Life in La Paz

After arriving in La Paz we had to decide how we wanted to plan for the next few weeks. I had one week until Thanksgiving break, then one week off for Thanksgiving, then three more weeks before Christmas break. Our original plan was to spend a week in La Paz, then use Thanksgiving week to make our way further south to La Cruz.

As we arrived at Marina de La Paz and finished putting the sailcovers back on we introduced ourselves to our new neighbor, Tom.

“Where are you arriving from?” Tom asked.

“Cabo San Lucas. We’re from the San Francisco Bay area and came down with the Nada fleet. This is our first season.” I replied.

“Did you just arrive?”

“Yes, we came straight from Cabo. Need to get some good internet access for the week. How about you? When did you arrive?”

“Oh, about 6 years ago,” Tom said.

sunset with sailboat masts in the foreground
La Paz at sunset

We’ve been warned that many cruisers come to Mexico and get “stuck” in La Paz (but in a good way). I can totally see why. La Paz sits inside a well-protected natural harbor inside a somewhat protected bay which is adjacent to some amazing islands that are inside a protected natural park. The weather ranges from sunny and warm 9 months of the year to sunny and hot the other 3 months of the year. There are enough stores and services to get pretty much anything you need done on your boat, but finding it still requires some local knowledge. Not to mention the incredible and abundant food, art and culture.

In short order I was convinced that we would have a great time if we made La Paz our home base for at least a month before continuing on. We would settle in to our daily life in La Paz while we figure out how to navigate this Mexican town to get some work done on Sonrisa, re-provision, and settle into a new routine for a little while.

A day in the life

The day starts at 8:00 with a cup of coffee while we listen in on the cruisers net on the VHF radio. Especially during the pandemic, the radio net is an important way to connect with the cruising community. The net is hosted by a volunteer from Club Cruceros who kicks things off and moderates a regular sequence of announcements and information provided by different volunteers. After the regular announcements (weather, tides, activities, etc.) the net opens up for “local assistance” where anyone can ask a question and get local advice from other cruisers. Through the net we found out about the Tuesday and Saturday farmer’s market, where we could get bulk grocery items, and where I could get new lenses for my glasses.

After the net I get my computer set up either in the main cabin or at the cockpit table and start my day while Kristin starts a boat project, laundry, groceries, or goes out and visits with a friend. After a few hours of work, sometimes we take a lunch break and go get tacos at Rancho Viejo which in addition to their location on the Malecon has a location just up the street from the marina. Then back to work until 5 or 6 when the sun sets.

After a dinner onboard on in-town we spend the pleasantly warm evening strolling through town and too often end up at Giulietta e Romeo Heladeria Italiana for some surprisingly good gelato to go.

The northerly problem

When the weekend arrives we hope that the northerly winds haven’t picked up enough to cause the port to close. This time of year the weather patterns up in Nevada and Arizona set up pressure differences that cause strong cold winds to blow out of the north down the entire Sea of Cortez for 2-3 days every 4-5 days or so. While the winds are typically still under 30 knots, the shape of the Sea of Cortez is like a natural funnel which causes the wind waves to pick up significant momentum for several hundred miles until they stack up into 2-3 meter waves at a 2 second wave period or less. On the Pacific coast we would consider a 5 seconds uncomfortable, 2 seconds would be unbearable even on a stout boat like Sonrisa. The marinas hoist different colored flags to indicate whether or not the port is open. A single blue flag means it’s open to all traffic. A single yellow flag means it’s open, but mariners should be cautious. A blue and yellow flag combined means that no ship under 500 tons is allowed to leave the port.

Unfortunately the timing of the cycles this year put the windy days on the weekends for several weeks in a row, keeping us in port when we would otherwise be exploring the neighboring islands. Fortunately there is a lot to see and do in La Paz and it gave us an excuse to take some time to “figure out” how our new lifestyle in a Mexico is going to work. Not to mention get some Sunday breakfast at Maria California.

Kristin looking at a large breakfast plate of eggs in the background with a large stack of pancakes eggs and bacon in the foreground
Breakfast at Maria California

Art, Food, Friends and More

After a couple of weeks in La Paz, we really started to settle into a routine. La Paz started to feel like home in more ways than one. I had my weekday routine which was pretty much the same as it was in Emeryville, we had our favorite evening walks, favorite lunch spots, favorite grocery stores, even settled on our favorite brand of local salsa. Since we were confined to the port most weekends due to the northerlies, we saw more and more of La Paz by foot and in time no longer needed Google Maps to navigate the streets.

