4/07/2013

The fragrance of clean water

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Playa Requeson, April 9, 2013


The Sea of Cortez smells so good!  Clean water always has a fragrance.  It’s the sum--the essence--of all that’s happening in the water.  When I was a kid, I used to love the way my dog’s fur smelled.  Odor is one of the ways we recognize loved ones.  The smell of their hair or skin becomes a sort of perfume for us.  People are very sensitive to odors, although mostly at a subliminal level.  So it’s very hard to describe the good smell of the Sea of Cortez.

For a while I toyed with trying good wines and wine tasting.  I can tell a good wine from a poor one, but I get impatient with the fight for prestige among the brands, and with the few, poor words they use to describe wines—a fruity this and that with a dash of coffee and an overtone of something else.  Perhaps when you get into that activity, it’s like learning a language.

But for the sea—I’m at a loss for how to describe it.  It’s complex, subtle, and changing from place to place.   At Isla Danzante, I savored the fragrance of the sea, and again here.  Yes, it has that salty smell of all oceans—but I don’t think salt itself has an aroma.  “Salty” is the generic smell we’ve learned to associate with bodies of salt water. 

I’ve heard that oceans give off an organic molecule that’s important in the chemistry of the atmosphere—perhaps that substance contributes to the aroma.

Here, I’m not far from shore vegetation, as I was paddling along Danzante.  I’m sure that contributes—for when paddling in the dark along Danzante, I could smell blossoms and woody smells.

Here, as at Danzante, there’s definitely something that’s pure ocean.  A bit of seaweed--but also something herbal.  I don’t have the words, but it’s complex and it smells good.

You might say it smells like new-mown hay, but then it’s different from that.  Like the hay, it’s a distinctive, environmental, natural smell.   On land, we can match the fresh hay smell with the mowing event, and so give it a name.

But here, what words can you use?  “Salty” simply doesn’t do it justice.

If a human’s aroma is the distinctive sum of who they are and what they’ve been doing and eating--and their favorite cosmetics--then imagine what the aroma of the Sea of Cortez sums up.  An entire ecosystem—a thousand miles long, consisting of tens of thousands of species macroscopic plants and critters, and many more microscopic.  All living, dying, rotting, and recycling… struggling and evolving.  And all that is distilled into this delicate and complex aroma that’s drifting in on the breeze to the shore of Playa Requeson.

I was breathing in the sea's fragrance the night I arrived at Playa Requeson--as the waves lapped, and the fish skipped across the darkened surface that reflected both stars and lights of an occasional passing truck.

This delicate aroma—suggestive like music—is something you won't find at a water park.  I hope someday my grandchildren will be able to fill their lungs with it, under the stars.

Driving north to Playa Requeson at Bahia Conception

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April 7, 2013

Arriving at Playa Requeson

After dark, I reached Playa Requeson—an incomparable location!  There’s a mound-like island out in the bay.  This island is connected to the mainland by a low spit of sand, which forms two shallow little coves on either side.  The road in—about a quarter mile—is very bad, and the fee is 80 pesos a day.   There are only la few other campers here.  On arrival, I picked a spot, then got out my chair and had a beer.  There’s a breeze off the water, and now it’s suddenly cool—I have to put on some fleece.  The stars are coming out brilliantly.  I can hear little fish jumping out in the cove.

After the beer, I begin to explore the shores of the two coves with my flashlight.  On the western beach, facing the wind, there’s not much action.  Some seaweed debris is accumulating along the shore.  On the other side, the sheltered beach--I soon come upon a heron standing close to the shore in the darkness.  It doesn’t fly away till I’m quite close.  This is were the fish are—schools of them, an inch or so long.  They are very sensitive to my presence.  If I shine my light, or stamp my feet, they panic, and rush away, jumping out of the water in their haste.  Some are even jumping without my encouragement, perhaps as they flee predatory fish.

Driving to the mission at San Javier--with white knuckles

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Sunday, April 7, 2013


I got up later than expected, about 8:30.  Already it seemed too hot and sunny to go for the hike down the canyon to an oasis that I had planned, so I decided to explore the road to San Javier.

I soon found that higher up, the highway—only a few years old--had been washed out in about 10 places.  There was a hurricane last fall, with more rain than usual for such a storm.  Although it only rained for one day, it created floods down every wash in these mountains—including massive amounts of debris and boulders.

In two places it had been entirely destroyed where it crossed washes, and the gap had been temporarily repaired with a one-lane gravel ramp.  In many other places, the highway had been partly undermined and was caving away—with one of the two lanes turned into a diving board into the abyss.

Some of these cave-ins had been marked only with stones on the road.  It wasn’t dangerous if you drove slowly and paid attention,  but I think most people would find this road terrifying.


After the summit, there weren’t any more problems.  It’s an excellent example of what we can expect will happen to our infrastructure with more global warming—and the more violent storms predicted.

Once over the summit, I found myself on a plain surrounded by low peaks—and with many flowering trees.  One, possibly the palo verde, had bright yellow blossoms.  Another had a sort of fuzzy pussy-willow-like blossom.  Over the next 15 miles, the descending highway worked its way into a gradually deepening canyon.  I passed several oases—at one, the highway went through about a hundred feet of water, but it was only a few inches deep.  The water was very green. 

Every few miles, I passed a stretch of the wash where there were pools of water, put they looked too green and stagnant for my taste.  I did stop at one pool and rinsed out the shirts and pants I had been using for paddling.  Before I washed them, my quick-dry clothes were as stiff as cardboard from dried sea salt. 

There weren’t really any settlements.  Each little oasis had some palm trees, a pool of water and maybe a old-fashioned wind pump for water, and one little ranch house.  Maybe a few outbuildings.

Suddenly, an oasis town

Gradually, the road descended into a canyon.  Below the highway, I saw a big oasis with a number of pools held back by low dams.  Around the next bend, suddenly I found myself on a cobblestone street--I was in San Javier, a 250-year-old mission settlement.  There was a long cobblestone avenue, flanked by plantings, with the Mission of San Javier at the end of the street.


It was such a surprise, and such a quiet and beautiful little spot.  I parked the car and began to explore the town, although it was brutally hot—85-90 degrees.

The mission was impressively ancient, while inside it was dark, quiet and cool.  The decorations were simple but beautiful.

I can imagine how impressed the Indians must have been with such a place—the coolest they had ever been.  Powerful medicine from the Christian god.

Every holy week, people come from far and wide to make a pilgrimage to this mission.  They probably start where I camped last night, and hike up the old highway, which is a well-maintained trail now.  The hot desert, the weird plants, the rugged mountains—all followed by the dark coolness of the church—are sure to make a powerful impression.

The town is the end of the paved road, completed this far only during the last year.  A gravel road continues on to the Pacific coast.  There’s no through truck traffic, so the town was extremely sleepy and quiet.  Little more than the sounds of palm leaves rushing in the wind, and doves cooing.


During religious holidays, this town gets many visitors, but today it was quiet.  Nevertheless, a few vendors or trinkets were sitting around, waiting politely for some action.  But most of the small stores—selling little more than locally-produced sweets or fruit juices, were shuttered with just a sign advertising their wares.  Perhaps if interested you could knock on the door.  One vendor woman, who spoke good English, was working on some product for sale, while her young children played nearby.

I stopped at the fanciest restaurant in town, near the church, for lunch.  A single American couple, just finishing, recommended it.  It was cool in the shade, good place to watch the town.  The meal was simple but good: three meat burritos, with a side of refried beans and a slab of farmer’s cheese.

I looked a bit around town—noting several bath houses—then headed back.

Dip in a desert pool

I found a pool beside the road, since I was looking for a chance to enjoy a swim.  But it was very hot--and no shade.

The water was extremely green.  Though the large pool was isolated--no other water for miles probably—there were actually schools of fish about a foot long.  Two were even courting in a nest.

There was a smaller pool downstream (left, below), receiving water from the first  pool, filtered through a sand bar, so it looked a little cleaner, though there was lots of green algae in mats on the bottom.


I took off my clothes and waded in.  The water was warmish, but not all that dirty, since the green was mostly in a mat on the bottom.  But it was teeming with life—all the usual suspects for a pool in the desert.

Wasps were coming to get water for the hive.  There were spiders (without webs) spaced every foot along the shore.  In the water, were little snails, dragonfly larvae, and several kinds of water beetles.  I didn’t see any tadpoles, although last night I heard frogs singing.

