Thursday, January 17, 2013

Islas Espíritu Santo & Partida

Heading out of La Paz towards
Islas Espíritu Santo & Partida.
On January 5th, we headed out of La Paz and after a quick stop at the fuel dock at Costa Baja Marina, we were off to the islands.  We had heard how beautiful the islands were but were in no way prepared for the spectacular scenery and pristine beaches, complete with crystal clear waters, that awaited us.  The trip from La Paz to Bahia San Gabriel on the southern tip of Isla Espíritu Santo was short and allowed us time to soak in our surroundings once we set the anchor. be back on the hook in the middle of nowhere...that's the cruising that we're used to.  Don't get me wrong, marinas and cities are nice and offer up a wide variety of things to do and see along with the hustle and bustle that us urban dwellers are used to; but give me a secluded anchorage with no other boats in sight and I'm a happy camper. Islas Espíritu Santo and Partida are nature preserves and a park pass is required to visit the islands. That said, the national parks department here in Mexico is a bit lax in enforcing the procurement of passes prior to entering the parks and it wasn't until the last minute that we were able to purchase our annual pass.  We were told by the parks employee in La Paz that if his office didn't receive the passes prior to our departure that we would still be allowed to go to the islands.  Luckily, the passes arrived and Richard and I felt better about entering the national park knowing that we had provided some financial assistance in the preservation of this unique nature preserve.

A mama scorpion with her brood on her back.
After setting the anchor, I headed to shore to explore the beach and that was where I encountered my first scorpion...but not just one scorpion.  No, I inadvertently happened upon a mother scorpion whose back was covered with dozens of baby scorpions.  After seeing this, I decided that I had done enough exploring and tip toed back to the beach, careful to check my hiking boots for any "stowaways", and then revved the outboard to get back to the boat as quickly as possible.  Scorpions have a way of imprinting their image in your head and it was a while before that image went away.  Back on the boat, I showed Richard the picture I took of the scorpion (of course I took a picture!) and we both settled in for the evening enjoying the sunset to the west from the cockpit. The weather was warm and there was only a bit of a breeze making for a comfortable evening on the boat.

A picture perfect white sand beach at
Bahia San Gabreil.
The next day, I took the dinghy to shore to do a little exploring. The white sand beach was backed by rugged hills covered in cacti and low scrub brush. There were small crabs crawling over the rocky shore on one end of the beach and schools of small fish swimming between the sand bars created by the ebbing tide.  The water was warm, shallow and crystal clear.  I had to walk the dinghy out far from the beach before I could lower the outboard and head back to the boat.

Richard trying to "de-burr" his hiking boots.
Once back at the boat, we had lunch and headed to shore for a hike.  Our guide book told of a hike from one side of the island to the other and so, with water and cameras in hand, Richard and I started out on the two hour hike to the east coast of the island.  The "path", and the term is used here in the loosest sense, led through a valley flanked by mountains covered in cacti and every other conceivable type of prickly, thorny vegetation known to mankind.  Along the way we ran into what I think is a Mexican Milk Snake who, because of his position smack dab in the middle of our path, resulted in us venturing off of our path in order to give him a wide berth.   Call me cautious, but in hindsight, I think this was the right thing to do.

Playa Bonanza, Isla Espíritu Santo.
The barrenness of the trek across the island was juxtaposed by the wide beach that awaited us on the other side of the island.  Here we saw the expanse of the Sea of Cortez unfold eastward towards the Mexican mainland.  The beach itself, Playa Bonanza, stretched as far as the eye could see southward and was backed by mountains rising high above the valley we had just hiked through.  The beach was covered with shells of all sizes and the occasional desiccated remains of dead fish.  Somehow these artifacts added to the wildness of the scene and were not gruesome at all.

