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Not your average year!

19 Mar

Just finished celebrating my birthday (March 14th), the last year of my 50’s as my youngest so delicately put it. Sitting around the fire, eating BBQ ribs, scalloped potatoes and drinking tequila, talking about how much longer we all have before we have to head home once more.

The population of campers on the beach has halved over the past week, signaling the end of another season. For all of us, it’s a time of sadness as well as anticipation; sadness because some may not make it back to the beach next winter and anticipation as we all look forward to seeing friends and relatives back home!

This is what the waters have looked like up until today.

This is what the waters have looked like up until today.

As I sit here writing this (March 16th), I’m listening to the VHF radio, hearing chaos out in the Waiting Room and Inner harbour at Puerto Escondido, as boats break loose from their moorings, dinghies capsize and docks are torn to pieces. Today is the very first north wind, exceeding wind speeds of 55 knots! That’s higher than the wind from Hurricane Paul of 2012. It almost seems as if Mother Nature was saving up everything for this one blow!

..and this is what it looks like today!

..and this is what it looks like today!

Up until today our weather has been unseasonably calm, and warm. We’ve had mostly gentle breezes when we would have appreciated slightly higher ones, due to all the mosquito and no-see-um activity all season and we’ve had our little heater on for exactly 45 minutes the entire winter. While everyone at home suffered through some of the worst winter weather on record, we seem to have been sitting right on the very edge of the drought conditions hitting the southwestern United States.

This has been an odd season because normally the Grande Nortes start blowing in November/December and the temperatures begin to drop. It usually gets cold enough that most of us are wearing long pants, with a light jacket during the day because of lower temperatures and blowing sand. Nights and mornings are usually cold enough to have a heat source on for at least a little while.

This year, as I said no winds and average daytime temperatures never dropped below 70 F with averages in the low 80’s. Even the water temperatures have stayed high. High enough that even I’ve been out swimming recently and that’s never happened in the past, at least not for me! Once the water gets below 65, I just don’t want to go in, but this year, it had only just reached that when it started to rise again and it’s now fast approaching 80 again.

For those with years of experience on the water, they’re starting to be a bit concerned about the coming hurricane season since 80-degree water sustains them. They believe with the high temperatures this early in the year that it could lead to a very bad hurricane season with multiple storms. I guess we’ll see and we’ll be watching the weather closely before we venture down next fall.

Ladies fishing day

Just me and Jan out fishing and successfully I must say!

Other than strange weather and worrying about our families back in the extreme cold up north, it’s been pretty much an average year, lots of parties and get togethers, BBQ rib nights, bocce ball games, when we weren’t getting eaten alive by the bugs, fishing, kayaking and hiking. I even got to catch a couple of large Yellowtail on my single action reel which I’d been told was impossible plus we managed to have a couple of Ladies only fishing trips which were highly productive and the cause of much conversation around the fire!

Awesome fight with a 24lb Yellowtail on my single action reel and 10 foot rod!

Awesome fight with a 24lb Yellowtail on my single action reel and 10 foot rod!

The big difference this year was the season brought us kittens instead of puppies. We are usually the recipients of abandoned dogs and puppies on the beach, from the locals, since over the years the folks here have managed to find homes for almost every one. This year it was 9 kittens and 1 cat, most likely the mother of 8 of the kittens, maybe. I have to thank our friends and neighbours on the beach, Sy and Jan, who actually shouldered most of the burden of looking after this brood. We only had one at a time appear on our doorstep, while they had almost the entire group!

Sadly, out of the original 8 kittens, 2 had to be put down and 2 died, most likely from complications of Feline Leukemia, which is a major problem amongst the cat population down here. One of them, I’m sad to say, was a little Siamese cross female that we had decided to adopt and named Bella.

This was the lovely little girl that we originally adopted, before she started to show symptoms of illness.

This was the lovely little girl that we originally adopted, before she started to show symptoms of illness.

Happily, however the other 4 found homes and still remain healthy. For this we have Jan to thank as she did all the leg work and doggedly searched for people to adopt these lovely little girls! The adult cat was eventually live trapped, spayed and released, where she will hopefully manage to survive without producing any more unwanted kittens.

Unfortunately there is no place to take cats in Loreto. Animalandia, a volunteer organization, deals with dogs and has no facilities for cats beyond arranging for spaying and neutering.

Just when we thought we were done with all the animals, I went for a walk up to the little convenience store, and on the way found a very young, very cute, puppy. I may not be a dog lover but there was no way I could ignore this tiny little girl so I carried her to the store and then back to our campsite. As I was showing her to Richard he exclaimed in horror that she was covered in fleas and upon putting her down, it became obvious she really was! There were so many on her, you could see them seething through her fur and she was covered in bumps from bites. Surprisingly enough, not one got on me, nor did I receive a single bite!

Thankfully one of the campers had a flea spray medication that was suitable for young animals, and we soon had the little girl completely free of fleas. She was very appreciative, though I imagine, the previous bites itched like hell! The next morning we took her into Loreto and turned her over to the kind ladies from Animalandia, who figured she would be very easy to adopt out, since the size of her feet indicated she would probably grow quite large, had the colouring of a Rottweiler, and good guard dog instincts, all desirable traits.

