Hanging out in La Paz

Our friends rented a great little house in La Paz, just up the hill from Marina Palmira, so we settled into a slip for the week and enjoyed familiar faces and land life for a bit.DSC_0347

DSC_0334La Paz is the main cruiser hub for southern Baja; lots of marinas and anchorage choices, easy provisioning, tons of good restaurants. We plan to use it as a base for the next few months–heading up the Sea for a few weeks at a time, then returning to provision, meet friends, or just take a break.

It was fantastic to hang out with another family, uninterrupted, for a full week again. Our kids span a four-year spectrum–10, 11, 12, 13–and got along famously.

Playing D&D. Nerds.

Playing D&D. Nerds.

We're soooooo tired! We need to sit doooooown! We need to take a break at this paaaaaark! Oh, and let's tear around and try these weird running things...

We’re soooooo tired! We need to sit doooooown! We need to take a break at this paaaaaark! Oh, and let’s tear around and try these weird running things…

Forcing in the culture

Forcing in the culture

Kids' table. Whenever possible.

Kids’ table. Whenever possible.

Also exciting: then new toilet pump they schlepped with them. Ours had been leaking, and getting progressively harder to flush; we’d also been having a terrible problem with occasional backwash from the holding tank…the less said, the better. With most boat toilets, the answer is generally: joker valve (probably because it’s fun to say). Instead of reconstructing the whole disgusting assembly, we just replaced the lot. All our problems are solved, and the head is a pleasant place to hang out again.

Also on the docket: piñata selection for a certain birthday.

Also on the docket: piñata selection for a certain birthday.

We almost went with the Trump one....

We almost went with the Trump one….

...but ended up with this pretty little one instead. Plus whacking stick.

…but ended up with this pretty little one instead. Plus whacking stick.

And then, of course, you need the candy to fill it.

And then, of course, you need the candy to fill it.

Fish taco situation at Tacos el Estadio

Fish taco situation at Tacos el Estadio

Every now and then, we are newly amazed at our circumstances. Hanging out with our friends last week was one of those times. We’ve been so lucky to spend time with people we love in unusual places over the past two years…we can’t imagine an alternate universe where we’d still be able to go out to dinner with A. and J. in Mexico–Mexico! Just, you know, exploring beaches and eating tacos. For sure, we’d do some traveling with them in, you know, a state park in Wisconsin, or maybe meet up for some camping in Minnesota; but planning a trip abroad wouldn’t have made it into the cards. We are so lucky to be able to share this life with friends and family.DSC_0375

I know, you guys from California are not interested in sea lions, but...these are the first pinnipeds we've seen on our whole trip!

I know, you guys from California are not interested in sea lions, but…these are the first pinnipeds we’ve seen on our whole trip!

J. uses what he's learned from the sea lions

J. uses what he’s learned from the sea lions

 

North from Los Frailes

Desert views in Los Muertos

Desert views in Los Muertos

Honestly, we feel giddy to be traveling in clear waters again. When we think about the arc of our journey, the Bahamas and Guna Yala stand out for being the kind of cruising we’ve grown to especially love–beautiful blues, perfect for jumping in and taking a look around. We’ve found that again in the Sea.DSCF3680

Our girl, anchored in Balandra

Our girl, anchored in Balandra

Michu wades back to the dinghy

Michu wades back to the dinghy

There are certain differences. First off, the food in Mexico is WAAAAAAY better. On the other hand: so far, the water has been pretty cold. Our wetsuits are going to be getting a workout. We’re also not quite away from the crowds at the moment, and haven’t seen the abundance of sea life that we’re used to…although that might be influenced by our reluctance to hang out in the cold water. The entire Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its variety of ocean life, and Jacques Cousteau called it “The aquarium of the world”; we’re just not exactly in the right spot yet.DSCF3687

The famous mushroom rock--"El Hongo." It was knocked over by vandals a couple of years ago, but it's such an icon that it was rebuilt with rebar and concrete.

