Layover Day to Isla Idelfonzo, April 5th 2007.

I could not convince anyone to come with me on a circumnavigation of Isla Idelfonzo on a “layover day”. This small island is six to eight miles offshore and no one else wanted to do a crossing or a long day of paddling. Not only was there a crossing involved (not my favorite type of paddle either) but I had to paddle at least an extra mile in the morning just to get to Punta El Pulpito to start the eight mile crossing.

As I started that crossing, a large pod of dozens of dolphins escorted me for fifteen minutes or so! I think it was the same pod we had seen jumping the evening before. Half way across to the island I saw the two wingtips of a large manta ray waving out of the water. I tried to get close enough to get a good look at it but it kept turning away from me. I stopped hassling it and continued on. While still over a mile from the island I started seeing cliff swallows buzzing about over the water.

When I arrived at Isla Idelfonzo my eyes filled with the beauty of the jagged rocky shores, my ears with the sounds of a long swell roaring onto the rocks and into caves, my eyes again with the sight of hundreds of boobies circling overhead and my chest seemed to fill to bursting with joy to be able to be in such a wonderful place. The east shore of the island was very rugged, was world-class rock gardening but had only one cave I could poke into. The long swell here kept me respectfully aware of the rocks.

I like the way boobies look down at you, from the air while flying over you or while standing on their nests. When I rounded the north tip of the island (it is less than two miles long) the boobies were replaced by nesting frigate birds! One male frigate exposed his bright red chest sack as he twisted around to watch me drift by only ten feet away! He didn’t inflate the sack for me.

The island was smaller than I expected and I found myself halfway around in no time. The west side of the island was protected from the long swell and the water became very calm. There were more caves than the other side and I was able to poke into all them with no qualms. On the whole island I only found two small gravel beaches I could land on and one of them was inside the largest cave on the west side. Of course I had to land there! Several caves had ropes attached to the ceiling, suggesting that panga fishermen tie up inside them for some reason.

Back to the south tip of the island I made a seal landing on a scratchy reef in order to explore the lighthouse towers and eat my lunch. I had scoped out the area when I arrived and found no place better to land. How had the builders of the towers landed here? Looking back into the crystal clear water answered part of the question: Broken off and settled on the bottom was a steel ladder that used to hang down the cliff to allow getting on the island from a panga.

The original light was one of those concrete towers that looks like a chess castle. I have seen these on several islands in the Sea of Cortez. I have explored every one I found and each time wondered if I was taking a big risk climbing up the crumbling spiral staircase. There was no need to wonder this time as the staircase had already collapsed into pieces! Next to the old concrete tower was a newer “erector set” tower with the new light on top. Strewn nearby were the crumpled remains of the expected signs. The old informative beige sign and the newer “Keep Off without a Permit” sign had both been blown over. I was perversely pleased that the less friendly Keep Off sign had been destroyed by bad weather. But I was sad that the old informative sign was in poor shape.

On the way to Isla Idelfonzo I had chosen to take the longer eight mile crossing directly from Punta El Pulpito because going sideways to Punta San Antonio had seemed too far out of my way. However, on the return trip I decided to make the shorter six-mile crossing to Antonio to get back to the mainland sooner. When I was most of the way back I met two gringos in a panga. One guy asked me if I was “looking for some land nearby”. I told them I had this machine on my deck that said it was that-a-way. He laughed and warned me not to trust those things too much. They were sport fishermen and had caught more than they knew what to do with. They offered me some fish, starting with the red rockfish that was being pulled out of the water as I arrived. This fish was such a bright day-glow red/orange color that at first I thought he was pulling a piece of plastic trash out of the ocean. When I described my 5 hungry friends back at camp they gave me two spotted bass to go with the rockfish.

I continued on to Punta San Antonio and stopped to take some more pictures there. Then I cut across and as I approached Punta El Pulpito I saw a kayak pull out from behind the point, turn back behind and then pull way offshore again. Suddenly I was hailed by the voice of Don Fleming on my VHF radio. He was expecting me to be coming directly back from the island and wasn’t able to find me until I told him over the radio there to look and waved my paddle. I accused Don of worrying about me and coming out to look for me. However, he says he was only out paddling to take pictures of the point.

That evening I filleted the fish before dinner. We had the rockfish fried in olive oil as an appetizer. I made ceviche with the two bass by cutting the filets up into pieces and putting them in a zip lock bag with lime juice, vinegar, cilantro flakes and red pepper. The ceviche soaked in the limejuice for a day and was used as an appetizer the next evening.

All text and images Copyright © 2007 by Mike Higgins / contact