Isla Espiritu Santo and Los Islotes

Three days before Christmas, I drove the 20 odd miles from La Paz up to Playa Tecolote which is the closest point to Isla Espiritu Santo. There, I arranged a place to park my car (Miguel, one of the locals who looked after the beach at night readily agreed to look after it) and loaded up my kayak for 5 nights of camping on the islands. I waited for the strong southerly winds to die down before setting out on the 4.5 mile crossing. The southerly wind shifted to a light south-westerly wind which raised a little chop. The crossing took a little over an hour and was uneventful. I continued to paddle up the west coast of Isla Espiritu Santo past a few small bays and into Ensenada de la Dispensa, the first bay where camping is possible. I set up my camp and explored the bay. There is a small fishing camp on the southern side of the bay, but otherwise I had the place to myself.

The next morning after breakfast, I packed up my camp and headed north. I passed several large bays before pulling into El Mesteño, a narrow bay with a white sandy beach at the end and a long canyon extending into the island. I set up my new camp, not being particularly careful with the stakes and then had lunch. I snorkeled out along the rocks for a half hour and then hopped into my kayak to go searching for Cristina and Carl whom I had met earlier in Los Frailes near Cabo Pulmo. I found their sailboat, Bomboleiro, a few bays north of my camping site on the northern island, Isla La Partida. I saw that their kayak wasn’t there, so I assumed they went ashore with it. Sure enough, I found them on the beach at the end of their cove. In fact, they had just returned from a hike and were heading back to their boat.

Cristina and Carl

Cristina and Carl (taken from their blog:

I followed them back to their boat and they invited me on board, but since I could tell they had plans to visit with a neighboring boat, I politely declined. Since we were all going to be around for the next few days, we were sure to run into each other again, so I paddled back to my camp site. I made dinner and then watched the stars and read for a bit before retiring.

The wind began to pick up during the evening and the canyon behind the beach funneled it directly onto my tent which began to protest. I got out and put heavy stones over my stakes and tried to sleep again even though the howling wind didn’t really allow it. In the early morning, one of my windward stakes pulled free which caused the tent to flap about, but I was snug in my sleeping bag and didn’t address it right away. A few minutes later, a large gust pulled up the remaining stakes and the whole tent started rolling. Luckily it couldn’t go very far with me in it, but it did make me get out of my bag and re-stake the tent and put even heavier rocks over all the stakes. Needless to say, I didn’t get any more sleep that night.

The wind lasted all night and continued through most of the next day. I didn’t really want to kayak in those conditions, so I decided instead to hike the trail to the top of the canyon at the end of the bay. There wasn’t much of a trail, just a dry creek bed to follow. There were obvious signs of water, but water itself. Even so, there was a surprising amount of wildlife there – I even saw a chipmunk. It was a good two hour scramble to the top and once there, I climbed out onto the cliffs which afforded a great (but windy) view over the channel that separated Isla Espiritu Santo from Isla La Partida.

This is a panorama from a point overlooking the channel between the two islands – use the scroll bar to see the whole photo.

I had my lunch up there and then made my way back down to my camp. I could see that a sailboat had entered the bay and some people were on the shore. As I neared the bottom, I passed a group of french travelers who were headed to the top of the canyon. I went for a quick swim and then rested a bit.

The french group returned from the canyon and went back to their boat. The sun was getting pretty low when four kayakers arrived on the beach paddling two fiber-glass tandem kayaks. They proceeded to set up their camp and I advised them to find a sheltered spot (which I should’ve done,) but it would prove unnecessary since the coming night would see the wind die down to almost nothing.

The next morning I awoke refreshed to a beautiful dawn. It was Christmas morning and I thought I should do something special that day, so I decided to paddle north around Isla La Partida to Los Islotes, a small rocky island with a sea lion colony. I had originally planned to move my camp to somewhere a bit closer, but I decided to leave it where it was and do the visit as a day trip. It would be about 12 miles there and back, so I should be back in the early afternoon.

I loaded up my kayak with the bare minimum essentials and set out. The wind was gone, but some waves were still rolling through, small on the sheltered west side of Isla Espiritu Santo, so I thought it would be interesting to see the windward (east) side of La Partida as a change. I paddled through the channel I had seen the day before from the cliff tops and out the east side of the island. There, the waves began to grow as I rounded the southern side of the island and exposed myself more and more to the northerly swell. Still, there was little or no wind, so the large waves were easily managed. All the same, it required all of my attention and constant paddling for the hour and half it took me to paddle north around the island and into the lee of Los Islotes and a welcome rest.

