Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Swimming with Sea Lions and Other Fauna

via satellite

Yesterday we hiked up to the rim of our anchorage in Caleta Partida. We rode the dinghy to get to a trail in the cove next door to the south. The trail follows an arroyo that winds its way up nearly to the top of the ridge. The hiking was moderately difficult. The mosquitos were very difficult.

I thought I had the mosquito situation covered, but to our dismay, we discovered a the beginning of the hike that the insect repellent I normally keep in my daypack had fallen out in the boat. We decided to push on despite the numerous hungry bugs. For me, that means getting bit and dealing with itching bites for an hour afterwards. For Renee that means getting bit and itching welts for days. She sacrificed more for the sake of the mission.

We scrambled up the rocks and boulders of the arroyo, through patches of mesquite, sage, cacti and other desert vegetation, some of which was in bloom with various shades of red, orange and yellow flowers. The arroyo is in a canyon between two ridges and seemed to wind endlessly as we made our way uphill, gradually gaining altitude, but always being reminded that we weren't there yet by the steep walls on either side. We finally reached a point where it was possible to climb up the canyon wall to the rim. From the top of ridge we could look down on Intermezzo and the other boats lying in the blue and turquoise waters of the anchorage. A perfect spot for a picnic lunch. Except for the mosquitos. You would think there wouldn't be any, or at least fewer, at the top of a breezy ridge. Wrong. There were more. We gobbled down our sandwiches as we swatted continuously.

It was considerably quicker hiking down the wash than going up, partly due to gravity, but also due to a much better perspective for picking out one's route to clamber down boulders. The prospect of getting out of the afternoon heat and mosquitos and into the cool water at the end of the trail helped too. That water did feel awfully good when we got there.

We followed up our hike with snorkeling at a rock reef at the north entry point of the anchorage. It was a good spot, but I discovered that snorkeling in cool water after hiking all day in hot sun while being bled dry by insects results in me shivering and getting leg cramps. I am such a weakling, we had to cut the snorkeling part of our day short.

Back at the boat, after a restorative bottle of red wine and a nice dinner, I made sure to get the insect repellent back into my pack.

This morning we moved on from Caleta Partida. Our ultimate destination was Isla San Francisco, but first we had to swim with sea lions. At the north end of Isla Partida are two small islands called Los Isletos. There is a colony of sea lions there that are familiar with divers and snorkelers being in the water with them. We figured we could anchor the boat in a small cove near the Isletos and then ride the dinghy the mile or so out, grab one of the mooring balls put there by the national park.

We anchored Intermezzo in Ensenada de Embudo, a narrow cove just big enough for Intermezzo to anchor in with sufficient swinging room. We left Intermezzo to look after herself while we dinghied over to Los Isletos through bumpy seas and tied up to a mooring ball. We donned our snorkel gear and rolled off the boat into the water. I quickly realized that we had made a mistake, as there was a about a 2 knot current sweeping us out to sea. We swam hard back to the boat. Apparently I can swim steadily at about 2.2 knots but Renee can only make 2.05 knots. I got back to the dinghy with some effort, untied it, fired up the outboard and rescued her. Ladies, I'm the guy you want around when there's trouble.

We moved the dinghy to another mooring ball outside the main current stream and tried again, one-at-a-time this time so that Renee might have the opportunity to repay her outstanding lifelong debt and rescue me. The debt is still outstanding, as I did not need rescuing and made my way to the sea lions. It was amazing! There was a young adult and two pups swimming in the shallow, rocky water. The young adult would hide behind a large rock and dart out to "surprise" the pups when the swam by. One pup came up to me and nibbled playfully on my fins. They have somehow figured out that nibbling on fins doesn't hurt humans. Nonetheless, I kept my hands and fingers close to my body in case the pup hadn't been fully schooled yet. Renee had a similar experience when it was her turn, with the pups swimming under, over and all around her, also with the requisite fin nibbling. The only turnoff for me was that swimming in water shared by lots of big mammals lacking sanitary facilities and
next to rocky islands totally covered in guano is more accurately called "swimming in coliform bacteria" not swimming with sea lions. We tried not to swallow any of the water.

When we returned to E. de Embudo we took advantage of its small, very private beach to have a picnic lunch and for me to work on getting rid of my board shorts tan line. I was very cautious about how long I exposed the beluga whale-white parts of my body to the sun. Some progress was made, but I still have a ways to go.

The landscape-seascape here is amazing. Forgive me if I've drawn this comparison in a previous post, but imagine the Grand Canyon filled halfway up with beautiful blue water, with lots of narrow side canyons whose dry arroyos lead to sandy beaches with turquoise shallows. The water so clear that you can see the many fish that are everywhere. A plentiful, diverse mix of sea and land birds. And virtually no people, no rules, freedom to do what you want and get swept out to sea if you aren't paying attention.

We ended our day at Isla San Francisco, about 17 nm NNW from Los Isletos. There we checked the weather and were surprised to discover that hurricane Sandra had sprung up in the 36 hours since we last checked. It shouldn't be a problem for us, but reminder that we should be checking weather bulletins more frequently than that. We'll re-route a bit to make sure we're in a safe harbor if/when the storm passes by us.