Monday was boat building day. We have two kayaks, Folbot by brand and folding by style which allows us to store them in duffle bags instead of hanging them in our garage (which we don’t have.) Folbots are great, all the benefits and performance of a sea kayak without any of the real estate problems. Except for their one downside – they have to be put together. The Folbot designers took the traditional Inuit seal bone and walrus skin design and translated it to aluminum and Kevlar, creating a boat that can be broken down and carried over long distances across the ice cap (in our case the Sonoran Desert) from open water to open water (in our case from no water to the ocean). They really are the ideal solution for someone who kayaks once or twice a year and lives far from places to do so. But you can’t just grab them off the top of the SUV and drop them in the sea; you have to lay all the parts out on the Bermuda grass, find the instructions, build the thing and then drag them down to the shore which of course is every procrastinator’s nightmare incarnate. Ideally, the first thing you’d do upon arrival, after the plate of Carne Machaca, is build the boats. But we never do falling instead into relaxation mode until after a couple of days we realize if we don’t build them soon, we won’t be doing any boating. And so Monday, being three days into our vacation, became boat building day.
They really do go together pretty easily if you take your time, follow the instructions and lay all the parts out on the grass. The condo cat population comes by to watch, and they really are great conversation starters with your fellow vacationers – men cannot resist their tinker toy assembly. This time we dragged Rita the gal upstairs down to the assembly site to convince her that it was a far better alternative than the inflatable boat she had been using (she later stopped us on the beach to tell us that she’d found the perfect model on their web site and had ordered color swatches.)
Once built it’s only a matter of treating my Bermuda grass bloodied knees and dragging all 62 pounds down its parking place. We discussed our next steps – boat tomorrow or throw caution to the wind and break our pattern by boating mid-morning and settled on the latter. A quick change of clothes and a gathering of the equipment and we were on our way out into the choppy sea.
As always I had elected to forego the additional work of installing the rudder and so our path was a bit of a zigzag down the coast to the entrance to the estuary behind the condos. The tides have been strange on this trip – a high-low-high combination between midnight and 8 AM followed by a big gap until a genuine low around 4 PM. Not great for birding but ideal for boating and so we cleared the bar at the entrance to the back bay with room to spare.
Floating back among the mangroves is one of the sublime pleasures of this place. You see tons of birds – egrets, herons, shorebirds – along with tiny land birds foraging in the tangles. It’s much like being in the real wild – big white waders squawking across the bow of the boat as you spook them from their daytime rest among the trees. We heard a Virginia Rail clacking off in the distance like two rocks being banged together and stopped to admire the bright yellow feet of a Snowy Egret who paused to watch us drift by. An Osprey sat on a bare snag taking apart a fish he had caught.
We stopped to chat with another kayaker on his way out and went on around the bend towards an alternative path back to our dock, debating whether it was worse to fight our way back out into the ocean or to drag the boat across the parking lot. As we turned into the side channel the decision was made for us – the boat plowed head first into a new sand bar blocking the way and the only alternative was to get out and drag the boat across it. We decided to take the hard way home, a choice that would play out nicely in a short bit.
From our grounding we came back out towards the bay that joined the ocean. Two American Oystercatchers watched our slow progress, their orange beaks glowing outlandishly.
We cleared the bar with relative ease and struck out straight when we spotted the cresting backs of the dolphin family. Their presence was a bit of a surprise as it was later in the day than they normally appear but seizing on the opportunity, we headed straight for them.
The group numbered somewhere between 8 and 12 and we settled into a spot in the center of where they were rising and diving. I have to say, that one of the most wonderful noises known to my ears is the sound of a sea mammal blowing air as they come up for a breath. It’s so primal and peaceful, all at the same time. We just sat there maintaining the point of the boat into the oncoming swells and watched them go up and down. The sea was this incredible lead gray color with ever-changing blotches of bright blue – an accurate reflection of the mottled sky over head. A calf came straight at the boat and was cut off by an adult just before reaching us. One came up and lolled on the surface, taking a look at us before returning to the deep. Back and forth and up and down, the show went on for ten or fifteen minutes. We made a couple of corrections to our orientation to keep them in front of us, managing to catch both a calf and an adult breach completely out of the water. Eventually they drifted off and we decided to call it a day, heading back to shore and our inevitable clumsy attempt to disembark without falling in the drink.
