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Sailing the West Coast: La Paz, Mexico to San Diego, CA

On Night Shift, The Life of a Sailor, Tattoos, and San Diego

overcast 59 °F

I’m forty miles out to sea, heading north along the west coast of the Baja Peninsula. It’s a bit snuffy out here. There are 4 to 6 foot waves hitting off of our port bow, gives us a long diagonal roll (forward to aft) followed by a sharper sway (side to side) to compensate. It’s been gradually building since we rounded the southern tip of the peninsula, also known as “the cape”, “land’s end“, and Cabo San Lucas.

Last night we were able to see how well we lashed down all of the loose objects on board. It was a good first test, and we passed. As seas build, the violent movement of the ship increases exponentially. We’ll see how things go when there are eight foot seas.

In the night, we discovered a leak on our forward port, and a mysterious creaking noise coming from the forecastle. There isn’t much we can do about the leak now, except sop up the trickle of water with towels, and keep our eye on it.

The chief engineer and I explored the bilges underneath the forecastle to discover where the creaking noise was coming from. To crawl in the bilges in a heaving ship isn’t easy. It’s a cramped space, with no place to comfortably put a foot down, and plenty of hard, sharp edges to hit one’s head upon. We discovered the sound was from an aluminum deck plate, creaking with the bend of metal in the swells. It was nothing to worry about.

I’m working the night shift. My shift runs from 8 pm to 6 am, and for me it’s a fun shift to work. I volunteered for it, actually. The other deckhands we have are relative new comers and a bit green (literally). The most seasoned one has only been here just over a month, and the other two have just arrived. I’ve been here six months, which doesn’t sound like a long time, but believe me, it is. I’ve been on this ship continuously longer than everyone else on board. Since October, I’ve been living the life of a sailor onboard this ship. It’s a good life; it’s more like a working vacation for me. It has allowed me to explore some amazing desert islands and to live more amazing ocean experiences than I would have otherwise. I’ve swam with whale sharks. I’ve kissed a gray whale. I’ve swam in bioluminescence. I’ve climbed some amazing desert mountains few people take the time to admire.
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The night shift is fun. There are three of us working in the night. One of the mates drives the vessel, an engineer is around to help out and to take control if there is something wrong with our engines or steering. I’m walking the decks to make sure everything is secured, make engine rounds, and look for trouble. I take it sincerely, I’m the first line of defense if there is anything wrong (such as the leak in the forward lounge), and there is no place I’d rather be.

I enjoy navigating the decks of a heaving ship in the salt spray, wind and dark. It makes me feel alive, and its fun to rely on your own athletic ability and know how in adverse conditions. I love the life of a sailor. I love the history, the ocean, and the unknown. There is something addicting about the ocean that calls to certain people. It satisfies the wanderlust in me, and makes me happy. I’m experiencing a part of the world (and life), that very few people have ever experienced. I’m going to be proud to say I’ve sailed from the Baja peninsula all the way up the west coast of North America to Alaska.

I’ll have earned my sparrow. There is a tradition of tattooing among sailors, with different symbols standing for different feats.

The sparrow indicates having sailed 5000 miles. A swallow indicates every 5000 miles sailed. So two swallows would be 10000 miles. I think I’ll have earned two swallows by the end of this voyage. Sailors get swallows because they always know the way home. I’m not sure I know the way home anymore…

I want to get an anchor tattoo on my right forearm, ala Popeye style. To earn it, I’ll have to sail on the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve also could put a compass rose or two stars, so I always know where I’m going. I like the idea of putting crosses on the bottom of my feet to ward off sharks…

The following is a list of Traditional sailor decoration and meanings.

