Kayaking and camping in the Sea of Cortez
Oct 2004
Lee De Cola


The end of July/beginning of August 2004 would be a busy time: three 8-hour days of teaching followed by a week in California visiting friends and Freya's father, then a week long class—on retirement no less. It began well: my class was a modest success, then we flew to Oakland for a ridiculously low price, and I spent Monday kayaking with 3 friends in Half Moon Bay. Tuesday morning things took a radically different turn with a call from Reston Hospital in Virginia informing me that my 91-year old mother, Elizabeth had a stroke and was admitted the previous day. Her dying is a long and separate story, but the first 2 phases of the process were shock and biomedical confusion and then a reasonably clear view of her returning to end her days at the assisted living facility where she had been for 28 months, among her small family, the staff she knew, and a few friends she had made there.

The hospice staff were extremely helpful to us all in coping with her steady if somewhat episodic decline, so I was able to focus on her comfort above all, but being an essentially selfish person (aren't we all?), I also pondered how I might help recover from this ordeal. It was though I was envisioning a script: stroke, death, vacation; the kind of thing one does as a way of escaping from the present. I looked at websites offering kayaking trips, even requested literature. Freya, however, firmly suggested that I put off such plans and deal with the more important matter of seeing us through this process. Of course, this was obvious: helping someone to die I found can be one of the most difficult and rewarding gifts you can make, leaving little energy for anything else, so we focused on the challenge at hand.

Mom died 38 days after her stroke, and towards the end I told her "when this is over I plan to take a long kayak trip," to which she replied "Good for you." As she always enjoyed traveling, but did very little of it after my father died in 1983, I was able to share some of my adventures with her, bringing back stories and images that she seemed to enjoy. But now I have one fewer person to share this with, yet as a few people, including most importantly myself, enjoy my essays, I've created this web page to recount some of what happened and what it looked like. Given the virtuality of the Internet, Mom may get be reading this...

Oct 8 Friday Los Angeles

To get to Loreto Baja California Sur, Mexico you need to fly to LAX, and 3 hours is recommended to safely make this connection, so I decided to spend a full day in Los Angeles, which I know well having spent a third of my life there. For $3 you can take the bus/subway all day in LA, which gives you a lot of room to roam. I took the bus from LAX to La Brea & 3rd Street and walked up to the old neighborhood. Little has changed, although almost everything is 'hip' (I suppose) new clothing, and gone are most of the little shops selling used clothes, coffee, gifts, moderne furniture, etc. The old house at 736 North Martel is a little plainer, and no one came out when I called, nor at the houses next door. This is the first time I haven't connected with anyone in the neighborhood, and it makes not going back again a little easier. But it's also easy to wander the streets and feel at home in a place so far from home, and of course Mom (and the family) are gone now, so there are fewer people to report to. It's like LA doesn't get to me any more; I'm an outsider...

The most exciting thing I saw in the neighborhood was the LA Eyeworks annual sale. This shop at the corner of Melrose and Martel in a building occupying what was the last open lot in the vicinity (built upon around 1950) is THE place to go for eye wear. The place was packed with people circulating around tables covered with all kinds of frames—and they were buying several, even a dozen. It was a frantic scene and, wanting a new frame, I joined in. I asked a young woman why she was buying so many frames and she seemed surprised, remarking something about the importance of "clothing for your face." Although many of the $200 frames were selling for $25, I bought a $235 frame for $125, perhaps a month's income for a poor Mexican family. No doubt there are New Yorkers who fly out for this yearly spectacle. (As it happens I stepped on the new frames a week after having added new lenses and had to buy a new pair, so these were easily the most expensive glasses I had ever bought...)

From my hotel window a scene that could be from any large city, first or third world, but is LA because of the many large cars. I stayed at the LAX Holiday Inn, a large hotel that fronted on a busy alley that paralleled Century Blvd, and the constant traffic moving in and out of the fast food and strip establishments reminded me a bit of Lagos, Nigeria: a mega-habitat of homo automobilis. Vast sections of any metropolis—and especially near the international airports—have become very much alike. We pass through gateways that are very similar in search of arrival at the exotic. As for this scene, it suggested what I might see in a larger city of Mexico: weedy lots, cars all over, palm trees in the smog (though this was Pacific fog) dingy houses.

