New Zealand Baja Paddling Article

Check out this article a previous client wrote about one of our trips.

Find the original article here: (www.malcolmgunn.com/going-guided-baja-re-visited/)   and Here: (www.kask.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/161octnov12.pdf)

Thanks to Malcom Gunn for the amazing trip, and allowing us to use his article. Also, Check out his website (www.malcolmgunn.com) or his book for way more amazing paddling trip stories from around the world. 

Going Guided – Baja re-visited

“How about we take a guide?”
Peter looked at me as if i’d just proposed a hit job on the Pope. “A what?” His response was deliberate and borne out of disbelief rather than out of uncertainty at what I’d said.
The setting was one of our innumerable lunchtime planning meetings at a crowded Wellington cafe with a map of Baja California spread out on the table. Peter had heard me correctly, and yes, I’d just suggested we spend good money to take along someone who’d tell us what we can and cannot do. We’d have to stick together and probably have a cooking roster. There’d be interminable briefings – doubtless good information, possibly stuff we’d worked out on our first trip over 20 years ago. In truth, I shared Peter’s doubts, but in reality we didn’t have much choice. There were no bare-boat rental outfits in Loreto, so it was take a guide, go elsewhere or stay at home.

Peter and I have dipped our paddles in Alaskan waters, the Strait of Magellan, once previously in Baja and all around New Zealand.  We’d negotiated conditions with the Chilean navy, talked our kayaks onto international airlines as ‘sporting equipment’ and not once have we so much as uttered the word ‘guide’.  It’s not that we had anything against the idea of professional guides, its just that we had never really had the need. But now we did.

There was something else different about this, my second trip to Baja California; our wives were coming. Not that there was anything radical about that suggestion, Gabrielle has Ironman fitness and is adept at paddling, and Caroline has plenty of experience in the cockpit behind Peter.  This was a boys’ trip – with the girls along too.

And so we found ourselves at Bahia San Nicolas, a couple of hours drive north of Loreto.  With Ryan – our guide.  There was a stiff northerly breeze raising a bit of a surf and heading southeast we’d have the waves coming broadside for a couple of hours.  Ryan gave us the expected briefing, telling us what to expect and how to deal with things.  He asked if there were any questions and there were none. At that point I had my first epiphany.  If I’d given the same briefing, there would have been a few questions.  Like “Don’t you think we should wait and see if the wind gets up?” and “What happens if the wind gets stronger?”  I would have to have made a complete business case whereas Ryan just had to say “This is what we’ll do…”  and that was that.  It’s not that we are not trusted by our wives, but they know we are not perfect. We forget to put the rubbish out, leave the washing out in the rain – that sort of thing and it is only right that they should question our judgement when it comes to more adventurous things.  I liked this new arrangement instantly.

So soon we were launching in the predetermined order into the breakers, each of us collecting a wave or two in the face as we punched out into the choppy sea.  Of course, for Ryan, we were an unknown bunch – we’d made no secret of our experience, but doubtless he’d had clients talking it up a bit in the past, so he was no doubt keen to see how we managed the conditions.  After a couple of hours of bouncing around in the swells, we approached Punta Pulpita, and swung right towards the beach, bringing the sea behind us.  We had an on-water briefing and it was clear that Ryan’s main objective was to get us all shore safely, rather than to have a blast surfing down the face of the waves.  He used the word “control” a lot.  We enjoyed the run into the beach, resisting the temptation to hoon in on the waves, and Ryan seemed pretty satisfied – or at least he said so.

What happened next was something completely foreign to us.  We unloaded the group gear we’d stowed on our rear hatches and assembled an assortment of gear that defined an enhanced standard of living for the next eight days.  Firstly, we erected a sun tarp, and then three tables!  We had somewhere off the sand to handle food and cook, and we had shade. We Kiwis were a bit goggle-eyed about this gear and Ryan must have thought we really did live caves downunder.
After lunch we hiked to the top of Punta Pulpita and scoffed a dinner of bbq chicken that we’d bought in Loreto and Ryan set about making something using his camp oven, which I must admit, I didn’t take much notice of.. until he turned out a piping hot cinnamon cake!  We ate this with a mug of Mexican Chocolate and watched the full moon rise from the Sea of Cortez.  The wind had died completely and with another 7 days paddling to look forward to, life doesn’t get much better than this. But it did, because next day was picture perfect.  

We paddled into Bahia San Basilio, apart from our paddles and the occasional surfacing turtle the only thing that created a ripple on the surface was a nice sized Mexican sierra mackerel that Ryan caught and that he served up that night with tortillas and salsa.

We fell into a regular pattern of steady paddling, exploration, cooking, eating and camping punctuated with periods of sloth – lounging under the sun tarp, and contemplating our next swim.  Once, after a lunch on a hot afternoon, when Peter had slid into his post prandial nap under the tarp, I floated the idea of going on a snake hunt – half expecting Ryan to feel uneasy that his clients were about to scatter into the countryside wearing sandals, seeking rattlesnakes.  I needn’t have worried.  Like a kid given a day pass, Ryan was up for it and we spent an hour or so poking about in holes, lifting palm fronds and ratting through piles of driftwood, but alas no snakes showed up.  I think he was as disappointed as we were. If he was relieved, he hid it well – this guy is the consummate professional.  

By happy coincidence, Ryan’s sister Hilary was in the area with a fishing group and we met them off the northern tip of Isla Coronado.  We joined them for lunch an hour or so later and talked about our progress and plans.  They would be around tomorrow with another group and yes, of course they’d be happy to drop off some ice and some beer and a few fresh vegetables.  My doubts about this guided lark were being shot down like a row of moving ducks at an amusement side show.  Mid way through the trip there can only have been a couple left and the last one went down with a ‘ping’ when we hauled out on Isla Carmen for lunch on day 5.  We’d paddled over from Isla Coronado and the day was hot and dry.  We each wore a crust of salt and we were ready for lunch.  Right on cue, Hilary’s panga came into sight just as we finished erecting the sun tarp.  As the boat nudged the beach, we showed all the restraint of a deshevelled bunch from “Survivor” who’d just won a reward challenge.  OK, we had water; but Hilary had beer. And avocados!

Ultimately we bestowed the title of “Guide Rangi” on Ryan – a title recalling New Zealand’s most famous Maori guide and national icon. 

If we hadn’t had a guide, the paddling would have been much the same.  We’d have covered the same distance, but our campsites wouldn’t have been as good.  We would have overshot some and camped short of others.  We would have missed the pre-Colombian rock art that is hidden up a dry arroyo, and as the experienced paddlers, Peter and I would have spent more time in ‘project management’ roles.

On reflection, we could have also done without that freshly baked cinnamon cake and the apple crumble and the fresh sierra filets and the chillis rellenosthat Ryan somehow managed to produce on our last night.  But somehow it was having those luxuries that has made my second visit to Baja California Sur so memorable and I am not sure if I could go back there without a guide. Whether this makes me soft, compliant or whether it is just a nod to the ageing process I am unsure.  Maybe after a few wet winter weekends of cooking on the ground and when the smell of Ryan’s cinnamon cake has faded in my mind, I’ll revert to my caveman disdain of collapsible tables and camp ovens. Somehow, I doubt it.

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