10 Days on the Water
I live on land, lots of land, with high mountains and wide mesa, no water in sight. As a newcomer in New Mexico, I walk and hike to make the land mine.
But…, I have a bucket list, a lingering memory of 9 years ago when I kayaked the Sea of Cortez near Loreto, Mexico in a World Heritage Marine site. On that trip, we camped on beaches, watched dolphin pods jump from the beach during breakfast, silver rays jump 15 feet out of the water while paddling. We explored the sea underwater. I saw a blue whale come up less than 10 feet from my kayak - the 12 foot head emerging with its eye looking at me! Even though I knew seeing an animal of such enormity greet me from the water was a once-in-a-lifetime event, my greedy mind wanted it again, and wanted more. In January I booked another, longer trip with the same company, 10 days of kayaking along the Baja Sur coast, from Loreto to La Paz, 100 miles. Oh, what I wouldn’t be able to see!
Old and Strong
For a senior, 9 years is a lot of time passing. At 67, retired from a tough job, with 10-hour days, I was full of vigor and ready for a new phase of life. At 76, things look and feel different. I’m healthy, but my vigor is a 76-yr old vigor. My wants and desires are shrinking (I just decreased my home size by 50% and got rid of half of my possessions). I can muster the strength when needed, but sustaining it all day, is an other story. Traveling to foreign countries has become a chore. I seek comfort.
The flight to Loreto was short and uneventful. The weather is a welcome change from a lingering winter in March at 7000 feet elevation. Walking by the water, smelling the salty air, watching the waves break brings me back to a childhood of beach living and swimming in the waves. I am ready.
Full of anticipation, our group of nine sets off to our launch site, a 2 1/2-hour ride over a dusty, bumpy road. We enter the coastal hinterland of Baja Sur. No towns, a few houses sprinkled in the desert, among cacti and rocks. Our take-out beach has the feel of a long-time-ago beach in Goa, India: a few huts, a small outdoor cafe, an outhouse. My brain is pumping out images of adventurous travel long ago. And here I am, still doing it!
A separate trailer has delivered our gear: they moored double sea kayaks on the beach, paddles, PFDs, kayak seats, 2-20 liter and 1-10 liter dry bag each with our gear for the trip. A panga (fishing boat) waits anchored in the bay. Food, water, tents, chairs, cooking gear are waiting for us when we need it. The crew set up a shade shelter with table and chairs and our first lunch with cold drinks is served. We are “roughing” it in style!! All I have to do is kayak.
I am traveling with a much younger friend. She is good company to have, and can offer extra strength in case my body isn’t up to the task. We climb in our tandem boat for our first 8-mile kayak to a beach where we camp for the night. After some initial adjusting, we start paddling. The water is blue, clear, with light waves. All is well. Despite a recently pulled muscle in my buttocks, I manage to sit with an extra blow-up cushion and paddle for 2 1/2 hours without pain. My brain reaches back to my crew rowing days for managing cresting waves. My torso, legs and arms work together to make a smooth motion. I am moving on water.
The second day, the guides inform us we’ll be paddling a long stretch as the weather forecast says winds will pick up on day 3, and they will beach us at least for a day. We have to meet our destination schedule. A full day of paddling lays ahead with a beach stop for lunch. The sunny weather is changing, more clouds are in the sky, sloshing waves splash us and by the time we reach our lunch beach, we are hungry and shivering with cold. Our panga can’t land on the beach we’re on, so we play “naked and afraid” for a while, trying to stay warm in the sand and bushes that surround the beach. There are no people anywhere; it’s just us, stranded on this beach. Our guide paddles to a neighboring beach to pick up lunch.
Lunch arrives in due time and with bodies re-energized, and minds full of adventurous thoughts, we set out for the afternoon. By 6 o’clock and after18 miles of kayaking we touch land. After a late dinner, and promise of the next day off, I roll into bed with arms so tired that I can barely pull a shirt over my head.
I wake up to sun, wind and a layer of fine sand over everything in the tent. The winds have arrived! We hike inland, find ruins of a hacienda from the 1700th, and a small store with Wi-Fi. We do our last communicating with the outside world for the rest of the trip. We fish and eat fresh seafood that night.
The following day we set out for sea again. The winds are blowing less hard and come from the north, even so, occasional 6-foot swells move us along as long as we stay square to the waves. It is exciting and challenging, my body is working hard, my mind focuses and we cover the day’s distance in 4 hours.
I’m amazed that my body is performing as needed. Stiffness after sitting for hours in the kayak, lack of agility as I try to disembark, or climb in and out of my tent, doesn’t stop me from enjoying the experience. As the hours on the buoyant water roll by, my mind becomes empty. My friend and I have little to say as we kayak. I watch the pelicans, the schools of fish jumping, occasional pods of dolphins that are swimming by. I become part of the water world. Every night in my tent, I fall into a dreamless sleep, still feeling the wave motion in my body, hearing the rushing sound of the breakers. I am a young girl again living near the water, safe, embraced by sun and warm sand. The crew serve food like clock work and my hunger is stilled. The company of others is interesting and laughter accompanies our meals; we become a travel family. Life is simple.
With each day that we move further south, I give up the hope of seeing a whale near my kayak; I look for turtles as I snorkel around the rocky shore. As time passes and we have just a few days left, I realize this trip isn’t about seeing the extraordinary marine life. I’m learning other things.
When Enough is Enough
Living outdoors 24 hours a day for 10 days has made me more aware of my environment, more tired, more grateful, and has offered me insights I can’t get living in my house on land.
Now that I am home, I can say about this journey: it was enough. It was good. I went deeper. Ten days on the water transformed me. I won’t need to do it again.