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Adventures on the Left Coast - Baja and Santa Cruz Island, CA, April 8-18, 2016


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Adventures on the Left Coast

San Diego and Baja, Mexico

April 8-18, 2016


This trip report is dedicated to John Carmody, for reasons other than what you might assume.  Stay tuned…


(Actually, there are all kinds of reasons to dedicate this to John.  From introducing me to Jane Hardy and Donna Sylvester, two intrepid west coast paddlers – with whom we formed Bitches at the Bitches - in Wales last September…to being such a great coach over the years, including down Baja way…to encouraging me to go to the Baja Kayak Fest this year… But none of that is what I’m talkin’ about…)

This trip report almost began as follows:  “Somewhere in a landfill between Ensenada and La Bufadora, Baja, Mexico, is buried a plastic baggie.  Wrapped in that baggie is…”

But instead it begins as it does now:  Jane and Donna implanted the Baja Bug this past November, when at the last minute (a few weeks before their planned trip), they invited me to join them in a week-long camping trip on a calm bay by the Sea of Cortez on the east side of Baja.  Life interfered at that time, but there was plenty of time to plan for Jen Kleck’s Baja Kayak Fest in April. A trip for the three-day symposium expanded into an invitation for a two week stay, which would start with kayaking and camping on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the islands in Channel Island National Park, and end with Baja.  How could I turn down that opportunity?  I couldn’t…

This winter was an easy one, particularly after last year’s stormy disaster, but east is east and winter is winter.  This reality was enforced by our having two snow events (I hesitate to say storms) in the days before I was to leave.


I mean, really, April??

And then again the next day??


So San Diego seemed like a promise:  it never rains in Southern California, particularly since the area has been in the midst of a prolonged drought – right?  On the evening I arrived, it was warm and green and lush.  Note to self:  move immediately to San Diego.  The next morning Jane and I were to make the purported three hour drive north past Los Angeles to Ventura - in convoy with a San Diego friend, Barry (a transplanted Brit…I met several on the trip) - where we would meet up with the rest of our camping cohort and take the ferry out to the Channel Islands.  It rained most of the day.

Three hours became six…in the rain…in bumper to bumper traffic.  Note to self:  never move to Southern California!  This shows a brief letup in the rain at a spot where the bumpers were farther apart than they were for most of the trip.


After meeting up with the final two who would comprise the group – Donna and her friend Mark, who had made the long drive from the wilds of far northern California – we found a place for a fish taco dinner, spent the night in a motel, and arose the next morning to drive to the ferry that would take us out to the islands.  Of course it was raining…


But we were undaunted by rain, ready to camp and paddle!


The ride over was enlivened by the sighting of one whale, and a pod of dolphins; here's one of them:


And then, emerging from the fog and rain, was Santa Cruz Island.  What is this, Maine?  For this I fly 3000 miles?!?


But as we got closer, I could see that the island was huge, with high cliffs with many water-level caves.  The ferry dock had been damaged in a storm this winter, and we all – including the boats – were transported to shore by zodiacs.  (About kayak transport on the ferry:  you may have noted that all our boats were plastic; the ferry will not transport composite boats, and frankly, as I was to soon find out, you want a plastic boat in this environment!)


Our campsite was almost a mile walk from the landing beach – a long way carrying all of our gear…  But now that we were on this unique island, I could see that there was magic here…


A brief word about Santa Cruz Island, one of a group of islands about 25 miles off the California coastline that comprise the Channel Islands National Park.  Because of its relative isolation, there are aspects of it that are Galapagos-esque.  There are animals, birds and plants that exist nowhere else in the world but here.  More on one of its most famous inhabitants presently…

And so after setting up camp, we got into drysuits to make the mile walk back to the water for our first paddle. 


We launched and headed left (west) It was midafternoon now, overcast but not raining, water very calm, and we decided to just go for a time before turning around and heading back.


A circumnavigation of the 20+ mile long island was certainly not in the cards!  But it was almost immediately clear that this was a place to linger and play in, to savor…  Multiple caves carved into the huge rock faces.  This one made me think of elephants…


We went into and looked out of the cave.


We soon came to play spot – a slot through a rock about fifteen feet from the cliff.  Donna and Barry made it look easy.


Jane started through, a nice calm ride…right?


Oh but the sea had other ideas…  And, oops, hang on there, Jane!


On second thought, GET AWAY FROM THE BOAT, as Donna shouted…


A rescue ensued, and no humans or boats were damaged in the making of this photo sequence, and Jane – proud of her part in the naming of this rock (Jane’s Rock), cheerfully paddled on.

