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Vol 2 Iss 3: Transforming the Mundane into the Memorable
October 12 | Ensenada La Gringa | 29º01.9’ N 112º32.7’W | Wind: 10 kts N | Weather: 82ºF with clouds forming over the peninsula
Ensenada La Gringa, Bahía de Los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico
You know those people who have that special gift, that magic touch, the ability to transform the mundane into the memorable?
They seem to be half-host, ensuring your comfort, and half-Tinker Bell, ensuring your delight. They know how to give you an experience you won’t ever forget.
It’s quite a rare gift. I suspect Disney has a way of rounding up these people and employing/sequestering them in their parks as Atmospheric Engineers which is why you only run across them in your annual vacation to Orlando.
I once met one of these people in an Afrikaans karaoke bar in Cape Town. Only a few songs had been sung before Elsje invited the group to spend a weekend in her family’s beach house up the coast. You never turn down a beach house invitation, but still I had low expectations.
Instead, Elsje gave us an unforgettable weekend: breakfast spreads full of juicy fruit from the Western Cape, a guided nature walk through the swirling tide pools teeming with wildlife, an expedition to pluck mussels off the rocks at low tide, a braai (BBQ) on an isolated sandy beach where we feasted on homemade barbecued bread and mussels steamed with white wine and butter.
Eleven years later and I can still taste the juicy papaya, feel the spikes of the sea urchins plucked from the tidal pools, smell the sweet aroma of the bread and mussels, feel the heat of the fire as we listened to the waves crash on the beach behind us. Thanks to Elsje, the weekend…and much of my year in Cape Town….was magical.
Today we’re back at a familiar anchorage. We stopped here at Ensenada La Gringa back in June. It’s a fine anchorage: good holding for our anchor, no bugs, no noise. It’ll do for a couple of nights before we head somewhere more fun.
Last night we were thrilled to meet back up with our friends Sam & Jesica. It’s a full moon so they had spent the day before with Max and Karen, anchored on s/v Lusty next to us, floating the lagoon.
Today they’ve invited us to come along. “It’s fun. Like a lazy river.” A lazy river in the wild? Sounds like an okay way to spend the afternoon.
Only problem is Max and Karen have 4 floats (two inflated cylinders connected by a mesh) but only 4. What can Andrés Jacobo and I use to float? There are some pool noodles but we can’t find a way to fashion them into a decent float. What else? Andrés Jacobo and Sam see the fenders we use to dock the boats and an idea strikes. Two fenders tied together look a lot like the inflatable chambers on their floats. There’s no mesh, but, hey, we’ll get a free ab work out today. They use a sheet bend knot to tie pairs of fenders together and we’re off.
Admittedly, we do not look cool or chic. My redneck roots are on full display as I try to arrange myself in between the two fenders. The mesh of the real floats enables a graceful start to the float. Without the mesh, we resort to plopping - yes PLOPPING - into the water and wiggling around until we have one fender under our knees and one fender supporting our necks. A little adjusting and we’re swept away into the hillbilly water park.
We’re floating in the current formed by the high tidal water in the lagoon. Since it’s a full moon, the water is deep enough to float and the current fast enough to move. It only takes a few minutes before we have huge smiles plastered on our faces.
This. Is. So. FUN!!!
The current twists us and twirls us around like a teacup ride. In the deep sections, the current picks up and speeds us around the corners. In the shallow parts, whoever is in the lead shouts back to the rest “Butt up!” to warn the rest of us of the low lying rocks. We race through the lagoon, no one wanting to be the ‘rotten huevo.’ We’re transported back to childhood, laughing gleefully, delighting in the sensations, racing and spinning.
Max and Karen act as our tour guides. “Move to port unless you want the grass up ahead to clean your bottom.” “Over there is a big sharp barnacle-covered rock.” “See those cormorants nesting to your right?” They lead us to some small ‘Chutes & Ladders’ shortcuts where the current has cut a fast pass through the gravel.
Just like a manmade lazy river, the lagoon forms a circular route so too quickly we are shot back out of the lagoon to the beach next to our kayak.
“Let’s do it again!” cry Max & Karen.
We eagerly follow their lead and take 3 more rides around the lagoon. The tide is going out so the lagoon gets progressively shallower with each round.
With a wriggle of his eyebrows, Max dares us, “Anyone up for a danger round?”
Not wanting the fun to end, we go one more round, keeping sharp eyes out for those sharp rocks now sticking up and working our core keeping our butts lifted as we barely pass through the shallow channels.
