Nancy Powel is another BASK member who owns a folding FeatherCraft kayak. She commented once on the problem that many of us have: We own these portable boats but rarely use them. So she suggested that some of us get together for a “FeatherCraft Weekend”: Pick some weekend that we can take 4 days off, fly someplace interesting, paddle our boats around for a few days, then fly back. There is no sense in doing this someplace we can drive to in a day because there we don’t need folding boats. But we couldn’t go someplace too far away, because we had to get there by airplane in one day and still have time to put the boats together. One place that meets this category is Mexico and I started looking into a place called Cabo Pulmo.
Cabo Pulmo is one of the first marine reserves in Mexico. It is a coral reef that has beautiful diving. It is a short flight to the San Jose Airport in Baja and then a 140 mile drive to Cabo Pulmo. I started planning a trip there but Nancy was unable to fit it into her schedule. I suggested several different weekends, usually on 3 day weekends when I would only have to take one more day off without pay. But Nancy could never go any of the times I picked. Finally I picked the weekend of May 17th to 20th and went anyway. Kate DesLauriers was able to take the time off and join me.
We found that Alaskan Airlines flies directly from San Francisco to Cabo San Jose early in the morning and purchased tickets. We got up in the dark and caught an Air Porter bus to the airport, then the plane to Baja. We didn’t have reservations for ground transport when we got there and were planning on winging that. Every time I have arrived at a Central or South American airport there has been a dozen people with vans hanging around begging me to hire them to take me somewhere. When we got to this airport there was a sign saying that there was only one official taxi company. We talked to them and they were not interested in giving us a ride. They didn’t want to drive on the dirt road the last 40 miles of the way to Cabo Pulmo. They were willing to take us but would charge $140.00 one way. Their lack of interest was not encouraging when we imagined what it would be like waiting to see if they picked us up in time for the return trip.
Then we talked to the car rental companies in the airport. They were very eager for our business and offered us a car for only $25 a day. The first and last day only counted as one day so this was about half the cost of going one way by taxi! A rental car solved some of our other problems. We had the freedom to stop at a market to buy groceries, water and gas for our stove. The car was a place we could leave empty duffel bags while we were paddling, freeing up a lot of room in the kayaks. No worries about the car coming back to get us if it was already there. However, it created the problem of where we could safely leave the car while we were paddling. I figured that we would drive along the coast and look for a restaurant that would watch the car.
The road to Cabo Pulmo turned into a dirt road that runs down the coast without any villages or restaurants. We stopped at several places between the road and the coast but these all turned out to be real estate developments. The entire coastline seemed to be chopped up into little lots waiting for some gringo to come down and build a summer cottage on them. We had hoped to stop a days paddle north of Cabo Pulmo but ended up driving all the way there before we found someplace to leave the car. We talked to several people but ended up leaving the car next to a dive shop at the south end of town.
We unloaded our gear and carried it across a trickle of a lagoon to an unincorporated area south of the town. We set our tent up on top of a dune and put the boats together between the dune and the high tide line. I have friends who dread putting their folding boats together and plan on spending hours on this task. This time I put my large K1 expedition kayak together in only 30 minutes and put the smaller K-Light together in a personal best of only 18 minutes. I did have Kate helping, so perhaps these times should not count, but I think these are times to be proud of anyway! After the boats were ready we did as much of our packing as we could until the sun started to go down. We walked into town and had dinner at a local restaurant then walked back to a quiet night in our tent. That morning we had risen in our homes and now we were sleeping on a dune above our kayaks, ready to go!
The next morning we got up and finished our packing to launch soon after sunrise. The beautiful Cabo Pulmo Reef was directly offshore from our beach, but an unseasonable wind was blowing from the south and making the water too choppy for diving. Besides we had come to paddle, so we worked our way around the waves breaking on the reef and headed south. We could see a large point in the distance and imagined that there might be protected beaches on it somewhere. That point on the map was the north end of Cabo los Frailes. We swung close to shore and checked out places that we might be able to camp on the way back. One of them had permanent palapas, palm thatched sunshades, on it and dozens of cars parked right on the beach. We were here for the wilderness and passed that one up.
