Thursday, May 5, 2011

Espiritu Santo

       Going on a tour has always been a last resort. I am sure there will be ugly name tags and droning guides herding people like sheep. I’ve avoided packaged sightseeing, with a few exceptions, like caves I’d still be lost in if it weren’t for a guide. Tours in New Zealand at least involved the possibility of injury, meaning they were truly adventurous, since law suits are unheard of.
     Sadly I’d missed my chance to visit Espiritu Santo twice in a month. The island, only a few miles from the city of La Paz, is protected. Fish thrive where fishing is no longer allowed. Seals, whales, sharks and dolphins tend to hang around where the fish congregate. I signed up for a tour as there was just no other way to get there. It seemed silly, having sailed the length of Baja to get so close and miss going. And I wouldn’t actually have to tell anyone I went on a tour.
     But I hadn’t thought it through. Mexico is more like New Zealand than the United States. The boat driver never told anyone to sit down and life jackets were quickly discarded, after all they are hot and make ugly tan lines. I had no idea what I’d signed up for though. I mean who the hell goes on a tour without asking what they are paying for well in advance? When ceviche, marlin, shrimp cocktails and sandwiches were laid out on a table under umbrellas on a lovely beach I actually wondered if any of it was meant for me. Most people spoke no English and not being willing to sound like a just another dope on a tour I didn’t ask questions. Instead I acted like the family dog, running here and there just because everyone else did. When the driver, Alberto, waved me over to the table I got it that I was actually included in the feast. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for something I had paid for, but just didn’t know it. 

     We had already circled the island, flying at top speed through narrow arches and roaring into caves to stop just short of colliding with a stone wall in the dark. Alberto had more than a few impressive maneuvers to scare people back into their life jackets.  He handled the boat with the skill of an astronaut on re-entry in a busted shuttle.
      Before lunch we had been given snorkel gear and encouraged to jump in the water with a colony of sea lions. Burbling shrieks emitting from snorkels instantly signaled close encounters. It is wholly intimidating to be in the ocean with creatures larger than yourself with teeth like, well, lions. But this crowd of seals did not behave aggressively, that day anyway. At least five other tours showed up while we were there, pitching humans into the water with the simple instruction, “Let the seals come to you.” Okay, good advice, although chasing a bull sea lion twice my size into his harem had never been on my agenda. And come to you they do, they sidled up and peered in my mask. Their whiskers tickled. Three females swam in circles around me while a large male charged back and forth, just out of petting range, like a jealous lover. There was nothing I could do to let him know I'm not really into seals as he blew bubbles at me, which apparently means “Back OFF!” in sea lion. 


     Dolphins leapt around us and the boat gently rocked when whales raised their enormous flukes, then sounded nearby. Geologically Espiritu Santo is a barren record of the infinitely slow process of upheaval. Sculpted stone forms bizarre contours in a wide spectrum of contrasting earth tones. A sparse gnarly tree cleaved to a vertical cliff with the tenacity of an untethered rock climber.

     Raul had arranged for the tour and I didn’t ask him for details in advance because everything else he had steered me to had been great. He did mention the tour would be back at 6:00 that evening, which is all I knew. At 7:00 we were still following a pair of whales south of La Paz. The tour held me spellbound for nine and a half breathe taking hours and permanently changed my mind about going on tours.

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