Baja and La Paz

So, first let’s say a few words about the Baja peninsula.  It stretches southward f800nm rom the southern border of California, USA between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east.  Most of the land is arid and a semi-desert.  There is little natural water here and it seldom rains.

Aside from the border towns of Tijuana and Mexicali, there are only 3 cities of any note.  Ensenada on the western shore 100 miles or so from the US. Cabo San Lucas at the southernmost tip and Pa Paz on the eastern shore, 200 miles or so north of Cabo San Lucas (hereinafter called Cabo).

Aside from small villages, there are few other settlements.  La Paz has approximately 250,000 inhabitants and lies beautifully on the shore of a large bay.  The water is clean here and dolphins swim by our boat each evening on their daily foraging for dinner. We reached La Paz late in the afternoon so instead of sailing in and trying to find an anchorage at dusk, we anchored up in a little bay 10 miles outside the town. We had, of course, forgotten we had our dinghy in tow so when we backed down on our anchor to ensure it had bitten in the seabottom, we backed right over our dinghy painter (line).  The line immediately got sucked under the boat and proceeded to merrily wrap itself around both the propeller and axel.

The engine slowly stopped and now is when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan.  Nothing for it, SOMEONE had to don wetsuit and diving gear, go under the boat and cut everything away.  SOMEONE (aka moi, me, Carsten) suited up and hopped in the water, knife between teeth.  It only took a few minutes to cut the rope away.  As in almost everything, there was also a silver lining to this cloud.  We needed to put a new painter (line) on the dinghy, but we had been too lazy to do it.  Now we were forced to.

We are at anchor on the far side of the bay, about a half a nautical miles from the marina where we can land our dinghy.  That means that we need to sail our dinghy a half a nautical miles every time we want to go on land.  Shopping requires the dinghy trip and since no one ever builds supermarkets close to marinas, a 3 kilometer trek to the supermarket, 3 kilometers back again and then another half nautical mile dinghy trip.  Of course, the local farmers market, where we buy fresh vegetables and fish is also 3 kilometers from the marina – but in the opposite direction (what else?).  Shopping, therefore, is an all morning task.

As a matter of fact, anything we want to do on land takes at least a half day.  By the time we dinghy in, walk around, drag our shopping back and just make general errands, 3-4 hours are quickly gone.  This is how Vinni and I get our exercise.

We’ve anchored here for almost a month-and-a-half.  Why?  Well, first because of the weather.  It blows up to gale strength most of the time.  This is what the locals call the “winter northerlies”.  A winter northerly last 5-6 days then we have a couple of days pause, then the cycle starts again.  Everyone says that the northerlies will begin to let up towards the end of February, where they will lose strength and blow for fewer days.  They will stop by the end of March.

Right now, it is early morning and the winds are blowing a constant 23-25 knots with gust over 30 knots (for you landlubbers that is around 30mph, gusting 35mph).  Thankfully, we have a Mantus anchor (In Mantus we trust) that seems to be nailed to the seabed.  The other day it was gusting in excess of 45 knots, which is wind enough to give concern to those who don’t have good anchors.  Some of the local cruisers tell us that the weather patterns this year are strange.  In the past, the northerlies blew for 3-4 days, then paused for a week or so before beginning again.  It is almost as if the pattern has flipped.

We are also here because we are waiting for deliveries.  First, because we decided to buy some flip-down wheels for our dinghy.  Vinni and I have just gotten too old and decrepit to carry/drag our dinghy far up the beaches when we want to go ashore.  Training wheels for dinghies are not in stock here so we had to wait a couple of weeks for them to come from the states.  In the meantime we purchased Starlink.

Starlink, for those who are not aware of it, is an internet system consisting of thousands of low-hanging satellites that have been launched by Elon Musk (he of Tesla fame).  Starlink means we now have internet when we please.  It does eat a bit of electricity; but we can turn it on and off.  Of course, there is no Eden without a snake.  We needed to get a local pipefitter to make a proper mounting bracket for – that also took a couple of weeks.

In the middle of all this, one of our solar panels burned out.  Strange.  Our solar system has functioned without any maintenance or problems for almost seven years now.  It started generating electricity when we turned in on in Copenhagen and hasn’t stopped.  Sunpower, the manufacturer, proudly proclaims on their website that they provide a 25-year warranty.  Of course, when you call them, they suddenly won’t honor that.  OK, so no free panel – how about just telling me where I can buy one in Mexico?  They aren’t interested in that either.  After many days of googling around on the internet – I finally found someone in Arizona who is willing to sell me a panel.  It will be expensive to ship down here, but we have no other choice.  We need two panels – the one currently operating can just barely keep up with our usage.

