9 miles of paddling
Home: Playa Rincon campsite
Making sure that our slowest kayakers are paired with someone else in a tandem kayak is a key to moving forward efficiently as a group. The tour company doesn’t assign people to specific kayaks, or guarantee tandems or singles, but rather, leaves it a bit to the group to work out the best configuration, and allow people to adjust or try different things over time.
Of course someone will always still be the slowest, no matter what configuration we have, but one overall goal should be to end up with the fastest-possible slowest kayak. The first day, Ayuko was the slowest. So to improve that, Dave and Suzie split up, allowing Ayuko to go with Joaquin in their tandem (which also gave kayaking-makes-him-sick Joaquin a stabilizing partner). That then made Suzie the new slowest link, though she might have been a bit faster than Ayuko. Thus, what sucked for Suzie was an still improvement for the group. So thanks for taking one of the team, Suzie, especially since it also meant your husband pretty much left you alone out there on the water once you were no longer “in the same boat”!
And also thank you since Rett and I were still too selfish to separate our married selves like they generously did. As a team, Rett and I were probably near the middle of the pack (slower than several of the single kayakers), and I think I could have maintained middle-of-the-pack status if I went on my own. But Rett, even after a day off, was still not feeling like a strong paddler, so she likely would have been a new slowness-leader if she had been on her own.
Our group maintained the same setup for the third day, but then by the fourth day of paddling, Suzie had understandably had enough of feeling like everyone was waiting for her, so she paired with our new secondary-guide Llendi. That put Ayuko on her own again, because there wasn’t another tandem available for her. Our new arrivals had arrived with an additional tandem kayak, but that didn’t really help, since 9-year old Felix would always need to be paired with someone. And although Felix’s mom and her friend both seemed to be strong, experienced kayakers, one of them claimed that a new elbow pain required them to be together in a tandem, which then filled the two tandem slots Paul and Meredith had left behind.
So for this 9-mile day, our longest so far, we had still not succeeded very well in balancing out the group. And that became even more frustrating (especially for Ayuko, I’m sure!) when our new arrivals in their two tandems spent the entire day far out in front of everyone. Not only did it prove that our group speed definitely could have improved with a better arrangement, it also meant that they completely disrespected Chino’s directive to stick together for safety. And finally, it took any shot we could have had at bonding as a new group and dumped it into the cold water.
The route today took us north to a view of Los Islotes and the sea lions that we’d visited yesterday, and while we didn’t get close enough to see the babies again, at one point a large male swam directly under our kayak, which gave the green turtle a run for its money as “coolest thing we kayaked over”. We finally had reached the tip of Isla Partida, at which point we turned back south along the eastern coast of the islands. We immediately witnessed the more-vertical structure of the side of the islands that faces the open sea, exemplified by a tall arch cutting through a towering blade of rock that we were able to navigate through.
Chino doesn’t seem to be much of a barking taskmaster, instead working under the (optimistic) assumption that we’re all adults and should know how to follow instructions without constant reminders (or also has come to learn that people paying thousands of dollars for a vacation experience don’t like being told what to do too often). So today, as our group was again spreading far and wide and we lost our discipline of the previous couple days, Rett decided to help out by playing “bad cop” and using her loud voice to good effect to corral everyone. With Joaquin gone, Jorge also made some herding efforts from the far side in his place. It was only partially successful, but at least we got somewhat closer together and maybe relieved Chino’s stress a little.
After many breaks, we finally saw an unusual cloud bank ahead, which marked the gap between the two islands, which was our target. Turning into the snaking channel, the water got super-shallow, requiring us to raise our rudder and showing that we had now gotten so dependent on it that that we’ve become worthless at steering without it. Thus we soon grounded the kayak on a sandbar, which was maybe for the best, since it granted Rett a chance to jump out of the space she’d been confined to for hours. With some weight unloaded, I attempted to paddle and steer the rest of the way to the beach, but quickly grounded again, so I also gave up and shamefully just towed the kayak the rest of the way home behind me, sloshing through the calf-deep water.
