Aug 7, 2016

Armpit of the Sea of Cortez?

We couldn’t free ourselves into the present.

Ian McEwan
El Burro Cove in the morning sun. 
We had been forewarned that Bahia Concepcion, due to its exceptionally still air, lack of strong tides, usually small currents, as well as being a somewhat enclosed long (20 miles) shallow bay surrounded by tall mountains (about 2000+ feet) could be much hotter than the Sea. We had heard it nicknamed “The armpit of the Sea of Cortez” for that same reason but felt we had to find out for ourselves if that reputation had any merit.

Well – it has… but it is still worth exploring…

Santo Domingo, anchorage before entering Bahia Concepcion

Interesting rock formation Santo Domingo
We spent four days in the ‘armpit’ before heading back out to cool off. Only 8-10 miles away and the water reached nearly 6-8 degrees less while the cabin temperature sank 16 degrees! We like heat but not to the point where the boat cannot cool off at night due to water temperatures in the high 80’s F. In three years in the Sea, it was the first time we had to use fans to keep us cool at night. It was also the first time our delicious dark chocolates melted… Even if they were few and far between, the very slightest of breezes felt like heaven.

The wind helped us find anchor at El Burro Cove, somewhat in the middle of the various anchorages along the west side of the bay. We could’ve gone further south risking an arrival at dark or we could’ve gone further north, but why fight a good wind?

Mike kayaking around El Burro Cove
As it turns out, and after visiting by foot, car, or kayak, the other bays/anchorages, we realized we came to a very good place. Not only is it the nicest but there are hikes to be done from here and kayaking to many nearby islands and rugged coastline. We finally were able to meet Geary Ritchie, beach-bum extraordinaire (his business card says so), the weather guru for the Sea of Cortez who lives there. Geary has volunteered his time (as much as 4hours/day) to ‘predict’ the weather for the last 2 decades. He is part of a somewhat dying breed as there are possibly only 3 other people left in the world who do this as well.
Only one firetruck for the whole area.
Geary is one of the volunteer firefighters
We had thought of staying through to July 4th for Geary’s well known party but the heat was just too high, especially for Nikki (at least we like to blame her for that). Now that we are back out, we can comfortably sleep even necessitating the cover of a sheet or blanket at night. It is nice to be able to put a face on the famous and pleasant weather voice we have heard nearly daily for the last five years! When we listen to his forecast over the radio we now know who that dog is barking in the background, why there are so many vehicles braking and honking (Geary lives near a steep curve along the main N-S highway), where the doves are that coo intermittently, and what his ‘office’ looks like, a simple shack over the beach. When Geary first moved there decades ago, the beach used to extend much further down the way, now he had to build a retaining wall to stop the higher tides/waves from entering his porch during storms.

We found a novel way of finding guides to show around. The other day, looking for internet and ice (our poor fridge was having a hard time keeping up in this 87.7 F water) for a little cooler fridge boost, we came across this little roadside store/restaurant. We knew we were only 13 miles from the town of Mulegé but were lacking a way to get there. Mulegé seemed like an interesting small place to visit and we thought of hitchhiking, which is not a problem around here but didn’t want to chance waiting on the side of the road with cold groceries upon our return.

While getting ice we inquired if anyone knew of someone with a vehicle who could act as a taxi/tour guide for about 4 hours. At first someone offered an after work ride but we didn’t want to see the town in the dark so we turned that down. Eventually an elderly lady sheepishly came to the counter and asked if tomorrow would work for us and we asked if 9am would work for her.

We made it to shore for our 9am rendez-vous unsure if anyone would show up and here comes Anita all dressed up nice and accompanied by another younger woman, a family member. She is driving a fairly new Chevy Cruze with AC, a very comfortable ride to town especially since by 9:30am, the thermometer was already registering 93 F!
We asked to begin with a visit to the Mission, followed by the Museum, the lighthouse, an internet café, and finish the day with groceries.
The Mission de Santa Rosalia is a ‘sister’ to the one we visited near Loreto but built about 6 years later. The original one (1705) was washed away in a massive flood so the replacement mission (1754-1766) now on higher grounds, didn’t have much in terms of carvings, gold, decorations, embellishments, etc. It was pretty simple, looking somewhat much more like a fort than a mission/church.


