Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Picture This

Finally got around to make my final Baja photo selection of my February trip. Not my final Baja visit I hope!

Fancy a sea kayaking trip in Baja California but you do not have a group to join from your country?

Just inform Sea Kayak Baja Mexico of your interest and Ginni Callahan will try to form a group of similar ability and interest and will keep you informed on upcoming trips that you might be interested in. This worked extremely well for us this year.

If you want to join a trip with me, my next planned visit is already this November 2016. Exact dates? Currently I am flexible as long as it is in November.

It will be an 8-day trip around Isla Carmen, suitable for BCU 3* level/ability sea kayakers. Among the two guides we speak English, Spanish, Dutch and German. For cost and arrangements please check-out SKBM website. Maximum group size is 8 paddlers.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Rolling Home

This morning I joined Maddie for a rolling session for Axel (not me) and Edgar from La Paz. Originally it was for only one person and I would just be a 'land-based-observer', but before I knew it I was standing in the water to assist Edgar. The climate is so dry here that my swimming trunks (shorts) were already halfway dry when we returned at HQ. Maddie kindly dropped me off at the airport. Flying over Loreto and along the coast of our route where I now recognize every single headland.

I am typing this at LAX. Alaska Airlines had labeled my checked luggage as 'fragile'. They probably noticed the very well soft-packed Damiana glass bottle.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Baja Visitors

Above picture was taken while waiting for our pick-up at the end of our kayaking trip. I had just sat on a tree trunk under a shady brush when I decided to walk back to the beach to further pack my gear. Upon returning someone commented there was a lizard on my shoulder. After posing for the camera, I gently walked back to sit on the tree trunk again and the lizard slowly moved off my shoulder and off my back. As soon as it 'hit' the ground it sped away with incredible speed.

I am not in a hurry to leave. It was either a flight on Sunday, the day after my trip ended (too harsh), or only on Thursday. Arriving back in Loreto I walk by the Damiana Inn when I see the back of a somewhat familiar hair-style, walk and posture. It is Helen Marsden that I know and worked with at the Anglesey Symposium. What a coincidence! She is here for the around Carmen trip with Sea Kayak Baja Mexico with Marcos en Ramon guiding.

Ginni and Edgar left Tuesday for a Loreto to La Paz trip. Maddie outfitted a group of 3 British 4* paddlers that go on their own trip. Lots of activity going on here, but now it is totally quiet. All boats and guides are out. I finally have time to get work done BEFORE I get back home. I even have time for organizing and selecting trip pictures and post blog articles, that I generally do not have time for so soon after a trip.

This last evening here, Maddie invited me for a dinner out. We went by car because it would be across the 'freeway' and a bit too long to walk. That worried me, because that would mean Loreto is much bigger than I thought. However, that very local restaurant that Isabelle recommended was closed. The alternative was another tiny local restaurant where the waiter presented us with a ring-binded thick menu 'book'. Choice-stress. I had not eaten a hamburger with chips for ages and the spicy jalapeno burger sounded great and not too difficult to choose; and it was delicious with home-made fries.

Across our table sat another couple. As soon as I mentioned Holland in my english conversation with Maddie, the woman on the other table responded in Dutch to me. No less than Mirjam Wouters ( is sitting at the table next to us. In 2001 she took a break from university to go cycling and never returned... Sounds somewhat like me taking my Sabattical in 2003...

Baja visitors; whales, cyclists, paddlers, BCU coaches, dutch nationals and lizards alike. Adventures tapping upon one's shoulder.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mulege to Loreto via Carmen

We're back! Our 12-day paddling trip from Mulege to Loreto via Coronados to Carmen, along the east-coast of Carmen and via Danzante (group photo) ending our trip at Rattlesnake Beach near Puerto Escondido.

We had a record-breaking time packing our kayaks on the first day. Meticulous preparations by Ramon (assigned crates of food and kitchen equipment to kayaks) helped us pack our kayaks within an hour-and-a-half! And previous Baja and sea kayak camping experience did not count for Dirk, nevertheless he was finished packing first! I took the three kitchen sinks.

Lots of challenges along the way, mostly because of a rather unfamiliar weather pattern. The forecasted afternoon winds (not normal) tended to arrive earlier and earlier every day. For instance, with only an half hour to go before the major headland Punta San Antonio the wind quickly built to a force 3 (from a flat calm start in the morning). With the headland 15 minutes away it was blowing a full force 4 and a sea state rapidly changing to white-caps. Heading around the headland in choppy conditions we paddled right next to a group of sleeping sea lions that were only slowly taking notice of Ramon's sea kayak. It was quickly decided to stay put after lunch and paddle around Punta el Pulpito only the next morning; again starting with a flat calm. We quickly had a routine of 08:30 departures.

Weather planning required good milage the first days into the trip. Despite the weather we did not lose a paddling day yet and I still had 'my' spare 'weather day'. We had even some 'half-day' paddles, meaning having done the planned distance already in the morning and a late lunch about 14:00.

At San Bruno we were in a perfect position to attempt the 6 nautical mile crossing to Coronados. We had an 08:00 o-clock start, allowing for time lost negotiating the narrow/shallow channel out of the estuary behind the beach at mid-tide. Blessing the early morning headwind; at least it was not blowing from the north; yet...

