Archive | January, 2011

Baja, as seen from my camera.

26 Jan

I’m not going to give you a story this time around, I’m just going to show you pictures. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and hopefully these shots will tell you something about the Baja that I see every winter.
I talk a great deal about Rattlesnake beach, where we camp. It faces directly east so we see the sun rise every morning and you know, it’s different every day.

The insect and bird life that comes to visit us is colourful, varied and always fascinating.

Preying Mantis

A very large moth that visits at night

This bird spent about 30 minutes investigating our campsite and checking us out. There are lots around here and they really do move swiftly.

Road Runner

We never know what we’ll find when we visit the islands across from us. The tide brings things in and then takes them away again and depending on how the sun strike the land, things not seen before suddenly become apparent.

Sea lion skull, Pencil Urchin, dried Box Fish

A hole in the wall

The Desert makes most people think of a vast endless area of sand, where life is impossible, but nothing could be further from the truth. These are just a few varieties of cactus that thrive here and occasionally show us their more colourful side.

A Beavertail cactus just coming into bloom.

 

Pretty, isn't it?

Another beautiful colour in the desert.

We don’t always spend our time just at Rattlesnake Beach. There is a spot we like to visit, just south of La Paz, called Punta Arena. It’s an isolated beach close to the big city yet it feels like you are completely alone. The beach is accessed through an old salt pan, that is still being worked by hand.

Salt evaporation pans

Once there, as we walk along the coast we never know what we’ll see. Every cove offers a changing view and the fishing can be more than entertaining to say the least.

On the oceans edge, there are always dunes.

A common sight!

Catching Humbolt Squid

The local fisherman cleaner their catch of Tiberon, (shark)

Another place that I love to visit is directly across the Baja peninsula from us on the west coast called San Juanico. We don’t visit often as the road is excruciating to drive the Grummy down, and it’s a long ways to go. Ah but the sunsets, the sandy beaches and the treasures that the beaches offer make it worthwhile. Besides, every year we go they tell us the new road will be finished in just a couple more months. One of these years it just might be!

My favourite beach!

Just a few of the treasure to be found on San Juanico beach

And we’ll end the way the day always ends on San Juanico beach, with a glorious sunset!

The end to another day on Baja!

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A Sea in crisis

19 Jan

Richard and I set out yesterday for a couple of hours of random kayaking, with no specific destination in mind. We had only covered a mile or so when we were witness to a most marvelous spectacle, 2 adult Humpbacks feeding vigorously, with a very young calf in attendance. There was only 1 other kayaker who noticed them and we were given a private showing for over 40 minutes of a sight most have seen only on nature shows. We sat still as they moved around us, feeding on the massive amounts of krill in the water. A couple of times they were within 30 to 40 feet of us. We watched them until they had moved a long ways away before we continued on our journey. Regardless as to how many times I am privileged to witness whales in their natural habitat, even after all these years of being on the water; it still takes my breath away!

Humpback feeding on her side

We’ve seen Blues, Fins, Seis, Greys, Humpbacks and Brydes, many dolphins, Basking Sharks, Whale Sharks, and Turtles and have always considered just a glimpse of these great creatures to be very special, yet there are some down here who could care less. They see not the beauty of the Sea and the creatures within it, only what they can take from it…

Up until the 1950’s, the Baja and Sea of Cortez was a virtual unknown to the rest of North America. Then Ernest Hemingway discovered the fabulous sport fishing that was available here. Extremely large Sailfish, Swordfish, Wahoo, Yellowtail, Grouper, and Rooster Fish swam in the waters here and were completely undisturbed by any fishing pressure, until then. It became a wealthy mans play ground, with large World Record adult fish extremely common.

Foreign commercial fishing fleets introduced change beginning in the late 1970’s with monofilament gillnets. A new road was built down the peninsula during those years, creating much easier access and with it came a dramatic increase in sport fishing activities, spearfishing, as well as a large population increase, producing for the first time ever a flow of pollution into the Sea.

A decrease in size and number of fish species was very noticeable by the late 1980’s. Fortunately by that time the Mexican Government had started to introduce regulations and set aside areas that became Marine sanctuaries and parks.

Not only do fish live here but a great many of the worlds whale populations come into the Sea every year as part of their southern migrations. Greys and Humpbacks both use the lagoons and bays of the Pacific side to give birth and mate, as well as the warm salty waters of the Sea of Cortez. Minke, Sei, Bryde, Blue, Fin, Humpback, Right, Grey, Beaked Whales, Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales, as well as their full sized relative, and Orcas, not to mention at least 11 species of Dolphins and 1 Porpoise, are all here at some time during the winter months, and some live here year round.

