Baja 1983

Christmas in Baja can hold surprises!

I was on a four day solo kayaking trip from Mulege, out across the bay and around the far side of the peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Cortez. After making the four mile crossing I cleared the peninsula point and headed south along the barren shore. Late in the afternoon I arrived at an idyllic cove and decided to stay for a while.

I unloaded the boat and set up camp; erected my tent, laid out my sleeping bag, food stores and hunted up some firewood.

Although driftwood was scarce, I soon found the remains of a mining site where there was an abundance of scrap wood available. I had the place to myself, and swam, sunbathed and watched the sun trace a lazy arc across the sky. Nearby pelicans crashed into the sea for fish. Frigate birds flew on, like they have for millions of years. Perfect.

The second day, just after lunch, a party of kayakers came around the bend and stopped and we talked for a while. They were from Oregon and consisted of two double kayaks and two singles, two married couples and two teenagers. Finally they paddled away and found a place of their own further up the coast. Solitude returned and I frittered away the day with short exploratory kayak trips along the shore and short hikes up into the hills.

The next day I saw their kayaks out on the water, jumped into my boat and paddled over to see what was up. My friends had snorkel equipment and were diving for fish and scallops. While the divers were down, I talked to those who waited in their boats. We got to talking about what day it was, and after some discussion and counting of days since we left the States, we decided that it was Christmas day! The next time one of the divers came up we all hollered in unison, "Merry Christmas!"

We decided to get together in the evening for a Christmas Celebration. In discussing what to bring it was decided that I would bring water, since I had extra, some tea bags and firewood.

I paddled back to my camp and hiked off to the mine to gather firewood. In the evening I loaded my kayak with firewood, hung my little bicycle beacon light on my tent flap and turned it on, knowing that it would be dark when I returned. I made sure I had my flashlight with me in the boat and paddled into the evening.

When I arrived at their camp, a beach fire was going, beans were bubbling in the pot, and they were preparing the fish they had caught. One of the teenagers had decorated a bush with bits of paper and sea shells in the manner of a Christmas tree.

Not only were there fish and scallops, but they also had canned ham and cranberry sauce. What a feast. I fixed orange spice tea. They had Kool-Aid and coffee.

After dinner we sat around the fire and traded kayaking stories and sang Christmas songs. A very enjoyable evening.

Around ten or eleven, (who keeps track,) I said farewell and carried my boat back down to the beach, hopped in and paddled away. There was no moon, but the stars were out by the millions. Each paddle stroke set off a corresponding set of stars in the water. The phosphorescence was breathtaking. The intensity of the sparkles in the water matched the sparkle of the stars overhead from horizon to horizon, except for the black void off to my right composed of the mountain range and its silhouette in the still water.

All I had to do was paddle along and watch for my bike beacon somewhere in this void. Meanwhile, what a dreamy other/world situation it was, to be paddling along on a warm still night completely surrounded by stars - Stars in the sky, stars in the sea. I felt like I was traveling through outer space. At first I was afraid of tipping over because of the lack of visual reference. I had to rely on the internal pull of gravity, relax and fly by the "seat of my pants".

Every now and then I would pass over a school of fish and they would explode in all directions, stirring up millions of sparkles in the water. I kept glancing off to the right, looking for the blinking light marking my camp site but as yet, I could see nothing. I paddled on.

It was hard to tell how long I had been paddling but I felt like I must be getting close and as yet there was no indication from the dark. As I paddled, I started to think about the batteries in my light beacon and how long they would last. Maybe they had given out. Finally I decided to paddle towards land and take a closer look. The dark shore appeared to be right in front of me, but as I paddled slowly along, expecting to bump into it at any moment, it kept receding before me. I then realized that I didn't hear any shore sounds, no slap of waves on the sand, no chirping crickets, nothing. The reflection of the black mountains on the water reached right to the bow of my boat and somewhere between the top of the mountains and the bottom of the reflection was the shoreline. But it was a lot further off than I realized. I had been paddling at an angle out into the Sea of Cortez without realizing it. It was all an optical illusion.

I paddled for half an hour until I finally heard the break of the small waves washing upon the beach. Soon I began to pick out details on the beach by starlight. Now the question was whether to turn to the right and retrace my route or turn left and continue on down the beach. Which way was my camp?

I felt that I had been paddling a long time and must have passed my campsite, so I decided to turn right but stay very close to the shore this time. At the worst I would end up back at the camp where the Christmas dinner had been, if the beach fire was still glowing to mark the spot.

How weird to be in such a situation after thinking I had all bases covered, but such a beautiful night to be lost in Baja.

As I paddled along, I encountered several coves and carefully checked each one out, being careful to avoid submerged rocks. Finally I found my cove, pulled onto the beach and got out with flashlight in hand to check and see what had happened to my bike beacon. When I cleared the berm and turned my flashlight upon my tent, it wasn't there. At first I thought it had been stolen, but upon closer inspection I could see that there were no foot prints in the sand, any where, no one had been here, not even me. It was hard to believe but it was not my campsite. It was not my cove. I got back into the boat and continued on. The moon was starting to rise and I felt sure it must be three in the morning. I seemed like I had been paddling all night.

The moonlight cast strange shadows and lit the rock outcroppings in such a way that nothing seemed familiar. Maybe I would end up spending the night sleeping in my boat.

I arrived at another cove but it looked so different in the moon light that I didn't bother to go in along the shore but cut straight across it instead. When I was about half way across I noticed a faint orange light blinking in the dark. It was my camp!

I would have bet anything that this was not the place, yet, it certainly was. I wearily turned and paddled into shore. I felt like kissing the sand as I stepped ashore. Wow! What a night.

I pulled the kayak high upon the shore, shut off the bike beacon, unzipped my tent flap and flopped down upon my sleeping bag.


Hundred of little red ants were crawling all over the sleeping bag and floor of my tent. I pulled my sleeping bag out of the tent and shook it off, then went into the tent and started rubbing them out. Everywhere I looked with my flashlight they were running around. I killed all I could find on one side of the tent and then started on the other side. Then, when I rechecked the first side I would find even more. On and on the battle raged, I couldn't believe it. They seemed to be coming back from the dead. Finally I noticed that they were coming in through a hole they had chewed through the floor of the tent. I took a piece of duct tape and patched the hole and then commenced the cleaning up operation. Soon I had it down to squashing one here, one there, with my thumb. Finally it was over. I tossed my sleeping bag back inside the tent, made a final check for ants and wearily crawled into my sleeping bag. As I closed my eyes the pink glow of the rising sun indicated that Christmas Day in Baja was finally over.

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