Another cave in a turquoise blue sea to calm everyone's nerves...


We paddled on, dwarfed by the cliffs covered with flowers and greenery.


Craggy rocks sticking out of the water spoke to the island’s volcanic origin.


We turned into a rocky area, the sky above falling on our heads.

P1020211.JPGWe turned into a rocky area, the

Donna, who never met a slot she didn’t like, stopped to survey this one before heading through.




We entered another cave…


As we continued along the coast, on waters that were mostly flat calm, I was struck that this “Pacific” Ocean – even in a channel between mainland and this island chain – throws curves that we do not often sea in the Northeast.  A few seconds before I took this picture, this area was essentially calm with placid swells!


Fortunately, we had been far enough out to observe this safely - and not get hammered!  We continued on, dive-bombing pelicans our not infrequent companions.


Not only did we pass and sometimes enter large caves, we also found and passed through tunnels in the rock.  This area was gnarlier than it appears, with swell pouring in through an opening perpendicular to the direction of the tunnel.


The view from inside.


And soon we came to the first of many blowholes I would see on this trip.


 It was quite amusing to get an ocean shower down one’s neck!


Feature after feature presented themselves to us.  Another passage.


And high above us, carved into the rock face, what looked to me like the head of skeleton with a cleft palate…


Below the cliff, Donna and Barry landed on a steep cobble beach just so that they could seal launch off of it.


But it was time to turn around and retrace our passage, and so we did, the sun trying to break through the overcast behind us.


And soon we were back at Jane’s Rock, Donna ready for another go at it, undaunted by Jane's experience...


Donna waited and observed


and waited and observed…

and waited and observed until I got tired of holding my camera.

Too bad, because moments later, Donna went for it and immediately she and her boat were completely vertical in the slot and I never got the shot!  Oh, right, we’re supposed to be thinking about rescues, not photography, here…

But here’s the swim and self-rescue that that followed…


Once again, no humans or boats were injured in the passage.  But now the rock had a new name:  Jane and Donna’s Rock.

And so our maiden voyage ended without further mishaps.  We landed, stashed our kayaking gear in our boats, and made the mile trek back to camp.  But the walk was worth it this time.  Our first view of the Santa Cruz Island fox, one of the creatures that exist nowhere else in the world.  About the size of a big house cat, we later found that they were everywhere, particularly at meal-time.  (Each campsite has a “Fox Box” for secure storage of food.)


They were very cute…in the daytime.

But after the sun set


and darkness had fallen,


it was creepy to see multiple sets of glowing eyes caught in the light of a headlamp, walking all around our camp…


Saturday, April 9

When I woke the next morning, prepared to get out of my tent and start the day, it started pouring (remember:  it never rains in Southern California…).


An hour later, it let up, and we all got up to plan the day.

Everyone was altogether too cheerful given the crappy weather


so we did a quick attitude adjustment that was more in keeping with the conditions…


A quick listen to our marine radio forecast wind, rain and possible thunderstorms with hail.  Hmmm.  A good day to explore the island on foot – although being caught in a thunderstorm on its exposed expanses was not an appealing thought.

As it turned out, the entire day was delightful for hiking.  Overcast with some breaks of sun, refreshingly windy, and no rain, thunder, lightning or hail.  We set out directly from our campsite, eschewing for now this inviting path of flowers leading up into the heart of the island


for a trail that would take us up along the cliffs under which we’d paddled the day before.  We passed weird sculptures of tan clay.


When we reached the top, we had a vista out to the ocean across hills of green grass dotted with wild mustard.


And then we were at the edge of the island, looking down and down at our first view of where we’d paddled the day before.


It was windy up there.


But not so we feared we’d be blown out to sea, and we were enticed by the beauty of the rocky coast and the sea below, a long way down!


But, hey, rules are for suckers, right?  When you want a better view, you just get closer to it.


We continued along the cliff-side path, ending finally where we had turned around yesterday.  Kayaks and a sailboat in the cove now.


We stopped for lunch, the sun beginning to come out.  The morning’s overcast and fog giving way to towering clouds.


Jane in a contemplative mood…


After lunch, we continued on to find a cliff-side tree with flowers in her hair.  Very California, don’t you think?


At some point, a lively discussion ensued on which way, exactly was north…  Maps, cellphones and watches yielded the answer.


The wind continued to blow, birds dove from the cliffs, and Donna wanted to take off, too.