That was something I noticed about Loreto: the high proportion of US-made cars. They must be cheap and easy to move across the border; and they appeal to the Mexican style.

Oct 9 Saturday, LAX to Loreto

I got to LAX at least 3 hours before the flight, figuring I could pick up a paper and enjoy a quiet breakfast in the terminal. But I was discovered waiting in line at Aero California by Jim, the last to sign up for this trip. As this is a public document, I'll spare him some of my candor and simply report that he was high maintenance. Yes, I am, too, but this fellow had a bright red ego that always seemed to need attention. I found him amusing at first, so we chatted in the terminal until the flight boarded, but even this early in the trip I was quite ready to be alone with my thoughts and musings about the world around me, and I wasn't disappointed to leave him for my seat toward the front of the plane.

The flight to Loreto was pleasant, as air travel usually is for me. Give me a seat by the window, away from the wing, with reasonably clear weather or interesting clouds, and I'm certain to be happy. My seatmate was a very quiet tall fellow who broke open a new paperback and said almost nothing the whole 2 hours. The plane seemed to be filled with merry norte americanos off on holiday or returning to their Mexican houses. I always like flying on "3rd world" airlines, knowing that at least some people are mastering the technological skills that, after all, are one of the answers to moving into the future. And we were a little creek of northerners heading against the river of Mexicans streaming north; the symmetry appeals.

This view out the window as we flew down the east coast of Baja suggested right away that this was going to be a different place to kayak. I was used to the lush Potomac with its muddy banks and rock gardens, fresh water that often reeked of decay (I've gotten used to this, and it conjures up the urge to get in the river, but I'll never enjoy it.) Whereas this place seemed to have no beaches at all, as though the Grand Canyon had been filled with salt water with no time for the edges to adjust. And this is not far off the mark as the Colorado River does flow into the Gulf of California about 1000 km northwest of where we were.

The terminal at Loreto is plain with a palm frond roof that is quite common in the region. I noticed a number of Americans hauling surfboards in huge duffles and was told this only cost less than $100 round trip. I suppose one could also bring a kayak for not much more... A taxi picked up a bunch of us from the terminal and drove to the Hotel La Pinta, a pleasant establishment on the beach north of Loreto. It was hot and dry and my room had a lovely view of the calm expanse of the Sea of Cortez. We were directed to meet Trudy, the trip organizer, for a brief orientation, soon after arrival. She's a fascinating woman from California who with her husband specializes in water-based adventures in the area. After decades in the area she seems to have retained her enthusiasm for delivering excitement to northerners and her genuine affection for her Mexican colleagues.

I planned to wander about the town, but Jim had a mission for me: tequila and Cuban cigars, which seemed like nice supplies to have for our trip. Although I'm trying not to drink (I've convinced myself they reduce the effectiveness of Celexa), a bit of booze might be useful, and although I'd packed little cigars, having the real thing seemed appropriate. I checked out the waterfront, the facade of the Mission, and a few shops, where I filled Jim's order. My mind wasn't on the town very much as I was eager to get on the water, but Loreto had a few interesting spots and would repay a serious visit some day.

I returned to La Pinta, had a nap, and went to dinner with Jim, Matt, and Becky, a couple celebrating his 30th birthday. Meals were fine, although I did find the food throughout the trip rather heavier than I prefer, and (probably given the lack local agriculture and warnings about vegetables) less based on fresh vegetables than I'm used to. Jim and I finished the meals by dividing up the tequila and cigars, exchanging money, and further chatting.

Adventures always begin with a certain amount of feverish activity than can often lead to mistakes. I noticed this when I first started kayaking: I'd pull the boat off the car, toss stuff into the cockpit, get in the water...and find I'd forgotten my lunch, or my shoes. Now I force myself to be more methodical before entering the water. I don't know what was the hurry, perhaps I'm just nervous, don't want to miss a minute of padding. After dinner everyone then went back to their rooms, but I was drawn to swimming in a square and shallow pool. I tossed my shirt and backpack on a chair and eased into the warm water, splashed around for a half-hour, and then went to my room to repack for the next day's put-in. Almost immediately I noticed that the neck pouch containing my passport, tourist card, and all my money was not among my things. Naturally I threw everything around several times, looked everywhere, returned to the dining room and the swimming pool, talked to the waiter and the concierge, but found nothing. Strangely enough I was not very upset by all this. Certainly I was angry at having lost these important things, but I acknowledged that early-stage empty-headedness that afflicts the traveler—and also blamed Jim for having upset my usual degree of focus. Once I had determined that the things were truly gone I went to bed and slept fine.