Today’s destination was Nacapule Canyon and another day of birding. The canyon lies off to the north of town and it used to be a tough slog to get there. Now though progress has brought signs and a road that encourages people to drive out with the sole purpose of tagging the rocks with gang signs. The last time we were there was the height of tourist time – Christmas Week – and it was loaded with people and almost completely bird free. But I knew it had potential as the guy who helped me on last year’s count had seen some good things there during off peak hours. On our last visit, we climbed up and over the top with Cousin Bob, coming back down a scree rock slope that ended in some rancher’s goat pens. This time less climbing and more looking was in order.
While the road has been civilized, it’s still rough in spots and the going can be slow. My Lovely Wife regaled me with stories of the old days, before mankind made its mark on San Carlos. I scanned the bushes and the road ahead, looking for that one rock that had my oil pan’s name on it. But coming out of the last wash we were presented with an empty parking area and absolute silence aside from the occasional bird chirping in the Cat Claw.
You head down a slope and then walk a flat rocky path that runs alongside a dry stream bed for the first third of the trail. Then the path heads up and eventually ends at a broad amphitheater which offers a couple of ways up and out. We stopped and enjoyed the sound of the wind through the palms and the twittering of warblers and kinglets in the brush. Something big and rough sounding added a croak or two, unseen but clearly nearby. An Elegant Trogon began to call high up and far away, giving me the one bird I had hoped to see or at least hear. A small clear pond filled a basin in the stream bed here, disappearing beneath the rocks as it began its trip down to sea level. It’s a pretty nice place if you over look the graffiti and the Doritos bags, far nicer when there are no people around. Our time sitting there listening brought to mind the other canyon here in town where we began out count so many years ago, off the back of the harbor and just over the ridge from the site where the film Catch 22 was filmed almost a half century ago. That place – palm lined and grassy had been turned into a construction debris dump on our last visit, and on this trip had become more or less impassable. A genuine loss in my book.
It was getting late and the birds were no longer complying so we made our way down and out and back to town for a bit of shopping and a quick lunch at Rosa’s. Deciding the day could not be complete without an ice cream bar, I drove us back up the main drag to the Oxxo (think Circle K) where we grabbed the 3rd world version of a Dove Bar, Magnum with Alemendras (almonds). I had a brief contretemps with a plump young man attempting to squeeze into his minivan – snacks in hand – as I was trying to pull out. Nothing lost; I barely brushed him with my rear view mirror.
Heading back home we decided to take a spin through the La Posada parking lot to assess how their renovation was coming along. What used to be the fanciest place in town has now become a bipolar vacation spot – the newly refurbished hotel towers contrasting with the seedy and shopworn main buildings which still house the sales offices. It brought to mind a tired old section of Miami Beach where the golden days of tourism were long since gone. Coming around and out of the parking lot, I said “This is prime Ani territory” and as if instantly granted a wish by Rhiannon, the Celtic Goddess of the Birds, My Lovely Wife said “Stop and back up.” There at the edge of a weedy lot was a bush full of Groove-billed Anis.
These medium sized furry members of the Cuckoo Family have become the iconic bird of our count ever since Professor Bill Heed of the University of Arizona sent us out looking in a mangrove swamp for them many years ago. We found them that day, right where he said they would be, and have had them almost every year since. Sometimes they’re easy, sitting on a garbage can along the road to town. Other times it takes a bit of a hunt. This year I’d given up but they chose not to disappoint, hanging out in their scrubby little domicile waiting for me to come along. We stopped and watched as an American Kestrel dove down among them, certainly not thinking that one of these tough guys was going to be a same-sized meal for her. She bounced off the ground and joined them on the edge of a shack next to their bush. I pulled in closer and closer and spent time just staring at their funny little dinosaur-monkey faces until I decided to leave them in peace, going about whatever it is an Ani spends a cloudy Tuesday afternoon doing, down here in paradise.