Skabenga’d!

After losing our long awaited shot at a free ride across the Gulf of California, we decided to finally get out of La Paz and go for the ferry to Mazatlan. We were a bit bummed that the sailboat thing didn’t work out, but were ready to get on with life. However, about halfway to the ferry terminal we passed a dry dock shipyard and serendipitously saw the S/V Skabenga – a boat we had heard was looking for crew. The 44 foot catamaran was quite a sight raised up out of the water. The captain, Bruce Harbour invited us aboard to check out the boat, and let us know that he was heading to a place called Isla Isabella, and the mainland soon after and could take two of us, if we wanted. It was a tempting, yet conflicting offer, since our group was currently at four people. But the chance to sail across the sea on that boat was too good of an offer to pass up.

Skabenga waiting to get in the water!

That night we camped halfway between the ferry terminal and the shipyard where Skabenga was docked. After deep contemplation, we decided that fate must dictate our future. In an epic series of rock-paper-scissors tournaments to decide who would call and who would flip, we tossed an American quarter to see who would sail and who would ferry. Chris called tails as the coin flew through the smoke of the fire and landed decisively with George Washington looking up into the stars. Kanaan and Kaitlyn, Team Bausler, would be sailing to the mainland.

Cooking dinner, and deciding who will sail and who will ferry

The next day all four of us went back to the shipyard to tell Captain Bruce the news. Luckily, he and his first mate Mouse took pity on Chris and Max and said, “Sure, why not?!” Since it was such a short journey, squeezing two more on wouldn’t be that big of a deal! We were very relieved and excited to hear the good news. But they also delivered an additional piece of news. Due to the weather system rolling in over the weekend, we wouldn’t be leaving until next week. After a bit of debate and reassessment, we decided that it was worth the wait, since this boat seemed more dependable and they would be taking us further south than Mazatlan anyway. With a ride across secured for next Thursday, we took off for El Pescadero, 100 km south of La Paz.

Kaitlyn was feeling the need to justify her “bike trip” so her and Kanaan pedaled across the Baja peninsula while Chris and Max stashed their gear and hitchhiked. Team Bausler was stoked to get out of La Paz, although it wasn’t easy. The commute through the city was a bit intense but luckily they got taken in that night by a generous man named Fili, who was caretaking a deserted resort in the middle of the desert. After an early wakeup call the next day they made it to El Pescadero in good time to meet up with Chris, Max, and our Argentinean friends that we had split up with two weeks earlier.

Chris, Max, and half of the Argentineans went mountain biking with the owners of the house they had been staying in. They were stoked to get a bit more aggressive than our usual touring bikes allow, and luckily only managed to crash into cacti a few times. Meanwhile Kanaan and Kaitlyn hung out at the Baja Extreme Surf Camp, playing ping pong and tasting some smoked sierra fish that brought back memories of home brewed salmon. That night the Bauslers attended a unique multimedia event consisting of a slideshow of local surfing, fishing, and fiesta photos while the husband of the photographer tore up the air waves on his electric guitar. At the event, they met Brady, Troy, Dan and Ben, two pairs of brothers from Kansas who had rented a beautiful home next to the beach at El Cerritos, one of the best surf breaks in the area. Fellow adventurers themselves, they invited us to come stay at their place to enjoy the good life for a few days.

Hammock sunrise in Pescadero

Our time at El Cerritos was pretty ideal. Ten minute walks to the beach with borrowed surfboards gave us some awesome surf sessions in fun waves with very little crowds. When not surfing we visited the El Pescadero farmers market to get a good taste of localized living in Baja. We helped host a carefully planned and perfectly executed multicultural party at the house where half of the attendees were English speakers and the other half Espanol. Everyone spoke slowly and deliberately to ensure successful communication. We made a bonfire using “fire by friction” techniques, shared some delicious dishes, and got a tour of the constellations. The next morning we got a free yoga class from Dulce the movement specialist, waking our bodies up for a day of waves. On our last night at the house, Brady showed us a film that he actually helped create called Within Reach about a couple that toured the States on bicycles looking for sustainable communities (sound familiar?). It was great to reflect on and share our experiences with the Kansas crew in El Cerritos. Thanks for an incredible time dudes!

Gruesome Scorpion hiding under the tent!

After El Pescadero, Chris and Max bussed back to La Paz while Kanaan and Kaitlyn pushed for two days against a gnarly headwind (that one that we were trying to avoid in the sailboat). Other than the wind, the ride back was largely uneventful other than the giant scorpion that was crawling on the tent as it was getting packed up in the morning. Chris and Max prepared the boat and bikes for the journey and the Bauslers arrived at the shipyard just in time to celebrate Captain Bruce’s 48th birthday. After a raging party with a variety of travelers and ruffians, the next day was spent getting the boat in the water and making final preparations. Two weeks after arriving in La Paz, it was finally time to get off the Baja!