Oct 10, Sunday, Puerto Escondido and Danzante Is.

I awoke early the next morning, and found the sliver of the moon rising in an otherwise black sky, reflected in the calm sea. The view was unique because of the clarity of the air, the calmness of the water, and the darkness of the region. It also seemed that the moon was humming, like the background machinery in a scene from a science fiction movie. At first I was disappointed that there would be no moon during the week we were camping, but I soon realized that this would make stargazing ideal. In fact, the sky was always a huge part of our world: at sea the horizon was almost unbroken by land, and on our beach campsites the water usually was about half of the horizon. At night the stars were so visible that if you adjusted, you could slowly and carefully walk by their light.

The air in Baja is very clear, and there are few trees, so the horizon is usually visible and seems quite close. Loreto itself is opposite the large island of Carmen, which rises out of the sea without much evidence of beaches or any kind of transition from below to above sea level, like a ridge rising out of the water, and because the transparency makes this massive object seem very close.

At breakfast I met our guides (picture from left: Sergio, Vladi (trainee) and Jorge, with Matt). Jorge listened sympathetically and—though he said this was a first in his 7 years of guiding—he thought the matter could be easily cleared up. After obligatory jokes about how I might need to think about settling in Mexico he suggested I leave a copy of my passport with our taxi driver to work on the matter while we were camping. Sounded OK to me. In fact, it was an appropriate way to begin the adventure: no documents, no money, nothing to lose (still, I'd have rather left this stuff with my bags in the town...) The lessons: 1) Be mindful, pay attention to the important stuff. Sure it feels fine to toss stuff on a chair and have a swim, but it is not a lot more difficult to go back to the room and leave the backpack, get a towel, take care. 2) Be careful of distractions, especially other people. I'm easily distracted, usually interested in what they are saying, and also trying to impress them as well. This fragments my attention. 3) Get a brighter pouch for the important documents, and either keep it with you or know where it is; you don't have to know where everything is, just the important stuff.

I was a bit late for breakfast and dramatically announced my lost money and documents, but no one seemed very concerned—perhaps we had all quickly adapted to the Mexican mellowness. Certainly the guides were mildly surprised and knew they would handle this matter. In any case, where we were going money would be unnecessary and passports probably also useless: sounded delightful to me!

In fact these fellows were an unexpected delight of the trip: experienced, helpful, funny, eager to teach, and just warm to be with. They knew their jobs and seemed to enjoy them. Jorge is a lively and knowledgeable fellow who has been leading trips for 7 years, and Sergio (who was in the single kayak most of the time) is quieter and more centered; his regular employment is as a fisherman with his own boat on the Pacific. And Vladi was the trainee who knew little English but was always eager to attempt to talk, and who turned out to be an enthusiastic singer/guitarist at our farewell dinner. No doubt some of their warmth was due to the fact that hard as it was this is easy and well-paid employment compared either with the unemployment or drugery that I imagine is the lot of many Mexican men.

We took a van carrying the 3 boats (2 tandems and a single) on top from the hotel down a well-paved road but eventually left the asphalt for a track leading to a beach where there was one other car. The region appears to have no agriculture or manufacturing, little industry beyond retirement and tourism: we passed a big golf resort with vast carpets of green, having no attraction for us. Our adventure really began with the put-in at Puerto Escondido (see map). We never saw the port, which is supposed to be a pretty place where most of the yachts are found in this part of the Gulf. We loaded all of our personal and group gear with little problem into the hatches of the boats. In fact, nothing ever really seemed difficult; our guides had done all of this so many times before (yet they never seemed blasé), and at least Becky and Matt were pretty mellow. It was just a matter of loading up and heading out, as though we did this all the time.

