchorage at most (and probably only if you’re having a rafting party), we had the place all to ourselves and, of course, we were naked the entire time.
The setting was exquisite, the water was getting warmer, and the reef was absolutely jam packed with fish; the only bad thing that happened during our stay in Los Candeleros Chicos was that Michael snapped his Grandfather’s old fishing pole in half when a large bottom feeder bit hard then swum under a rock. Devastating, but something a little 5200 might be able to fix, and I maintain that it’s was miles better to break the pole trying to land a monster fish than to break it while moving from storage unit to storage unit.
My spidey-sense was tingling; Mum was getting worried and expected a call in the near future, so we kept traveling. We wanted to avoid the beuraucratic black hole that is Puerto Escondidldo, so we passed the Hiddon Harbour in favour of the small town of Juncalito: another extraordinary setting, another sleeply collection of palapas. Here the Sierra Gigantas close with coast, the visible granite slabs making Michael all itchy and electric with the climbing potential.
Highway 1, the main road from Cabo San Lucas to Tijuana, joins the coastline at Puerto Escondido to pass through Loreto, and with the tarmac comes people in all their glory. The gentle ocean sounds were punctuated by the low fart of Jake Brakes as truck drivers thundered past, and, it being a weekend, the beach was full up with the many locals who turn to their cars and tents for a few days away from home. Some brought more than others (we saw one family that brought an entire home entertainment system), but everyone was either fishing or diving for clams and clearly enjoying themselves.
We heard there was internet in Puerto Econdido, so we set off to find it. We had a couple of false starts before we realized that it would be a longer walk than we thought, so we decided to explore Juncalito instead and see if there were any cold cervezas for sale nearby. As we picked our way slowly through the stoney beach (just like Wales) in front of the palapas, nodding in approval at the tranquility of the entire setting, a large pickup rumbled toward us, pulled up alongside, and stopped.
Larry, the driver, hasen’t had a proper job in over 30 years. He met Diane, his passanger, because she was the real estate agent who sold him a corner of land near Palmdale, CA, from where he makes his living being, among other things, a first-rate jerky salesman. They married a few years ago and rent a beautiful, mural-covered palapa in Juncalito, where they live about half the year, and moor their boat Sea Toy in the ellipse at Puerto Escondido, which, coincidentally, was where they were headed that very instant.
We hopped into car at their request, grateful for both the ride and the AC. Apparantly, Larry and Diane had anchored near us in Agua Verde; they remembered little Azul, and probably Michael’s shock of blond hair, and were excited to get to meet us after all. They filled us in on the endless shenanigans of Hidden Harbour: how much it cost to anchor where, what the best, most cost-effective way to get water was, the quality of the various tiendas. As they got to work laying up Sea Toy for the summer, we wandered around the strangeness of Puerto Escondido.
Puerto Escondido is possibly the best Hurricane Hole on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez, and in the heyday of the Southern California rafting parties (60s and 70s) it was untouched, a pristine, almost completely landlocked harbour at the foot of the Sierras Gigantas. About a decade or so ago there was a push from the Mexican government to take advantage of the popularity of the natural harbour, and the two organizations who stepped up to the challange, API and Fonateur, struggle to this day over who ‘owns’ what part of the harbour. What was once an isolated, enclosed anchorage is now pocketed with mooring buoys connected to moorings that were in good shape ten years ago but have been minimally maintained since. It costs something like $200 (pesos) a day to moor or anchor inside the main harbour which is controlled by Fonateur; API controls the outlying ellipse (the basin of a unfinished marina) and ‘waiting room’ and they only charge a dollar a day… but there is barely any room left for a ‘tourist’ to anchor.
So you get this phenomenon where the safer, more protected area is virtually empty while the outer, more exposed areas are absolutely jammed packed with stingy old sailors, pissed off and bitter about this ridiculous slide into regulation. It just doesn’t make sense. What’s worse is that a lot went into the development of the Fonteur complex, and there is nobody there. Puerto Escondido remained hidden to the world for so long because it was so much more accessible by water than by land; the locals didn’t come before and there’s barely any more incentive for them to come now, so you’re left with a sprawling sleek new marina complex complete with a giant parking lot, sprinklers for the lawn (in a DESERT), a yard with a travel lift, and there is nobody around except a few crusty old gringos. A strange aura of inefficiency sits heavy on what was once, I’m sure, a spectacular place to be.
After Larry and Diane were done with Sea Toy, they drove us back to Juncalito and we made plans to drive into Loreto the following day. As one of the oldest cities on the Baja, Loreto was once in contention with La Paz to be the capital of Baja California Sur. It’s a lazy, hazy city with it’s fair share of expatriots drinking away their social security checks, but it’s a functionning city the way that La Paz is and Cabo San Lucas isn’t. Totally our style.
One thing led to another, our relationship with Larry and Diane progressed, and one afternoon found Michael behind the wheel of Larry’s Explorer with me in the passanger seat; the directions we received from Larry were: “Take a left at the cemetry and go explore.” Little did he realize he was saying this to two kids who drove a Ford Escape all over the Utah Desert trying to find cracks to climb, and within minutes Michael was driving in the backcountry, through small houses and farms, then into the floodplain and by the dumps. It was awesome, it was beautiful, and we couldn’t believe our luck in meeting such a nice couple.
Unfortunately, Larry and Diane had to head back to the U.S., and all too soon we were the just the three of us again (Tigre!). By this point, there was no denying that we needed water; we were having so much fun fishing, hiking and meeting people that we hadn’t even thought of trying to install our watermaker. So, we got up really, really early (9AM) and began chugging our way around the corner into Puerto Escondido, passing through an incredibly large school of Dolphins who, for fifteen breathtaking minutes, became our delightful escorts.
