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Beach Life in Baja
In the morning, the Baja sun rises slowly. Not too slowly. Campers on the beach watch the orange circle move up into the brightening sky. It looks like a melon: juicy and ripe, good enough to eat. A brilliant reflection shines on the calm water. Soon, like a sudden storm, the water erupts with the sharp sound of slapping. Silhouettes flap through the air, then fall, flopping, into the shimmering water. Rays, sometimes twelve at a time seem to sail above the sea, attempting to become airborne. Slaps resound against the water again and again. The frenzy causes a stir of waves. The sun crossing the horizon’s zenith sends a green flash through the air. Abrupt and aglow, the light is gone within milliseconds. Only one of the campers ever sees it during their stay.
Once the sun illuminates the sand and the surrounding mountains, the day begins. Waves gradually gain height. People wait to see whether the wind will be too intense to swim. Wild winds make the sea too choppy for snorkeling. After long hours lounging on the balmy beach, the people swelter. Sand becomes unbearably hot once it soaks up the heat. People rummage through junk to uncover snorkels under a mess that was packed in haste to escape everyday life. Stiff flippers drag through the sand. Pebbles find their way in between toes. Padding along the shore, the slapping of flip-flops matches the plunking of rays at dawn. At the north end of the beach is a cliff that plunges into the sea. Birds hop from rock to rock, avoiding crashing waves. The people hop from rock to rock too. They all find a center of balance, birds and people, as they alight on each boulder. Crabs scuttle away from sight even though they can hardly be seen, camouflaged to match the wet stones.
A steady rock is finally found. On that rock, gear is strewn about. People hop on one leg, balancing. Pulling on a skin-tight wetsuit. A mask is swished through the salty water. Spit, spit. In each lens rests some spittle. Rub it on the glass to make a film that keeps the mask from fogging. The mask is fitted on, suctioning to the face.
A flying leap. A splash. The chill of water comes as a surprise. Frantic ease. Flippers are pulled onto feet. Legs kick, bodies glide. Bubbles jet away from a frenzy of flailing limbs. Even the slightest movement of a flipper throws bubbles every which way. Eyes open and gaze around. An awesome array of colors is spread about in the cool, clear water.
Schools of fish create criss-cross patterns in a search to find the right current. Sunlight reflects off silver scales. A neon blue fish darts out from beneath a rock. Vibrant color warns anything that might try to eat it. Coral in every shade festoons the rocks beneath the waves. Prickly purple sea urchins rest next to pale orange sea stars. They contrast each other in both color and texture. Some fish blend in with the coral and other sedentary sea life, while others flash showy patterns.
The people keep swimming, moving their arms and legs in a constant rhythm. If they stop, the chill of water sets in. Energy begins to drain. They survey the behavior of life below while they drift across the sea. A colossal cluster of skinny silver fish encircles the people. Shiny and sleek, the fish encompass the people’s entire sight. Their sharp beaks pierce the water as they float in a never-ending spiral. The people swim for what seems like hours before escaping from the wall of fish surrounding them.
A point along the coast is reached and the people push onward through the now choppy waves. The coastal plain drops off, water reaches deeper, and larger life forms can be seen. A silent sea turtle glides below the people, shell covered in algae and kelp. The plants flow with the changing tide and create a clever costume for the turtle. She uses a flipper to brush away a piece of kelp covering her face. An ominous shadow flickers below and the sea turtle turns the other way. But the people go on, unfazed.
Lifting their heads up to see how far they’ve gone, the people come face to face with comical pelicans. The birds seem to be jeering at the people with their chatter. Huge beaks open and shut, revealing pouches in which the pelicans retrieve food from the water. Waddling to the edge of a rock, the pelicans’ large bodies seem like a burden. A swift flap of the wings. A splashing dive. They pop up through the waves, their beaks full of tasty morsels. Their bodies look ridiculous, clumsy. But wings spread wide, swooping through the sea, into the air, there isn’t much else more graceful.
Little beady-eyed grebes swim in the water too, catching particles in their mouths. Webbed feet paddle in the water, sending the birds through currents. The people try to touch them, yet they swim away too fast, up to the water’s crest. There they bob among the waves, bouncing until they see another morsel to bite.
An hour swimming out to sea, the people reach a sun-bleached outcrop. This is where the sea lions lounge. It’s a long way from the beach, so only a few people make it this far. Walloping masses of brown blubber bask on a rock. Honks and snorts. An orchestra of bellows greets the swimming people. Some slide into the water. Their lumbering shapes are swift and silky in the sea. The people watch them glide and spin. Two sea lions dance together, twirling around one another. Shooting away up to the surface, they dance again. The people dive down, holding their breath. Sea lions come close to their faces. Blowing bubbles, whiskers tickling. Their eyes are filled with emotion, like deep pools. Some float right beneath the people’s bodies. Back on the surface, the animals are fighting for a spot on the rock. Pushing, shoving, twisting, turning. Two manage to ram another off the rock into the churning water. His sun-warmed hide is now flecked with water droplets. The people play with the sea lions for a while, until gets cold. Time to head back.
The people turn around and retreat to the sandy beach, watching and observing life in the water as they go. Yellow and red. Fluorescent green and purple. Still standing sea urchins, fleeting fish. All kinds of life flourishes in the water. The people make it back to shore, pulling themselves out onto a flat rock to dry. Warming themselves in the sun like sea lions. Taking sips of fresh water lifted from a well the previous day. Colors fade and the tide begins to shift. A warm, orange glow reflects on the smooth dark sea before fading into dusk.