2000 Expedition Journals
Our next encounter with stingrays came a few days later in Bahia de Los Angeles. Here is Luke’s description of our stay there and his ray encounter:
It's interesting to see how you lose your edge after a few days in town. We spent nearly a week relaxing under the date palms by the river in Mulege. Once back in the boat, the paddle felt awkward, the boat felt heavier than I remembered (did we really buy that much food?) and I wondered what had happened to my patented touring stroke.
We finally packed up and paddled out of the estuary. White egrets vogued on the muddy banks among the mangrove trees and brown pelicans crash landed in the murky water (how do they see the fish in that sludge?) Our perception of the place had changed in the short time we were there. Upon arrival, after a month and a half in the desert, we were enthralled with the greenery, palm trees and mangrove lining the river, bushes, plants, banana trees, date palms, abundant shade, and the humidity that gathered on the sleeping bag at night. It had seemed so lush. On our way out we saw it differently. The trees were all tinged in brown. The cars on the dirt tracks framing the river kicked up dust. A few dried dates, shriveled and shrunken, lay nestled in the folds of my deck bag, souvenirs from its week-long respite in the shade of the palms.
We had looked forward to Mulege for days before arrival and were not disappointed. With a fabulous bakery, Eduardo's Taco stand, Saul's grocery and La Almeja restaurant, we took full advantage of the cuisine and shopping. But after 4 days we began to long for the simplicity of beach camping and primitive cookery. There's much less to worry about out on the water and on the beach. The unpredictable human element is not a factor. Gear is 100% safe left on a deserted strip of sand for a few hours while you snorkel and nothing made by man obscures your view of the sunset. But don't get me wrong, Mulege is a great place to spend a few days. Check out the original 1705 Jesuit mission up on the hill at the back end of the estuary. The walk through the dense palms and heavy shadows by stagnant pools of brackish water is eerily beautiful and the view from the courtyard surrounding the stone church is amazing. A valley filled with palm trees unfolds out before you, reaching rugged dry peaks in the distance. And desert surrounds it. Magic. Also, say Hola to Senor Callo at the bus stop. For two dollars you can get either a bus ticket to the next town, a couple tacos and a beer from his family's stand or a haircut and great conversation from the man himself. Timing is important though. The buses follow a loose schedule, the restaurant runs out of guacamole during the lunch rush and Senor Callo's dexterity with the trimmers is inversely proportional to the amount of tequila he consumes through the afternoon.
But I digress, back to the tale at hand:
We pulled out of the protected estuary into 20+ knot winds blowing south into Concepcion Bay. Unfortunately, our destination lay east and then south, across the bay. Into 6 foot swell we went. 8 miles of lurching and pitching later we reached the point and as I was feeling like a pinball, we found the first protected cove and made camp.
It turned out to be the site of an abandoned manganese mine. The only things left were the shells of the worker's barracks and rutted roads (looks like they'd be great mtn. bike and hiking trails now). The decaying cement block structures were roofless and the tops of the uneven walls looked like parapets of an English castle in the angular light. We cooked our own meal for the first time in a week and felt almost regal. We were kings of the deserted cove and fully self-sufficient.
The next morning, the wind started picking up just after sunrise. That's a bad sign in Baja and we knew we'd be in for a big surf day. We paddled out of the protected bay into 7-8 foot rollers, all headed south. We smiled the smile of the lazy hobo who's just found a ride.
The first 2 hours were great fun and we made great time. There's a technique to using these waves to your advantage, You stroke lazily when in the trough and then when you see the bow dip slightly and feel the stern rise, being pushed up by the following swell, you throw in a couple hard strokes to get up to speed and the wave takes you for a ride. Quick, light strokes on the top of the wave keep you straight and balanced.
The first 2 hours and 10 miles were more fun than a fair ride. The next 3 hours were drastically different. It's amazing what an extra 3 feet of wave can do to ruin a good time. The swells increased to a regular 10 feet, occasionally cresting 12, and land was no longer visible when down in the troughs. For those susceptible to motion sickness, you know this spells doom. Having a distant horizon line or a static background in your field of vision is crucial for inner ear equilibrium.. I don't get seasick easily, but on this day I was in rough shape.
We were tracing the coast of the peninsula that formed the outside of the 20 mile long Bay of Concepcion. The terrain is rugged and rocky with cliffs that keep you on the water for quite a while. It was during an uninterrupted 10 mile stretch of cliffs, with no beaches or coves to land in, that I got ill. I had to endure for another 3 hours until a protected cove could be found.
My energy levels were on critical low. I couldn't muster any power to keep my boat surfing. It was all I could do to put one blade in the water after the other. Down in the troughs, my boat wouldn't move, and then the swell would pick me up, and because I had no momentum, dump over the top of me, swamping the boat, dripping through my leaky spray skirt and making me miserable. I had to pump out every 10 minutes for the last 2 hours.
JP, never seasick in his life, was immune to all of this and was having a blast. Like a faithful dog, he would run ahead, frolicking in the huge surf until he disappeared and then wait to see if I was ok.
I began to get cold, exhausted and worried. I tried to force down a Clif Bar for energy and gagged on every bite (I usually love them). The occasional 12 foot walls of water became the norm and I prayed for a cove to appear. I scoured the coast after every little point of land for a protected beach.
Punta El Medano Blanco came into view after nearly 5 hours on the water. I had barely been able to put my blades in the water for the last two and a half hours and we still progressed almost 8 nautical miles. The wind was that strong. I struggled around the rocks at the point and into the flat water on the north, lee side of the bay, pulled up on the beach and lay down for a half-hour without moving. The nausea subsided after an hour. Color came back into my face and appetite returned.
I'd never seen waves that big, let alone been out in them. Yet it was strange, in that I never felt I was in danger of drowning or capsizing. The swells came at regular intervals with reasonable frequency. I was more afraid of being stuck out there in hypothermic shock. I also now realize the importance of knowing your own limits and not letting the atavistic urge to make progress override your sense of caution. I am better skilled because of experiences like this and hope they will prepare me for the more aggressive waters of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
1 km = 0.62 statute miles
1 Nautical Mile = 1.85 km
1 Nautical Mile = 1.15 miles
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