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Sea of CortezBaja's Sea of Cortez -
The Land Time Almost Forgot

By Linda Ballou

A beginner seakayaker takes us along on the trip of a lifetime with Sea Kayak Adventures Inc. in Baja's Sea of Cortez. Contributed by Sea Kayak Adventures with permission of the author.

About SKA & RED Sustainable Travel

With the growing numbers of kayakers impacting our fragile environment, TopKayaker applauds SKA's commitment to conservation and participation in the RED Sustainable Tourism organization.

RED joins a trend in low-impact travel practices by combining ecotourism with conservation activities to encourage a stewardship of natural resources while strengthening local communities and their economies in Northwestern Mexico.

One of many participating outfitters, Sea Kayak Adventures is a good match, founded in 1993 by Terry Prichard & Nancy Mertz Prichard to help promote a healthy appreciation for and participation in rare and beautiful kayak destinations. They are dedicated to supporting conservation efforts in the areas of their kayak tours hiring and training local personnel, resulting in skilled guides who know the area and are committed to the paddler's safety and comfort. Participating outdoor enthusiasts learn new skills while enjoying once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters, paddle with other kayakers sometimes from around the globe, and are introduced to an eco-friendly way of travel. You can find out more about their conservation tours here.

Sea Kayak Adventures, Inc is fully licensed and permitted by the Mexican and Canadian governments to operate in their waters, including national parks in Mexico and provincial parks in BC Canada.

About Travel In Mexico:

Comments by SKA Owner Nancy Mertz: "Our guests fly on a 75 minute non-stop flight to Loreto from Los Angeles on Alaska Air and we meet them at the plane and take them to the hotel. Then guests are with our local Mexican guides in national parks patrolled by rangers while on our guided tours. Everyone knows everyone in sleeply Loreto and I feel safe walking around Loreto on my own - same as I would in Coeur d Alene Idaho USA. The average citizen of Baja is impeccably honest in our long experience. Border areas along Texas border of mainland Mexico are a problem area - but are extremely far from us. I tell folks it would be like being afraid to visit Florida because you heard of gang wars in New York City."

I am certain that the sights that surround me are much the same as those experienced by John Steinbeck and his crew of naturalists when he explored the region in 1941. As I recall their early adventures, our head guide Jackie, brings me back to reality as she tells us that we are about to be introduced to muscles we never knew we had. Our group of twelve, all in varying degrees of physical fitness, receives instructions to push, not pull the paddle, so as not to become overtired. We are to use a flat palm, and a loose thumb on the paddle, ore else suffer from tendonitis.

Sea of CortezAs I donned my life vest, I began to fear that I might have made a terrible mistake. Much like the pelicans I had been watching just moments before, I too was an awkward disaster just waiting to happen. I prayed that like them, I would acquire grace once in action. I remembered the outfitter's literature, promising that by merely practicing a few exercises prior to the trip, any reasonably fit person could enjoy the thrill of gliding over serene waters in a sea kayak. None-the-less, my stomach churned as I contemplated the fact that within moments, nothing but a thin shell of fiberglass would separate me from the deep blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.

Before I could further consider my fears, we were off. At three miles an hour, it would take us an hour to reach our first stop at Danzante Island. I soon found myself enjoying a unique sense of freedom. There I sat, balanced neatly on the bow, watching as swarming shoals of fish darted below and pelicans scooped dinner into their fleshy pouches. I felt like a dolphin riding the crest of the waves - finally fearless!

Sea of CortezBy the time we stopped for lunch, I was thrilled at being in this vast ocean wilderness. As we cruised across the waters, the brilliant sun beat down upon us. I was eager to escape the heat and experience the underwater world of marine life.

Clad in snorkel gear and fins, I prepared to enter the waters Steinbeck had dubbed, "ferocious with life." Biologically the richest body of water on the planet, the Sea of Cortez supports over 900 species of marine vertebrates and over 2,000 invertebrates. As I slipped into the transparent waters that lure outdoor adventurers from around the globe, all that was visible was the rust color of the cliffs surrounding our beach camp and a few darting electric blue fish. The sea shelf dropped off abruptly to depths where there is no visibility, so I headed back to my group and the lunch that awaited me.

dolphinJust moments after leaving the water, a fin whale the size of a city bus emerged, arching its great girth. Stunned that I had been just feet away from this behemoth creature that swills krill by the ton, and has a heart the size of a Volkswagen, I realized I needed to be more alert during my explorations!

The second day, we slid into the opalescent water early in the morning to beat the afternoon winds and were welcomed by a comfortable eighty degrees with a teasing breeze and rocking swells; it was a perfect paddle day. The deep water crossing from Danzante to Carmen Island is a wide stretch of open water that can present a challenge. Fernando, our local guide from La Paz, was paddling in perfect rhythm in the cockpit behind me, so I enjoyed a great sense of security.