High on happiness, Max and Karen invite us all over to their 57ft sailboat for sundowners. Sam & Jesica offer up a Mahi they caught near Mitlán and the cocktail plan evolves into Mahi fish tacos for dinner. Luckily I picked up some fresh tomatoes in Bahía Willard so I offer to bring homemade pico de Gallo for the tacos. We disperse to shower before meeting up on Lusty.
Instead of the basic spaghetti bolognese I had planned for us to eat for dinner, we find ourselves experiencing the hospitality of Max and Karen. A fun country music playlist reaches our ears before we even reach their boat. A full charcuterie board greets us on arrival. We sip on cold drinks - complete with ice, an unheard of luxury on Ana María - while Karen deep fries the breaded mahi and grouper. She serves us fresh coleslaw, juicy limes, garlicky pico de Gallo, warm tortillas, and piping hot fish tacos. Anyone else would have served them on simple plates. Not Karen. She serves them in the red plastic baskets with the red and white checked paper you would get in a beachside restaurant. It’s her attention to the small details like the serving baskets that somehow make the tacos taste even better.
We bask in the joy of the day, feasting on the tacos, swapping stories, and laughing at each others’ jokes.
“Spring tides” vs. “Neap tides”: We’re able to float the high water in the lagoon because we are experiencing spring tides as a result of the full moon. Both the full moon and the lack of the moon pull the world’s water into extreme positions resulting in higher high tides and lower low tides. The water makes dramatic pendulum springs. The Northern Sea of Cortez is famous for its tidal differences where there can be up to a 23 foot difference in the water level at low tide vs. high. These dramatic high tides flood the lagoon allowing for our afternoon’s fun.
The mid-cycle moon phases bring neap tides where the deltas between low tide and high tide are much more mellow.
This month we struggled to make the appropriate paradigm shift and we got pummeled by currents thanks to our stubbornness.
In the boatyard mindset, our stubborn streaks provide a real advantage. Setbacks and challenges occur daily - nay, hourly - and you can only complete all your boatyard tasks by pushing for progress every single day. Did you forget to buy the 15 feet of triplex marine wire for the high water alarm in the bilge? You gotta be scrappy to come up with some today and not wait for some to be delivered in a week. You have to put 3 coats of paint on the bottom of the boat before 2 p.m.? You start at 4:30 a.m., armed with snacks and water, and you push through no matter how hot, how grueling.
When cruising, though, you’re rewarded for your patience. You move at the permission and mercy of the weather. Sailing from Puerto Refugio down to Ensenada La Gringa, we were determined to leave Refugio, undeterred by the forecast showing the northerly winds weren’t going to show up after all. Without the winds to counteract the spring tidal currents, we spent the entire morning motoring against a 3 kt current. With clinched teeth, we watched our speed-over-ground linger at 1 kt of progress toward our destination.
Wiser cruisers would have seen the updated forecast and stayed put until the wind filled in.
We listen to Channel 16, the ‘hailing and distress channel’, on the VHF all day. Rarely do we hear distress calls but up here we often hear the chatter of the local fishermen. I was alarmed when I heard them talking about a tiburón. “Andrés! There is a shark somewhere close!” “No, listen to the second word….ballena. It’s a whale shark.”
The marine biologist who named the whale shark took quite a bit of creative liberty as the animal is neither a shark nor a whale. It is the largest species of fish, weighing up to 15 tons and growing as long as 45 ft. This is significantly larger than our boat so we are thankful they are mild mannered and prefer to eat enormous amounts of plankton instead of snorkelers.
The next day we are keen to repeat yesterday’s fun and kayak back to the lagoon at high tide. We’re disappointed to discover the waning moon has decreased the tidal strength. We’ll be lucky if we get one ‘danger’ round out of the lazy river today.
Still, if we hurry, we can get one ride in. We’re floating along, walking like crabs through the shallowest parts, when we start to hear Max yell every few minutes “Got one!……..Got another one!”
I twirl around to see what in the world he is talking about. He holds up clams he’s pulled from the bottom of the lagoon. By the end of the ride, he’s collected about 10 of them. Motivated by the bounty ripe for pickin’, Max and Karen exclaim “Let’s get clams for dinner tonight!” Max dinghies to his boat and comes back with a shovel and a huge bucket.
