The Cortez Coast San Fellipe to Puertocitos
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
I awoke on the top floor on my beachside palapa to the heat of the rising sun over the sea of Cortez. Jerry in the palapa next door was brewing coffee, and would soon turn on NPR for the morning news. A shrimp boat trawled lazily offshore and a few pelicans worked the inner bay. The view was spectacular with the mountains reaching out to the sea to our North, and a picturesque white lighthouse still flashing to our South. I could get used to this. After filling my coffee mug a couple of times thanks to the generosity of my neighbors I unloaded the boats off the Jeep in order to ensure that I got out on the water today instead of just heading South. Josh and John were up soon thereafter and were still “keen for some paddling”. John’s bike had some mechanical issues they had to deal with, so I took some time to organize my gear and relax on the beach.
Soon a school of dolphins (yes, it’s school, not pod) showed up in the bay. After a couple of minutes on the beach, I couldn’t help myself. I had to get a better look. I hopped in the XP (the blue kayak) and headed 100 meters or so offshore. I had seen several boats approaching the whales in Cabo and knew that the laws here must be different than back home, but I still didn’t want to approach the dolphins. Maybe… sure enough they came to me. Soon I had 6-8 bottlenose dolphins and another 8-10 porpoises darting around me. The water was so clear that I could see them swim beneath the boat and turn on their sides to check me out. They were as curious about me as I was about them. As soon as I’d turn my head I’d hear another one surface behind me with that “Phhttuppth” of air and a subtle splash. Then there was a different sound off to one side and I turned to see Josh paddling the X-Ray out to meet me. He’d left John to deal with his testy chain and was absolutely ecstatic at being able to share the water with the dolphins and porpoises that surrounded us. I don’t know that I could ever accurately convey what it felt like to sit there in a sparkling blue sea surrounded by friendly fins under the watchful eye of the lighthouse with a powdery tan beach in the background, but I know that Josh’s smile said everything I wish that I could. After a few more minutes I realized that I had to head back to the beach and let John have a spin. I might not have had the boats off the Jeep had they not been so excited about getting out on the water, and it just wasn’t fair to not let him play as well.
For the next half hour my new friends from New Zealand paddled around the Sea of Cortez with an entourage of dolphins and porpoises. It was stunning to watch from shore, and I’m sure that it was an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives. John later told me that he’d never seen a dolphin before, and that this was his 2nd time in a kayak. I hope he realizes that he’s a bit spoiled now.
I had my gear just about all loaded up when a brief conversation with one of the locals changed my plans yet again. The little Mexican offered up that the guys on the shrimp boat have a lot of fish and shrimp to sell cheap. When I asked what time they come into port he shook his head and said that they didn’t and pointed at the kayaks on my roof. It took me a few minutes to decide, but soon I was unloading a kayak and heading back out into the Sea of Cortez.
As I paddled up to the boat I didn’t know what to expect. My Spanish still pretty much sucks, but I did have a few cold beers strapped on deck to convey my good intentions. At first the men on board looked at me a bit suspiciously, or so it seemed. They had the hardened look of working watermen everywhere, and it can be a bit off-putting. As I closed in on the boat I asked if they had any shrimp and made a move to toss a cold beer up to the guy leaning over the side. He caught the beer, opened it, and asked if I could manage to climb aboard. I tied my kayak to a line they dropped, and used all of my limited climbing skills to scale the side of the trawler and haul myself up on deck with the rest of the cerveza. I was met with the curious eyes of 6 strong men who spoke a language different from my own and who called this particular boat home. I sincerely hoped that I had understood them correctly and that I was not acting like some sort of stupid gringo pirate.
The brief tension was one sided to say the least, and as soon as I passed out the remaining beers they pointed to a large basket full of shrimp and squid and encouraged me to dig in. I hadn’t counted on lunch out here, but I’ve spent enough time on shrimp boats to know that they are the best places in the world to eat shrimp. I tried to explain my trip in halting Spanish, and they told me that the captain was asleep and I’d have to wait for him to buy some shrimp. In the meantime it seemed that I was expected to eat and relax. I can do that.