And then we were heading back down toward the beach


through a stand of evergreens of some sort,


where I observed saw that even termites (termites, right?) on this island are artists…


On our way back to camp, more foxes…




Some of us retreated into our tents for a nap before we would set out for our second hike of the day.  The evening walk, sportier than the earlier one, followed that inviting inland path at the back of the camp area.


Then went up and up while the fog came in.


Only Jane and Mark made it to the top, the rest of us walking slowly uphill through the fog


before we all headed back down.


…To find that the camp area was now filled to the gills with large noisy groups of people.  A hiking Meetup group was feet away from us, obviously prepared for large, elaborate – did I say noisy? – group meals…  (And next-door snoring, I predicted.)  We had our supper and were sitting quietly talking by our picnic table when one of the Meetuppers came strolling through our area, shortcutting to the outhouse.  My response – made spontaneously – was to throw out of arms and shrug my shoulders in a “what the f….” gesture.  I mean, really, you just tromp through the middle of someone else’s campsite without so much as a howdy-do or excuse me or may I?  But I immediately worried that my response was a function of my mean, uptight east coast attitude.  However, I was completely gratified to see that all of my California companions reacted exactly the same way.  Indeed, Jane even got into a staredown with the interloper when she made her way back, skirting slightly around us this time.  I mean, really, where’s the etiquette here?  So filled with annoyance at our Meetup neighbors, we went to bed when it got dark.  I lay in my tent, listening to chatter all around, and thought darkly, “This is the noisiest place I’ve ever camped!”  The only good news was that like a light switch turning off, all talk ended at 9:30.  At which time the bad news returned in the form of loud Meetup snoring very near to my tent.  I finally fell asleep.  To be awoken at 11:30 pm by two men having a loud conversation nearby.  At wit’s end, I just shouted out, “STOP TALKING!”…and they did.

The next morning I found out that my admonition had actually woken two of my companions.  Oops!


Sunday, April 10

We were finally greeted by sun on this beautiful morning.


This was to be our getaway day with a 4 pm ferry booking, so our plan was to pack up quickly and stash our gear under a rock-secured tarp (“fox box!”) on the beach before paddling most of the day.  We had heard tales from the ranger not only of foxes raiding gear for food, but of intelligent ravens unzipping backpacks looking for food, and on failing to find it, removing bright shiny objects – keys, phones etc, flying out over the water, and unceremoniously dumping the objects.  (Note to self:  next time, bring an unwanted daypack filled with old keys, never worn costume jewelry etc and leave out for the ravens and see what happens.  Be sure to take pictures!  How cool would that be?)

Donna prepared to make the mile trek to the beach.


As did Jane..



The morning light and shadows on the hills were a welcome change from the day before.


The beach was empty.


With all gear secured (we hoped!), we set out, heading right (east!) this time, hoping to make it to the end of the island before turning around.  More caves to explore, this one beautiful and calm on this sunny morning.


Another beckoning opening...


 Looking up, holes and flowers in the rock face.


Jane found a slot too skinny to go into.


Donna investigated a slot between rocks that she chose not to try to get through.


Mark, who had eschewed caves and pour-overs, spent his time paddling as close to the cliffs as he could (despite a warning by the ranger about falling rocks – including a gruesome tale of a sit-on-top paddler having a leg severed by a rock just the week before – apocryphal tale perhaps?).


But why wouldn't one want to just look at the beautiful rocks?


And, oh, there were spots that the water itself was entirely enticing…


But Jane


and Donna


were drawn like moths to flame to the pour-overs, large and small.  This was a little one.  Maybe even I went over it!

As we continued on to island’s end, there were passages that we couldn’t get through.



And pelicans in formation flew overhead as the water got bumpier as we reached the turn.


We had hoped for a beach around the corner, but there weren't any,  and so we turned back to stop at a spot we’d passed before.


Anxious parents watched to make sure we didn’t get near a baby far down at the other end of the rocky beach.


Then there was a big pour-over, that no one tried; not even Donna wanted to!


But this one was perfect, and Jane showed impeccable form going over.


On the way back, a gull allowed me to come right up next to him before preparing to fly off.



And then we were almost back at the launch, our trip over


but for the ferry ride back...

Goodbye Santa Cruz Island! 


Except for the large and noisy groups of campers, this really was a magical place.  I repeatedly had to remind myself on the island that we were still in the United States.  It felt so far away, so unusual with its cliffs and caves and unique species, it was to my thinking, a completely different place altogether.