On a calm day, whales can be found just by their blow sound!

These mammals come here to mate, give birth or simply to feed in the rich waters of the Sea, and therein lays the problem.

For those Rorquals or baleen feeders, life is pretty good here because the massive amounts of krill hasn’t been affected much over the years, though it has decreased somewhat due to pollution runoff. There is still enough of it out there to look like a Red Tide and has been mistaken for it, from time to time. When out kayaking it looks like the surface of the water is alive. It is this banquet that brings in the massive Whale Sharks over the winter and there is more than enough to share around.

Humpback feeding on krill

The toothed whales are the ones having the problems here. They are fish eaters and the fish they eat are quickly disappearing.

Sport fishing is still one of the biggest tourist draws here and it brings in a big chunk of change to the local economy. It contributes to the decline in baitfish and there is also a correlation between losses of feed fish with those that predate on them. Without something to eat, the bigger fish and whales either move to new feeding grounds or die out!

My father used to say, “Any idiot can catch a fish using bait, it takes a fisherman to catch a fish on a lure!” and he was right. It is much easier to catch a fish using bait and over the years the number of anglers has increased dramatically, putting huge pressure on the various bait fishing stocks. Anything small enough to constitute bait has been fished almost completely out. Some folks down here have complained bitterly that they can’t find any bait this year, and the fishing is very bad!

These are the same folks who have fished out their own waters and since they can’t catch anything there, see nothing wrong with moving somewhere else and using the same methods that devastated their own fisheries.

Day after day, all winter long they are out there taking anything and everything they can catch. They can hundreds of pounds to take home with them, so they can have cheap fish all summer until they return next winter. They are so fanatic about it that they can’t bring themselves to release anything. Many have been known to bring fish that are inedible back to the beach simply to give to their friends to use as dog food! Catch and release is not in their repertoire and it doesn’t occur to any of them to use lures. If asked why not they’ll tell you that lures cost too much and bait is free!

And so the toothed whales find themselves having to compete for their very existence with arrogant, greedy, unthinking humans, who also complain that there sure isn’t much whale activity this year. I guess that old saying really is true, that we see only what we want to see and we hear only what we want to hear.

Sorry for the rant, but after having spent most of my adult life in the fishing industry at home in the so-called “Salmon Capital of the World” and seen it’s demise; it’s hard to watch the same thing happening here in “Paradise”.

What’s that line from the old Eagles song? “Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Yes, I made a living from the Ocean, but I was always aware of the impact I was having and tried constantly to compensate for it. When we do go fishing, which doesn’t happen very often anymore, we take only what we can eat in the next couple of days and are very careful to release anything we don’t intend to kill.

The Mexican government is trying; fishing licenses are required and there are strict regulations, including limits and number of rods allowed, but there is no money for enforcement and a great many of the gringos here simply ignore them. They get incensed when they are expected to follow the rules and seem to believe that laws in foreign countries don’t apply to them. The Government has also stopped all foreign commercial fishing and has taken control of what commercial fishing there is, but it may be too little, too late. The locals are very poor and the last financial crisis made it even harder here to earn a living, so they fish illegally. They take any fish or shellfish they can find and it’s hard to blame them when all they’re trying to do is eat and feed their kids. We are talking a Third World Country here, and they do have much bigger infrastructure problems, but it would be nice if those visitors who are big users of the resource would step up to the bat and help, instead of simply helpingthemselves to everything they can lay their hands on while whining about lost fishing opportunities.

The big adult fish are few and far between now and only occasionally are really large fish brought to shore. The big Dorado tournament held in Loreto every summer was won this year by a 16-pound fish. Dorado used to run up to 90 pounds. Not many of any species are seen in that range anymore. Sure, once in a while a fish over 60 pounds is landed but before Baja was “discovered” 60 pounders were the norm, and they were plentiful. Now anything over 10 pounds is considered a good catch, if you can find anything to take your hook.

All, however, is not lost, as the expert consensus seems to be that though the Sea is in crisis, it’s still salvageable. Keep your fingers crossed because otherwise we can add the Sea of Cortez to the list of seas, oceans, rivers and lakes that we, as humans, have managed to destroy based on nothing more than our own greed!

Yoga on the beach

11 Jan

 
A couple we’ve come to know well, here on Rattlesnake Beach, is Klaus and Parvin, who’ve been coming to Baja for more than 20 years. Parvin ran her own Yoga studio at one time and down here on the beach she has been persuaded to head a group for those of us who are interested. Both are in their late 60’s but you sure couldn’t tell by looking, as the two of them are more active than a great many 30 year olds we know. Not only do they do yoga 3 times a week, they also guide groups on the 3 nearby canyon hikes. We’re not talking flat, easy walks here either; all of them involve a great deal of clambering up and over gigantic boulders, crossing almost sheer rock faces and squirming up rabbit holes, taking on average of 6 hours to complete. They’ve been known to walk 20 year olds into the ground.