Danzante: W111° 15' 00" N25° 46' 17"

This map is a piece of NOAA chart No. 21141 "Golfo de California From San Marcial Point to San Basilio Bay" in part based on an original "survey by U.S.S. Narragansett in 1873 and 1875" I have shown a few of the waypoints collected by by Garmin GPS receiver,including our put-in at Quemodo(?) and 2 of our campsites on Danzante Island. I like the antique look of the chart: the region hasn't changed much in the past 125 years, and the colors capture the arid feel of the region. (It's possible the put-in is marked out to sea because I didn't start the receiver until we were about 2 km offshore.) As is true of all maps, each minute of latitude to the left is exactly 1 nautical mile, or about 1.85 kilometers. So the first day we did about 10 km.

Our first destination was Danzante Island, an easy paddle of about 7 kilometers with a stiff tailwind.—nice work. We were underway, I was in the forward cockpit, Jim steering behind, with a target in easy sight. If I ignored him, Jim settled down and probably was as centered as I. About halfway Jorge asked if anyone wanted to pee. Apparently the custom is to slip overboard, which I did (never one to pass up a swim), and the water was delightfully warm. Unfortunately I also forgot that my binoculars were in my personal flotation device (PFD) and though I had thought they were waterproof, when I used them that night to examine the sky all I saw was a blur. Another material weight off my mind...

Our first stop was the west shore of Danzante Island for a brief rest. Still in my do everything mode, I went snorkeling and saw lots of tropical fish, none of whom I could identify, but this added to the sense of having arrived in paradise. Because it is so dry, so sunny, and so windy, you are hot in the sun but can be chilly in the shade. After perhaps an hour we were again underway to the east side of the island to our campsite for the first night. We camped on a narrow beach facing east under steep cliffs with a stack to the south and 2 natural bridges to the north.

Ah, the night sky. There were more stars than I had seen in a long, long time. We sat on the beach facing the eastern sky and let our eyes adjust. I had brought a star chart for the month and pointed out some of the constellations—or what I thought were constellations, as I don't really know my way around the heavens. The big event was sighting the galaxy in Andromeda (center, bottom of image), which is a faint smudge to the naked eye and a brighter cloud with binoculars, but just knowing it is another "island universe" was thrilling to us all. And of course I had made my contribution to the expedition, had proved my value as a scientist just a little. You could camp on that beach with a decent telescope and spend a couple of nights learning the sky. But in one way Baja isn't an ideal place to learn your way around the sky because there are so many stars that it is difficult to know which are the important collections of bright ones that make up the major constellations. However, it's wonderful just to contemplate the complexity of patterns and the sheer numbers of worlds that crowd our little corner of the universe.

That night I decided to sleep on the beach in the open. It was warm enough though windy, and there didn't seem to be any mosquitoes, although to be on the safe side I set up a net, which blew away a few times. It was exciting to sleep under the stars, although this was a bit too rugged for my taste. The crescent moon arose in a black sky and again "...was somehow even audible too, except that its sound was not of this earth, not the sort of sound that is heard by ears." (Solzhenitsyn Cancer Ward chapter 31.) Contemplating the moon is quite different from exploring the sky: you focus on another object and begin to feel some kind of kinship to a thing as opposed to celestial stuff. You are watching the moon and the moon is being watched by you; of course this object is in no way conscious of you or anything else, but it still exists in a distinct way that things of fractional dimension (the dust of stars, the wrinkled surface of the sea, the wiggly line of a mountainous horizon) simply do not. The moon may not be aware of me, but one imagines its being aware of the earth that shines upon it and keeps it in its place.

Oct 11 Monday, Danzante Is.

The next morning we had breakfast on the beach. Suddenly food would appear (ah, the luxuries of travel!) and our job was to eat and wash our own dishes. The guides cooked using a small 2-burner tabletop stove and the food was served on another table about 1-meter square. Where these stoves, tables, and gas bottles were stowed I never really learned: they appeared soon after we came ashore, and disappeared just before we left, and I was too busy packing my own gear to pay much attention. Although quite tasty, I found the food a bit heavy; it seemed gastronomically stressful to subject one's system to the rigors of travel to a new place and then subject oneself to fairly large quantities of starch, etc. But food isn't my thing, yet I did become slightly dysenteric during the next 2 days, though not as severely as Jim.