As we headed back to Ventura, pods of hundreds and hundreds of dolphins came racing toward the fast moving ferry, surfing the bow and stern waves and arcing gracefully out of the water.  What a spectacle, and what a way to finish the day.

And, after another fish taco dinner, it took only three hours to get back to San Diego.  Hallelujah for small miracles.


                                                                                             Tuesday-Thursday, April 12-14  Back in San Diego...

Donna, Jane and I went for three camera-free paddles on our return:  one a skills session out of San Diego on a very bumpy day; the second an early morning paddle with Jane’s regular crew on a warm morning that featured gratifyingly large and gentle swells; and the third a “surf session” – in which I sat outside the break and watched Donna and John Carmody doing their thing in three to four foot waves.

And hey, because it was San Diego, you had to go to the zoo, right?!

There I was, in the hundredth anniversary year of the zoo’s founding – with my camera of course...


Lots of animals and birds and etc, but I particularly liked the pink flamingos,


and the tiger,


and the grouchy panda (so described by the grouchy woman with a microphone who kept the line of us panda viewers moving…),


and this guy, whose expression was either imperious or just plain goofy…couldn’t figure out which...but I rather think the latter,


and finally the giant California condor, in the process of being saved from extinction by efforts of zoo staffers and others.


Donna was completely taken by the condors, and was pleased to pose with one of the splendid bird’s feathers, lent her by a volunteer with whom we talked about them.



BAJA KAYK FEST!  Friday-Monday, April 15-18

So at last we arrived at the piece de resistance of the Left Coast Adventure:  Jen Kleck’s most excellent Baja Kayak Fest, based at Victor Leon’s family property at La Bufadora, a bit south of Ensenada, Mexico, and a three hour drive (less border-crossing x-ray process!) from Jen’s shop in San Diego – where we all gathered to load up for convoy south.  Again, note the plastic boats; the rocks we'd be interacting with in Mexico would not be forgiving!



So in no time we were at the border.  I never thought getting into Mexico would be an issue.  What on earth would we be smuggling from the US?  We never got an answer to that question, but the van and trucks, loaded up with boats and suitcases and duffle bags and all manner of kayak gear, were sent into a special lane where the whole kit and caboodle was x-rayed by a giant machine that passed over the stationary vehicles.  All the passengers were herded over to a waiting area while this process took place. 


John waiting while a soldier lurks…


And nothing having been found in the convoy that should not be going to Mexico, we were on our merry way, at times overlooking the border wall that Donald Trump promises to make so much better – a GREAT wall, a FANTASTIC wall, that MEXICO WILL PAY FOR!  Right here!


After an hour, we made our first stop – a bathroom break.  Clearly everyone was pretty cheerful by now - even though not one margarita had yet been consumed...


And after the beautiful drive down the coastal highway, itself besmirched only by forlorn skeletons of never-completed high-rise apartment towers, we stopped in Ensenada for lunch.  More fish tacos!


And then it was midafternoon, and we were at our destination.  Victor’s house, in which most of us stayed, and next to which the others camped:


Jane, who was to assess (and not to give anything way, did pass!) for her Paddlesports NA Four star award after the Fest was over, had been tasked with getting everyone who wanted to paddle onto the water while Jen and John went food shopping in preparation for feeding the symposium attendees.  The first view of the launch, directly below where we were staying, was not promising.  Waves reared up between rocks not far offshore and rolled on into the little bay, crashing on the launch ramp.


Those who had been there before (everyone but me and a few others) said they’d never seen it that rough.  What followed was an hour of consultation centering on the question, can we really launch here?


All I can say is thank heavens we weren’t contemplating a launch from area just below and to our left rather than right!


Donna surveyed the scene (wearing her cool new $10 t-shirt purchased outside the entrance to the SD Zoo...).


Because I am not now and never will be an adrenaline junkie, I was apprehensive about going out into the conditions.  However, Jen had wise words when I spoke with her.  She said that an argument can be made for starting small and building up; on the other hand, there’s nothing like going out in something big and surviving it – giving all kinds of confidence for what lies ahead.  OK, good thought.  I then sought out, John.  Of fewer words, he just said, “Put on your drysuit.”  Yes, boss.

And so, cameraless (foolish!), I joined the group that elected to paddle that first day.  We would be under the excellent guidance of Bill Vonnegut, the founder of Neptune’s Rangers (a paddling group born of a Tsunami Ranger challenge), and rock gardener par excellence.


Our plan was to paddle only to La Bufadora, a giant blowhole/marine geyser, a short distance away.

