The name “Turtle Bay” holds a sort of mythological quality in our minds from when we were only dreaming about cruising, and reading about the Baja Ha Ha rally down to Cabo San Lucas, which has Turtle Bay listed as one of their main stops. At other times of the year, Bahia Tortugas, as it is known locally, is a sleepy fishing village and a well protected anchorage conveniently situated halfway down the Baja peninsula. Not having signed up for the rally, we were able to experience the Bay in its quiet lull, two weeks before the storm of what this year would be 168 boats and many hundreds of sailors descending upon the village.
As we rowed our dinghy to shore, we came up upon Maria’s Restaurant, and were cordially invited in. Aunt Maria has been running her eatery for more than 20 years, keeping alive the tradition of greeting visiting sailors. She was thrilled to see Rowan and brought out her grandniece and several puppies to come play with him. The restaurant’s location makes it an ideal base camp for sailors as its beach overlook makes it a secure place to leave dinghies, and conveniences such as food, wifi, laundry and a relaxed atmosphere are offered. On the board walls of the dining hall are written messages from pass cruisers in permanent marker. Aunt Maria invited us to feel at home; she loved kids and didn’t mind watching Rowan if we wanted to have a meal. In fact, the previous evening she was singing karaoke with her sister at the restaurant, so she could bring that out if we felt like singing too. Besides the casual vibe, the anticipation of the Ha Ha flotilla’s arrival was palpable. Not many customers visit on an average day, maybe only one or two. But come the regatta, extra seats are put out, more help is hired, more silverware is borrowed from neighbors, and there is an endless stream of work to be done. The majority of the year’s revenue is earned on those three days that the regatta comes to visit. Aunt Maria was having the restaurant’s name repainted on the wall facing the anchorage to make sure people knew where to find the famous establishment. At the neighboring marine fuel dock, locals were flexing their hustle muscle as they tried to get us to purchase diesel, knick knacks, or pay them to run errands. We had been warned by various sources that the fuel at the dock here was grossly overpriced. It was a monopolized business and sports fishermen did not mind overpaying for the convenience, but regular cruisers find a work around by paying local children to help them carry diesel in jerry cans back from the gas station down the road.
The village of Turtle Bay otherwise is unassuming. Houses line the semi paved roads, some of them with signs declaring businesses run right out of home. Shaved ice, seafood, one tiny shack the size of a storage shed even had a sign for hot dogs. Sticking out like a sore thumb was the village’s baseball field, a swath of brilliant green AstroTurf against a desert scrub backdrop. Here, the Baja Ha Ha holds its annual Americans versus Mexicans ballgame. It must be quite a sight to see, but nevertheless hard to imagine on this blazingly hot and deserted day. Convenience stores are readily found on every street corner, with affordable prices even though goods often have to be trucked all the way down the Baja peninsula from California, or shipped across the Sea of Cortez from the mainland to get here. On the waterfront lies the Church of the Rescued Sailors. 50 years ago, 2 American sailors were rescued by local fishermen and then nursed back to health and returned home safely. In gratitude, they raised money towards building the village’s first church, today one of the largest buildings here.
Although originally planning to wait for the Baja Ha Ha here, we decided that they were taking too long, and that we would meet them at our next stop; Santa Maria Bay. But before we left, Turtle Bay had one final surprise for us. Taking Rowan to the local playground one afternoon, a local woman out walking her dog came over to say hi. Communicating was difficult, but nevertheless she was enamored with Rowan, plucking flowers from the bushes to give to him. Before we left, she told us to wait for her while she went to get something from home. When she returned, we saw that it was a toy truck, which she said belonged to her own son, now a grown man. It wasn’t a fancy gift, but her generosity and genuineness really touched us.