Punta Chivato's elegant hotel.
Shells on Punta Chivato's "Shell Beach."
We're not alone -- Mark
Stairs leading up to Punta
Charming outdoor bar. Too bad it's closed!
Interestingly landscaped grounds at the hotel.
Playa Coyote in Bahía Concepción is like glass.
Heron on watch.
A perfect day for a lazy kayak ride.
Playa El Burro beachfront ex-pat homes.
Each home is a little different.
Some have a removable front wall to bring the
view all the way in.
Snoozing on the water is the only way to beat
Geary Ritchie's home is totally wired to help with
his weather forecasting.
Geary, the Sonrisa Net's Sea of Cortez
The lunch room for the staff at NOLS.
NOLS houses a complete commercial kitchen...
…extensive provisioning for the students...
…and a mini-REI right here on the beach.
The entire campus, like every building in this bay, is
run on solar power.
Kayaks ready to go to sea.
The centerboard yawls used by the sailing
portions of the classes.
We catch a NOLS class on the water and see
the yawl in action.
Punta Chivato & Bahía Concepción
Mid-October, 2011 - Once the effects of hurricanes Jova and Irwin
way down south had stopped churning up the waves and wind in our
neighborhood near the middle of the Sea of Cortez, we ventured
across from San Carlos on the mainland to Punta Chivato on the
Baja side. There wasn't enough wind to sail, and we had an easy
70+ mile crossing under power.
Punta Chivato is a small community of vacation villas fronting a long
shell-strewn beach. The point is dominated by a sprawling hotel. But
what really caught our attention as we approached was an apparent
shipwreck of an older sailboat resting on its side along the rocks.
Although this anchorage was very peaceful when we arrived, it could
obviously be quite nasty at times.
The temperatures were still hovering near 100 degrees
everyday, so the whole community was closed up tight.
The only sounds were the raucous cries of gulls and the
shrill whistles of a pair of osprey.
We wandered along the beach,
admiring the endless array of
Adding to our sense of remoteness,
Mark suddenly found Tom Hanks'
best friend, the basketball "Wilson" of
Castaway fame, sitting among the
rocks and shells.
We had heard that the hotel at Punta
Chivato was a perfect place to spend
some relaxing afternoon hours sipping
cool drinks while perched high above
the sea with a sweeping view
around the point.
Unfortunately the hotel and it's
charming outdoor bar were
closed until December. So we
wandered around the lovely
grounds and imagined how
much fun it would be if
the pretty, shaded
outdoor bar were filled
with happy vacationers
along with us.
From Punta Chivato it is an easy 25
mile or so daysail south to the broad
bays and anchorages of Bahía
Concepción. A long channel
separates this bay from the rough-
and-tumble Sea of Cortez, and the
water where we anchored at Playa
Coyote was like glass.
We could see schools of yellow and
black striped sergeant major reef
fish below the surface, while an
occasional giant angel fish would
glide by and look up at us in the kayak. The
herons, gulls and pelicans
watched the motion of the fish
with as much interest as we did.
A happy couple floated by us in
a tandem kayak, looking very
Then a large fish began leaping
out of the water, almost dancing
on its tail as it darted across the
surface. A gull flew in to try to
catch the fish in mid-air, but a
heron beat him to the punch and caught the stunned fish mid-leap. The heron quickly
dropped into the water, fish in beak. He wasn't nearly as graceful a swimmer as his web-
footed companions, but he managed to stay afloat. Just as he was angling the fish in his
beak to swallow it in one gulp, a pelican swooped by and snatched the fish right out of his
mouth. In a flash the pelican threw his head back and ate the fish. Yikes. The heron
was stunned, we were stunned, and the whole thing was over in an instant. The gull flew
off, scolding everyone as he rose above the water.
We took the kayak around the corner to next-door Playa El Burro. This intriguing ex-pat
community had perked my interest when we were here last June, because the beach is
densely packed with small thatch-roofed houses built right in the sand. Many are closed
up tight for the hot summer months, but a few were open and we could see the inhabitants
milling about inside.
Each house is unique. Many have a porch
out front or a removable front wall that opens
the interior of the house to the view of the
bay. They are cute, although very rustic, as
there is no electricity, town water or sewer
service. Everything runs on solar power and
water is brought in to each house by truck.
All of the homes are owned by ex-
pats, and it struck me as very odd
that such wonderful vacation living
would be the exclusive property of
foreigners rather than Mexicans.