Sailors got their ears pierced because it helps improve eyesight (I think it’s an acupuncture site).
A black pearl earring for survivors of a sinking ship.
Golden earrings were used as a means of ensuring they were buried properly should they die at sea or in a foreign port.
In modern times a brass earring denoted a survivor of a ship sinking.
One left ear piercing for crossing each of the Equator, Artic Circle, and Antarctic Circle.
Earrings were thought to keep spirits from entering through the ear, but that's not a purely sailor thing.
A sparrow for every 5000 thousand nautical miles traveled,
A sailor would get a swallow tattoo for every 5000 miles he had sailed.
A swallow because it will always find its way home.
A rooster and pig on the ankles are to prevent a sailor from drowning.
The pig and the rooster are tattooed on either the calves or the top of the feet, to prevent a sailor from drowning. These animals were originally carried on most ships in wooden crates. When a ship goes down these crates would float and then catch currents and wash ashore with the other debris from the ship, making the pigs and roosters often the only souls to survive a shipwreck.
A tattoo of a pig on the left knee and a rooster (cock) on the right foot signified "Pig on the knee, safety at sea. A cock on the right, never lose a fight."
Tattoos of pigs and chickens were to make sure they always had their ham and eggs so that they never go hungry.
A turtle standing on its back legs (shellback) for crossing the equator and being initiated into King Neptune’s Court.
A tattoo of King Neptune if you crossed the Equator.
Crossed anchors on the web between the thumb and index finger for a boson’s mate.
Royal Navy tattoos of palm trees for the Mediterranean cruises in WWII.
Many US sailors have a palm tree or hula girl from Hawaii.
The words HOLD and FAST were tattooed on the knuckles to help hold line.
Hold Fast across the knuckles to keep them from falling overboard or dropping a line.
Anchor tattoo for sailing the Atlantic.
Full rigged ship for sailing around Cape Horn.
Dragon Tattoo for a sailor who had sailed into port in China
A Golden Dragon was for sailors who had crossed the International Date Line.
Rope around the wrist for being a dockhand.
Two stars to ensure always knowing the way.
The anchor usually noted that the sailor was in the merchant marine.
Guns or crossed cannon for military naval service.
Harpoons for the fishing fleet.
Crosses on the soles of one's feet to ward off hungry sharks.
A nautical star, or compass rose was to always find your way home.
A dagger through a rose signified a willingness to fight and kill even something as fragile as a rose.
Many sailors also got pornographic images so that they would always have them with them.

I found this list using a basic search engine. I think it is an interesting list. In fact, I read it aloud to the crew sitting around me in the dining room. To be sure, there are a lot of tattoos onboard this boat, though most of them aren’t nautical tats. I’ve yet to get a tattoo, but I’m making my mind up on the matter as I write this. :-D
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So far my favorite scenes on this voyage have been right at dawn. There was a carpet of very low clouds stretching all the way to the horizon. The sea was relatively flat and calm rising and falling in the swell like the breathing of a slumbering child. The sun broke over the horizon, showed itself for a minute and disappeared above the clouds. It was very peaceful. I sipped my tea, leaned on the rail, and thought about where I was and what I was doing with my life. I had to smile.

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This marks the end of the first leg of this journey. We docked in San Diego, California to clear customs, take on fuel, stores, and water. I haven’t spent a lot of time in San Diego, and it wasn’t looking like I was going to. I was tired from working all night, and was basically staying up so I could clear customs.
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Coming into a big port by way of water is a great way to get a look at a city. We were cruising at roughly 8 mph, which compared to the speed of a car on the freeway, is crawling. I leaned on the rail and watched the cityscape open before me. Low clouds hung over the downtown buildings, and reflected off the water of the channel. It was peaceful, and perfect scenery for my tired eyes.
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Tired as I was, it was good to see the city. The sea gets monotonous at times, especially when you are so far away from land. There isn’t much to see, but water and sky, with the occasional bird or mammal. To see land lubbers going about their daily life is interesting to us seafaring folk. I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like to drive a car again…

So Long from the coast of California, heading to points north.

Posted by Rhombus 16:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats oceans sailing photography dawn tattoos sailors Comments (3)

Midnight In Mexico

Remapping the Stars, Aerobatic Ocean Life, "The Law of Attraction" and a Self Assessment

sunny 70 °F

It’s midnight in Mexico. I’m sitting watch on the bridge (pilothouse) of the Seabird, quietly watching the few navigation lights in the distance, and listening to the coffeehouse music on the XM. It’s a quiet time; the captain and I have settled into our respective thoughts, and a comfortable silence holds between us.
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The night sky is a smoky carpet of shimmering stars. I’ve noticed that the longer I look at the stars, the more patterns I begin to see. I keep coming up with my own design to the stars; some that probably mimic the accepted constellations, but most of them are probably my own creation. Last night I decided that I prefer my organization to the night sky, and I’m seriously considering notifying the officials at various space agencies of my new ordering of the stars. Two thousand plus years of accepted celestial order probably won’t be that hard to rewrite.