 

Our Rattlesnake Beach Yoga group, Parvin is on the far right.

 
They also kayak and are well known by all the professional kayak guides who  often see them in the coves and on the beaches of Islas Danzante and Carmen. They leave our beach in the early hours of morning so they can be on the eastern side of Danzante to watch the sun come up. These 2 were also the reason we ended up buying a double kayak, after some very convincing arguments as to why it would be a good idea.

 

The other day, Klaus asked us if we would be interested in going in a group with 3 other single kayakers to Isla Carman, where we would do our yoga on the white sandy beaches of Playa Blanca. The weather was supposed to be good, with little wind and since we hadn’t ventured that far on our own yet, this was a great opportunity to go with experienced paddlers. We of course said, “YES!”

 

Up before the sun!

 
We were supposed to be ready to go at 8:30 the next morning and so of course were up at 6 and standing around waiting for everyone at 8. Watching the sky brighten and looking towards the islands we noticed splashing headed our way from Punta Coyote just north of us. We at first thought we were looking at pelicans tearing into a school of fish, but as it got closer we realized we were looking at a pod of about 60 Common Dolphins. “Let’s go!” Richard yelled and we piled into the kayak and started stroking out from the beach. 50 feet was all we needed to be right in the middle of them as they raced by us, leaping and splashing as they pursued their breakfast. The old time sailors believed that seeing dolphins before a trip was good luck and we certainly felt that way.

 

A very good start to the day!

 

 

As we sat and watched the dolphins disappear, the other paddlers slowly made their way out to us and once we were all together, we set off for the north end of Danzante and the very tight pass between it and Still Point Island. Still Point isn’t really a separate island as it’s joined to Danzante by a finger of sand and rock, but at high tide there is a narrow pass only big enough for a kayak. Without Klaus leading the way, we never would have found it and would have had to paddle quite a bit further to go around the top end, but some years ago, Klaus and Parvin had dug out the small passage that exists. Lucky for all of us!

 

Is everybody here? Then let's go!

 
After making sure we had all managed to get through the opening, we aimed for Punta Arena on Carmen. There is a lighthouse on it and it’s easy to see from a distance so we paddled leisurely towards it, enjoying the water, and weather, yakking with one another as the boats jockeyed back and forth.
Stopping at Punta Arena, for a quick pee break, we noticed that the sand on the beach was totally covered in Hermit crab tracks, and one of the paddlers, Lance, said they had counted more than 60 of them in about 5 minutes when they had camped here a couple of years ago.

 

Tracks everywhere!

 
These islands are part of a huge Marine park and are protected, so everyone who visits them must have a Park pass and obey the rules, one of which states that nothing is allowed to be removed. Consequently, those who visit here have a tendency to create these treasure piles. Places where interesting and unusual things are left for those who will come after, to see and admire. The Trigger fish in the photo is the biggest one any of us had ever seen, and you’ll notice that it was rock hard. Things don’t rot here as it’s too dry. Dead things may be predated on by Turkey Vultures but anything they can’t or won’t eat, simply mummifies and Trigger fish skin is way too tough for them.

 

A common sight on the islands

 
Heading off again, we paddled only for a few minutes more and made it to this beautiful beach called Playa Blanca, or White Beach. It’s easy to see how it got it’s name. Here in the warm sun and sand we did our yoga, led of course by Parvin, with Klaus taking pictures. The Sun Salutation pose was of course the first one we did.

 

Yoga on the beach!

 

 

Afterwards, we pulled our lunches out of our dry sacks and settled down for a lovely picnic, enjoying the warmth, and beauty that surrounded us, not to mention the great conversation. At one point, we all stopped to watch this yacht go by and speculated on who was having the better time, us or them. We decided it must be us of course!

 

Who's the lucky ones?

 
Eventually, when everything had been eaten and drunk and all were becoming drowsy in the heat, it was decided we had better move on, or we wouldn’t be able to. Everything was picked up, stuffed back into the kayaks, and we hit the water to paddle a little further down to the very south end of Carmen. There are 2 palm trees here that have, against all odds, managed to grow and survive and this is one of Parvin’s favourite spots, so we had to at least see it before we headed for home.

 

How's that for a glimpse of paradise?

After a short stop to look around and talk with another kayaker we had met up with, a decision was made as to which direction we would take to go home and off we went. Like horses headed for the barn, we started moving faster, with the double kayaks leaping into the lead and pulling further away from the singles with each stroke.

