Once again I don an NK95 mask and face shield, this time to fly to Mexico for a week of snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking with a group of eleven on the Sea of Cortez.
The Sea of Cortez is a large inland body of salt water, eight hundred miles long and two hundred miles wide located between Baja and mainland Mexico. It empties into the Pacific Ocean at the southern tip of Baja. The surrounding mountains are desert terrain, mainly browns and oranges with a smattering of scrubby green brush adjacent to turquoise water of various shades.
For five days and nights we stay in tents on the beach at one of the nine hundred islands that populate the Sea. It is called Isla Espiritu Santo and is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It feels like a sanctuary. Nobody else is nearby. The only sound at night is the soft rolling of the waves against the sand; the only light from the millions of stars that crowd the sky.
We go by boat to a small island called Los Islotes where over eight hundred California sea lions live and breed.
They bark noisily as we approach; we are the first to arrive. We have come to snorkel with the sea lions! We are told by our guides to avoid the huge males as they can be territorial and hope instead to encounter the pups which are curious and playful. And are they ever! One sees a life ring with a long rope and treats it like a toy, in and out of the ring it goes happily grabbing the rope in its mouth and tugging. At one point it comes right over and gives me a whiskery kiss!
The air temperature is very hot. The sun bakes our tents during the day and in mid-afternoon I stay away. The benefit however, is that everything dries almost instantly. The temperature of the water is surprisingly cool and I am happy to have taken our leader’s suggestion to use a thicker wetsuit than the one I have brought with me.
One afternoon I take a paddle-board out on the bay in front of our tents, the sea glassy and transparent below my feet. I see colorful fish darting in and around the bright coral as I glide smoothly over the water. Another afternoon, a group of us take the kayaks for a spin into an adjacent bay where the bird life is rich with herons, egrets, pelicans, ospreys, and others whose names I don’t recognize. Four different kinds of bright green mangroves line the shore in stark contrast to the dry earth behind them. The next day we kayak to a different bay and see quite a show put on by feeding pelicans, terns, and cormorants. The pelicans, spying fish from on high, dive-bomb their prey making a big splash into the water while scooping up the tasty morsels they have speared in their huge bills.
At nearly every meal we have local fish caught and delivered to our camp by two brothers who have fished these waters for eighty years. We’re told Mario is eighty-eight and Santiago is ninety-two, although apparently their ages vary with the telling. Their faces show a weathered history.
On Thanksgiving, we revisit Los Islotes and have an experience I will never forget. We are surrounded by at least three sea lion pups which this time, seem to think we are the toys. They climb all over us, nipping and grabbing at our snorkels, our caps, and our wetsuits. It is hilarious and joyful and a little scary– after all, they are wild animals! They stay with us for a long time, exploring each of us with wonder and what feels like love.
That afternoon we take a hike into an other-worldly landscape, seemingly sculpted in an alien universe. As we return, we face a splendid sunset—massive, rolling grey clouds infused with shards of the waning sun glowing on the sea below.
This is a Thanksgiving like no other. While I am unable to join my usual celebration with extended family and friends, I am exceedingly grateful to be healthy and to be able to spend this time in nature, an opportunity to restore the spirit.