Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ripples in the Ceiling

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cabo Pulmo, Baja CS

This time the floor is over my head…a rippling ceiling of pale blue and white, delicate as a petal. I float and paddle quietly, the 2’ chop moving me in every direction. I have only snorkeled a handful of times, but for the first time I am comfortable with the fit of the mask and the reassuring air flow through my snorkel. Under water, my breathing is slow and steady but loud, I sound like a Darth Vader here! At Mermaid Beach I drift over the sandy, rippled bottom, and the small fish roaming the shallows in their bright colours are oblivious of my presence overhead. I have been entranced under the surface in the past, but have never felt this comfortable. I took the “shortie” wet-suit off, not needing it for warmth, and as it turned out, I didn’t need it for buoyancy either. I floated and floated.

At Mermaid Beach, on the headland that forms the southern lip of the Cabo Pulmo cup, under the omnipotent power of the waves, the eroding granite has formed fantastic, organic-looking shapes that could, under the right tequila, appear to be flowing and rolling! There is so much geology here to contemplate…the opening, transporting rift that forms the Sea of Cortez (5-10 million years in the making, to date) has also pushed up a mountain range on the east side of Baja, and along with the granites and their inexorable exfoliation, are benches and flats of former seafloor sediments, and popped-up pimples of volcanic cones. I have much to do with maps and books ahead of me…it appears that after nearly 6 years of travel to, and interest in, Baja, I can design some projects for personal research interest, for my Oceanography courses, and perhaps, just perhaps, for other visitors like myself.

That was the first snorkel drop. The second one was at a banquet-table sized sea stack littered with lounging sea lions. The stack was being power washed by the incoming swells, but we went in anyway. Seven or eight sealions were flopped on their backs, heads hanging over towards us, like large, dark, slick and graceful children hanging over their bunk beds. Two came and went in the waves, and we dropped below the surface to watch as they twisted and spun their way around the rocks, nosing into crevices for snacks. A sudden stream of bubbles tickled the top of my foot in its ungainly flipper. Their element, my visitation, brief but sure of my place.

In the wider open sea, after a long bumpy run, our leaders pointed into the opaque blue and shouted “school of jacks”. And indeed it was. The hook was in, the bait was swallowed, and I was over the side in an instant. It took a few minutes of circling around, bum at the surface, head and limbs pushing against the water, before I saw them…but once I did, I doubt I’ll ever forget it. Individually, the fish (a type of tuna) were about 2’ long, 6 inches high in the middle, with large white-ringed eyes, and a flash of sliver from turning fin or belly as they swirled and streamed by the hundreds…maybe even thousands, beneath me, sometimes deep beneath and only presenting a blurry moving substrate to my peering; other times racing toward the surface but always turning, twisting together, in the same way as starlings in the Autumn…the unspoken, mysterious language of communion that drives flocks and schools and shoals into their choreographed frenzy.

And the cap of the day is a home dinner with Camille, then a flan in the restaurant, complete with candle and Happy Birthday in Spanish and English from the waiters and cooks. She is 34 today.

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