Day 4: Pearls on the soles of her shoes…

Just about ten hours after celebrating our incredible day at San Pedro Martir, we groggily dragged ourselvermosillo and about a two hour drive from Kino.

Xavier lured us into the van bright and early with the promise of great coffee at our destination. That was pretty much all we needed to hear to get us into the van and on the road before 8 a.m.

One checkpoint and four police officers’ breakfasts later, we arrive in the beautiful coastal port city of Guaymas. The city is nestled in between scenic “cerros” and a crystal turquoise bay. The gorgeous scenery leaves us temporarily speechless.

Walk down to pearl oyster farmOur first stop is the Guaymas campus of “Tec Milenio” for a tour of a black pearl farm. This research institute was formally part of the Instituto Tecnologica y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey where Xavier received his undergraduate degree. In fact, the three founders of Perlas del Mar de Cortez pearl farm, Enrique, Manuel and Douglas are Xavier’s old college friends whom he worked for as an undergraduate. The pearl farm, founded in 2004, is the first commercial cultured saltwater pearl farm in the Americas and the only place that cultures beautiful loose pearls from Rainbow Lipped oysters.

With coffee in hand we descend down to the water’s edge to the small working area where Black Lipped Pearl oysters (Pinctada mazatlanica) and Rainbow Lipped oysters (Pteria sterna) are being processed. Enrique gives us an in-depth explanation of the time intensive process of the pearl oyster farming and shows us the various stages of pearl development.

Showing the high quality of Sea of Cortez pearlsOnce back inside the main campus building, our mostly female class, drools over the beautiful, pearl jewelry (poor Max the lone male in the group). Tragically (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), my meager economic status as a graduate student restricts me to just looking. I vow to return when I am gainfully employed and buy myself a necklace. In the meantime I can just live vicariously through my classmates who take the plunge and buy themselves (well deserved) pearl gems.

Next, we take a short ride over to the CONANP (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas/National Commission for Natural Protected Areas) office where we sit down for a talk with Ana Luisa Figueroa, the director of protected areas in the Middriff Island. Ana Luisa talks to us about the various protected areas in the Gulf of California and the management framework that she uses to ensure successful protected area management.

After a few hours of discussion that went right through lunch, we speed over to one of Xavier’s favorite restaurants from his college days for some much needed sustenance. Enrique, Douglas, and Enrique’s son Enrique Jr. join us for a seafood extravaganza. Within minutes of sitting down, our glasses are filled with jamaica juice. Next come platters of octopus legs, flaky grouper, pen shell scallops and fish tacos all fresh from the nearby bay. And when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the flan is served.

On the ride back to Kino Bay we are so exhausted we can hardly sing along to Paul Simon let alone keep our eyes open. I dream about my sleeping bag and I never imagined a folding, canvas cot sounding so good.