The famous mushroom rock–“El Hongo.” It was knocked over by vandals a couple of years ago, but it’s such an icon that it was rebuilt with rebar and concrete.

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After our visitors leave La Paz, we’ll be heading deeper into the Sea, ditching the crowds (and convenient internet access–sorry, blog readers!). We don’t expect to be alone–plenty of cruising boats tooling around the area at the moment, the best kind of company; and we’re hoping to meet back up with some kid boats as well.DSCF3670

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So far, the Sea of Cortez does not disappoint.

Time-honored cruiser tradition: spying on the neighbors.

Time-honored cruiser tradition: spying on the neighbors.

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Be astonished

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention
Be astonished
Tell about it
–Mary Oliver

DSC_0379DSC_0384We have seen such radical changes in geography in this trip, from the rocky, forested islands of the North Channel of Lake Huron; to the pastoral hills of Upstate New York; to the marshes of the Carolina lowlands. We’ve hacked through tropical jungle rainforest, and hiked in the cool mountain air of Guatemala. We’ve seen desert, a bit, in the Bahamas and southern Mexico; but now, we’re in what most Americans think of when they say desert: cactus, scrub, rocks and sand; clear air and clear skies; tiny desert flowers of shocking intensity; wind that pulls the moisture right out from your skin. I have almost no experience with this kind of climate, and the new sights are like a balm.DSC_0424

DSC_0388DSC_0414Michu finally recovered enough for a shore excursion, before we had to push on towards La Paz. DSC_0360

DSC_0423Remember in Lake Michigan, when I was considering an all-lighthouse blog? Changing to all-cactus.

I remember holding Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire in my hands when I was sorting books, and thinking, nah—no room for this. I may have even left it in a Little Free Library. Why, Me of the Past? How did you not anticipate this landscape? DSC_0408

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Blue-tailed gecko

Blue-tailed gecko

We are only a few days in to this area, and I can’t stop being thrilled with the change. I remember the crossing from Jamaica to Panama, and how the densely forested hills and howler monkeys around Portobelo were so incredibly different from everything else we’d seen. It takes time for the brain to acclimate, to accept new surrounding, and until things have become a bit dull by familiarity, I’m reveling in this arid place. Even the light around the inside of the boat has a new quality…despite staring very closely at these walls for a the past two years, they seem changed, glowing.DSC_0430

We are ready to explore.DSC_0443

“One final paragraph of advice: […] It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.

So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

~ Edward Abbey

Well, I’m glad that’s over

A list of clothing I wore on our passage from Mazatlan to Baja: Wool socks; Warm slippers; Wool underwear; Fleece pants; Foul-weather bibs; Tank top; Long-sleeved shirt; Fleece snap-T; Windbreaker; Additional fleece jacket with built-in windbreaker; Lifejacket, harness, tether; Foul-Weather jacket; Wool hat.

Post passage cockpit

Post passage cockpit. Sharp eyes will spot the saltines.

This is not what I’ve come to expect from Mexico! Not only was it super-cold (even with all the gear, I was hiding behind the dodger), it was windier than expected; more forward than expected (meaning, we couldn’t really sail—we had the main up, but the motor was working full-time); and the waves from the north did not play well with the swell from the south. In brief: not our best passage.

A lot of work to get to here...

A lot of work to get to here…

This guy also did not have a good passage; we peeled him off the deck in the morning

This guy also did not have a good passage; we peeled him off the deck in the morning

Possibly our last overnight, though, which I’m kind of enjoying. Michu likes the quiet of the night passage, but in a weird twist, I’ve become more anxious about them as time has gone on. Just about every horror story we’ve heard on this trip has involved something terrible In The Dark Of Night. You can’t see the wind gusts; you can’t see the waves (although we did have a pretty nice moon this time); you can’t see the unlit panga or longline. It can be amazing and peaceful, and you see things that you just can’t find in other places—phosphorescent dolphins and stars lit up in the absence of light pollution, coastal cities twinkling on shore and cruise ships like floating bonfires—but I still spend a lot of time talking myself down from my crazy place.

