Salt mine ruins at Bahía Salinas.
Isla Coyote framed by the mountains of Isla San Jose in the distance.
Statue on Isla Coyote.
resident of Isla Coyote.
The "Whale Museum" on Isla Coyote.
Every house has a view.
Looking down from Isla Coyote.
Groovy waits patiently.
View from Isla Coyote.
The community chapel.
Solar panels provide electricity to each building.
Isla San Francisco beach.
Baja mountains as seen from Isla San Francisco.
A yellow-rumped warbler visits
us on Groovy.
Mark buries our feathered friend.
Charter boat - life of luxury.
A cocktail party on the beach.
Mark dives for Euros.
20 Euro note.
20 Peso note.
The dramatic cliffs of Islas Espiritu Santos.
Puerto Balandra - turquoise beauty amid towering mountains.
Sunset in Puerto Balandra
Isla Coyote, Isla San Francisco & Puerto Balandra
Early November, 2011 - Continuing south from the Loreto area, we enjoyed some
downwind sailing and stopped for a brief overnight at Bahía Salinas at the base of
Isla San Jose. This is a small bay that used to be home to a salt mine. The ruins
of the buildings and even some old vehicles are scattered just up from the beach.
The Sea of Cortez has many abandoned structures, from buildings once used in
small industries like salt mining and fishing to tourist hotels and housing
developments that never got off the ground.
There is one unique, tiny island, however,
that is covered with dollhouse-sized buildings
that are still lovingly maintained. Just a tenth
of a mile or so across, it is clear even from
out in the anchorage that every possible
square inch of Isla Coyote sports a small
building or patio.
Sculptures, sea shell
scattered about the
As we motored ashore
towards the two-
we were met by a man
who introduced himself
as Manuel. He
graciously tied up our dink and invited us to
walk around the island and explore.
He told us that he had lived on the island for
fifty years and had raised his kids here.
A few steps from the beach he showed us
the "Whale Museum," a collection of whale
bones with a little sign listing the kinds of
whales: sperm, finback, pilot.
Only the sheer cliffs on the east side of Isla
Coyote are bare. The rest of the island is
packed with the homey signs of a simple life
Isla Coyote is tall enough that
each one- or two-room building has a
wonderful and unobstructed view.
A little trail snakes up the hill
between the buildings. It is a
three minute walk from the
beach to the bluff at the peak.
There is a whimsy and
charm here that speaks of
a happy group of families
that made a life here on
this miniature island for
many years. At one time
this tiny island was home
to 30 people.
Manuel told us his wife was
currently living in La Paz while
his son attends university
there. He stays out here on
the island to keep an eye on
things. "It's just me and my
dog Luna here," he said to me
in Spanish, although he did
have a friend Roberto staying
with him when we visited. His
only other company is occasional cruisers that drop by and daytripping
tourists that take a four mile boat ride out from the tiny seaside village of
San Evaristo on the Baja mainland.
He keeps in touch with the
world via VHF radio and cell
phone, but he doesn't have
Each building has a solar
panel on a stick outside,
and down on the beach
there was a collection of
large drums that held the
fresh water he had just
received from San Evaristo.
San Evaristo is also the source of most of his provisions.
A tiny chapel has a commanding view of the bay, and another building is covered
with a pretty mural depicting the undersea world.
Around the corner from Isla Coyote is a favorite cruiser
destination, Isla San Francisco. We had loved this
classic anchorage last spring and thoroughly enjoyed
visiting it again this fall. The water was amazingly
clear, and when I went snorkeling I saw several large
brown eels cruising around under the anchored boats.
They had mouths like moray eels and they swam with
them wide open. I kept my distance! A beautiful
mobula ray also flew past me slowly under water.
The mountains in the distance cast dramatic shadows in the morning light,
and we sat in the cockpit in the mornings and evenings, mesmerized by
Up on deck one afternoon I heard a faint
chirping and watched a tiny bird land in
our cockpit. We were in the midst of
moving Groovy from one end of the
anchorage to the other, and when I
started the engine the bird vanished.