As I approached Los Islotes, I saw what appeared to be a large cruise ship anchored well behind the island, but turned out to be a mid-sized National Geographic cruise ship anchored directly off of the small rocky island. I’ll admit that I was pretty disappointed. I had started out early and was hoping to arrive before anyone else and have the place to myself. Instead, there were half a dozen small boats in the water, each full of a handful of snorkelers. I had some of my lunch while I watched the sea lions from a distance. With some renewed strength, I decided to don my mask and try rolling a few times to see what I could see underwater. I paddled to where a small group of females were swimming and then started my camera video and rolled over. I didn’t see anything underwater, so I rolled back up. I tried again, this time a bit closer to some sea lions and I could see some quite clearly under water, but the camera didn’t capture any.

It was about this time that I saw a panga pull up to one of the buoys which I had wrongly presumed were meant to keep boats out. The driver tied off to it and the snorkelers inside the boat hopped out and swam right in to where all the sea lions were.

So, I found another buoy and tied my kayak off to it. I managed to get out of kayak without capsizing it, took off my pfd, donned my mask and snorkel, grabbed my camera and swam off. Before long I was surrounded by sea lions all frolicking in the waves. I stayed out as long as I could, with my kayak splash jacket and spray skirt holding in a little warmth. It was probably about 25 minutes before I decided to get back in my kayak. I didn’t want to leave the sea lions, but I was starting to shiver.

The first hurdle to getting back in the kayak was putting the pfd back on which proved to be no easy task in the water. After several attempts, I managed to get it back on and then I got out my paddle float from inside the cockpit and attached it to one of the paddle blades. I then braced the across the back of the cockpit coaming with the end with the float attached in the water, acting as an outrigger. Keeping my weight toward that side of the kayak, I pulled myself onto the back deck, stomach down. I then carefully put both legs into the cockpit. All I had to do at this point was flip myself over and I would be sitting in the cockpit and ready to continue, but as I tried to do this, I must have shifted my weight away from the outrigger side and I (and the kayak) flipped over.

So I came out of the kayak, righted it, pumped out a little water using my bilge pump and then tried again. This time I got to the same point and as I was trying to flip myself into the cockpit, again managed to flip the whole kayak, but I flipped onto the buoy and used it to hip-snap the kayak upright (my kayak-polo experience from years back paid off.) Once upright, I caught my breath, finished pumping out the cockpit and then did up my spray skirt. The shaking I had felt while in the water was a little worse now, probably enhanced by the adrenaline of my self-rescue. I reminded myself that I needed to practice this self-rescue technique some more, spent a few minutes relaxing and then paddled among the sea lions for another hour before returning back south. Needless to say I was pretty tired.

As I paddled past the bay where Bomboleiro was anchored, I decided to pop by for a visit with Carl and Cristina. I found them both in their boat, just getting ready for lunch and they invited me to join them. We were enjoying the lovely pasta with tuna that Cristina had made when Doug from the neighboring Ka’sala came by to let Carl and Cristina know what time to come over for dinner. When we were introduced, he quickly extended an invitation for me to join them. I gladly accepted, feeling a little bad since I had nothing to add to the meal.

That morning, Carl had caught several fish spearfishing and since there was to be another person at dinner, he thought it best if we try to catch some more. So Carl Cristina and I got our snorkeling gear ready (I was again wearing my splash jacket,) and swam over to the rocky cliff that made up the north wall of the long inlet. There were plenty of fish, but most were quite wary of us. Carl offered to let my try my hand, so I had him demonstrate the technique first and then set off with spear in hand. I made an attempt at one tasty looking fish, but just missed it. After that, I never seemed to be able to get close enough to even try. I didn’t have any fins and my splash jacket quickly filled up with water, keeping me a little warmer, but making it hard to swim and almost impossible to dive down, so I gave the spear back to Carl. Cristina and I were starting to get cold, so we headed back to the boat while Carl kept going, determined to catch another fish. Sure enough, when he swam back about 15 minutes later, he had another of the pretty rock fish he had caught earlier. Cristina decided that it was best to fry up the fish before taking it over to Ka’sala, so Carl and I gutted and cleaned the two fish that remained while Cristina was cooking the others. It was the first time I had done so in at least 20 years, but it was a good experience.