Feeling good about ourselves, we headed for home knowing that thanks to our actions, this little dog would have a much happier life, rather than getting hit by a car, being eaten by coyotes or bobcats or dying from starvation or dehydration. We walked through the door of Grummy, only to have our neighbours knock on it moments later, with a small furry bundle wrapped in a silk shirt and the greetings of Happy Birthday!

On their walk early in the morning they came across another kitten, all by itself very near the highway, and they just couldn’t leave her to get killed by a car. Knowing that we had lost the kitten we’d adopted, and that we had talked about getting another kitten when we got back to Canada, they brought her to us. And so, Bella 2 came into our lives. (I would post a picture but WordPress seems to be having major problems uploading photos these days)

(The name was stuck in our heads and even when we tried calling her something else, “Bella” always seemed to come out. She responded to the name almost immediately, so we figured she was destined to be called it).

You know, we had both forgotten what it was like to have a kitten.  They’re crazy; fun, entertaining, cute and cuddly, but crazy and they wake up way too early. So now we have to figure out how to travel with a kitten and live with her in our Dodge van at home. So far she’s taken to the Grummy with no problem at all and doesn’t seem inclined to wander out of sight of us. We’ll see,  I guess it’ll be one step at a time. We’re really hoping it will work out for her, and us, but if not, we’ve already had a couple of folks at home volunteering to take her. So one way or another this little lady is going to have a great life.

Stay tuned; I may have to change the title of this blog to “Travels with Bella”!

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Walking the trails.

16 Feb

 

I’ve mentioned before that in the surrounding desert there are all sorts of animals that roam free, cows, horses, donkeys, goats, even the occasional deer and all make trails. The best trails are the ones cows make. Cattle have a tendency to use the same trails over and over again in search of food and cowhide is wonderful stuff when it comes to the inconvenience of cacti and other sharp and pointy plants. Add to that mix a couple of serial trail builders and you have a desert wilderness absolutely full of trails that go off in every direction, not to mention go for miles.

 

The serial trail builders are a Father and son team of campers on our beach who delight in following the cow trails, widening them and cutting away all the nasty stuff that make it hard for humans to utilize them. They’ve been at this for a very long time and even using a GPS, I’m sure that it would be very hard to map them all.

 

A week or so ago, I was talking with one of the campers who was telling me about going for a walk with her granddaughter. They had walked down the beach to The Palms and then wandered through the Graveyard. “What graveyard?” I asked. “Well, there’s an old graveyard in behind the old Rancho ruins.” She answered. “How do I find it?” I queried. “Just follow the trail and look for the rock cairn.” She replied. That sounded easy enough so I decided that I would give it a go in the next week or two.

A small grave, possibly a baby.

 

I should explain that there are not a lot of naturally growing palms here. The few that do exist are clustered around watercourses or arroyos and The Palms is one of those places. The trees are on the shore and it’s a popular walk. Not to mention that it’s a pretty easy place to describe and find since it’s one of the few places where palms grow on the beach.

 

So back to my story…

 

The day was sunny and warm and the tide was low, so off I went, down the beach to The Palms. Once there, I turned and headed up the road which accesses the beach from the highway, looking for the ruins and the trails. The ruins were easy to find and I wandered over to them looking for the trail, which I found almost immediately and started to follow. This is when it became apparent that there was more than one trail, way more than one. There were trails going in every direction and all of them were marked with rocks, sticks and Cairns. I eventually ended up back on the road, so I headed back to the ruins figuring that there must be more than one trailhead. I thought I’d try another trail and keep at it for while. If I didn’t find the graveyard, I’d go back to Rattlesnake Beach and get better directions from the Master Trail builder himself.

Just a couple of the 24 graves.

 

Providence smiled on me when I stumbled on the campsite of a friend who’s been camping in the area for the last couple of months. When I asked him if he knew the way to the gravesite he said not only did he know the way but also if I liked, he would guide me there. Well, my Momma didn’t raise no stupid kid, I took him up on the offer immediately and away we went. Of course it was only a few feet away from a trail that I’d already been on, but such is the story of my life!

 

Not only did he guide me there, but he also had quite a bit of information about the history of the place. There are 24 graves in the graveyard, more than half of them are children and only one still has a legible marker. Apparently this whole area was part of Rancho Romero, including the ruins and a well that still has potable water in it.

 

Now, a little history lesson on the Loreto area…

Due to the fact that potable water was hard to find, the original settlers found that agriculture was a difficult proposition at best. So as far as the Spanish government was concerned the land was virtually useless. This meant that land was cheap and Ranches or Rancheros were huge in acreage.  As far as I’ve been able to figure out, between Loreto and Ligui, (about 40 kilometers distance) on the shore side of the Gigantes, there were only 3 Rancheros. Rancho Notri is still in existence and still has all of its original acreage. Rancho Romero still exists but is a shadow of its historic size. The third, Rancho Tripui has been broken up and no longer exists at all, except for the name as applied to an RV park and hotel.

