“We are the memory of the road we’re on.”
October, 2009: Ol’ Blue, my trusty pickup truck, turns 200,000 miles on a California highway and breaks down at the oceanfront Aliso Creek rest area 45 miles north of San Diego. The unexpected stop is still a long way from my winter home base in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, but luckily not too far from a friendly kayak shop.
I spend a week sleeping on the floor at the kayak shop, Aqua Adventures, playing in the sea and importing kayaks to Mexico. Importing the kayaks takes longer than the truck takes to repair, so the truck doesn’t cost time, just $530. Some people pay a lot more than that for an adventure!
Reflections of a Baja Mexico kayak guide
A week later, with kayaks imported and Ol’ Blue back to life, I set off under a crescent moon and Venus in the dawning sky. I cross the border at Tecate preoccupied with worries—about the truck, my progress, my safety on the road—then stop to remind myself that worrying doesn’t help anything. Enjoy the ride. Take what comes. It will be okay.
So I do. I enjoy the music, the passing hills and weird familiar plants—cirio, agave, cholla, cardon cacti. I savor the delicious solitude of driving alone in my truck with thoughts, memories, feelings all my own.
The warm glow of evening paints itself on the curious boulders of the Cataviña landscape. The shadow of my truck with its kayak top hat and trailer passes through boulders and cacti like a ghost.
After paying the rancher at Rancho Santa Inez, I set out my sleeping bag under a spectacular ceiling of stars. Not just individual stars, but the swath of The Milky Way, clear as a trail in the wilderness. A trail with distinct puddles of galactic light to skip through.
I am sleeping between a trailer full of kayaks and a mesquite tree, to a chorus of crickets, the flatulence of distant truck brakes and the sound of some large ungulate chewing and digesting indiscreetly in the nearby shrubbery.
Lights come on in the house of the ranching family who runs the campground. It’s time to move again. I hold the naked morning to me for one last snuggle, then get up to pack my sleeping bag.
Life on the road to Baja
The landscape from San Ignacio down is incredibly green after the rains last month. I crest a rise in the road to catch a glimpse of a hand walking across the pavement. No, too hairy. A tarantula, silhouetted for a moment against the sky, legs outstretched in an inspired gallop. How did it just miss the 18-wheeler coming the other direction? I straddle it with my tires and send it a wish to miss the others behind me.
Tarantulas migrate. Follow some irrepressible calling to move in a direction despite perils. Do they ever weigh the relative merits of just staying home this year? Or is it no longer home if you belong in another place at that time? Does some inner voice just say Move, and it does? Can the chunky arachnid hear the soundtrack of freedom as it struts through an ever-changing landscape? Does its heart sing as it passes a familiar landmark? Should we consider it lucky, brave or ignorant as it sets out on its journey?
I confess that I’ve been unable to hold down an indoor job for an entire year ever in my life. Boiled down to basics, I breathe, I paddle, I go to Mexico. It started with an innocent little invitation: “Get a sea kayak, learn to paddle it, and drive me to Baja. Then you can tag along for a few trips.” I did this as an ignorant adventurer, as a guide and now as a business owner. It’s been 13 years and the rhythm has become my life.
What do we migrate for?
I’ll speculate that part of the reason we “civilized” humans go into wilderness or the sea is to remind ourselves that we are not ultimately in control. Perspective. Humility. Some might call it adventure.
I migrate for work. I can make a better winter living as a guide/coach in Baja than I can in Washington. I migrate for sun. Solar heating. I migrate for Baja. Its landscape, starscape, seas; its people; the energy of the place. I migrate back north in the spring for trees, the garden, the community of farmers, paddlers and friends, and summer work. But do I follow a voice any different from that spider, or a gray whale, or an elegant tern?
Migration. That pull to move some place different, yet familiar. To leave security for a time and accept the vulnerability of travel.
Migration unleashes my mind and heart from the daily duties of running a kayak company, a farm and a symposium. Those are creative, too, but in a more structured way. My only mandate now is to go south. Be open to the journey. Open the senses. Open the heart. Breathe.
Some people take vacations. I migrate.
Ginni Callahan is a sea kayak guide on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, in winter and on the Columbia river and Oregon coast in the summer. She owns Columbia River Kayaking and Sea Kayak Baja Mexico.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Adventure Kayak. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.
For this kayak guide and business owner, Baja Mexico sings with a siren’s call. | Feature photo: Ginni Callahan