Finding Solace in Baja
The early morning sun was hot, even though it was December. Our group of five sat anxious with anticipation on small benches inside the hull of a 35-foot boat at the boat ramp of a municipal park on Mexico’s Baja California coast. The small fiberglass hull bobbed gently in the water as our guide and boat captain loaded the last of our things. We were headed to an island off the coast called Isla Espiritu Santo for three days of snorkeling, exploring, sea kayaking and waterfront tent camping—a holiday getaway for the family. Even though we’d been briefed on the trip by our guide, Benjamin, we still didn’t truly understand how the next few days would affect us.
As we kicked off shore, I looked back at the boat captain, Angel, as he jumped aboard. His face was covered with a buff, sunglasses on, but his big grin was evident underneath; he looked about as excited as we were to leave the city and head north. As Angel throttled up the engine and the bow of our boat lifted off the water, the roar from the outboard motor and wind quickly drowned out our nervous small talk, and the five of us fell silent. We sat quietly and looked out on the landscape as it slipped past. The bustling waterfront of La Paz, Baja California Sur’s capital, was quickly replaced by the parched desert cliffs and hardy green vegetation of the coast, starkly contrasted by the deep blue water of the Sea of Cortez. We motored north, eventually losing sight of civilization, and found ourselves staring at the pure island wilderness of Isla Espiritu Santo—a vigorously protected Mexican natural resource park. We continued up the coast of the island, passing a few fishermen and other day-tour boats.
Eventually we slowed, turning into a wide bay that revealed a small group of tents perched on a sand spit at the water’s edge and pressed against red sandstone cliffs. This was it—home for the next few days.
For the first time on our trip we all collectively took a deep breath. The hustle of the flight and getting to La Paz quickly faded, and we simply sat and stared at the beauty in front of us. This trip wasn’t just a vacation for our group—it was a reorganization of our reality…and our family.
We were a group of five—a mom, two of her daughters, and their significant others. That number was foreign to us, unnatural and unbalanced, an odd number. That uneasy feeling was the main reason we had come on this trip. Worn out and tattered, we needed to get away and simply be together, but we also needed a change of perspective. As soon as the boat landed and we waded to shore, we knew we had made the right decision. Something about the smell of the ocean, the grit of the sand between our toes, and the warmth of the desert sun seemed to pull us away from the darkness we had been facing. Once we touched the island, we couldn’t help but just be…present. We were in paradise. The stress and loss of the previous year seemed to fade into the background for a few precious days, replaced with a sense of wonder and adventure we had unconsciously craved. We all embraced the change.
The next three days were spent waking to the sound of the tide crashing on the beach mere feet from our tents and rolling over to look out on the boats and pelicans bobbing in the bay. Each day, we would get up and walk the short distance to the kitchen tent where coffee, tea, and delicious food were waiting. We peppered Benjamin with constant questions about the history of the island, its geography, ecology, and beyond. We quickly fell into the daily rhythm he expertly created for us, never having to worry about our next move or next meal, feeling simultaneously autonomous and cared for.
We swam with sea lions, who, in their playfully curious way, showed us what pure joy looked like. We explored old fishing camps on La Partida, a neighboring island, and fished for gorgeous grouper, yellowtail, and wahoo with the guidance of Angel and Benjamin, who would then cook them up for our dinner.
In the evenings, Angel motored us out on sunset cruises as a tribute to the man who led the same ritual with his family back home on the North Carolina coast. The man who would have made our group six. The man whose absence had left us feeling off balance and raw. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we glided across the smooth ocean surface and looked out on the surrounding beauty. In those moments, the place held us close. Its red rocks and deep blue water gave us the space to process the loss we felt, but its grandeur also inspired us to celebrate lives lived.
As our trip to the island came to a close, a deep sense of gratitude filled us all. This place, and the people who led us on this adventure, gave us an amazing gift. They gave us the space to just be, but they also pushed us to see and interact with the wonders of their home. After returning to La Paz and the colorful walls of our hotel, we all sensed it had been a dream and yearned for those fleeting sunset moments on the boat. Until next time.
This article appears in the 2019 OARS Adventures Catalog. Request your free copy below.
Story and photos: Gordon Klco