Sea Kayak Adventures office staff member and first time kayaker Amber Crane recently returned from a tour in Baja (Oct 30-Nov 4, 2011). She will chronicle her adventures in a new blog series:
Voyage of a Novice Kayaker
Part 3: Isn't it time you talked about the actual trip?
My Baja kayak trip began with a 2:00am alarm to catch a 5:00am flight that would deposit me at LAX in time for the only flight to Loreto on Sunday, October 30, 2011. Upon Sea Kayak Adventures’ recommendation, I took only a carry-on bag with my clothing and thus whisked through my connections without the concern of relinquishing my carefully-packed duffel to the vortex of lost airport luggage.
Red-eyed but energized, I plopped into my window seat for the LAX to LTO flight and watched, awestruck, as the scenery below blurred from chaotic Los Angeles to vivacious Tijuana to coarse desert. Scrub and brush melted into flowing sand from which mountain peaks crawled to the sky, hues of red and tan bursting against the azure sea. The deep turquoise of the ocean was interrupted where cream-colored sand flowed down from the mountain peaks to form a beach. In these picturesque places, the ocean appeared as a bright, shocking aqua, as if someone had poured a pool of blue highlighter fluid over the water. I could only marvel over nature’s surreal palette.
The short flight ended quickly and suddenly, I was in another land. The plane touched down at the small Loreto airport and the passengers exchanged coats for short sleeves before filing off of the plane and through customs. I had not traveled internationally for over a decade and found myself surprisingly (and unnecessarily) nervous about the process. Fortunately, Loreto is about as un-threatening as a foreign city can be, and the airport reflected a professional-but-friendly attitude that made entrance through customs a brief and painless encounter. I was asked for my taxi-voucher and directed through the double doors into the waiting area. C&C transport awaited our flight, holding up a “Sea Kayak Adventures” sign for easy identification. I scribbled my signature on the proffered clipboard next to my name and hopped into the van with a few other SKA guests, where a short, air-conditioned trip unloaded us in front of the Hacienda Suites, our tour hotel.
The Hacienda Suites is a family-owned establishment a few blocks from the waterfront in Loreto. A beautifully-blue pool and comfortable, quaint rooms make for a cozy pre- and post-kayak base. As an added bonus, free wifi guarantees your friends will get to envy that Facebook picture of you lounging by the pool! Set back from the bustle of the city proper, the hotel is landscaped like a small oasis against the desert beyond the walls. Prior to leaving Coeur d’Alene that morning, I had scraped ice off of my windshield. Consequently, walking into a colorful celebration of blooming plants and warm air was a welcome contrast. The sunlight glazing every flower cheered my spirits and eased my travel-fatigue, and also served as a reminder to apply copious quantities of sunscreen. Baja is a bright place. The omnipresent sunshine ensures a wonderful winter escape, but please make every effort to ensure you don’t 'lobster!'
After checking in (a simple process that involved printing my name and address and securing the document with a signature), I located my hotel room and deposited my bag. Shortly thereafter, I was greeted by Terry Prichard, SKA co-owner and my escort for the day. Terry drove me around in the large, 12-passenger SKA van, pointing out the best places to eat, shop, and explore. Mind you, the “commercial section” of town expands over all of a dozen streets. All of these roads point toward the ocean and culminate into a stretch of walkway called the Loreto “malecon” (a waterfront boardwalk), which makes this seaside town a great spot for pedestrian exploration. After the stress of airport travel, I found rejuvenation in lazily strolling down streets, browsing through windows and wares, and taking in the slow pace of Baja life. Unlike my previous experiences with Mexico (which were limited rather unpleasant border town visits), Loreto’s lack of panhandling, pushy merchants, and throngs of people made for easy, comfortable wandering.
Terry guided me past Eco-Alianza Loreto, an environmental non-profit and the Loreto coastkeeper, as well as the famous Loreto Mission. Fun fact! Loreto used to be the capitol of the Baja peninsula. It was the first place in California settled by the Spanish. The Jesuit mission still stands, present since 1697. Other historic missions, each “a day’s ride” from Loreto, still stand and are available for exploration through a SKA Day Tour if you have extra time in town.
McLuLu’s fish tacos provided a delicious late lunch. I have a sensitive stomach so I am often nervous at eating in new places, but I was treated to a scrumptious, fresh-cooked meal with no repercussions except a full belly. The only caution I might offer for fellow gringos is to taste different toppings before slathering them over your entire meal. I spread a spoonful of harmless-looking green dressing over my fish tacos, only to discover that it was extremely spicy. However, take this last bit with a grain of salt – you may not find the spice disagreeable. I’m a Minnesota native with a tender tongue. We think of ketchup as a medium salsa.
After a post-lunch siesta and a cup of coffee with my new friends at the SKA guidehouse, we returned to the Hacienda Suites for the pre-trip meeting. All of us guests and guides gathered in the courtyard to introduce ourselves, review the itinerary, receive our drybags, and try on our snorkel and wetsuit rentals. We reviewed our goals of the trip and the wildlife we hoped to see (the list is as follows: whales, dolphins, mobula rays, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies and lobster). We ensured our clocks were all set to the proper Loreto time, agreed to meet at 8am the next day, and adjourned to dinner and bed.
At this point I should mention that you will not have reliable cell phone service in Loreto. I picked up a signal exactly once during my trip. It was that first night, and it was only for about 3 seconds. This happened to be enough time for my phone to register a new longitude and change the clock, but not to register the change back to standard time (Loreto switched back a week before the U.S., on the day I arrived). I mention this only because the two-hour head start I gave myself accounted for nothing when I walked out of my hotel room at 8:05 (thinking it was 7:05), having set my alarm before my phone changed and assuming I had a comfortable 55 minutes to eat the in-hotel breakfast and bring my dry bags to the courtyard. Our trip leader, Alejandro “Alex,” was already at the front desk trying to check up on me. Everyone else was in the van, waiting. Super helpful tip: set a second clock, or use the buddy system. Arriving late (even by accident) to the start of the trip is rather humiliating. I was off to a thrilling start.
Fortunately, the rest of the trip proved more fortuitous. We were vanned to the launch-site where a rainbow of colorful kayaks awaited us on the beach. We quickly learned how to pack those pointy cargo spaces with our dry bags and the provided sleeping bag, pad, and tent. Next, we were given an excellent lesson in kayaking 101 and the proper adjustment of PFDs (personal flotation device, or “lifejacket” as I called them growing up) and spray-skirts.
I was lucky enough to paddle with trip leader Alex, which was a ton of fun (and probably a good idea considering I was still very much a novice!). I highly recommend this option to any other single traveler who’s a little unsure of him- or herself. I am proud to say I entered the cockpit gracefully (well, without falling) and Alex launched us forth into the water. I heard seabirds mocking us from shore and wing, but I couldn’t stop beaming (besides, pelicans shouldn’t mock anyone – they look quite ungainly). With the sun on my back, the wind in my hair, and the ocean as my horizon, I probably glowed.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in Part 4 of Voyage of a Novice Kayaker: Baja Bliss.