Finally, we needed a new feed pump for our watermaker.  The old pump was worn and the watermaker was only producing 20 liters per hour instead of the 30 it should.  I’ve now installed the new pump and it is merrily procuring 31 liters per hour.  Heaven, now we can fill our water tank in under 5 hours.

The above all sounds like a lot of work and it was.

Ok, I was going to write about La Paz.  As I wrote above, we are anchored about a half nm from the marina.  La Paz is famous for the “La Paz Waltz”.  Which is?, you ask with curiosity in your voice.  The tides and tidal streams run heavily into the bay.  Every six hours the direction changes and the current runs the other way.  Since the current runs at 3+ knots, the boats will swing at anchor, first one way and then the other.  Of course, when the wind blows gale force, it also effects the yachts.  The current tries to turn the boats one way and wind the other way.  When the wind and the current are from different directions, it raises a violent chop.  The chop, wind and current means that Capri does the jitterbug while also dancing the La Paz Waltz.

Very entertaining to watch – less entertaining to be on a boat dancing like that.

Moonrise over La Paz bay

La Paz has a long promenade, called Malecon, and it is widely used by both tourists and locals alike.  The young people speed by on their skateboards or in-liners, families enjoy the sunshine while having ice cream and teenagers check out the opposite sex, the girls behind downcast eyes – the boys more openly.  All very peaceful.  But the peaceful atmosphere is spoiled by the many police cars that slowly patrol the street.

So what’s the problem with a couple of police cars?  Police cars here are a bit different from back home.  Here they are pick-up trucks with a large steel railing mounted around the bed.  Inside the bed is typically one, sometimes two or more, policemen armed with M-16s.  They keep a close eye on everything.  This is the city police.  The National Police have the same trucks, but in the bed, they have a 50-caliber machine gun with a rotary magazine capable of holding 500 shells.  That is enough to start (and end) a war.

We realize that there are hard narcotics cartels here in Mexico that don’t hesitate to shoot and kill police, but we’ve never heard of them being on Baja or La Paz (Ok- up in Tijuana).  We also never hear any shooting here and the local sailors don’t talk about any.

We visited the local historical museum.  Unfortunately, everything was in Spanish, so we didn’t get much out of it.  But, because I went to school back when kids learned something, I happen to know a bit about Mexican history.

The northern part of Mexico was inhabited by the Aztecs when the Europeans arrived.  Hernan Cortez was the supposedly the first and he, like all the others, came to search for gold, silver and jewels.  He only had a couple of hundred men with him, and, despite this, managed to subdue the entire Aztec empire.  The Aztec Emperor at the time was Montezuma (II).  Montezuma made the gigantic mistake of welcoming Cortez and his men, thinking they were related to the Gods.  The Spanish had canon and rifles – something the Aztec knew nothing about.  Cortez expressed his gratitude for the welcome by imprisoning Montezuma, slaughtering the rest of his court and enslaving the populous to work in the gold mines.  Montezuma was later killed when some Aztec attempted to revolt.  Cortez found huge amounts of gold and following in his footsteps; Pissaro later destroyed the Inca civilization in Peru and northern South America.  The entire population were enslaved and any that made an effort at rebellion were slaughtered.

There is an enduring legend about Montezuma’s treasure.  The legend says that as the Spaniards approached what is today Mexico City, Montezuma ordered his treasure to be transported north and hidden.  Supposedly, 2000 heavily-ladened slaves marched north carrying Montezuma’s treasure. 

Of course, no one knows if this is true.  The legend goes on to say the treasure was buried in a cave somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico.  Some say that the “treasure train” buried the treasure in Utah.

In 1914, a prospector named Freddy Crystal showed up in the little town of Kanab, Utah, bearing a map covered with Aztec hieroglyphics, purporting to show the location of the treasure.  Freddy Crystal found a series of caves and proclaimed this was the burial place.  The entire town came out to help dig, but no treasure was ever found.  These caves stretch miles underground and their entire length has never been explored.  Many still believe the treasure is in there somewhere.

