“Podemos alquilar kayaks?” I ask as I approach the old man under the sign that says “Se renta kayaks.”
“Si,” he replies. He’s sitting on his sand porch under a blue tarp. It appears that he lives with his wife in a nearby tow-behind trailer that may not have moved in a decade. He’s wrinkled around the mouth with a crop of grey hair. He uses words sparingly.
“Cuanto cuesta?” I ask(my most commonly used phrase in Mexico)
“Cien pesos por cada hora.”
He doesn’t ask for money before we take the kayak, doesn’t wonder how long we’ll be gone, or where we’re going. He doesn’t warn us about the dangers of using a kayak in the ocean or of the wind that can pick up in the winter. He knows we’ll be back to claim our van. It’s refreshing to meet a stranger who trusts that we’ll be responsible and safe with their belongings.
I offer our schedule anyways, just in case he has somewhere to be.
“Vamos por dos y media horas.”
We push off into Bahia Concépcion, a long, narrow inlet of the Sea of Cortez, south of Mulegé. The water’s surprisingly warm—in summer we hear it feels like bathwater—even now, in the dead of winter it’s about the same temperature we’ve managed to heat our solar shower to.
We head for the large island off shore that has a hidden sandy beach. The wind picks up. The island’s further than it appears from shore. We approach a rocky beach and can see a driftwood structure, a rope up to a cave, a chair, and a sailboat moored offshore. We don’t make landfall here.
We circle to the south side and find the wind shadow. Three ospreys hover and sweep above their aerie. They dive after each other. We wonder if one is the grown offspring or an unwanted visitor of the mating pair. We’ve never seen three ospreys together.
We charge the wind on the east side of the island, rising and falling past cormorants on the rocks. A few take to the air in their clumsy, wobbly way.
We find the sandy beach. The wind drives into it. No one’s there, but it feels occupied. Someone’s made a sculpture with fish skeletons and driftwood, topped by a pelican’s skull—this desert isle’s Christmas tree. Behind the rock where we huddle to escape the wind, there’s dozens of opened clam shells. Paige keeps thinking she sees something yellow on the cliffs above us.
We don’t stay long. We push into the chop and angle into the whitecaps that have formed with the rising wind. The waves top the kayak and spray Paige in the front. We paddle hard, and move at a crawl. It’s too hard to fight the wind all the way back to the top of the beach, we make landfall at the bottom, and walk the kayak up in the shallows.
The old man is waiting for us. He hasn’t moved.
“Hay mucho viento!” I offer as explanation.
“Si, siempre,” he explains.
“Cuantas horas?” He hasn’t tracked our time. As far he knows we’ve been gone one hour or four. I fish the watch from my pocket.
I pay, and we talk about what I know how to talk about in Spanish: the weather, where I am from, and how cold it is where I am from. I ask if he lives here siempre and he says yes, he goes to Mulege sometimes but mostly he is here.
We part, I return to the van for lunch and the old man stays where he is, watching the comings and goings on the beach. My dad always told me you could watch the world pass by if you stayed in one spot and looked around. We came, we went and he stayed and watched. I can’t say who had the richer experience, who wound up more fulfilled at the end of those two hours. We explored, he sat, we each passed our lives in our own way.