My thoughts wander around like a butterfly (once known as a flutter-by, kudos to the rascal who instituted that change). Bridge watch is a perfect time to do some serious mind wandering, and mine is finely tuned; A Formula One precision instrument of aimless ideas and random thought.

Down on the surface of the water, I see the foamy streaks of fish jumping out of the water, mostly skipping along the surface. I’m surprised at how often the creatures of the sea take to the air above their watery home. Whales like to make a big splash when they breech. Picture the biggest “cannonball” you’ve ever seen and multiply it by 50. It’s impressive. Dolphins are like surface to air missiles shot from submarines, they swim along just under the surface then pop up out of the water in a small highly arced rainbow. Rays are my favorite. Picture a giant floppy rubbery Frisbee that can launch itself completely out of the water, only to land back into the surface with a satisfying belly flopping SMACK! They often go airborne several times in a row, and I enjoy listening to the distant “smack, smack, smack” while hiking along the high desert cliffs along the shoreline. I haven’t seen any schools of flying fish yet. These fish, I really want to see, as I hear their flight paths are very impressive, covering over 160 feet with a single flight.
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On occasion, I try to put my life in perspective, and see where I’m at. I’ve chosen a wandering path for my life. While working aboard a ship, I rarely wake up in the same spot in which I went to sleep. In fact, I don’t ever know where I am, when I stumble up the steps to meet the day/night for the first time. I never really know what day it is, and it never really matters. The life of a deckhand runs on the ship’s clock. I need to be on time for my shift, but it makes no difference what day that shift occurs. I’ve lost all concepts of worldly events, any news I get is third hand and long past “hot off the presses.” I’m just fine with this. Most modern news agencies focus too much on all of the negative in the world. A couple of lines from songs come to mind: “Kiss my ass, I’ve bought a boat, and I’m going out to sea. “ Lyle Lovett. Or perhaps, “Well may the world go, the world go. Well may the world go, when I’m far away…“ Pete Seeger. I feel far away from the hustle and bustle of current events and even farther from civilization.

Random Observation No. 1:
I used to enjoy watching football, but now it seems so pointless. I can thank Baja for that. I’m so very far away from it all. I do miss NPR, but that’s about it.

Communicating with my friends and family is very tough to do. Working with satellite internet is brutal in comparison to cable or modern wifi access. Satellite Internet is akin to dial-up internet access only more temperamental and interrupted. It seems to work better going south than going north. I hope that I won’t lose connections I’ve had with my friends and family because of this. I knew that I couldn’t stay in contact with them, when I started this gig, and it’s proven true. Hang in there guys, I’m still alive and well, and look forward to our next meeting. As it stands, I don’t have any phone service. I neglected to inform my cell company before I left, that I’d be out of the country. My current bill is 3 weeks overdue, and I keep forgetting to pay it while in port. Ah well, who needs a phone?
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I’ve made some really good connections with the crew here on the “Bird.” When put into a small environment such as a 152-foot long ship, you tend to get to know your crewmates and co-workers fairly well. As I’ve said before, we are all well traveled, and a little nuts to chose this lifestyle. Working together as a group builds camaraderie, friendship, and bonds. It also makes you work with people who think completely differently than you do and it can be frustrating at times. There are a million ways to skin a cat, and everyone has their own way of doing it. I don’t get too uptight about it, so long as the job is done right.

A friend of mine asked me, “What are five things about yourself that you are grateful for?” We have an ongoing give and take of deep thought provoking questions. I didn’t have to give it much thought, and answered almost immediately with: 1. My sense of humor. 2. My zest for exploration 3. My big, fat, flat feet (My footprints look like someone has been snowshoeing. Local newspapers often run stories that evidence of a sasquatch has been found near their town where they find my prints). 4. My creativity. 5. My artistic nature.

Working and playing here in Baja has further reinforced my life’s “work“ (HA!). I’m happiest when I’m out exploring the natural world, and I‘m very thankful I‘ve figured out my life‘s journey and purpose. To be sure, my whole purpose on this mortal coil is to explore the universe and show people pictures of its unique nature.