API, who appears to be less well funded then Fonateur, is based out of an old, stone clubhouse type building which has a book exchange and two showers (though the girls shower has a special nozzle that uses electricity so you are advised to wear rubber shoes so you don’t get shocked). All the API employees seem more down to earth then their counterparts at Fonateur, and they have a water spigot by the clubhouse that you can use for about a quarter of what they charge you at the Fonateur fuel dock to fill up your water jugs.
So we motored up to the cluhouse, dropped our hook, and nestled back between two old stone pilings. Michael hopped into the dinghy and dropped our little Danforth anchor as a stern hook, then rowed to shore to sort out the water situation. Of course, as soon as he got to land the wind began to pick up, and our boat began to move slowly toward one of the stone pilings.
Clearly the stern hook was not holding us in place; I pulled us up on the main anchor so we wouldn’t hit the piling, but we were dangerously close regardless and we had to get out soon before the seas began to build. In the end it took three hoses to span the distance between Azul and the water spigot; as we filled our tanks we were simultaneously trying to keep this Dr. Seus-like hose run out of the salt water, trying to keep our boat from bumping these very solid-looking pilings, keeping an eye on our anchors and agruing aggressivly about all of the above. How does your drinking water get into your house?
We decided to ‘splurge’ and pay $1 to anchor in the ellipse overnight. We snaked a spot close to Sea Toy, took showers, picked up some literature, used the internet and drank some beers. The following morning we scooted out, around and back to Juncalito for some afternoon clam diving followed by some evening clam steaming which was delicious. Surprised at how easy clam diving actually is, we tried to shake things up a little and the next day we made possibly the best clam chowder ever (thank you Scott and Wendy Bannerot), and decided that we would mark Juncalito down as one of ‘Our Favorite Places.’
Most people sail on to Loreto after Puerto Escondido to restock, however since Loreto is a roadstead anchorage (no protection), you have to be done with your shopping early and be back on your boat before the wind picks up. Thanks to Larry and Diane, we were already fully stocked and didn’t need to come into Loreto, so we continued past to Isla Coronado, an old volcano with a low, sandy spit off the southwestern end that, from above, makes the island look like a sperm. I was determined to climb the old volcano: there is an established route up to what was once the crater, so we set off early one morning to find it. And guess what? We got lost – but not for too long as our inbred Colorado-boyscout instincts kicked in and we found the very well marked trail as soon as we sought highter ground. It was a spectacular view from the top, and an even more spectacular swim in the ocean once we hiked back down.
A rumor had spread that San Juanico, our next stop, was filled with clams, so we left Isla Coronado after only a few days and made our way north. Unfortunately, there was a choppy southern swell and NO wind, so we made rolling, flappy progress north, worried that there would be no protection in San Juanico from the south… which there wasn’t, so we went up, around in into the flat waters of La Ramada, a little north-facing cove, which, amazingly, was completely empty.
La Ramada was gorgeous, isolated, pristine… the perfect place NOT to run out propane, which we did midway through cooking lunch on our second day. San Juanico is about 10 dusty miles away from Highway One, and as we began to hike the road in search of a ride, the phrase ‘popsicle’s chance in hell’ came to mind every time I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead.
The only buildings we could find were ‘NO TRESSPASSING’ vacation homes; we wilted in the face of such animosity and turned back toward Azul. At that point a car drove by and our spirits lifted, but it turned out to be the gringos staying in those vacation homes who informed us that they could maybe give one of us a ride in Loreto…tomorrow…but they weren’t coming back. Screw it, we said, we’ll eat cold food for lunch and do barbeques on the beach for dinner.
And that’s just what we did.
No one should die before they spend at least a few days where their lives are completely dedicated to gathering, cooking and eating food. For the next few days Michael and I ate ceviche for lunch, gathered clams all afternoon, built a beach barbeque as the sun slipped into the horizon and grilled our tasty little chocolates, all dopey from the sun-warmed seawater in our clam bucket. We grilled them until the muscle released and the shell spring open, dipped them in butter and garlic, and squirted them with a squeeze of lime. One night we had clams for appetizers followed by a beach baked Perico, covered in veggies, wrapped in aluminium and thrown on the fire.
Other boats came and left, and one morning we stuck our heads into the sunlight to see Kaliroy, one of the old ladies of La Paz. Luckily for us we knew the chef, Jon, and this was to be the last stop before La Paz, so he unloaded all his extra food and booze into our eagerly awaiting arms. Cheers Jon – you crazy bastard.
This beautiful escape from ‘reality’ had been like taking home money on your last night in Vegas; an exquisite end to a stunning cruise.
Our new friend Don made us waffles on his boat the morning of our departure to Guaymas. Tummies full, one last swim in the water, and we were pulling up our anchor and leaving La Ramada, Azul pulling through the water under sail power alone. Our autopilot (Austin Powers) was out of commission due to a worn belt, and this was to be our longest hand-steering passage to date.
We hove-to in front of Guaymas to wait for the sun to come into the harbor. Tired from a restless night, we had started our engine only once, never engaging her into gear, before the wind suddenly picked up again and moved us through the night. So as the dawn broke and we started into in the bay with the shrimpers, we wanted to do it without a motor, making it not the first, but the SECOND time Azul will have sailed across the Sea of Cortes using nothing but the wind for propulsion. Turning up into the channel, the air still cool, the line sang and we caught, like an exclamation point, one more tuna. Turning again, we drifted in to the main harbour, arriving and feeling the familiar mix of thrill and relief, dropped the hook, ate our finale fish raw and passed out.
A week later and Azul is up, dry and sitting on stilts, a little bit tilted which is only noticeable when dealing with limes, measuring epoxy, or sleeping.
I cried when we left her, hoping we’d come back.