 

The gravesite of Mateo Murillo

As you can see from the photos, this little graveyard has fallen on hard times. The only legible marker has the date 1917 engraved on it and it is probably the last and most recent burial. This marker was reset in cement in 1987, and that was probably pretty close to the last time any attention was paid to the site. The wooden crosses have disintegrated and some vandalism has occurred though not recently from the looks of it. You’ll notice that the graves are marked with the material that was available, stones, shells and glass bottles. This material was the only stuff available to the families that had a possibility of survival in this harsh climate. At home we plant grass and flowers to mark gravesites along with metal or granite markers, here the grass and flowers wouldn’t survive without constant watering and no one was going to waste potable water on plants when it was needed for people and animals. A granite marker was also out of the question since these people were very poor and only the wealthy could afford to mark their gravesites with a material that had permanence.

 

As I wrote in my blog about the roadside shrines, members of the family look after shrines and graves. They are cared for and tended lovingly as long as there are survivors to do so. New floral wreaths are placed annually on the Day of the Dead and the graves and shrines are kept clean and tidy. Once there are no more family members alive or at least ones who care, these memorials fall on hard times and gradually disintegrate. In the case of this graveyard I believe both are the case.

 

Another small grave.

I’m not sure I can describe the feeling of standing in this little place, a place that has been forgotten and ignored, yet represents a tiny slice of the past of Loreto and area. Since I’m an avid history buff, I enjoy being able to explore places like this and as long as individuals like myself continue to do so, these people and their history will never be completely forgotten.

 

So as I headed back to Rattlesnake Beach on yet another trail, I marveled at the prolificacy of our serial trail builder. Without him and his years of work, a part of the history of this area would have been lost and folks like me would have had to be happy with walking the beach or the highway. Instead we get to enjoy so many trails that we can virtually walk a new one everyday. Not only that, but sometimes we learn things too. Not bad for a simple day of walking the trails, eh?

 

Do you like dogs?

12 Dec

Do you like dogs? Do you want one? I know where you can get one for free. You can even get it checked over by a Vet and Spayed or Neutered at no cost to you!

 

All you have to do is come and visit us here in Baja.

A beautiful Baja sunset

 

Of course the cost of travelling to Baja might outweigh the cost advantages of a free pet but hey, a loving pet is priceless right?

 

I don’t own a dog and I haven’t since I was a kid. My childhood was scared with the tragic deaths or losses of dogs. My first dog was a beagle puppy my Father brought home for me 6 months before we sold everything we owned and left Hamilton, Ontario to move to Vancouver, BC.  We couldn’t take him with us, so our relationship was intense but short. I never saw him again, he got out of my aunts yard and was killed by a car a year after we left.

 

I have to tell you, losing your first love at four, leaves a scar!

 

The last dog in my life was a small miniature lab named Peppy. This one met a terrible end. He’d gotten hold of some chicken bones from somewhere, (not us), and they stuck deep in his throat. It wasn’t until we realized he wasn’t eating and had no energy that we recognized there was a problem. My parents were not capable of paying for the costs of surgery for a pet, so Peppy was euthanized. My whole family was devastated. We never owned a dog again.

 

Richards story is a little happier. His life was filled with dogs. The earliest photos of him as a little boy show him with a dog. His Mother bred Champion show and Obedience dogs and he delights in telling people that he can remember having 24 dogs around at one time and usually never less than 10. He even adopted a dog when he spent two years on a Kibbutz in Israel, to stop it from being euthanized.

 

When we got married, and then had children, we talked about getting a dog and though I’d had terrible experiences I was willing, Richard wasn’t. As he put it, he was “dogged out”. There had been more than enough dogs in his life and after discussing the pros and cons, we decided our lifestyle didn’t have any room in it for a dog, and that’s the way it’s stayed all these years.

 

Sita, short for Mamasita. She was an abandoned Mom with pups when adopted. Don't worry, the pups got a good home too!

When we started coming here, it became apparent that the attitude towards dogs is very different that it is in Canada and the U.S. At home, pets are often treated better than humans are, not so down here.

 

As far as the vast majority of Mexicans are concerned, dogs are plain and simply animals. Don’t misunderstand me, most dogs are loved and cared for by their owners and a few are even treated the same way Paris Hilton treats her Chihuahua, though that’s a rare happening. It is not unusual however, to see dogs, even much loved ones, suffering from Mange, bitches that have obviously had litter after litter, because it’s not macho to get her fixed and packs of scruffy, skinny dogs fending for themselves, because no one can afford to feed them anymore. Now I have to interject here that I have never seen nor heard of dog fights in Baja, lots of Cock fighting goes on, but no dog fights, so no worries on that account.

 

 

It’s actually difficult to describe the relationship between dog owners and dogs down here. Here’s an example, the Market that we go to every Sunday, to purchase farm fresh food has a couple of meat venders, and there are always at least half a dozen dogs in various sad states hanging around. Some of these dogs belong to the various vendors and some are strays that have learned that on Sundays free food can be had for an animal willing to wait for something to hit the ground. No one pays any attention to these animals nor do they seem concerned that some of them appear to be near starvation. There are never any fights amongst the dogs, since survival is more important than dominance, they don’t waste the energy.

 

The owners see no reason to keep their dogs by them all the time and when it’s time to pack up and leave, the dog with an owner will go home with them, and the others will just melt back into the background of the town.

 

 

The problems arise when money gets really tight, since as the most disposable member of the family, the dog is likely to be turned out to fend for itself or driven into the wilds and abandoned.

