Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whosoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
— Luke 9:23-26
I was looking out the of the window below at the Sea of Cortez and the tiny strip of runway coming up fast at Loreto’s International Airport.
A half an hour later we were all piled into an old jeep, heading north on a crusty highway running north along the waters of Baja, Mexico.
The Sonoran Desert was much the same here as my home, minus all the development that is the usual cookie cutter sprawl and strip malls. Mostly, there was pristine desert stretching as far as the eye could see, broken only occasionally by modest homes and businesses huddled together, although they often seemed to be housed out of the same structure.
Every 10 – 20 miles, there also appeared some colorfully decorated roadside shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe, providing a small glimpse into faith of the local residents.
The top of the jeep and windows were down, so it was difficult to follow much of the conversation over the roar of wind and engine.
My traveling companions were soaking up the sun and scenery, much like me. Ron and Harry were up front, catching up on all the latest concerning their oceanfront land development that they were partnered in. Two of their friends, Steve and Tom, were making the trip to check out the project, both of them prospective home owners at the development as far as I could gather. A long time business associate of Ron’s, I was along for the ride as a favor to lend my expertise to some of the sales and marketing initiatives.
45 minutes into the roadtrip, I caught my first sight of the Bay of Concepcion and it nearly took my breath away. Stretching out to the Sea of Cortez for 20 glorious miles, the Bay of Concepcion featured impossible shades of clear blue waters and was cradled by some of the most dramatic white beaches and desert shoreline I’ve ever layed eyes on. By the look of it, my traveling companions were every bit as awestruck, including the two who had already seen it on numerous occasions.
A half hour later, we passed through Mulege, a quaint hidden outpost, famous to sport aficionados the world over. We continued to wind our way down a maze of primitive roads that consisting of nothing more than packed beach sand, massive potholes and the periodic washed out stretch, each requiring expert navigation. Somehow we managed to reach our final destination, a virtually undeveloped stretch of beachfront, unscathed except for two modest villas.
Far off in the distance to the north was Punta Chivato, jutting out into the Gulf with it’s boutique hotel. Back to the south was even more unspoiled coastline stretching into the faded blue distance. For a guy looking to get away from it all, if even for a brief 5 days, it looked like a little slice of heaven.
After settling in, we made a trip to the Supermercado for provisions and grabbed some late dinner at Hotel Serenidad in Mulege.
Almost from the moment we came into contact with the locals, we became painfully aware of how inadequate our Spanish was. With the exception of Harvey, the best that we could muster were simple words and phrases, with everything else spoken in English and packaged in a ridiculous Mexican accent. I don’t remember what prompted the accent, but I suppose we just sort of kept it up amongst ourselves for levity sake, rather than dwell on our obvious lack of preparation for the trip.
It also didn’t take long to determine that I was the only Catholic in the group. Upon learning that the other guys were practicing Christians of various other denominations, I was initially tempted to let that habitual divide stand, but thankful that my traveling companions proved to be bigger men than me.
From the first night in Mulege, we talked about matters of faith simply and comfortably for the most part, which was something I hadn’t done with other guys in a long time. I was a bit on the guarded side at first, until I discovered that one of the guys was coming off a recent and painful divorce. He was even more guarded and reserved, understandably, from wounds that were still too fresh.
Since I was Catholic, Ron figured that I might want to see the Mulege Mission, so that was a nice gesture. It was the kind of simple thoughtfulness that truly gets the job done without a ton of heavy chatter. It was a good lesson from the outset, one that I endeavored to put into practice for the remainder of the trip, especially when it came to the wounded soul in our group.
I couldn’t wait to hit the beach on day two, so I rose early and headed out on my own. On the way out of the villa, I noticed some snorkel gear in a bin, so rummaged around until I had a complete set.
Walking southward on the beach, it seemed as if I was the first person to ever set foot there. Of course that wasn’t the case, but it was so so pristine by modern standards that I was actually able to pick up shells of all varieties and even crude arrowheads laying on top of the sand!
Further up the beach, I spotted some sea birds congregating in one particular area along the shore. As I approached the spot, I noticed a reef rising a bit from the shoreline and extending about 100 feet out. It seemed like a good place to take a dive, so donning the snorkeling gear, I did just that.
I floated around in about 2 – 3 feet of water, exploring the reef with its abundance of exotic, tropical fish, each sporting vibrant colors and patterns. It was easy to lose myself in that little undersea kingdom of God’s making, so I can’t even begin to pinpoint the amount of time I spent in the water. It could have been 20 minutes, or maybe 3 times that long. Whatever the case, I snapped out of it when I noticed a large school of sparkling fish speeding in my direction.
When I popped up above the surface, it was like being in the middle of a snowstorm, but instead of snowflakes, there were 1000’s of little white and silver fish swimming under and around me, and even jumping above my head. I was momentarily astounded, until another thought suddenly popped into my head: were these fish running from something? Instantly I noticed that I had drifted out another 100 feet into waters that were about 15 feet deep, so I did the only prudent thing. I paddled and kicked furiously back to the shoreline and darted out of the water.
I reflected on the whole snorkeling experience on the way back to the villa; mostly how our limited perspective can often make us so fragile. One minute it was peaceful calm, the next it was frantic fear! Later that day, I would guide a couple of the guys back to the same spot, but I made sure to stay much closer to the shoreline. All things considered, I think they really appreciated the experience.
Long before the sun came up on day 3, there was a gentle knocking on the front door of our villa. It was two of the local fishing guides with their boats awaiting on the beach. Being the avid fisherman, it only took me about 10 minutes to get ready and jump in one of the boats. Once the rest of the gang joined us, we headed out to deeper waters to troll for Sierra and Bonita, nice looking fish at about 2 feet in length that provided a really gratifying fishing experience.
Little did I know, we were really just catching the bait for the main excursion. After some quick slicing and dicing, we started baiting the bigger hooks and rigs in preparation for Dorado.
A short time later we were trolling deeper waters in earnest and the first Dorado took the bait. Ron was first in line, so he took the pole and began what I assumed was to be a great battle. Quite the opposite, the line quickly went slack and it appeared to everyone in the boat that the fish had gotten off the hook. He slowly reeled the line in until it was almost all the way to the boat. Suddenly, a huge Dorado lept right out of the water –– shimmering with neon yellow, green, blue and orange hues –– and came crashing down on the deck in the bottom of the boat with the hook still firmly set in its mouth. Well, that seemed to easy.
The next fish struck shortly after and I was number 2 in line, although I can assure you that I got the great battle I was expecting. With arm muscles starting to ache after about 20 minutes, I started getting impatient, pulling too hard on the pole until it finally snapped right in the middle. Somehow I still managed to land the fish, but I was reminded once again that patience is vital to a fisherman. Even now I still haven’t fully mastered that lesson. I suppose we all just struggle with certain things, and it’s a lifetime worth of struggle.
We went on to catch several more fish that day. Needless to say, we ate quite a bit of Dorado meat during the remainder of our stay which consisted of many more adventures and plenty of quality dialog about our faith.
By the final day, I felt that we had developed and shared a truly meaningful brotherhood. It was just the kind of thing that had been so lacking in my life for quite a while.
I resolved then and there to carry those lessons with me back to all the typical situations that life presented me. Family. Work. Basically any circumstances that involved other people.
Why not. After the brotherhood in the Baja, I could think of dozens of reasons why it was worthwhile while completely blanking on any reasons not to try.
As for that part of me that had still been resisting, I think I lost a big chunk of it in the Baja.