Everything Here Will Kill You

Hello, readers! We’re still in the Sea of Cortez, sometimes hunkered down against weather, sometimes snorkeling in clear waters, sometimes hiking through rough and tumble arroyos and scrambling over rocks. What we aren’t doing lately is updating our position page. It’s not that we are going dark on you, at least not by choice. It’s that our illustrious Iridium Go, the unit we pondered over for months before making a decision, the unit that has given us updated weather while at sea, has allowed us to post to Facebook while off grid, that dependable unit, has gone bad on us. One day it worked fine and I posted an update to Facebook. The next day it began an ‘Initializing’ loop and refused to connect to the satellites. The magnitude of our irritation cannot be overstated here.

Cordón Cactus

This is a significant piece of communications equipment for us and while we should be grateful this didn’t happen in the middle of the fricking Pacific Ocean, its steadying presence keeping families apprised of our position, the ability to send them emails, and the ability of family to contact us if necessary is sorely missed. There is no cellular service in the Sea of Cortez unless you are close to a population center. The population centers are few and far between. If there is anything we have learned in our travels here so far, it’s that most people who live in this region live a very remote life. Back home you have to travel pretty far to be ‘remote’. Here, it’s a matter of a day of sailboat traveling. It’s easy to minimize this fact when you are looking at a map, or when you are talking to people who come here on their boats but hang out, really, at the population centers like La Paz or Mazatlan.

We’ve been making way toward Loreto, where we know we can get cellular service, so we can work with customer service on this Iridium Go! issue. Meanwhile, since we have no way except VHF radio to contact the outside world, we’ve been grateful to notice other boats here and there and to stay in VHF contact with some of them. At least we know that in an emergency, we could get help if necessary. This is not an unimportant point since everything in this environment is made to kill or maim, if not through active aggression, then through passive resistance to being touched or encountered. You have to be careful out here. All the time and energy spent stocking our medical cabinet was well spent.
We like to hike the arroyos, scrambling over rocks, doing small amounts of chimney climbing, giving our old bodies more of a workout than they are accustomed to.

Mike views the cactus with the awe it deserves. And keeps his distance.

During one of these forays into the hot desert Mike found an interesting spider web, a dessicated lizard caught in its sticky web. He began poking the web with a stick, hoping the spider would come out. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Oh great, this is a spider that is big enough to eat a lizard, we’re out here completely alone and my husband is poking the thing with a stick to make it come out and defend its territory.’. I compelled him to stop. I’ve seen the Harry Potter movies. I know how big spiders can get. We moved on.

The rocks here are magnificent. I love them almost as much as I do the ones in our Four Corners area of the desert southwest of the United States. But they will maim you and if you are not careful worse things could happen. Actually, even when you are careful things happen. That’s why they call them ‘accidents’. On another one of our scrambles up an arroyo my knee punished me severely for pushing off a rock to reach another rock. It wasn’t that I was doing anything wrong. I had apparently just done too much of a good thing and it decided enough was enough.

One mile up the canyon, I felt a disconcerting pulling sensation which immediately, in my brain, translated to, “Shit! This is going to hurt later.”. The word ‘later’ here means in about 60 seconds, when it truly registered that I had hurt myself in the middle of a hot pile of rocks. Make that ‘in the middle of nowhere’. Calling for help would not have been an option. Why? Because the damned Iridium Go! was useless, bringing home to me just how vulnerable we were out there in the desert. The mind began to wander towards Mike having to leave me there and go get help, helicopters having to land in the Outback to transport me to the nearest medical facility, tears running down my leathered cheeks. Thank goodness we bought that DAN Diver’s Network emergency evacuation service. I told my mind to shut the hell up and,  blessedly fortunate that I could technically still walk, ‘spider monkeyed’ down that arroyo on all fours mostly and back to the boat. I’ve given birth to a 10 pound baby. This was nothing to me.

