Gulf of California

A Healthy Dose of Misfortune
by -- March 20th, 2010

As my favorite children’s book says, “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” This is the tale of almost everything that can go wrong in getting from Point A to Point B in Baja.

We were ready. Bags were packed, coolers filled with limes and lots of coffee, the van loaded, the girls dressed in long skirts, Xavier at the wheel, Thor with all his camera gear, and Kathy-our invaluable Seri translator and resource-smiling brightly and answering our endless stream of questions. Our goal – to get from Prescott College marine station to Tiburon Island. We could not have done more to prepare for our much anticipated weekend trip to visit the Seri and camp on Tiburon Island. The Seri are an indigenous group that were granted a land and ocean concession on the Sonoran coast after many years of struggling to maintain their nomadic lifestyle while fighting the Spaniards and Mexicans. The Seri pen shell (callo) fishery is the subject of Xavier’s research and he has developed extensive relations within the community.

We arrived at Punta Chueca, one of the two Seri villages, to meet our Seri guides and take a quick boat ride over to Tiburon. There was too much wind to take a ponga to Tiburon, so we aimlessly wandered the puppy and trash filled town while Xavier explored our options. After waiting until 4pm, we decided to start driving to a potential campsite with the hope that winds would calm and a ponga would pick us up and still take us to Tiburon.  Our 10-passenger van was packed with 14 on what was the bumpiest road I have ever been on. It was quite a ride for those of us in the back and not really on a seat. We thought we would get out with only sore backs and a couple bruises until we decided we needed to turn the van around. At point 2 of our 3-point turn we got stuck in sand. Sometimes too many smart, independent brains are not a good thing. The effort to bail out the van turned into a hodgepodge of partial ideas that did not create a successful whole. But, we certainly were creative. In the middle of the desert we found wood, Styrofoam, plants, cardboard, wire crab pots, shells, rusty cans, rocks and black rubbery stuff that were all used in the effort to get the van rolling.  Still, no success. Even Max, with his furtive pacing, mad skills, and collection of stones, couldn’t get the job done.

As the back tires spun deeper into the sand, we looked for potential campsites, carried all of the gear to the beach, and stared out to the horizon hoping for any sign of boats. Just at sunset, Kathy spotted the pongas! At least we would make it to Tiburon. The majority of us loaded into one boat, while our fearless leader guaranteed us that he and the other guys would meet up with us later after getting the van out with the new addition of a jack. I was filled with a mix of relief at finally being in a boat on the way to our final destination and apprehension that it was pitch black, there were no life vests, we were separated from Xavier and Max, and had no way to communicate with anyone outside the boat. Any trace of relief disappeared when Alfredo, our Seri guide and ponga driver, asked us where we were going. What!? We don’t know, Xavier said you knew. Alfredo took his best guess, (luckily it was the right one), and just as we were getting closer to shore our ponga got stuck on a shoal. Yes, we bottomed out in sand once again.

The boat has a better ending than the van and soon we hit land. Ahh, finally. Well…time to set up camp in the dark with huge gusts of continuous wind. We manage and immediately start making dinner. The tears welling in my eyes from chopping onions and chiles never felt so good until my head was nearly smashed in by a flying lantern and metal poles from the kitchen canopy. We laughed because we had too.

When dinner is finally cooking, Morgan declares that she needs to go to bed without dinner because she can’t stand the anxiety levels caused by the second ponga’s absence. We’ve become awfully good at hypothesizing and create endless scenarios about how Xavier is not going to make it. Before Morgan can make it to her tent the second boat arrives and wants to know if dinner is ready. Typical.  We eat around 10pm. Mmmm quesadillas will never be the same.

It was a 10-hour journey from point A to point B.

As we sat around the stove decompressing from the day’s misadventure, I couldn’t help but think how great our group is. You don’t really know someone until you are stranded in a desert together. The sour just makes the sweet that much better.

Oh, and the van was still stuck.

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