SAILING the SEA of CORTEZ - Chapter 1.1: La Paz
In the Beginning....
The world had turned upside-down and emptied our dreams on a pyre. My boat waited in La Paz, the last vestige of my life on the edge, and I went sailing to find a way forward… Excerpts from my journal and ship’s log of the sailing vessel LOCATION. A single-hander’s memoir of voyages and adventures sailing the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, Baja California, and the Mexican Riviera…
Ship's Log – s/v LOCATION
March 18, 2009 (Wednesday)
Falling off a cliff is a good way to die. Never approaching the edge is no way to live. I awoke in La Paz this morning, realizing I had arrived very close to the edge and was about to step off. I’m looking forward to sailing, but feeling conflicted about my decision. I suppose a certain amount of fear, trepidation, is healthy, after all that’s what kept the caveman alive. But I’ve failed to heed those warning signs before, and thus my current predicament.
The flight to Guadalajara yesterday was a somber transition. I booked my ticket just a couple of days before so the seat selection left a lot to be desired. I had the proverbial middle seat in a plane packed with obscurity. I found myself wedged in between two hefty Latinos in baseball hats who were obviously friends but had no interest in sitting next to each other. They talked across me and drank beer the entire flight, laughing and joking in Spanish as if I was just a corner they needed to speak around. I drank a soda, studying the West Marine catalog on my tablet, and did my best to ignore them. I was content that they didn’t want to talk to me since my Spanish needed more exercise before I felt comfortable with light conversation.
The jet landed ahead of schedule in Guadalajara. All of the passengers exited to a bus waiting on the tarmac to take us to the Mexican Customs and Immigrations area in the main terminal. I hurried out the rear door, one of the first to deplane down a ramp of metal stairs. But that strategy forced me to the back of the bus, and I was then one of the last to enter the Immigrations queue. The air had changed from cool and crisp with a touch of indifferent fog in Los Angeles, to hot and heavy with strangling humidity. The line moved slowly and it became obvious that if nothing changed I would not make my connection to La Paz.
Most of the others in line appeared content with the progress. But I noticed an airline employee selecting people out of the queue and ushering them through another line ahead of us. My limited Spanish was a problem. A few minutes later another uniformed employee came by, announcing something to the crowd that I didn’t understand again, but I had to do something. It was getting late and the last thing I wanted was to spend the night in an airport. I put down my bag and waved my arms, trying to stay polite and not look like a clueless gringo, calling out “señor, señor, por favor”… followed by something probably unintelligible in Spanglish. I was finally able to communicate that I had to catch a flight to La Paz in twenty minutes.
Apparently the Immigration line was only for persons staying in Guadalajara… Thank you, God. My new friend grabbed one of the security people who gave his blessing, and we made a mad dash halfway around the terminal where I boarded a bus that drove back, I think, in the same direction we had just come from, to another gate area where I got into another line and finally checked in for the flight to La Paz. My bad knee was killing me, but I had a few minutes to catch my breath and cool off before venturing back into the heat and climbing another set of stairs to the next plane.
John Steinbeck's famous journey...
The three seat wide Brazilian built EMB 147, was smaller than the jet we had arrived on in Guadalajara. It was cramped and full, but at least there was no middle seat to contend with. I thought perhaps my luck had changed – I was in the single seat row. That’s when I saw him – A Rastafarian, who looked like he may have just eaten Bob Marley, replete with dreadlocks and tie-dyed t-shirt, wading down the aisle toward me. He crammed himself into the seat in front of me, and then sagged back into my knee-space. I adjusted, but as the flight took off I heard an ominous rumble from the seat in front, and the air around me was replaced by a gaseous flume that nearly knocked me out… Aye yeh yeh, beans for lunch obviously.
He seemed oblivious to it, but others in the plane were obviously distressed. Some of them probably suspected me as the culprit, and all I could do was open the air jet in the ceiling and disperse the foul odor. Whether it was impropriety or inability to control his intestines, he erupted several more times as we gained altitude. I thought about aiming the air jet at the back of his head, thinking it might stir his conscience, but I was in no mood for a confrontation. We all begrudgingly withstood the assault as the cloud floated through the cabin… even the stewardess seemed to be at a loss what to do.
After leaving Guadalajara the flight headed north to Culiacan, on the west coast of mainland Mexico, our next stop before progressing across the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez. I hoped that the gas machine in front of me was getting off there, and tried to focus on the lush terrain below. We flew over a number of lakes and larger reservoirs with tall hydroelectric dams holding back silver water in the hand-print of long mountain canyons. It was interesting to note the difference between the verdant green of the mainland and the dusty beige desert of Baja I was heading to. All of the previous flights I had taken to La Paz over the years had been directly down the desert peninsula, but this time I had been forced over mainland Mexico in a rather circuitous route.
The airport at Culiacan is small, which probably explains the size of the plane we were on. We circled over the ocean and then came in low above tropical foliage and palms boxing in the runway. The jet made a hard and fast landing, turned around at the edge of the jungle and taxied quickly to the metal and glass terminal buildings. Four people deplaned down a potable stairway that was pushed up to the door and four others replaced them. The stewardess told us to fasten our seatbelts, and the pilot spun the jet around and took off almost immediately. Our flatulent nemesis remained… oh well.
From Culiacan to La Paz was a thirty minute jaunt. The seat ahead of me had calmed his digestive tract by this time, or expended it all. My mind and emotions were starting to clear also, gazing below at the scattered whitecaps sprinkled across the navy-blue sea. Leaving Newport Beach hadn’t been easy. Accepting the fact I had lost nearly everything, maybe destroyed it myself, or at least contributed to it slipping through my hands, left me in doubt and derision of all I’d ever done or been. I felt relieved, but still burdened by the last year of my dwindling spiral, hoping I’d feel better when I got to the boat and the Sea.
Checking through Immigrations and Customs in La Paz had always been quick and easy on previous flights. But this time I was flagged by an insistent Customs lady and all my bags subjected to a thorough search. She was concerned about the new alternator regulator that was packed in one of my bags. I explained that it was a replacement part, and showed her my Import Permit, and after a brief discussion with another officer she agreed that I didn’t owe any import fees. The Federales pulled me aside as well, intimidating in their sharp navy-blue uniforms and dark glasses, and prodded me with “where”, “what”, and “why” questions as they inspected my papers. ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto,’ I said to myself, trying to think of the Spanish translation, and stifling a smile.
I paid the taxi fare at the airport kiosk. It was hot but not humid like Guadalajara as we drove through the outskirts of La Paz. The taxi wound through traffic along the Malecón overlooking the bay and the long sandy Mogote peninsula across the water. Fishermen were coming home and beaching their pangas along the shore – long, narrow, fishing boats with big outboard motors, all painted in a bright array of rainbow colors. The taxi pulled up at the Marina Costa Baja about seven o’clock as the sun was turning orange and approaching the gray mountains on the western horizon. I gave the driver an extra tip, twenty pesos, and hauled my luggage down to the docks.
A layer of dust covered LOCATION, but she still glistened in the orange glow of dusk. I set my bags on the dock, pulled a hose out of the dock box and gave her a thorough hosing-off before I opened the hatches. The lights on the electrical panel told me her systems were working. I popped all of the boat ports and let her breathe for the first time in a month. Marina lights flickered on along the docks and the shore, a slight breeze stirred the air, and it felt safe and good to be here; like coming home after a very long time away. I drank a beer and ate the second-half of a sandwich I had bought at LAX before I left, and crashed for the night.