Random Interjection No. 2: “The law of attraction.”
A rough synopsis of this “law” states: “positive thoughts will attract positive physical effects.”
I used to scoff at this “law,” but the more I live, the more it seems to apply. What gives credence to this idea (in my experience), is the notion that when I head out for a little jaunt, I usually find something interesting to take note of whether it be a landscape, a vibrant blue crab, or a foot print. I seem to attract interesting natural phenomena, i.e. the blue whale fluke, or a righteous moonset. The jury is still out.
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I get many positive comments about my photography, and people seem to dig it. It comes easy, and I don’t really know how to explain it. When I go out, I see the world, and I often find a flattering composition. Beyond that, my timing is very good. I’m now a firm believer in simple photography. I travel light; I only have a camera (a Nikon P-90), a lens cleaning kit, and a tripod. Hell, my camera isn’t even a pro model, or an SLR, yet I capture extremely satisfying images. I’m not going to toot my own horn much more about it, but the people who run around with 4 lenses, and filters, often miss the shot because they are too busy thinking about their gear. I used to be that way. When I first started taking pictures, I was a gear head, carrying 29 pounds of heavy lenses and other paraphernalia. Good riddance!
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To me photography helps me slow down and look at the world with a finer eye and in more detail. I’m quite happy in putting my camera away if the lighting isn’t quite right, and just enjoying the scene as is. I’m also quite happy to shoot a scene for its duration until I get the shot I want. I’ll probably never make a dime with my photos, but I don’t really give a damn. I’m no businessman. I would love it if people liked my views so much they’d pay me for them, but I doubt I’ll ever go around setting up an actual business of selling my joy. Photography is a gift, and I pass along and share my gift, by showing the populations how I see this magnificent world of ours, albeit to only a small audience.

Random Thought Concerning La Paz:
When walking around La Paz, it’s best to watch where you step. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to how they make the sidewalks. There are sudden drop offs, and steps, blocks and barriers. I have stubbed my toe and tripped several times, one time smashing a nail on my already deformed pinky toes. It’s hard to blend in when you are the only gringo hopping around clutching his bleeding foot and cursing a Midwestern blue streak.
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Yesterday we had sustained wind out of the north all day. We spent the afternoon protected behind an island, but that night, we headed out into the brunt of it. The seas were fairly big by the Sea of Cortez standards, and the swells had us really rocking. I was on duty, and in my element. There is something really fun about trying to walk around on a bucking ship in heavy swell. It’s challenging, and silly. Trying to vacuum the forward lounge was ridiculous. I staggered around, doing my best to hold my balance by staggering in a swaying “drunken” steps. We had to take a big turn into the waves, and everything not tied down took a major slide to port. We ran around looking for damage, and of course there wasn’t any, but this small jab by the sea was a taste of what we could be trying to deal with.

Random Thought No. 4:
It turns out that the water in our toilets is salt water, and when you pee in them at night, the bioluminescence gets agitates and briefly glows in the toilet bowl. Before I knew about bio, I was thinking I had sparkly pee.

To end this rambling escapade, I thought I would end it with a quote, as my own words rarely do justice.

“If you apply reason and logic to this career of mine, you’re not going to get very far. You simply won’t. The journey has been incredible from its beginning. So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness.” ~ Sidney Poitier
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Posted by Rhombus 11:04 Archived in Mexico Tagged animals boats desert oceans la photography paz philosophy astronomy Comments (3)

A Vagabond's New Year

Hiking Isla Catalina, New Year Celebrations, Favorite Pic's of the Week

sunny 76 °F

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The Isla Catalina is probably the greenest, most lush desert island I’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking. It’s home to two unique species, one being the rattle-less rattlesnake, and the other being the giant barrel cactus. While I haven’t seen the rattlesnake yet, I am intrigued by its genetic evolution. I can imagine its thought process, “Well hell, every time I move to nab that mouse my damn rattle gives me away. Who needs it?” and over time, stopped growing one. Isla Catalina is quite deserted, so another possibility could be that predators to the snake are also probably few, so with no need to warn enemies, it learned to do without.
Desert Scene

Desert Scene


The giant barrel cactus is something I have seen, and I am quite fond of it. It lives up to its billing. It’s quite large. It’s very stout, and has a bright green trunk, about the diameter of a telephone pole. It ranges in height from a foot high to well over my head (roughly 6 feet). They are dotted all around the island, sometimes growing right next to another in a small copse of funky cactus. The barrel cacti aren’t the only inhabitants of the island; there are massive clumps of cardon, interesting clumps of cholla, and other wildflowers, sharp desert shrubs and plants.
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In starting my hike, I chose the road less traveled. Not only was this a better way to travel, it allowed me to completely lose my sense of civilization’s grip on me. I saw nobody, I heard nothing manmade, and I was free.