 

 

Hey! That's us!

 
Half way across, Richard and I noticed whale blow in front of us, along the shore of Danzante, moving slowly north. It’s path and ours looked like they might intersect so we paddled a little harder hoping to see what it was. There had been few whale sightings this year, so we were excited to see one. Almost across, we lost sight of it.  We gave up looking and applied ourselves to paddling as the wind had come up and the waves were starting to reach 3 feet, with the occasional one breaking near us with a startling crash. Suddenly the crashing sound changed in pitch and there, close behind us was our whale. It was the blow that we were hearing, so that gives you some idea of how close it was. It turned out to be a she, a large Sei Whale and her calf. We sat with them for about 10 minutes as they surfaced and blew, ignoring us completely as they headed up into the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortez.

 

Momma Sei Whale.

The waves continued to rise, reaching 4 foot and becoming chaotic. It was a good experience as we realized that our kayak was built for this, so we stopped worrying and just paddled a little harder. As we all finally approached our beach, a tired goodbye was exchanged with all.
So ended another day spent with good friends and filled with the wonderful surprises that we’ve come to expect here on the Baja. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

 

Chili Rellenos anyone?

3 Jan

Christmas is an odd time here as the atmosphere is not really conducive to the festive season, so I’ll leave a post about our kids visiting over the holidays till next week. In the mean time, here’s another recipe from my extensive Mexican experiences.

How many of these do you recognize?

One of the many things we enjoy about Mexico is the food and once we’ve eaten something we like, I always try to learn how to make it myself. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ve figured out how to make Mole’ but I do know how to make a few really good dishes. It doesn’t hurt to have a good teacher either.

 

Many restaurants, big and small have on their menus, Chili Rellenos. This translates as stuffed chilies and they can be stuffed with a great many things. Basically if you can imagine it and chop it up small enough, you can cook it into a chili.

 

Now, how many of you have stood in front of the chili display in your local supermarket and wondered what you’re supposed to do with them all? Most folks know what a Jalapeno is and maybe even a Serrano and if you like them really hot you know the ones that look like a yellow Scottish Tam are Habaneros, but what about the bigger dark green ones? They’re usually called Poblanos or Anaheim Chilies, and these are the ones used for stuffing.

 

This isn’t going to be the type of recipe that tells you exactly how much of everything you need to make something and as I go along, you’ll understand why. The first reason is Poblanos come in a huge variety of sizes, and the amount of stuffing is dependent on the numbers you want to serve and how big they are.

 

Start with 2 or 3 chilies per person. Make sure they are shiny, dark green and firm. Now comes the fun part. The outer skin has to be removed and the best way to do that is to hold them over a hot flame until the skin blackens. I have a gas stove but a BBQ flame would work as well. I place an old, small, cookie rack over the flame and put the chilies on this. Make sure you rotate the chilies evenly and try not to burn off the stem. All you’re trying to do is blacken the skin and once they are black and peeling all over, remove them from the flame. Lay them on a piece of paper towel and let cool. Now, you need to remove this layer, so using a small paring knife, scrape the blackened skin off. Be gentle now, as you don’t want to cut into the body of the chili or scrape a hole into it. This is a messy job so don’t plan on doing anything else until you’re finished. I find using another piece of paper towel to clean my knife off periodically helps considerably!

Blackened and ready for scraping

Now comes the really hard part, you need to make a cut from the crown to the tip and open up the body just large enough to remove the seeds. A pair of scissors is a big help here. Make cuts along the seed membrane up to the seed head then carefully, using your kitchen scissors, cut through the head and discard. If you do it right, the seeds will come loose and the stem will stay attached.

Scraped and de-seeded

 

Now, you can stuff them. I prefer Cheddar and Monterey Jack Cheese, in mine, but have made them with spicy ground beef and have eaten them with ground Prawns and Chipotle. Mmmmm! Once you’ve got them ¾ stuffed, use a toothpick to close them up tight.

3/4 stuffed

Beat one egg into a small amount of milk in one bowl and pour Cornflake crumbs into another. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil into your frying pan and heat to medium hot. Dip each pepper into the egg mixture, then into the crumbs, making sure they are completely covered. Place in pan and cook until golden brown.

Ready for cooking.

Once they are completely browned, place on plates, cover with hot Chili sauce or Mexican tomato sauce and serve.

This picture is the last batch I made and they were stuffed with spicy ground beef and cheese and served with refried beans. I assume it was good because there was dead silence for 15 minutes, except for the sounds of chewing and swallowing, oh, and the smiles and thumbs up probably counted for something too!

Dig in!