Timbabiche. I have no idea what the word means, but the name will forever conjure up memories of the stark beauty of Baja, and the kindness and generosity of her people. It will be a challenge to describe my impressions of this remarkable place, but I’ll give it my best shot. First though, some details about our trek to Bahia San Carlos, where the little village of Timbabiche is located.
We left San Evaristo around 10am when the northeast wind started blowing, hoping to be able to immediately hoist the sails and sail up the San Jose Channel. Unfortunately the wind was too close on our nose so we motor sailed for the first 6 miles, but once we rounded Punta Alta, the rocky point north of a fish camp called Nopolo, we were able to head a bit more to the west so we unfurled the genoa and turned off the engine.
With the wind holding steady between 14 and 18 knots out of the north-northeast, we made great time and sailed a fairly direct line to Bahia San Carlos. The wind waves were only about 2-3 feet, so Happy Dance waltzed right through them without getting pushed back and our speed over ground hovered around 6.5 knots with a few spurts of 7.5 knots all on a close haul; awesome!
As we approached the bay the wind slowed a bit, so we furled the sails and motored into the anchorage. The forecast was calling for a 3 day northerly blow, therefore we tucked into the northwest corner of the bay and dropped the hook in about 10′ of water. In these crystal clear waters, it’s such a treat to be able to see the anchor set and see where your anchor chain is lying. One morning when we were anchored at the south end of Isla San Francisco in a pretty good blow coming from every direction, we looked over to see our anchor lying right beneath the boat and our 100′ of chain snaking out in a huge semi-circle!
Bahia San Carlos is a large crescent shaped bay facing east toward Isla Santa Cruz. Looking inland from the anchorage, the majestic Sierra de la Giganta mountain range hugs the shoreline, exposing layer upon layer of colorful striations of rock laid down centuries ago. It’s feels a little like being in Monument Valley if the valley floor was an ocean instead of desert. As the sun moves across the sky, the colors of the mountains change, and the shadows accentuate new jagged peaks or flat topped mesas. For a northwest girl who loves her pine trees and lush green mountains, these peaks are a new kind of beauty that have definitely caught my attention. I didn’t realize the tremendous scale of the landscape in Baja; I was expecting low dusty brown hills with scruffy thorn bushes and cacti, but what I’m surrounded by is wild, colorful, forbidding terrain, next to the inviting crystal blue waters of the sea.
Once the anchor was down, a local pescador (fisherman) drove his panga up to Happy Dance, called out a booming Hola!, handed Marty his bowline, stepped onboard and gave Marty a huge bear hug! We all exchanged smiles, laughs, Hola and Como esta’, and pretty soon we had a new best friend named Manuel. I brought out some juice and corn bread for a snack, and we “talked” some, though since he speaks no English and our Spanish still leaves a bit to be desired, there was the inevitable sign language and nervous laughter as we did our best to communicate. It’s always fun though and we usually end up getting our point across to some degree.
As it turned out, Manuel greets most of the boats when they arrive, and one sailboat anchored nearby had purchased a 7 kilo cabrilla (sea bass) from him the day before. By dinner time that night there were five boats in the anchorage, so we all piled onto ‘Cricket’, a Cal 43′, and enjoyed a potluck dinner with a main course of fresh sea bass! A few of the cruisers there were from boats we had also visited with in San Evaristo, so we’re getting to know some of these folks pretty well.
The next day Marty went out fishing with Manuel and Dennis, another cruiser from s/v Shamaness. They left early in Manuel’s panga, headed toward Roca Negra, a large black rock that juts up about 55′ above the surface and lies a mile offshore. After a few hours, they came back in with grins on their faces and a great fish story. As it turned out, they were all skunked except for Marty, and he managed to bring up TWO large cabrilla on ONE lure at the same time! Manuel was so excited and hasn’t stopped talking about it; “in all my 44 years in Timbabiche, I’ve never seen two fish on one hook!” Throw in a couple of trigger fish and a yet to be identified fish, and it was a pretty successful morning!
Later that day (after Manuel had his siesta), he came back down to the beach in his truck and picked up the ladies for a trip to visit his wife, Susanna. June from ‘Shamaness’, and Lynn from ‘Cricket’ and I climbed into his truck and off we went down the sandy beach and across a dry stream bed toward the village. It was amazing to be welcomed into their home, to be shown photos of their 19 nietos (grandchildren), to hear the story of their lives, and even to get a little embroidery lesson as we watched Susanna working on her needlepoint. We also stopped by the local tienda, a tiny section of a lady’s house that has a few shelves of food for sale. The woman who owned the place was so sweet, and then two kids showed up who wanted to talk with us. Smiles, handshakes, genuine interest and a willingness to help; it’s the norm.
