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Logs & Stories - November 2002
November 30 - Still in Agua Verde
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Another restful day. This morning three of the boats sharing our cove departed, leaving only two remaining. Quite a different feel; the town left.
The big event of the day was when a 40-foot trawler motorboat came in and put his anchor very close to ours. When they set it, they managed to motor the boat backward in a direction different than that of the wind, which made their too-close anchoring not immediately obvious to them. Karryn and the kids thought we should say something right away. I decided to wait. I mean these guys are here. You don't get here without traveling through some serious water. The experience tends to hone your skills and get you in the habit of staying calm.
Shortly, the wind swung the trawler around close enough to us that I could have hit their boat with a running start off of ours. I'm thinking 'hit' is the right word: not a good landing, but more likely a 'splat' against the side of their hull, followed by a 'splash' as my body plunged into the water. Too close. I had a brief, friendly conversation with the captain of the boat, we laughed at the situation, and I gave him some advice based on the location of the boats that had left earlier in the day. He re-anchored, then launched his dinghy and came over for a visit. It turned out that Don, the captain, and Joe, his only crew, had some leftover candy from Halloween and he wanted to give it to Jax and Naomi. Reese's peanut butter cups and Kit Kats, two of their favorite species of chocolate, along with a bag of cheddar Goldfish crackers, a treat we hadn't seen since leaving the U.S.
Late in the day we went to the beach. As has become our habit, Jackson and I went for a walk along the shore, a gravel beach turning into a wide horizontal rock ledge just inches higher than water level, turning, still further on, into a landslide of giant boulders falling from an enormous rock cliff. Jackson and I adeptly dodged the huge stones; we were moving in biological time, they in geologic.
I'm back in the port ama again. This time I've gotten a little more serious about this thinking thing: I've started rearranging 'furniture' for my comfort. Sail bags moved and placed just so, fenders neatly stacked at one end to make a backrest. Here we go again…
So, I'm pondering the pending food crisis the Baja fishermen are going to have, and it occurs to me that it's even worse. Most of the small villages along the peninsula have tiendas, small stores within their proprietor's homes, and these tiendas are stocked with an amazing variety of food, much of it fresh fruit and vegetables. They have a huge impact on the villagers' diet. This stuff obviously comes from someplace else, probably by panga or car, both using petroleum fuel.
With oil gone, that food won't be there.
November 29 - Hiking in Agua Verde
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As has become our habit lately, we spent the morning reading and playing. In the middle of the afternoon, we went ashore with the intention of going for a walk. The folks on True Love, a beautiful steel 53-foot cutter, told us about a nearby cemetery just a short walk over a hill.
We started up the steep trail to the cemetery, soon to discover that the flip-flops Naomi had on weren't up to the task. We backtracked and decided to walk on the road toward town because of its more moderate grade. We walked up the hill leading from the beach, and just when we'd gotten to the top we discovered an ominous, very dark, very cold-looking rain cloud drifting down the valley just south of the bay's village. "Uh-oh!" we thought in unison, "A serious squall is about to soak us." So back down to the beach we walked again, this time to seek shelter in a plywood shack just back from the high tide mark. This was starting to get a little weird: obstacles in every direction we turned.
Jackson and I have tended to be more adventurous than the ladies, so we stripped down to our sandals and nylon shorts, and then headed back to the trail we'd originally attempted. We walked up the hill as the squall moved in, water pelting our bodies, sounds deadened by the white noise of rainfall, wet smells rising from the desert earth. Quite the rich experience. We hiked to the hilltop, turned toward the anchorage, and watched as a double rainbow formed over the water, one leg of the inner arch passing through both Seafire and Hopalong. As the squall receded to the north, the air behind it took on a new clarity, making the hillsides visually electric. Jackson and I walked down the hill and resumed our hike along the road with Karryn and Naomi.
Together again, we followed the road back up to its crest, then down into a plain covered with small trees. The place was sparsely littered with homes; the trees hid them from view, but we could occasionally hear their inhabitants. We continued down the road until it ended by intersecting the main road, to the left going over a hill and into the village of Agua Verde, to the right crossing the plain and disappearing in the distance. We stood at the village side of the intersection, and looked down to find ourselves standing next to an anthill with a busy line of insects extending into the intersection. We knelt down and looked carefully. They were carrying bits of grass to the anthill. We crossed the intersection, a distance of perhaps twenty-five feet, searching for the line's end; on the other side, it continued as far as we were able to see. We continued walking in search of the end: fifty feet, a hundred feet, two hundred… the line of ants, each returning individual carrying some bit of grass, stretched at least a hundred yards from its origin. We gaped in awe and amazement at these tiny animals working in unison, extending themselves over such a vast expanse, their combined efforts transforming them into something so much larger than their singular beings.