The overcast skies were leaden gray, and it was surprisingly cool. I hadn’t been cold in many weeks, but I loved being in cooler temperatures again. It was probably only 70 degrees, but the wind was steady, and it felt good to my body.
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I really enjoyed hiking through this amazing desert. I swear Dr. Seuss designed the landscape: giant clumps of weird cactus, some looking like lumpy offset stumps, others like land borne octopus. I stopped often to marvel at these amazing plants. I found another of my sacred places. I have sacred places all around this planet of ours. Usually, they are small little areas of land that appeal to my sense of order in the universe. In this case, it was a small sandy area, maybe 20 feet in diameter, it was devoid of any visible presence of life, and on the fringes were clumps of desert fauna. In the distance, I could hear the rolling waves of the ocean crash on the beach. I could see the rocky crags and hollowed out holes of the nearby cliffs. It smell like a desert, and I was immediately smitten. It was like sitting in a desert shrine, dedicated to the simple beauty of earth, this time in a desert format. It was peaceful, energizing, and I could’ve stayed there for hours, and possibly days, drinking in, and enjoying its finer features.
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Eventually, I found a jungle of desert shrubs; bright green, thick desert growth that looked like it was going to be very painful to try to cross. Luckily, I had a dry wash to follow through the tall carpet of impassable spines. The wash led to a beautiful little cove tucked into a wall of steep rock cliffs. The sound of the rolling waves was very nice, as I walked around looking at amazing and interesting shells scattered all over the beach. I had fun crawling among the rocks, watching the quick and agile crabs clatter away from me. I crawled through the eroded rock tunnels and explored the beach before turning back again. I didn’t have a clock, and I really wasn’t sure what time it was. One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be the guy who missed the last ride back to the boat.
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New Years Eve, Vagabond Style.

We loaded into our inflatable zodiacs at about 8:30 pm, sure, it wasn’t close to midnight, but it was midnight somewhere, and we had work in the morning. Our team consisted of eight highly trained, crack-shot pyrotechnicians, recruited for our penchant for rocketry and night ops. We drove a quarter of mile through calm green waters, our wake glowing alien green from bioluminescence. Do I have to explain bioluminescence? More on that later. We landed, anchored the boat, and chose a firing location. A million stars were shining bright in the dark sky. We grabbed our parachute rocket flares, lined up, and waited for the countdown. None of us had ever shot off flares of this kind before, and we really didn’t know what to expect. They were rated for 1000 feet, and we figured it would be pretty cool. The countdown began, and we at …1 we fired them off in unison. Holy Crap! These things are serious! A powerful hiss, and the rocket shot off, a blinding orange light in the night sky. Then the chutes opened and they fell slowly down to the sea, extinguished in the cool waters off Ispirito Santo.
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After cleaning up our trash, reloading in the zodiac, and making our way back to the ship, we decided to top off our night by swimming in the bioluminescence. “Bio” are tiny microorganisms that glow in certain areas of the oceans when agitated. The wake of a boat will cause it to glow, a passing dolphin, or my favorite: Swimming. To swim in bio is to immerse yourself into cool liquid smoke, lit up by millions of fireflies and glowing an eerie green. It is beautiful. It is amazing, and it is probably one of the all time coolest things I’ve ever done. If you get an opportunity to swim in it, go for it, you won’t regret it.
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What an end of a tumultuous year, and a righteous beginning to the next. I’m quite optimistic about this years travels. I’m already situated in a beautiful desert locale, and I have some other plans to be fully developed by May. Any suggestions for a good month long trip? I’m all ears, and ready to go.

Favorite Pictures of the Week.
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For now, look for more desert stories, and descriptions. I love Baja. It is heaven on earth, and I’m enthralled that I’m here to explore it.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged me boats islands wildlife mexico deserts oceans baja cacti photograhpy Comments (2)

Time Management and the Modern Explorer

Blue Whales, Sharks, Unapologetic Time Management "Problems"

sunny 85 °F

The boat slowed, and I knew we had spotted some sort of sea creatures, but I didn’t yet know what it was. I was in my head (bathroom), getting my day started. I knew that whatever it was, was probably going to be pretty cool. Therefore, I spit out my toothpaste, grabbed my fully charged camera battery and headed up to the bow. The guests had gathered, and I found a group of crew ready to go with their fancy cameras ready to shoot.

