The Cardon Coast
San Felipe to La Paz
Baja Sea-Kayaking Adventure #9
33 days with Jenny, 680 miles, Nov 1989
DAY 33The sea calmed during the night, allowing us an earlier departure. Jenny loaded the boat with its bow pointing seaward, as each six-inch wavelet slapped at the prow and lifted it with a perturbing jounce. With the first mate seated, I lurched aboard and we paddled out into darkness, this at 5:30 am. The lights and loom of La Paz gleamed in the distance, and these we steered for, cutting wide the coastline's unseen concavity. The early morning was warm, and the breeze was superficial to non-existent. While paddling we shared conversation about this journey's final opportunity to absorb the splendor of the star-studded heavens. How disappointed were we that the rough weather had discouraged our paddling more during the hours of effervescent, pre-dawn glory.
With the dawn came a chilly wind over the starboard bow. So once again I regretted not having brought a sweater. Bending the genoa, we paddle-sailed a few hours, and it was here that I noticed for the second time how much the boat side-slipped when pointing to weather. With a medium wind broad on the bow, and while steering obliquely towards the shore for some distant object, we would arrive abeam the object even further offshore. Clearly, when sailing into the wind, the boat needed a dagger board. Loosing ground all the while, eventually there was nothing for it but to drop sail and close the coast under paddle power. At 9:00 am we landed ashore, and I climbed the low-rising hillside in order to determine the whereabouts of Ensenada de Aripes, the vast but shallow natural harbor fronting La Paz. The view from aloft comprised nothing but a sea of sun-parched cardon cactus. Returning to the boat and stowing my paddle, and leaving Jenny to wield hers alone, I walked along the sandy beach for 45 minutes, then climbed the hill for another view - again seeing only the great expanse of desert. Together we paddled onward along a shore criss-crossed with tracks of wild burros and coyote. The entire length of this coastline is sandy, and the bottom drops away only gradually such that the water is quite shallow several hundred feet offshore, where we were now paddling. By now the wind had dropped, and the sea had begun to shed its wavelets and ripples to reveal stunningly pellucid waters, like a giant swimming pool. In the absence of appreciable surf we landed ashore again, this time near a patch of sand dunes. Barefoot we climbed the sandy heights, and to our delight the great bay we sought presented itself, capaciously and surprisingly close at hand. So we slogged across the dunes nearly to the far water's edge, the distance being about 1/8 mile. Making our way over the dunes we found myriad diminutive tracks. It seems that here could be found a species of lizard that burrows quickly into the sand to escape its predators. The point where a long line trail abruptly terminates, is the place where one may dig and perhaps capture one of these diminutive reptiles for closer inspection. The fingers of both hands splayed apart, pressed deeply into he sand, drawn together and raised, might unearth the little fellow, who then feigns death for several moments. Maybe it can even be rolled upside down in one's palm. Then the three inches of suddenly charged energy will dash recklessly straight out into space, fall earthward and land presumably upon all fours, unharmed, and scurry away in a track-making blur. Back at the beach, we found it littered with little sea shells, like most other sand beaches along the way, and Jenny had amassed a modest collection of half a dozen colorful and pretty samples. So here she added a few more to her collection.
Afloat once again, I marveled at the contrast between this placid, docile seashore and the terrible, unrestrained power of an elephantine surf unleashed here during my previous Baja journey. Eleven foot seas were smashing this beach and a massive, Hawaiian-like pipeline was churning the waterfront into a deadly lee shore. Similar conditions must have existed here only a few days previously, in the wake of the recent ten days of north wind that must have been ramming its vehemence onto this beach. And here is a precept: virtually every section of this entire coastline exhibits an ambiance that reflects the mood of the sea it abuts. I have seen the results of a storm ripping away entire stretches of beach. Toppling cliffs have buried a former camp site of mine. Largely, though, the physical layout remains unchanging. But it is the wind in strength, direction, and duration that drives the seas and renders whatever the landscape according to its moods. Baja anywhere can be a place memorable in its serenity and idyllic tranquility, or shudderingly never forgettable in its inhospitability and relentless fury. At noon we jibed and rounded the projecting spit of land, coming suddenly face to face with the sight of the sprawling city of La Paz. Now sailing before the breeze we enjoyed an easy going run to the beach, and landed near the public jetty at 12:30. I sat watch aboard the boat, suspended in the shallows, while Jenny walked to the tourist Information Office to learn about the shoreside hotels and to determine the whereabouts of the bus terminal. Then paddling, we followed the shore while admiring a preponderance of anchored yachts of various descriptions. Many sailboats were dilapidated while others were burgeoned in a plethora of glistening marine merchandise. Paddling our little craft amongst the flotilla, we felt a certain pride in our humble vessel, and in the accomplishment of her worthy journey.
Indulging in a room at La Posada Hotel, we began dismantling the Tub, and while cutting the lashings I couldn't help feeling a wave of nostalgia. The trip was over. At least the kayaking portion, for we had yet to rescue ourselves back into the U.S. The journey had been marvelous, grandiose, more difficult perhaps than Jenny had been led to expect, and harder than I remembered from previous and similar journeys. But the difficulties and physical discomforts are like the stiff north wind that fades away, leaving only whispering palms and burnished memories of the wonder and the splendor, the beauty and the ruggedness, the accommodating and the unforgivability that is the Baja Sea of Cortez. Kayaking the Cardon Coast is for me a lifelong passion. I hope to make the voyage again, one day soon. Day's mileage: 20, in 6-1/2 hours.
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1989 08 JMT
1991 PCT 2