The water was only a few feet deep, just enough to sit and splash some water on myself.  As I was squatting, the largest water scorpion I’ve ever seen rose up through my legs, to get a breath of air.  It had a long snorkel protruding from the rear end of its abdomen, with a bubble of air attached.  (Water scorpions are large carnivorous water beetles, built rather like a preying mantis, with special arms for capturing their prey.)  From the color of the water, I had worried that it might be putrid, but considering how much life there was, it couldn’t have been all that toxic

As soon as I drenched myself, the whole world changed.  It was no longer oppressively hot—now all was fresh and cool.  Before I had regained the shore, picking my steps between the cobbles, I was nearly dry.  But still, the freshness lingered.

I returned to the place where I had spent the last night, perhaps to stay another night, and do an early hike to the oasis.  But it was so hot—I just didn’t know what I could do except mope in the trailer till the following morning.  So I decided to continue driving north.

I like the desert, but once you’ve checked out all the weird plants, there’s often not much to do.  Unfortunately in Baja, there usually aren’t trails you can hike from here to there.  And the animal life isn’t very evident, unless you are at an oasis.

That’s why I like camping on the beach and kayaking on the Sea of Cortez.  It’s cooler, and there’s more life.  You can get out and about after dark, on foot or on the water.

Heading back along the San Javier highway towards Loreto, the view as as magnificent as before.  This being Sunday, there were a few Mexican family picnicking if there were pools of water where the highway crossed the road.

I continued through Loreto, headeding north towards Bahia Conceptiion and Mulege.  This stretch of highway, from Loreto to Mulege, is perhaps the most senic in all of Baja, or else it ties with the desert around Cativina, and around San Lorenzo.

I didn’t get much exercise today or yesterday, unless pressing a shutter release or turning a steering wheel count.  If they do, then I got lots of exercise.

4/06/2013

The new Loreto hotel--Villa del Palmar

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April 6, 2013

In the afternoon, I drove to the new hotel—Villa del Palmar—that’s located a few miles south down the coast from Ligui.  When I first paddled here two years ago, it was still under construction.  The road to the hotel is about three km long, all gravel.  The first stretch isn’t very impressive, because it’s along the bed of a dry wash.  That suggests guests may be isolated for a few days, when a hurricane dumps rain on the mountains. 

Next, the road leaves the wash and goes through a gargantuan, monumental entrance gate, with a security guard in a white uniform.  Then you’re on a graded slash across the hillside, like a superhighway, but still no asphalt.  As you approach the hotel, it looks barely finished, sort of squeaky clean, final details still to come.  But there are some guests.  A few shuttle buses were arriving, though the hotel seems sparsely populated.  It could be the setting for the song Hotel California, though that song suggests something small and seedy, not this cavernous new construction.

At the front desk, I had to explain that I was looking around in case I wanted to stay here, and they gave me an identification bracelet.  Outdoors toward the sea, there was pool after pool.  One huge one (below), surrounded by smaller pools at different levels, some for children.


The plantings were new--just taking hold.  There were cactus gardens.  Everything was beautiful, but didn’t quite jell.  Too new, too generic, something missing (besides people).  Still, it’s amazing what some water, shade, and some vegetation and trees will do for the desert.  You fill like you might want to sit down, and not roast or get sunburned to a crisp.

The setting of the hotel is truly magnificent. Behind it is a small desert valley, surrounded on three sides by low mountains.  The hotel faces a magnificent bay, looking out towards Danzante Island, which looks like a fairyland castle.  There’s a narrow row of dunes between the beach and the hotel grounds—with a sign saying to keep off because the dunes are a natural area.  So, that makes you wonder—wasn’t the place where the hotel was built a natural area?  Without the hotel, this cove and the valley behind it would be an incredible wilderness area.  But you can’t feed Mexicans with wilderness, and so it was developed.

Facing the beach, I waled to the left-hand side of the grounds.  Here was a high plywood fence I couldn’t see  over.  So I went to it’s end, where the terraced grounds dropped with a wall to the dunes.  Standing at the edge, I looked beyond the plywood fence.  Beyond was a dry wash, with gravel  jumbled by bulldozers—a totally barren area in stark contrast to the green and ordered grounds of the hotel.


I went to the other side of the hotel grounds facing the beach, and found much the same.  Totally barren, though not as disturbed as the dry wash on the other side.  I’ve never seen such a stark contrast in nature in my life.  I took panorama photos on both side.  I may have discovered a new kind of panorama, where you contrast two things on either side of a boundary.  Later, I found that the hotel and nearby town subsist on desalinated seawater.

It was as if the whole hotel and grounds were some giant mothership from another planet, landed here in the desert.  A planet of intelligent amphibians evidently, because they brought so many pools of water with them.

Having seen how isolated from the environment the hotel was, I couldn’t help feel that the guests were captives there, as I walked back from the beach overlook towards the lobby.  I don’t think there was a single guest on the beach.  This incredible setting was little more than a painted backdrop.  These guests would never know the thrill of a luminescent sea.

Starting the drive to San Javier

In late afternoon, I headed towards Loreto, then turned away from the sea and towards the mountains, on the new Loreto-to-San-Javier highway.

The foothills were magnificent in their dusting of feathery golden grass, spurred no doubt by extra moisture from the hurricane last fall.   They were bounded on one side by the blue sea, and on the other by the jagged crest of the Sierra la Giganta.  The low light was clear and brilliant.  The foliage was a mix of chaparral, grass, cactus, and exotic trees.


I stopped wherever I could for photos, but most turnoffs were littered or barren slashes made by the highway construction equipment.  But eventually, as the highway started to go up in earnest, I found a lovely flat meadow of golden grass, where I could pull off to some distance from the highway on a dirt road.


I pitched my folding chair on a little knoll, overlooking the dry wash, next to a little shrine for the pilgrimage route.  It was a perfect spot for a beer as the dusk came on.  The wind was warm—now windy, now still—as the night came on.  Frogs were singing down in the wash.  There must be pools of water there.

Is Playa Ligui safe?

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Leave the highway at either of two turnoffs for the town, and drive about a mile east to the beach. There’s a small grocery store on the highway between the two entrances to town.  There’s gas, a hotel, and internet access at Puerto Escondido, about 15 miles north.


This beach is very crowded with Mexicans during the height of the Mexican vacations, near easter.  Otherwise, you will find only a few other campers.

The municipal police, in a 4X pickup truck, patrol the beach once each evening, early.  Rito occasionally checks up, and local fishermen launch at dawn, often returning well after dark.  People watch out for people who don’t seem to have normal business on the beach—the drop-in and look around type.  I believe all the people of Ligui are honest and safe.  I had nothing stolen in over a week, even when I left folding chairs, kayak gear, and a solar panel out at night.

Rito agrees it’s a safe beach.  But he says there’s theft at the beach north of here.  He says that my solar panel is safe if it’s out at night while I’m in the trailer, but that I should put it inside if I leave the beach for paddling.

There are no appreciable currents along the beach.  The water is shallow, there are few mosquitoes, and there’s seldom any surf.  Watch for sand burs away from the water’s edge.  Apparently, there are no sting rays in the shallow water.

Kayakers should be prepared for sudden strong winds—inflatable craft might not be safe here.  It’s easy to get stuck in the sand if you don’t have 4X drive.

A dead car battery, and departure from Ligui

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Saturday, April 6, 2013


I arose a little after dawn, and explored the borders of the lagoon for critters.


Then I began to pack up.  Everything is salty from the sea, or covered with sand.

I discovered last night the battery from the car had run down, because I left the key in the ignition during the day.  I was pondering how to deal with this, either get a jump start, or hook the solar panel to the battery, or connect the trailer battery to the car’s battery.  Each alternative had its downside—for example, I didn’t know which wire of the solar feed would be positive. 

Suddenly this morning, I realized that all I had to do was connect the trailer’s umbilical to the car. And the trailer would charge the car—the reverse of what normally happens when you drive.  Luckily, though the trailer was detached, it was close enough to the car to hook the two together.  And voila!  It worked immediately.

A Mexican who arrived to pick up a kayak tour pointed to some dolphins passing far from the beach.  He said they were here, because there were many “anchovies”—very small fish which he said they like to eat.

The Ligui fisherman seem to be taking some of their friends or relatives out for sport fishing, since I see some children among the crew. Juan arrived in a white pickup, and said: “Allo, David.”  There are a few Mexican vacationers swimming or walking on the beach, and about two tents.

Rito, a resident of Ligui who looks after the beach concession, dropped by with his wife and two tiny dogs.  We chatted, and again (same as two years ago) he hit me up for a donation to the kid’s baseball team.  He said if I come again to bring equipment for hardball, such as wooden bats or gloves, as they are very expensive here.

I slowly packed, listened to music, ate, and cleaned up.

