Flying home from Baja for Christmas I was on the afternoon flight from Los Cabos. Due to the prevailing seasonal winds our plane took off toward the north, and that meant that we flew over the Sierra de la Giganta mountains and had a view of La Paz and the islands in the Gulf of California.
As I sat with my nose pressed to the window (sorry cleaning crew!) I could see the marina where Westward lies until my return; I saw the serrated west coast of Isla Espiritu Santos, among whose bays and coves I was acquiring a comfortable familiarity. Looking down into the turquoise shallows of Caleta de la Raza and Caleta El Cardonal I recalled the walks and kayak paddles we had taken along their shores and into the surrounding hills. I remembered watching local panga fishermen hauling their (possibly illegal) gillnets from the reef near the entrance point. I could hear in my memory the sound of Ridley’s Sea Turtles panting breaths into the silence of a mirror-calm night sea.
My view then shifted to Isla San Francisco, with its scimitar shaped bay where we found a safe anchorage after a difficult crossing, and the rocky intertidal area rich with small fish, crabs and brittle stars. I recalled walking the beach below a cliff whose crumbling erosion had dropped a treasure trove of mineral ores and agates.
Next was El Pardito, where the tiny, but ferocious guard dog, Max, defends his tiny island from all potential invaders. Where I knew freshly filleted trigger fish was drying on racks in the shade of a low palapa roof and where a woman makes lovely jewelry from found objects. It is a place whose residents face the eminent extinction of their rare and remarkable way of life; for there is no one left on Pardito under the age of 45. The young people have moved to the mainland, where survival is not as direct or life as elemental, and the island villagers can see the end every time they look into the mirror and see their sun and sea worn faces.
And yet their greeting smiles are as warm and sincere as any I have ever seen.
I thought about how I am becoming connected to this remarkable and beautiful region. Like a larval blue mussel, I am beginning to cast out the byssal threads that will bind me to this place. Some threads lead to people and some to places, such as the coves and bays in which we seek shelter from the open waters of the Gulf. Some of these filaments are connected to my growing understanding of the regions geology, of its plants and animals, and of the challenges it faces in the near future.
Then my growing familiarity circles back to my understanding of Max’s mission in life, and why it’s important to not, ever, turn your back to him whilst wearing flip flops!
–Capt. Bill Bailey
From the Vaults – December 28, 2014