Miles of paddling
Hiking: ~2 mi / ~300 ft. climbing
Home: Playa Ensenada Grande campsite
This morning we threw in yet another physical activity to balance our endless eating and drinking: hiking! The islands are one of Mexico’s newest National Parks, and according to Chino, that has resulted in many more protected areas and restrictions of human activity versus when he started giving tours of the islands 18 years ago.
But I couldn’t detect any chafing at those restrictions; if anything Chino seemed pleased that the government was doing what it could to manage human usage, and sometimes wished there were even more resources available to protect the land and sea and uncover more of their history.
From the very first day, the whole tour crew spoke loudly about their deep love for the islands without saying a single word: any time anyone spotted a bit of trash in the water, they would circle back to retrieve it, via both kayak and panga. Actions like that made it immediately clear that this was more than just a job for them, and even better, inspired the same care and respect for the islands in us, the temporary visitors.
So the short but scrambly hike was both visually stunning (a bit of a mini-Bryce Canyon, with trees growing deep below the rim of the narrow pink-orange canyon alleyways), and an opportunity to hear Chino expound on topics of archeology, geology, and biology, with equal knowledge and passion for all.
For the kayaking part of the day, we had our first experience with some choppy water, but overall neither the wind nor waves have been a major issue for us. We passed the narrow, winding channel that separates Isla Espiritu Santo from the smaller Isla Partida, and so now have technically kayaked from one island to another. Rett was still pretty uncomfortable, but it now seems that much of that discomfort comes from being confined in a small space for several hours at a time with little opportunity to stretch or relax.
Because in terms of paddling, she actually had plenty of strength left in her when we made the final turn into the bay protecting our destination beach, and then could (with Chino’s blessing) take off ahead of the group to get Rett out of the kayak ASAP. People (mainly Chino, of course) had seen flying manta rays out on the waters each day, far away and intermittent, but during this final sprint home, we were treated to a ray just 40 ft. off our port bow springing out of the water and doing four complete somersaults before crashing back down. 10/10 from the American judges, with the high degree of difficulty augmenting the score!
For the afternoon we completed a trifecta of outdoor activities with some more snorkeling, this time in a less-organized do-it-yourself from-the-beach fashion. The underwater civilization wasn’t quite the teeming metropolis that it was yesterday, and a lot more care had to be taken to keep knees and flippers from bashing on the coral in the much-shallower water, but it was still a thriving world where we spotted additional species unseen yesterday.
Somehow after all that, we still had time for happy-hour drinks, and coloring, and hair-braiding, and hanging out with our new island family. But it would be our last night as complete unit, since Paul and Meredith had only signed up for a 4-day tour, and guide-trainee Joaquin would also be heading back with them to La Paz tomorrow.
Dave and Suzie said early on that their biggest concern with this tour was who they would end up “all in the same boat” with. Somehow we only realized the importance of that factor about a day before we left, but obviously it would have a huge effect on our enjoyment of the trip. Would we have Gilligan and Thurston Howell III, or the Professor and Mary Ann? I’m sure that the nature of the trip itself (tent-camping in the sand, pooping in a glorified plastic box, paddling half the day) works as a pretty effective filter to ensure that most people taking part are “cool” (as we define such things), but most of us agreed that our group ended up being even “cooler” than we expected. Maybe that’s normal, and if so, I’m happy for all the other groups that have come together as a randomly-selected team over all these years!
So in short, it sucked that Paul and Meredith and Joaquin would be leaving, but that meant that we had a good excuse to party long after dark (aided by the convenient fact that we didn’t have any kayaking to do tomorrow!) Sometime early on in the evening, Paul, who has a spirit that spins up and out similar to Rett’s, came over to me and said “I get the feeling that you must have a level of patience similar to Meredith”. I laughed at the correctness of his insight, and marveled at how much that single line told me about Meredith, about Paul, about their relationship, and about how Rett and I appear to those perceptive enough to look. Rett learned some jiu jitsu (and Spanish curse words) from Joaquin, we made some wishes on shooting stars, and we were blessed that even those of our group that went to bed early didn’t scold us for our late-night shenanigans.