4/05/2013

Bride and groom at the beach; Paddling to Danzante

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April 5, 2013

Around noon, I looked out toward the lagoon’s entrance, and couldn’t believe my eyes.  There were a bride and groom out there, with two photographers, and a bunch of colorful balloons.  I grabbed my camera, and rushed out to join them.


They laughed when I approached.  I explained to the two photographers that I was a professional wedding photographer, and they said the equivalent of: “No kidding?” They asked me if I had a windshield sunshade, like the one they were carrying. They needed it to reduce the shadows on the couple’s faces—a professional technique.  So I ran to get mine, and held it to fill in the shadows while the photographers worked.

The couple had been married two weeks earlier in Ciudad Insurgentes--2 hours away--and they were here for a playful photo session.  So, chalk up another use for the lagoon.

Paddling to Danzante again

About 5 pm, I left for Isla Danzante, and possibly my last visit there.  There was a stiff headwind, and a few whitecaps, but I didn’t use the skirt.

On the way, a single flying fish passed close by.  It was a brilliant polished silver all over, gleaming in the low light.  This one was only 5-6 inches long.  Again, I had the distinct impression that the wing fins were vibrating—but not beating in deep strokes like those of most birds. Perhaps the fins were just shimmering in the light.  But these fish do have some control.  As the horizontally moving fish was about to hit a wave, it pulled up to avoid the wave, and even increased its altitude an inch or two, until it stalled out, and disappeared into the water.

I reached the north end of the island about sundown, in a little more than an hour.  There was still a good breeze, which left me a little uneasy for nighttime paddling.  But I expected it to drop, and there were four yachts and two tours on the island.  I could always spend the night on the island, if the wind increased.

Instead of swimming, I decided to hike to a knoll overlooking the harbor, where I had seen people during my last trip here.  The trail was well-marked and easy, if a little slippery beause of many round stones on the trail.

I watched dusk fall from the top.  The view was incredible, and luckily, I could see the wind dropping.


Sitting in the dusk with a warm, gentle breeze, the environment felt so welcoming and gentle.  Wilderness does still exist, though nowadays it’s not easy to find or reach.  That’s why it’s still wilderness.

Here I was, at one of the most exotic harbors in the world, sharing it with four very expensive yachts.  Me and my 25-year-old kayak, worth $650, with maintenance and fuel averaging less than $100/year.  Not a bad deal.

I explored the shore, to see what critters were coming out with the oncoming night.  Soon, by accident because he was so well concealed, I found a crab about 3 inches long half buried in the dry sand.  Since he thought he was concealed, I could touch him.  When I touched near his eyes—which are on stalks—they would flip down into little protective grooves.

Later, I found several more crabs.  They are VERY fast.  One scampered away up into the succulents at the top of the beach.  I could hear a lot of cracking or popping sounds in the succulents—some critters were active there.

All the large crab holes, some 3” in diameter, had crabs visible only a few inches down, unlike when I had landed when it was still light.  Obviously, they were thinking about coming out for the day.  In their holes, they looked a lot like spiders.  Now to me, crabs aren’t very threatening—but if those really were all spiders, I’d have to think twice about spending the night on an island in the Sea of Cortez.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to sleep there without a tent to exclude the crabs.  I wouldn’t want one to wander into my sleeping bag.  There was no sign of small mammals.  Apparently the crabs fulfill that scavenging role here.  Their big competitive advantage is that they can drink salt water, and can also scavenge in the water, in case there isn’t enough on land.  But like the mice, they live in holes and come out at night.

I also found an inch-long relative of sow bugs (crustaceans)—looking much like a cockroach.  

I set out slowly for Ligui.  The stars were magnificent, and the phosphorescence was spectacular, as usual.  I saw more of the big, slowly-moving, luminous shapes that I think may be rays.  At one point, something lit up under the kayak so that it seemed as if I was sitting in the middle of a pool of dim, ghostly light.  I have no idea what it was—perhaps a large ray right under the kayak.

Crossing from the island to Ligui, I heard dolphins breathing again, roughly in the same place I had heard it on two previous nights.  I decided not to paddle towards the sounds, but soon they were close by.  Eventually, I could see several black backs and dorsal fins doing a semi-circle around the kayak.

For half an hour or more, I tried to stay near the dolphins.  They seemed aware of my presence.  For example, many times they headed straight toward the kayak.  I was thrilled to see three large, luminous shapes in formation streaking right under the kayak, sometimes at high speed.  Other times, they went more slowly, or even tarried briefly nearby.  They would then come up behind me for a breath.  If I then turned around and headed in their direction, they would do the same thing—streak under, and come up behind me again 100 feet away.  Except for the rather noisy breathing, I heard no squeaks or clicks from echolocation.  Except for once, when a dolphin surfaced, it made a loud squeak as it started to breathe.  The breaths sound ponderous, like you’d expect for a large animal.  Imagine a cow, after holding its breath for several minutes.  Though I can’t imagine a cow would be so graceful in the water.

There was a little luminosity when the dolphins surfaced, but not much. Once, when one surfaced and exhaled, there was a little flash of light at his blowhole

I tried making squeaking sounds, but the dolphins gave no response—probably because airborne sounds don’t get into the water well.  Next, I tried rapping gently on the kayak, a series of 5 raps.  This did seem to get a little response the first time, and they swam over.  Later, I changed to 8 raps, and they seemed to respond to the new signal at a distance with a splash.  Maybe it was a coincidence.

It’s a very eerie experience, playing cat and mouse with dolphins in the dark.  Had they been sleeping?  Was I disturbing their sleep?  When they first approached, I hoped they weren’t orcas, though I understand kayakers are safe with orcas around.  Nevertheless, they were aware of my presence, and obviously were intelligent.  They could have been aliens in a flying saucer—and the experience would have been much the same.  You just don’t know what they are going to do, or what they perceive, or what they are thinking.  You do your best to make sense of what’s going on, with the few clues you can perceive in the dark.

No doubt the dolphins have seen many kayaks before—but a kayak at night must be something new.  We both displayed a certain amount of cautious trust of the other.  I was never afraid for my life, and I don’t think they would have lingered if they had felt in danger.

I arrived back about 11:00  pm, and again had a little trouble finding the exact place to land in the dark.  In the shallows along the beach were lots of fish.  I found that when I pointed my flashlight towards the water about 10-20 feet away, it would scare small fish--and many would jump out of the water.  Some seemed to skip across the surface like stones thrown by children.

4/03/2013

The Lagoon at Ligui

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A large dry wash comes down from the mountains on one side of the town of Ligui.  A dirt road follows it out to the beach.  The scouring force of floodwaters has made a basin where the wash meets the Sea of Cortez, and the basin is separated from the sea by a long, semicircular sand bar.  There’s a little inlet, like a creek, that flows one way, then another with the tides.  At high tide, the sand bar is nearly gone.  At low tide, the lagoon has shrunk almost to nothing, and is probably only about 2 feet deep in the deepest parts—with great expanses of mud and sand exposed.

The lagoon has grown substantially since I first came here two years ago.  I hear there was a big hurricane last fall, with lots of rain.  A lot of sediment washed down, and expanded the size of the lagoon and pushed it’s sandbars a hundred feet or more further out into the bay.

Lagoons like this don’t form at the base of every dry wash.  Often, the surf destroys the sand bars which shelter the lagoon, pushing the sand back up onto the beach—amputating the lagoon.  But here, the water is calmer from the shelter of Danzante Island.

When you first see it, the lagoon isn’t very imposing—some might say ugly.  Unless, that is, the sunset is reflected in the lagoon, as it was when I first arrived this year.

The lagoon has few resources for humans.  The locals like to sit in the entrance creek, talking in groups.  Sometimes, you can see a man or  boy hunting for crabs with a stick about two feet long.  The upper reaches of the wash are used for dumping clam shells.  A dog will occasionally run along the edge or chase crabs.  The wet borders, where the sand is a bit firmer, make one pathway that cars can get to the beach.  But mostly, the lagoon is overlooked by humans.

At first glance, the lagoon looks dead—with the dead hulks of trees scattered around the edge, and a few in the center.  But the more I looked, the more life I found.

Most obvious are the herons—the great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, cattle egrets, and perhaps night herons that stalk through the shallows, or wait patiently in the shallows.  Gulls and vultures hang out around the edges, hoping for a larger dead fish to wash up.

There are usually schools of small fish in the lagoon.  At low tide, there are tiny fish up to an inch long, in water just an inch or less deep.   They dart around, then stop abruptly, depending on their camouflage.  There are schools of small minnows that ruffle the surface as they try to escape from your shadow.  And there are also schools of larger fish, perhaps 2-5 inches long, that also ruffle the surface with their evasive maneuvers, even when you’re still far away.

