As usual, it’s been topsy-turvy since the last time I posted. Just after my last post, my entire group was evacuated inland due to the threat of a tsunami due to the earthquake in Japan. We traveled the 45 minutes into Ciudad Constitucion, the closest town, and stayed in a coffee shop for the day. The entire day was utterly surreal, because even as disaster was threatening millions of people on the other side of the world, it felt for the first time like we were back in the States – the coffee shop was so normal, by American standards, related to PSC. And considering what we were leaving behind, and what was happening in Japan, it felt somehow wrong to be so grateful for coffee and a cookie. Nonetheless, there we were for most of the day, happily enjoying some additional freedom.
Needless to say, we didn’t go turtle monitoring that night, nor the next. The harbor was closed on Friday due to the continuing threat, and on Saturday, we were needed at the Whale Festival. Mexicans consider grey whales “Mexican by birth”, and as a result, and as a result of the economic inputs they bring, the town has a festival to celebrate them. As SFS students, our job is to look
grungy nice and paint faces. We had what seemed like hundreds of little kids come up to us saying “Ballena!” or “Tortuga”, “Estrella”! After Rosemary painted my face to look like a butterfly, I had a whole pack of little boys come up to me asking for the same – it was unbelievably cute.
We had our presentations for our Ethics and Economics of Sustainable Development earlier in the day – our presentation wasn’t flawless, by any stretch of the imagination (in fact, we went over by eight minutes…whoops!), but we did very well nonetheless, and it was a huge relief to have that out of the way.
On Sunday, we headed into camping prep. We were heading all the way across the peninsula and then north to the city of Loreto, which is one of the six or seven towns in Mexico that has been designated as an area which is able to be developed for tourism. Since I was only in charge of getting the toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and compost buckets ready, my camping prep was very limited (a blessing). In spite of this, however, I spent the entire morning baking cookies. We try and take snacks for camping with us, and I had a hankering to bake (I haven’t cooked or baked since I’ve been here!). I made four batches of cookies, which did take me virtually all morning. I then started trying to prepare for exams by making the usual flash cards.
On Monday morning, all ready and prepared, we headed out to Loreto. What we did realize was how long a trip it was going to be. Everyone had told us it would take us about three and a half hours of driving to reach Loreto; in reality, we spent nine hours of the day traveling. We had to make several stops before we even really left the area, to get gas, pick up propane, etc. When we finally reached Loreto, we all threw ourselves out of the van. While the vans nominally seat thirteen people, this is in no way comfortable, particularly as it gets very warm driving through the middle of the peninsula. As soon as we got out, however, we (or I) realized how much our scenery had changed. Loreto is a much bigger town than PSC or Constitucion, and it is vastly more beautiful than either of those places. It is right on the Sea of Cortez, which has the bluest water I have ever seen. Unlike PSC, in particular, there is virtually no trash, and there are very few stray dogs. The homes are well kept, the shops are nice, and the buildings are incredible. I have always known this, but it is so clear the difference between towns that have money and those that have very little.
We ate lunch in Loreto at a cute little restaurant, and then heaved ourselves back into the van for the rest of the trip. We were supposed to talk to the women who run a fish co-op near Loreto, but we were unable to do so at that time. We drove another windy, nauseating hour and a half to finally reach our camp site. When we finally did, it was a tremendous relief once again to get out of the van – this time for several days. Naomi and I were sharing a two-man tent this time, and while everyone else set up near the other campers, she and I trekked across a small strait to camp on an island (this was partially for quiet, and partially to give us an excuse to avoid the rank outhouse). We had an early dinner and headed to bed early.
The next morning was beautiful – we were able to watch the sun rise over Bahia Concepcion (the bay where we were camped) before breakfast. We ate a quick breakfast, hauled on our wetsuits, and jumped in the water to do a reef fish analysis. In Loreto, we were checking for biodiversity (species richness). Later in the semester, at Cabo Pulmo, we will be doing an assessment of evenness. While the water wasn’t as clear as I might have guessed, we were still able to see some really amazing fish – stingrays, as per usual, but also Sargeant Major (damselfish), parrotfish, and best of all (in my opinion), Cortez Angelfish! They were unbelievably beautiful, and it was so cool to get close to them.
After snorkeling, we spent an idyllic afternoon trying to stay in the shade and cramming for our imminent exams – oh joy.
The next morning, much to our dismay, one of our girls woke up with the flu. She had been up most of the night and still wasn’t feeling well. While we went to Mulege (north) to see the mission, she stayed at camp and waited for our center director to take her back to PSC. When we were at Mulege, I was once again struck by how beautiful the town was. Smaller than Loreto, Mulege is still a very well-maintained town which obviously has more money than PSC. We had a nice, quick lunch at a local restaurant and then rejoined our group to go to the the mission. The church was very small, but utterly beautiful. We had a lecture about the history of the mission system on the Baja, which was interesting, although I felt that it covered up a lot of the brutality of the mission system. Nonetheless, it was interesting. Finally, we piled back in the car to head back to camp, and the imminent Spanish exam.
Fortunately, the Spanish exam wasn’t too bad – I second-guessed myself a lot, but nonetheless felt that it went well.
The next morning, we packed up our camp and headed back to Loreto. Another one of our girls was having some serious problems with her back, so she, our student affairs manager, and several others headed to the hospital first. While we waited in Loreto to find out whether she was coming with us on the next leg of our trip, we poked around and found a bagel shop (!) Several people were so grateful to see something like American food that we all sat and waited for a nice treat. Finally, with the verdict that we were to go on ahead to the next place, we all packed our things up and headed out on a boat on the Sea of Cortez to go to Coronado Island, which is part of Loreto National Park. There, we got lunch and started to set up camp before our next adventure: swimming with sea lions! We all dragged our wetsuits back on, got in the boat, and with some trepidation, jumped into the water near the colony. They are reputedly accustomed to people because people go to the colony specifically to swim with them – nonetheless, I had some concerns about getting too close to them. Even the females are very large, and they had pups, which made them potentially very territorial. I mostly stayed on the surface and watched them swim under me, although I had two swim very close to me, including one that got within six inches of me, swirled around, and was gone. They are incredibly beautiful and very fun to be around – their love of play is absolutely infectious.
We headed back after that, dried off, and got ready for dinner. After dinner, some Uno was played, and I finally started on catching up on the reading I’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t had time for. I slept out on the beach, which was incredible. The moon was out, but it was much warmer than other times I’ve slept outside (notably in the Sierra Nevadas, when I was so cold I spent the entire night shivering…) and I slept incredibly well.
The next morning, we finally loaded up the vans and the trucks for good and headed back to PSC. We had several people who were feeling very poorly at this point, and we were all anxious to get back and actually get down to studying for our exams. While we’d nominally had time to study during the trip, this time always seemed to evaporate. When we got back, we unpacked as quickly as possible, and set to studying for PRM and ECO, our first two midterms.
I have successfully taken these two today, and feel reasonably good about the whole situation. As I said, the good news is that I do know who the president of Mexico is, although I had to double check with one of our staff once I finished the test. Tomorrow we take our ecology midterm, and then we head off to spring break! Alas, my camera seems to have quit working again, so the pictures in this post may be the last batch for quite a while.