You will have to take my word for the fact that everyone successfully launched and enjoyed a very sporty ride through raucous seas over to the blowhole.  It was pretty wild in the blowhole’s large entrance slot, and only Bill ventured in.  We would all have a chance to get up close and personal with it in the coming days…

So we all made it that first day.  And Jen was right:  I was glad to have done it and felt comfortable.  It would make for a good night’s sleep and calm approach to the day tomorrow. I wandered around a bit after we returned and took a few pictures.

Boats and boats…


The house.


Meanwhile, back inside Jen was cookin’,


John was sous-chefin’,


and a second John (Quiet John) was everyone’s bartender.  Killer margaritas…


Apps and sides…


And after an excellent supper of fresh shrimp and pork with mole sauce (and something vegetarian for John…) we settled in for some entertainment.  Steve is an excellent guitarist and singer, who possesses the wonderful ability to change the words of songs you know into songs about kayaking that you’ve never heard before…



Saturday, April 16

OK, since this is my report, obviously what you will be reading about is my experience.  I joined a group of paddlers aiming for three and four star assessments, so it was to be a weekend of leadership and skills training, as well as just plain fun in this unique environment.  There was another group – many of them already four stars and some five star aspirants – of Big Dogs, and they went off looking for and finding trouble in what looked and sounded like crazy fun – and challenging! - areas.  Bill Vonnegut, not only an excellent rock gardener and coach, but also a first rate photographer, was with them for two of the three days.  He took a lot of pictures (of them and my group as well) that can be found on his Facebook page.  For my group, there were challenges aplenty.  Some met all challenges, some didn’t, but all of us pushed our limits, learned a lot, and had a rollicking good time – interspersed with moments of panic – throughout.

So our group piled into two kayak-laden vehicles and set out for a boat launch that required a slow drive up a narrow, bumpy dirt road which headed up one side of a small mountain and down the other side, with a precipitous drop to one side, until we came to beautiful pristine cove, where we would put in.


Our group was to be led this day by John and Jen.  We had a beach briefing,


while we watched some scuba divers – alive and playing dead – work on their own skills.



Just off the beach was a slot, at the end of it was a pour-over.  Most of us went through, some more times than others, most stayed upright, some didn’t.  As was the case at Santa Cruz, periodic big swells or sets, seemingly coming out of nowhere, turned a doable runP1020548.JPG


into one that wasn't!


After a while, we left the slot and headed farther from shore, into the interesting water.  Jen wore a water blanket…


It was sporty and beautiful.


We investigated a passage through a rock for some time – after hearing from Jen about those who had come to grief inside it, even though it looked on this day to be eminently doable.  We all made it through without difficulties.


And the water got sportier.


Here is Gennifer in the foam…


We gathered up in the bump to discuss whether where it would make sense to try and land on a on a rocky beach ahead.  The discussion, preceded by votes for one side or the other, went on for some time.



The powers that be (John and Jen) ultimately decided that while landing was possible, it would take a lot of time to accomplish – and relaunch – safely, so made an executive decision to return to where we’d started, eat lunch, and then head back over the mountain to a surf beach where the waves looked promising.


Some of us piled into the back of Jen’s truck – Will and Genn and I,




John -


and ended up getting quite the view of the road below that we’d just climbed.


The surf beach we were heading to arced in a smooth and inviting way.


It appeared that at least one gringo had set up shop there.


We never did surf, though.  We lined the boats up on the beach


and broke into two groups - this is the more menacing of them -


and practiced launching and landing, and contact-towing an injured paddling safely to shore.  Everyone launched and landed successfully, and the “injured paddlers” all made it to shore as well.

Day was done and we headed back to the house, got out of our wet gear, hung it up and took quick showers.  (“Quick” is the operative word since all the water is trucked in.)


Some of us strolled into the very busy market near the house to get a view of the blowhole from above.



When we returned, Victor was showing off a very fresh eight pound piece of blue-fin tuna (he said it was still jiggling in his hands)


and cutting it into steaks for dinner.


That tuna was the tenderest, most delicious I’ve ever had – Jen cooked it to rare perfection, topping it off with a delectable cilantro lime sauce.

The Big Dogs, who had paddled from the house to where the rest of us had put in, reported that they had had a very active day.  Really big seas rounding the point, people getting pounded in various favorite features (Tower of Shower, Slot of Boom), unintentional swims and etc.  But everyone was smiling and no boats or humans were broken in the making of the day.