Once, at the height of fiesta on the beach, an osprey dove into the estuary, and made off with a large fish, fling low with its heavy cargo over the populated beach.  Almost no one noticed.  Today, I was watching an osprey dive repeatedly into the lagoon.  His steep dives were thrilling, but he always curved into a shallow dive as he approached the water, because it’s so shallow.  Sometimes, he would partly disappear underwater—but today he wasn’t successful.

There are greenish-brown crabs, with blue claws, up to 4-5 inches long.  At lowest tide, you can see thousands of small holes in the shallow pools, and also high and dry.  They are pulsing with flows of water—something inside is breathing  As described above, at least some of these critters are tiny lobsters, about an inch long.  Others may be marine relatives of earthworms.

Higher up from the lingering pools at low tide, you can see thousands of little balls of sand, where crabs (fiddler crabs?) have been sifting through the sand, for tiny bits to eat.  After each little bit of sand is processed, it becomes a pellet of sand.  I also saw some rather large holes for crabs, several inches in diameter.

I ambled up the dry wash, where I found the tracks of a raccoon-like mammal.  A few evenings later, I caught a whole family of them in my headlights as I returned in my car to the beach.

The lagoon area breeds a few small mosquitoes, and probably dragonfly larvae, because the adults are patrolling the beach.   At lowest tide, there is a small flow of water down the wash towards the pool, which may be fresh groundwater emerging.  If pools of this groundwater form somewhere back from the beach, that’s where the dragonflies breed.

One night, when I was landing my kayak, I was buzzed by a very large moth, one that had rapid flight.  It almost looked like a bat.

One day, an hour after sunrise, I explored the edge of the lagoon to see what had been happening at night.  The tide was going out.  Crabs up to 4-5 inches long were coming seaward, in anticipation of the lower water.  The pools were alive with fish—schools of one about an inch long, and smaller schools of larger fish, about 4-5 inches long.  The crabs and fish were extremely sensitive to my approach, heading for deeper water—so you can see why the ospreys have a hard time being successful.

Up in the dry sand, there are some large holes inhabited by crabs, and their tracks are all over the beach, along with those of gulls.  So the scavengers are very busy at night, cleaning up after the people.  But they don’t eat the plastic litter.

In sum, the lagoon is mostly overlooked by everyone, but it’s probably a nursery for many of the fish and other organisms in the Sea of Cortez.

Life in the lagoon, and paddling to Isla Danzante

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013


The lagoon at Ligui

In the morning, I was watching some kids play near the lagoon.  They had several tiny dogs, and they were sitting in the little stream that exits the lagoon.  After a while, an osprey started diving into the lagoon, so I went to the edge to photograph it.  When I approached, the kids came running.  I said: “Hi, Michelle,” because I thought I recognized her.   But she corrected me.  It was Anette, her younger sister.  She introduced me to her friends.  Anette wanted me to take posed pictures of her, like I had done her sister.  I showed them photos I had taken of the osprey diving.  It hadn’t succeeded in getting any fish, despite the shallowness of the lagoon.  Those fish are fast.

After a while, Anette left, but two smaller girls remained, one about 8 and another about 5.  I challenged them to catch some small crabs that were scuttling around the shallow pools, since it was nearly low tide.  They were courageous, and I showed them how to grab the crabs from behind, so they couldn’t bit you.  The crabs were very fast and very threatening, waving their claws at you when you came close, and opening and closing their pincers.  One actually did bite me, and I yelped, more from surprise than from hurt.  The girls were laughing a lot.

I ran and got a shallow pan from the trailer, so I could show the crabs to the girls, and I asked them to count how many legs (ten).  We introduced the crabs to the dogs, but they were skeptical of the waving claws.  I showed them a few more things about the crabs—how their eyes retract, how they breathe, and their hidden tail on their underside.

Then I pointed out all the little holes in the wet sand, and said there were creatures inside.  Their mother suggested they might be crabs.  I said, “Let’s dig and find out.”  So the two girls and I started digging.  At first, there was nothing.  But then we found a tiny lobster, about one inch long, swimming nearby.  We must have exposed it by our digging.  We found a few more by more digging.

The lobster burrows apparently have two entrances, one where water flows in, and another where if flows out.  You can easily see all the ones where it is coming out, if the water is very shallow.  Evidently, they pump the water one way through their burrows, to breathe, and maybe to filter food out of the flow.  I could tell that the lobsters had made the holes, because the exposed lobsters either tried to enter holes, or to dig new ones with their claws.  If they entered existing holes, the residents of those holes always evicted the intruder, within a minute or so.  These little lobsters can swim quickly backward, using their big tail.  Or, they can swim forward more slowly forward, using all the little appendages on the underside of their tail. When they swim, they point their claws forward into a streamlined shape.  They also dig their holes with their claws.  With their 21 or so paired appendages, they have all the tools they need for swimming, feeding, moving water through their burrows, feeding, and defense.  It’s surprising that they don’t own the planet.  But there are thousands and thousands of burrows in this lagoon.

The kids had shown no interest in the lagoon’s life until I challenged them.  They found it lots of fun, but I think they were also motivated to please adults.  Adults need to show kids what to do outdoors, and to give them “permission.”  The fact that kids don’t do much outdoors today is a reflection of the fact that… adults aren’t interested in or comfortable in nature.

A bit later, I noticed a boy about 12-14, with a younger boy, crabbing in the lagoon with a stick.  When  they started to return, I came out and asked them what they had caught.  He showed me a crab about 4” long.  I asked if it was bound for soup, and he said yes.  He said that it made very delicious soup.

Paddling to Isla Danzante

In the late afternoon, I headed for Isla Danzante. I had a headwind of 10-15 mph, so of course I wore my skirt.  But I made rapid progress.  On one of the beaches, there was a large kayak tour, with a long banquet table laid out for supper.  Obviously, they had a support boat to bring equipment.

Paddling under the big central peak of the island, I marveled at how high it was.  But from a different angle a bit later, I could see that even this peak wasn’t the highest part of the island.

Finally, I reached the coves at the north end of the island, and explored them one by one.  Each one had a little beach, either sandy or gravelly.  There were three expensive yachts moored in the coves.


I went to the northernmost cove, which is a little gem with a white sand beach, and lots of green ground cover—succulent plants.

The sun was now just setting, so I took off my clothes for a dip, and enjoyed a beer.  After the swim, I was nearly chilled, but I could feel the rocks radiating heat like a furnace—and for the first time, it felt good.  I pulled out of the cove as darkness fell.  On the low lava walls, forming either side of the cove, was the silhouette of a great blue heron, settling down for the night—one on each side like a sentry.

The wind was light, so I made good progress, paddling straight back to the beach at Ligui, instead of following the coast of the island.  The magnificent luminescence appeared again, although there weren’t many fish creating luminous streaks.

Suddenly, about halfway back, something thudded into my upper arm.  I was quite startled for a moment, until I realized it was another flying fish.  It had the force of a thrown bean bag.   When I bent my head over and sniffed my shirt, sure enough, it smelled of fish.  It was a much different fishy smell that I learned in my youth on Cape Cod.  It was a bit harsh, and had a sort of herbal element, like it was fish combined with something like celery.

I wonder if a blind man could easily identify different kinds of fish by their smell.  In the dark, my nose is much more keen.  On other evenings, I had noticed the sweet smell of flowers.  Now, with a gentle breeze from the island, I could smell a sort of sweet piny smell, crossed with a scent of smoky leather. I had noticed this smell at the beach on one of the squat, twisted trees.

Everything went smoothly until I approached Ligui beach, when I couldn’t find the trailer.  There was only one other camper there with lights, so there was nothing to guide me.  I was startled when I nearly ran into a downed tree that had washed out from the lagoon in the last hurricane.  But with a little patience, I found the right spot, and was soon home in the trailer.

4/02/2013

No paddling today--comings and goings at the beach

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In the morning, a cleanup crew from the government came in to collect trash bags and do a pickup of the beach.  I helped them till they were done, which took about an hour.  They recycle the bottles and cans, and gather paper and junk, but leave any leftover food or ashes for nature to dispose of.

This was an example of how the Third World is catching up with the US.  Here at Ligui beach—used mostly by the locals and bordering a national marine park—they have porta potties, plus organized trash pickup.

In contrast—at Hawksnest State Park in Massachusetts also used mainly by locals—there’s neither trash pickup nor porta potties.   So in one respect, Mexico is ahead of Massachusetts.