Soon a panga from town pulled up along side and the captain emerged from his cabin. He looked at me curiously and then focused his attention on the small crew of the panga. After a brief conversation he gave some orders to his crew and soon they were hauling huge bags of fish out from the storage freezer below. As the crew worked the captain reached into a large sack of frozen shrimp and pulled a couple out. He looked at me and shrugged in a way that caused me to shrug back with a nod. Then he tossed me a frozen shrimp. I looked at it for a second and thanked him, trying not to look too confused. He took another and stuck it in his mouth like a lollypop. O.K. I guess I’m supposed to eat this frozen Mexican Shrimp. So I popped it in casually and tried to look as normal as I could on deck with a frozen shrimp hanging from my mouth as the captain stood next to me and watched his men work. At some point I asked the fisherman nearest me what type of fish were in the bags. He turned to me and in his best Jack Sparrow drawl spoke the only English word I’d heard on board; “Shaa-ark”. As if on cue a crew member below tossed up the tail fin of a Thresher Shark that had to be 7 feet long. The tail fin that is. I have no idea how big the shark was, but I’d imagine it was pretty damn big.
Once the panga was loaded up and headed to the fish market the captain turned his attention to me. It took us a couple of minutes to sort out our conversation, but soon I understood that I could get a couple of kilos of shrimp for a very reasonable price. However, the captain insisted that I join him for lunch and once again pointed to the basket of shrimp and squid. We sat and tried to converse for a while. He told a few dirty jokes that I hoped I wasn’t the butt of and I told the crew as much as I could about where I’d been and how I’d ended up on the deck of their trawler off the coast of San Fellipe. When it finally came down to business the captain handed me back my money and said “is for beer” “For me?” “No. For me… on boat.” I tried to give him back the cash. “No. is for beer.” and with that he pointed to my kayak and made a paddling motion with his hands. The Captain was sending me on a beer run.
As I paddled back to shore with a boat full of shrimp and fresh fish I couldn’t help but laugh. At the beach I hauled my take up the camp site and told Josh, John, and the rest of the assembled campers the story and headed off to the store. I returned to the trawler half an hour later with a case of cold beers and a small bottle of tequila. Back on deck we finished off the squid, the tequila, and a couple of beers before I bid my new friends a fond fairwell and headed back to Shore.
It had gotten late, and my plan to head South to Bahia Los Angeles was shot all to hell. Well, maybe I’d just go to Puertocitos and re-stage from there. Or I could always stay in San Fellipe. Back on the the beach Josh and John had a better plan. A friend of theirs had a beach house 40 km down the coast, and I could stay with them on the deck if I wanted. Perfect. Free and on the beach is always a good plan. By the time John got his chain issues all sorted it out, their neighbor Ken had convinced us to have a “fairwell margarita” with him in town. We obliged, naturally, and then were on our way to Tornsten and Tiki’s house. I know the spelling’s off, but you try to figure out how to spell Dutch names given to you by Kiwi friends.
Trying to follow these guys on their bikes reminded me of watching dogs chase bottle rockets. It was futile at best to try to keep up with them. As darkness fell it was all I could do to keep their taillights in sight and try to use them to judge when the next curve was coming up. I was breaking Baja rule numero uno, and I was doing it at speeds that I didn’t hit on the San Diego freeway. Speaking of bottle rockets, I did see a shooting star that looked like something we would have been stoked to shoot out of Bowdy’s yard on the 4th of July. Gotta love the desert at night.
At the beach house we cooked the shrimp on the fire, and Josh worked up some seafood chowder that had all 3 of us scraping our bowls. I broke out the growler of American Pale Ale that I’d been keeping from High Desert Brewing Co. and we had one hell of a night sitting on the deck and telling stories. As I retired to my tent and looked up at the stars I couldn’t help wondering how it was that things were working out so well. Better not to jinx it now. I’m just thankful that I am where I am and I hope that tomorrow will bring more of the same.
I had hoped to get through more of the trip tonight, but the boys here at the Villa Vitta are closing up shop, and I still have to find a way to get this up on-line. I will continue to write when I find another outlet and internet connection. In the mean time, thank you for reading along. Obviously I am enjoying myself, and I am happy to report that taking the time to convey all of this to you is making me think even more about each experience and each new friend I meet along the way. Thanks.
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