Part 4: Baja Bliss
The first few minutes of kayaking started, as with all new ventures, with adjustments. It took time to figure out where to brace my knees, make the most of every stroke, and keep paddling while taking in the sights. However, even as we acclimated to kayaking, fortune smiled upon our group. Within a few minutes and just a few hundred feet of our launch site, I spotted a sea turtle bobbing at the surface of the water, surveying us. She lingered for a short time as we gasped, pointed, and fumbled for cameras, before deciding we were of little interest to turtles and diving out of sight. “This group has good karma,” Alex remarked.
Just 15 minutes later, I stuttered and pointed again, trying to expel words faster than my brain could provide them. A huge splash announced the leap of a flying mobula ray. I was downright giddy with excitement at this point, as these strange creatures were at the top of my wildlife bucket list. These rays often travel in large groups during the spring which are more easily spotted than single jumpers, so I feel quite privileged to have seen one leap in front of my eyes.
The crossing to Isla Danzante took most of an hour. The outcrop toward which Alex directed us (which to me, looked exactly the same as the rest of the rocks forming the Western coastline of the island) gradually became more distinct until we passed the cusp of the encircling cliffs. Then, suddenly, heaven met earth in a beach called Honeymoon Cove. I remember how quiet the world became as the deep blue water turned to a clear turquoise lens; even the birds hushed in reverence as I glided for the first time over the World’s Aquarium.
The water was so clear that I was startled when my kayak touched sand. This was to be our lunch spot, and the guides set to work preparing our meal (tasty cheese and avocado sandwiches with fresh fruit) after helping us out of our kayaks.
The cove hosted superb snorkeling areas, so after Alex showed me how to adjust my mask, I pulled on my flippers and awkwardly shuffled to the water. If you hadn’t guessed, this was my first snorkeling experience, and it hadn’t occurred to me how difficult it would be to walk in fins in soft sand. Nonetheless, I made slow but steady progress into the smooth, shallow water until reaching a comfortable depth to swim (which for me was about three feet!), convinced I would stick close to shore. I received swimming lessons when young and was not incapable of the act, just a bit uncomfortable giving myself over to “The Ocean.” However, the buoyancy of the salt water coupled with the wonders of the underwater world emboldened me, and I found myself swimming out with the others, unafraid. The clarity of the water revealed visions of brilliant fish with colors that I thought only existed in my imagination. In a rare and precious gift, I left the mundane world behind for a few moments and felt the “magic” of this special place. I think that must be what people call bliss.
After lunch, we hiked up to the top of the cliffs, which allowed for spectacular sights in every direction. Alex talked to us about the plants and wildlife as we snapped photos and filled up on sunshine. Tuku, our other amazing guide, and Valiente, our delightful panga driver, had already cleaned up the “kitchen” and re-packed our supplies; we would leave the beach as it was when we arrived.
The crossing from Danzante to Isla Carmen ended at a campsite called Punta Arena. After unloading our drybags and gear, the group banded together to haul each kayak up on the beach, away from the pull of the tide. Next came the tent demonstration, after which the group disseminated to claim patches of beach for the night.
It's fair to say that my prior camping endeavors have been rather…unpleasant (and frequently miserable). I camped with some regularly for many years, until I washed my hands of the experience and vowed never again to leave behind my creature comforts. It could have been the time a lightning storm shredded my eardrums in Scotland, or the sleepless night in Iceland when I feared ghosts walked the grounds, or that time at a horseshow when I awoke to 6” of water at my feet, or the night in Canada that the August temperatures plummeted to freezing and I had only a sweatshirt… Somewhere along the line, I decided enough was enough, and that camping was not for me.
Consequently, I approached my Baja trip with suspicion of this element, unsure if I would actually survive the “being one with nature” element of the tour. To my infinite pleasure, camping with SKA is a significant improvement over the roughed-out camping of my youth. My group must have sensed my discomfort (or ineptitude, as I struggled to pin down the corners of the ground tarp that fluttered obscenely in the wind with dozens of tiny rocks). I had no less than three offers of help each night that I readily accepted. The tents proved simple to set up, particularly with an extra pair of hands, and I found that sleeping on smooth sand with the provided air pad was actually rather comfy. The “facilities” included a custom-built porta-potty with a real seat and toilet paper.