There was also a departing kayak tour, with two men my age, an American, a Mexican (who lives now in Texas), the guide, a relative of his, and one other person.   They were going the paddle the whole way to La Paz, about 80-100 miles.  Actually, tours to La Paz stop at a point short of the bay opposite La Paz, because south of that it’s very flat, and crossing to Isla Espiritu Santu is too far.

The Mexican guide, who spoke good English, was very knowledgeable.  I asked him if the Sea of Cortez was getting more polluted, and he didn’t think so.  I asked, because for the last two years, the water has been rather cloudy when I swim.  He said that that may be due to the “nortes” (north wind storms) that were heavy this winter, and can stir up the sediments. 

I also asked if the numbers of fish were declining, because I had seen less sealife.  He said that he had also noticed less this year, but he said that it may just be a year-to-year variation of where the most fertile areas are.  The whales shift their feeding areas from year to year to take advantage of this, and so they have been seeing fewer blue and other whales.  He said that since the marine park was established, the fish populations have been rebounding.

When I tried to cook lunch, I noticed the burners didn’t work, so I assumed I was out of gas.  The fridge didn’t show the warning light, but I decided I was out of gas, so went into Loreto to get propane, groceries, and email.  Since Loreto is the main tourist destination in central Baja, there were a number of Americans inside the market, as I suspect it may cater to them.  An aging hippie couple, very darkly tanned—a rather elderly American couple with little sign of being in the sun, and some Mexicans.

I get the sense that more and more Mexicans, if they can afford it, are adopting American consumer habits and a taste for processed foods.  Grocery prices in the supermarket are about the same as in the US.  US-type delicacies (like Breyer’s ice cream, or canned fruit) are much more expensive.  But fresh fruits and fruit juices are less.  For example, a really good avocado costs only about 60 cents US.  Propane was substantially less than the US.

Near sundown, a man came with his family for an outing on the beach.  He had an inflatable kayak, but not a good paddle—so I loaned him one of mine.  Another family was looking for crabs in the lagoon.   They caught one, and showed it to me. The catch them by crushing their heads with a stick about two feet long.  I didn’t find out if the hapless crab was destined for soup or tacos.

I patched a small hole in my kayak, and went for a very short paddle after dark.  It’s very soothing to rock in the wave, as the stars come out.  With no gear in the kayak, is seemed to have regained its youth—floating high, moving fast, and bobbing on the waves.

4/01/2013

Paddling south along the coast from Ligui

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Monday, April 1, 2013


The remaining Mexicans on the beach are pulling out this morning.  Grandfather Juan and his family are packing up.  Juan put the stove with a little striped canopy (like a little carnival stall) onto the back of his pickup, and drove into Ligui, with the canopy still up.  He must have left it there, for he soon returned.  I exchanged addresses with his daughter, and I took pictures of the whole family.

His granddaughter, Michelle, loved posing as a model, and she was rather creative with her poses.  She held up a dead mouse that their old poodle Kitty had caught, and she explained that it was a "raton" (mouse), but went on to explain that it was a certain type, because it had a tufted tail.  So we talked a little about biology, and I told her about the luminescent water.

I also waved to another family who was leaving, the ones who had given me oranges.

I was planning to paddle again south along the coast, to see more of the area.  In case I might want to camp or couldn’t get back, I took all my gear and extra water.  I shoved off relatively early, around 10:00, but already it was getting hot.  To make matters worse, the wind had shifted to the N or NW, and I was heading directly away from it at about the same speed, so for me, the air was still.  It’s not that the air is hot—the cool waters of the Sea of Cortez keep the air comfortable.  But the sun is very hot, so without moving air, you cook—and I did.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t find my sunscreen (it later turned up floating around the bilge in my kayak—after I had looked everywhere else).

After an hour, I was south of my paddle the night before, exploring new territory.  Here the Sierra la Giganta comes right down to the sea.  The highway turns inland, scaling the cliffs, just north of here, so quickly you’re into wilderness.  I didn’t see any other boats for several hours, except for a distant sailboat paralleling my course several miles out.

The lava cliffs and mountains here are just huge.  They are riddled with caves and veins of lava (dikes) of different color.  The geography of this part of the word is unique.  Baja is a part of North America that’s being ripped away from the rest of the continent by an unusual feature—a fault (the southward continuation of the San Andreas fault) separating two tectonic plates that crosses land.  Usually, the boundaries between tectonic plates are on the ocean floor.  As Baja was torn away from the rest of the continent and pushed south, the Sea of Cortez opened up.

These cliffs are the crumbling edge of a continent.  You can imagine that if you take something brittle like concrete, and apply an immense force to it, pushing one half of it north and the other half south, it’s going to grind and break into great chunks which are going to crumble and fall away in pieces—that’s the miniature version of what’s happening here.  The mountains, cliffs, and islands are those chunks and pieces.  And it’s all half-drowned by the Sea of Cortez, which is opening up as a great gash—filling with water--right in front of our eyes.

The cold water, paired with the hot desert, seems like something of a contradiction—but it’s not.  That’s because it’s desert here partly because of the cold water.  The cold means less moisture evaporates, and cold keeps thunderclouds from forming, which would spawn storms.  Anyway, I find the coolness appealing.  Without it, I couldn’t enjoy the desert as I do, because I hate the heat.  Kayaking is an especially good way to see the desert, since you are close to the cooling breezes, and you can always take a swim when you are tired of looking at cactus.

I stopped to stretch and rest in a little cove, and started to walk along the shore to a beach, but discovered that I was on a little island, and the beach was across a narrow channel to the mainland.  But later, this discovery of the island would come in handy.  I decided to push on, rather than get back into the kayak just to cross to the beach.

I had been passing a series of small beaches in coves, separated by little points.  But after the second hour, I passed two large beaches, each a mile or more long.  The view south along the coast was spectacular.  On my left, I had cleared Danzante and Del Carmen islands, and had a large new island several miles offshore.

The tailwind was picking up, so I decided to set my little sail shaped like a parachute.  It worked quite well, and I ate lunch and had a beer as I scooted along to the south.  I still didn’t have my skirt on, though the waves were building.  I decided to put on the skirt as soon as I finished my beer.  But suddenly, and large wave breaking to my rear splashed a lot of water into the cockpit, and then it happened again.  So I had to forget my now salty beer, put away the sail as fast as I could, bail, and put on my skirt.  It reminded me of how quickly things can get out of hand when you’re kayaking in the wilderness.

At the south end of the second large beach was a little knoll, with a thatched sun shelter on top.  It looked like an excellent place to stop and rest—since I’m always trying to solve the sun problem.  Also, I didn’t see much point in continuing further south, since to the south, the scenery looked much the same—and unless I had the good luck for the wind to change directions, I’d have to return against a strong headwind.  But with such a delectable and deserted cabana, and no one around, it seemed like a good place to read and while away the afternoon.  It was early afternoon, and I figured it was only three hours back, much of which I could do in the dark, if necessary.

The sunshade left much to be desired.  It was as big as a house, constructed with concrete pillars and even an iron horizontal spine, then thatched with palm leaves.  But no floor, no chairs, tables, or benches.  Just a dirt floor, strewn with dried manure from cattle that had been using it for shade, plus construction debris.  Still, it was shade, with a cool breeze, and a fabulous view.

I listened to music, took photos, did some beach combing,  then took a stroll up the broad dry wash that came down from the mountains.  It’s a substantial valley that opens up on the sea here.  The wash made an excellent route into the interior, and the vegetation was interesting.  Several trees and shrubs were flowering.  But it was hot, and after perhaps ¾ of a mile, I wasn’t seeing anything new, so I followed a trail made by cattle onto a sloping plain and foothills behind the beach.  In places undiscovered by cattle, the golden cover of dry grass and other dried forbs was spectacular.  But other places were trampled and eaten bare by the cattle.  The vegetation was a mix of the grassy cover, shrubs, cactus, small trees, and dried vines (a sort of beach burr) that in places covered and strangled everything.

Back in my chair on the knoll, I noticed the surf had increased a lot.  The wind direction was good to create a run of hundreds of miles for the waves, and I was downwind from a gap between the sheltering islands.  Packing my kayak, and looking at the big waves, I wondered how I was going to launch the kayak without getting extremely wet—maybe even swamping the kayak.

But the gravely beach was steep to the water, so I decided I could slide in.  I laid a little runway of driftwood, pushed the kayak closer till the bow just touched the waves, and climbed in.  I put on my skirt.  So far, so good.

Then I gave a shove with my paddle, and slid down the beach towards the waves.  Now that I was like a baby tucked into bed, with my skirt on, I figured the waves couldn’t affect me much.  I figured if I waited for a larger wave, it would float me, and pull me out.

