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July 1997

ã Walter Marti

walter @ diver . net

Friday, June 20th has finally arrived. I play hooky from work as soon as I can; I still have to pack my gear for tomorrow's flight to La Paz. I quickly check my Scuba gear: the regulator doesn't free flow that much, the cracks in the hoses are not that bad, I'll patch the holes in the wetsuit when I return, the finger tips on the gloves are missing, the mask and fin straps should hold for one more trip. I quickly throw them in my suitcase, along with sandals, a few shorts, bathing suit, one T-shirt per day should do it. Half the clothes, twice the cash has been my traveling motto. On to packing the underwater video case; I could charge the batteries in the hotel, silicone grease will fill the cracks in o-rings, the scratches in the lens are not too bad, I find somebody's wedding videos to tape over, duct tape the case shut and I am all set.

Saturday morning and I'm off to LAX, fighting the LA traffic and dreaming of prior trips. Visions of manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins, fish filled-warm waters fill my head. Ticket in hand, I approach the Aero California ticket window. Passport? Left it at home! Please don't make me go all the way back home. An Affidavit of Citizenship will work? Where can I get one? At the other end of the lobby and $10.00 later, I am an American again. What a country!

At last in La Paz. Beautiful location on the water, in a quiet bay, restaurants overlooking marinas, pools, and the bay. Snorkeling right off the hotel reveals clear water with coral heads and lots of pretty colorful fish. A short kayak paddle to the nearby islands reveals larger fish, gorgonian fans, hard coral heads and even black coral.

I scheduled four days of three-tank dives with the Sea Sabres Dive Club. Also, along for the first day, were two guys from the Orange County Underwater Photographic Society. They were touring southern Baja for six weeks, and came along for the first day. The boat trips to the dive sites are almost as exciting as the diving. All I have to do is glance over the water to see dolphins, marlin, dorado, manta rays and other various sea life jumping out of the water. The Sea of Cortez is truly alive.

Some of the spots we dive are just outstanding. El Bajo, a1 1/2 hour boat ride, in open sea rising from the depths to 60 feet. Home of countless fish, groups of moray eels, downright huge jewfish, piles of bullseye rays and occasional sightings of pelagic fish. On our way to the last dive site of my first day, we come across a large school of dolphins leaping into the air. Ten dolphins at a time riding the boat's bow wave. The divemaster, brings the boat in front of the school, all divers jump in to catch them swim by, up close and personal. Dolphin clicks and sonar could be heard all around. A few dolphins even approached some divers, to check out us slow moving, awkward pale skinned mammals. All divers aboard and elated we do an encore encounter. Truly a fantastic experience, I didn't think anything could top this. Two days later we do this with a pod of pilot whales.

The divemaster wants to treat us to a rarely visited site, even by him, the seamount off of San Francisco Island, about a mile off of the island rising from the abyss to 80 feet. The seamount is covered in bright yellow anenomes. At a depth of 115 feet the fields of black coral start, schools of fish are in abundance. I even spot an eight-pound California spiny lobster. He was probably vacationing in the south as well. The pinnacle has three peaks, diving between these and along the wall are quite spectacular.

Our last day finds us at Cerralvo Island. The divemaster took me on a tour of a wall down to 148 feet. The wall is covered in various colored sea fans. Up on the reef, we encounter a turtle, crop of garden eels and groups of cornet fishes. Every nook and crag is filled with tons of small fish. I enter a small cave, turn around and see that the entrance is practically obscured by the sheer volume of tiny fish. There's a cloud of these small fish on top of the reef, billowing in unison one direction then another as a group of twelve green jacks is feeding on the cloud. The title for this video segment will be, "The boys do lunch."

The shallow third dives include: El Bajito, a very pretty shallow dive that has me wandering aimlessly around for more than one hour, totally engrossed in the fish life; The Salvatierra ship wreck, lots of standing structure, both propellers still intact, a lot of large fish about and black coral growing in the shade; Swanne Rock, the reef that made the Salvatierra a wreck, again a long pleasant dive. Of course no trip to La Paz would be complete without a visit to the sea lion colony at Los Islotes. Here I experience the quick females darting by and the large males defining their territory, by grunting and barking underwater. I enter a cave that runs through the island to find a small group of females huddled in the sand putting on quite a show for me. When the large male arrives, they coyly wriggle on their backs as he nuzzles their bellies.

On our last day we do a night dive by the lighthouse at Lobos Rock. The anemones and coral polyps are in full bloom. There I encounter octopus, nudibranchs, sleeping parrot fish, and an out of this world sand licking sea cucumber that had to have been the inspiration for the Dune books. At the end of the dive, upon the ascent, I am treated to a light show of phosphorescent plankton. Once my face breaks the surface, I am almost breathless when I see the night sky. Never before had I seen so many stars in the night. Miles away from city lights and before the moon rise, the black of the heavens is almost totally lit up with stars. Some stars are moving? I am told these are satellites. Absolutely a great way to top off four days of diving.

Just before I left for Mexico, I thought, this being my third trip, it will be my last to La Paz. After this great week, I will be back. Other sweet memories of La Paz include: Seeing the squadrons of pelicans leaving for work from the island just outside the bay, outgassing at the swim-up pool bar, eating breakfast at the veranda restaurant overlooking the marina, eating dinner at the La Pazta restaurant in town, hiking in the hills to see the cactus blooms, seeing a heron sitting on a cactus gurgling to cool off and vultures sitting nearby with wings spread wide, like a scene in a Mexican painting, and most of all, the company I was with.

Copyright by Walter Marti, 1997