Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dispatch 13 Cruiser Festivals

April 14-May 8, 2006
John Steinbeck wrote in his 1951 book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez,
“We were to sail in the early morning, and that night we walked a little in the dim-lighted streets of La Paz. And we wondered why so much of the Gulf was familiar to us, why this town had a “home” feeling. We had never seen a town which even looked like La Paz, and yet coming to it was like returning rather than visiting.”
We are happy to be in such illustrious company—we share the feeling that La Paz feels like home.

If it upsets you to think that we spend our time partying and having fun when you have to work, stop reading now. We will dutifully report on two cruiser parties we recently attended. The Mexico cruising scene is full of boats that party from one end of the Sea of Cortez to the other and we fell in with that crowd for a while. Now we are on our own again and making plans with just a few friends and, to be honest, are much happier for it.

Upon arrival in La Paz, we immediately got involved in the organization and planning of the La Paz Bay Fest, a newly inspired program in the past 2 years. We were busy getting our extended (1 year) tourist cards called FM3’s and so helping out was fine with us. We got our tourist cards in about a week not counting a few days of official office closure for Semana Santa (the week before Easter) and it all went very well.

Betsy had been recruited to give a medical talk at the Fest which had 6 informational seminars planned. In between seminars, there were games on the beach including a dinghy race, kayak race, bocce ball, Mexican train dominoes games and, well, hanging out and drinking beer which was not one of the award categories but we could have nominated some winners if it was. Richard got very involved in the bocce ball planning and both of us were committed to the kayak race of course; we feel obligated due to our boat name. Well, the seminar went well, the games and fun were a riot. We won the kayak race as the only 2 entries. We also rode on the committee boat for the sailboat race the last day and helped cool down the racers with machine gun type water guns (ducking their return fire with water balloons of course) and giving armchair strategic advice among ourselves. All in all, it was a blast and, since we have made many friends in La Paz, it was time well spent and we felt well appreciated for our participation. Since the event was new, it was only attended by 50 or 60 people (perhaps more over the course of 4 days) so was a manageable crowd.

We left La Paz planning to head to the more notorious party called Loreto Fest for this, its 10th anniversary. To get there involved sailing about 130 miles through lovely cruising grounds and we had a great time. There were many boats heading the same direction and, at one beach, we had an impromptu evening appetizer party which was wonderful fun.

One of our first stops was Isla San Francisco, a lovely comma shaped island with a perfect anchorage in the tail of the comma ringed by a white sand beach. The surrounding hills were transected by hiking trails and there were salt evaporation ponds a little inland off the beach which were interesting. It was a great stop. The first night we were there, the Cruising Club of America had chosen that anchorage for all their participating members to congregate and there were a total of 36 boats!! Apparently the next night’s population of 7 boats was more usual, but, the large anchorage and quiet conditions allowed graceful sharing among 36 boats. That night, while settling down to our books after dark, we heard knocking on our hull. In a dinghy alongside our boat were Tad and Joyce, friends from Seattle who finished circumnavigating 4 years ago and were here with the Cruising Club. What a small world experience that was!! It was so fun to see them and catch up on our lives briefly.

We enjoyed snorkeling with other friends at Los Gatos, our next anchorage. The spot was open to the Sea of Cortez but provided us with 2 days of settled weather to enjoy before swells started rolling in after we left. We also kayaked there and our fellow kayakers were visited by a baby whale shark—even the baby was as long as their kayak—who was quite curious and circled the boat while they circled the other way not sure of its intent. It is a filter feeder according to the books but we weren’t sure if it had also read the same book. Our last stop was at pretty Agua Verde which we loved but did not enjoy to its fullest due to our self-imposed “deadline”. We did join some folks on the beach for an afternoon bocce match and thus met some new friends before the big fest.