That was a mistake, because the average waves were sufficient.  The big wave I selected for launching was bigger than I thought, and rolled over me.  Even though my skirt was on, my body above was completely drenched, and some water got in through a gap between my skirt and torso.  So I started out pretty wet, but at least the cockpit wasn’t swamped, and I didn’t have to bail.

Out on the water, the waves were at least 3’, and building.  But the wind wasn’t strong enough to slow me very much, and I made decent progress.  After about half an hour, though, I noticed that there was more water in the cockpit.  Sure enough, it was getting deeper.  Apparently, I had developed a leak in the hull.  This was a serious concern, if the leak was bad enough.  I wasn’t sure I dared to take the skirt off enough to bail—or I might ship more water than I could get out.  If the water inside got deep enough, it would make the kayak unstable, and I might capsize in the increasing waves.

I was always close enough to the shore to swim.  Here, it was still beach.  But further north, there were stretches of cliff where I couldn’t land safely while swimming.  And, if I had to exit the kayak, depending of where it happened, I could lose much of the gear I depended on for survival.   Carefully assessing the situation, I decided the leak was fairly slow, and would’t affect my progress that much.  I decided I wasn’t in a critical condition, although it did take some of the enjoyment off the paddle back.  My biggest concern was, that because I didn’t know the cause of the leak, it might suddenly become worse.

I decided that the island close to shore, where I had rested on my way south, would make a safe landing place to bail and inspect the leak, and that helped to calm my concerns.  Meanwhile, I carefully monitored the rise of the water inside.  Could I make it to the island before I lost stability?  I wasn’t sure just how far it was.  My progress to the north against the wind and waves, and now current also, seemed agonizingly slow, considering the race against the leak.  And I wasn’t sure I could land there, now that the waves were a lot larger.

Eventually, I made it to the island, and the water behind it was quite calm.  So I was able to bail the cockpit, using the pump, in only a few minutes.  Considering that I was able to keep up with the leak by bailing, I decided that landing to inspect the kayak wasn’t necessary.

And as I came out from behind the island, to continue my paddle back, I discovered the wind was abating.  Now things seemed much more under control.  The sun was low, so I could paddle in the welcome shade of the cliffs.   Looking up, I saw a couple on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea, looking down.  They must have hiked there from the hotel. 

The sun set quickly before I cleared the point—which indicates an hour back, past the hotel, to the trailer at Playa Ligui.  Paddling in the twilight was beautiful, with the sea heaving with waves still of substantial size.  But they weren’t any threat to me now.

Before it got dark, two small critters, about the size of doves, flew very fast in tight formation just past my kayak, a few feet above the water.  I had the impression—maybe wrong--that their wings were vibrating.  They a strange tail for a bird.  I didn’t get a very good view of them, but in the blink of an eye, they were gone into the water.  Thinking they might be the small grebes I had been seeing a lot of,  I waited for them to come up again, but they didn’t.  I was forced to conclude that they were flying fish, because they were too small for any marine bird I knew of in the area, and because any bird that approaches the surface horizontally lands, folds their wings, and then dives.  These just disappeared into the water in a wink.

A bit later, two more in tight formation flashed very low across my bow—and this time one collided with the kayak, with a loud whack!  Birds don’t collide with kayaks, so I’m sure I saw four flying fish.  Wow.  That’s a first for me.

Why do fish fly?  Think about escape.  You can go so much faster in air than the much denser medium of water.  Predators that don’t fly can’t follow.  So a flying fish temporarily disappears from the world of a predator, and when they do reappear, it’s in an unpredictable location far away.  Several other kinds of fish escape by jumping out of the water, or by essentially walking on the surface (although they can’t fly exactly). So several fish use the same aerial disappearing trick, though in different ways.  Squid disappear by making themselves invisible.

The luminescence started before it was even fully dark.  Suddenly, I noticed that my wake was on fire.
I had to land in total darkness, since the Mexicans were gone, and I didn’t want to bother to find my flashlight in the swamped cockpit.  But I found the trailer, and figured from the sound of waves where to land in the shelter of a little sandy spit.  The kayak was really heavy to drag onto the beach.  Once there, walking to the trailer, I found my boots were filled with water.  My hands were full of gear, so I had to thud ponderously along towards the trailer with 10 lbs of water in each boot.
The next day, on inspecting the kayak, I discovered the leak wasn’t serious, or a structural problem. It was easily patched with tape.  Still, it was a good experience, because it taught me to be cautious, carry repair materials, and always have a backup plan.

3/31/2013

Mexican opinions about "the war on drugs"

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Sunday, 3/31


I arose an hour or two after dawn, and again hung around the trailer.  I’m starting to get comfortable with my routine, which doesn’t include camping on the islands.  For one thing, these islands are so barren there’s not much reason to spend time on them.  For another, I’m getting the best possible nighttime experience by paddling—much better than I would get spending the night on some barren shore.  And, I’m avoiding the hottest time of day, and sun, but leaving every afternoon.  You have to adapt to each environment, and this routine works here.

At 11:00, I left the trailer to have lunch at the food tent.  Grandfather Juan (60) was there.  I had the usual fresh fish tacos—batter fried fish strips, with a tomato/onion/cilantro salsa on top, maybe adding lettuce and cucumber, with a squeeze of lime or dash of roasted jalapeno salsa.  Served up with hot corn tortillas and a side of refried beans.


Juan’s daughter (the cook) showed me here pictures of an island to the north (Coronado) with white beaches.  She so had taken some photos of a whale shark.

I talked with Juan and his son Eric (a local “social” policeman) about the drug war.  I asked them if they thought now was a good time to stop the war on drugs.  They both agreed that it was, although that it was complicated.  Juan thought that the cartels were able to survive despite the attempted cackdown because of official corruption, which turned a blind eye.

Another young man joined in, who spoke fair English.  He also agreed with the proposition, and helped translate.  He said that he had lived in LA for many years, and had been engaged in crime, and then deported.  He said that if he went back (and he wanted to), that he would get 5 years in jail for illegal entry, so he was afraid to try, though he wanted to go back because much of his wife’s family was there, and because he wanted a better US education for his children. (Mexican public education is said to be poor, with corruption in the teacher’s union).  He had a dilemma, because he wanted to go back, but felt that it would be impossible with his criminal record in the US, where he spent some time in jail.
This young man spoke well of the US political system, in comparison to the Mexican.  He said that anyone, no matter how powerful, could be thrown in jail in the US—as evidenced by Bill Clinton.

The young man explained that now he was going straight, since he was married to a Cambodian woman, and had several young children.  He expressed a lot of affection for his son (about 5 yrs) who spoke very good English, and also Cambodian and Spanish.  When he was deported from the US, he arrived here with just the shirt on his back.  But now he was doing well as a speculator in real estate—that he owned 10 properties.  He sells to Mexicans, not Americans.

Grandfather Juan said that the Loreto municipal government was very corrupt—and he made gestures of passing money under the table.  He said that the Federal government said they wouldn’t give any more money to Loreto (…until they cleaned up their act, I presume).

Juan and several of his sons work as security people for an American named Dan Williams, a retired special forces soldier, about 80? Years old, who has a house worth millions in Loreto, and another mansion in Montana.  Williams owns a huge amount of land around Ligui, and has the concession on the beach.  (I believe that means he pays the govt to lease the beach area, and in turn he can use the beach for commercial purposes.)  It sounds like he’s the “Duke” of Loreto, or at least of Ligui.



3/30/2013

How fish escape in the dark

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Saturday 3/30

Today I socialized with my neighbors, who invited me over.  We talked about where I lived, and my drive here, and other simple things, like what the most expensive bottle of whisky in the world might cost.  The night before, I had been explaining to the men of that group a lot about kayaking.  They weren’t aware of the bioluminescence, but seemed interested.

I had asked them if they wanted to try the kayak.  They had taken a picture of one of the men sitting in my kayak, but they seemed timid about trying it.  One man explained that he was completely out of condition.  He also said he might roll over and drown.

This group was composed of two related men and their wives and children.  One family had two younger children, and the other, three older girls, up to the oldest, who was 17 (the one who had been washing her hair).   As before, she seemed pretty disengaged from the group and disinterested in the conversation.  I was surprised to learn that she spoke passable English, but expressed no interest whatsoever in practicing it.  When she spoke, she seemed competent and mature.  Her family said she wanted to become a dentist.  She was now in preparatory school (aftersecondary school, the last years of high school), and was going to go to college in Ensenada.  She said that studying to be a dentist would take 6 years.  I told her about my daughter, who is a dentist.

We helped a nearby camper get his truck unstuck from the sand.

