Part 1: Loreto to Santa Marta
By Graham Mackintosh
Over the last three years I’ve been kayaking the Sea of Cortez, usually in October and November. I began in Bahía Gonzaga, and the first stage took me to Bahía de los Ángeles. The second, from LA Bay to Bahía Concepción. And last year I paddled to Loreto.
After attending a wedding in England, I started a little later this year—November 25.
Driving to Loreto I stopped at Bahía de los Ángeles to enjoy Thanksgiving with friends and test my “new” Cobra kayak and my essential equipment. I was thrilled to find myself paddling with a whale shark.
In Loreto, Baja burro man and adventurer Mike Younghusband, offered to look after my vehicle, and to get me down to the shore before sunup. Nearly two hours later I was packed and ready to begin. The winds were calm to moderate northerly—the perfect first day as I made my way past the airport and resorts to land at Juncalito.
The next day wasn’t quite so calm—and I was glad to round a headland and make a protected camp just before the entrance to Puerto Escondido. The winds continued to gust next day, so I busied myself hiking into the hills, admiring the views.
That was the pattern—paddle when conditions allow, hike and fish and relax when unable to get on the water.
Paddling solo on an overloaded sit-on-top kayak, my goal was to pick my days and launch only when the seas were reasonably calm. Moreover, as far as possible, I paddled close to shore, ready to head in and find a campsite at the first sign of trouble. Wind gusts and white caps generally meant my paddling was over for the day. Safety equipment included a hand-pump desalinator and a SPOT satellite messenger.
Heading north to south allowed me to take advantage of the prevailing winds; but dealing with the morning sun in my eyes proved to be a real problem with rocks and reefs to negotiate.
Glowing eyes and circling paw prints revealed the presence of coyotes most nights. Before getting into my tent I coyote-proofed everything left outside on the kayak, tying it all down and together with at least 25 bungees. The work was worth it… I didn’t lose anything and usually slept uninterrupted.
Often I would launch in the dark if I suspected it would be calmer. That was eerily beautiful but I had to be more careful of colliding with a rock or running aground and would move offshore a little more than I liked.
In spite of the amazing bioluminescence, I was always glad to see the sunrise. The coast was magnificent and colorful. But my main concern was always looking for the next landing spot or sheltered headland. Mercifully, the winds stayed moderate as I passed the three or four worst cliffs or points.
Otherwise, among the cliffs and rocks there were so many beautiful, protected beaches… many with no road access. I would gladly have camped on any of them a week. But if conditions allowed I kept paddling as long as I was able, knowing I could be “stuck” for days if a wind storm hit.
Dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles were seen most days. Approaching Agua Verde I kayaked with a pair of whale sharks, wondering if they were part of the Bahía de los Ángeles population heading down to La Paz for the winter.
It was good to have the security of my desalinator… but I preferred to pick up water as pumping took time and was hard work. There were a dozen boats at anchor in Agua Verde and I gladly accepted a water top up (and the wind forecast) from one of the sailboats.
Many intrepid tourists had braved the challenging road into Agua Verde and were camped on the beaches around town. There was a well-stocked store where I bought fruit and supplies (they also sell drinking water), and a lovely friendly restaurant on the beach—Brisa del Mar—enabling me to vary my diet with delicious tacos and a salad.
I hiked the same coast in 1984… as told in my 1988 book: Into a Desert Place. I had several photographs from that walk… including a picture of a pair of Agua Verde fishermen loading their rifles who shot a rabid burro for me. I showed them to the folks at the restaurant. Veronica, the young lady serving me, pointed to the picture and excitedly said, “That’s Antonio, my father.” She was able to add that the other person in the picture, the guy holding the Winchester, Manuel, had passed away a few years ago.
I gave the photograph to Veronica but sadly didn’t get to meet her father again. He was out fishing.
I left Agua Verde at first light and was delighted to round dramatic Punta Marcial with little wind and moderate seas.
Then heading south I paddled past beautiful Santa Marta and thought back to the rabid burro and the kind fishermen who had killed it there for me, allowing me to safely walk on south towards Timbabiche and Mission Los Dolores.