It was kind of fun spending Christmas in La Paz; many of the shops were decked out with tinsel and baubles and even Christmas trees, Santas and snowmen. The Santa at the Hotel Perla was a wonderful blend of Mexico’s Christian and pre-Christian roots; Christmas meets the Day of the Dead – scary! The Christmas market filled the streets of the old part of town with stalls selling the same assortment of “made in China” clothes as well as the occasional poncho and sombrero (strictly for the tourists). Interspersed were stalls selling tacos and hot dogs and churros; delicious sticks of hot fried dough covered in sugar – like straight doughnuts but way better.
For the full Christmas spirit it was a trip to Walmart, where we listened to American Christmas tunes playing over the tinny sound system while we shopped for a new laptop to replace mine that got swamped in Asuncion a few weeks ago. I had spent a couple of days trawling around computer repair shops in La Paz with my old HP but it was twice certified dead. However in the process I met a very useful guy named Willie who set up my new computer with all the software I needed, switched it all to English and also restored all the data from my hard drive – so life is good again!!
Club Cruceros is a social club set up for cruisers by cruisers and is a very useful port of call when you first arrive in La Paz. They have a radio net each morning where you can hear about what’s happening in town, get weather and tide information, find out where to get your dinghy fixed (which we did after it was punctured in Bahia san Lucas) and anything else you need to know. Morning coffee at the clubhouse is a great place to catch up with friends and meet other boating folks and we joined them for the Christmas Eve potluck. We filled up on carbs then headed up to our favorite bar “Bob Marlin” to celebrate Christmas with a few tequilas with friends we’d met along the way.
Our Christmas present to each other was a snorkeling trip with whale sharks which are common around here at this time of year. They are the largest species of shark, a full grown adult averages about 10m in length but like whales, they are filter feeders and live on plankton, krill and any other small critters which get sucked into their enormous mouths. We snorkeled with one for about 15 minutes while it remained stationary, feeding in a vertical position sucking in vast quantities of water from just below the surface and expelling it through the gills. It was about 6m long, had a white belly and the skin on its back was a dappled grey and yellow. It seemed completely unphased by our presence; its eyes just swiveled around watching us. What a fantastic experience.
We spent the week between Christmas and New Year cruising in the islands north of La Paz. We could have spent the entire week exploring Isla Espiritu Santo and its almost conjoined sister Isla Partida. The west coast of the islands is made up of a series fingers with beautiful shallow bays in between. The head of the bays are lined with white sandy beaches and rough trails up the arroyos link some of the bays. We enjoyed hiking up the dry stream bed, scrambling over rocks and laughing at the bizarre shapes of the cacti but it was too hot to really climb up very far.
The water in the bays is very clear but is pretty cold (22oC) so we are still using wetsuits for snorkeling. The headlands are usually interesting to explore; they are mostly rocky but have some corals and enough reef fish to keep you entertained for a while. Neil snorkeled a couple of times but I had to stay out of the water due to an ear infection after the whale shark trip.
After a couple of days we moved further north to Isla San Francisco thinking we might drop the crowds as we moved further from La Paz. The first night we had fourteen other boats in the bay, some left the next day but then four catamarans came in and rafted up together. Tents were set up on the beach for lunch parties, dinghies and SUPs were flitting between the boats for social calls and one guy was wakeboarding through the anchorage behind his tender. Everyone had come out to party in the islands! Our friends Luksana and Steve arrived and we enjoyed an evening with them on board Distant Drummer.
We welcomed the New Year in back in Espiritu Santo watching the sting rays as they leap out of the water, fly through the air then crash down to the surface with a thudding belly flop. No-one is sure why they do this; possibly a mating ritual, to remove parasites from their skin or to evade predators. They are great fun to watch but one of their less pleasant habits is burying themselves below the surface of the sand. If you are unfortunate enough to step on one they´ll lash you with their tail and give you a nasty sting.
We returned to La Paz on New Year´s day. The anchorage is in a channel in front of the town which drains a large lagoon to the west. As the tide ebbs and flows strong currents sweep through the anchorage causing the boats to swing around all over the place – it´s known by the locals as the La Paz waltz. Several boat buddies were still in town and our friends Lynn and Dave on their huge catamaran Moggy also arrived so we decided to stay in La Paz for Neil´s birthday. We dosed up on Margaritas then went to a great rib place then to Bob Marlins where we listened to Mike and his band who were in great form. Ava and Pejo from Cinderella made Neil a birthday cake which was really special and we had a great evening.
More from across the Sea of Cortez soon.