The family explained that another vehicle owner who they had helped had given them a large bucket of oranges for thanks—oranges grown only a little to the south on Baja.  They have me 8 oranges to take home, and we said goodbye.

I set out again for Danzante in early afternoon.  I took everything I needed to spend the night.  The crossing was nearly windless and hot—and when I got to the island, I was too hot to do much.  I ate, put my bottle of beer in the cool water of the beach to chill, and then just sat and vegetated. 

After a while, a small boat with 10 people approached and landed, and I went over to talk.  They were very friendly.  It turns out they were camped on the opposite side of the island, and had come around for a change of scene.  They were two families—a man with his brother in law, and their families.  This group was more active.  The woman went down the shore, looking for shells to make jewelry with.  Some of the children went snorkeling, or played rambunctiously, splashing one another.  Then three of them went of with a sack, a stick, and their snorkel gear—to catch something.  Evidently they did—putting things in the sack with much squealing.

When I asked them what they caught, they said “sea urchins” (erizo).  The were going to eat them raw with some lime and hot sauce.  The men implied that they would make you very “hot,” and that I should try one.  I declined.  They invited me to their camp on the other side for clams, but I never made it.  After an hour or so, the ten of them left in the small boat, waving, loaded almost to sinking up to the gunwhales.


Later when I did pass their camp, it was dark, and I was afraid that I would scare them if I approached their camp out of the dark, since my kayak makes no noise. 

I took a long swim, and had a beer.  It was now getting a little cooler.  I noticed some aggressive bees today, in place of the aggressive wasps who had been bothering me here a few days ago.  (I think the wasps were laying low, since the bees were on the prowl.) I heard a lot of buzzing, and traced it to a swarm of honeybees, who had exited their overfilled hive, and were now looking for a new hive location.  They were buzzed back and forth in front of my face, threateningly, but I wasn’t stung.  I guessed that they are the African variety of honeybees.  Some began to investigate my empty beer bottle with great enthusiasm, crawling inside the entrance.  At first I assumed they were after the beer, for food or drink, but then I realized they were checking out this opening, to see if it would make a good home for the hive.  They investigated the bottle with urgency, and what looked like a kind of intelligence.

Heading north along the E side of the island, I planned to circumnavigate it again.  I stopped to look at the Sally lightfoot crabs, which are social, found nearly always in groups.  I fenced with them with my paddle.  A beautiful sunset caught up with me before I rounded the north side of the island.  I reached the little canal shortcut in the dark, and found it only with difficulty.  Already the bio luminescence was starting, and the was only starting to get dark.

Tonight around the island, the luminescence was the best I’ve seen it.  I’ll describe some of the things you can see, and the different types of fish, based on their behavior.

Some places are just teeming with luminescence, almost eager to explode with light, given the slightest disturbance.  In these places, you can see a spontaneous twinkling at all depths in the water.  When I shine my flashlight here, you can see little skinny fish, about half an inch long (or less), plus some other smaller things (crustacean?), swimming around rapidly.  They are attracted to my flashlight.

Today when swimming, the water visibility wasn’t very good, and I think it’s because the water is so fertile with organisms of all kinds.

Some places are more fertile--and more luminescent—than others.  In these places, my wake is especially bright, and even gently rocking the kayak sets the ripples to glowing.  If you drop a single drop from my paddle into the water, I can see a spreading ring of light, just as you would see the circular ripple in daylight.

If I splash my paddle, for course all the drops create little splashes of light.  But these droplets scare the small fish, who rush away, and create a further wave of fainter light spreading off into the darkness with the speed of a gust of wind.

I can distinguish at least three different kinds of fish based on their evasive behavior when scared in the dark.

Fish type 1 is usually found alone, away from shore.  They rush away with great speed, as straight as an arrow, near the surface or just on top of the water, leaving a straight track of light.  They always go away at 4:00 o’clock or 8:00 (with my bow as midnight).  This orientation suggests they sense the pressure wave of my boat, and orient at right angles to the wave—a good strategy for getting out of the way of a predator.

Fish type 2 are found in groups not far from shore.  They suddenly explode with a burst of speed to escape from under the front of my boat.   They don’t go entirely straight—sometimes curving a bit—and not so far.  But their explosive burst—all at once—can be a big surprise.  One group exploded from the tip of my bow in all directions, looking just like a bursting white fireworks display, with my kayak in the dark shaped like the fireworks rocket.  These fish apparently go part of their way in the air—which allows them to move faster.  You can hear them skipping across the surface.  One wacked into my boat.  It wasn’t just a dull, rubbery thud, as you might expect.  But it sounded hard a a rock, making a sharp cracking sound the the fiberglass.  These fish can be heard sometimes disturbing the surface in front of you, so you suspect they may be there.  If you sneak up on them, and slapthe side of the kayak, they sometimes explode in a starburst on hearding the sound.

Fish type 3 is also found in groups near shore.  These seem about the size of a squirrel, making a trail of stardust in the water somewhat larger.  They take avery zig-zag course, stopping briefly, then continuing for a short distance in another direction.  It looked as if they were stopping to hide on the bottom a few feet down, but when I put my paddle down all the way, I couild not feel the bottom.  When I withdrew it, there was something cold, wet, and spiny on the paddle.  I was scared out of my wits for a moment, but it turned out only to be a large piece of seaweed.

Fish type 4 is not very common.  They are found alone away from shore.  They may be squid, because when they shoot off in one direction to the side, they leave a trail on the opposite side of the kayak as well.  Perhaps the second track is their jet of water, stimulating the luminescence just as their passage does.

Fish type 5 is the “bump in the night.”  Once, crossing the open channel, I felt the boat give a heave, as if something very large like a dolphin had passed close under the kayak.  Or, it may have been an unusual wave, though the sea was very calm.

Fish type 6 is seen close to shore.  Sometimes, I see large luminous shapes under the kayak, kind of like ghosts.  They move slowly without a track, and are gone.  Perhaps they are manta rays, or they may be  boulders illuminated by many small critters on their surface.

Sometimes a dark shape passes close overhead.  I don’t know if these are owls, or just seabirds coming home late from a night at the cantina.  I have seen night herons in the area during the daytime.  Paddling close to shore, I did disturb something that flew away with loud “GROKs” and GRAAKs.  A resting blue heron, no doubt.

Passing close to the cliffs, I can hear crickets singing—several kinds—the same songs as we hear at home, but nowhere near so numberous.  Sometimes, I get strong whiffs of a very sweet blossom, where in daytime the cliffs seemed burned and barren as cinders from Hell.

In the starlight before the waning moon will rise, it’s dark, but not black.  The towers of the island stand out as pure black against the dark grey of the sky and water.   Against the black silhouette and reflection of the island, it’s the darkest, and the luminescence is most visible.  I can tell when I’m getting too close to shore, because I can hear the waves lapping.  I never hit a rock.  Other than the waves, the only sounds are the occasional mewings of romantic sea gulls.

The temperature was just perfect for a single shirt and light exercise.  The slightst of breezes.  The water was a mirror for the stars.  This is one of the premiere nighttime adventures for anyone who loves water, and loves the night.

On my return around 11:00 pm, things were more quiet than the preceding night, which seemed to be the culmination of the holidays on the beach.  Some tents had packed up and left.  The beach quieted down at an earlier hour.  I’m going to miss all the hustle, bustle, and whoopla.

Safety
Lest readers think I’m oblivious to danger, here are precautions I follow. First of all, I know the area, and the configuration of lights on shore, where home lies.  (A map or satellite navigator would be a must if I didn’t know the area).  I know the currents, and there is only one shoal.  I have camping gear, food, and enough water for four days, in case I can’t make it home.   I have two flashlights, one a headlamp with blinking red lights, which I light if I hear any boats approaching.  I have a weather report, and respect the strong winds, which can come up suddenly.  I’m carrying all the usual safety gear, available from my cockpit, and most of it is attached to the kayak with cord, so it can’t drift away if I capsize.   I also have a marine radio (which can send my GPS location) , plus a personal locator beacon.  There are numerous strips of reflective tape on my kayak.

More night paddling--How fish escape

.

Saturday 3/30

Today I socialized with my clean neighbors, who invited me over.  We talked about where I lived, and the drive, and other simple things, like what the most expensive bottle of whisky might cost.  The night before, I had been explaining to the men of that group a lot about kayaking.  They weren’t aware of the bioluminescence, but seemed interested.

I had asked them if they wanted to try the kayak.  They had taken a picture of one of the men sitting in my kayak, but they seemed timid about trying it.  One man explained that he was completely out of condition.  He also said he might roll over and drown.

