Jul 13, 2013

Back on the Baja Side - Almost Like Home…

You don't get to choose your own nickname

Topolobampo, small town on a hill
Appreciatively, another rapid sail (118 miles in a day – a new mainsail helps!), leads us back on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez, which now feels like home since we already know so many of its anchorages, unique flora, interesting fauna, raw geology, and weather patterns.  We plan to discover many new anchorages this season. 

At this time we also celebrate our first 5,000 miles of sailing!

One of the many bobtail trucks loading cargo vessels at dusk behind chain-link fencing
We enjoyed our stay in Topolobampo and could’ve stayed longer to visit the surroundings: Copper Canyon, Ahome, Los Mochis, but monsoon season is just around the corner and we’ve already pushed the envelope staying this long.  Each day we saw more clouds, or heavier/darker ones, or clouds that lingered longer and longer rather than dissipating by nightfall.  Just before our departure, we had two nights with thunder and lightning although the rain it should have brought went 100 miles west.  We thankfully stayed dry, but the locals are wishing for rain.  It has been dry this year.

Sunset from marina in Topolobampo
Two crabs mating?  
On the way out, we had clouds behind, and on each side of us for nearly eight hours.  We finally escaped to cloud free skies in time for a great sunset.  We timed our departure very well.

We spent one day in Los Mochis, a town of approximately 250,000 according to the 2010 census but the locals say it has 900,000 people.  If true, this number probably includes all suburbs and surrounding areas.  Either way this place is very large with a new bonafide shopping mall mingling with a street farmers’ market; new meets old. 

As we are walking through town an old lady in her backyard calls out to me. She wants to know if I would be interested in plums. I declined for I don’t like the type of plums grown around here. They are sour and eaten with lots of sugar to make them appetizing. She shakes her head in clear disgust saying how sorry she is for me. Poor you (pobrecita) she keeps repeating as she crosses herself and looks to the sky…

We wanted to get a feel for the city, as this is a well known departing point to visit Copper Canyon, a tour we want to possibly take in the fall. The Canyon is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, best times to visit being April/May and October/November. At a size of approximately five Grand Canyons, we wouldn’t do it justice being there for just a few days. It will take planning and possibly leaving Nikki in the care of loving hands while we explore.
Los Mochis Museum
Interesting mechanical adding machine
We visit a small museum showing the history of the area.  We were told it would be OK to pay on our way out however it was hard to find someone to take our pesos once we were done visiting.  This happens more often than not in this country.  Pay later; we know you are good for it!

At the farmers’ market we see fresh fruits, vegetables, handmade local cheeses, herbs, etc.  We find succulent kale, something we’ve only seen once in the nearly two years we have been here.  Vendors shake their heads when we choose fruits and vegetables that are not ripe and ready to eat THAT DAY.  They don’t seem to understand we need them when we are at sea, away from the conveniences of stores and that it can be 3 weeks away before we eat them.  Mexicans shop for today, not usually for later and they have difficulties grasping this foreign concept.

There is a whole section dedicated to haircuts sided by another segment devoted to medicinal herbs to ingest or make into teas.  With my background in medicinal herbalism, I was interested but very saddened to see how old and dated all the herbs were.  They don’t have proper ways to store them and/or enough sales to keep a fresh supply on hands.  It was still interesting to see but definitely not a place I would purchase my medicinal herbs.

On our return trip by bus to Topolobampo, Mike strikes a conversation with an elderly man named Eduardo who has heard about our sailboat.  His four sons work in the marinas in one fashion or another – What a small world!  It is true we are the only sailboat around easily identifiable.  We are surrounded by sport fishing type yachts.

We leave as planned early Sunday morning while the winds push us out of the lagoon.  In the afternoon they reverse, making it impossible for us to sail out then.  Even though we are in the channel, we hit bottom.  Our depth meter indicates we only have 4’4” of water under our 5’ keel….  It is the weirdest feeling when it happens.  It’s like everything suddenly goes into slow motion.  It is low tide so we know we’ll eventually float out of this situation but three fishermen rush to our help and pull us into the very center of the channel not accepting gifts or money or anything else.  They repeat and reinforce the idea that we MUST stay in the MIDDLE of the channel, especially at low tide and we are very happy to abide.  And people are so afraid of visiting this country?  Go figure.