The heat at this time of year is
pretty much unbearable, and
lots of people spend their
days submerged in the 80+
degree water. One fellow was
on his floating bed for several
At the end of the beach is the
distinctive home of Geary
Ritchie, an avid amateur
meteorologist who provides
sailors with Sea of Cortez
weather forecasts every
morning via SSB and VHF
radio. His home is covered
Geary was at home when
we stopped by, and he
graciously invited us to sit
on his front porch with him
for a while. What a spot!
He explained a little about
how all these tiny homes came to be sitting on the water's edge here. His
was the first home on the beach 15 years ago, and at the time the Mexican
government charged him $30/month for his bit of sand. He built a little
beach palapa home, and he has lived here ever since. Nowadays the rent
has gone up nearly eight-fold, but is still a phenomenal bargain for a
bungalow in paradise. And the beach has filled in with similar homes.
Folks like Geary provide an invaluable service to sailors worldwide, and
they achieve legendary status among cruisers for their dedicated volunteer
efforts. Geary has been told his radio voice is similar to his fellow
forecaster in South Africa. I was intrigued that he got his start by providing weather reports for a friend in the States who had
left his boat in the bay one summer.
Back at Playa Coyote around the corner we visited another
intriguing shoreside property. The National Outdoor Leadership
School ("NOLS"). They have a "ranch" on this beach, one of many
worldwide campuses that provide bases for student wilderness
excursions into our planet's wonderful outdoor classrooms.
We had met the assistant director David and his young family out on the
water. They were camping on the deck of one of the boats in the bay to
escape the excruciating overnight heat in their home on shore, and they
rowed past us on the mirrored morning water on their way "to work."
They invited us to visit the school, and what an eye-opener that was.
We arrived on the beach to find several staff members having
lunch under the huge mesquite tree that shades their strip of
sand. Becca, the director of trek provisioning, gave us a
delightful tour and explained the essence and nature of the
Something of a cross between Outward Bound, the Boy Scouts and an
elite college, the school offers classes ranging from a few weeks to a full
year, many of which accrue college credit at universities around the world.
Classes are conducted in the wild and include kayaking, hiking, rock
climbing, horseback riding and sailing between remote destinations.
Students learn skills ranging from biology to environmental studies to
backcountry survival to group leadership. Most classes are about 15
students with 3 or 4 instructors, and all camping is open air: no tents and just a few shade tarps.
Becca's job is to make sure everyone is well fed on the
expeditions. The kitchen and store-room she oversees are
enormous. The recipes use gallons instead of cups.
This particular campus in Baja California was established around
1990, and its ultra-smooth operation is thanks to the two Mexican
families who have become an integral part of the school. Initially
they provided the land and buildings for the "ranch," but now the
operation of the school and campus is a family enterprise.
This was the first place I had ever been in Mexico where every
Gringo was fluent in Spanish, and Spanish was the default
language for everyone. As Becca said, "The ladies here do all the
shopping and food preparation, and if I can't converse in Spanish I
can't do my job."
The tuition for classes here is similar to a private college, and the education is on the same level. Students are told what to
bring, but just in case they can't find a particular item, the school has a small store that looks like a mini-REI or Cabella's
camping store. What a surprise to see all this high-end Patagonia clothing for sale in the middle of a community made up of ex-
pat beach bungalows.
Just like everyone else on the beach, the school runs without city
water, city sewer or city electricity. The grid of Outback solar charge
controllers was very impressive. We have an Outback charge
controller in our fifth wheel, but just one, not six!
Along with a library filled with books on outdoor adventuring, the
school has a repair yard where the sailboats and kayaks can be
patched up between expeditions. The sailing component of the
classes uses small open centerboard yawls. Of course the students
sleep outdoors on the beach during the sailing portion of the class
rather than on the boats.
We picked up a beautiful 100-page glossy brochure for the school
while we were there and lusted over the stunning photographs of the
courses offered everywhere in the world from the Amazon to
Australia to Scandinavia to the Pacific Northwest. Each site has a
"ranch" campus like the one we had seen. What a fantastic
educational experience it must be, perfect for a "gap" year between
high school and college or before grad school.
Later, when we were daysailing at the mouth of Bahía Concepción, we
saw one of the classes on the water. Four yawls were tacking back and
forth near the entrance of Bahía Concepción, and we tacked back and
forth along with them. The next day when we left Concepción for La
Ramada Cove and the Loreto area, we saw the four yawls pulled up on
a remote beach. Two shade tarps and the four boats were all we could
see of their wilderness experience. Besides ourselves a sailing few
miles out on the water, there wasn't a sign of humanity anywhere to be
seen on the coast for another 25 miles.
Read more about Bahía Concepción during our previous
visit in June, 2011 here.
Find Punta Chivato, Bahía Concepción, Playa Coyote and
Playa El Burro on Mexico Maps.