People lounged around the house – some trading stories of the day, others seeing, hearing and speaking no evil.


And two Donnas and Teresa worked on trip planning for somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.


Our two youngest members – Amy and Will – talked quietly out at the picnic table.


But every evening must end with entertainment, and Donna, Steve and John brought down the house singing “Feeling Groovy”, the lyrics to which Donna had changed to suit our activities and environment.


And then to bed!

Sunday, April 17

Another beautiful morning.  We had yet to see a cloud in the sky, and weren’t to until the next day, when I think there were three up there. 

These plants by the house made me think of Dr. Seuss creatures for some reason.


Donna got outfitted in pigtails.


And we all started preparing for the day.  The two groups would switch routes.  Mine, in the capable hands of John and Bill, would launch near the house and paddle to yesterday’s put in/take out; while yesterday’s group would launch from and return to the that beach.


John led a team doing unsuccessful surgery on a boat.


Eventually we were ready to go and headed out to our left to round the point that had featured huge waves yesterday.


It was a very appealing area!


Soon John found a spot and went in and started playing in the pile of water washing up against the rocks.



When it was clear he was surviving the experience, we all went in after him to join the fun.




Eder did some swimming, I think to give someone else practice in hauling him out of the drink.  As was the case throughout the weekend, he had a smile on his face as he bobbed in the water.


Bill found a beautiful and bouncy area


that only a few tried out. 


When it was calm it was nice and calm, but when a swell came in, it was wild!

With different people leading different legs of the trip, we ended up in a calm and pretty bay where we stopped for lunch.  The only problem:  there were a few people at the other end who were practicing their archery skills.  They had put beer cans atop mounds of sand and were shooting arrows at these beach-made targets.  One of these targets was quite close to where we had landed.  We hid behind a rock wall in the interests of not being shot – which likely would have been the first such experience in anyone’s paddling life.  Most kayaking accidents happen on land…

We survived lunch and headed for a pour-over that we had seen coming in.  Will, at 26 years old, a fearless and skilled paddler, made directly for it and successfully negotiated it. 



Eder, equally fearless but less experienced, followed him in, was knocked over three times and rolled up each time.

As we continued on there were plenty of places for everyone to play.


A pelican watched us.


We ended up going through a very gnarly and fun area that started here


and ended up several exhilarating minutes later farther down the coast.  John positioned himself (in the “beyond 4 star” water, as he put it) to keep us from coming to grief on any rocks.  This first picture does not do the area justice, and I was unfortunately unable to pull out my camera where I could have gotten the most dramatic shots.

Then we were at The River, a pourover that had not been passable when we had seen it yesterday.  Everyone did it, with lesser or greater (in my case) assistance from Bill calling out where to position oneself and when to paddle hard to get over the rocks.


A successful end to an excellent day on the water, and we all straggled to shore.


The other group was coming in as well.  So we had about 20 paddlers, 20 boats, and 2 vehicles (one a truck carrying several boats on a rack, the other a van towing a trailer with the remaining million boats).  We started grinding up the steep rutted road.  Only to have the van – which was doing the lion’s share of the work with most of the people and most of the boats in its charge – start emitting a troubling burning odor.  We stopped and everyone hopped out.  We planned to walk the road to the top of the mountain (a tall task given that we were wearing dry suits and it was about a million sunny degrees out) to give the van a break.  We started trudging, until Jen’s truck – which had been following behind - reached us, at which point almost everyone piled in.  I counted 18 people in or hanging onto her normal sized pickup.

The good news for the day was that in addition to be a world-class rock gardener, Bill is also an auto mechanic.  He diagnosed the problem, ordered a treatment (basically, rest for a time), and it was not long before the van was moving again and carrying people and pulling boats.

No humans, boats or vehicles were harmed in this exercise.

Back at the ranch, another super supper – coolers were delivered that contained about five different kinds of burritos prepared by a local woman.  All were excellent, with the possible exception of the pigskin one, which most didn’t have the courage to try (and these are the people willing to throw themselves at the scariest looking rocks and waves you’ve ever seen) – although Jen did.  I’m not sure that she enjoyed it, however.

Once again, there was quiet talk before and after supper - John, Will and Bill...


And Steve once again provided entertainment, this time in a decidedly mellower key than the night before.


Some of us sat around the fire pit while Steve sang soft and sad songs, and we didn’t get to be until after 11:00!