They lead us to a curve of the lagoon where the knee-high water is running fast over a pea-gravel bottom. “The clams in gravel are sweeter because they aren’t buried in sand,” they explain to us newbies. We’ve never clammed before as it’s illegal for gringos. Karen, though, is a Mexican national so we feel more comfortable, especially as she is the one holding the bucket of clams.
“Stick your hand straight down in the bottom about 6 inches and pick up whatever your hands can grab,” she instructs. I try a couple of times, each time pulling out two handfuls of rocks. I plunge my hands a bit deeper and am thrilled to see 2 clams mixed in with the stones. Planting my feet to stabilize against the fast current, I plunge my hands over and over into the bottom. I get the hang of it, getting faster and pulling out more and more clams.
We move as a group as the pickins become slim, shifting a couple feet in search of fresh sources. We adjust our systems. Sam shoves both hands into the water, pulls up 2 huge handfuls, and I sift through the stones in his hands to pull out the huge clams. Max uses his shovel to lift up the sand, revealing lots of clams we clamor to collect before the water washes the sand over them once again.
We’re giddy from the instant gratification of such quick work and the promise of pasta with fresh clam sauce for dinner. In 30 minutes, we have a bucket so full of clams Max has to carry it on his head back to the dinghy.
We meet back on their boat to watch them prepare tonight’s dinner. Max and Karen show us how they wash, dry and steam the clams in garlic, onion, butter, and white wine. Just after the clams pop open, Max shucks a clam for each of us to try.
Oh my goodness. Melt-in-your-mouth. Delectable. Divine.
Our appetite is sufficiently whet for the meal.
No plastic baskets in sight or “Chicken Fried” by Zac Brown tonight. Not for such a fancy feast! We listen to Pink Martini sing in Portuguese as Karen serves the pasta with clam sauce onto fancy white seafood pasta bowls perfect for the occasion. A sprinkle of parmesan, a squeeze of lemon.
It’s hard to remember a more memorable dinner. When’s the last time I harvested my food from the earth? When’s the last time I did it while laughing and thoroughly enjoying the ‘work’ with friends?
We can’t help but eat second portions of the pasta, chucking our clam shells overboard into Ensenada La Gringa.
It’s hard to believe this bay is the same La Gringa we experienced back in June. Sometimes it takes friends to unlock the magic of the place.
We are reluctant to break the spell Max and Karen have cast over the place for us, but we have quite the kayak ride against the westerly winds back to Ana María.
Because I am Mark Rhoades’ daughter, I serenade Max & Karen, Sam & Jes with a song he taught me as we paddle away:
This has been a real nice clambake
We’re mighty glad we came
The vittles we et
were good you bet
The company was the same
Our hearts are full
Our bellies are warm
And we are feeling fiiiiiine
This has been a real nice clambake
And we’ve all had a real good time!
If you ever find yourself with a big bucket of fresh clams you too can make Clam Pasta á la Lusty:
Hang the clams in the mesh bag over the bow of the boat as you sail to rinse the sand out of the clams. Wash the shells with fresh water and dry them with a beach towel.
In a large shallow pan (the clams cook more evenly than piled high in a pot per Max), sauté onions in garlic and butter. Mix in white wine. Pour in the washed clams. Cover and steam until the shells pop open.
Reserving the liquid in the pan, shuck most of the clams, leaving some in the shells for serving. Chop the clam meat.
Using the liquid from the pan, boil linguine until al dente then drain. To serve, toss the pasta with the clam meat, chopped parsley, and cream. Mix in the clams still in the shells. Sprinkle with parmesan and the juice of a lemon.
The lagoon float, mahi tacos, and fresh clam pasta were not only the highlights of the month, but possibly some of the highlights of our year here.
“We’ve spent a lot of money going to a lot of marriage counselors to discover: Opposites attract.” - Wade & Shari Farmer
Andrés Jacobo and I are opposites in many ways, but the one temperance difference that causes the most friction in the ordering of our common everyday life here is my extroversion to his introversion. We struggle to find fulfillment for both his need for quiet peaceful isolation and my need for the stimulation I get from interaction with people.
This month, I’m reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking to better understand, appreciate, and love my Introvert.
It’s been an intellectually challenging read as it contradicts much of what I was taught at university (“Wait…brainstorming is bad!?!?”), but it’s been insightful. I highly recommend reading it if you are an Introvert, are married to an Introvert, have a child who is an Introvert, or work with an Introvert.
We’ll celebrate la Día de los Muertos then meander slowly to La Paz to catch the World Cup.
Fair winds and following seas,