 

Every town we’ve visited has dogs running loose, often in packs. Some of these are dogs with homes, some are dogs that have been abandoned and others are feral. It’s easy to tell the difference, abandoned dogs wag their tails and will approach humans who call to them and offer them a kind word or a handout, feral dogs go out of their way to avoid humans as much as possible.

You can just make out Bushy and Sandy, the last surviving dogs of a litter of 5 that were rescued by a couple on the beach.

 

You have to understand that there is no SPCA here or any other organization geared to animal control or adoption. There isn’t enough money to look after the human population, let along excess to be used for animal welfare. People come first and since most are barely surviving, there is a long way to go before any thought can be turned to the benefit of anything else. I mean we’re talking about an area where most of the smaller villages have no electricity or running water. One of the Gringos has been trying to solicit donations for a family in Auga Verde, a small fishing village south of us, whose fourteen old son needs dialysis. They need solar panels, batteries and inverters, to keep their son alive, so paying out scarce dollars for a pet is out of the question.

 

Rattlesnake Beach seems to be a favourite place to abandon a dog, probably because the owner really doesn’t want to hurt the animal and they know that chances are good it will be adopted by either one of the campers or someone they know and will go on to a better life. At the moment there are six rescued dogs here that have found new owners and a much better life. Not to mention the feral bitch and her puppy that are being fed by at least two if not three of the ladies that are camping on the beach right now.

 

Sometimes it’s funny listening to the owners of these dogs as they will tell you that regardless as to how young the puppies were when they were adopted, they never lose their Mexican identities. Mexican dogs eat constantly if allowed and they eat anything and everything. It doesn’t matter if they are so full they can barely move, if someone offers them something, they will take it. I think that there must be some sort of starvation memory in these animals, similar to the ones that our parents generation seem to have if they lived through the Depression in the 30’s. I don’t know about you, but I know quite a few older adults who’s cupboards are absolutely full of packaged and canned goods, just in case the the world goes to hell and they can’t get any more food. I’m guessing that starvation teaches to eat when you can.

 

We have managed to find homes for the two dogs that were dropped off in our campsite over the last few years. It’s funny, all our fellow campers seem to assume that we are incomplete without a furry companion and have tried at various times to suggest that nothing could be more perfect than for a dog to magically appear at our doorstep, but Richard lets them all know that it’s just not going to happen. Not that we don’t love to visit with our friends dogs, Richard even sometimes carries treats in his pocket, but it’s like other peoples kids, fun to visit with but eventually they go home to their own family.

 

As for the free Veterinary I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a group called Animalandia, that comes to town on a fairly regular schedule that does rescues, surgeries, examinations and other necessary work on pets, free of charge. It is made up of a group of volunteers, very similar to Doctors without Borders, though obviously with a different patient focus. Thanks to these folks and the kindness of the people on this beach, as well as those who live in Ligui, Juncalito and Loreto, many dogs have been rescued, fixed, adopted and now live all over Canada and the United States. This is a much better fate than that which they would have faced with had they been left to fend for themselves down here.

 

So as I said at the beginning, are you by any chance in the market for a dog? I happen to know of a very fat, happy puppy that’s going to be looking for a new home soon…

 

 

 

THE WILDS OF BAJA

1 Dec

For those of you who have never been here, I’m sure that some of you assume that Baja is a settled area that probably resembles some of the places you go for a weekend campout.

 

The population density is actually small for the landmass. It’s clustered in very small to middling sized communities, isolated from each other and connected only by rough, dirt roads and the one arterial highway, Mexico 1. Everywhere else is desert, that looks to the uninitiated like empty wilderness, but that’s far from the truth.

 

This place is alive!

 

The first thing you learn when you come down here is to never put your hand where you can’t see it. There are scorpions here, and although they aren’t deadly, they can give you a nasty sting, so you never put your hand under things and you shake out your shoes in the morning, if you’ve left them outside over night.

 

A Tarantula we found at the base of a rock wall, It may not look it but it was alive.

Spiders in a variety of flavours also live here, from the Brown Recluse, which is a nasty bugger though rarely encountered, to a strange flat black one that can leave you with a nasty bite. It moves incredibly fast and has the added ability to slip under doors. It also lives under things, so again, watch where you put your hands!

 

There are Tarantulas here as well and unlike most of the rest of the arachnid family is fairly innocuous. Now this is saying something coming from me. I do not like spiders, but Tarantulas are so big and furry that for some reason my hindbrain doesn’t see them as dangerous and so my Fight or Flight response just doesn’t come into play.

 

This little lady was just looking for a place to lay her eggs

We see a variety of bugs in our campsite every year and most of them are harmless and interesting, if not downright beautiful to watch and look at. This Preying Mantis marched up our Mesquite tree and proceeded to lay eggs, which we then watched carefully. We were rewarded eventually with a full hatch of tiny miniature mantis. They dried off, puffed themselves up and left to make their own way in life, in less than 30 minutes.

