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The motor coach rolled north on Baja’s Transpeninsular Highway taking us two SOLARites to Loreto, a mid-sized town located midway on the Baja peninsula, where we’d meet up with our Sea Kayak Adventures group (and another SOLAR member, Tina Maunder) for the weeklong sea kayak trip on the Sea of Cortez.
At 8 a.m. sharp the next day, 13 eager paddlers and Clever Claire, one of our guides, crowded into a van with a myriad of multi-colored dry bags strapped on top. As we headed south to Puerto Escondido, Baja’s largest natural harbor that lies at the foot of the Sierra de la Giganta, the Sea of Cortez twinkled and glittered in the bright morning sun. There we spent about an hour and a half playing the name game and getting to know each other a bit better; hearing the "rules of the road" from the guides, Ginni, Claire, and Heidi; and loading up our two-seater kayaks, affectionately known as "divorce" boats.
Even though we’d all paddled before, the guides provided additional instructions and outlined contingency plans in case of emergency or bad weather. If I was anxious at all about this trip, any trepidation I might have had disappeared – especially since the median age of this group was late 50s.
As we paddled through the channel to the open sea, groups of pelicans studiously ignored us from the rocky shoreline as we checked them out. A Princess line cruise ship loomed in the distance, her passengers no doubt looking out to sea hoping for a whale sighting. They’d probably be heading for the next port later in the day. The morning was just right for cruising or, in our case, paddling the open sea. Not much wind, not too hot, beautiful calm water, and a week of great fun and adventure stretching before us. As we paddled the three-mile crossing toward Isla Danzante, which lies southeast of Puerto Escondido, eared grebes dove for food and frigate birds glided overhead. Pelicans skimmed and dipped over the water hoping for a quick meal.
Our double kayaks, when fully loaded with paddlers and gear, weighed in at around 600 pounds and proved decidedly stable. They carried all our personal gear, a mobile kitchen with enough food and water for the entire trip plus a Dutch oven used to bake a cake each night, camping equipment, and the ever popular Oscar – a portable potty with its own special boat. Our cruise ships were just as self-contained as the Princess sitting off in the distance.
Upon reaching Danzante, we stopped for a sumptuous and welcome lunch of local tomatoes, avocados, cheeses, the ever present and very popular peanut butter and jelly, and other assorted savories and beverages. With our bellies filled and our bodies dehydrated, we energetically paddled on to our first campsite.
Isla Danzante, a multi-coved island with jagged peaks that look like a dinosaur’s back, is a beachcomber’s treasure trove. After moving the boats out of the inter-tidal zone, hauling out all the gear, and setting up our campsite, several of us headed off in search of beach treasure and photo opportunities. What finds! Sea urchins everywhere, the dried out cartilage of a shark, Sally Lightfoot crabs, fiddler crab shells, anemones undulating in tidal pools, and puffer fish galore. The gulls poked playfully at the puffer fish finally popping them to get at the soft innards. American oystercatchers zipped up and down the beach in search of dinner. They weren’t lucky like us. All we had to do to find dinner was to make our way back to camp, have a nosh and a cocktail and compare notes from the days paddling with our fellow paddlers as we hung around the kitchen waiting for the food to be ready.
The Sea of Cortez, made famous by John Steinbeck’s book of the same name, is not only a sport fisherman’s paradise but a kayaker’s paradise as well. One of Mexico’s many marine parks, the Sea of Cortez abounds in fish and marine life. Heidi, our marine biologist guide, provided plenty of facts on the different types of sea life inhabiting the tide pools. Surprisingly, though, we came across only one other group of kayakers in the week we were paddling, and only two deep-sea fishing boats. For a marine park, it was wonderfully uninhabited.
Baja’s landscape startles the eye with its desolate yet scenic mountains, deserts, and beaches. The volcanic cliffs of Danzante rise up abruptly, and the landscape is arid and rugged. Green cardone cactus, rooted in the stubborn grayish-brown earth, stretch spiny arms toward an azure sky whose sun can be relentless. Aside from our tents and our wide-brimmed hats, we found no shade on Danzante or Carmen. The palo verdes, though trees, are thorny rather than leafy and offer no relief from the sun. Nevertheless, the moderate temperatures provided the perfect conditions for us to paddle, snorkel, hike, or just lounge on the endless beach.
Night comes quickly in the desert, and Baja is no exception. By early evening, the sky brought out her best gems to tempt the weary visitor into staying awake—at least until Baja midnight—to see what treasures would be revealed. We were never disappointed. Orion’s belt and scabbard, Betelgeuse, Mars, the Pleiades, and Saturn, the second largest planet in the solar system, with its rings thrilled us all. Fireflies (really bioluminescence) floated along the shoreline as a counter point to the glittery sky above.
Early morning brought not only Ginni, girl guide extraordinaire, waking us up to the sound of her flute but Venus, dolphin pods playing in front of our camp site, gray whales spouting in the distance, and spectacular sunrises as well.
Two days on Isla Carmen, an island full of fossilized shell, allowed us to do some snorkeling, improve our kayaking skills, and for me, finally, learn to do a wet exit. It was quite difficult tipping over that divorce boat, but it was even harder getting back in. We hiked, examined the native flora and fauna, and put on hermit crab races when they came out in the evening. We had fun. Our last campsite, on Danzante, and our last al fresco meal together proved to be hilarious. Thanks to one of our fellow kayakers, we dolled ourselves up, finished off the makings of the cocktails, played some games, and enjoyed the entertainment of our resident juggler and storyteller, Dave.
From my travel journal: I’m sitting in a niche in a rock writing and looking out at the Sea of Cortez. It’s windy tonight and the water’s choppy. I can see the lights from the cars on Highway 1 across the water. The week’s over. It’s been a good week, a lot of fun. Some days the paddling was difficult for me because of the wind and chop. However, paddling in the wind and the chop have given me more experience and more confidence. My ab muscles are sore and so are the muscles in my back between my shoulder blades. But, it’s a good feeling to ache from physical exertion that’s fun. A hermit crab slowly drags its borrowed shell by my left foot and painstakingly inches toward the water. As I watch, another one crawls by my right foot.
Are these two left over from the crab races earlier in the night? I don’t know, but whoever they are, they’re amazing creatures from an amazing place called Baja California Sur— a place best experienced from water level under a layer of sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat and with paddle in hand.
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