Today, we stopped to explore an area of giant sand dunes that we found. The dunes stretch for over one-half mile and reach heights of up to 60 feet. They are so impressive that the locals call them "Castillo de Arena" or Castles of Sand.
On top of the dunes is evidence of an old oyster camp. The oyster was the main reason that the Spaniards explored Baja back in the 17th Century. One word: Pearls. The oysters in Baja are one of only a few places in the world that develop pearls. The dunes were littered with thousands of oyster shells.
Back on the "main" washboard road, we headed on to Cabo Pulmo. When looking for a camping spot we generally look for a secluded area at the end of an arroyo facing the beach, or a spot surrounded by giant cardons. In Baja this is referred to as "boondocking".
As soon as camp was done, we put on our wet suits, grabbed our masks and snorkels jumped in! The fish life was great. We saw puffers, trunkfish, parrot fish and angels, just to name a few. We even saw an octopus! We were also lucky enough to be enveloped in a silver cloud of sardines. There were so many that we couldn't even think of counting.
The biggest surprise, and disappointment in this region has been the amount of development along the Cape Coast. Because of its closeness to Cabo San Lucas and the international airport at San Jose del Cabo, the entire southern end of the peninsula seems to be sprouting barbed wire fences and private property signs. It's too bad. All this beauty should be available to all.
Today we say goodbye to the tropics as we continue our return route. We've now completed basically a large circle south of La Paz, traveling north along the Sea of Cortez. And after nearly 40 miles of rough washboard we hit paved roads. Hallelujah!
The desert landscape in the Cape continuously changes as we drive along. We pass huge stands of candelabra cactus mixed in with their big brethren, the cardon. We view bougainvillea and san miguel vines. There are wild figs or zalates growing on cliff sides, acacia trees, palo adan (which look like ocotillos) and the bright red flowers of the fairy duster trees.
The most interesting of our stops occurs when we choose the town (ghost town) of El Triunfo as our lunch stop. Silver mining began here in 1748 and continued for over 150 years. Large scale mining started in 1862 and the town grew to have a population 10 times the size of the capital at La Paz.
Today we have a long drive from La Paz to Bahiá Concepción. We are pushing north to make sure we are back in San Ignacio on Wednesday to pick up our permits for our trip into the Sierra de San Francisco to view the rock art.
The drive is pretty uneventful, just long stretches interrupted by trying not to get run off the road by the big rigs passing in the other direction. We did stop to give gas to a woman stuck on the side of the road and later in the day stopped to see if we could help a family whose car had caught fire. In Baja everyone stops to help everyone else because you never know when the stuck person might be you!
We also were stopped twice at military checkpoints. These are usually drug and weapons stops and the officers are always polite. A lot of times we just get waved on through, but today, at the first checkpoint we got a pretty cursory search. At the second, the officer did quite a thorough search through the front and back seats of the vehicle and throughout the camper. We just waited patiently while he did his job and thanked him when he was done.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the southern end of the bay. It was a little windy (and rocky) so we decided to go north up the west side a little further. We found a mangrove area with lots of birds and with a sandy bottom (to better search for clams!)
The birds were fun to watch and included yellow crowned herons, black crowned herons, little blue herons and a great blue heron. There were snowy egrets, bitterns and collared plovers. There were also lots of doves, sparrow, ravens and pelicans. And then of course, there are the birds you can only hear and don't see. We've even see dolphins playing in the bay. Thank goodness for our Bushnell Perma Focus binoculars. They make it so easy to spot the various birds and animals around us. As for those clams, its a good things we brought food with us!
Since last night's clamming attempt was so disappointing, we made another effort this morning, but at a different spot.
Armed with a stick and a plastic bag ( to hold our catch) we waded out into the water and started digging at every air hole we found. Since the tide was out, the water was only knee deep and we were able to go about 100 feet out. It took a couple of attempts, but eureka a clam!
Less than 50% of our attempts were successful, and the gain was very slow. At one point Don decided to abandon his digging stick in favor of a large chocolate clam shell and this was our first successful innovation. Rather than digging in one spot, we were able to skim a large area just under the surface of the sand.
Our other success was in finding a clam bed. Without moving our feet we could uncover over 20 clams at a time! We don't know what kind of clams they were, but they were half-dollar size, white with ridge shells and tasted great. We probably collected 15 pounds of them.
After hauling our take back to the truck, we headed to our next stop on Bahiá Concepción, Playa Escondida where we had camped 10 days ago. We liked this beach because it was less crowded and the big RV's can't get down the rutted, rocky road. Yet another reason for the Expedition Vehicle.
The day started out absolutely gorgeous and calm so we had high hopes for getting the kayak in the water. After lunch we inflated the kayak and set out for the closest island, which was only a few hundred yards off shore.
Paddling around the north end was really fun as the water was shallow and so calm that we could see the fish life on the bottom. We saw two rays, several star fish, a lot of striped fish and lots of little silver sardines. Since the little island was so nice we decided to brave the bay and paddle further out to the bigger island, about half a mile away.
As soon as we got out from behind the hills protecting the bay, the wind picked up. We thought the change was temporary so we continued out. The further we got from the mainland, the stronger the wind got. Just short of our goal, we decided to turn around.
Heading back became very difficult as the winds were still increasing in intensity and were creating 2 foot swells. Lots of spray was coming over the sides, soaking us. Constant paddling was necessary to maintain course and make any headway.
After about 30 minutes of constant paddling, we made it back to the first island. Here we took a break and discussed our options. Since we had stopped on the windward side, we decided to walk the kayak around to the lee side and to continue from there. In the lee of the island, it was easier paddling and we were soon back at our campsite.
Looking back, we tried to determine what we should have done differently. We decided that kayaking in more open areas is not our strong suit. The high sides of the inflatable kayak do not lend themselves to winds of any kind. We also realized that we need to take into account the known weather volatility of the area. Winds often come up in the afternoon on the Sea of Cortez. The strange thing today was that the winds had subsided considerably by the time we returned, and about half an hour later the were gone! We figured we just had a lesson to learn.
Tomorrow, on to the Vizcaino Biosphere.
We awakened this morning to a warm, calm and beautiful sunrise over the bay. The man who sells foodstuffs to the campers was out early, so we bought warm chicken tamales from him for breakfast. They were artistically wrapped in corn husks with knots of husk on the ends to hold them together. Boy, were they tasty!
Since it was calm we decided to take the kayak out again and enjoyed a quick trip to the first island and back. By now it was time to pack up and be on our way. And it was good timing too because shortly the wind came back up and it got quite gusty.
We stopped again at the fishing village of San Bruno and bought a fish for dinner and then stopped at the San Lucas lagoon to have more clams for lunch. While at the lagoon we had a nice conversation with a German named Eddie who, along with his wife, has been traveling the world for 13 years. What a feat!
We also stopped once again north of Santa Rosalia to fill up on propane because the nights are getting cold again. I have to keep reminding myself after two weeks of wearing shorts that it is still winter!
We took a short hike and saw at least 10 different types of plants and found the skull of a pronghorn antelope. The species of antelope found here is endangered with only about 200 left in existence. We'd like to see one, but that is very unlikely. It is more likely that we might see a bighorn sheep as they are quite common in the biosphere.
Tomorrow we are off to San Ignacio to pick up our permits for the Sierra de San Francisco rock art trip. Because we will be on burro/mule-back for three days, we will not be taking the computer with us. We will be returning on February 23rd so we will be back in touch then. Talk to you soon with wonderful stories and photos!