 

Butterflies and moths are constant visitors and the oranges we put out for the birds are certainly an added incentive for them to hang around for a quick feed. This giant moth is only seen in full dark and is easily confused with the tiny bats that appear after sunset, when in flight. They are almost exactly the same size. These are not the only two creatures that are confused for one another. There is another moth that lives further north, around San Quintin, in Baja Norte, and its flight pattern and size makes it a dead ringer for a hummingbird. The only way we could tell the difference was to catch one and check it out.

 

If we hadn't shone a light on the orange at night, we never would have see this beautiful moth.

There are a great many types of snakes and lizards here as you can imagine, this being a desert after all. Even the various islands can boast of having endemic species found nowhere else in Baja, but here’s a kicker, there’s frogs here too.

 

Yeah, that’s right. Frogs.

 

No, they aren’t everywhere, if they were, they’d be toads and there are some of them too, Horned Toads, and a few other species, but I’m talking frogs. When you hike up into the canyons, there are standing pools of water, most likely fed from underground sources since they rarely dry up completely and drought conditions seem to have little affect on them. Frogs can be found around them. At first you are only aware of them from their singing, but eventually you see tiny movement and focus in on frogs moving about the rock walls that encompass the water pools. This is a Pacific Tree Frog and they are tiny, this one was about the size of a quarter, but we’ve found some that are no bigger than your fingernails. Notice just how well they blend into their surrounding!

 

Just one of 3 types we see in the canyons

I mentioned snakes didn’t I? Lots of snakes, almost all of them are completely harmless, though there are rattlesnakes and a few others with a nasty reputation. They rarely appear during the time we’re here because as far as they’re concerned, it’s winter and they hole up until it gets warm. A couple were sighted this year, as quite a few of us arrived earlier than normal and the rattlers hadn’t retreated to their dens, but they are gone now, not to be seen again until April. The rest of the serpents who frequent this area, usually only come out at night to lie on the warm dirt roads. As one book author states, if you want to see snakes down here, get yourself a good head lamp and go for walks at night on a nice dusty, dirt road. Occasionally, various snakes are spotted, but mostly all we see are their tracks, left as they move across the road during the night.

 

I would have included descriptions and photos, but first I would have had to stay up late at night to get shots of snakes and second considering just how many different varieties of Lizards live here we would have been talking about it for days!

 

Waiting patiently for a handout.

Birds are constant visitors and companions here in our campsite and provide an ever-changing view, from the Pelicans that work the waters just off the beach, to the Roadrunners that seem to have a specific feeding route, which we just happen to be on.

Just checking out the campsite

 

The Pelicans are pretty smart and never miss a chance to hang around anyone cleaning fish. They know that there’s going to be heads, guts and skeletons that are not wanted and these gentle birds have a physiology that allows them to digest anything that will fit into their throats. During certain times of the winter they are very well fed here and all you have to do is walk out to the waters edge holding something in your hands and they will appear almost as if by magic. The only sound they make is a very quiet hiss.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we put out oranges for the birds. They are cheap to buy, only 50 pesos for a 10-pound bag, and they provide a good food source. Not to mention continuously excellent photo opportunities, right outside our front windows. We place them in a bush beside us that is already frequented by many varieties of birds due to its constant supply of flowers, seeds and berries. There is a steady stream of Hummingbirds, Verdins, Orioles, Scrub Jays, Vireos, Mockingbirds, Woodpeckers, Sapsuckers, Cardinals, even the occasional Dove and Quail. We also get a few more rare visitors, such as Cactus Wrens, Pyrrhuloxias, Phoebes and these two.

 

Just taking a break

The Ash Throated Flycatcher has so many similar looking relatives that without the camera it’s virtually impossible to figure out which one you’re looking at. These birds aren’t here for the sweet juice or pulp of the orange. They’ve figured out that bees and other bugs come for that, so they just lay in wait in the branches of the bush, and pick them off at their leisure.

We got the impression, he was enjoying the orange.

 

This Chipmunk appeared for the first time yesterday morning. We usually only see these little fellows, running at top speed across the road in front of the car. It has become a running joke here that they seem to have developed a new Olympic sport of running across the road in front of any approaching vehicle. They never get hit since they move at Hyper speed and we are moving slowly due to the bumpy road conditions, but none of us can figure out why they seem impelled to dash across the road only when a vehicle is approaching. Our guess is that now that one has found this new and tasty food source, it won’t be long before others follow. Hmm, I think our orange bill is going to go up!

 

Isn't she just beautiful?

Last Sunday, as we headed to the car to go to the Market, who should be standing just a few feet from the van but this little lady. You know that expression, “A deer in the headlights”? That was almost the impression we got as we all sized one another up. We stared at each other for quite a few minutes before she decided we weren’t dangerous and slowly sauntered off into the bushes. Kit Foxes are numerous around here and though they can be Rabies carriers, they are beautiful creatures and we love to see them. They are not sighted frequently but we have seen one at least three times this year. Whether it’s the same one or not is virtually impossible to tell as they all have very similar markings and usually disappear faster than we can get a camera up. We were lucky with this one, as it appeared to be a young one that was just as interested in us as we were in her. Sometimes you really are in the right place at the right time.

 

Sound asleep!