The cliffs on the backside of Danzante display red sandblasted arches carved by ferocious Chubasco winds. Fernando pointed to a window in the rocks several stores up that navigators use to get their bearings. There are no beaches or trails on this side of the island, so kayaking is the ideal way to explore. We slipped up close to the cliffs to get a closer look at the sea caves. It was there I spied the nest of an osprey.

kayakersOn the water, the natural flotsam consists of moss algae, sponges and the occasional jelly fish - the size of a dinner plate. We glided over boulders populated by magenta starfish and spiny purple urchins. Because there is no engine noise in a kayak, the wildlife doesn't scatter upon your approach. It allows you the sensation of being part of this translucent water world while remaining safe from the dangers of the deep.

The Sea of Cortez is the youngest sea on earth, a mere 25 million years old. It is cradled by rugged lava-rock cliffs that are embedded with numerous sea caves. Earthquakes generated from the San Andreas Fault created deep water canyons and separated the peninsula from the mainland. Strong ocean currents continually mix and lift food and nutrients from the deep ocean canyons, making this the perfect feeding ground for all types of marine mammals.

We quickly made the crossing to Punta Baja, where gulls greeted us with what sounded like hysterical laughter. A troop of pelicans flew close to the water in a "V" shaped wedge, webbed feet lowered for a splash landing. A lone, great blue heron held his station on the point, undisturbed by our arrival. The littoral was thick with shells, big corkscrew spikes, small orange cones and bivalves of every description. The shells in the fossil bed at Punta Baja are said to be as old as the sea itself.

cliffJust as quickly as the ball drops on New Year's Eve at Time Square, the sun slid behind the windblown mountains, leaving a chill in the air. While others chose to sleep under the star speckled skies, I unraveled my tent poles and set up house. When I unzipped my bedroom at sunrise I was greeted with the sight of soft, muted mauves and purples draping over the Isla Montserrat. I watched the sun lift its warm face over the shimmering mirrored surface, turning the sky to an opalescent pink. In the distance, dolphins did somersaults.

It was time for breakfast; eggs with cactus, tomatoes and guacamole. We were a tribe now, accustomed to each other's morning face. We were becoming deeply immersed in the peaceful and unhurried rhythms of Baja.

At Arroyo Roja, we enjoyed a view of lava cliffs. A row of rock fingerlets, where Sally Light-foot crabs scuttled at my approach, made for fun tide-pooling. Underwater, I spied on Sergeant Majors, parrot fish, stickfish, and Rainbow Wrasse as they flitted in and out of the oatmeal-colored algae. I floated over boulders peppered with starfish and anemones. I felt light years removed from my ever-present thoughts of danger and worries and from the question that eternally plagued me, "what's for dinner?"

Early the next day, we headed out from Punta Baja. Just as we crested the point, we saw a blue-footed booby and a pod of about thirty dolphins. The dolphins churned past us in a steady rhythm, making a beeline up the channel. After a brisk paddle into the wind, we were gliding on shallow turquoise water again, so clear I could see to the white sand bottom.

yogaThe beach was composed of whited powdery sand, wrapped in white cliffs with fat, chalk-colored stalactites dripping from the ceiling of the sea caves. Standing on the cliffs were black cormorants with their wings spread in the sun to dry, looking like scarecrows. A deep blaze of aquamarine green, so intense it glowed like a laser beam, shot across the width of the passage.

A week of yoga before breakfast, several of hours of paddling prior to lunch, a siesta and then a swim, left me feeling amazingly fit. So when our group was challenged by another cluster of kayaks to a race across the idyllic glide to Honeymoon Cove, I was game. I poured on the steam, gave it all I had and applied all the technique I had learned that week.

Having arrived at the tranquil Honeymoon Cove, I climbed to the top of the red bluffs that sheltered it. I peered down into water so clear that from several stories up I could see schools of fish. From this perfect vantage, I let my imagination run wild wondering what treasure might have been left behind by pirates who had come to this part of the world looking for a sage harbor.

My trip sadly came to a close, but I was very happy that this unique land that time almost forgot is only a few short hours from home. "I'll be back," I promised myself.

Linda BallouFrom the Author - Linda Ballou: My pioneering parents took me to Alaska when I was thirteen where I became firmly grounded in nature. From there I journeyed back to proud California, where I obtained a degree in English Literature. Today I am a free-lance writer, based in Los Angeles, specializing in adventure travel. When I’m not traveling, I hike the trails in and around L.A. Find my travel essay collection, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales, at www.LindaBallouAuthor.com and most online distribution sites including the Nook and Kindle

Resources:

Sea Kayak Adventures Inc. - Since 1993, Sea Kayak Adventures Inc. has operated sea kayaking tours to the premier whale watching destinations of Loreto in Baja California, Mexico and northern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Since then, we have expanded our offerings to include mothership kayaking in Alaska, sea kayaking and trekking in Patagonia and multi-sport adventures in the Galapagos.

U.S. Department of State - check here for the most recent information on safe traveling in Mexico.

U.S. American Embassy in Mexico City for travel and information on local resources.

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