For the record, this right knee has been hurt many times. By the time you are our age, you’ve collected a number of injuries over the years and some of them create weakness in a body part. This right knee has to be babied a bit and I forget that in the joy of rock scrambling, which makes me feel really alive. So it’s very unlikely I’m going to give that up completely. It’s no good telling me to be careful. Just ask my mother.

Can you blame us for wanting this view?

This is such a hostile environment. You know, we’re from the Pacific Northwest. Barring an encounter with a disgruntled bear or cougar (rare as rare) nothing there is going to hurt you much. You can climb up rocks and scurry down paths without being cautious about where you put your feet, your hands, etc. Fortunately, my parents are both from Texas and growing up they instilled in us that you don’t put hands anywhere in the wilderness before checking first. In this desert, this is very good advice. Due to their excellent tutelage, and the solid memory of my mother grabbing my sister’s hand and running screaming down the hill away from a rattlesnake sunning on a stump, I am constantly on the lookout for snakes, but I’ve never so much as heard one here. Yet. I carry my snakebite kit. Perhaps they know this and move on. Their venom would find no purchase in us. I’ve seen the original  ” True Grit”, starring John Wayne. I know what to do. A whole generation of movie goers knows what to do.

Snakes are one thing, but even things that are not poisonous are sharp and pokey. From the tiniest little grass-like plant to the scrubby shrubs, everything is protecting itself from something else. Hiking up a hill, it’s sometimes necessary to use a small shrub or tree to stabilize yourself. Look first, touch second here. Otherwise, you are likely to get a nasty surprise.

Beautiful flower. Don’t touch.

Even the fish have spines and stingers. Shuffling my feet through the shallows, I’m grateful for my time as a child at the beach at the Gulf of Mexico where I learned about stingrays. We don’t have those in the Salish Sea. You can walk a mudflat without worrying about anything worse than hypothermia.

Here we’ve seen all kinds of rays, all of them with stingers we never want to encounter. (I understand my snakebite kit is useful for stingray stings as well, but I don’t want to test that.) We shuffle through the sea with abandon. The sea here is glorious, full of life and with water warm enough that you can encounter creatures previously enjoyed only through the efforts of Jacques Cousteau. Just don’t touch anything if you don’t know what it is. Snorkeling on Isla Espiritu Santo we saw 5 Moray Eels in one day. The next day it was two octopi, plus eels. It was the best snorkeling ever. Mike got ink-squirted by an octopus. He’s the ‘chosen one’.

Thanks to Curt Brownlow on S/V Slow Motion for taking this photo of us in the blistering sun. Why yes, I actually do carry this parasol with me on hikes. The sun will kill you, too.

Anyhoo, as I write this up we’re sitting pretty in Puerto Escondido with the gang all here. Kevin Baerg on S/V Blue, whom we haven’t seen since Thanksgiving back in San Diego, is here. Hurrah! His mate Cressie will be back on Monday and we can’t wait to see her. Curt and Lynn Brownlow on S/V Slow Motion are here. They tried to escape us but we keep finding them. The folks on S/V Passport and S/V Grey Goose are both here. Nice to see them, too. Just when I think I can’t go another day without being in touch with something or somebody familiar, we enter a port and find a ready group of good friends. What a blessing that is. I say to Mike it’s like being in college without the threat of school failure if you don’t spend more time studying. We’re so glad to be here.

Puerto Escondido will be seeing a lot of Galapagos. We love it here. There is just enough ‘civilization’ here with the nice little tienda selling gringo stuff from Costco, plus some fresh fruits and vegetables; the wonderful pizza restaurant up top, the helpful staff at the marina, where you can rent a car for 40$ a day all included (except gas). Loreto is just 14 miles down the road. The islands are close enough to touch. The water at the dock is potable and the pumpouts are free. It’s like living in a medieval fortress with the one narrow entry, surrounded by tall mountains and the sea. It’s absolutely the best place we’ve been so far. I think we’ll stay awhile.