Others say the myth is just that – a myth.  But maybe not.  In the late 1950’s a gold bar made of gold from the Aztec era suddenly appeared.  No one was willing to say where the gold came from.  Today the bar rests in the Mexican Museum of National History in Mexico City.

In the southern part of Mexico, in the Yucatan peninsula lie the ruins of entire cities of Mayan Temples.  We will visit those ruins next fall.  They are supposedly just as large and impressive as the pyramids of Egypt.  When we visit, we’ll write more about the Mayans, their history and why they apparently simply abandoned their cities in the 6th and 7th centuries.

As I said earlier (up there somewhere), La Paz is a peaceful city (well – note the name, La Paz (peace)).  We enjoy promenading the length of the Malecon (total 6.5 kilometers), mingling with the locals.  On shore, it is not as windy and the sun is warming.  We’ve found several good restaurants, including a little “taco-joint” on a side street that serves large strong margaritas and truly good tacos, along with other Mexican food.  On top of everything else – it is cheap.  We’ve also discovered Bandido’s, a burger joint, but what a burger joint.  The burgers are great and the grill is the front end of a 1970 Ford Falcon.  The engine has been taken out and the hood is up.  The rest of the restaurant is definitely “funky”.  Everything is different and despite this seems to fit and add to the décor (the whole restaurant is outside).  There are lights in all the trees and they play music from “our generation” – 60’s and 70’s stuff.  They must have visited a lot of flea markets to find several hundred non-matching chairs and tables.

Further down the Malecon is a nasty temptation.  Tucked into a corner is an ice cream shop, serving up really delicious ice cream.  It is about 3 kilometers down the Malecon and very difficult to just walk by when the sun is shining and it is warm.  Ice cream like that is just what Vinni and I need to stay slim and trim (sigh).

We’ve bought a couple of paddle-boards so we can get some much-needed exercise.  We have tried them (see the video), but until now, only on our knees (we need to work up to standing up).  We try to practice, but with the heavy winds we are experiencing, we can only practice a couple of times per week.  But we’ll get better at it.

We are a bit non-pulsed.  We are constantly reading about all the illegal Mexicans that cross the Rio Grande to enter the United States.  We’re sure these reports are correct, but it is difficult to understand why when you are here in Baja.  Everyone here seems to be well-dressed, in modern brand-labelled clothes.  There are no homeless here.  The locals fill the restaurants and virtually all the shops, restaurants etc. have signs up seeking help.  So jobs are plentiful.

Certainly there are poverty-stricken areas in Mexico, but it is not noticeable here.

One of the hinges on our shower door broke – no way to get one here

A little amateur soldering and it seems to be holding up fine

Our time here in La Paz is drawing to an end.  We have been here at anchor far too long.  It will be good to be back at sea.  Tomorrow we’ll sail over to the mainland, to Mazatlan.  It is 240nm, so it will be a 2 day sail.

Capri’s bottom looked like a shag carpet

The dinghy bottom was horrible – er Carsten is cleaning like mad

Ed, the gentleman who caught the two marling here, was kind enough to give us several kilos of marlin – yummm!

We also met a young couple, Katherine and Alfredo, American and Colombian, both in their late 20’s.  They have a 34-foot sailboat and embarked yesterday on the first leg of their Great Adventure, sailing westward, bound for Nuku Hiva and Polynesia.  Their boat is not fast so they are planning for a 4 week passage of the almost 3000nm.

While we don’t envy them the 4 weeks at sea (Vinni and I have done that a couple of times), we do envy them Polynesia.  We’ve talked a lot the past couple of nights about visiting Nuku Hiva, Tuamotus and Polynesia again.  We happily remember the evenings spent playing Mexican train, the warm friendships we made our lives in the Garden of Eden there.

But, but, but – they are starting their Great Adventure whereas Vinni and I are nearing the end of ours (still have a couple of years to go).  We also agree that we might be disappointed if we sailed out there again – it probably wouldn’t be the same.

But there is nothing wrong with having a fantasy.

One thought on “Baja and La Paz

  1. Hi, Carsten and Vinni. Congratulations on some great voyages and a great blog. I am the editor of a new edition of the non-profit Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation’s Pacific Crossing Guide.
    I would like to ask you whether you would consider allowing us to include some of your wonderful photos in the new edition. Could you contact me please, so that I can explain? Thank you.
    PS – I do agree about that ice cream shop on the Malecon in La Paz.

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