Sunday, January 20, 2008

La Migra

Our cruising guide listed Cedros as a Port of Entry, which led us to avoid the big town experience of Ensenada, where most yachts check in, and boogy all the way to Cedros before dealing with formalities. The cruising guide didn’t list any Immigation office for Cedros, though, which left me with a lingering doubt – the Port Captain could check our boat into the country, but who was going to stamp our passports and check us in?

On our first trip ashore, the man who gave us directions to the Port Captain confirmed that there was no Immigration office on Cedros.

After finding the Port Captain’s office closed, we returned to the barky. Once there, we fell prey to a curse of the traveler – irrational concerns, blossoming in a vacuum of facts, and multiplying as we batted them back and forth.

“If there’s no Immigration, doesn’t that mean we can’t check into the country?”

“If we can’t check into the country, doesn’t that mean we’re here illegally?”

“So not only did we bring diarrhea with us into Mexico, but we’re also illegal American immigrants in Mexico?”

“Could they fine us?”

“I guess. I mean, if we broke Mexican law, I suppose we could be fined.”

“They wouldn’t arrest us? Or take the boat?”

“Maybe we should call the American embassy on the sat phone and ask for advice.”

“I’m not too sure that you would get any meaningful information on the time scale of a sat phone call. Remember those poor people who used to call our office in Kodiak for information about starting new fisheries?”

“Are we even allowed to go ashore without having our passports stamped?”

“Are we even allowed to anchor?”

“Maybe we should just sail down to La Paz without going ashore.”

“Yeah, but I’d hate to miss the whole west coast. I was really looking forward to it.”

There were no other yachts at Cedros to get information from. Sleep that night was fitful. In the morning we rowed ashore, grim-faced, to face the music at the Port Captain’s.

The Port Captain and the woman who handled our paperwork, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were enraptured with Elias. No, no problem, they said, in between cooing at Elias and chucking him on the chin. You can just check in with immigration at La Paz. Did we have to go to the Customs office in Cedros, which was at the salt-loading dock, five miles from the town. There was some disagreement on that, a brief exchange of contrary opinion, then, no, we didn’t have to.

“Well, that was a huge relief,” said the more sanguine member of our team (Alisa), after we dismounted from the pickup that the Port Captain had provided for our return to the harbor.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” said the one of us who more habitually looks at the potential down side (me).

“If there’s any trouble in La Paz we can just say the Port Captain told us what we were doing was OK.”

“We’ll see how far that gets us. The Port Captain here doesn’t care if we get our passports stamped or not. That’s not his problem.”

“Well, we’ll just have to make sure we take Elias with us to the Immigration in La Paz, and hope that the people there like him as much as the people here did.”

Residual worry over our situation remained with us. It’s hard now to remember how concerned we were, as we have since met other cruisers who have done the same thing, and report that it was no problem. Thus our oft-repeated truism, the things you worry about the most turn out to be the least problem. Alisa takes from this that worry is best avoided, while I conclude that if one could only worry in equal measure about everything, nothing would go wrong…

Our “this reality” selves concluded that there was little for us to do with Elias on Cedros, and we set off on the day sail to Bahia Tortugas after two days. Before our trip I had a mental picture of Baja as offering pretty weak sailing, with the light winds of Southern California growing even lighter this far south. But our sail down through the Canal de Dewey, between mainland Baja and Isla Natividad, turned into a rip-roaring downhill ride in a steady 25 knots of wind. Good fun.

Pulling into Bahia Tortugas, we were delighted to see Free Spirit already at anchor just in front of the town, with Paul and Ann on board, whom we had met in Morro Bay, and again in San Diego. Paul and Ann flew into San Francisco from Holland a few months ago and, after three weeks of searching, found a 39 foot ferrocement boat, owner deceased, that they bought from the marina where it was sitting for considerably less than ten thousand dollars. (Paul and Ann, if you read this, I hope I’m not giving away your secret.) After a few weeks of hard work with expert advice and help from their friend Yap, they were off down the coast, bound for Panama, the Galapagos and New Zealand. On our trip we’ve met plenty of people who have been getting their boat ready for a big cruise for the last six years or so, with no firm departure date in sight. So I really like Paul and Ann’s approach of getting a boat together on the cheap and just jumping into the trip.