And on that note, I’m going to leave you with this shot of a young California Sea Lion asleep. We were out kayaking on Tuesday and off in the distance we could see something on the surface of the water. As we got closer we realized it was a Sea Lion, sound asleep, so we decided to see just how close we could get. As you can see from the shot, we got to within 15 feet before he woke with a start and dove. We sat still and he eventually resurfaced just a few feet from where he went down. He came back up a couple of more times in the same place and I guess he figured we were harmless, so he went right back to sleep!

 

We just never know what we’re going to see next and so it pays to always have a camera available at a moments notice. We are surrounded by wildlife here and are very appreciative of being able to experience it on a daily basis. I haven’t mentioned the many fish eating birds, like the Ospreys or Frigates, Cormorants, Herons or Egrets that grace our shores, nor have I included those marine animals that abound in the water at our doorstep. The many land animals that we see or hear regularly are also too numerous to include in this short space. We’ll leave discussion of these inhabitants of Baja to another time, meanwhile I shall endeavor to have my camera with me at all times and take photos if I can!

 

I wonder what we’ll see tomorrow?

The wind, she’s a blowing.

2 Mar

The Grande Norte came back this week. We’ve  been enjoying warmer weather and watching the sun rise higher in the sky everyday, but just like at home, just when you think Spring has arrived, a late season storm puts paid to that for while. So it is down here. The wind is supposed to blow all week. It’s not going to be high winds, but it makes kayaking and hanging around on the beach just too cold and uncomfortable, so we have to find something else to keep ourselves occupied. It’s time to go hiking!
There are 3 canyons nearby that we can choose from, Luigi, Wow and Tabour. All are basically the beginnings of the large arroyos that dot the landscape around here. Places where the waters that fall on the Gigante Mountains are gathered and funnelled to the Sea. They are also completely different from one another.
Now, I can’t speak about Luigi Canyon as we’ve never been up it. It is on private land, fenced off and the gentleman who has the key can be capricious, if you can find him.
Tabour is the closest and easiest to access. It’s just a little ways further up the road from the water well that we all use for our drinking water, about half a Kilometre from the highway. It consists of boulders; some small as baseballs, some so massive you can’t conceive of any power strong enough to move them. In Tabour, you do a lot of scrambling up, over and around the rocks, and unless you know the secret of the Rabbit Hole, you only get to experience 1/3 of the climb and miss the fabulous views of Danzante available further up the canyon.

Over, under or through the boulders of Tabour

Entrance to the Rabbit Hole.

The view from the top of Tabour Canyon

This hike starts the minute you park your vehicle and it generally takes us about 5 hours, but that includes a couple of rest stops to admire the scenery, take a few photos or do a little yoga, (Yes, even here we’ve been known to do a few asanas) plus one long lunch break.
As I said earlier, these canyons are funnels for water but just as the hikes are different so is the water you find. All the canyons have pools and all of the water is very cold, (though that doesn’t stop the hardy from swimming in them) but in Tabour you don’t usually get your feet wet as all the pools and rivulets can be skirted. This year the water is very low as Baja Sur is in a long drought. From the picture below, you can see where the water level usually is. Tabour comes eventually to an end. Those who are rock climbers can go further, but those of us who don’t do class 5 climbs call it quits here.

See how low the water is?

As far as you can go in Tabour.

Wow Canyon is about 10 Kilometres down the highway from Rattlesnake beach and is reached by turning down a bone rattling dirt road, that eventually just peters out after about 5 Kilometres. You park, start walking and just continue to walk, there are no massive boulders to overcome here, as the canyon bottom is flat and easily walked, but there are large pools of water that must be waded or swum through. This hike you get wet and I don’t like doing it until this time of year. The sun is much higher in the sky and actually shines directly down in the canyon in some areas. Any other time of year that we’re here, it’s in the shade. It doesn’t make the water any warmer but it sure dries you up a lot faster.

The first fording in Wow.

Wow Canyon always lives up to it’s name. None of us know what the Mexican name is for it, but it’s called Wow, because just about every corner you turn, someone in the group will usually exclaim “WOW”!

Just one of the magnificent views in Wow

This last trip we startled 2 California Bighorn Sheep from their drinking. This is a very rare sight and we were really lucky to have got a couple of shots of them. We also spied a Ringtailed cat that scampered quickly away.

Like Tabour, Wow comes to and end by a pool and again, those who are experts can go on if they like, but we eat our lunch, then head back, admiring the views that we missed on our way in as we head out.  A trip through Wow generally takes 8 hours and still, no one every really wants to leave this magical place.

As you can see, unless you're a rock climber, this is the end in Wow.

Wherever there's water in the canyons, the sound of frogs can be heard.

Just one of many massive Figs growing in Wow Canyon

This pool we swim in Wow, just for fun. It's very deep and at this time of the year it's the warmest.

Both of these canyons are filled with an abundance of animal and plant life supported by the constant availability of water. Even in drought years, there is water here. Some pools may go dry and streams flow under the rocks instead of above ground, but there is always water. Canyon Wrens sing their beautiful songs, frogs of many different colours and sizes croak to one another, flowers bloom in mass profusion, Fig Trees grow to enormous size, Ring Tailed Cats, Coyotes, Bobcats, Sheep, and other wildlife come to drink and every once in a while the silence is broken by a few humans seeking a little exercise and looking for something to do while the wind blows.

The end of a wonderful day!

