I got my first taste of true homesickness on Tuesday. I’ve been homesick off and on since I have been here, especially when I talk to my parents about home, but I haven’t felt an aching homesickness until Tuesday.
On Tuesday, we left Bahia Magdalena for the first time since we arrived in Puerto San Carlos. After driving over intermittently paved, bumpy roads for three hours, we finally reached the small town of La Purisima. We had been promised the opportunity to visit and swim in an oasis, which is the main source of freshwater for people in the area. While in any other place, this would simply be considered part of a large river (in a beautiful canyon), because there is literally no above-ground fresh water in the state of Baja California Sur, the area around La Purisima is considered to be an oasis. For the first time in months, we saw true green. While we have mangroves growing around the center (and the ulva that I mentioned previously, which covers the sand on our beach), we haven’t seen any green trees or flowers in six weeks. While it hadn’t really occurred to me until I got there, I have desperately missed seeing living plants. Even more, I have desperately missed seeing a water source outside of the bay and the ocean.
I always used to think that I wanted to live by the ocean, and I think I might still want to do so – however, at this point, I greatly miss the thought of freshwater flowing through a river. Seeing the oasis was like seeing something from home, or from the drive my dad and I take every year through Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
The town of La Purisima itself is very small, smaller than the town of Puerto San Carlos, but is somehow much more beautiful. Partially because it is smaller, it seems to have much more charm. It had a beautiful church tower, a nice square, and an interesting mural depicting the town’s history. We met several people within the town, two of whom were an elderly couple from La Paz who moved to La Purisima in order to try and revitalize the town by opening a hostel and working with local elders to try and maintain the culture and traditions of the town. As a result, a number of traditions have been maintained, although there are few people to pass them onto – the population of La Purisima is only 500, and most of the youth leave in order to find better jobs and a better situation. As we sat in their hostel, one of the people in my group was eating pesto – the combination of that smell with the familiar-looking geology, and the dry-weather smell mixed with the smell of freshwater reminded me so much of home, it made my heart hurt.
After we left the town, we drove a brief ways through more of the canyon to get to our spot. From there, we hiked down into the canyon and along the canal that pumps water into the agricultural areas before we dropped down into the canyon where the “oasis” was. We listened to our professors discuss the ecology of the oasis, and how it has a number of relic species due to its seclusion from a number of climatic changes. A number of people from our group went swimming in the oasis – I would have joined them (the chance to swim in fresh water was unbelievably tempting), but because I had put on sunscreen, I was unable to; the oasis water provides people with their drinking water and as a result, my sunscreen could have contaminated it. I was very content to sit in the shade and observe the canyon, however, and was just glad to have gone to the oasis at all.
The next day was incredibly eventful. We had our second DR day, and we were heading out to observe a sea lion colony again. Our panguero, Chilaco, drove our boat out to Isla Magdalena, at which point a car towed us across the island. We then shoved the boat into the Pacific Ocean and took off. The pangas we own are very small, and while they are suitable for the bay, they are exceedingly outclassed when they are placed in the Pacific Ocean. We spent the first ten minutes being overwhelmed by the fact that we were in a toy boat in the Pacific Ocean and screaming as we went over the big waves – it was unbelievable. We saw an amazing group of common dolphins, and then saw a group of Pacific White-sided dolphins, which we haven’t seen within the bay yet. They were playing in the spray of our boat, and jumped all over the water. As much as I love the whales, dolphins still manage to fill be with more glee, simply because they themselves are so joyous.
After boating quite a ways, we reached Cabo San Lacero, the second half of the island, and got out at a small fishing camp to start hiking. After hiking for almost an hour (and having a wonderful conversation with one of my friends and teammates), we reached the sea lion colony. This colony was significantly larger than the last one we saw, but they were also more skittish – we had to be very careful not to startle them into the ocean. We watched them for a while from up high, and then we climbed down to eat lunch and do a count. The day was unbelievably long, but so fulfilling and so wonderful.
Finally, today, we went whale-watching again. We headed out to the Boca of the bay, and while we saw only a few whales, it was the most relaxing experience I’ve had in quite a while. For the first time, I wore my headphones and it was just like being in my own world. Even though I was surrounded by five other people, it felt like I finally had time to myself. The water was so unbelievably beautiful and smooth, and it was the most comfortable and relaxing boat ride. This afternoon, I finally had time to work, because as we speak, I should be working on a major project that’s due on Saturday.
Tomorrow I’m heading off to go turtle monitoring again, before my major presentation on Saturday.