Kayaking Concepción Bay
By Greg Niemann
By the late nineties it seemed that every second car heading down Baja’s Highway 1 had been festooned with brightly colored polyurethane torpedoes–they call them kayaks! Looking like primary colored hot dogs, some cars boasted two, three or even four, depending on how ingenious the driver is, or how large his family is.
By the decade’s end, kayaking loomed as one of Baja’s more pleasant diversions, already nurtured by such kayaking legends as Valeria Fons whose book Keep It Moving features a trip around the peninsula and Andromeda Romano-Lax whose 1995 book Sea Kayaking in Baja features 15 kayaking trips complete with maps.
It’s little wonder that Baja California became one of the sport’s hottest venues. The 800-mile long shoreline of the Sea of Cortez has hundreds of coves, reefs and islets all itching to be explored. To make it even better, the shoreline is protected from the huge Pacific swell, is warmer, and is pretty much undeveloped.
Just go in any outdoor store like REI or Adventure 16 and check their pamphlet racks and you’ll see what I mean. The words “Kayak” and “Baja” peek out at you from numerous brochures. I’d been all over Baja but had not tried kayaking – until May 1999, that is.
That’s when I arrived in Mulege on Baja’s Sea of Cortez, secured a room at the legendary Hotel Serenidad and set out to find the environmentally-conscience kayaking concern Eco Mundo. In addition to their operation on the shores of Bahía Concepción, at the time they had a small office next door to the Las Casitas restaurant in town. Becky Aparicio and her partner Roy Mahoof, owners of Eco Mundo, had invited me down and I was to meet Becky at the restaurant.
Las Casitas (The little houses) is a legend itself. It’s a delightful little five-room rambling hotel/restaurant across from little Hidalgo Park in the center of the village. First opened in 1961 by the daughter of area rancher Don Jose Gorosave, Cuca, and her husband Fred Woodworth, it is still popular in 2013.
It was a balmy Sunday evening. Relaxing in the outdoor bougainvillea-shrouded patio with a hot mesquite-fire searing the juices of not only meat but several lobsters as well, it was a wondrous Baja night.
The feeling of serenity was short-lived however as a nearby table of five middle-aged fishermen were starting to feel the effects of margaritas the size of birdbaths.
Soon two women entered and Las Casitas restaurant manager Javier Aguiar Zuñiga introduced me to Becky Aparicio and her friend Sherie who had flown down from San Diego for a visit. I joined their table to discuss kayaking and books.
When a young couple walked in, Becky flagged them over too. "Greg, this is Paul and Tracy from Chicago. They’re here on their honeymoon and are staying down at our palapas at Eco Mundo."
"Wow, what possessed you to come kayaking in Baja?" I asked them.
"We had planned to go to an eastern resort and then at the last minute, just weeks before the wedding, saw these awesome photos of Baja in an adventure clothing catalogue. We changed our plans,” said Paul. Tracy was holding his arm with the possessiveness of a new bride and smiled sincerely enough to let me know she too thought this non-traditional honeymoon was a pretty slick idea.
Finding Baja from Chicago
It seems they had flown to Mexico City, then on to Los Cabos, rented a car and drove north about 450 miles up Highway 1, an endeavor that required considerable effort on their part. And they were making it a true adventure by seeing other sights along the way.
Soon several of the fishermen had joined us and we moved a couple tables together. There were two or three conversations going at the same time. I marveled at the women’s ability to keep all the conversations going. They were talking to me, the newlyweds, two of the more sober men, and at the same time fending off the advances of a couple of the drunks.
One overweight guy was trying to put the make on everyone, even squinting deeply to cast amorous glances at a full-figured potted cactus in the corner. I was waiting for him to put his arms around the plant as its spiny defenses might have made an effective protest. Made for a fun evening.
In the morning I met Becky at 8 a.m. at the Eco Mundo palapa at Posada Concepción on the bay south of town. I arrived just as Paul and Tracy were emerging from their palapa to load their little blue rental car. Their plan was to kayak one more time, go for a hike in the desert, and give Sherie a promised ride to the Loreto Airport on their way south to Los Cabos.
They showed me the palapa in which they had spent their honeymoon. It was open, facing the bay, constructed of straw and clay and thatched roof, and its interior was void of cumbersome furniture save two hammocks.
"Two hammocks," I mused. "That’s a hell of a way to spend a honeymoon."
"It’s so wonderful here," Tracy replied, “We can live with hammocks for a couple of days."
They got in the kayaks, pushed off, and headed out onto a glassy sea. As they vanished around the cove, Becky prepared me with a life vest, map, dry bag and a simple functional paddle. Joining me would be Sherie and a couple of youthful Brits who also were staying at one of the three Eco Mundo palapas.
We stroked out onto the pea-green water to cross an arm of Bahía Concepción (Conception Bay), arguably the most beautiful of the Sea of Cortez. It was low tide and we were headed for a reef. The 19-year old Brits started at a brisk pace and I found myself racing to keep up. Shortly, I dropped back and sheepishly admitted my burst of speed to Sherie by simply saying, "It’s a guy thing,"
Young hatchlings on the rocks
We glided over the shallow rocks and circled the exposed reef where pelicans just sat and watched us. Then we headed for a steep, rocky island in the center of the inner bay. There we marveled at young pelicans just learning to fly. We saw several nests and young seagull and pelican hatchlings. The furry little critters looked so vulnerable and out of place on those sharp hard rocks.
The Brits left and Sherie headed back to clean up before her return flight, so I paddled on alone. On the lee side of the island, it was even more dazzling. I could stop paddling and just listen to the silence of the sea. It was so much more peaceful than a noisy panga. On the lee side, I drifted over small kelp beds, crystal-clear water and coral so fine it looked like delicate pasta.
Here were more nests. Furry little seagull chicks were stumbling over the slippery rocks under the watchful eye of mother. It was awesome. As I began to paddle back I noticed the bright green shallow water give way to a deep cobalt blue.
I crossed the channel and hugged the coast back to Eco Mundo. After a polite time I was ready to return to Mulege but Sherie was antsy as Paul and Tracy had not returned from the desert yet and she had a 2:30 flight out of Loreto, about an hour and 20 minutes away. I decided to wait as in a magnanimous moment the night before I mentioned that if she was stranded I had a car. We waited and waited until finally Becky suggested she go up to the highway and try to flag down a bus.
At the highway we could see the desert trail the newlyweds had taken. No bus, no newlyweds. 12:30. “Let’s wait until 12:45,” I said not relishing the 3-½ hour round trip.
12:45. No bus, no newlyweds. We headed south. Fortunately, this woman was not only appreciative, but good company. Now married to a La Jolla doctor and the mother of two sons, she has been a Baja buff since her teens.
I got her to the airport at 2:05, time to spare. Heading back I considered stopping at Eco Mundo to see if Becky had organized a search party for the newlyweds yet, when their distinctive blue rental car passed me heading south. Well, they’re okay, but I was curious as to what happened.
Becky said that they admitted just losing track of time, not taking a watch with them.
I wonder though, with spending their honeymoon on different hammocks, maybe they made up for it by getting romantic in the desert. If so, it was worth my long drive.
(Author note: I had returned several times for book signings at Eco Mundo before Roy and Becky dissolved their relationship and closed their unique ecological hideaway . It was auctioned off in 2007. I enjoyed their hospitality and often think of them when I’m out kayaking.)
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.