This group was composed of two related men and their wives and children.  One family had two younger children, and the other, three older girls, up to the oldest, who was 17 (the one who had been washing her hair).   As before, she seemed pretty disengaged from the group and disinterested in the conversation.  I was surprised to learn that she spoke passable English, but expressed no interest whatsoever in practicing it.  When she spoke, she seemed competent and mature.  Her family said she wanted to become a dentist.  She was now in preparatory school (after secondary school, the last years of high school), and was going to go to college in Ensenada.  She said that studying to be a dentist would take 6 years.  I told her about Lisa.

We helped a nearby camper get his truck unstuck from the sand.  The family explained that another vehicle owner who they had helped had given them a large bucket of oranges for thanks—oranges grown only a little to the south on Baja.  They have me about 8 oranges to take home, and we said goodbye

I set out again for Danzante in early afternoon.  I took everything I needed to spend the night.  The crossing was nearly windless and hot—and when I got to the island, I was too hot to do much.  I ate, put my bottle of beer in the cool water of the beach to chill, and then just sat and vegetated. 
After a while, a small boat with 10 people approached and landed, and I went over to talk.  They were very friendly.  It turns out they were camped on the opposite side of the island, and had come around for a change of scene.  They were two families—a man with his brother in law, and their families.  This group was more active.  The woman went down the shore, looking for shells to make jewelry with.  Some of the children went snorkeling, or played rambunctiously, splashing one another.  Then three of them went of with a sack, a stick, and their snorkel gear—to catch something.  Evidently they did—putting things in the sack with much squealing.

When I asked them what they caught, they said “sea urchins” (erizo).  The were going to eat them raw with some lime and hot sauce.  The men implied that they would make you very “hot,” and that I should try one.  I declined.  They invited me to their camp on the other side for clams, but I never made it.  After an hour or so, the ten of them left in the small boat, waving, loaded almost to sinking up to the gunwales. Later when I did pass their camp, it was dark, and I was afraid that I would scare them if I approached their camp out of the dark, since my kayak makes no noise. 

I took a long swim, and had a beer.  It was now getting a little cooler.  I noticed some aggressive bees today, in place of the aggressive wasps who had been bothering me here a few days ago.  (I think the wasps were laying low, since the bees were on the prowl.) I heard a lot of buzzing, and traced it to a swarm of honeybees, who had exited their overfilled hive, and were now looking for a new hive location.  They were buzzed back and forth in front of my face, threateningly, but I wasn’t stung.  I guessed that they are the African variety of honeybees.  Some began to investigate my empty beer bottle with great enthusiasm, crawling inside the entrance.  At first I assumed they were after the beer, for food or drink, but then I realized they were checking out this opening, to see if it would make a good home for the hive.  They investigated the bottle with urgency, and what looked like a kind of intelligence.

Heading north along the E side of the island, I planned to circumnavigate it again.  I stopped to look at the Sally lightfoot crabs, which are social, found nearly always in groups.  I fenced with them with my paddle.  A beautiful sunset caught up with me before I rounded the north side of the island.  I reached the little canal shortcut in the dark, and found it only with difficulty.  Already the bio luminescence was starting, and the was only starting to get dark.

Tonight around the island, the luminescence was the best I’ve seen it.  I’ll describe some of the things you can see, and the different types of fish, based on their behavior.

Some places are just teeming with luminescence, almost eager to explode with light, given the slightest disturbance.  In these places, you can see a spontaneous twinkling at all depths in the water.  When I shine my flashlight here, you can see little skinny fish, about half an inch long (or less), plus some other smaller things (crustacean?), swimming around rapidly.  They are attracted to my flashlight.  Today when swimming, the water visibility wasn’t very good, and I think it’s because the water is so fertile with organisms of all kinds.  Some places are more fertile--and more luminescent—than others.  In these places, my wake is especially bright, and even gently rocking the kayak sets the ripples to glowing.  If you drop a single drop from my paddle into the water, I can see a spreading ring of light, just as you would see the circular ripple in daylight.  If I splash my paddle, for course all the drops create little splashes of light.  But these droplets scare the small fish, who rush away, and create a further wave of fainter light spreading off into the darkness with the speed of a gust of wind.
I can distinguish at least three different kinds of fish based on their evasive behavior when scared in the dark.

Fish type 1 is usually found alone, away from shore.  They rush away with great speed, as straight as an arrow, near the surface or just on top of the water, leaving a straight track of light.  They always go away at 4:00 o’clock or 8:00 (with my bow as midnight).  This orientation suggests they sense the pressure wave of my boat, and orient at right angles to the wave—a good strategy for getting out of the way of a predator.

Fish type 2 are found in groups not far from shore.  They suddenly explode with a burst of speed to escape from under the front of my boat.   They don’t go entirely straight—sometimes curving a bit—and not so far.  But their explosive burst—all at once—can be a big surprise.  One group exploded from the tip of my bow in all directions, looking just like a bursting white fireworks display, with my kayak in the dark shaped like the fireworks rocket.  These fish apparently go part of their way in the air—which allows them to move faster.  You can hear them skipping across the surface.  One whacked into my boat.  It wasn’t just a dull, rubbery thud, as you might expect.  But it sounded hard a a rock, making a sharp cracking sound the the fiberglass.  These fish can be heard sometimes disturbing the surface in front of you, so you suspect they may be there.  If you sneak up on them, and slap the side of the kayak, they sometimes explode in a starburst on hearing the sound.

Fish type 3 is also found in groups near shore.  These seem about the size of a squirrel, making a trail of stardust in the water somewhat larger.  They take very zig-zag course, stopping briefly, then continuing for a short distance in another direction.  It looked as if they were stopping to hide on the bottom a few feet down, but when I put my paddle down all the way, I could not feel the bottom.  When I withdrew it, there was something cold, wet, and spiny on the paddle.  I was scared out of my wits for a moment, but it turned out only to be a large piece of seaweed.

Fish type 4 is not very common.  They are found alone away from shore.  They may be squid, because when they shoot off in one direction to the side, they leave a trail on the opposite side of the kayak as well.  Perhaps the second track is their jet of water, stimulating the luminescence just as their passage does.

Fish type 5 is the “bump in the night.”  Once, crossing the open channel, I felt the boat give a heave, as if something very large like a dolphin had passed close under the kayak.  Or, it may have been an unusual wave, though the sea was very calm.

Fish type 6 is seen close to shore.  Sometimes, I see large luminous shapes under the kayak, kind of like ghosts.  They move slowly without a track, and are gone.  Perhaps they are manta rays, or they may be  boulders illuminated by many small critters on their surface.
Sometimes a dark shape passes close overhead.  I don’t know if these are owls, or just seabirds coming home late from a night at the cantina.  I have seen night herons in the area during the daytime.  Paddling close to shore, I did disturb something that flew away with loud “GROKs” and GRAAKs.  A resting blue heron, no doubt.

Passing close to the cliffs, I can hear crickets singing—several kinds—the same songs as we hear at home, but nowhere near so numerous.  Sometimes, I get strong whiffs of a very sweet blossom, where in daytime the cliffs seemed burned and barren as cinders from Hell. 

In the starlight before the waning moon will rise, it’s dark, but not black.  The towers of the island stand out as pure black against the dark grey of the sky and water.   Against the black silhouette and reflection of the island, it’s the darkest, and the luminescence is most visible.  I can tell when I’m getting too close to shore, because I can hear the waves lapping.  I never hit a rock.  Other than the waves, the only sounds are the occasional mewings of romantic sea gulls.

The temperature was just perfect for a single shirt and light exercise.  The slightest of breezes.  The water was a mirror for the stars.  This is one of the premiere nighttime adventures for anyone who loves water, and loves the night.

On my return around 11:00 pm, things were more quiet than the preceding night, which seemed to be the culmination of the holidays on the beach.  Some tents had packed up and left.  The beach quieted down at an earlier hour.  I’m going to miss all the hustle, bustle, and hoopla.

Safety for night paddling

Lest readers think I’m oblivious to danger, here are precautions I follow. First of all, I know the area, and the configuration of lights on shore, where home lies.  (A map or satellite navigator would be a must if I didn’t know the area).  I know the currents, and there is only one shoal.  I have camping gear, food, and enough water for four days, in case I can’t make it home.   I have two flashlights, one a headlamp with blinking red lights, which I light if I hear any boats approaching.  I have a weather report, and respect the strong winds, which can come up suddenly.  I’m carrying all the usual safety gear, available from my cockpit, and most of it is attached to the kayak with cord, so it can’t drift away if I capsize.   I also have a marine radio (which can send my GPS location) , plus a personal locator beacon.  There are numerous strips of reflective tape on my kayak.