 

On the Sea of Cortez

21 Dec

I’ve told you about our kayak. One of the great things about it, is it allows us to go further, faster. That means we can decide we want to head out for a leisurely paddle over to Danzante Island, stopping here and there to explore the many coves and beaches that abound on it’s shores, and still get home in time for Happy Hour!
The water here this year, due to a slightly lower than normal temperature, is crystal clear and even in depths of 20 feet the bottom is clearly visible and so are all it’s inhabitants.
Over the years, we’ve had problems with dust getting into our cameras, so last year we purchased a couple of small, digital cameras capable of underwater shots and movies. This not only does away with dirt and sand getting inside them, it also offers us a new perspective when out on the water.
We headed out last week to explore the coast of Danzante, cameras in hand, hopping for a few sightings of fish and fowl to record for posterity, and to get a little exercise. As we headed out past Coyote Point we could see a great deal of splashing ahead of us, so we aimed for it, then stopped paddling to wait and see what it was. What it was was Manta rays, hundreds of them! They were doing an intricate dance around one another that included leaping clear of the water, moving back and forth around and under us, in a fabulous mating display. It was like watching a carefully choreographed ballet and continued for as long as we wanted to watch.

Manta Rays mating dance

While I was shooting in every direction I could think of and getting quite a few good photos, I inadvertently got a shot of this fellow. They’re called Needlefish, they run about 2 feet long, and are a major predator in the waters here. The name describes both it’s body shape and the multiple needle sharp teeth in it’s jaw. They are also a very pretty blue colour as are it’s flesh and bones.

Needlefish investigating us

Coasting around a bay towards a sandy spit which we intended to land on, we became aware of a California Sea Lion, feeding in the deep drop off at the end of the spit. We watched him for a while enjoying his antics, then noticed a pod of Dolphins, either Roughtoothed or Bottlenosed, on the other side of the split, playing. They had quite a few young ones with them and seemed to be doing nothing more than having fun, leaping and splashing about.
Both animals remained in the cove, seemingly keeping us company as we explored the beach and surrounding area. Just as we decided to hit the water the dolphins disappeared, but we realized that the Sea Lion hadn’t. As a matter of fact it had gone to sleep on the surface about a 100 yards off shore, so we snuck up on it. We got quite close before it noticed us and simply slipped below the surface with barely a ripple to show where it had been.

Wakey, wakey!

We turned our boat back towards the shore we live on, but a fair ways further south, intending to work our way up the coast and check out a few of the small Islets on the way. The weather held, warm and calm, just another beautiful day here on the Baja!
There was unexplained slashing going on just ahead of us, in close to shore, so we paddled over to see what it was. Imagine our surprise when the head of this came out of the water. It was a 20 foot long Whale Shark, a plankton feeder, sieving through the huge volumes of Krill that had appeared in the Sea over the last week or so. It swam with it’s top jaw above the surface, pushing massive amounts of water through it’s gills, turning constantly to keep within the waves of Krill. This was a once in a lifetime happening! Most never experience the thrill of seeing one of these massive creatures. It swam so close beside us we could touch it and a couple of times it went under the kayak and it’s dorsal bumped us as it went past. We sat with it for a good 20 minutes just enjoying seeing one of the oceans largest and gentlest creatures. When we returned home and told our neighbours about our exploits, they told us we were very lucky, they had sailed the world’s oceans for 25 years and had never seen one nor did they know of anyone else who had had a similar experience. We felt extremely privileged to have been witness to one of natures rarer displays!

Heading under the kayak

The next day we were invited to go out on a friends motor boat to see more of the coast than we can reach with our kayak. They were also planning to take us to one of the numerous hot springs in an area we have difficulty accessing in our vehicles. We headed out early, tossed the lines overboard just for fun and started to learn more about this beautiful and rugged area.
Rounding a point south of Ensenada Blanca (White Cove) we spotted a net pen in the bay. Our hostess explained that the women of the small village in the cove had a business Cooperative, diving for Angelfish and selling them into the Aquarium Market in the US. They didn’t take many fish, just enough to make a little money. The business was successful enough to buy clothes and school supplies for the children of the village as well as a few other necessities.

Cortez and Queen Angelfish

Over the next hour both our host and Richard caught, fought and released small Roosterfish, both under 10 pounds and lots of fun, both for those doing the fighting and those who watched. We had just released one when another pod of Dolphins appeared off our bows and played around and under us as we made bow and stern waves. Eventually they grew bored with us and went on their way as did we.

 

Dolphins toying with us

We rounded a point into a crescent bay with a spit of rocks leading to a small island. During high tide the spit is underwater. We anchored in the middle of this rocky spit and both of our friends made comments about hoping we had made it here during the right part of the tide. Richard and I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about until we got off the boat and up onto the spit. Right there in front of us, in the middle of this rocky finger was a pool. a hot springs! The only time it can be accessed is during low tide and it’s obviously been in use a long time as patrons over the years have pulled more and more rocks out of it to make the pool larger. It reminds us that the Sea of Cortez is just an extension of the San Andreas fault and that volcanic activity isn’t very far below the surface. It was a most welcome respite and we were loath to exit it, but there were others who had shown up to use it and we vacated to let them enjoy the warm waters as well.

