A popular spot for tourists arriving from La Paz by panga is Candlestick Cove. With its iconic detached rock topped with cardon cacti, Caleta Candelero makes for a picturesque campground, surrounded by easily accessible reefs full of colorful fishes.
Arriving on the beach, the first thing we noticed was a large amount of seaweed piled up at the water mark, thick enough to look like small bushes. After some tricky negotiation pulling Clementine past the mass onto the sand, we walked back to the beached seaweed to have a closer look, and were pleasantly surprised to find lots of chubby brown sea slugs amidst the green, they were like shell-less snails with frilly bodies. What a feast they were going to have to clear all that seaweed!
This cove hosts another hiking trail, this time only a short tramp up to a small, pretty sandstone cave with a seasonal waterfall. It only flows after tropical storms bring in enough rainwater, but in times past, that was enough to fill a small well that has been used by various peoples throughout history; native inhabitants, Spanish conquerors on their voyages around the area, local fishermen and military personnel stationed on the island.
Braving the cold Mexican winter seawater, I spent the rest of the day snorkeling around Candlestick rock, while Travis and Rowan accompanied me in the dinghy. Up close, the monument is even more beautiful, with graceful vertical lines worn into the rock, descending into the water like an undulating skirt. Pelicans and seagulls sun themselves and nap on the rocks, a safe little island for them to rest on. The water surrounding the rock is not very deep, only 2 to 15 feet, making for a non intimidating swim. Large schools of blue and yellow striped Sergeant Major fish swam in a cloud around me, fearless enough that I nearly had to nudge them out of the way to swim through them. Many kinds of starfish lie on the sandy bottom or cling to the rocks; thin spindly ones, fat puffy ones that look like they were made with cookie cutters, and large spiny crown of thorns. Sea anemones and small corals dot the rocks while various kinds of reef fish dart in and out of corners. I dove down to the sandy bottom where I stared up at my exhaled air bubbles floating gently upwards, tiny clouds in a sky full of colorful fish. Feeling fresh washes of cold water start to stream into the cove, I swam back to the anchored dinghy and climbed aboard, to find Rowan sleeping in Travis’ arms, lulled by the rocking waves and warm sun.
Ensenada de la Raza
In contrast with Candlestick Cove, when we arrived in Ensenada de la Raza, we were the only people there. In the large and shallow bay, we hoped that we had not made a mistake and anchored in an undesirable spot. The shore was a long way away, far enough that we couldn’t tell if a hike ashore would be worth it.
Rowing to shore however, the scenery gradually revealed itself to be more beautiful than what was immediately apparent. Landing Clementine on the nearest beach in an otherwise large bay, we were surrounded by black lava rocks oozed out onto the beach and sediment stone encasing shells from centuries past, a spectacular contrast to bright turquoise water where pelicans fished and rested, and presided upon by towering hills bearing gorgeous sediment stripes. All of it, we imagine to be a geologist’s dream. Although we do not know much about rocks ourselves, we couldn’t help but wonder about the vast amount of time and power it took Mother Nature to form such wonderful monuments.
Walking inland, we encountered buzzards sitting on cacti, a typical desert scene until one flies off and lands on a mangrove tree. Behind the mangrove, we stopped and listened to our surroundings; total silence except for the clacking of crab claws and the sound of them shuffling around in the mud. Not a whisper of human activity could be heard, just the way we like it.
Bahia San Gabriel
With another Norther scheduled to arrive the next day, we snuggled into the shallows in Saint Gabriel Bay, picking a spot closest to the north hills that provide the desired wind shadow. Scouting out a spot to drop the hook, we saw a black moving mass in the water, and were puzzled by this apparition, until we realized that it was a gigantic flock of grebes; small black birds with red eyes that fish together by sitting on the surface of the water above a fish ball, and dive as a group to catch dinner. Sure enough, with a chorus of chirps, the entire flock disappeared underwater, and moments later the water churned with thousands of birds emerging from the depths, gulping down beaks full of fish fry.
