Kayaking to La Paz
It isn’t easy to catch up with Graham Mackintosh unless you’re up to hiking the desert hills of Baja Sur or can paddle your kayak fast enough to catch up with him on the Gulf of California. I am just lucky enough to be a neighbor of his and can see when he drives back from his latest adventure and before he packs up to go off on his next journey. On a gloriously beautiful day, we meet at Splash, the very popular local hangout overlooking the Pacific in northern Baja. He has a new story to tell in his fifth book. Graham has authored four other books, spanning a 40 year period. His books are filled with first hand experiences of Baja which few of us will ever have. His love of adventuring into the wilderness is conveyed in an easy and oftentimes humors writing style and catching one of his slide presentation is over the top entertainment.
We find a table with a view of the heavy surf crashing against the black volcanic bluff and I spread out a big map for a show and tell. Graham has a gentle and kind nature, yet in some ways he is a desert warrior. He faces the challenges of an unforgiving desert, while walking alone with a quiet burro. Now in his fifth book, he will share with his readers what it is like to glide silently along the coastline of the Gulf of California in an overloaded Kayak. Enrique, our waiter, arrives to take our order and wonders about the big map and all the papers scattered about. I introduce Graham as the man who walked around the peninsula on foot. There was a look of disbelief, then awe as he listened to Graham’s two thousand mile walk.
Kayaking to La Paz is a working title at the moment. However, Graham has a sense of humor and we talked about jazzing it up a little bit. His other books have titles like Marooned with Very Little Beer and Nearer my Dog to Thee. I asked, “What inspired you to begin this trip?” Graham dives into his favorite subject, Baja, “Well, I’d never done any kayaking. But I was visiting L.A. Bay and first had the thought. So I decided to do a short run from Gonzaga Bay to L.A Bay. I made a mistake this first time by overloading a ‘sit on top’ with everything I needed, including beer. It was an incredible experience and I was hooked. I got away with it because the wind was behind me all the time and assisted me. The wind actually did all the work for me.” Our lunch arrives and we scoot the map out of the way as Graham continues, “I actually did the trip in four sections. First was from Gonzaga bay to L.A. Bay.” Part of the idea was that he would be revisiting his first journey down the coast by foot, but this time he would paddle around the rough coastline of the Gulf of California. “It was a very tough walk. There was one area with sheer rock walls and I thought at that time how much easier it would be to float around the massive obstacle.” The next trip took him from L.A. Bay to the Bay of Conception. “I stayed within 100 yards of shore most of the time. The gulf waters are 5000 feet deep and the shallows drop quickly! Fifty mile an hour winds can blow in suddenly from the west and push you right out into the middle of the gulf. The deep trench, part of the San Andreas Fault, creates cold upwelling water. If you fell in, hypothermia would kill you in minutes. Many people have died in these waters.”
Nature and the wind were governing forces in Graham’s whole trip. But he did have some humorous run-ins with the animals and especially the coyotes. “I had to be very careful of what I left outside my tent at night. One night I was awakened by a rustling sound, something scraping along the sand. When I looked out a coyote was making off with one of my tarps. And for some reason, I still don’t understand, they took off with a bar of soap. I think they just liked to take things.” Coyote is the Trickster in indigenous lore, and it is said they like to play jokes on people. It would seem that Graham’s experience can corroborate that. Graham pauses taking a sip of coffee, “In 1983 on my first walk, I ran out of water and couldn’t find my way in the rough mountain terrain. I was delirious with heatstroke. I could have died, but a young goat herder, Francisco, literally saved my life and led me through the mountains down to his parent’s fish camp, “ After all these years, people remembered and welcomed me.” I laughed and said, “It isn’t hard to believe. I’m sure Mexican locals would remember all your flaming red hair and the crazy Brit that was walking around Baja on foot for the fun of it!”
The third section was from Conception Bay to Loreto. “The wildlife was beautiful and sometimes surprising. One day I found myself paddling alongside an immense whale shark. There were always dolphins, turtles poking their heads out of the water, and curious sea lions. Sometimes I would put the plastic intake tube to my desal kit overboard to create drinking water when I needed it. The sea lions would swim up to it, nuzzle it, checking it out. I prayed they wouldn’t bite it!” The last lap was Loreto to La Paz and where Graham finished his last two month run in December, 2018. “Usually on the whole trip, it took me two hours to unpack the Kayak and set up camp and 2 hours to pack up the next day. A few times I was ready to launch, only to have the weather change. I didn’t want to take the risk and so I unpacked and set up the camp again.” Graham sighs and shakes his head, “Other times I’d set out when it was still dark and the water was calm. The stars were incredible.” He shared how the phosphorescence in the water revealed all the creatures swimming around him. The first light on the gulf waters was very welcomed, he said, and the dawn sky tinted the water rosy pink; followed by the shimmering sun rising from the liquid horizon. Graham whispered, “Mornings were very special.”
Graham is a great storyteller, he spins his adventures in a way that makes you want to follow in his footsteps. He makes you believe giving up a “normal” life and living off the grid is possible. His fifth book, filled with color photos, will be self-published as an eBook sometime in mid 2020. I asked him if he would be retiring from his adventures into Baja, he shook his head, “I love exploring and discovering, there is still so much to see. And I am awed by how beautiful it is away from all the busy developed areas.” A few years ago, I had asked him the same question and his reply was priceless, “I’ll be finished when they carry me out in a box. I belong to Baja and those who feel they belong. I never get tired of it. To me, it’s sacred and a never-ending source of inspiration and adventure.”
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com