Mike considers: Will this sea cave eat us up? Or will it play nice? It was a nice cave, but we didn’t tempt fate.


11 thoughts on “Everything Here Will Kill You

  1. I can attest to your skills with your parasol! Scrambling behind you I was impressed with your ability to climb over bolders, hold your parasol, stay balanced and carry your camera without falling! You’re my inspiration! Glad you’re here with us!

    • Aww, thanks, Lynn! People smile at the parasol sometimes, but I don’t get sunburned with it. We’re glad to have followed you guys into Puerto Escondido! How about some snorkeling today?

  2. SSB/HAM radio… 😉

    Are you SURE you can depend on DAN? We had it, but dropped membership after DAN president published letter/memo that essentially ruled out support of sailors who live on their boat (as opposed to taking a trip). Best to double check.

    Can’t you get cell in Puerto Escondido? We managed it (a cell amplifier would have definitely done the trick). We also had cell coverage in Bahia Candeleros (south of PE), and in Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen (directly across from Loreto).

    Loreto, a good place to see problem with Navionics (vs CMAP, SEMAR, etc)


    • Yes, we have a service through Dan that works for us. We technically, as an aside, are ‘on a trip’ as we still own a home in Washington state. We are in Puerto Escondido and yes, we now have cell service. Candeleros has excellent coverage. We have a cell booster and that does help in the mooring field here. But it’s lovely to just go sit up by the Market and work.

      • Oh, and about that SSB/HAM. Yes. We may be buying one when we go home this summer. Wish we could have afforded that before we left. We do have handheld VHF radios and are now carrying those with us on hikes.

  3. Desert living and exploration isn’t for everyone, but I believe it’s less dangerous than your post conveys. It sounds like you and Mike are having a glorious time hiking and exploring. While almost every desert plant has a sharp spine, the ones to avoid are the chollas (affectionately known as ‘jumping’ cholla by desert hikers), which you won’t encounter in great numbers along the shore of the Sea of Cortez. There are only two species of snakes to avoid surprising: the ubiquitous rattlesnake, which you are familiar with and the yellow bellied sea snakes (Pelamis platurus) in the lower Sea of Cortez. While far more poisonous than rattlesnakes, yellow bellied sea snakes are not as common and have relatively small mouths with the rear teeth responsible for envenomation. Down in the lower Sea of Cortez, you’re familiar with Isla Santa Catalina. While not known for a plethora of suitable anchorages, it can be visited. It is the home of a distinct species of rattlesnake; one without a rattle (Crotalus catalinensis). If you anchor at the north end Puerto Escondido, near the ‘window’, you may get cell reception there. Good luck with your Iridium Go! and stay safe. You aren’t likely to find helicopter extraction in Baja California Sur. There’s good canyon hiking west of Tripui and the highway. It’s a great hike that requires some wadding and an opportunity for swimming.

    • I hope my light-hearted and tongue in cheek tone came through in the post. I love desert hiking and have made many trips to the desert southwest of the US just to hike and explore that desert over the years. It’s one of the things we were looking forward to here. We fill for sure be visiting Catalina and I am hopeful we will see one of the rattle-less rattlesnakes there! Thanks for that information. We are currently in the mooring field at Puerto Escondido and we are loving it here, including the cell coverage and wifi. Oh, and thanks for the warning about the ‘jumping chollas’ . 🙂 I just don’t touch anything without looking first. A good, solid safety rule almost anywhere. Except the Pacific Northwest, where things are too lazy to cause much harm. Thanks for always leaving such good comments. I really appreciate it.

    • I credit my parasol with Mike always being able to find me when I’m lost. Spiders are nice when you leave them alone in their homes to do their spidery things. I don’t mind them.

  4. I absolutely love your writing and have been reading it out loud to Hewlett with lots of flourish. Riveting, funny, great description and I’m able to be there. Which is so great because I’ll never do it in real life. I’m glad you are and I can pretend I’m there. That’s good stuff. More please!

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