A Kayak Adventure in Mexico

March 26, 2004

If you skipped the March Potluck because you’re not a paddler, you made a big mistake! Our speaker, Guy Santiago, is a river sports enthusiast who got his start as an eight-year old floating down the Boise River on logs and home-made rafts. But his lively slide talk about kayaking along the coast of Baja also covered a lot of ground and was full of surprises.

Guy left out the technical details about equipment and technique and instead told a multi-faceted story of an adventure on land and water. Besides the many scenes of sea and sky, we saw photos of cacti in the colorful Mexican desert, the tiny Mexican villages where the kayakers stopped for supplies, and the rocky terrain where they went hiking in search of the elusive “Lost Pools” — the only natural source of fresh water along their route.

There was plenty of wildlife — bottlenose dolphins leaping out of the water, sea lions sleeping as they floated with their fins pointing skyward, an almost invisible manta ray lurking under the sand in shallow water, and hermit crabs scrambling on the rocky beach. The wildlife on land — rattlesnakes, scorpions and tarantulas was less appealing, but also less plentiful, thank goodness.

Just hearing about how the Baja trip was organized was fascinating. It was one of several “challenge trips” for small groups sponsored each year by Oregon River Sports, of which Guy is a co-owner. The trip itself is no typical guided tour. The handful of participants who sign up plan the trip themselves, with Guy as mentor, getting together frequently during the weeks before the trip to get to know each other, discuss the route, gather equipment, and prepare their food. Guy’s goal is to make the trip a learning experience for everyone, and to ensure safety by making careful preparations. The price of this and other ORS challenge trips is very reasonable because all trip expenses are shared equally, even the cost of, say, replacing a car windshield broken on the drive to Mexico.

At Guy’s recommendation, the kayakers got up well before dawn each day so they could paddle while the wind was light and the sea flat, and enjoy the sunrise over the Sea of Cortez. They covered about a hundred miles in ten days, paddling in the mornings, then snorkeling or hiking in the afternoons. The menu featured such intriguing items as “scurvy banana” and “desperation coleslaw”. It was augmented by fresh fish they caught along the way and butter clams Guy showed them how to dig up. Luckily for the rest of the group, Guy loves to cook, even over a tiny camp stove. He routinely got up extra early to brew coffee by starlight and get breakfast going before waking the others with a song. By the way, Guy explained that the tiny stove is adequate because he only heats water in very small quantities; this minimizes the risk of injuries, which can be especially serious when you are days from the nearest medical help.

I was impressed by Guy’s contagious enthusiasm, his concern for safety, his knowledge of wind, weather, and the environment, and his deep respect for nature and for other human beings. I think he made a great mentor and traveling companion, but after hearing about the early wake-up calls, the sand blowing into everything, and the possibility of encountering poisonous snakes and insects, I think I’ll pass on this trip. On the other hand, I look forward to hearing how next fall’s challenge trip to Thailand goes, and I plan to check out the paddling club that meets once a month at ORS and organizes day trips and clinics. Maybe they’ll have a challenge that’s a little more my size!

— Beth Kodama

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