A short sail from Isla San Marcos, we arrived at the next town along coastal Baja California Sur; Santa Rosalia. In the last century, the town had blossomed as a copper mining town run by the French company El Boleo. But after running out of this natural resource the company shut down, and a Korean company took over in recent years to mine cobalt instead.
Our first impression of Santa Rosalia was how content people there seemed. Even with a ferry terminal and a highway running through town, its size is not immediately noticeable as the majority of its mass is built uphill away from the waterfront and single lane highway. The town has all the amenities of an established community, but lacks the kind of commercial desperation found in touristy towns. Caucasian cruisers are treated no differently than a local would, neither hassled to buy souvenirs, nor expected to want high end products or services. People are always friendly and helpful, eager to strike up a conversation despite our appalling grasp of the Spanish language.
After having spent several weeks in isolated anchorages, with the summer heat wilting all manner of food on our boat and taking away any desire to have a stove burning in the galley, we were pleased to find an abundance of good restaurants in the area. In the evenings, children can be found buying ice cream at the local ice cream store after school, a welcome treat in the summer heat that us cruisers may have enjoyed too often. Holding the namesake of the historic mine, Panaderia el Boleo has a small counter selling pastries: sticky chewy doughnuts, dessert bread dripping chocolate glaze in the afternoon sun, and other sugary carbohydrate delights. And for Rowan’s 2nd birthday party, all the cruisers in the marina were invited to the nearby chicken restaurant, where historical artifacts and photographs of the town line the walls, and serving sizes are generous to say the least.
Between meals, a walk thru town yields several heritage buildings: the Mahatma Gandhi library with its small but earnest collection, the Palacio Municipal or city hall, a heritage hotel decorated with disused train cars from the mines, and enigmatic wooden doors set into the hillsides lining the sidewalks that lead to old mining tunnels. On the beach, the sand is black due to massive amounts of iron slag that has been dumped from the mining refineries over the years. Locals play in the sand, seemingly unaware of the toxicity of the beach. Paradoxically, we have been surprised to witness the amount of joggers that come out to the waterfront in the evenings. This must be one of the most exercise obsessed towns we have come across since Muscle Beach in Los Angeles.
One downside to Santa Rosalia though, if you can imagine it, is that it has the dubious reputation of being the hottest area in the Sea of Cortez. The lack of wind in this area inspired cruisers to come up with the name ‘Santa Roast-salia’. It was here that we first saw cruisers using small plug in air conditioners while at the dock. This seemed like a luxury to us, until the summer wore on and on and the heat gradually got to be an issue of safety. Just think of children dying in hot cars, and you have the approximate scenario in which we found ourselves. All our daylight hours were spent either sitting in the all too weakly air conditioned marina office, or soaking ourselves in the marina pool along with all the other cruisers in the marina. One night, it was so difficult for me to fall asleep even outside in the cockpit, that I found myself back in the pool again at 3am. I vented my frustration by using the surplus of sun to experiment with drying all kinds of food in my solar dehydrator. Carrots, celery and potatoes all dried to a shelf stable crumble at lightning speed.
Past this point, we sail into the Northern Sea of Cortez, where anchorages are sparse, civilization is far away, and the weather is savage. But northward we must go, as this desolate area has some of the most spectacular wildlife in the world, and is the only safe area for us to be in during the upcoming hurricane season unless we sail all the way south to El Salvador. While waiting for a good sturdy weather window, we watched as more and more boats arrived in the marina, the stragglers that take their insurance company’s advice to be out of the hurricane belt in the summertime with a pinch of salt. As the slips filled up, a festive atmosphere started to develop in the marina. A whole bunch of kid boats meant plenty of friends for Rowan. Group excursions to search for dinner became a regular occurrence, as did poolside potluck parties, evening dock walking and morning group commiseration about the heat. Each new arrival was watched from the pool deck and cheered on thru the confused seas at the entrance of the marina.
However, among us relatively new cruisers, a new concern cast a shadow over the conviviality. In the gloom of dusk, flashes of light were beginning to become a regular occurrence over the eastern sky. Too far away to even be heard, but still a visual reminder of the possibility of Chubascos, summer desert storms that threaten to unleash sudden and violent lashings of wind, rain and lightning. Groups of buddy boats started to form, according to boat speed and sensitivity to safety, with the mentality that there is safety in numbers, even if it is just to feel like your weather windows were planned correctly. Eventually though, there is nothing left to do except hold your breath and take a plunge into a new level of desolation; the desolation of the Northern Sea of Cortez.