From a two-man tent on a sandy beach, I watch the setting sun cast purple shadows on craggy desert mountains that plunge into the placid blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.
Darkness is not far behind and brings another visual delight: a sky full of brilliant stars, unmarred by pollution and artificial light.
For a winter “getaway” from snow and ice, we've chosen an idyllic destination.
Our friends Ben and Karen have highly recommended this combination sea-kayaking and whale-watching trip with Sea-Kayak Adventures, an Idaho-based company that offers similar summer trips to the Pacific Northwest and relocates to Baja in the winter months. Our pals assure us that everything about the trip will be to our liking: the consistently good weather, the state-of-the-art equipment, the helpful guides and the incredibly fresh and delicious “al fresco” cuisine. The company's moderate pricing and “carbon-neutral” policies are also factors that induce my husband Bill and I to sign on.
We arrive on Horizon Airline's once-a-day flight into Loreto, a pleasant and unpretentious town on the Gulf of California about 700 miles south of the California border. At our comfortable Hacienda Suites Hotel, we meet Edgar, Tuku and Javier, our personable and competent guides. At the same time, we get acquainted with our fellow paddlers and camp-mates for the rest of the week. Six days later, we'll all feel like soulmates. Maybe sharing a 2-foot-by-2-foot metal porta potty (concealed from others by a mere boulder!) has something to do with that.
The following morning, we luxuriate in our last shower before driving a half-hour south to the launching dock. There, we learn how to efficiently pack the company's 22 ft.- long tandem kayaks (with tents, sleeping bags, food and water). Immediately, I realize that I've packed twice the personal items I'll need. Shampoo, a mirror, an eye-brow pencil? What were you thinking, woman?
The daily routine is leisurely. After a sumptuous beachside breakfast, we kayak each morning in crystalline bays surrounding Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen — two of Mexico's many protected marine parks. We pull onto another beach for mid-day activities. While our multi-talented guides prepare a feast (for example: fresh shrimp ceviche loaded with lime juice and cilantro and served with warm tortillas) we “slack-offs” spend our time snorkeling among reefs, tossing a frisbee or simply stretching out on the sand for a beach snooze. After lunch, we take a 45-minute hike to a volcanic rock overlook that provides not only beautiful bay vistas but some leg exercise to balance our paddling routine as well.
By the time we make the 3-mile afternoon kayak crossing to our night's camping destination, it's time to break out the tequila and pour the piña coladas. Every night includes a generous “happy hour” for those who care to imbibe. And then we get to eat again! Mexican specialties abound: Chicken with chocolate-laced molé sauce, white fish fajitas and green chili enchiladas. Fresh tomatoes and avocados are part of every meal.
Our intrepid guides offer nightly entertainment. One night it's a tour of the magnificent night sky. Another night it's Edgar's famous “scorpion tour.” Aiming a black light under bushes to flush the spiders out, our guide finds more of them than we care to know are there. (Lesson to be learned: WEAR SHOES on those middle-of-the-night trips to the porta potty!) On still another night, a game of “Loteria,” (think: Bingo) provides a Spanish lesson along with plenty of laughs.
There are a few surprises: The wind whips up one day and Edgar wisely turns our flotilla back to a previously camped-on beach. We 12 people must schlepp the 400-pound, fully loaded kayaks on and off the beach several times daily, a task my back complains about. I stumble on a slippery rock and jam a leg into a jagged crevice. The ensuing trip to the “urgencias” for an antibiotic provides an adventure in itself, proving that “flexibility” in a multi-sport vacation is definitely a must.
On the last of seven super days, we shuttle to the other side of the peninsula for a once-in-a-lifetime close encounter with mama gray whales and their newly born offspring. These creatures — some as big as school busses and weighing as much as 40 tons — migrate to the warm Pacific Ocean waters from Alaska each year for the birthing process, then return when the babes are but a few months old. The latter are playful little creatures, pushing their bodies up against our “pangas” and even wanting their heads scratched.
What a privilege indeed to be in the presence of these gentle giants of Magdalena Bay.
Carolyn Schwartz writes from Frisco and Pittsboro, N.C. She loves a variety of travel adventures and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sea-Kayak Adventures: (800)616-1943, www.seakayakadentures.com.