Friday, December 12, 2008

Blog From The Sea Of Cortez - Part One

I’m making a play on words with the title for the next couple of Blogs using that from one of my favorite books -The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Back in 1940, John Steinbeck crewed out on a scientific survey expedition from Monterey to the Sea of Cortez. He told the story of visiting the ports and counting the fish, plants and mammals of the region, highlighting the ongoing destruction of the resources and the fishery in general. It’s a great little book if you have interest in the natural world and the region in particular, and I highly recommend it.

Probably the most interesting thing about the drive from Tucson to San Carlos was the police and military presence in places we had not seen it before. There have always been a few checkpoints here and there, mostly on the way back and those have often grown with time from a single Federale sitting in a lawn chair in the center of the road to small towns with tire repair stations, convenience stores and tiny, smoky food shops serving up grilled beef. These are among the few places in the western hemisphere where you can still see that famous yellow “Bardahl” sign that many of us remember from ancient family road trips. The road out is targeted because that’s the road to the promised land.

Yesterday though there were a lot of law enforcement officials out on the road heading into the country and subsequently we read that these were there hunting for guns and cash. The street price of cocaine is the highest it’s ever been, and the guns used in the ongoing border town shoot outs are almost exclusively (95%) coming from the US. And so you pass black uniformed Federales standing by their brand new Dodges watching the traffic. We only saw a couple of cars pulled over, their contents piled on the shoulder.

Arriving at the beach always ends with the same routine – unload the car, arrange the condo, go out to Rosa’s for dinner. Last night in the course of ordering our favorite plate of Carne Machaca, we had a nice little chat in Spanish with the gal behind the counter about ordering beers in Chinese. She picked it up pretty quickly, and was saying “Wo yao yi bei pi jiu” like a local with only a bit of prompting. It’s always fun to joke around with the workers in Rosas, they know us as the Machaca couple and they are happy to see us every time we show up. Last night when My Lovely Wife went back for a handful of limes, the gal asked her if she was making lemonade.

We took the traditional first day walk down to the sea side opening of the estuary and the change this time was pretty dramatic. The main point has been slowly disappearing beneath the waves starting with a big storm half-dozen years ago and sure enough this time it was rounded off. The biggest change though was the size of the inlet – formerly able to be walked at low tide it is now broad and fast running. A new point is forming in place of the old one and the land on the far side has receded to where the old wind-ravaged palapa is now close to being consumed by the waves. Such is nature, removing, depositing and sculpting without end.

The bird life here in Bahia San Francisco has changed so rapidly during out 15 years of observing that one never knows what to expect. Many years ago the little rock in the middle of the bay – Isla Blanca – was blanketed from bow to stern with cormorants and pelicans each night at sunset but that living carpet has long since disappeared. Eared Grebes at one time bobbed in mats of hundreds until one year the beach was littered with their bodies. As it turned out they were end of the migration road victims of an avian cholera breakout that devastated the wintering population much further north on California’s Salton Sea. While some species have prospered, others have simply withered away.

Loons – Common and Pacific – have always been here in numbers varying from dozens to hundreds, and this morning I was treated to evidence of the latter. It must have been a good breeding season this year in the Arctic because gladly, the bay was littered with them.

Returning from our walk, we made a quick breakfast of bolillos and juice and went down to the sea wall to enjoy the sights. I brought my scope along and was counting the Loons when out of the horizon came the boat from Gary’s Dive Shop, the preeminent place to plan your trip below the surface here in San Carlos. Loaded with tourists and blasting Enya, the pilot made a point of steering the boat straight through the rafts of birds I was in the process of enjoying. He took a weaving route across the bay in front of us and made a sharp 180 turn just down the strand. With that it became obvious – this was a dolphin chasing trip.

In the last ten years, a small pod of dolphins has become a “thing” among the people who vacation here. You can see them daily around mid-morning making their way from one end of the bay to the other. By noon they’re gone and the waiting begins again. Rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t greet you with a “Good afternoon, have you seen the dolphins?” Well, apparently the word has spread and in a true example of human nature, where there’s a buck to be made, there is a person with the means to make it.

The boat chased them back and forth for a bit, the passengers yelling as though sitting in a stadium somewhere. As is often the case, noise carries over water so the crescendo of shouts and music was pretty disturbing from where we were sitting. Up and down they went, the animals cresting on the bow wave and eventually falling behind. After a half-hour or so the boat stopped and waited, unaware that the pod was far off to their rear, going about their daily routine.

It’s still a paradise, but it seems each year we are abused by some new manifestation of mankind. ATVs, Jet Skis, Zodiacs – all have come and gone and now a tour boat taking in a natural wonder while surely acting to ruin has become this year’s annoyance. People are so predictable and so dumb, simultaneously.

But now, with the dolphins gone and people off doing whatever they do midday, we’re sitting here watching the sun make its low transit across the sky, listening to a Great Kiskadee make its squeeze toy call as it makes its territorial rounds and realizing that sometimes it’s great to do nothing at all.

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