Travel Story 

Cops, kayaks, and cactus

Exploring Mexico's Sea of Cortez

We were finally clear of La Paz traffic and headed north on highway one when the police car, siren blaring, pulled us over. Morgan, our Ecosummer guide and driver, rolled the van to a stop and the cruiser slid in behind, its rotating dome light sending glints of red and blue light dancing across the windows. "Buenos dias senor," said the officer as he looked quizzically at Morgan's Canadian drivers license.

With 12 of us, all our camping gear, food and water jammed into the van, and six 22-foot double kayaks lashed to the roof we expected to be charged with driving an overloaded vehicle. But no, we had gone through a stop sign. Indeed there was a stop sign, conveniently hidden from view behind the same billboard that had concealed the lurking police car. The officer agreed the billboard was a problem but he didn't put it there.

"My job," he went on, "is to enforce the law and you must return to La Paz and pay a fine."

"Perhaps" – said Morgan as he took out his wallet. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to save all these visitors the delay and give the judge our fine at the end of your shift."

"Si Senor, I can do that for you. Have a nice holiday in Mexico."

Five bucks later we were back on the road, headed for the Sea of Cortez.

For the next 200 km we follow Mexico route-one across the flat, treeless desert of Llano de Magdalena – an utterly barren landscape where distant views disappear into shimmering heat waves.

At Ciudad Insurgentes the road turns east across the rugged mountains of Sierra de la Giganta whose harsh, rocky slopes are softened by a sparse growth of small trees, shrubs, and cactus. A few miles south of Loreto Morgan swings off the highway onto a narrow gravel road leading down to the ocean. We get out and walk around several "Hail Mary corners" where the top-heavy vehicle is coaxed around outward-leaning hairpins. Finally, pulling onto our beach just before sunset, the van digs itself up to the axles in sand. But we are here – at the end of our road trip. The van can wait till morning.

In the rapidly fading light Allison, chief cook and assistant guide, comes up with a quick meal. We throw our thermorests and light sleeping bags onto the beach, settle down under the stars, and contemplate how we are going to launch heavily loaded kayaks through the surf that is pounding our beach. It was a miserable, sleepless night but we all learned a couple of things: First, don't bring a light sleeping bag to the desert. It may be hot during the day but the temperature goes down with the sun – way down! Second, check for cactus spines before putting down your thermorest.

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