On the first day of the trip we set off on a northward course from La Paz into the Sea of Cortez on a sturdy 45ft long motorboat. Over the span of five days we covered almost 500 km, stopping at several small and unique fishing villages along the eastern coast of the Baja peninsula. Contrary to what you might expect (or at least what I expected) about small rural fishing villages in Mexico, many of these communities are actually quite young, and all of the ones we visited were significantly less than 100 years old. Visiting these communities caused me to spend many hours staring out at the sea and at the cactus-dotted coastline as we motored past, contemplating the questions: What attracts people to a place? In the era of urbanization and mass migrations to cities, what caused these people to settle these extremely isolated and previously uninhabited locations?
On the second day of our journey we stepped onto the beach of the tiny but locally famous island community, El Pardito. The entire island is only a few acres in total, and is somewhat sheltered on three sides from strong wind and waves by two larger islands and the Baja peninsula. The island is essentially a large rock jutting sharply out of the sea so that one side of the island slopes steeply down to a small rocky beach, while the other side is a sheer cliff looming 50 ft above the water. The sloped side of the island supports a handful of stone houses, and the beach is dotted with interesting artifacts of the fishing lifestyle – bright green and pink fishing nets, dried carcasses of sting rays, enormous vertebrae of whale skeletons, new and freshly painted fishing vessels alongside old and deteriorating ones. The community was founded by one man in the 1940s, and there are now 15 permanent residents on the island, though at times there have been more. The community depends on the sea and each other to get by in this exposed and isolated place, however one of the most basic needs of all – freshwater – is not to be found there. To satisfy this need, family members must travel to the peninsula or befriend boats passing by and barter for water.
We visited another small fishing village, Agua Verde, on the fourth day of our journey. Agua Verde is located on the Baja peninsula at the base of the mountains that run parallel to the coast. The town was founded in the 1960s by three families who migrated from the mountains down to the coast. Unlike El Pardito, which does not have the space to allow for expansion, Agua Verde has grown to community of around three hundred people. The houses in town, built from a combination of materials – wood, stone, metal – are all set back from the beach and spaced unevenly throughout the desert scrubland. Agua Verde boasts the amenity of “easy” access to fresh water. Although there is no running water, each day families can collect the water they need from a local spring.
The members of this community were gracious enough to take us fishing in the morning, and then teach us how to make tortillas and roast coffee in the afternoon. While out on the small fishing boat, I noticed both the captain and his brother singing softly to themselves, allowing their voices to be carried away by the wind as we zoomed over the waves to our next fishing spot. We stayed in the community until after dark, and the sunset over the mountains made wispy streaks of cloud in the sky change from white to orange to pink to purple. Although we didn’t get the chance to talk with any residents of El Pardito, we did get to ask members of one of the founding families at Agua Verde what they liked the most about their community. They responded that above all they value the beauty, tranquility, and relaxed pace of life in the community.
I think that if I had been able to ask the residents of El Pardito this question they may have given a similar answer, but I can’t say for sure. Perhaps there would be some other reason that drew them to that tiny island, and even other families within the Agua Verde community may have had a completely different answer. I would have loved to spend more time in each of the communities we visited, learn more about their way of life, their view of the world, and the qualities that first attracted them to those remote and beautiful places.