December 27- January 3 La Paz, Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, Swimming with Whale Sharks
La Paz, the big Little city. We stayed one week in a marina, the Club de Yates Palmira. This has been our longest stop and we got some much needed rest and maintenance done on Bamboleiro.
As we arrived to the marina, as we pulled into our slip Jeff hailed us from shore. He ran down and helped us tie the docklines bringing Bamboleiro to rest for the first time since San Diego. Jeff had already seen the town, he’d paddled across the chanel from the island the day before, drove into La Paz and checked into a hotel. He was cleaned up and ready for some more fun already so he took us downtown to a resteraunt he knew on the Malecon.
The Malecon is a 3 mile tiled boardwalk that runs along the entire shore of the city lined with resteraunts, dive shops and public sculptures. This was our first authentic Mexican meal since entering the country and it did not disappoint. As we sat down a live mariachi band began playing. We ordered cold beers, then tacos of shrimp, fish and octopus. We heaped them with salsa, followed by more beer and a delightful homemade flan for desert.
We walked along the malecon to digest lunch, headed to the old town center when Jeff told us his plan for tomorrow. He wanted to drive up into the highlands in the south, into the Sierra de la Laguna mountains where he heard there were some interesting hikes. “Do you want to come?” He asked us.
It was in this way we found ourselves on the morning of December the 28th, my 29th birthday up at the break of dawn, backpack in hand and running shoes on our feet saddling up in Jeff’s Subaru for the drive inland.
We passed through small villages, old gold rush mining towns, farming communities, everyone out in the streetside cafés and resteraunts enjoying the morning sunshine.
We drove two hours south then once we came within view of the Sea of Cortez we turned off the main highway at Los Barilles. We headed uphill and into orchard territory, fruit trees lined the street as we entered the town of Aguas Calientes. We parked at the main square where we got out and stood in the bright sunshine, cheerful Christmas decorations strung across the street and over the square. A colorful nativity scene was set up on a stage.
We ate our sandwiches while we studied the map. Our goal today was to find the Canon de la Zorra, where it was reputed to be a 10 meter waterfall that coursed through a canyon of granite. The road on the map ended at this town but to the north a small blue squiggly line indicated a river not far away. We walked down the street to the resteraunt where we told the waiter we were searching for the waterfall.
“Oh yes,” he said, “it is nearby.”
We found the park, hiked to the falls and swam in the cool water. It was beautiful and we were happy, but we didn't realize the best hike of the day wouldn't come until after lunch. We returned to the car and continued back down the road.
As we passed through the town hunger hit us from all the climbing and swimming so we stopped at the restaurant Palomar where our waiter friend was anxious to hear we made it to the falls alright. He seated us in the garden, surrounded by a lush assemblage of tropical fruit and flowering trees. Bamboo rustled in the wind. A small dog greeted us as we sat, shaking his whole body as his wagging tail threatened to knock him over. Cold beers came alongside nachos with melted cheese, salsa and limes. We ate a delicious meal of fried cabrilla (sea bass) a la veracruzana.
We met the owner, Sergio, who enthusiastically shook us all by the hand. People come to his restaurant from all over the world so he was curious to hear of our hometowns and he knew something about each; Seattle, Pittsburg and Barcelona. He told us how when the restaurant first opened there was no road and the guests flew in bush planes to the small dirt strip airport. They came here to experience a true frontier town, an oasis in the desert where they hunted partritch and ate at the Restaurant Palomar.
By the time we loaded back into the car we were full, happy and ready for another adventure. We studied our map and saw the town of Aguas Callientes about 15 km further up the road. Our map didn’t show any of the small side streets and intersections we passed, but after asking for directions several times, and eventually by following the widest, smoothest road, we rolled to a stop at the end of the road next to several other cars plastered with Hertz, Avid and Budget stickers.
We crossed the parking lot, towels and swimsuits in hand and walked across the river dam and took the trail upstream. We came out at the pool at the head of the dam where we could see on the opposite cliff wall a trickle of water streamed out of the rock and into the river. Here, someone had placed large river rocks in a circle, making a small ring around the warm water. Six people were packed into the small space, some only able to get their feet in. We casually asked one person, “Where is the hot springs?”