Not far past the crowded beach we came to the north end of Cabo los Frailes we had seen from a distance. There was a beautiful little beach well protected from the southern wind and waves. Behind the beach was an incredible pile of large white granite boulders and the tip of the point was solid granite. We landed to look around and found several very nice campsites. Even though it wasn’t even noon yet we decided to stay here. Why keep looking when you have already found paradise? We pulled our kayaks up to a narrow sandy spot where we planned to camp and spent the rest of the day exploring the point and snorkeling in the cove in front of our beach. Apparently the poor conditions at the Cabo Pulmo Reef had the dive shops brining boatloads of tourists out to snorkel here. So we ended up sharing the water in our little piece of paradise. Many of the people camping at the crowded beach we had passed also seemed to know about this place, and they hiked out to spend the day with us. It got pretty crowded in the afternoon but then later in the day everybody drifted away and we had our private piece of paradise back. We didn’t set up our tent until after everyone left then had everything packed and ready to go again before anyone arrived the next morning.
When we were back on the water on our third day we continued south to explore the other end of Cabo los Frailes. This double-ended point turned out to be very rough. The cliffs came straight down into the water with no-place to land until we made it all the way around to the south side of the point. There the wind and waves from the south were crashing onto the sandy beaches making them look difficult to camp on. We were glad we had stopped where we had the day before! We could see a resort at the other end of the beach where the dirt road came close to shore again, but we turned back. We had met our goal of exploring the rest of the point and could start heading home. When we came back around the north end of the point again the water calmed down, even calmer than the day before. We were able to explore some of the beaches we had passed by. The formerly crowded beach with the palapas and cars was almost deserted, because it was now Monday and all the locals had returned home the night before. But we kept going until we made it to a private beach with a small arroyo behind it.
We set up the tent in the mouth of the arroyo to make sure it was out of the high tide. I told Kate about the wonderful experiences I had hiking up arroyos on previous trips to Baja. Even though this looked like a little dirt gully compared to some I have been in, we went for a walk up it anyway. As I had come to expect, this arroyo wound around and was passable for an incredible distance inland. We expected to run into the road but never got that far. When we were tired of pushing past thorny bushes we climbed up to the edge of the arroyo for a view of the blue Sea of Cortez in the distance, then turned back.
Even though we had done some exploring by kayak, paddled most of the way back to Cabo Pulmo and hiked up the arroyo, it was still early in the afternoon and the day was hot. We tried snorkeling in the water here near the Cabo Pulmo Reef, but the water was still turbid from the southern wind and waves. We went for a long walk up the beach and almost walked all the way back to the town of Cabo Pulmo itself. Finally the evening came with cool air to relax in, cook our dinner, and go to sleep.
The next morning we got up before sunset again, packed our boats, and headed north to start the trip home. It only took us an hour to paddle from our last campsite to the beach at Cabo Pulmo. The rental car was still there and we started disassembling our kayaks and packing them away. A fisherman came over and insisted that we had to move everything 20 feet south because we were in his panga parking space. Sure enough he dragged his boat into the spot we vacated, but then we had to move again for another fisherman a few minutes later. Another boat was dragged between the two kayaks. I was rushed and worried about loosing equipment on all these moves! Why can’t these people wait 30 minutes for me to put all my gear away in peace? Why must they all put their pangas right here right now? When I got everything packed up and off the beach there were at least a half a dozen boats crammed into the area where we had landed.
The drive back to the airport was uneventful. We made it in plenty of time to sip some incredibly expensive margaritas and clean up a little in the restrooms while waiting for our plane to board. At the check in line they were searching almost everyone’s luggage but letting one out of every 6 people go through unmolested. We were chosen to be one of the ones let through without a check! Hurray! By the time it was dark that evening we were back in home territory and eating dinner at an Italian restaurant in Cotati. The FeatherCraft Weekend was fun and successful, I’m going to have to try to do this again soon.