Now, back to my thinking activities: This time I'm in the starboard ama, sitting on a sail bag, propped up against a couple of fenders, when it suddenly dawns on me that every fishing village on the Sea of Cortez survives on oil. Outboard fuel, the polyester resin the pangas are made from, monofilament fishing line, nylon netting. What happens when the oil is gone? Won't there be a lot of trouble? No, no - they'll convert to a sail/oar driven fleet and fish closer in; they'll use hemp line and nets.
But then an idea flashes: over-harvesting has probably depleted the local habitat so that these guys need to cover an increasingly wide area. Without outboards, they won't be able to get back to their villages before the fish spoil in the heat.
These folks have a problem on their horizon.
November 28 - Thanksgiving in Agua Verde
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Yesterday, when I came on deck after writing, I discovered that Green Water had become Gray Water. A cloudy sky, one of the few we've experienced since coming to Baja; it's amazing how often the sun is out here.
We came into the anchorage and found ten boats already there. A few we recognized: Trés Jolie, Hopalong, Spirit of Joy. Most, though, were new to us. While it was currently calm, this time of year is dominated by northerly winds and nearly all the other boats were in the better-protected small cove at the north end of the bay. Since we tend to like a lot of space around us, for both safety and privacy, we anchored shortly before sunset off the town in a location that would most likely be affected by swell should a northerly build.
We awoke Thanksgiving morning to the strange sound of rain, starting gently, then picking up to become the drenching variety. We hadn't seen serious rain since Oxnard, nearly a year ago, and the kids were entranced by it. In the early hours of the morning, they put on their bathing suits and went up on the deck into the pounding downpour. After what seemed like a fairly lengthy time to be out standing unclothed in falling water, they came below, asking questions about the sounds, smells, sensations. Was this like Seattle? Oh, yes, just like it, only there it's thirty degrees colder and the sensations are a little more invigorating.
We'd been in Agua Verde twice before for a total of eight days, so the views out our windows were familiar, but the rain had effected an amazing transformation. The landscape, which had looked like a one-sided Grand Canyon, brown and layered, now looked like a Polynesian pali, verdant and green, the impressive hillsides rising up from the water's edge.
As the rain picked up, so did the wind and swell, and after a short time things became a bit bouncy in our part of the anchorage. Fortunately for us, the two large motorboats in the bay left, leaving room in the calmer northern cove. We went on deck with the kids and moved the boat into the cluster, now anchored closer to others than we'd been in months.
So, back to me sharing my thoughts. Or 'back to my wandering mind.' Or perhaps, 'back to my wondering mind.'
Back when I was fully over-employed, I had no time for thinking. I'm kinda getting into it now, though. I find it's best when I'm undisturbed.
"But you live on a sailboat with three other people!" you say. "How do you get any quiet space to yourself?" I have a technique. I live on a sailboat, but not just any sailboat. A Searunner trimaran. A center-cockpit sailboat with training wheels. There are four places to be: aft cabin (largest space with two dinettes), forward cabin, port ama (outer hull) and starboard ama. If the weather is good (good by Seattle standards: not raining), I'll open the hatch to one of the amas and crawl inside. Since it's often bright outside, I usually wear a faded baseball hat and sunglasses. I imagine that I look like some combination of Snoopy climbing into his Sopworth Camel and Duke from Doonesbury ducking for cover down a manhole.
So, sometime after I read "Ishmael", Jackson mentioned that his Encyclopedia of Science said we were going to run out of oil. He asked if this was true. I did the fatherly thing, and launched into a lecture about limited natural resources, using the example of fishing and logging in our native Pacific Northwest, saying, yes, we've known for quite some time the petroleum supply would sometime run out, perhaps in forty or fifty years. Later, when I was in the port ama having great thoughts, or at least having thoughts, the solution to Daniel Quinn's environmental destruction problem occurred to me: we're going run out of oil. Think about it: nearly all the damage done to other forms of life is executed by oil-driven machinery - trawlers, fish processors, logging trucks, chainsaws, excavators, bulldozers, combines, crop dusters… everything! Oil is magic: compact, mobile energy you can carry around in a plastic jug. In spite of the fact that it's been 30 years since the 'Energy Crisis', no competing technology of scale has emerged.
The world will survive: once the oil is gone, chainsaws, trawlers and crop dusters will lie still.
November 27 - En Route from Puerto Escondido to Agua Verde
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In case you can't read Spanish, we're going from Hidden Harbor to Green Water.
As I write this, we're motoring southward in a calm. Karryn and Jackson are in the cockpit, Naomi asleep on the forward dinette. The scenery outside is spectacular - high, angular, stratified cliffs rising from the placid water, jagged peaks and mountains as far as you can see. We just passed a tiny island with a huge reef immediately south of it.
We'd originally planned on spending just a single night in Puerto Escondido, but ended up staying ten days. It's a unique place. The nearest town is Loreto, which is about 150 miles north of La Paz (a five hour drive, I'm told), and home of the only jet airport in Baja outside La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.