I learned we had stopped for a Blue whale. The blue whale is the largest animal on planet earth. This thought alone, gave me a small charge of endorphins coursing though my veins. I couldn’t believe I was going to be lucky enough to witness one at a reasonably close distance.

The sun was bright, and the day was hot (as it always is). There was a soft breath of hot breeze, and the seas were softly rising falling like the contented breathing of someone asleep. Red clouds of krill and invertebrates willowed around like smoke in the water. These smallest life forms come in a variety of shapes and designs, but ultimately most of them end up in the same place: digesting in a fish or mammals stomach. It’s amazing to me that these tiny creatures are the start of the ocean’s culinary chain. These tiny creatures are very important to the ocean’s ecosystem. Without them, none of the spectacular wildlife I’ve seen would be here, and it’s possible we wouldn’t be here either.

Blue whales feed on krill, and while growing can pack on 200 pounds a day. The length of a blue is 100 feet long. Look at the comparison to other animals to give it some perspective. We humans are but a mosquito to these giants. One of our wildlife naturalists on board told me that there are about 50 year round blue whales that live in the Gulf of California.
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We were very fortunate; this Blue whale wasn’t diving down for long periods. They typically dive for 10 minutes at a time; however, the one we were watching was only going below for half of that. It would surface, blow, swim at the surface for awhile, then arc it’s lengthy back and dive down deep once again. I was in the right place at the right time, and was able to capture its fluke, the tail of the blue as it dove down deep. Seeing the fluke on a blue I’m told is rare, so I feel fortunate to not only see it, but can take this memory with me.
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I witnessed my first shark here in Baja. I was snorkeling among the vibrant corral reefs on the Isla Manserate, looking at the beautiful varieties of fish swimming below. In front of me, a school of some of the larger fish suddenly shot past towards shallower water. I thought to myself, “Well, they don’t just bolt for no reason,” and I looked in the direction from which they came. I saw in the distance the sharply angled v-shape of the shark, a gray body and a lighter underbody. It was significantly larger than anything else under the water, and in two strokes of its tail was gone. Awesome! That was a rush. I don’t fear sharks, but I am aware of the fact that while I’m snorkeling, I’m nowhere near the top of the food chain and there are many creatures much larger than I am. I continued my snorkel occasionally glancing ahead to see if it would return. It never did, but I hope to see another shark soon.

Author’s Note: Before starting my contract on the ship, I watched a shark documentary called, “Shark Water.” One man wondered why people feared sharks so much and set about to find out why. What he found is that, as usual, humans don’t understand sharks. We stereotype them into a man eating monster. Not only that, but he exploited the ruthless and needless killing of the sharks for there tails. The shark tail is considered a delicacy in some countries, and will pay top dollar for shark fins to make shark fin soup. It was an eye opening documentary, which I found informative, entertaining, and visually amazing.
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Landing on the small beach on the island of Ispiritu Santo, the first thing I saw was a small shark head bobbing in the froth of the small waves. It was frowning. I guess if I was decapitated and had my head thrown into the sea, I would frown as well. What does this unfortunate shark tell us? Somebody is killing sharks, but to what end? As it happened, I was in a “protected” national park of Mexico, this isn’t reassuring.

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December 23rd, 2010
“This is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I’m sitting atop one of the high, rocky overlooks on the Isla Danzante. Turkey vultures are soaring overhead, gliding effortlessly on the wind, the far off “SMACK” of a breeching manta ray down in the bay makes me turn and pull out my binoculars to watch it for awhile. Who knew? I never knew that rays loved jumping out of the water, until I saw it with my own eyes. All around me are endless views of the beautiful desert meeting the sheer rock cliffs that drop down into the sea below. All around me are more islands, uninhabited, beautiful and wild. The hike was enjoyable, it’s easy to hike in sandals which is a definite bonus, the thought of hot hiking boots seems intolerable at this point. I’ve swam in the ocean every day this trip, mostly on deserted beaches well away from anyone. This is the life. I haven’t worn pants since December 5th. I work very hard (12 hours a day), but the rewards are this: access to the magnificent desert islands that make up Mexico’s national parks, which I can explore as I want. This job is more a working vacation than a regular job.”