It's nice and warm!

Heading into the last bay, a place called Agua Verde, (which mean Green water and it’s a very apt name as the water has an almost emerald colour to it) our host noticed fishing activity and dropped the gear, almost instantly we were into a large fish and the rod was handed to me. I fought it for a good 10 minutes before we even sighted it and even then we couldn’t figure out what it was. We’ve come to realize that even those who fish this sea all the time are often surprised what appears on the end of their rods. Another 10 minutes went by before we caught enough of a glimpse to identify it as a big Roosterfish. Finally after another 10 minutes I managed to wear it out enough to get it to the side of the boat for assessment and photos, where it was promptly released. From past experience I figured it to be between 25 and 30 pounds and it was one hell of a fun fight!

A great fight then a quick release.

We headed back home after that, thanking our hosts for another memorable day on the Sea of Cortez and wondering what more it holds in store for us the next time we venture out on it! Sights and experiences never to be forgotten!

The Dance of Life and Death

30 Nov

There is an old expression that says life is hard, brutish and short and in Baja it is a fact of life.

Baja is a beautiful place, fairly sparsely populated and in a lot of ways still wild and untouched. Don’t get me wrong, there have been humans living here for hundreds of years, yet due to a scarcity of potable water, there have never been too many of them. It is a place of deserts, beaches, oceans, volcanos, and sheer, rocky crags and cliffs. Life is hard, at times very harsh and brutal and death can be up close and hard to ignore.

 
It is not at all unusual to see bones or desiccated copses of dogs, cows, horses or burros on the sides of the roads. These animals are allowed to wander freely here. The farm animals because it is the only way they can find enough food to sustain themselves. If they couldn’t forage in the wilds, the farmers otherwise couldn’t afford to keep them.  The highway offers green grass on it’s verges and at night the tarmac is warm so the animals come into the road to lie down. Some of them never get up again.
It is not just domestic animals that roam the wilds here. The Baja peninsula is a 1000 miles long, with mostly isolated and lonely beaches running it’s length, interspersed with small towns, fishing villages and settlements. Along it’s Pacific side the great Grey whales migrate every year to a place called Magdelena Bay, where they come to give birth. This is a huge shallow, warm, protected bay, almost completely surrounded by sandy barrier islands. From the time they leave the northern waters until they return, they don’t feed. Some don’t make it to the bay and others die on the return trip. Many of the small towns that survive on whale watching tourism, proudly display whole skeletons and massive vertebra that have been found washed ashore. It’s not unusual when walking the beaches to run across bones of whales, dolphins, sea lions and even turtles.

The pelicans daily search for food

Baja is separated from the mainland of Mexico by the Sea of Cortez. Here an amazing panoply of life is found, whales ranging from the world’s smallest to the largest, with thousands of different varieties of birds and fishes. It is here that we camp and look out over the waters. It is also here that we are constantly presented with the beauties of life and the swiftness of death.
Daily we watch the pelicans feeding, not 50 feet from our front windows. They do this by diving headfirst into the water at full speed, trying to catch small fish in their enlarged pouches. Probably 1 dive in 10 actually produces a meal. These birds look tough and capable but in actuality are rather delicate. All it takes is hitting the water at an awkward angle or an underwater obstacle and they damage their beaks beyond repair. This translates into a long slow death of starvation and we find many carcasses of bedraggled feather and bone on the shore.

beached Bryde's whale

As I said there are many varieties of whales here and last year we were subjected to the sight of one of these leviathans fighting it’s last battle. It was a Bryde’s whale (pronounced brew daa ) a small baleen feeder, about 40 feet, that had beached itself. It may have been old and it certainly was extraordinarily thin, with all it bones showing harshly beneath it’s skin. It was very difficult to stand there and watch while it slowly succumbed, but there was nothing any of us could do. Some did manage to push it off the beach but it could no longer swim and ended up right back on the beach again. Generally when whales beach it is because they can no longer fend for themselves and all our puny efforts were for naught. All we could do is wait for the inevitable end and then tow the carcass out to sea to forestall the rotting of quite a few tons of dead meat.

The last attempt to stand.

This year while standing talking to some friends, we saw what we took to be a small dog rolling in the sand behind our rig. After a few seconds it became apparent that it wasn’t a dog but a small, beautiful Kit fox having a seizure. Now Rabies is endemic here, but this lovely little creature wasn’t behaving as if it was infected with this dread disease. It looked well fed, and groomed and displayed none of the symptoms associated with Rabies. We though it had had a run in with a Rattlesnake of which there are many here as it was unaware, disoriented, and having multiple seizures. We left it alone in the shade, with a small dish of water nearby in hopes that it would over come whatever was affecting it. When we went to bed it had stood up and wandered into deeper shade, leaving us with the feeling that it might be alright in the morning. To our sorrow, it was in much worse shape when we went to check on it the next day, so we did all that we could do, we put it down as swiftly and as painlessly as we could and buried it where the Turkey vultures couldn’t get at it.
All of us on the beach find that death is so very much closer here than it is in the cities where we come from. It makes us all aware of how nature is a balancing act and how swiftly the scales can tilt. Perhaps the God Shiva really does do the cosmic dance of creation and destruction, life and death.