It was here that the real sense of adventure sank in. We were on our own, a long swim to the mainland, feeling apart from civilization, especially in the sense that if anything were to happen to us we might not make it back. Of course we were in the hands of experienced guides—with radios and cellphones—who had not yet lost a guest, yet there was nevertheless always the chance that something really threatening could happen. Even though our biggest challenges were diarrhea and the occasional jellyfish sting, the imagination in such places runs to more interesting possibilities than while driving the Beltway, even though the risks one faces are much lower.

We took a brief hike over the ridge of the island and looked down on a spot near to the beach we had spent last night on. This gives an idea of the topography: the relief drops into the water and keeps going, so beaches (if any) are narrow. The water is a gorgeous blue, and warm. What more could one want? Of course if there were fresh water there would probably be lots more people, so this is about as nearly perfect as can be. For water the guides loaded 5-liter 'bladders' that neatly fit in any spare room in the kayaks, and we always had more than enough. Because we were on an island, Danzante felt like the most remote part of the trip.

Oct 12 Tuesday, Long Beach

This picture captures a dominant mood of the trip; 2 busy paddlers in a tandem sea kayak—here Becky and Matt— working their way down the western shore of the Sea of Cortez. It was really nearly ideal. You were moderately busy, getting exercise, warmed by the sun but cooled by the wind or your movement, provided magnificent views all around: the cliffs to the right and perhaps an island or the endless sea on your left. Every day at a moment like this, remembering her blessing on this adventure, I would say ¡Gracias Madre!

The picture also gives an idea of the relief of the area: the cliffs rose out of the water often with no beach, as though the land didn't acknowledge the sea in any way. Because this is such a young landscape beaches have not had much time to develop. Underneath was the bottle-green of the water, often blocky rocks and perhaps fish to watch. I enjoyed this situation and certainly could have spent a week doing it for hours each day (though my back was sometimes unhappy), and was especially exhilarated by the occasional chop stirred up by the wind. I often thought what this would have been like with my own boat: a fairly nimble 4.4 meter, 30 kg touring kayak compared to which these craft seemed—and handled like—"pigs". Yet they were very stable and easily accommodated all our water, food, gear—and the gas, tables, stoves, utensils brought by our guides, etc.

The next day we set off for the mainland again. It was hot and dry, as I like it, but others wanted cerveza, so we stopped at a beach near a village and I was left guarding the kayaks. The place was desolate, at the end of an arroyo with some kind of settlement upstream. This old car, slowly sinking into the sand, captures the feeling of the place. Even though so much of the world is being overrun by the human termitarium, some parts of it remain sufficiently inhospitable that you might see nature triumphing over technology rather than the reverse. The picture also reminded me of another image in my Senegal journal.

Oct 13 Wednesday, The Cove

We spent 2 nights at about W111° 10' 50" N25° 35' 50" on a long curved beach defined by a break in a huge stone wall perhaps 20 meters above the ground and 4 meters thick. Not being a geologist, I couldn't explain this geomorphology, but it did appear that the sea breached the wall and left a beautifully enclosed beach, almost like a huge private pool. And the wall above our main campsite had a natural bridge through it, so the whole scene was a magnificent design.

When we arrived the base was set up at the north of the cove but apparently other campsites had been disturbed by floods so there was no suitable place for the tents of the guests. We set off down the beach about 1/2 km attracted by a couple of palm trees that seemed a source of shade and general interest. I had hoped to find a spot away from the others just because the thought of being alone seemed adventuresome, and when they decided to return to the base I remained, but within a few minutes they returned because the site was rather pretty. I considered sleeping on the beach, but really preferred a tent: less wind, small chance of mosquitoes, and a cozy feel. Because the 'clients' clustered together in the spot I called it Gringoville, which resulted in a minor and inconclusive debate about the source of the word Gringo (my dictionary says the origins are obscure).

Feeling slightly feverish after dinner that night I went off to my tent earlier than the rest, navigating only by starlight. When I arrived at our site I found only 2 tents, and turned on my flashlight to find emptiness where Matt and Becky's 2-person tent had been. I immediately knew that it had blown away, perhaps into the bay and even into the sea, so after a brief look-around the site I returned to base with the news. Everyone set off down the beach in search of the missing tent. I had seen people wrestling with these balloon-like shelters and figured it wouldn't be hard for one to just bounce across the water, perhaps even to Sonora! Matt and I set off around the beach to the end of the cove, searching among the rocks and scanning the bush, but found nothing. We returned to Gringoville to find a group excitedly setting up the tent; it had indeed blown into the water, but must have immediately sunk so that all that was visible was a bit of brass-colored pole above the waves, so I guess tents tend to sink faster than they blow across the water. Matt and Becky seemed less relieved than I would have been.

