When I visit somewhere for the first time, it rarely happens that the pictures I’ve held in my mind match the reality of the place. Whether I’ve formed my opinion from magazine photos, travel literature, or discussions with someone who has been there before, I’m usually surprised by my actual experience.
The images in my head are formed from snippets, or pockets of a whole. And I form these images long before the airplane (or sailboat, in this case) has landed. Perhaps it’s my way of preparing myself for a new environment — if I wrap my mind around even a small piece of the place, it’s not as overwhelming as stepping into completely unknown turf.
And so, before we anchored for the first time in Mexico, I’d convinced myself that I knew all there was to know. As a kid, I lived just a hundred miles north of the border, in California… Mexico was practically my backyard. I’d flown, driven, walked, and dove in Mexico — what more was there? I was excited to sail down here, but in the back of my mind I kept telling myself “It’s only Mexico… The “real” adventure will start when we cross the Pacific and anchor in places with exotic names like Bora Bora and Hiva Oa.”
And yet, in just a few weeks, Mexico has taught me that there’s always something new to learn if you keep your mind open.
Right now, we’re anchored off an island 20 miles north of La Paz, called Espiritu Santo. The cove that we’re in is rimmed with dazzling white coral sand, and red sandstone peaks rise 900′ from the beach. The cliffs, dotted with large lava boulders, are stark and desolate at the top but covered with desert greenery on the skirts. The water is turquoise and jade green, with blinding white sand beneath to illuminate it as if it were lit from below. The water is so clear and the sand so white that we’ve been jumping in and plunging about all week — and once we’re in, we can stay in for hours.
The bay is thick with baitfish and a few leaping manta rays (only two or three feet in diameter) have visited us. There are a group of Pelicans that call this shallow bay home, and they’ve perfected their dive to account for the depths. They come in at an angle and dive-bomb fish from only one or two feet above the surface, unlike their deep-water cousins in the Pacific who dive from ten or twelve feet up.
A few days ago, Brian and I took the dinghy to the northern end of this island, where a group of smaller islands attracts reef fish and families of sea lions. When we arrived, we were greeted by hundreds of barking sea lions — some swimming lazily in the shallow, warm water and some sunning themselves on the big boulders that just out into the sea. At first it was intimidating to be below the water with these massive animals — they ranged in size from 100-pound calves to 500-pound bulls. But after a few minutes, the sea lions made us feel welcome in their home and we were humbled by their presence. Because there were so many, Brian and I just had to hover below the water, 10 or 12 feet down, and let them come up to us. They would quickly dive down to our level, coming within a foot or two, stare into our masks for a few seconds, and then gracefully flap their fins and glide effortlessly away. Some were more acrobatic than others and would perform a few back flips before darting back to the surface. They seemed as curious of us as we were of them. We were incredibly grateful to be welcomed into their habitat — an experience we’ll not soon forget.
Petter and Octavia are in the anchorage with us, so yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving together on Delos. I scrounged together what I could to create a traditional meal, having to substitute some things and omit others. What we ended up with was pan-fried chicken with a red wine reduction, cornbread stuffing, twice-baked potatoes with extra cheddar cheese, and roasted green beans. Petter and Octavia brought over Rooster Fish fillets that they’d procured from a fisherman a few days ago, and a pumpkin pie. Overall, it felt a lot like being back home. Petter and Octavia even passed out on the settee (or couch) after eating too much — even without the excuse of tryptophan!
It’ll be hard to pick up the anchor — we’ve really fallen in love with this place. But on Sunday we’ll head back to La Paz to buy food and fuel for the trip south to Puerto Vallarta. We’ll wait for a good forecast to make the 300-mile sail across to the mainland, leaving the Sea of Cortez and this little piece of paradise behind.