We are finally, finally in Mexico. It was hard to believe we’d arrived even while we checked in to the country at the Ensenada immigration and capitan de puerto office. Several days later, we picked up our zarpe (permission to leave port) and were given a friendly nudge by the Baja Naval marina staff out of our slip.
We decided to return to the first Mexican anchorage we visited aboard Cetacean in 2005. Islas San Benito, three tiny pieces of real estate 240 miles southwest of Ensenada, charmed us eight years ago. This year, our sail took two 24-hour days from Ensenada.
As the islands came into view, a pod of dolphins, in excited pursuit of dinner, took several moments to entertain us and tease Cetacean‘s bow.
Considering it has been eight years since we last visited Islas San Benito, we expected things to have changed. And yes, there were some differences this time. In 2005, we arrived in early November. It was still quite warm, the Isla San Benito Oeste’s anchorage was choked with serpentine kelp forests and there was a small number of fishermen living close to the anchorage’s rocky shore’s landing. Our arrival this year was chilly, overcast, no kelp to be seen and lots of surge causing some interesting sleeping arrangements aboard our boat for the night we stayed.
But, nothing else had changed that wasn’t a normal part of the islands’ seasonal rhythm.
We dinghied to shore while being intently watched by a three-year-old boy. Approaching him, I said, “Hola niño!” He did not respond. A man approached and said, “Christopher” pointing to the child, and then, “Hablas español?” We admitted that we were somewhat linguistically challenged but he indicated that he had the same issues with English. Somehow, the shared values concerning happiness and caring about family came through. It was an enjoyable visit. We asked about the elephant seals that the islands famously host and he directed us to the occupied beaches.
Isla San Benito Oeste is home to fishermen, abalone divers and shellfish trappers. They live in the small shacks that line the island’s anchorage beach. The tiny community has what appears to be a school/community center, running water, satellite communication and an impressive church with a graceful tribute to Mary of Guadalupe, recognizing her as a saint who protects those who work the sea for a living.
On our way to see los elefantes, we encountered some more island dwellers. Jonathan Vargas, a biologist studying indigenous and “hybrid” birds on the isles, introduced himself and asked about our journey. Señor Vargas lives on Isla San Benito Oeste for just a few winter months and then returns to his home in San Blas, (Mexico State of) Nayarit and is a bird watching enthusiast’s guide with his own company.
Elephant seals are enormous, seemingly comatose, are in need of some basic hygiene skills and yet are fascinating. Ron caught this moment, a non-comatose member of a catatonic elephant seal encampment looking like Edvard Munch’s character in “The Scream.”
While passing more and more beaches covered with the enormous beached elephant seals, we heard loud barking further on. We continued until we viewed steep, rocky shores and tide pools filled with shining young sea lions, appearing to be engaging in mock battle (at least to me!).
Ron thought the seals were more likely engaging in more romantic pursuits.
We decided to look for the highest San Benito Oeste lighthouse. We’d read the lighthouse was built on Isla San Benito Oeste’s tallest mountain (about 600 feet above sea level). We ran into Jonathan Vargas again who confirmed Ron’s assertion regarding the sea lion activity and directed us to the lighthouse trail. On our way to the lighthouse, we saw that our boat was still floating in the
anchorage framed by the Isla San Benitos Oeste village.
The trail up to the lighthouse was steep and a lot of work to traverse. But, we reached the top.
Strange, low growing cacti and some unidentifiable succulents were the only other fauna we observed. As we returned to our dinghy and made it ready to launch, the fishermen and divers returned from their workday. We greeted them as we headed back to Cetacean to enjoy the two abalone steaks we had purchased earlier that day from an incoming diver. Excellenté!
Today we head south. We’ll either stop at Bahia Santa Maria or Bahia Magdalena. It all depends.