We arrived at Puerto Escondido the day the Fest began. PE is a very protected anchorage, almost a lagoon, and is so large that 115 boats anchored in there without crowding one another. Another 50 boats were outside in an anchorage called the “Waiting Room”. OK, do the math and you’ll realize that upward of 250 people took part in this, the 10th annual Loreto Fest. It was so big and there were so many activities that it boggled the mind. From the start, it was overwhelming for us. Puerto Escondido, by the way, is the nearest large, protected anchorage to Loreto, a very nice little city, one of the first continuous settlements on the Baja and the namesake for this party/cruiser gathering.

Betsy had offered to give her seminar at this Fest as well. While they accepted the offer, it soon became apparent that seminars and general education take a very distant backseat to games and drinking at this Fest. Not only were there only 3 seminars in 5 days but they had to be given in the same tent as the card games and craft workshops so the presenter had to yell above the other noise. At the end, there were no thank yous for those giving seminars, just for the winners of and organizers of the various games.

OK, bitterness aside, the festival was full of fun and our team did win the bocce tournament thanks to our experience in La Paz. There was music every night and a chance to meet lots of other cruisers and catch up with old friends. One of the highlights of the Loreto Fest is the Spam carving contest, now an annual event. In it, contestants carve spam into various theme pictures that are quite creative. In announcing this event, the organizer gave a Spam Haiku poem for the day which was definitely the best part of the morning net on the VHF radio. Last year’s Spam winner saved their entry and re-displayed it, probably to demonstrate Spam’s lasting qualities even after being un-canned. They noted that all year long it never attracted a single fly and are now speculating on marketing Spam as the fly repellant it seems to be. Just a thought, if flies don’t want to eat it, I’d think twice about eating it myself…

And here are some of the other activities at the Fest: bocce ball, cabbage bowling (yes with cabbages), horseshoes, “over the line” (a pseudo whiffle ball game for non-athletic adults—no running required), Scrabble, dominoes, beading workshops, paper making workshops, dinghy race, decorated dinghy parade, beach clean-up (one of the original reasons for the Fest was to help clean up the local beaches), card games, crocheting plastic bag workshop (sounds bizarre but this one woman has developed a technique to take all those plastic grocery bags and crochet them into tote bags that are strong, waterproof and actually look pretty good), water volleyball, sing along the first night, rhythm and blues the second night, “sock hop” the third night, etc.

The cruisers with kids seemed to really enjoy the fest. One set of kids came up with a spontaneous “event”. As people pulled into the dinghy dock, the kids rated them on appearance, driving skills and dinghy etiquette and displayed cards with numbers on them for the combined score as they arrived (old fashioned Olympics style). The dinghy dock was a scene in itself. Imagine a float that, in normal times, holds about a dozen boats floating around its edges. Now imagine 110 dinghies (or more) trying to tie up to this same only-available-dinghy-dock for the 5 day event. One arrives to chaos of dinghies tied up 3 deep around the whole perimeter, and, if all is done right, those dinghies have long lines tied to their bow so that they can be maneuvered around. We then plow through the line up of dinghies gently shoving boats aside until we reach a little scrap of the dock to dismount, or, failing that, we pull securely up to a (preferably bigger, more sturdy) dinghy, climbs through that one and perhaps one or two others until we reach the dock with our line and tie off our dinghy now floating out in row 4. Scrambling through the dinghies, one hopefully does not spill the potluck item carried oh so carefully. Late at night, the reverse operation occurs, now in the dark and possibly for some participants, with some coordination inhibiting substance circulating (e.g., a gallon or two or Tequila). Suffice to say, it could get downright ugly at the dock, but luckily, nothing terrible happened. One woman did win the wet noodle award for her unintentional dinghy dismount several feet shy of the dock.
We escaped from the wild party scene the day after the fest and anchored in a small cove with aqua blue-green water over a sandy bottom surrounded by gorgeous volcanic rocks all by ourselves. Ahhhh to be cruising again. Now we have satisfied you who think this is the party life and we will return to our regularly scheduled program of wildlife sightings and sailing stories.