THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2008

Jacaranda Passage Note #24: Magical Night in Baja

Bahia Candeleros Chico, Baja California del Sur 

We had a most magical evening on the night of the full moon last month!! It was a peak experience that we will always remember.

The setting was on the Baja mainland, south of Loreto. Anchorages dont get much prettier than Caleta Candeleros Chico, a small cove barely big enough for two boats, and we had it all to ourselves on this sparkling stellar day in June. It was our own private paradise.

The high rocky cliffs on either side wrap around the bay like enveloping arms making it feel cozy and intimate; the eastern side is punctuated by a view of the Sea of Cortez where an awash reef connects a rocky island to the shore. At the head of the bay the turquoise water laps onto a crescent white sand beach; beyond that is a narrow desert valley with large multi-arm Cardon cacti and scrub brush that runs back about a mile to another bay. In the far distance the craggy silhouette of the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains form a dramatic backdrop.

The day began simply enough and heralded the wonderful evening to come. Our alarm clock was the braying of two black donkeys standing under a large cactus near the beach. In the morning coolness we hiked the desert trails to reach another sand beach and then up the nearby ridgeline for a breathtaking view of the coastline; a hummingbird hovered midair to check us out, songbirds chorused, a turkey vulture alighted on a Cardon cactus, and a rattlesnake skeleton bleached in the sun.

Early afternoon was spent snorkeling in the fish rich reefs off the shore and searching for clams. We sat contentedly in the cockpit in the heat of late afternoon watching a pair of ospreys circling overhead and around their large untidy nest built high on a rock ledge. Their cries echoed off the cliffs. One perched on top of a tall cactus on the rocky island with a big silvery fish (a dorado?) glinting in the sun, dangling from its talons. All was so tranquil.

The magic began at dusk, as the suns light began to fade. While below having dinner, we heard something hitting the side of the boat. I went up on deck to investigate and yelled below Look at all those yellowtails! A large school of two foot long yellowtails (great eating) were milling around the boat. Chuck came up with his fishing rod and I grabbed a hand line and the hunter in us took over. For about an hour we tried in vain to catch one and although they were curious about the lures we had in the water, they were generally uninterested in swallowing one. Suddenly we were distracted by some commotion at the entrance of the bay. We looked up to see a large stampede of flying fish coming our way like a swarm of locusts, whizzing through the air right at us; something was herding them into the beach, a common feeding technique used by many large fish.

Without warning Chucks rod bent almost in half as ZING! - The line played out and was taken under the boat. Thinking he had finally hooked a yellowtail he quickly started to reel in the lure and as we looked down into the darkened water, we saw a large swarm of 2-foot long squid darting and tearing around at high speeds. As they darted, they color-flashed from red to pink to white. They would grab the lure, hold on for a while, squirt a fire-hose jet of water if brought to the surface, and then let go, boomeranging the lure out of the water and making us duck as it flew overhead. We closed the hatches to prevent water from going below and didnt mind being sprayed ourselves (as long as it was water and not black ink). Time after time they would grab our lures, running with our lines but then let go after a 30 second tussle. We didnt have a special squid lure but were using regular hooks. Finally Chuck yanked the line as one grabbed hold and foul hooked it so it was solidly caught on the lure.

OK - so now we have this angry squid that is not very happy. It is squirting water and flashing colors as Chuck holds it midair with the rod doubled over looking like it was about to break. We turned to each other and said at the same time: Now what do we do? Into a bucket went the writhing squid. We scurried about the boat gathering up our materials and decide to clean it ashore rather than on the boat seeing as how we wanted to avoid the mess of stinky black ink and guts on the decks. By now it is almost pitch dark as we get into the dinghy with the bucket - Chuck brings the headlamp, knife, and cutting board; I have my arms filled with three cookbooks, each describing a different method of cleaning the thing. As we head to the beach a huge full orange pumpkin moon rises from the water framed in the opening of the rocky cliffs to the east - a wondrous sight!!

We returned to Jacaranda a half hour later with a lot of clean squid that would last us many meals (and challenge the variety of recipes I could find). The water had quieted down once again with the departure of the marauding squid pack; the excitement was gone and tranquility restored. Now we heard the gentle exhale of dolphins in the cove while the wild donkeys in the valley brayed goodnight as we stepped back on the boat and put our catch in the fridge. Exhausted from our evenings adventure, we showered on deck under the full moon and slept really soundly that night.