Home: Playa Estucasa beachside palapa
A second night of tentless sleeping had us up as now-normal for sunrise. But unlike yesterday, we didn’t hear the slapping of manta ray fins on the calm waters of the bay. Instead, we heard the compressed-air exclamations of dolphins! Once we heard their sounds, their rising dorsal fins and arching tails were easily visible, swimming parallel to the shore, in a group of 10 to 15 out a hundred yards or so.
We first saw dolphins in a mega-pod during our Monterey Bay whale watching trip when a boat took us way out to find them. Then when we were near Malibu, we spotted a group on our own, as we were just riding along the busy Pacific Coast Highway. But to have them simply swim through our “front yard” as we were thinking of starting up some coffee ,was a new type of quiet, casual intimacy for us. A woman from the north end of the beach took off in their direction on her stand-up paddleboard, singing to them as she rowed, but they turned out into the deeper part of the bay before she could reach them.
That would be far from our last encounter with wildlife for the day, because today we were taking a boat ride! Yes, once again, George and Penny had generously offered to share their time and resources with us, this time by taking us out in their inflatable motorized boat.
I already was doing my thing where I feel like too much of a taker, unable to give in exchange, but George actually did a great job of mitigating that feeling by both quickly assessing which tasks landlubbers like us would be capable of handling, and then not being afraid to assign us such tasks with clear and informative instructions. Part of those instructions were to tell Rett which other members of the community she could go to to borrow snorkeling gear for us!
We motored over to an island, pulled up onto a sand beach, and set up a small camp there. In true desert-island fashion, George showed how to knife open a coconut, and then he and Penny got wet-suited up for snorkeling. We had a third suit, but Rett and I decided to just try without it, figuring it probably wouldn’t be wise to make our first snorkeling expedition an epic one, and better to let it be limited by us getting too cold.
I’d never really understood what the point or value of snorkeling was, and I almost felt that more even now, as I’ve spent the last few days just walking around in the water and simply looking down at little fish swimming around my ankles. What more would moving my face a couple feet downward add? If you aren’t actually scuba diving, snorkeling sounded like a fairly useless middle-ground. Well, maybe it is (I haven’t been scuba diving yet!), but it’s way better than just looking down into the water! It’s not the “couple feet downward” that makes the big difference, it’s the “eyes below the surface” that’s the key. Eliminating the distortions of the waves and the air/water interface is like going from black-and-white CRT TV to high-definition. Trading the full-face-mask snorkeling gear between us (and me wearing a life jacket to give my non-floating body some help), we saw all sorts of mid-sized fish sheltering around the cities of seaweed, and starfish on the open sandy bottom. George and Penny made it a lot further out and saw a lot more (we definitely started getting cold!), but I was really happy with my first snorkeling experience. Especially because it happened when I’m supposedly on a bike tour, near an island that some people, who we didn’t even know a few days ago, took us to in their boat!
We dried out, and ate some lunch. But then George, who had been keeping an eye on the wind and waves all morning, saw the currents picking up coming at us from the north, and it was time to get packed up as quickly as we could and back on the water so that we wouldn’t risk getting stuck with our little motor.
This time I was sitting in the back row with George, and he handed me the tiller and had me piloting the boat most of the way back. It was clear how Rett picked up her ukulele skills so quickly: George is a gifted teacher, again quickly sussing out my abilities and handing responsibility up to the level I was able to handle, while giving clear an informative explanations the whole way. I had initially thought how lucky we were to be able to go on a boat ride for the day; I’d had no idea that I’d gain genuine knowledge and experience, a gift much greater than the ride itself! Of course his motivation for teaching in this case wasn’t entirely altruistic: he also had a healthy respect for the risks of the sea, and the more people on-board who knew a thing or two about working on the water, the safer we’d all be. In other words, there are no people I would have rather taken a boat ride with!
And it wasn’t over yet. As we neared our beach, George noticed the weather from the north wasn’t retarding our progress too much, so continuing that way was doable because at any point we could then turn around and be pushed back home. He asked if we had anywhere to be (of course not!) and called an audible to head all the way north to Santispac. On the way out to J.C.’s Restaurant last night, George and Penny had been thrilled to see a vehicle pass in the other direction: it was their beach-friends Graham and Mo from British Columbia returning from points south. And in this no-cellular zone, physically seeing people is one of the only ways to have any idea where they are, so we were now doing a scan of the beach to see if we could find them.
It was fun to motor by the spots we had kayaked, past our old campsite between Val and Roger, and then finally at the south auxiliary part of the beach, George and Penny spotted their friends, sitting out in their chairs in the shallow water with their backs to us. That inspired some technical and playful boating in an attempt to sneak up behind them unnoticed, a plot that almost worked!
When we got the boat anchored and on the beach, Graham and Mo welcomed us too like old friends: Mo immediately gave Rett the self-made beach-glass necklace she was wearing after Rett complimented it, they broke out beers to pass around and then tiny shots of tequila super-mini beer mugs that Graham kept pouring. Mo is yet another of George’s ukulele students, so a little music completed the full awesome impromptu beach party. Rett and I realized that we were unexpectedly back on the beach with a store, and could walk over to pick up our pot-luck contribution. George and Penny loaned us cash that we hadn’t brought, and then Mo insisted that instead of walking the half-mile back and forth, we take their big-wheeled little car. Which we took her up on, mainly just because I thought it would be fun to drive on the beach, and the chance to drive a car and a boat in one day is a fairly ridiculous thing for “bike tourers” to be doing! We actually drove all the way past the north end of the beach on Mo’s recommendation, to check out a section we hadn’t seen before (they had nice, walled palapas there, that were open!), then parked next to Val to say hi with our new wheels, and made it back to the party without me stalling their manual-transmission car once! And in the meantime, somehow pizza had arrived…we hadn’t seen that vendor come by during our stay!
When the sun started getting low, we said our goodbyes and headed back south in the boat. George had some interest in extending our incredible day even longer, scouting out the hot spring at Posada, but Penny wisely wanted to get us all back before dark, so after a brief diversion into Posada’s cove, we arrived back at our beach just as the setting sun was firing up the suddenly-present cloud formation.
What a day! We are so grateful to the unexpected generosity of all the people we’ve met, none more than George and Penny, who have turned this primitive resource-limited beach stay for us into a resort-level vacation filled with activities that I never imagined we’d be able to partake in!
As I was helping George get the boat wrapped up, we learned that the beach host was there on his once-every-few-days visit to collect payment, so I ran back to our palapa to pay the honor-system MX$600 (~US$30) for 4 nights on the beach (we already knew we’d be staying at least one more night after the pot-luck). All the best parts of resort-life, with none of the downsides, at a price that wouldn’t even cover the tax at an actual resort!
And in today’s “small-world of Baja”, our new neighbors replacing Susannah and Chant were Lisa and Carl, who we had met on our second whale-watching tour from Guerrero Negro! They had completed their drive south and were now slowly heading back north, wisely spending a couple nights here and then maybe trying another whale tour on their way by Ojo de Liebre. It’s definitely hard to leave this place!