After being on three world-class beaches, this fourth one was still somehow even better. It was nearly empty except for our group, and the shallow channel meant that there were no other boats anchored in front of us in the endlessly turquoise water. For our afternoon snorkel, we were originally going to walk over the dune back to the east-side water now behind us, but due to the low tide, and to make it easier for Elizabeth, Chino decided that we’d take the panga to a new location and swim from the boat. At this spot, the fish weren’t the most-exciting (it’s silly that I’m already getting jaded after a 4-day career of snorkeling), but the large underwater boulders were really fun to swim around and made it feel more like an exploration.
Yesterday when swimming with the sea lions, everyone was required to wear a life jacket. That’s where I noticed that even though I don’t exactly sink in this water, I still was floating significantly-lower than everyone else. When in an upright position, the water line was near the top of my shoulders, whereas for everyone else it was closer to the middle of their upper arms. So today I decided to go back to wearing my life-jacket for normal snorkeling, on the theory that it would keep a bit more of my body out of the water, which might keep me warmer. I also tried to swim as much as possible with my hands resting on my butt, fingers pointing up out of the water like some strange spined fish. Whether it was either or both of those things, or just warmer water, I didn’t suffer any post-swim numbness in my fingertip like I had every other time. Success!
Today, Chino was one of the last ones back in the boat, because he was off performing (and then revealing to us) yet another one of his god-of-the-sea skills: he returned with a giant dinner-plate-sized rock scallop that he had discovered and dived down with nothing but his knife to harvest. Like, I didn’t even know that was something that you could do, much less do as a casual aside while taking a group of tourists out for a snorkel! To make himself seem like even more of a badass, he was also nursing a deep cut along the length of his index finger. He said that his knife was too short and he was too slow when slicing the muscle, so the scallop clamped down on his hand when it was inside, and he instinctively yanked it out, slicing it the whole way. Well, in my subsequent research about rock scallops, I couldn’t find anything about such risks of harvesting them this way, so either 1) I misunderstood his story, 2) he made up the story and we didn’t realize he was joking (it wouldn’t be the first time!), or 3) he knows more about the actual behavior of rock scallops (and has bled more from them) than anyone sitting at their computer and writing on Wikipedia does. For now, I’m gonna go with the last one.
Dinner was led by shrimp, continuing the non-stop string of fresh, healthy, and excellent meals we’ve been served. Our new group members are nice people, and we have a decent bit in common with them (they’ve done a lot of bike touring, lived in the Netherlands for a while), but not in a million years would they be doing Karate Kid poses on the beach, or inventing new curse words with us. So while I don’t think we completely succeeded in suppressing our tribalism, even if we had, it seems doubtful we would have ever achieved the fun insta-bonding we had with our departed friends. We really did luck into a great initial group!
After dark, several of us were standing together, necks craned back to the white-speckled black bowl above, and trying to point out to each other the few constellations that we knew. Who sidles over but Chino, armed with an amazingly-effective laser pointer and this time wearing a virtual “astronomer” hat while revealing yet another scientific discipline that he’s an expert in. We learned not only several of the zodiac signs, but also how to use them to find each other. I briefly wondered if Mexicans group stars differently into constellations differently than Americans, but it seems like this is a case where we all draw from a common European ancestry. Again I missed Joaquin, because “inventing Mexican constellations” seemed like a job I could suggest to him that he would excel at.
Then Chino took off his virtual “astronomer” hat and replaced it with a virtual “meteorologist” hat and said “I can feel that it’s going to be dewy tonight, so you’ll want the rainfly on your tents” (the last couple nights we’d done without). I couldn’t feel anything different on my skin, but sure enough, as soon as we got to our tent and bags, they already had some slight dampness collecting on their surfaces. We truly doubt that there is anything this man doesn’t know or can’t do!