                                                                                                         Monday, April 18

My last day…  Genn and I were up early to take another look at the blowhole when no one was around.  We walked past the graceful kayak sculpture near the launch,


and a house with open ocean views


and through the empty market...


empty but except for several sorry looking dogs with various obvious physical ailments and this gull…


We paused for a real tourist shot,


and then gazed at the blowhole doing its thing for a time.




It was both peaceful and dramatic.

Back to the house for breakfast and to prepare for what would be the last day on the water for six of us, while the rest were to continue on to Todos Santos Island for four star assessments and support.

This time, the whole group left from the boat launch by the house, after a talk led by John about various kinds of safety equipment - most notably tow ropes.


And off we went, back to the inviting blowhole, this time taking a shortcut through some rocks that were impossible to traverse two days before.  John headed right into the blowhole slot.


Then we all took turns backing up to the massive shower.  This was Amy!


Another spectacular day, more spectacular shoreline…and it was at this moment that my camera informed me, “Memory full” – and I was unable to take any more pictures…for a time. We took turns assessing the safety of various features.  Communication, line of sight, avoidance, and position of maximum usefulness.  We went through turquoise bump around large jutting rocks.  We capsized on purpose and got rescued.  We also practiced swimming.  Bill had said the day before that if we felt we could swim out, we could head into a difficult feature.  I asked him how we know if we can swim out.  He said, “Try it.”  So one of my goals for the day was to do some swimming.  John got me out of my boat twice, once to swim in a mildly gnarly area, and the other to ride the substantial swell up and down a sheer rock face.  That was fun!  My feet almost touching the rock, I lay back in the water, gazing up at the rock and the sky.


Finally, we joined the other group at an incredible feature that required of everyone but Bill – who seemed able to go back and forth over the pour-over at will – patient watching and timing – and even then resulted in dramatic wipeouts.  One paddle was harmed (blade split in half) in the interaction with this rockpile.

And then lunch, where I swapped out camera memory cards with Donna, whose camera wasn’t working anyway, and carefully stashed the full one in my lunch box.  And snapped away for the rest of this most excellent of all three days.

The lunch discussion was about gear – for treating boats and people, for communication and safety.


Then off we went again, our four star group heading into a beautiful long canyon, where we rode swells through.



We all paired up and practiced rescues, rolls and towing in bumpy water in the canyon.  Then continued on atop turquoise water.


It was time to head for home, but on the way, we stopped at The Single Most Beautiful Spot I had seen in the entire two weeks.  Playing atop milky turquoise water.




clearly exhilarated!


Amy in the beautiful milky turquoise soup.


Bill again...


Amy and I rode up and down, side by side, exclaiming over the beauty of the area.

amy and me baja.jpg

Everyone was enchanted.

You can see by the dripping water how high the wave and splash were going, which tells you something about how deep the trough was at the base of the cliff became when the water receded.  The bigger the suck…


Finally, we left this heavenly spot and continued on.  We couldn't get through this slot...



There was just time for another play at La Bufadora.  Here is Rock from Montreal...


and then it was back to the take out for everyone.


Those of us who were leaving showered and gathered our gear, and bade everyone farewell.  Jen, who was to return later that night, drove five of us back in her truck.  The border crossing into the US, which can take hours, took only one this time.

We bought churros, Mexican donuts, from one of the many vendors hawking food and wares - ranging from crucified Jesuses to superheroes, to Minions, to tacky frog lawn ornaments, to NFL team blankets - whose stalls lined the many-laned area where the bumper to bumper cars inched forward to the US border.


And then we were there, sadly back in the USA.  Jen sternly told us not to do any joking when the US Border Patrol approached the truck to inspect our passports.  (She had once run afoul of an agent who took umbrage at her bringing bottles for recycling back into the country – running a business, eh?)  But our agent was very pleasant, admired the kayaks and asked if we’d had a good time. 


Many thanks to Jen – for organizing the Baja Kayak Fest and for cooking the most amazing meals (we didn’t go out to supper once) for our ravenous crew ; Victor – for the beautiful venue that was our base; John – for his usual first rate teaching and excellent morning eggs; Bill – for introducing me to rocks the likes of which I’d never seen; Jane and Donna – for their friendship and most excellent companionship; and everyone else who was there – for  being welcoming, funny, and inspiring.  Congratulations to all the new Paddlesports NA four stars – Jane, Will, Gennifer and Edgar.  And to the new three stars – Amy and Eder.

So…Teresa and I ended back where it had all started – at Jane’s house, which she graciously lent to us even though she wouldn’t be back for two days.

