Gulf of California

Trying to stitch everything together: Understanding the Sonoran coast
by -- April 27th, 2016

Contrary to what your ideas of this class may be, we had no idea what was going to happen during our trip here in Sonora. I don’t mean this in the sense of unexpected personal challenges and breaking preconceptions, we were given no itinerary beforehand. So, I would like you to keep that in mind while reading about the experiences of me and my classmates.

On our first day here we had a class lecture in the research station, and one of the ideas we discussed has really stuck with me throughout the last week and a half. Elizabeth, our co-instructor, and Xavier explained to us how to be an effective observer, specifically noting the idea of reflexivity. Reflexivity, in the simplest explanation, is finding and describing the root of why you feel ______ in a situation you are unfamiliar with. Examples of emotions commonly in the blank space are uncomfortable, upset, scared, or antsy. I would like to use this post as a forum to recount several of my most memorable experiences, and maybe give some insight into how I reacted to and tried to process them.

In the evening of our first full day here in Bahia de Kino, I was standing in the shallow water at the beach when I felt a sudden, sharp pain on the side of my right foot. I suddenly started running back to shore, yelling at my friends standing there, “something got my foot!” When I collapsed on the sand we all looked at the cut, about 2 inches long, as my head started to go with numb with the intensity of the pain. I was on the receiving end of the tail of a stingray. After hours of excruciating pain and soaking my foot in hot water, I was sitting in a small clinic getting sewn up with two stitches. My mind calmed as the pain subsided, and I remember feeling impressed by the quality of care I had received, in fact I might even say that I was surprised. I then started to wonder, what previous standard did I have that would imply I should be surprised? I had none. This sting broke me in for the rest of our trip. Not only did the intense emotional toll of how painful it was attach me forever to Kino, Mexico, but those post-clinic thoughts have reminded me with everything else that I have already drawn expectations, and to remember to keep them conscious as I try to understand how the people in these coastal towns work.

The very next day we traveled to Puerto Libertad and had out first talks with fisherman. Our hosts made grilled yellow-fin tuna tacos that were the best thing I’ve eaten in a long time.   After our discussions we watched an adult league softball game, followed by and evening hanging out, laughing, and singing karaoke. I remember thinking about how welcoming they were to outsiders they’d never met, and how excited and proud they were to discuss their fishing and conservation projects, even taking us out in the boat to show us sites that they are trying to get protected. They really broke open the discussion for me of how these fisheries are regulated and exploited. I had pictured something vaguely along the lines of a group of narrow-minded fisherman, racing to get as much as they can for themselves. They explained the many complicated frustrations that impair intelligent fishing, from human stubbornness to government ineptitude. And although they are in theory competing for the same resource, they seemed to me not only allies but friends.

We recently got back from a three day camping trip on Tiburon Island with a group of Seri of various ages and from a couple different families. During our first full day, we went out on boats to look at some of the surrounding areas.   I, and the other classmates in the boat, became really excited every time we saw dolphins or rays in the distance. What most surprised me was how excited everyone became. Our boat captain would speed off, chasing down the dolphins, rays, or turtles. Everyone was excited about the wildlife. I realized that I had expected them maybe to be numb to seeing these animals and being out on the boat. Xavier explained to us that even if people live right on the water and have boats, the gas and time required to go sightseeing mean that it rarely happens. The trip, as a new experience for many of the people involved, provided opportunities for questions and conversations, with everyone seeing things to be excited about.

These anecdotes barely scratch the surface of what I have learned so far on the Sonora coast. Among many others, we have dived in depth into the structure and dynamics of the small-scale fisheries, learned about the different local cultures, and explored how conservation gets done in the region. It may seem like a cliché, but the understanding that I have started to develop about these ideas is only something that can be learned from experiencing it in the field, in person, and seeing it.

Isaac Keohane 4/26/16

2 Comments

  1. Gemma
    Apr 30, 2016

    Do you remember going to the Norwalk Aquarium when you were visiting me (you were in early elem school)? Young kids insert their hands and stretch out their fingers as hordes of rays swim in gigantic circles barely below the surface. The rays seem to seek this “caressing,” and the kids couldn’t be more thrilled or giddy. It just goes on and on, in endless swim circles. The kids look back over their shoulders at parents who are equally pleased at the kids’ enjoyment. Of course, the aquarium has removed their stingers before placing the rays in the water; hence, maximum safety. I loved watching you & your brother delight in this experience.

  2. Aunt Donna
    May 2, 2016

    Not a cliche, Isaac, because the experience has been filtered so powerfully through your eyes, making it not just your own, but transcendental for the rest of us. That’s good writing, man. Thanks for sharing it so beautifully. Safe travels.

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