As it turns out, Susanna is the granddaughter of a local fisherman who made history in the Sea of Cortez. In the 1920’s her grandfather didn’t own a fishing boat, nonetheless he harvested a large pearl reported to be at least 5 carats. Even after receiving a less than fair offer from the pearl merchants in La Paz, he was able to finance the building of a large home, as well as a fleet of fishing boats. Susanna’s father was one of the fisherman’s 13 children who grew up in Casa Grande at Timbabiche, and the ruins of the beautiful old house still stand next to the home where Susanna and Manuel now live. The story goes that after the fisherman’s death, his heirs couldn’t decide what to do with the house, but the crumbling pink walls and arched windows still reflect on what a beautiful house it must have been.
Since we had plenty of fish to eat we decided to have the party on Happy Dance that night, so I cooked up some fish tacos and invited the gang over. ‘Shamaness’, ‘Cricket’, and ‘Wavelength’ joined us, bringing some treats from their galleys too, making quite a feast. It’s always fun to get a bunch of cruisers together to share stories and info. We are all a bit unconventional, so it’s pretty funny to see how all these diverse people have such a lot in common. For the most part the cruisers we’ve met still have homes on land to go to, so we are a bit of an exception to the norm down here. We’re okay with that though, as Happy Dance is all the home we really want right now!
After the fish taco night, ‘Shamaness’ woke to find that their dinghy was gone! There was always the thought that it had possibly been stolen, but since Dennis wasn’t entirely sure that he’d tied the dinghy down securely he decided to weigh anchor and go look for it. Manuel also was adamant that there are no banditos in Timbabiche, and he went out in his panga to join the search. After an hour or so, we heard a shout over the VHF that they’d sighted the dinghy! It had drifted about 4 miles offshore on an outgoing tide and offshore breeze. What an incredible piece of luck to have found it in all that wide open sea. As a celebration we all gathered on ‘Shamaness’ that night for champagne and snacks; another fun filled evening, this time with ‘No Problem’, ‘Wavelength’, and ‘Happy Dance’!
But wait, there’s more! After getting to know Adrian and Norma on ‘No Problem’ we learned that there are clams in Bahia San Carlos! These are not the steamers and butter clams that I know from the northwest. These clams are harvested in deeper water, however that may be just because there is only a 3 foot tide here so the clams wouldn’t ever be out of water. At any rate, Adrian knows where to look and how to get them, so Dennis and I tagged along to learn the tricks of the trade. We snorkeled offshore a ways in about 6-8 feet of water, moving along very slowly so that we could spot the little tiny “straws” sticking out of the sand. Once you see these you dive down, and before the clam can bury itself, you stick your finger down the hole in the sand and dig a couple inches down to get the clam. It took me awhile to get the hang of it; first to be able to see the tiny dots on the sand from 8′ up, then to be able to dive and stay down long enough to grab the clam! I was able to gather a bag full though, and we’ll be having Chocolate clams with our lobster tonight!
Lobster you say? Oh yes, yet another adventure! Marty and the boys went out with Manuel again, this time they were headed out to find langosta (spiny lobster). The method here is to snorkel around the rocks, and look for caves or holes under the rocks. Then you are supposed to stick your hand in there and hopefully pull out a lobster; yeah right. Manuel was the master fisher on this trip; no one found any lobster, so Manuel jumped over with his sling (better than sticking your hand into a dark hole), and came back with 14 langosta that were shared amongst the fishing crew.
Well, I’ve rambled on for quite a while now, and I’m not sure I’ve described what I set out to explain; the beauty of this place and these people. Hopefully my words about our interactions with Manuel and Susanna, Rudolpho and Eppy our fishermen friends, the tienda lady and the children, as well as our friendly cruisers, have helped to shed some light on the humble lifestyle here, and the generosity and kindness of the people. Of course we’ve paid for the services that have been provided; taking our trash to the burn pile, making us fresh tortillas, taking us fishing, but each interaction has been given with a measure of friendship rather than just an offer of service. I realize that in a sense I’m idealizing a lifestyle that the locals may find very difficult at times, but there is a serenity and gratitude that attaches itself to this barren place; the people here have an ability to be still and accept the life they have; not with frustration, but with simple pleasure.
All the other boats have left now and as Marty and I were kayaking around the quiet bay this morning, we kept looking around and remarking how incredible it all is; to know that there are magical places like this and to have the privilege of getting to experience it for just a little while. We hope to stop here again, to visit with Manuel and Susanna, and to simply enjoy this spectacular spot.