Naturally this is cause for reflection: essential to any real adventure is misadventure: lost passports and money, illness, missing tents, jellyfish stings, etc. Something will always threaten you in new territory, and your separation from home will magnify the feeling of dread. Yet these experiences are bound to enrich your experience and enliven the stories you hope to share with those who welcome you back. But remember above all that no one will be as interested in your stories as you are yourself.

Oct 14 Thursday, second day at The Cove

During the week Jim was a frequent preoccupation. He's a Type A, Jewish, consultant (something about hospital information systems) with 4 kids (5 including an adult son from a previous marriage) who takes his career very seriously and claims to be quite successful. His wife is an MD/PhD student in anesthesiology, so with the work and the study and the nanny family life must be pretty exciting: a crew of 7 who are busily integrating themselves into the increasingly ramifying technostructure of late capitalism. As always, I compare myself to others, in this case his success and evident fulfillment as well as the stress. Do you hold yourself up against the successful, the happy, the unconscious—or the 6,000,000,000 people most of whom engaged in a daily struggle for existence that allows them little energy or even perspective to contemplate the life of a scientist who can afford $2500 to paddle around the Sea of Cortez. Contrast but don't compare. I certainly don't envy Jim, although he professes excitement at his enterprises and evidently enjoys his family very much, but also seems very grown up and preoccupied with his life.

I was delighted to learn that we would spend 2 days in this pretty cove with the sea hissing on one side and the palms rustling on the other—a week would have been ideal. I didn't mind the heat, and there were very few mosquitoes, so you could spend lazy days reading and snorkeling and hiking, not bothered by anyone else. Not many places offer such a view out of one's bedroom window.

I was feeling tired, feverish, and gastrically ill at ease. The others went on a donkey ride for the morning, but I was quite content to spend the day in and near my tent. When they returned, in fact, the others said they too would have been content just to chill out on around the arroyo. This is where I came up with a theory about our society's entrapment in the week, as applied to vacations. On the first 2 days you do everything: paddle hard, eat much, take advantage of every new experience; so that by day 3 you are wiped out and need a rest, which you should take if you're smart. On day 4 or 5 you're recovered: muscles strong or at least less sore, stomach settled, caught up on sleep. In this most pleasant phase you are just beginning to get into the true rhythm of the activities, the routine an equipment, the layout deeper beauty of your little corner of the world, the charms of your fellow travelers—all this adjustment just in time to leave! So you should really spend 2 weeks on such a vacations, or even more. Even think about spending enough time so that you contemplate boredom if another week were to be available. I, personally, could have spent at least a month exploring, paddling, photographing, reading, writing, learning to roll, getting to know our guides...and myself.

Oct 15 Friday, Loreto

That morning as we packed up the equipment a small pod of porpoises swam into our cove, as if to wish us farewell. We then paddled a few kilometers to the take-out at W111° 8' 42" N25° 33' 27", just north of Pt Cosme. For the last time we unpacked the boats and they were loaded onto the van in that we took on the first day, but this time we ourselves got into another van. The reason for this was that the team didn't want to overload any one vehicle as we had to negotiate a rather poor road over a precipitous ridge through the aptly named Sierra de la Giganta, which offered spectacular views of much of our paddling route (see the panorama at the top of this essay). As we struggled up the ridges I was able to contemplate the joys of this adventure: I did enough kayaking (although a longer paddle through choppier water might have been fun), doubled the number of lifetime nights spent in a tent while learning the fundamentals of camping as well as what's needed for a basic expedition. I could easily outfit a 3-day trip in my own boat. My main regret other than the shortness of our trip was not getting to know more about the land, which I am familiar with at its higher latitudes. As most of our attention was focused on the water I learned little of the land, which is at the longitude of Tucson (see map above) and almost 1/4 of whose plants are endemic only to this area, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The first stop in Loreto was the immigration office, where Trudy met me and we did the paperwork to get me a document that would allow me to leave Mexico. Although I had little doubt that there would be difficulties (a few US tourists must lose their passports every day), one never knows. Trudy conducted brief ceremonies with me expressing my regret. I was given an official-looking letter with a stamp, seal, and flourished signature, so it appeared that officialdom would be satisfied. As it turns out, the immigration officer who produced the letter was the same fellow who processed me out of the country at the airport the next day, so he had another chance to admire his handywork. Trudy also said that this matter was facilitated by the fact that she had just become a Mexican citizen, so the official was happy to do a fellow countrywoman the favor of expedited paperwork.