Kaitlyn and Mouse posing with the water-proofed bikes in the boat yard

With 10-20 knots of Northwesterly wind and 2-5 foot seas, the conditions were almost perfect for our first multi-night sailing trip. As the mountains of Baja got smaller and smaller, S/V Skabenga ripped past three or four different mono hulled sailboats going menos rapido in the same direction. We raised the spinnaker and dropped the fishing lines, searching for dinner and speed. Everyone took shifts at the helm, keeping an eye on the course at all times. It was quite a sight coming out of wheel watch on the first morning to see that we were completely surrounded by water, no land in sight. Of all of us, only the captain had ever seen that before.

Max watching the land dissapear

Those days crossing the gulf seemed so eventful, but other than the fish we caught there doesn’t seem to be much to write about. Between changing the sails and the skipjack, horse-eyed jack, and marlin bites, we all spent a lot of time playing card games, reading books, and watching the wind, waves, and clouds. As Isla Isabella came within sight, Chris pulled in a big old ~80 lbs. sailfish who welcomed us to the island.

Chris, Captain Bruce and the Sail Fish

Within minutes of dropping anchor, the beards were in the water. Surrounded by frigates and boobies overhead in the air, and perched on shore, the ecosystems below the surface were equally as lively. Visual memories from Blue Planet and Finding Nemo came to mind as we explored some of the best snorkeling zones we’d ever encountered. After a deluxe dinner of beer battered fish tacos we awoke the next morning fully inspired to find more fish. We followed Bruce around with flippers and paddle boards as he speared a couple of triggerfish for lunchtime ceviche and a horse-eyed jack for dinnertime steaks.

Paddling out to investigate the depths of the volcanic islands

After an epic snorkeling session listening to whale songs and diving into caves, we took Skadinghy to the Island to visit the birds. As a nationally protected heritage site free from invasive species, Isla Isabella is smothered with wildlife. Every tree has at least a few families nesting in it, but the minefield of nests cover the ground between the trees as well. Boobie and frigate eggs, hatchlings, juveniles, adults, and deceased elders lay, sat, squawked, and flew in all directions. In addition to the birds was a resident population of iguanas, lazing about in the afternoon sun. It was exciting to be surrounded by so much energetic life.

Blue Footed Commotion

Blue Footers

The Crew on Isla Isabela

That night we watched a lightning storm on the horizon from clear starry moon skies while playing pirates dice. Max came one game short of winning the required five for a pirates dice champions t-shirt. But after watching a humpback breach fest and catching a mahi mahi en route to the mainland, Bruce and Mouse gave us our official Skabenga crew uniforms.

Captain Bruce with an El Dorado (Mahi-Mahi)

Skabenga Crew

We were originally planning on sailing to Puerto Vallarta, but Bruce got word that his son would be meeting him in San Blas so our time to jump ship had come. After some great times aboard the Skabenga, it was hard to pry our butts off those cushy padded seats. As we shuttled our gear to the beach through the humid heat of the evening and got attacked by no-see-ems for the first time in six months, it was clear that we were definitely somewhere else. Time to see what tropical cycling through mainland Mexico is all about…

Welcome to the Mainland

 

Leaving the Peninsula

Aside

Leaving the Peninsula

Although nothing seems to be “regular” on the bike trip, the last few weeks have been especially irregular. Our last blog post was uploaded as we reached the Sea of Cortez in Santa Rosalia, only a few days before Christmas. Between then and now we have crisscrossed Baja, re-united and departed from many friends, and spent many days sitting in marinas trying to hitch a sailboat ride across to mainland Mexico.

From Santa Rosalia we continued to ride south, stopping in Mulege for two days over Christmas to help Chris recover from a stomach illness.  The group was now made up of the regular four (Max, Andrew, Kanaan and Chris), our good friend from home Mike, and our three new pedaling mates from Argentina.  After resting up, we pedaled on.  The 70 km stretch of road south of Mulege follows along the Bahia de Concepcion.  It is undoubtedly some of the most beautiful country we have seen on the trip.

Lunch break view of the bay.

We couldn’t help ourselves and ended up camping on a beach for two nights, swimming and snorkeling in the unbelievably warm water.  Lots of marine life made for great viewing and the need to be a little cautious. We quickly utilized the “sting-ray shuffle” after Kanaan and Chris both got harmlessly (but still painfully) stung.

Packing up the bike after two nights of greatness on our personal island/peninsula (depending on the tide).

