Thanksgiving in La Paz

Posted by John


We first heard the term on our second or third day here in La Paz, on the morning VHF channel 22 radio net, which we discovered by accident, during a portion referred to as “Arrivals and Departures.” A boat was welcomed back to La Paz after a two-year absence with the words: the “bungee effect” has struck again. What was meant was that even though boats leave La Paz, they are often drawn back, like the pull of a bungee cord.

We just got here, and we already see the attraction. It’s comfortable, and as we mentioned in the last post, there is a welcoming and supportive cruising community. We joined Club Cruceros, the cruiser club, paying for a one-year membership. Maybe we just want to keep our options open. Or maybe we want to draw a line in the sand for ourselves at a new latitude, to kind of establish a forward base as it were, a familiar fallback position as we ultimately press onward.

The city of La Paz, population around a quarter-million, is located on the Sea of Cortez side of the Baja California peninsula, maybe thirty miles or so north of the Tropic of Cancer. We crossed the Tropic of Cancer twice getting here. The first time was at approximately 3:45 AM on November 10th, entering the tropics on the way south to Cabo San Lucas, and the second time after rounding the southern end of the Baja peninsula and coming back up on the inside, leaving the tropics.

La Paz is located on the Bay of La Paz, which is separated from the Sea of Cortez by a peninsula. The distant view from La Paz is therefore of mountains (or at least big hills) on three sides. Just off the northern tip of the peninsula, at the open end of the bay, is the UNESCO designated biosphere reserve of Isla Espíritu Santo. I dove in these waters before, almost thirty years ago, and have waited a long time to be able to anchor in one of the picturesque bays of the island on my own boat. Because of its protected status, to visit the area now requires each person to purchase a permit, but that is not a big deal.

Up to this point, our trip schedule has been driven by two main events. The first being getting out of Puget Sound during the weather window, and the second being in San Diego by the last week of October to join the Baja Ha-Ha. The next event that would drive a schedule is crossing the Pacific to French Polynesia, but that is at least several months away. In the meantime, we can relax, work on projects, explore and enjoy.

Thanksgiving Day, 2016.  We don’t know for sure which of our families these never-lit candles came from, but these, or ones just like them, were part of both Julie’s and my childhood Thanksgivings.
Thanksgiving Day, 2016. We don’t know for sure which of our families these never-lit candles came from, but these, or ones just like them, were part of both Julie’s and my childhood Thanksgivings.

For us as a family the Thanksgiving Holiday has evolved over the years, but this year it took a drastic turn to the different. It’s hard to think of it as Thanksgiving when the sun is bright, hot and high in the sky. At home in the Seattle area we would be entering the “Slimy Season” now, when the sun, if it manages to come out for a few minutes, is too weak and low in the sky to dry anything out, a green slime seems to form on everything and the ground remains perpetually wet. Here in the desert climate of La Paz, if something gets wet it dries in a matter of minutes.

We can’t help but to think back on what we’ve had to do, and give up, to get this far. The years of planning and preparation; the familiar routines of caring for our goats, chickens, dog and cat we used to have, even the bee hives Julie tried to maintain, are all just memories now. The gambles we’ve taken, financial and otherwise, are not trivial. There is a sense of excitement for where we go from here, but also the knowledge that every time we set out is another opportunity for failure. Even if we changed our minds and quit today, just getting the boat back home would not be easy and could take months.

A few days before Thanksgiving, the cruising community threw a party at La Costa restaurant for all the new boats that had just arrived. There was music and dancing, from performances of a Mariachi band and traditional Mexican dancers, to the live band and party participants themselves. In the fading light of the sunset, I looked at the fronds of the trees blowing in the wind and the boats in the boatyard next-door and it hit me as to just how we had gotten here. I suddenly thought of my dad. As a kid I spent many Saturday afternoons with him sailing in his 14-foot C-Lark on Lake Washington and telling him how someday I was going to sail to Tahiti. I don’t think he ever took it seriously. It’s still too early to tell if we’ll make it to Tahiti, or even get close, but if my dad could see what we’ve done to get this far, I’d like to think he’d be impressed and happy.

There were plenty of opportunities offered to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner here. We chose The Dock Café, just up at the end of the dock, overlooking the marina, which made an American Thanksgiving dinner the special of the day. We shared the table with Joe and Cathy from “Slainte,” and shared the experience with others of the local cruising family.

That was our Thanksgiving for 2016.