The beach at El Cordoncito.
The next day, we lifted the anchor and set off for El Cardoncito on Isla Partida.  El Cardoncito is a very narrow and small cove extending into the west coast of Isla Partida with room for one or two boats. Luckily, we had the anchorage to ourselves.  We anchored, had lunch and then I decided to swim to shore while Richard took the dinghy.  I put on my fins, snorkel and mask and headed to shore.  Along the way I saw balloonfish which can often be seen sitting on the bottom of the water in a depression in the sand that I assume they construct by swishing their tails around and "sweeping" out the area.  In addition to the balloonfish, I also saw a couple different types of surgeonfish and green, black and white coral heads where multi-colored wrasses were busy cleaning the algae out of the coral crevasses.  Once on shore, Richard did some snorkeling and then we walked inland a few hundred feet to a well situated on the shore and up a hill from the small arroya that emptied into the cove.  

Sunset at El Cardoncito,
right before the winds picked up.
The real excitement happened later that night.  After dinner the wind started to pick up and suddenly we were seeing winds in the upper 20's whipping through the small, steep-sided cove.  Finding ourselves facing a lee-shore (a situation where if our anchor failed we would have found ourselves drifting towards the rocky shore), Richard made the call and we initiated an anchor watch.  Richard set the hand-held GPS to signal an alarm if the boat moved more than 50 feet; this would provide us with at least a window to correct the situation before anything really bad happened. The alarm went off a couple of times through the night and after confirming our position it was determined that our anchor wasn't dragging and we were safe.  Needless to say it made for a long night and it wasn't until around 5:00 am that we felt as though the winds had diminished enough to call off the anchor watch.  I used my watch time to make cole slaw and re-organize all of our canned goods and other food supplies (multi-tasking my way through the dangers of watching for a dragging anchor).

Osprey anchored in Ensenada Grande.
When dawn broke, we decided to pick up the anchor and head a bit further north up the island to Ensenada Grande.  On our way to the anchorage, we stopped in a small cove to see the blue-footed boobie rookery but there were no boobies to be found.  That was okay because as we rounded our way into Ensenada Grande we saw several blue-footed boobies flying about the boat.  Blue feet...nature's way of accessorizing I guess.  We opted for the southern lobe of this three-lobed indentation on the west side of the island mainly because there were no other boats in it.  The sandstone cliffs were punctuated with caves and rock spires where pelicans would perch and then dive into the aquamarine waters to snatch up unsuspecting fish just below the surface.  The water was warm so we donned our snorkel gear and headed in to swim around the rocky shore.  There were lots of colorful fish and a surprising amount of coral that provided protection for some of the smaller fish inhabiting the reef.

I decided to hike to the top of a mountain located right next to shore and the hike was quite a workout as most of it seemed to be straight up, hand over foot climbing.  There were caves and cacti everywhere and in the blue sky above, turkey vultures galore!  I did my best to let the vultures know that there was still a whole lot of life in me and that I wouldn't be an easy meal any time soon.

Osprey as seen from the ridge flanking
Ensenada Grande.
The views as I climbed higher and higher just got better with every foot of elevation I gained. As I gazed down into the bay, I could see Osprey getting smaller and smaller as the bay appeared bigger and bigger. The water was so amazingly clear that I could make out the coral heads we had been snorkeling around earlier in the day.  At the top of the mountain there was a commemorative plaque dedicated to someone from Colorado (I think it was Colorado) who had died in a climbing accident somewhere in the States.  It seemed odd that the plaque was here in the Sea of Cortez but I think the plaque mentioned that this was the guy's favorite place to visit.

Richard, Osprey, and me.
The next day Richard hiked alone and I stayed on the boat and baked banana bread and tried to catch up on boat chores as we were planning to leave for Mazatlán on the 10th. It was hard to leave these beautiful islands but warmer weather was calling us and we had heard that warmer weather could be found on the mainland, so off to the mainland we were headed.

I wanted to include some additional pictures form the islands and our time on Islas Espíritu Santo and Partida so here you go.

Sandstone cliffs at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
White sand beach at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
Desert Lizard at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
Cactus seen on hike at Bahia San Gabriel,
Espíritu Santo.
Mexican Milk Snake seen on hike at
Bahia San Gabriel, Isla 
Espíritu Santo.
Mountain Ram skull seen on Playa Bonanza.
Agave still life; Ensenada Grande, Isla Partida.
Me in a cave on hike at Ensenada Grande, Isla Partida.

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