“Quick, put the fish back in the water!” I yell to Bill. A Botox-lipped fish, called a Burrito Grunt, is flopping around at my feet, covered in sand, fighting for its life.
A few minutes earlier, high in the horizon, I watched a cormorant pluck the unlucky fish from the Sea of Cortez. A large frigate bird with forked tail feathers then gave chase to the cormorant. It was like a Discovery Channel scene come alive. As the made-for-TV action disappeared from view, I went back to writing in my journal.
Smack-dab in front of me, a crater formed in the sand, a wayward fish at the center. The cormorant released the fish to me like a tourist headed home gives away foreign change at the airport – as if I needed a handout. Alas, Burrito Grunts do not come wrapped in a tortilla.
Bill, in wildlife rescue mode, transported the convulsing fish back to the water. We watched for a few moments and sure enough, the shell-shocked fish shook off the sand and swam away, no doubt eager to reunite with his schoolmates to tell his improbable tale. Bill and I high-five one another—knowing we made a difference in the life of one troubled pescado.
Yes, you never know when fresh seafood may drop into your lap when paddling in Baja, even if you don’t choose to eat it.
Bill and I are near the funky fishing village of Loreto, 700 miles south of the border on the Sea of Cortez, on a one-week self-supported kayaking trip. “Self-supported” means no motorboats—we travel under our own steam and carry all our gear. There are 10 of us, plus three tour guides from our outfitter, Sea Kayak Adventures.
We will paddle double kayaks into Loreto Bay National Marine Park, and visit Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen, both uninhabited wildlife sanctuaries declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We will be off the grid—no email, cell phones, hot showers or flush toilets. Instead, we’ll reset our priorities to paddling, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, and, at the end of each day, reward our burdensome diligence with happy hour.
At a short orientation the night before our departure, held at the swanky La Mision hotel in Loreto, I was given three dry bags with “San Jose” written on them to hold all my worldly possessions for the next seven days. Clear advance instructions were given on what to pack, so I was prepared. But the choice between Keen or Teva shoes, a towel or a sweatshirt, continued to flutter in my consciousness.
Am I really ready for this? Squelching my lingering doubts, I made my way downstairs to meet the van that would take us to the launch site and the adventure of a lifetime.
My paddling partner for most of the trip is Gary, a tall, strong man in his late-60s who works as a substitute school teacher. This is his fourth Baja trip with Sea Kayak Adventures. He is here along with his two old friends who together call themselves, Larry, Curly and Moe. The fact that Gary is a multi-trip repeat customer comforts my novice apprehensions.
The guides demonstrate how to pack the watertight hatches of our kayaks with sleeping bags, pads, tents, and dry bags. I am sporting a life vest, a broad-brimmed hat reminiscent of a bee keeper, my Maui Jim shades and SPF-30 sunscreen. Gary sits in front of the double kayak and I’m in back in charge of working the rudder. Paddles in hand, we are ready to put civilization in our wake.
There is nothing like the first time you launch a sea kayak on open waters. You feel like an ancient mariner setting out to traverse the sea to an unknown world. An aboriginal sensibility overtakes your consciousness and now is all there is. Gone are thoughts of purpose, expectations, doubts or even drained energy. The organic nature of a fresh start takes hold and everything is possible. Deeper into the journey, I would see that all of us on this trip are searching for something: adventure, camaraderie, connection to sea and sky—all of it coalescing in this nascent exploration into the wilderness.
After two hours of paddling, we make our first landfall: Isla Carmen, a rugged desert island, the largest in the area at over 18 miles long. We pull out on a sandy beach of sea shells and coral. Group protocol has us carry the heavily loaded kayaks above the high-tide line in teams of six to eight. At around 200 pounds each with food and water, they are gut-busters. Next, we unpack the group gear and then our personal belongings. This gentle rhythm of collaborative routine establishes itself early on. We will paddle for two hours every morning and two hours every afternoon.
The ratio of our three tour guides for 10 clients means one of them is always available for hiking, snorkelling, cooking or mischief-making. The camaraderie between these tres amigos is genuine and heartfelt. They are a winning combination of efficient work, organization and playfulness. It’s obvious they like each other and their work. Vlady teases us with his colorful gringo-Spanish greetings: “Hola Coca Cola! Que pasa calabassa? Nada Limonada.” Asked if he ever gets tired of the guide’s life, Vlady replies, “Never, I love my office.”
By Ingrid Hart