More like a fort than a mission / church

Simple interior

Cool balcony
Mulegé (from the native Cochimi Indian language meaning Great sandbar or ravine of the white mouth) is built in a narrow valley along a river with a sandbar at its entrance. It is very green, very much like St Ignacio further inland and to its north. There are date palms as far as the eyes can see but most of the crop now stays unpicked, labor being too costly.
Our ‘tour guide/taxi driver’ team visited the Mission with us ensuring we wouldn’t miss seeing the dam that pooled the water for irrigation. Both ladies had been raised and went to school in Mulegé but hadn’t lived here for decades so it was like re-discovering Mulegé for them to take us around.
Next we visited the 1907 prison turned into a Museum. Neither of these ladies had ever visited and both were hesitant to come in so we paid for their entrance fee otherwise they would’ve waited for us in the car! Part of the joy of visiting with them was to watch them learn/see new things about their town. The prison was called the ‘Prison with no cell doors’ for none of the cells had bars or doors, quite a different design. It was said that if anyone escaped, the other prisoners would bring them back in!

Very similar to St. Ignacio further inland.  Date palms no longer cultivated.
An interesting prison with an interior courtyard and the only one with a door, reserved for the insane. The outside cells were for men who could work from 6am to 6pm at the hospital or in the fields (mostly date picking then), a few other cells were reserved for women and they cooked for everyone in the open air kitchen. Guards/sentinels were stationed at each corner accessible only by ladders. Very simply laid out and built. They used a conch shell to call the workers back to the prison after work. On our way out, the museum guide discovered she had family links with the people who were driving us around. A small world.
Anita and Bertha were a joy to be with for these four hours. They brought us back home, not asking for anything but we insisted they take money for their time, fuel, and effort. Where in the US or Canada could you just walk into a small store and ask for and find a taxi/tour guide to accompany complete strangers to a nearby town for 4 hours?
As it turns out, and the reason (I think) Anita looked sheepish when she offered to take us to town was that she was visiting her family for a week but was looking for an excuse to get away from the heat. A visit to town in an air conditioned car to visit cool places in town seemed to be the ticket for her… Most people in this area do not have AC as electricity is only provided by generator or solar panels. People are used to hammocks in the shade, fans, and swimming to cool off.
We loved that they discovered some small new things about the town they grew up in.
Just prior to leaving El Burro Cove, we hiked up the northern side of the bay to get a bird’s eye view. Along the way can be found several pictographs carved in fairly large stones lying around the main highway that runs N-S all along Baja, California. Would such pictographs be in the US, they would have signs, be roped off and you would have to hire a guide and pay to see it. There is no indication that these are even there. 
Rock art.... Less than 1 minute walk from major road.

Slowly being hidden by trees, cacti.
Enclosed pictures tell the story. Beautiful bay, pictographs, hike, etc… This area also includes rocks that are so high in iron content that they sound like bells when struck with other rocks. Kind of neat.
On a sadder note, for me anyway, is the lack of wildlife compare to what we had here 3 and 4 years ago. Guano covered rocks that use to indicate nesting for numerous sea birds are now empty and eerily quiet and non-smelly. We used to count at least one osprey pair per bay for the more than 75 anchorages we have visited here. There always seemed to be at least a pair of these sentinels guarding a bay. This year we have only seen/heard one so far. Pelicans that use to fly by the boat in V formations are seen usually alone. Seagulls that used to be so loud and ever present are seen in very rare pairs here and there. Only the boobies seem to be seen in the same numbers as previous years. Nikki hasn’t had to chase a bird off our boat, the beach or kayaks this whole season yet.
The same goes for fishermen. The very small fishermen camps that dot the coastline of the islands and the mainland are nearly all empty. They don’t show recent use. We haven’t been approached by any to ‘trade’ fish for – whatever. Lack of fish? In Loreto, when we inquired about the price of a 6 mile boat ride from an island to town, the reply that came astounded us. A generous price would be 500 ($30US) pesos but now with tourism dominant; these people were asking 2,500 ($150US) pesos per person! We didn’t use that service. 
Closer look at El Burro Cove
Anyway – I just had to share the sadness I feel for what is becoming of the Sea of Cortez, and nature in general.
I believe that what we do to this planet is more easily observed when one is quietly and slowly traveling through it.

Piranhas? Someone with a sense of humor.  Sign in a salt flat.

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