The immediate area is stunningly beautiful. West of the anchorage, across a plain of cactus and desert scrub, there lies the most impressive section of the appropriately named Sierra Gigante mountains, rising vertically to nearly 5000 feet only a few kilometers from the coast. The mountains are awe-inspiring, a slab of Pacific Plate tilted upward, a ragged line against the cloudless blue sky, stratified cliffs of red and brown, deep canyons carved by millions of years of hurricanes dumping themselves onto rock faces, water shedding down vertical slopes.
Puerto Escondido is arguably the best hurricane hole in Baja. It is a large bay, perhaps a mile long and half a mile wide, and, with the exception of the narrow, shallow entrance (10' deep), it is completely landlocked, feeling more like a mountain lake than a saltwater harbor. The northern end is made up of a high point and two tall islands that may have long ago had channels between them but now are bridged with low rock spits. The configuration lets little wind and no waves enter. Except for hurricanes, the strongest winds here are the winter northerlies, which can blow 30 knots for days and generate large, steep wind waves; Escondido blocks these completely. While not quite as protected an anchorage as Puerto Don Juan up in Bahia de Los Angeles, the access to the airport and Highway 1 make it possible to secure a boat and make a hasty exit in the event of an approaching hurricane.
There are virtually no facilities, only a small store at the Tripui RV Park a mile's walk away and fresh water available near the harbor's entrance. There is no marina, and boats are able to anchor here for only the small entry fee charged by the Port Captain in nearby Loreto.
Escondido's unique combination of all-weather protection, low cost, and transportation access make it an ideal place for Americans to keep their boats. The harbor is full of yachts, most of them empty. On our first visit we reacted in horror: a boat graveyard.
It is interesting to me that we changed our minds about Puerto Escondido, now seeing a restful place of beauty where a community of Mexicans and Americans live in relaxed calm. Strangers like us are constantly treated to random acts of kindness; it seemed that every time we walked to the store, some local offered to give us a ride. On our last night there, we went for a hike too late in the day and were faced with a walk back to Seafire on a moonless night without the aid of a flashlight. Unexpectedly, a gentleman named Chris picked us up, and not only drove us to the end of the road, but also escorted us, flashlight in hand, to the dinghy landing, then invited us over to his house the next day. We took advantage of his offer, and enjoyed a pleasant morning with him and his wife, Pam.
We're approaching Agua Verde now, so I have to close this up shortly. I still have quite a bit to write - it's been over two months since I sent anything (Karryn did the single web entry in October), and we have a lot to tell you about. I'll try to make room to continue tomorrow.
I do want to talk about one other thing, though. My life used to be hard, but it's pretty easy now. I get a lot of time to myself, I read more, and I spend hours just thinking. My contact with other people is mostly limited to only those people I want around me, a sort of by-invitation-only affair. Jackson has developed quite a bit, and, in addition to being a superb athlete (we do a lot of spear fishing together), he is also quite the intellectual, so I now have two conversation partners (Karryn being the other one). Your life is probably similar to what mine used to be - highly scheduled, busy and stressful. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about things, and I'd like to be able to share my thoughts with you.
In one of her earlier web entries, Karryn mentioned Rick and Lin of the catamaran Catherine Estelle. During one of our visits with them, they loaned us a book that I think is worth mentioning. Actually, I think it's a profound book, the kind that presents a unique argument so lucid and compelling that it alters how you perceive. The book is called "Ishmael", and its author is Daniel Quinn. It puts the world we see around us in an interesting context.
This is the book's argument: - We are all part of a culture, and the culture includes a belief system. - The belief system is so well integrated into our thinking that we are largely unaware of it. - Our planet at this point has a vastly dominating belief system. - This belief system is dominant because it is the one held by the winners in mankind's race for power.
- The world's original people were hunter-gatherers, who simply walked around finding stuff to eat. - Human populations were limited by what was lying around available to eat.
- All of our winning societies are based on an agricultural revolution which has taken place over the past ten thousand years. - All of these societies have managed to take the world's natural resources and figure out how to make them more useful and productive. - This ability, he argues, is the basis for the Biblical story of Genesis: man challenged God by acquiring the ability to make life (that is, agriculture/plant reproduction in addition to human reproduction).
- In the industrialized world, we have had an accelerated agricultural revolution that has enabled us to create continuing food surpluses. - These surpluses have ended up increasing food availability in the food-poor Third World. - These increases in food supply have driven increases in Third World populations. - Amazingly enough, food supplies have continued to grow in excess of world populations.
- Increased productivity in agriculture is a result of two things: 1) increases in agricultural acreage, and 2) decreases in organisms that compete for the food. - Both of these methods require the destruction of other species - in the first case, because what is now agricultural land used to be somebody's habitat, in the second case because we destroy competing species with an impressive thoroughness using everything from guns to pesticides. - This process is dramatically modifying the planet, and reducing the number of healthy species. Our species is one of the few that gains from this process. - Because we're reducing the number of healthy species, the survival of life on earth is becoming more fragile.
Mr. Quinn doesn't really propose any solutions to the problem, but suggests we should think about it.
A nicely written book, and a quick read. It brings up a compelling question: where does this process end?