When it was time to head to the other boat, the three of us all got into their inflatable kayak (which was nice and stable in comparison to my narrow boat,) and paddled over bearing fried fish, some bread that Cristina had baked earlier and some red wine she had brought from Spain. Doug welcomed the three of us on board where I met his wife Lyneita. We all gathered in their comfortable cabin (complete with a diesel heater) while Lyneita started cooking.

Doug and Lyneita

Doug and Lyneita (taken from their blog:

Doug opened a bottle of Baja red wine which we all declared to be quite nice, especially considering the $4 price. During dinner (a real feast) we tried some of Cristina’s Spanish wine which we all enjoyed. Afterwards, Carl and Cristina presented some gifts to Doug and Lyneita – some dvds and playing cards. We we all intrigued by Cristina’s Spanish deck of cards which looked like tarot cards and had only 40 in a deck. She taught us a couple of Spanish games which she conveniently won 😉 We played cards and told stories until late. Lyneita gave a package of cookies to both Carl and Cristina and to me, nicely wrapped in aluminum foil as parting gifts. I felt bad for having nothing to contribute, everyone was so generous, but I wasn’t prepared – I was even wearing some of Carl’s clothes since I didn’t have anything but my kayaking outfit.

It was dark and the moon hadn’t risen yet, so during our short paddle back to Bomboleiro, we were able to clearly see some phosphorescence in the water, highlighting each of our paddle strokes with strange electric blue light. The couple invited me to join them for some more drinks and more cards. We played some new games – mentiroso (liar) which is also called bullshit in English and I taught them shit-head (a game similar to uno, but played with a normal deck.) They invited me to stay the night in their spare berth and I gladly accepted, not wanting to paddle over a mile in the dark back to my camp site.

The next morning we were up early, but not as early as Ka’sala must have been since they had already departed, on their way south before crossing over to Mazatlan. We had a breakfast of coffee and some of Lyneita’s cookies which were wonderful, almost like granola bars. Carl and Cristina were planning to head back to La Paz that day and I was planning to head south and spend one more night on the island before crossing back to Tecolote and La Paz. We said our goodbyes and planned to meet again in La Paz in a few days.

I paddled back to my camp and was pleased to see it left exactly as it had been. I packed up and began the paddle south. There had been a bit of wind the night before which had continued into the morning, but by the time I reached the channel, the wind had died down to nothing and the water was as smooth as glass. I felt like I was flying as I glided over the crystal clear waters, the coral heads, rocks and brightly colored fish clearly visible to depths over 20 feet. The conditions were perfect for paddling and when, a few hours later, I reached the bay I had planned to stop at, I decided to press on instead.

At one point I heard a loud splash not too far behind and turned around, startled, just in time to see a ray jump six feet out of the water and land with another loud splash. I grabbed my camera in anticipation of another jump, but after waiting a few minutes realized that it wasn’t going to happen. Fifteen minutes later, I met a couple paddling a nice tandem folding kayak. The told about a group of large turtles they had just paddle through, some of them coming right up to the boat. They continued on their way and I paddled to where they had seen the turtles. Sure enough, there were many turtles, but none of them came very close to my boat for some reason. Still, it was peaceful sitting there floating on the glassy water and listening to the sound of them coming up for air periodically.

I continued paddling to the southern most point of Isla Espiritu Santo under the same conditions. I started noticing what appeared to be bubbles floating on the surface. I paddled close to one and noticed that beneath the clear bubble, a thin blue tentacle dangled about a foot into the water – they were jellyfish of some sort and looked rather wicked, so I avoided them. I later learned that they are a type of Portuguese Man-of-War. As I continued paddling across the channel back to Tecolote, some easterly swell picked up and some of the small waves would break onto my bare arms. I kept an eye out for the jellyfish, not wanting a nasty surprise, and luckily did not encounter any of them. I suppose they must descend when the waves picked up to avoid being tossed around. I was racing the sun as it descended toward the horizon and reckoned that I would arrive back at my car with enough daylight left to load up my gear. As I neared the beach just before sunset, I could see that my car was exactly where I had left it. It had been a long paddle and I was tired, so I readily accepted help from Miguel who came out when he saw me. The two us packed all my gear back to the car and I gave Miguel a nice tip for looking after my car and then headed back to La Paz with the setting sun blazing the western sky.

Gallery of Photos:

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