Clear water again, finally! This school of corvina used our boat for shade the whole time we were at Los Frailes

Clear water again, finally! This school of corvina used our boat for shade the whole time we were at Los Frailes

The boat came through better than the people. Michu was actively puking by midnight, an illness we ascribed to seasickness but turned into a four-day disaster we’re now blaming on some shrimp tacos. We’ve been recovering in Los Frailes, listening to the northers howl down the Gulf. It’s beautiful here, and we’re well-protected; so happy to finally be in Baja.DSC_0337

Beholden to the weather once again

Our plan was to jump up the coast of Mexico north of La Cruz in a relaxed fashion, stopping at Chacala and spending a few days at Isla Isabel, before arriving at Mazatlan and awaiting a good window to push across the Sea of Cortez. Isla Isabel is a national park, and is consistently described as a highlight by cruisers along this stretch of coast. Unfortunately, the wind had other plans. We debated for a long time about whether or not we wanted to risk anchoring in the lee of the little island as a cold front blew in from the north, but ultimately we decided not to risk it. The holding at Isla Isabel is nowhere described as good, and the fear of dragging anchor outweighed our desire to sneak up on blue-footed boobies and snap photos. Instead, we pushed on to the north, arriving at the entrance to El Cid marina towards the end of an ebb tide and biting our nails as we saw 10 foot depths and fought a strong current to end up safely tied to the dock.

View of the harbor entrance, with waves breaking. Yikes!

View of the harbor entrance, with waves breaking. Yikes!

It was whitecapping in the pool.

It was whitecapping in the pool.

By Wednesday morning, we were pretty much all the way thrilled with our decision. Holy cow, was it windy out there! We’ve been freezing our butts off, as well; we don’t seem to have a thermometer anywhere on the boat, but it’s clearly in the low sixties, if not colder. Fortunately, there’s a huge jacuzzi at the marina, and all the hot water you could want flowing in the showers. We comforted ourselves with the thought of upcoming marine life in the Sea, let go our our disappointment in not seeing Isabel, and settled in to enjoy Mazatlan.DSC_0214

DSC_0261We spent a day downtown, walking around the old town, relaxing in the plazas and strolling the Malecon. I’ve been to Mazatlan once before, but all I remember from that trip was the resort hotel on the beach; we were pleasantly surprised to find the old streets being rejuvinated, with construction and restoration everywhere. According to our taxi drivers and waiters, Mazatlan is enjoying a new influx of capital, including a wave of expats; even more influentially, the locals claim that the cartels have been pushed out. Whatever is going on, we found the city to be a great mix of visitor-friendly amenities and real Mexico.DSC_0224

This baby Jesus statue in the cathedral is enclosed in a glass case, but someone clearly thought he needed a toy. Can't imagine how the car was snuck in there...

This baby Jesus statue in the cathedral is enclosed in a glass case, but someone clearly thought he needed a toy. Can’t imagine how the car was snuck in there…

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Oyster divers

Oyster divers

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Rococo detailing in the cathedral

Rococo detailing in the cathedral

We checked out the cathedral; we ate lunch in a sidewalk cafe in Plazuela Machado; we visited the Museo de Arte. We stared out at the whitecaps on the water and were happy to be on land. We stocked up on fruits and veggies at the Mercado Central.

Our waiter helps T coax an iguana from its hiding spot with some lettuce

Our waiter helps T coax an iguana from its hiding spot with some lettuce

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DSC_0295DSC_0303The marinas are located north of the city, and we were happy to be in an easy spot to prep for our next overnight. Our last-minute plan to head directly north from Chacala meant a long passage sustained by chips and granola bars; I didn’t have time to prep up on passage food, and the seas were pretty rough. This time around, there will be curry and poke bowls and muffins. Having good food at our fingertips makes a huge difference with our passage experience! We’ve got a full moon, and the winds look good; hopefully we’re all set for what might be our final overnight passage.