Once we dropped the hook again he
suddenly reappeared in the cabin. He
had taken the cross-harbor ride with us down below. He seemed
unsteady on his feet and kept closing his eyes and nodding off as he
perched on our table in the cabin. I offered him a dish of water and
some bread but he kept his eyes closed while I looked him up in our
bird book. He turned out to be a female yellow-rumped warbler, a
migrating bird that spends summers between northern California and
British Columbia and winters in Mexico. This tiny fluff of a bird had
just flown 1,200 miles or more. No wonder she was tired.
We went about our business that evening, but our little bird friend got weaker and weaker. Finally she
stretched out on her side and closed her eyes for the last time. We were both very sad. We had
hoped a good night's sleep on Groovy would revive her spirits. Mark made a little coffin from a yogurt
container and the next day we went ashore and buried her on a ridge with a beautiful view.
Ensenada Grande (on Isla Partida, the northern island of Las
Islas Espiritu Santos) had been another favorite stop on our
way north last spring, and we dropped in for a few nights on
our current trek south. We had been seeing more and more
charter boats in the last few anchorages, and at Ensenada
Grande we parked right next to a beautiful big power boat in
the middle of the turquoise bay. We watched the crew get out
the snorkeling gear and launch the kayaks and mix the drinks
and break up the bags of ice and all kinds of other things
while the guests kicked back on a high deck with a view.
A crew member dinghied
ashore and set up some
beach umbrellas and beach
chairs. Soon the guests were enjoying a shaded cocktail
party on the beach. What a life.
That evening we saw the same beautiful sunset from our
cockpit as they did, but we'd had to launch our own kayak
and dig out our own snorkeling gear earlier in the day.
Mark and I snorkeled along the rocks, admiring the many
brightly colored fish. They come with all kinds of trim, from
stripes to polka dots to loud, flamboyant patterns. All of a
sudden Mark pointed at the sand and I saw the corner of a
blue 20 peso note waving slowly from under a rock.
"Cool!!" I thought, "That's enough for a beer at a beach
bar!" (20 pesos is about $1.50). We grinned goofy grins at
each other through our masks. Mark reached for the
money and then pointed excitedly at the corner. It was a
20 Euro note!! Wow. Make that beers and dinner for two!!
(20 Euros is about $27). Cruising is paying off.
A swell came in overnight, making the boat prance in the waves and keeping us up all night. In the forward berth
you were tossed in the air as the boat jumped and fell in the waves. In the aft berth you were in a perfect
soundboard that magnified the crashing thunder of the stern pounding the water.
In total frustration we
got up at 3 a.m. and
watched the movie
Terminator with the
volume turned way up.
It is an interesting
experience to get
absorbed in a movie
like that while your
theater seat and movie
screen are flying all
over the place.
The weather was
getting iffy, and we didn't want to risk another sleepless night, so we continued south along
the spectacular cliffs of Islas Espiritu Santo.
We made one more stop at
lovely Puerto Balandra as we
continued towards La Paz. This
bay is the quintessential tropical
anchorage that lies at the heart
of most cruising dreams. The
water is an exquisite shade of
aquamarine, the white sand
beaches are truly white and
almost powdery, and the rocky
mountains undulate around the
bay in a snug embrace.
More charter boats showed up to enjoy an
afternoon of perfection in paradise, and we sat in
the middle of it all with binoculars, cameras, drinks
and snacks in arm's reach. This was our delicious
prize, our reward after a sleepless night. The thing
about these moments of bliss in nirvana is that you
can earn them from the workaday world and jet
down to the tropics where a crew or resort staff
caters to your every need. Or you can slog it out
on a small rolling boat, at the mercy of the weather,
snorkeling for Euros, and repairing the many things
that break on board. Either way the price is paid
and the handsome reward of a few precious
moments in paradise becomes emblazoned in your
Those moments are brief, however, and an impending Norther sent us into safety and the urban thrills of La Paz.
Read about our experiences in Isla San Francisco, Ensenada Grande
Find Isla San Francisco, San Evaristo, Ensenada Grande, and Puerto Balandra on Mexico Maps.