Unexpected Baja: Between Sea and Shore
Words by Greg
Photos by Greg and Trina
In the cracked shell of what could almost be called a town we soaked in magma heated water that steamed on the rocky edge of the sea, backdropped by the silence of empty homes. But while the town felt as if its life was seeping away, the shore and sea were filled with vibrant and noisy life. Seagulls and pelicans patrolled, splashing and diving, squabbling over bits of fish. We heard the sharp exhalations and saw the blowhole puffs of whales, the black domes of their sleek bodies rising from the blue water.
We drove further southward along the coast. Hard, ragged mountains shoved their way toward the shore crowding out the beaches and beach homes. The paved highway ended abruptly, still pointing onward toward fast-track future plans, while a dirt road angled off at its own slow speed. This rougher coast, the rough road took us closer to where we wanted to be.
We wandered on slow feet along the clear waters of the gulf. Details of stones and bones and shells drew us closer to the ground. While mountains spilled into the sea, skipping onward as islands, luring our eyes toward further horizons and possibilities.
We loaded our yellow boat with dogs and lunch and paddled into the chilly blue water and along the broken coast. Carved headlands sheltered secret cobble beaches and shallow caves. We paddled and we stopped, exploring the shifting line between land and sea where life and death mingled. Fish and bones. Birds and bones. Porpoises and bones. Stocky trees blown twisted and bony by persistent wind.
At times the shore was very much alive. Crawling, even, with armored isopods, roly-poly like creatures as big as a thumb, antennae twitching, that dashed into crevices as we approached. The dogs were entertained for hours hunting them -- with very little success, and seemingly very little satisfaction with the taste when one was caught.
Three times in as many days we witnessed a frenzied battle between armies of feeders and food. Offshore but within the reach of our binoculars, a shoal of small fish were herded along by a line of porpoises whose dark, shiny bodies arced out of the water and splashed back in, creating a line of froth. Pelicans and gulls were drawn toward the turmoil and were soon diving and splashing, as more and more birds poured in from all directions. The line of porpoises and fish and diving birds moved steadily across our view, water creatures leaping into the air, birds of the air leaping into the water, blurring the distinction between either in a splashing and chaotic boil. Scores of porpoises, hundreds of birds, untold numbers of fish, all leaping, diving, splashing, the whole line of action moving steadily along until it was lost from our view.
As we wandered the shore at calmer times, pelicans, gulls and vultures would frequently cruise past. At some point Zeek, the JRT, decided that our piece of beach belonged to us and to us alone. He began to protect and defend us against all invaders. When a bird would fly by he would leap to action, barking and chasing over the cobbles and rocks to ensure that no bird flew into restricted airspace. Many were fooled by his ferocity, but a few gulls would hover on the wind, close but out of reach, teasing him into a froth.
Nights were calmer, quieter, though sometimes coyotes visited and roused the dogs. On two nights, under starlight I walked the edge of the shore where lapping waves stirred tiny creatures and set them to shine dimly. Pale green stars, constellations and galaxies stirred the water in phosphorescent glow as I cast stones that excited them.
There was a small town a dozen miles away from where we spent most of three days camped on the beach. Fishing boats from the town would cut the water, hulls slapping, heading out, or returning slower, deeper in the water. We visited the town, ate fish tacos, bought food, filled water. A town that had a happy and tough vitality. Tied to the tourist "industry" surely, but seeming to have a life of its own where people worked and lived and played.
We stood on a rough stone-and-cement pier that jutted into blue-green water. Perhaps the same pier where I stood once when I was eleven years old. My father had driven south with me, my sister and grandmother. We'd camped on beaches then, too. And had visited a small pier of a smaller town in this same place. Dark eyed sunburned boys in torn t-shirts had gigged for baitfish with treble hooks, line, and coke bottles. Someone caught an octopus and held it close for us to see, writhing sucker arms churning as it died. I remembered brown sand dollars leaving tracks on golden sand under clear water. I remembered pelicans. I remembered the mountains and islands stacked against the horizon.
The town and I have changed as years have passed. It was almost as if I were another person visiting a new place. Still, though -- or so I like to think -- there remains something wide-eyed and curious, something not unlike being eleven years old that still looks out from behind my older eyes.
Seeing new things, or seeing things in new ways is likely the largest part of what drives us to travel. We don't set out seeking, nor do we come back with a list of accomplishments. Trina and I prefer to travel somewhat slowly with time to let a small place seep into us, to observe and remark on new or previously unnoticed phenomenon. Distances between are, admittedly, often made in leaps that blur past the truck windows. And our time traveling doesn't allow for seasons to change, nor for time to observe plants and animals to grow and change. But often we will find evidence, a captured moment of change. A nest. A bit of eggshell. A feather. A bird. A bone. A story of life and decay. Of something remembered. Something unexpected.