At the beach we bid farewell to our Argentinean friends knowing that we would see them somewhere later down the road. Leaving the beach we had a spectacular ride to Loreto that cut in from the Sea of Cortez winding through some craggy mountains for the day.  The road then shot back out to the water and we entered Loreto. That night the local bomberos (fire fighters) gave us a place to sleep and a secure place for our bikes so we could explore the town.  We truly enjoyed hanging out and cooking in the fire hall, it was an excellent opportunity to work on our Spanish skills! The next day Chris got some surprise news that his girlfriend Elyse was heading to Cabo for New Years so he stuck out his thumb and headed south. (Some of you may have noticed and wondered why our position on our SPOT map did not move. Chris is the carrier of the SPOT and took it with him on his side trip and did not track our progress.)

Mike was leaving that evening at 11pm to return back to school, so Andrew, Kanaan, and Max hung around Loreto helping to make a travel box for his bike.  We met a couple from Hornby Island, B.C. who invited us in for hot showers. During the kayak portion of the trip we had paddled right next to their island!  We had a great evening recounting familiar places and talking about the road to come. Leaving their house we were hungry as usual and Mike took us out for tacos as his parting gift. The taco stand had a large lot behind it so not only did Mike provide us with dinner but he asked in his broken Spanish “Acampar aqui?” We had a place to camp for the night!

With Chris and Mike gone, we were down to only three people (Max, Andrew and Kanaan) – our smallest group in months. Thirty kilometers south of Loreto we took a left and arrived in Puerto Escondido, the best natural port on the Cortez side of the Baja.  We had got it in our heads that we would be able to find a sailboat ride from there to La Paz.  As we have since heard, Puerto Escondido is an excellent natural anchorage that had aspirations to be a destination port, but poor management lead it to become an eerie place with a lot of half installed infrastructure (including the grid of streetlight lined paved streets empty of houses) that sees little traffic.  In other words, not an ideal place to become crew on a sailing boat.

Sunsets not too bad in Puerto Escondido.

Although we had no luck catching a ride, we spent the next two days resting off the bicycles and having our first interactions with the cruising community. We also had time to explore a stunning boulder-filled canyon that was on the opposite side of the road of the port.

Scrambling up the canyon we found some awesome boulders and trees to climb, stoked to use some different muscles.

Our second day in Puerto Escondido was New Years Eve.  The festivities were a little unusual for us; first off, instead of shivering as we walked around downtown Juneau we closed out the year with a dusk snorkel session. And second, although we attended two separate parties with some of the local cruisers and second-homers, we still managed to be in our sleeping bags before midnight.

On the first day of 2013 we pedaled out of Puerto Escondido and up the largest hill in a longtime. It was good to be moving again and it was a fun ride up the hill. That night we camped by a residual pool in a dry riverbed and it felt like we were back in the swing of the bike trip.

Looking back down the 20 km long climb.

We rode the next few days and eventually ended up in La Paz – the most populous city since entering Mexico. Using Couchsurfers.com we were hosted by Carlos a most gracious La Pazan. The first night he took us for a cultural experience – going to the movies in Mexico. The whole experience of going to the movies was quite a trip.  Three tall, long-bearded, long-haired, white guys were led through the food court by our Mexican hosts.  Everybody eating stopped talking and stared at us as we walked by.  We saw “Un Buen Adventura”, to us the title seemed a little off seeing how the movie was “The Life of Pi”.   The film was in English with Spanish subtitles, so it was easy to follow along.  It was fun to see a movie on the big screen for the first time in a many months.  Thanks to Carlos and family for putting up with us and all of our gear!

The next week or two could be summed up as the week of “marina waiting”. A major part of the trip for us is trying new things and having completely new experiences, this includes varying our method of travel. None of us have previous sailing experience, but we all decided that we would prefer to sail to the mainland rather than ride the ferry.

Every morning we headed down to the marina for “the Net” at 8am – the daily VHF broadcast of what is happening around the marinas. Quickly, the Alaskan bearded cyclists became memorable as we chatted with the many boaters, picking up lots of information and getting a good network of contacts. At this time Andrew had left us and ferried across to the mainland to meet up with his parents in Puerto Vallarta, Chris rejoined us, and Kanaan’s sister Kaitlyn flew down from Juneau to join the adventure for a few weeks.  La Paz has many large marinas and although we were past the peak crossing time we found there still to be many boats headed to the mainland. However four people and four bikes don’t pack to easily on a boat, so it was going to take the right boat or boats to get us across. Thankfully we found that combination with Stella Blue, Banjo Jane, and Aztec – three boats that were traveling together to Mazatlan.  We stocked the boats with provisions, and were set to leave in the morning.  The following day, we received news that the weather had shifted and there would not be another window to sail for another week.  Disheartened, we pedaled towards the ferry terminal.

On the way out of town we ran into the Taggarts, a family from Juneau that has been sailing the Pacific for the past two years with their young son Glen.