Halfway in the crossing the wind was rapidly building from the north. We spotted whales during the crossing. When we landed on Coronados at Los Metates at 11:15 it was already blowing a full force 4. We had our planned Panga (motorboat) resupply at Coronados so that we did not have to waste a full day of paddling in/out of Loreto. Only the Panga won't to out above force 5... The whole afternoon it was blowing six when at 17:30 the message came through that the Panga was on it's way for the wind had dropped just enough. That meant for Ramon to quickly re-think dinner plans and he spent until late that evening re-assigning the resupplies to the various kayaks.

So good had Ramon been at this that the next morning there was only a 15-minute packing 'delay' for everyone to re-pack their now full-again kayaks. We had a flat-calm 7 nautical miles crossing to Isla Carmen with increasing swell height... Arriving at Playa Oto in 2 foot surf; only it being over a rock-bed because at low water the surf had not yet reached the sandy beach... Getting me to think of all possible contingencies of getting off this beach the next morning... The next morning: flat calm; no surf whatsoever...

The rest of our trip, the afernoon winds never arrived. Perfect flat calm days, blue skies, sunshine. Consistent 08:30 departures meant easy going paddling and normal lunch times. Spotting whales, sea lions and dolphins. And even a surprise visit from Ginni that was checking-out all the camp beaches with/for the National Park Service. Ramon digging-up our park permits to show to the park warden, when surprise, surprise, Ginni stood-up in the Panga. Lots of the beaches have changed considerably over the last few years. Some lost sand, some gained sand. All-in-all some beaches are better suited to bigger/smaller groups then others and that is constantly changing.

By now we were reaching the end of our trip. We have seen whales (Blue, Finn, Humpback) almost daily, but not so very lucky close as last time around. Daily visits by bottlenose dolphins and sea lions at their known hangouts at various headlands. On our crossing to Danzante we could spot Humpbacks whales breaching off Montserrat. Quite a distance away, but seeing the big splashes and the sound of canon fire some moments later... This went on for more than half an hour.

Next morning at breakfast we got an aerial display of a school of jumping Mobila, the splashing sounds we heard all night. As well as a 04:45 pass-by of a whale, blowing. At the north end of Danzante we had the 'grand-finale' of a Finn whale cruising between Danzante and Carmen.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Tabor Canyon

Already written about in John Steinbeck's book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Tabor Canyon is just up the road from Puerto Escondido, a scenic and very sheltered natural harbor. Sandra, Jolien and I arranged and negotiated a price for a taxi to get us there from Loreto.

I have hiked this canyon a few times before and that helps to find the route. I remember the two crux points, otherwise it is not so obvious how the route could ever continue in this very steep walled and rock blocked canyon. Very crumbly rocks, so hardly a rock climbers paradise. For instance, seeing a cairn on top of a big boulder patch with no clue how to get there...

The canyon has water year-round and some water pools that are deep enough to swim in (and a refreshing cool down). It has allways been a bit of a tricky route that requires scrambling along, over and through. The route has gotten more difficult to negotiate at the crux points or am I getting older? The most striking change is the 'chimney' that is now gone. It was relatively easy to wriggle oneselves up a hole through big bolders. Now that hole is clogged by debris and two dodgy UV-deteriorated ropes are hanging down. It was not easy to get up this, but we all made it to the higher ground and where the 'swimming pools' begin.

A refreshing swim and lunch and we headed down again. Going down a dangling rope is not so easy when one cannot see/feel any footholds. The first one down (longest legs, me) at least can direct the next one to trust that their foot is only 10 centimeters away from a 'secure' foothold (or wedged log) and go for it.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Carnaval Gigantes de los Mares

It is an interesting thought that a picturesque small town in Baja California Sur has the largest animals on the planet as a 'mascotte'. Our arrival coincides with the local carnival festival weekend, including a parade and buzzing fairground attractions and traditional music and dance performances.

Loreto is at the heart of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park. Blue, Finn, Humpback and Minke whales frequent the waters around the islands during this time of year. Together with an abundance of dolphins and other marine wildlife. OK, I know Blue Whales are big. But browsing through the National Park Whale brochure I only noticed with the Dolphin picture that the symbol next to it represented a swimmer to scale. The pictogram of the swimmer was not recognizable as such next to the Blue Whale picture.

It is a bit funny to see crush barriers in Loreto; along the sidewalk allowing the carnival parade a free route. Loreto has only one junction with traffic lights. And I noticed that the hands of time still have not moved on the clock on the local church, the oldest Mission in Baja California.

Without Borders

The day before yesterday I flew in to Loreto. From the air I could see it was blowing strongly from the North. Not nice for the paddlers out there. Maddie, SKBM's operational manager, kindly picked me up from the airport.

As soon I was at SKBM operational HQ, I set myself to help with the trip clean-up for a trip that Ginni led. It is nice to meet Ginni again. I could well have missed her as the SKBM calender in the office is full of overlapping activities. It is impressive to see how Ginni's business has grown and how the attention to quality, detail and personal attention have not changed; simply the best. Another group with Marcos returned yesterday. It is a group with Greg Paquin that made it around Carmen in a week with all strong northwesterlies.

Our 12-day trip starts Tuesday and I arrived early to acclimatize and help with the preparations; if needed. The preparations of the new trip start with the end of the previous.

Our aim is to paddle from Mulege to Coronados, get a resupply from Loreto and then cross to Carmen running down the east coast of Carmen and out near Puerto Escondido. Looking at my pictures taken from the plane, this plan is surely weather dependant. This route contains some very exposed headlands and a committing crossing. I am thrilled that Ramon is a guide on this trip. Ramon helped with preparations on my previous trips and it is nice to have him now also on the trip.

So now ready with clean-up of all the boats and 'our' boats have been assigned and helping Ramon with further preparations.