In Altata, we sailed approximately the same amount of miles in and out of a lagoon with no marking buoys and never touched bottom – we followed precise waypoints.  In Topolobampo, we followed waypoints and buoy marked channels and still managed to find the bottom in one spot by going too far to the right within the channel.  It’s not always what you think is going to happen!!!

As in leaving Altata, it takes 10 miles of going west away from land to finally see 100 feet of water under our keel.  The shallow waters make for a very rough sail.  Déjàlà is bouncing around and getting covered with waves after waves over the bow and sides.  We can take it in stride however for we know it’s only until we reach deeper waters but it is a tiring ride nonetheless.  One day Déjàlà is fully clean, the next she’s quickly back to her old salty self.

At 114 feet of depth, we see a panga anchored, yes, I said anchored. They are fishing in these waves and at this depth!  It’s amazing what endurance and drive these folks have when it comes to catching fish.  What having to survive will do to you...

Yellow limestone rock formation lining north end of island
Back ‘home’, we are anchored at Isla Monserrate where we can see the anchor in 20 feet of water – our first new anchorage this season.  We can see the bottom and gauge by color and forms for sand, rocks, grass, depth, etc – much less stressful way of sailing in shallow areas or anchoring.  BUT even that is not fail-safe.  The next day, upon checking our anchor, we find it on its side.  The sand layer it was in was not thick enough to hold us well.  We move only 100 or so feet to find better holding. 

Mike waiting for sunset on yellow limestone
The beach here is lined with yellow striated limestone, a very bright and cheerful color.  This is an anchorage open to the north so we have to watch for winds coming from that direction but none are forecasted for the next three days.  We’ll take time kayaking and hiking around.  I know Nikki is quite eager to go but since we arrived at high noon, the hottest time of the day, she’ll have to wait for dusk when the sand won’t be so hot and the light so harsh, before she gets to run around.

Beach also lined with red rocks where crabs like to hang out
Colorful red crabs hiding in the shade of sea caves
Meanwhile we are resting in the shade recuperating from an all night sail – reading, writing, being quiet.

At night I watch lightning after lightning coming from the area we just left.  Again, we timed our departure just right to make the best of the wind and the weather.  The next morning the weatherman says what we saw was 100 miles away!  Amazing how large these cloud formations must be for their lightning to be seen from this far away.
Tree growing right out of volcanic rock
Nikki jets out of view as soon as she reaches sand to chase and catch ghost crabs; Mike and I hike the volcanic island and recognize many of the plants we have seen on islands further south and north of here last year.  Some still have blooms barely hanging on, others are just starting that journey.  Grasses are yellow and brittle.  Vines are brown.  Some cacti are covered with fruits eaten by birds.  Lizards scatter around when they sense us come by.  On this side of the island, there is very little sign of others hiking the island: no tracks, no garbage, no old fire pits, no coals, and no campsite.  It is quite nice to be back so far from everything but nature.  At the other point of the island is a small fishing camp strewn with discards of years upon years of fishing trips.  It seems every island we’ve been to so far has at least one lean-to, a sleeping area, and a cooking area for the local fishermen who may need to spend a night or so away from home.  A simple table is made up of cactus ribs attached by cordage.  A flattened area is lined with rocks on one side to protect from the winds.  Some seats are made of stumps or blocks of woods nailed together.  Nothing fancy but all functional.

Cliff's view from canyon below
Curious bees come and visit the boat at dusk and dawn looking for dew water.  Something we don’t usually encounter on the mainland side of Mexico for that area is generally wetter.  Once the scouting bees find nothing they usually leave us alone the rest of the day.  If there is dew, we just have to wipe it off quickly to minimize their visits.  In general it hasn’t been a big issue for us, but something to keep in mind when traveling this very dry area.

More cliff overhangs from dry stream bed in canyon
We listen to the net (radio for cruisers) and recognize names of vessels that were here last year.  Many never leave this area.  Many don’t even sail their boats any longer.  Some actually no longer have boats; they have homes and keep connecting via radio.  One in particular welcomed us back the minute he heard we were back on this side of the Sea.  Home sweet home… 

Déjàlà at sunset

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