Since we were so often ‘stuck’ in port on the weekends due to the northerly winds and port closures we had plenty of time to walk around town, try different (outdoor) restaurants, work on boat projects and make shopping expeditions to the grocery, hardware, or marine stores. We also accomplished several ‘figuring things out’ tasks such as how to get prescriptions refilled in Mexico, the best ATM’s for withdrawing money in Pesos, getting our cellular router set up on Telcel service, and much more. We also took time to try to see some local sights by foot while avoiding indoor activities whenever possible.

stone facade of historic cathedral in La Paz
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de La Paz
interior of cathedral in La Paz showing arched ceiling, simple wooden pews and marble floor with simple altar and crucifix at far end
Lamp post installation at the art museum
large sculpture of a clam shell containing a huge silver pearl on the Malecon beachside promenade
Sculptures on the Malecon
large sculpture of a mermaid chasing a dolphin with boats at anchor in the background

Via the morning net Kristin learned of a Farmer’s Market on the Malecon Tuesdays and Saturdays which quickly became part of her weekly routine. Every Tuesday and Saturday she would return with a bag of fresh produce for the week as well as some tamales or empanadas for lunch or dinner that night. While many of the local vendors at the market are there every week, some come and go and the variety of foods available always changes, so often Kristin returned with a surprise find from the market that was something special for that week. It’s quite the change from living in the US where the expectation is that you can get anything, anytime, even delivered in 2 hours or less. Each ‘find’ is a reward and makes it all the more special.

Kristin tends to her Farmer’s Market finds while Greg is on a conference call.

One day Kristin returned from the Farmer’s Market more excited than usual. She usually is excited about something she finds at the market – sometimes a special flavor of tamale, or a new kind of fruit to try.

“I made a friend today!” Kristin exclaimed.

“Really?” I asked, waiting for the details. With Kristin you never know if she’s referring to a person or an animal when she says she made a friend. I half-expected her to unpack a kitten from her grocery bag for a moment.

“Yes, I met a U.C. Berkeley student who is living here while she’s attending classes remotely. We’re going to have lunch this week.”

“That’s great!” I replied, excited for Kristin to have someone other than me to talk to and relieved that we hadn’t taken on a new furry crewmate.

Ok, now we are really settling in. We have work schedules, lunch dates, grocery store routines. La Paz was quickly wrapping her beautiful tentacles around us and I could imagine that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Greg sitting at a rooftop bar overlooking the Malecon promenade at sunset
Rooftop bar at Harker overlooking the Malecon
overlooking intersection with a few cars at the Malecon promenade at sunset
Malecon at sunset

Thanksgiving break came and provided us a brief window to explore the islands wrapping the bay La Paz, but once again the northerly winds and the lure of La Paz brought us back into port.

We watched as the city donned its Christmas attire and enjoyed the twinkling lights on the Malecon that illuminated the nighttime shoreline.

LED light display showing "Feliz Navidad 2020" on the Malecon promenade at night

It was also in La Paz where we met up with our friends Bernard and Maeve on Honu. They had left San Diego after us and caught up in La Paz. We had several dockside visits with them and went out to dinner together at El Zarape Malecon.

We also met up with Cameron and Nixie on S/V Ella who were also on the Nada. They were arranging a diving trip in the islands. This worked out great as Kristin wanted to get me a dive trip for my birthday, but I didn’t want to go with a group of people I don’t know. I took a Tuesday off and had a great day diving with the sea lions at Isla Islotes as well as diving a reef off the south end of Isla Jacques Costeau (Isla Cerralvo).

The final item on our bucket list for our initial stay in La Paz was for Kristin and I to both snorkel with the whale sharks. The Bay of La Paz is one of the best places in the world to observe juvenile whale sharks as they feed on the abundant upwelling of plankton and krill in the shallows of the bay. We tried to schedule this on the weekend for several weeks, but again because of the northerlies that thwarted us every single weekend we had to finally push it to the Monday before Christmas. I had planned on taking this day off anyway, but had also originally planned to leave La Paz to venture further south on Saturday. As it turned out we would’t likely set sail on Saturday anyway (again with the northerlies), and we were able to push off the dock Monday afternoon after the snorkel trip, so we really didn’t lose any time to squeeze in one more thing. It was well worth it and was one of the highlights of our stay in La Paz.

Finally on Monday, December 21st, a month and a week after arriving in La Paz, Sonrisa was underway again. I think we were both a bit sad to say goodbye to La Paz, but also heartened that we will certainly return in the near future. I think we’ve officially added La Paz to our short list of places in the world we’d like to live.

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