While wandering the streets (helping Jim et al buy gifts) I also thought about what it would be like to do such a trip entirely on my own, which would be possible, cheaper, and less complicated; and of course more dangerous, especially if the weather didn't cooperate. Although I wouldn't have the companionship of guides and fellow travelers as well as the information of the latter, loneliness wouldn't be a problem. But any real difficulty would mean if not death by drowning or dehydration then at least a great deal of discomfort.

I continue to find (no real surprise here) that so much of my view of the world is very much colored by my moods, health, specific discomforts, awareness of bodily functions and pain, etc. On a trip like this where the overall environment is essentially the same because one doesn't travel very far you see more or less, beauty or plainness, peace or danger in certain part depending on the emotional filter you happen to be wearing at a given moment. Certainly I don't recall always being so preoccupied with self in this way, and much of it must be due to ageing, the sense of heaviness that arises from having to carry around machinery that simply doesn't function as smoothly as it once did. And even if you are (relatively) free of any discomfort some of your joy is based on your very consciousness of the absence of pain; perhaps that can be itself turned into a kind of mature joy, but still we would prefer the positive pleasures of life to the double-negative ones, yet as we age the latter become more important!

As the Buddha says, life is the suffering induced by craving, yearning for a more positive past or fearing a negative future, etc. Of course you can't change the past, but neither can you affect the future, which doesn't even exist except in the mind as the extrapolated momentum of the present. This pain is due to the almost constant injury you do to the existential present by masking reality with the thoughtless assumption that what you see, feel, sense, and otherwise experience is what is. If you could somehow experience yourself as you and at the same time from afar as just another speck in an absurd pattern, the pain would lessen if not disappear. But I'll probably forever remain too Western to want to completely lose myself in selflessness. And it is indeed hard to learn as I casually try to do from those teachers who appear to be enlightened—if they were truly so they wouldn't speak of it!

That night we had dinner at a restaurant with the guides (including Jorge's daughter) and Trudy, who showed up late and just had a drink; apparently she has a part-interest in the place. Surprises continued: A pair of guitarists serenaded us and the other large party (apparently a high official from Sonora) and someone recognized one of them as our taxi-driver. Then Vladi jumped up and sang in a lusty if somewhat flat voice.

Oct 16 Saturday, Loreto-LAX-Reston

I awoke early back at La Pinta and went for a snorkel swim. The sea is less alive here as there are few rocks, but it was fun to chase (sting?) rays in circles through the shallow water. I was also often completely surrounded by a cylinder of small silver fish. After breakfast I napped by the pool and saw a bike parked at the bar. Thinking it belonged to the hotel I hopped on and circled the grounds, only to be pursued by a lovely but anxious and young woman who was sure I was stealing her bike. Impossible to strike up any kind of relationship in such a situation, and in any case the flight awaited.

This trip ended much too soon, and has given me further ammunition against the tyranny of the 7-day cycle in which we live our lives. (I began think of it when we were helping my mother die and the rhythm of the hospital and the hospice changed completely on the weekends: new personnel, fewer visits, no one to call, etc. The only cycle we observe that has no natural resonance with earth, moon, or sun, merely the residue of some Genesis legend, I suppose.)