Best of all, I slept with the top tent flap open to the stars and awoke to sunshine, hot coffee and tea (with real tables and chairs in which to lounge) and a hot breakfast cooking. SKA guides are simply awesome. In a true testament to the quality of the operation, I must admit I actually enjoyed camping on this trip.
On that first evening, after setting up my tent and belongings, I returned to the water for another snorkeling session. The sinking sun marked dinner time for the fish, and we were treated to a marvelous variety of gorgeous, active sea life. Tuku pointed out puffer fish (SO CUTE!), peaceful sea stars, shy eels, colorful parrotfish, King angels, rainbow wrasse, darkly brilliant damsel fish, and hundreds more that I can’t even remember. My favorite were the minute spotted sharpnose pufferfush: adorable, polka-dotted fellows shaped vaguely like cubes. They remind me of a tiny, aquatic cows.
We were greeted as we stepped out of the water (and sometimes before!) with freshly prepared hors d’oeuvres and happy hour (rum and mango, pina coladas, margaritas, etc). By the time we dried off, changed into camp clothes, and settled into the common area, dinner was served.
Night surrounds Baja by 6:30 or 7, and by 8 or 9pm (“Baja Midnight”) most guests crawl happily into their tents to read or sleep. That first night, I was far too excited to sleep so early, and sat up watching the stars. Baja has almost no light pollution and the stars are exquisite. I made up my own constellations, as the brilliance of the smaller stars we don’t usually see made finding real constellations almost a challenge. As the moon set behind the mountains, the dark waters of the ocean bloomed with shockingly-blue bioluminescence. I swirled my foot in lapping waves, leaving a glowing spiral on the shore. I could have been in a science fiction, but for the thoroughly-“Earthy” feeling of this place.
The next few days passed in a simple routine. Each morning I awoke, drank caffeine, and broke camp while the guides prepared breakfast. After eating, we readied ourselves to paddle to our lunch site, where we would snorkel or hike, take a short siesta, and paddle again to our campsite. Every evening I snorkeled (a hike was often offered, but I fell in love with the water), sipped cool drinks, and ate until full by starlight. The guides presented to us topics like Day of the Dead and the geology of the peninsula. We raced hermit crabs (mine came in second!), watched pelicans plunge into sunset waters, and strolled along the beach.
Our fantastic wildlife sightings continued with a turtle each day, dolphins in the distance, and a charming sea lion fishing near our camp. We saw colonies of blue-footed boobies, including a very photogenic ambassador alone on a close rock. Cormorants and other sea birds dotted the shore and water, and flying fish splashed out of the waves near our kayaks. We learned to keep our eyes peeled on the water for signs of movement that would reveal a treasured marine animal. I became quite good at spotting life, as well as a few whale-shaped rocks, dolphin-shaped rocks, ray-shaped rocks, seal-shaped rocks, turtle-shaped rocks, and a number of boats.
The highlight for me occurred on the last morning, when three pods of dolphins breezed by our campsite. We ran along the beach beside them, breathlessly snapping pictures and admiring their sleek slate forms. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything as beautiful as hundreds dolphins sparkling in the morning sun. They are diamonds of the sea.
When finally I unloaded my drybags for the last time, helped pull my kayak to shore at the launch point, and re-entered civilization (well, Loreto…), it was with a bittersweet sensation. I had enjoyed my trip so thoroughly that I will relish it for years, and I definitely wasn’t eager to return home. I miss the relaxing feel of Mexico and the unhurried pace of the islands. I have tried to keep it with me for the holidays rather than succumbing to the stress of the season. Fortunately, my photographs and correspondence with new friends sustains me through the snow – and after all, I am lucky enough to help others plan their Baja trips!
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my adventures as much as I enjoyed sharing them. If you are curious about taking a trip with us or have any questions, the rest of the crew and I are at the ready in the office, fielding calls and e-mails, eager to help you find your own Baja bliss.