“You found it.” She said, “its right there.”
“Yep, but the river trail is very nice.” She continued, hoping we wouldn’t try to share the already crowded pool.
A bit disappointed at first we quickly forgot about the hot springs as we began climbing up the canyon, jumping from rock to rock up as we followed the river up. As we followed a narrow ledge above the river, our shoulders rubbed against the granite walls. We could see ahead a ledge of rock and a turn where the river continued. We scrambled and climbed to reach the ledge and when we hauled ourselves up, brushing the sand from our hands and knees and looked ahead, their lay pools of clear water connected by wispy threads of cascading water, granite boulders, dark and gray interlaced with white veins of minerals. Ahead rose another platform and another turn of the river. A dark path of granite ran straight 1 meter wide coursing directly up the valley like an undulating ribbon rolled out over the ledge, then dipped and continued like a paved sidewalk until, at the next turn, it continued straight up an impossible vertical canyon wall. Turn after turn we were confronted with the same decision, before us the geological paradise continued, barely scalable rocky passages, pools of water crossing back and forth across the canyon and yet another turn of the valley, alluring promising drawing us on to the next. We continued.
The valley fell into shadow as the sun sunk behind the high canyon wall. Sunset would be fast approaching. Reluctantly we turned our course and began the descent to the car.
As we entered the parking lot we stopped to look back at the canyon wondering what lay past the last turn. Twilight was fading as we all three stared back in silence savoring the trip. We agreed they should have named this place "Awesome Rock Canyon" and not Aguas Calientes. Then Cristina noticed mud in the parking lot, and our gaze followed its path up to the base of the cliff wall at our side. Here, where the rock wall began I noticed a human head sticking out from behind a rock. I called the others attention to it and we all agreed, it was a person sitting with her body out of sigth. We approached and realized what had looked like rock was in fact an ancient cement tub, three connecting basins filled from a single weeping spring in the hill. The woman was seated up to her neck in one and offered the deeper pool to us. We stripped off our dusty shoes and plunged our aching feet and legs into the warm water. We rested and enjoyed the water until it was so dark we couldn't see eachothers faces anymore, then we made our way to the car. Maybe the name Aguas Calientes is appropriate after all.
We passed a quiet new year in the marina and on January 3rd we set sail out of La Paz where we were determined to find Whale Sharks. They were reputed to be easy to find, and commonly spotted just outside the harbor in the large, shallow bay of La Paz. We sailed binoculars in hand searching for any signs of large sharks. We spotted several tourist pangas zooming around the bay searching as well. As we approached the end of the bay the water got shallower, under 30 feet. Here we saw several pangas drifter together, and passengers jumping into the water with snorkel gear on. I put on my wet suit and fins as Cristina got us closer. Then we saw one, a dark shadow just below the surface moving slowly as it swept its tail back and forth as it fed. Cristina hove us too, I jumped overboard and swam like crazy towards the shark. I followed the divers already in the water as they milled about, and two photographers in another boat pointed me on, to the left, to the right, now straight ahead. spashed and swam as fast as I could until I could see its gray dorsal fin slowly slicing the water. The animal moved with such slow easy flaps of his tail that he looked like he was hardly moving but it took all of my strength to approach within underwater sight of him. I pulled alongside the animal and could see his dark skin specked with white spots. His mouth was open wide as he sucked water in, feeding on plankton. He was an adolescent, about 18 feet long, with a strong sturdy tail. I swam along for as far as I could then returned to Bamboleiro.
As we sailed away north Cristina spotted another pair of the whale sharks. We follewed one and she captured the video attached. Check it out.
The mushrom at Balandra Bay (north of La Paz)
El canon de la Zorra National Park
Jeff and Carl looking for hot springs around every corner in Aguas Calientes
La Paz malecon
Sculpture at La Paz
La Plaza - Main Square in La Paz
More sculptures in La Paz Malecon
Motor painting project in Palmira Marina (La Paz)
Whale Sharks in La Paz (El Moguete)