Once Monsoon was safely anchored, we ventured onto the mile long beach for a hike. Over relatively flat ground, we could hike to the other side of the island to Bonanza Beach. Easy peasy, or so we thought. What was supposed to be a leisurely hour’s hike then turned into a 3 hour project of picking thru cacti groves as we missed the hiking path entirely. We were not technically lost; there was only one general direction we could hike in, and that was eastward, in the valley between the hills. It was even kind of fun, like a puzzle we needed to solve: how do we get to the other side of this next patch of prickly plants? Luckily we came prepared wearing long pants and shoes. Along the way, we transitioned from the sandy beach covered in scallop shells, to a patch of mangroves full of frigate birds, their throats red in preparation for the mating season. Next, we walked across a delta sparsely covered in cacti and rocks, and promptly lost the hiking trail, because next, we were picking our way through towering patches of cardon and cholla cacti, with various other prickly plants, some of which have a nasty habit of hitching a painful ride on clothes. In parts that were too thick, we resorted to rock hopping along the southern foothill; mercifully free of plant life, but slow progress and terrible for our ankles. Problem solving our way eastwards, we were relieved when the cacti thinned away enough that we could see jackrabbits darting between shrubs. We could see Bonanza Beach now, all that was left was a final solid wall of shrubs and a steep sand dune to negotiate. Emerging from the wilderness onto the beach, we felt proud of ourselves for basically forging our own path to our destination, until we reached the wilderness campsite there and talked to the person on duty. A cook for the kayak outfit that stays overnight every so often, he listened in surprise to our bushwhacking ordeal, then offered to fill our water bottles and told us to follow the northern foothill on the way back. We must have looked particularly pathetic, with our gigantic baby backpack carrying Rowan, because the cook then proceeded to make us ceviche tostadas, free of charge, to perk us up for the hike back. This time, it only took us an hour and no undue strain to return to San Gabriel. We found the trail, not marked, but worn enough by other hikers to be discernible. In spots, the trail feathered out into multiple faint animal trails, but the northern trail was much sparser of cacti, so following the exact trail did not matter as much.
Back on Monsoon the next morning, we watched as an outrageously large mega yacht pulled into the bay. It even had its own pilot boat to scout out a spot for it to drop anchor. It’s highly polished hull was shiny enough to reflect its surroundings, and within in sat a speedboat almost the same size as Monsoon. We looked at our own salt speckled hull, dinghy scratch marks masked by aerosol car paint in a color not quite matching the rest of the boat. Crew members on the mega yacht bustled aboard setting up deck umbrellas, all of them looking like they could have stepped out of the pages of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. Who were these people that owned such an expensive yacht? Feeling cheeky, Travis tried to hail the boat and invite whoever was onboard over for dinner, something regular cruisers often do among themselves in a gesture of neighborliness. Trying every channel on the VHF yielded no reply, so instead, we googled the boat online to find out who the owner might be. And who could the owner of the yacht Seven Seas be, but none other than Steven Spielberg. Meaning whoever was onboard must have been either Steven Spielberg himself, friends and family of Steven Spielberg, or lesser but nevertheless wealthy and well connected richy riches chartering the yacht. Why, for only USD1.7 million per month, you and 6 other guests could charter Seven Seas for a month, making a stay only slightly more expensive than renting an apartment in downtown San Francisco. All I could think of was that whoever was onboard could have all the cold drinks and princess showers that their heart desired. Sitting on deck and watching all the commotion that goes into putting away a mega yacht after arriving at anchor, we considered all the adventures that we have had on Espiritu Santo over the past weeks. All the hiking, snorkeling and socializing with other cruisers aboard their respective boats, could someone rich and famous experience things in such a genuine way as us full time live aboard cruisers? Could they hike thru Mexican wilderness without bodyguards, paparazzi and a tight social and professional schedule? At least for me, I’m glad to experience traveling from my point of view, salt crusted boat and all.