We motored up to their boat to say hi before anchoring. “Anchor close!” Paul said. “It’s not so easy to row far in this wind.”

We dropped the hook a hundred yards from their boat, and then sat there for three days. The wind came up to a steady 30 knots, blowing spray off the tops of the waves. Pelagic was fine, we didn’t drag an inch, but it was too windy for rowing the dinghy, so we just sat on the boat, staring at the town and waving at Paul and Ann whenever we saw them on deck.

Here’s a picture of Paul and Ann after the winds died and we were able to meet up. Paul turned out to be pretty good at reading to Elias, and generally entertaining him. We did all of our visiting on Pelagic, since Free Spirit isn’t one-year-old proof.

The town of Bahia Tortugas was dusty and crumbling. There was one paved street and no street signs. With Elias we weren’t leaping into the eating out experience, but Paul and Ann reported that when they tried for an evening meal all the restaurants they found were closed. Everything looks poor and speaks of a town on the way down, but the streets were also full of thirty thousand dollar SUVs. Paul says that the town is fifty kilometers of dirt road from the highway, maybe that explains the vehicles. Anyway, the contrast between Bahia Tortugas and Cedros on one hand and San Diego on the other could not be more pronounced. It’s one thing to talk about different standards of living, but actually walking the streets and shopping for groceries in an isolated Mexican town really makes the difference vivid. When we were talking to Paul and Ann about it I ventured that the crossing from San Diego to Tijuana might present the sharpest material change over the shortest distance of any border crossing in the world. I should stress that everyone we dealt with in Bahia Tortugas, and Cedros as well, was very nice to us. People were more than pleasant, they would go out of their way to be nice, like a fisherman wading out from the beach to help us land our little dinghy through the waves. I also thought, when wading through the streets of Bahia Tortugas, of the compensations that a life in that little town might have, things like closeness of family and a social warmth that we might lack in the U.S. Hard to really know anything concrete about that, or about the culture at all, as we made brief forays into town and then retreated to the boat when it was time to feed Elias, or when we could sense the approach of a baby meltdown in the skiff if we didn’t get moving.

That’s where traveling on the barky really is different – whenever we want to, we can retreat back to our own little capsule of the U.S. It’s an invaluable asset for traveling for with one so young as Elias. I also think about how much time I’ve spent on other trips looking for hotels, checking the rooms before paying, etc. The downside to traveling on the barky is that we lose the experience of being immersed in a foreign country. So far, between boat and baby, Alisa and I have not had any chance to really Get Down With the People here in Baja.

The marine life in Bahia Tortugas was amazing. Hundreds of brown pelicans in the bay, putting on an incredible display of plunge diving all day long and well into the dark. They’re such big birds – Sibley lists them at 8.2 pounds, and it’s really exciting to see them diving into the water from a hundred feet in the air, making adjustments early in the dive and them commiting into a streak of hurtling piscivore. At times as many as twenty dived simultaneously on a single school of fish. They also continued to plunge-dive well after sunset, up to the point when it was almost completely dark. Rowing back to the barky in the deep dusk, with the explosion of a diving pelican suddenly close by, we wondered how they could possibly see the fish that they were after. Our only guess was that there was some bioluminescence in the water that was tipping them off.

There were also common bottlenose dolphins in Bahia Tortugas, Tursiops truncatus. They are much bigger than the other dolphins that we’ve seen so far – our guidebook lists males at twelve and a half feet long – and it was remarkable how slowly they moved, even when they were feeding on fish schools that were also being worked by the pelicans and sea lions.

Bahia Tortugas moonrise.

1 comment:

  1. I love that photo! Great posts! Especially the conversations between the two of you. Often I get lost in the sailing lingo, but the conversations I understand! Sounds like quite and adventure!