Sailing with the spirits of John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts on a new voyage of discovery around Baja California

The Log

La Paz: Why we know we must come back to the Sea of Cortez

Thursday, May 13, 2004

After running all night from the mainland coast of the Sea of Cortez, we came into La Paz around noon, a city that knows how to live with the sea.

Coming into La Paz is a kind of homecoming, even if you are a visitor. As dusk comes to the malecon or waterfront, the people of La Paz come down to the shore.

And as night falls, the streets are filled with music, with roving mariachis, bandas, and cantantes like Myrna Trasviña Garcia singing their hearts out in this "puerto de illusion" or port of dreams as the paceños call their town.

Posted by Jon Christensen
E-mail the crew by clicking here

Friday, May 14, 2004

This morning we were invited to be part of a civic celebration—"un gran día de ciencia, literatura y aventura," a grand day of science, literature and adventure—in La Paz. The day began with the unveiling of a new statue on the malecon, "El viejo y el mar" by Gullermo Gómez Mac.

The municipal president of La Paz, Victor Guluarte, spoke about the city's dedication to restoring and preserving the city's historic center and a a different vision of the future of living beside the Sea of Cortez. "We are not competing with Los Cabos," he said, referring to the intense tourism development around Cabo San Lucas to the south. "What we have is distinct," he said. "What we want is totally different."

At midday, we were invited to the Secretaria de Educacion Publica, the ministry of public education, where the work of many of the students who participated in our research in La Paz was on display.

Sarai Guadalupe Castillo Mendoza, from Escuela Secundaria Técnica Número 17, read a speech in which she told of visiting El Mogote and seeing the life in the intertidal and picking up bags of trash. "We are not the future of our state," she concluded, "we are the present."

Octavio Cota, one of the men who works in the ministry, stopped by with a piece of paper that he said was his excuse to come to the second floor to see the exhibit. It is through the kids, he said, that people are learning to see and value the Sea of Cortez, because it is a treasure.

As the sun set behind the Gus D, we went to a party thrown to celebrate La Paz and its relationship with the sea, our expedition, and the formation of a new community foundation for the city, a real landmark development for any community.

For just the second time on our entire expedition, captain Frank Donahue disembarked from the boat to meet friends, new and old, including Exequiel Ezcurra and Meriah Arias, who were with us on the boat earlier in our journey.

The Mexican Olympic Dessert Team—I am not making this up!—provided the desserts for a fabulous dinner party with dancing late into the night.

Posted by Jon Christensen
E-mail the crew by clicking here

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Today we visited our last Steinbeck-Ricketts collecting site: San Gabriel Bay on Isla Espiritu Santo. With the help of Tim Means and his son Carlos and their crew from Baja Expeditions, we brought along some friends and made a day of it.

San Gabriel Bay has it all: a white sand beach, mangroves along the fringes of a bouldery shore, and coral heads out in the margins of the bay. It is also a place of history: the site of the first pearl oyster cultivation in the world, abandoned before Steinbeck and Ricketts visited here in 1940. And going back much further, shell middens that archaeologists say may date back as far as 40,000 years ago.

We read from The Log from the Sea of Cortez. We turned boulders. We snorkeled over the coral. We looked one last time to see if we could see what they saw 64 years ago, and if we could see the change too. Here it seemed like we could. There are spirits on this island.

"At last we picked up the collecting buckets and the little crowbars and all the tubes, and we rowed slowly back to the Western Flyer," Steinbeck and Ricketts wrote of their visit here, their last stop on their journey through the gulf. "Even then, we had difficulty in starting. Someone was overboard swimming in the beautiful water all the time. Tony and Tex, who had been eager to get home, were reluctant now that it was upon them. We had all felt the pattern of the Gulf, and we and the Gulf had established another pattern which was a new thing composed of it and us. At last, and with sorrow, Tex started the engine and the anchor came up for the last time."*

History repeated itself here. There was always someone taking one last dive into the blue water. And when we weighed anchor, although it would not be for the last time for us, it had the bittersweet feeling of an ending all the same.

Posted by Jon Christensen
E-mail the crew by clicking here

Sunday, May 16, 2004

This family nearly ruined me for getting back on the boat tomorrow and heading out to sea again.

Along with this family too. My wife, Kit, and daughters Lucia and Annika, above, came to La Paz to join the festivities this weekend.

Vicente Bracho and Marianne Kleiberg and their daughter, Ann-Marie, invited us over to their house for lunch and then out for ice cream on the malecon, the waterfront walkway.

Marianne works for The Nature Conservancy in La Paz and is working with local conservation groups to put together a program to protect the coastal and marine environment around Isla Espiritu Santo and the islands and coast stretching from La Paz north to Loreto. Vicente is doing interesting work with a group called Observadores de America, putting words and images together in local exhibitions, and in print, radio and television campaigns communicating the essential unity of people and the environment.

Conservation is usually seen as setting nature aside from people, Vicente told me when I met him at the celebration Friday night. But it is people who are the top predators, he said. We eat nature. So we are part of the problem and the solution.

I knew these were people I wanted to talk to more. We carried on the conversation yesterday on Espiritu Santo and today in La Paz, as the kids played around us.

Marianne said that the traditional European and U.S. method of creating national parks managed by the federal government was not likely to work well here. So conservationists are working with local communities, fishermen, tour guides, and the government to create a common vision for working in this environment to make a living for people in a way that restores and sustains the incredible treasure that is the Gulf of California.

The conversation made me realize how much interesting work is going on here right now. The next 10 years will be crucial years for communities and conservation in the Sea of Cortez. Hearing about all of that made me want to stay and learn more, but it was being in a comfortable home in a beautiful, peaceful city, with a warm embracing family, and my own family, that made me wonder most about the allure of life at sea—and in particular the infamous "Baja Bash" that awaits us on the northbound voyage up the Pacific Coast.

Posted by Jon Christensen
E-mail the crew by clicking here

Monday, May 17, 2004

El viejo... y el mar?

Tengo un barco de papel...
Está hecho de una pagina
en la que escribi mis illusiones.
No tiene anclas ni tiene amarras.
Quiero navegar en él,
de los siete mares; en el octavo,
dondé sé, encallaré en el puerto anhelado.
... ha visto alquien brillar la luz de su faro?

As we set out from La Paz to round the cape and return home up the Pacific Coast, this sculpture and the words written by the sculptor, Gullermo Gómez Mac, run through my mind.

The old man... and the sea?

I have a boat of paper...
It is made from a page
where I wrote my dreams.
It has no anchors nor ropes.
I want to sail in it,
through the seven seas; in the eighth,
where I know, it will run aground in the port I long for
... has anyone seen the light shining from its lighthouse?

Posted by Jon Christensen
E-mail the crew by clicking here

Continue with us on our journey as we head home headlong into the "Baja Bash."

Return to the index to The Log.

* From THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ by John Steinbeck, copyright 1941 by John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts. Copyright renewed (c) 1969 by John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts, Jr. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Baja California & The Sea of Cortez
Image provided by SeaWiFS Project
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


The Western Flyer:
the fishing boat that John Steinbeck
and Ed Ricketts took to
the Sea of Cortez.
photo courtesy Bob Enea.


The Gus-D:
the fishing boat we will take
back to the Sea of Cortez.


Sea of Cortez:
A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research


The Log from the Sea of Cortez