It was so nice to take a real hot shower.  (But not too long, because remember it's a drought, it never rains in Southern California.)  And the prospect of a good night’s sleep on a super comfortable king sized bed…

Until, having spent a bit of time organizing my stuff in preparation for real packing the next morning, I sat bolt upright in bed:  what did I do with my full camera memory card?!?   I went through all of my stuff.  I went down into the garage to my drying gear.  I went through my stuff again.  It was nowhere to be found.  I almost wept.  There went the trip report I thought I'd be able to put together.

And so I started writing the one that would cover three days at Santa Cruz Island, a day at the San Diego Zoo and four days in Baja with only one-half day of photos.

Somewhere in a landfill between Ensenada and La Bufadora, Baja, Mexico, is buried a plastic baggie.  Wrapped in that baggie is another baggie.  Inside that is a clean napkin folded around a 16 gb camera memory card…”

As I said, I almost wept.  And then my mind started churning.  Trying to remember back to the chaotic last hour of packing and saying farewell before six of us piled into Jen’s truck to go north.  I had a vague memory of removing a half-eaten lunch burrito from a borrowed drybag and then returning that bag to its owner.  I remembered that I was talking to someone as I did it.  Had I seen a baggie in the lunch bag and mindlessly thrown it out?  That had to be it!  But communication between San Diego and La Bufadora is not easy.  Jen is not big on email.  I did not have her phone number.  But, ah ha! Last hope:  Sometime recently John entered the 21st century and bought himself and his lovely wife, Marybeth, smart phones.  I know that he had been speaking to MB everyday.  So…from San Diego I emailed MB in Maine with a desperate plea that if she were to speak with him again before the whole crew left for Todos Santos in the morning (when, presumably, a crew would come in to clean up the mess left by close to 20 people in a small house), to ask him to please (and thank you!) go through the kitchen trash to look for a baggie inside a baggie enclosing a neatly folded napkin.  I also sent him a text message.  The next morning, an email from MB saying that she wouldn’t be speaking again to John, but had passed on my message.

And then I waited.  If John were to have gotten the email or message, it would have been first thing Tuesday morning.  But there was no response from anywhere.  As I packed for my midday flight, I constantly checked email.  Nothing.  My Hail Mary pass had clearly fallen incomplete.

I returned home after a long day of airports and flying and taxis to two weeks of accumulated mail and telephone messages.  The last message, sounding at first like a wrong number, featured a gruff and hard to understand voice that gradually morphed into a familiar one:  John, calling from La Bufadora first thing that morning, saying that in the kitchen trash, under a pile of shrimp leavings and etc, there was baggie inside which was a baggie, inside which there was a napkin folded around a camera memory card.

And so…thank you, John - not only for being a great coach and a good cooker of breakfast eggs.  Thank you for your willingness to root through fishy trash (and as a vegetarian on top of everything) to find my discarded memory card.  And so, I dedicate this report to you.  I hope the gentle readers find his efforts worthwhile, and that you all have enjoyed the photos that accompany the text.

I have found that every trip that I take away from my familiar waters in New England is better than the one before.  I have now paddled in Alaska, Wales, California and Mexico.  This last has been the Best Trip Ever for the combination of people, sea states, water color, great teaching, good learning, excellent food and first rate music.  I look forward to return to the Left Coast many times in the future.  But this first trip will always remain special. 












































































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Thanks for the trip report .  Damn:  this makes a trip such as yours , exactly as it was,  look most  appealing:  I now  feel inspired to save my  pennies for just such an excursion next year. 

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8 minutes ago, jason said:

I always enjoy Pru's trip reports.    It's almost as good as joining the trip.

Thanks to everyone for your kind comments.  Nice to know that folks enjoy taking vicarious journeys - and know that your comments provide a positive reinforcement for creating future trip reports.  Scotland is upcoming, so stay tuned when summer is upon us.  But I want to offer special thanks to you, Jason, for tweaking the NSPN platform so that I could include the million photos that I did!


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2 hours ago, Inverseyourself said:

I had a choice after a very busy morning at work: Go to lunch or immediately read Pru's trip report. Awesome report and photos, Pru, as usual. Looking so forward to dinner now!

C,mon Andy, you're a bright guy... Surely you can read and eat at the same time ;-) 



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Finally got the time to read and appreciate your trip report Pru. *1 hour perhaps". Wow where do you find the time. I don't know what your day job maybe but you probably have a whole new career awaiting you as a writer/photographer. Enjoyed this immensely and second many others who said that reading it almost felt like being there. No higher praise is required!

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