~Journal entry from my hand written journal
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I’m having trouble finding time for anything else other than work and exploration. This blog is suffering because of it. I haven’t made time to try and keep up with my explorations. Every day I work 12 hours. That’s one part of my day, then I catch the zodiac ride to the beach and explore for 3 to 4 hours, after which I only have time to edit my pictures and go to bed to do it all over again. Every day I’m at a new beach that I haven’t seen, and I have my choice of either hiking, beach combing, snorkeling, kayaking, or lying still. To do justice to every exploration, will take time, so please bear with me. To be perfectly honest, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm seizing every opportunity I have to explore this area, and that after all, is my billing.

I live in a world of exploration and monontony. The endless repetition of a deckhand is completely offset by every day of amazing exploration, discovery and play. I am loving my life right now.

Today, on Boxing Day (for Canadians), I’ve finally made it back to La Paz, and I have some time to catch up with my writings, but words fail me. This region is a desert paradise. Here are some pictures that hopefully will give some insight into my desert world of discovery.
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Merry Christmas From The Dusty Vagabond!
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Posted by Rhombus 14:06 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats flowers whales deserts sunrise oceans baja sharks photography jobs Comments (2)

Savoring This First Taste Of Baja

La Paz, Desert Hikes, Snorkeling and Dolphins, Reflections

sunny 85 °F

The hours of my day fly by in a frenzied rush of work and play. It’s very difficult to make time to write so far, and I’m not optimistic about my future chances. The reason why I’m struggling so much to find time, is because this region of the world is so very beautiful and alluring, that any free moments I have, I’ve been spending them playing outside in this gorgeous desert landscape. To describe Baja is not easy, as words fail to encapsulate the expansive beauty of this region. To put it simplest, Baja is where a diverse and lush desert landscape meets a beautiful and thriving ocean landscape.

Where to begin?
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La Paz
My first views of La Paz were of the outskirts of the city at a fueling dock and marina full of sailboats. The land struck me as a cross between Arizona and Southern California. The land was a misarranged collection of foothills, jagged and rocky. Desert plants thrived, and I saw the tall Cardon cactus for the first time. The cardon is very similar to the Saguaro of southern Arizona, and at first that was what I thought they were. Tall palm trees soared skyward in clumps, which brought me back to southern California (see Hollywood and Venice Beach). It was hot. The sun baked the earth without mercy.
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La Paz has all the hub-bub of a bustling city, home to roughly 200,000 people. I was limited in my exploring for two reasons. I was on foot, and I had only a couple of hours to spend on each jaunt. I was very excited to finally land in La Paz. It marked my first steps in an international city, in a country that I didn’t understand or speak much of the language. This Dusty Vagabond goes international, and I this is only the beginning.
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We were docked at the municipal dock which was right next to the busy shopping district along the Malecon. Since I didn’t have any agenda, or inside knowledge of the city, I started out by enjoying an ice cream cone at a nearby ice cream shop. The transaction went well, and I stumbled through my limited Spanish to purchase what I wanted. Fortified, I struck out at random, hoping to find a nice park for an afternoon siesta. I mostly judge cities by there parks and recreation areas and I wanted to sit in the shade for a spell.
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I wandered through town, through the narrow, dusty, hectic streets of Central La Paz. La Paz has a rectangular grid system of streets that make it relatively easy to keep your mental map aligned, and I had no trouble. I saw fenced in school yards, full of chattering kids at recess (I could relate, as I was at recess myself, my only fence a clock). There were shops and restaurants of every variety selling everything imaginable. Some of the shops were humble affairs; others were attempting to appeal to the trendy crowd. Working my way roughly south, I found myself in the “Tarp Market” block. A huge collection of blue tarps were set up open market style, taking up a whole city block. I felt like a mouse in a maze as I made my way through, mildly interested in what they had to sell, but knowing I had nothing to buy.
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So it went, I wandered for several hours, looking in vain for a park, but getting a good first taste of La Paz. I stopped to smell fresh growing flowers along the boulevard. I saw an orange tree which tempted me to pick one, but I’m no thief.