So here's what happens to one on a week's vacation, which is already compressed to Saturday-Saturday, leaving only 6 days of adventure. The first few days you are eager to do everything offered: food, paddle, swim, hike, lose your passport. During this frantic period you're settling into the structure, experimenting with the equipment and the routine, figuring out the people you're with, and you pay little deep attention to the world about you except to note various exotic features. Within a couple of days you (muscles, stomach, head) are wiped out and need at least a day to recover while your insides stop churning, your forehead stops throbbing, the fever subsides. You really need to take a break and, ironically, "waste" a day or two doing nothing in the perfect place for it. When you've sufficiently revived to enjoy yourself you're really into the rhythm and the experiential channels to the environment are most open. You feel your spiritual strength and experience the beauty of the setting, the joy of the ocean and the moods of the mountains, the attractive qualities of your fellows—and the charm of one's own being in the here and now. Just as you have settled into something like a new and extraordinary routine, it's time to go back home! So I'm glad I spent 2 weeks in Senegal, and disappointed I left Baja so soon.

So how much real pleasure was there in this 'adventure'? As I'm writing some of this through the filter of a month or more after the events, the positive feelings have overwhelmed the negative. Tell enough people how much fun you had doing something and soon you'll be thinking that you only had fun. Could one become bored doing this? Certainly, and no doubt many of the Americans who have migrated to Baja have eased into a life of semi-alcoholic boredom and impatience. I would certainly need a "project" to be happy here: geology, fishing, kayaking, leading tours, writing, astronomy. The boat is certainly an ideal way to get around: you could carry it where you wanted to visit and then travel out and back to the same place—unless the winds carried you off.

But on the whole it was a marvelous adventure. There was just enough kayaking given my strengths, though I would have wanted to do more as my endurance built up. I doubled the nights I had ever spent camping and learned much more about its fundamentals: equipment, food, packing a boat, companions, the night sky. I could easily do a 2-person, 3 day/2 night trip on a local river. I could of course also do a Baja trip on my own; loneliness wouldn't be a problem, but it could be dangerous, especially if the weather didn't cooperate, and I'd lack the occasional companionship of the guides and their information, and I'd need to learn some Spanish, useful in itself.

The high point was paddling (with dear old Jim!) in 2-foot swells and the water splashing over the bow, lots of sea surrounding us; this is what I had come for: a low-grade struggle with the sea, being a part of it, yielding to cycles of wind, tide, swell, wave but not giving in because at the very least you won't get where you want to go and you could even drown if you are not careful. This is one reason we take up such hobbies: we create adventures by fiat but once launched upon them the decisions we make and the actions we take are every bit as important as those say of Nanook or Joshua Slocum: injury, illness, or death are always a possibility, and even though the adventure isn't important, what we choose within it is sometimes critical and warrants care.

One has odd memories as well: depositing several large shit-piles into the grass, feeling a bit guilty at befouling the landscape until I saw how much the flies appreciated my gift. This was also the day I also spent in my tent napping and drinking lots of water, which was a relief and relieving. On a more elevated note, I remember the birds: a class of animal that I used not to give much attention to until Freya became a birder herself. So I recall sea gulls (of course) and pelicans, as well as blue-footed boobies with lovely body profiles and frigate birds with even more beautiful wing shapes. There were also lots of mocking birds heard but not seen, and a flock of birds off the hotel beach who repeatedly crashed into the water as though playing on a trampoline but who were probably feeding but may have been bathing as well. There were also 2 pelicans flying in close formation, even diving simultaneously: as it was most unlikely that they caught 2 fish at the same time it almost seemed as if one were teaching the other.

In such a setting where much of the overall environment—weather, sea, sky, geomorphology is consistent—I was also reminded how much of my view of the world is affected by my well-being: sleep, pain, preoccupation with bodily functions, even mood as an independent variable not influenced by setting. I see more or less, beauty or plainness, welcome or danger through the powerful emotional filter in place at the time. You can injure your experiences by thoughtlessly assuming that what you see is what is, which makes it difficult to anchor yourself in existential peace. For me true pleasure is having fun while slightly on edge and being sufficiently aware that one is experiencing; contemplating the future recollection of pleasurable memories also sweeten the moment. By this measure the trip was a great success.

Technical notes

Written using CuteHTML.

Photographed with an Olympus D-510, camera producing 1600x1200 jpg images.

All images were reduced generally to 25% and many color-adjusted using PaintShop Pro 7.2.

Maps from Microsoft Encarta 2003 and MarinePlanner.

Sky photo from Jerry Lodriguss.

Lee De Cola