There is something nearly indescribable about waking up on the first day of a paddling trip when you know that what lies ahead are days of nothing but paddling in a place you’ve never been. Your mind cannot quite grasp the collective moments of joy and, perhaps, misery, that lie ahead. Of course, even the most miserable day paddling beats a day at the office, and so while we had little idea what lay ahead, we knew that the moments would begin to flow the second we opened our eyes.
And so we awoke that first day giddy with anticipation. We grabbed some coffee and immediately met up with our guide, an amiable, capable-looking Mexican guy named Carlos. The morning was cool, and our boats had already been sent North to a deserted bay on the island. From the get go, luck was with us. Sort of.
Carlos stood in front of a colorful map of Isla Espiritu Santo that was painted on the wall of the Mar y Aventuras hotel. He showed us our route and explained that because there was a rather heavy wind blowing down from the North, they were going to take us by skiff to the top of the island where we’d be dropped off to paddle South.
We’d signed up for a self-supported paddle trip, which meant that we were supposed to carry all our own stuff: gear, food, supplies. But with the strong winds, the company decided instead to send along the skiff for the entire trip. That suddenly made things a whole lot easier. It meant that our actual paddling loads would be much lighter and that we’d also be able to bring along much more food and drink than we’d planned. Hmmm…drink. On the bad side, this meant that our notions of a true wilderness adventure dimmed a bit. But it also meant that the luxury quotient, as it were, rose significantly. Having a skiff along meant that we could just toss our stuff into its spacious hold whenever we took off. It relieved us of a big burden and of the time it takes to pack up everything neatly every time we headed out in the kayaks. We could have objected…but of course, we didn’t
The skiff took us about ten miles North to a spot on the island where our kayaks had been dropped the night before. The ride was a marvelous visual hors d’oeuvre of what lay ahead. We motored over the wind-scalloped blue seas and along the jagged coast where layer cake rock formations rose high above us. Cactus stood guard from the cliff tops, acting as prickly sentinels.
We disembarked at the spot where our kayaks had been kept overnight, had a quick lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches and then headed out to reach Candelero Bay, where we’d set up our first camp. We had two tandem (or double) boats and two singles. My friend Mark Humphries and I rode in one of the doubles and my other two friends, Erik Riegler and Dork Alahydoian paddled in the other. Carlos was in a single as was a perky, graying brunette from Vancouver, British Columbian an emergency room physician whose presence as both a testosterone-diluting female and a doctor was welcome.
The first day of paddling was decidedly relaxed. The seas were rough, but we stayed close to shore where the winds were tame and the swells less severe. By 4 pm, we’d made camp at Candelero Bay and immediately set up our tents. Meanwhile, Carlos and our skiff driver Angel, went about making dinner.
One of the unexpected pleasures of our trip was that our guide, Carlos, had a deep fondness for both good Mexican food and, more importantly, good coffee. To our astonishment and everlasting satisfaction, his abiding passion for these things made every meal and every morning a delight. And as anyone who has taken extended trips into the wilderness knows, hunger does indeed make a fine sauce. But so does habanero salsa, and Carlos was both lucky and prescient to have a few iron-clad stomachs on the trip and brought along a few bottles of the stuff.
Of course, nothing washes down extremely hot Mexican food better than rum, and so as we sat and ate our first meal of fresh tacos that early evening, and as the sun sank into a saffron stew of clouds on the horizon, we sat on the beach in portable chairs and sipped icy cold cups of Bacardi and Coke.
Soon after, bellies full, shoulders weary from paddling and heads nicely lightened by rum, night came, a canopy of stars shimmered overhead, and we sat and talked about life and the necessary and incandescent thrill of getting away on trips like this.