My favorite part about La Paz (so far), is the dark streets protected from the harsh sun by buildings and tall protective trees. I found the quietest street in La Paz. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of cars, pedestrians and shops was a perfect Eden of silence. I walked onto a street, sloping downhill back to the water, and I took a few steps into the blissful shade when I realized it was eerily quiet. There was no sound of the city, only the feel of the soft desert wind on my sweaty face. I loved it. I walked deeper into the shade, and looked ahead. There was only one old lazy dog sleeping in the gutter--content and peaceful. I took a wide circle around it, remembering the old adage to let sleeping dogs lie. I saw an old man sitting on a stoop, and like the dog he was nodding off almost asleep. I smiled, and moved on.

“La Paz” means something like ‘quiet tranquility‘. When I learned this, I realized that I found the essence of the city in walking through my shaded oasis of that quiet street.

Desert Hikes
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The desert islands of this region that we explore are very lush and thriving with life. I’ve made two jaunts into the desert and have found a plethora of blooming flowers, multiple varieties of cacti and ground shrubs, lizards, spiders and birds. I had a few hours off, so I made the hike across Isla Espiritu Santo in the Archipelago De Espiritu Santo National Park due north of La Paz. The trail was rugged, twisting though a jumble of smooth boulders. The trail was surrounded by the giant cardon cacti. I really like this cactus, it’s very similar to the Saguaro, but it doesn’t have as many spines, and it has more stalks that rise up from its root system. I followed the dry wash high up into the hills that lead to an amazing view of the rugged coast of the eastern side of the island. I was 700 feet above the sea, and felt like I was king of the world.
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Hiking through most deserts sounds a lot harder than it actually is. There are a lot of plants that carry sharp spines waiting to stab you, but in this desert they are spaced far enough apart to make cross country travel relatively easy. I think this is because of the limited water supply, and each successful plant that grows has claimed its own territory to grow. Think of a side-winder, that snake that moves sideways over the desert sands. Its tracks are a long continuous “ess shaped” snake pattern. This is how to walk cross country in a desert. The trail is rarely straight, but if you look hard enough you can find a way to cross without stepping on fragile plants or hurting yourself.

Snorkeling and Dolphins

I marked another first yesterday, namely, I went snorkeling for the first time. It was a hurried affair of grabbing gear (which I didn’t know how to check) and jumping in the zodiac to get to the dive boat. My friends were already in the water and far away, so I had to figure out how to do it by myself. I squashed my goggles on my eyes, put in my mouthpiece and fell backward into the water, so far so good. In the water, I blew out the water, and tried to breath through it. Nothing but cool salt water heading into my lungs. Damn! I paddled out of the water, tried again. More water into my lungs, coughing and hacking. At this point, I decided that snorkeling sucked. More or less it was a way to slowly drown yourself. I knew something was wrong, so I swam out to my friends and told them my problems. One pointed out that my mouth piece was broken, and missing a re-breather. She was a competent diver, so she gave me hers, and let me use hers. That made all the difference! From then on, I was happily exploring the nooks and crannies of the pinkish corral. I saw many varieties of fish, which I’ve yet to learn the names, but the few I learned were Angel fish, the “puffer fish” and some skinny sea stars.

At one point I swam though a school of small golden striped fish, and I grinned from ear to ear. It is so cool to swim and watch fish in this way. I attempted a few shallow dives, and those went well. I was stung on the leg by a small translucent jelly fish maybe about the size of a chicken egg, another first. It’s kind of like a mild bee sting; it’s noticeable, but not extremely painful.

I’m going to snorkel as much as possible for the rest of my life.
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We were sailing north around Isla Santa Catalina when we saw the pod of dolphins. They were feeding along the surface, and there were hundreds of them swimming, jumping, diving, and squealing to one another. It was impressive, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Our engineers have set up an undersea audio system for our ship that cancels out most of the ships noise. This allowed us to hear the squeals and cliques of the dolphins over our sound system while we were watching them. Dolphins are cool. The dolphins seem to roam in packs, taking occasional opportunity to jump through sky. We were all enthralled, and we sat and watched them for 40 minutes in the hot sun of late afternoon.

Reflections On The Journey So Far

I keep expecting myself to wake up from this amazing dream. Every day, at one point or another, I realize this amazing dream is my life. Every decision I’ve ever made has led to this point, and I love my life right now. I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this! To be honest, and I think if they paid me in sand I would still happily come to work. Baja is an amazing place, and I’m infatuated with its beauty and diversity of life.
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Onward!!! Let’s see what else is out there!

Posted by Rhombus 10:45 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats sea deserts oceans life snorkeling photography philosophy cacti Comments (3)

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