The assault began the instant I switched the light on. It took me a minute to comprehend just what was happening before I shielded the beam with my hand, but I realized at that moment my choices were dim, either way. I could stumble blindly through the pitch black night, risking injury and getting lost, or be bombarded by hundreds, no- millions, of nocturnal insects drawn to the only light around, my headlamp.
Jeff and I had kayaked to shore at sunset for dinner at the sole accessible restaurant we had seen for days. Our provisions were running low, and I was tired of attempting to concoct an appetizing meal from the nonsensical variety of cans stashed in the bowels of El Gato in what we refer to as “the pantry”. Plus, the guidebook promised internet access, something I unfortunately desired more than I’d like to admit.
Following a hearty meal of tamales, chiles relleno and an unidentified but savory meat and rice combination, we paid our pawltry bill and walked outside, just as the restaurant turned off its lights and locked up behind us. We had closed the place down at 8pm.
We hadn’t previously encountered such a barrage of bugs, but we rarely went ashore this late when we were anchored out on El Gato. This was also the first time we had arrived ashore at night via our double kayak. Prior to this, we had traveled along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, where shore landings required a dinghy with wheels, a reliable motor, and quick reflexes. Oh, and the knowledge that you would get wet, whether up to your thighs or waist, depending on the waves, slope and skill of the skipper.
But now we were in the Sea of Cortez, where we tucked into peaceful coves surrounded by turquoise waters teaming with marine life. After crossing the sea from Mazatlan on the mainland to Bahia Los Frailes, we dropped the anchor and deployed the toys—the kayak and inflatable paddleboard, in order to get a closer, more intimate look at our surroundings.
We spent two nights in Los Frailes, strolling the long expanse of beach and hiking on a “goat trail” to the top of Cerro Los Frailes, the remains of a volcanic caldera. The hike was steep and exposed, and the sun was unrelenting, but we were awarded beautiful vistas along the trail.
The next morning we motored eight hours to Ensenada de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead), another beautiful anchorage with the added bonus of a very nice restaurant. We once again deployed the toys, and took the pups ashore on the kayak for their afternoon potty-walk.
We decided that since the beach landing near the restaurant was calm, we would just paddle in for a nice dinner out. Following a leisurely meal, we realized we were the only customers left, so we asked for our bill and headed back towards the kayak.
That’s when I was mercilessly attacked by the behemoth flying insects that were determined the eat my eyeballs out of my head. And these bugs were not your average gnats and mosquitos, these suckers were like giant palmetto bugs and other varieties of winged Mexican monsters. Giant moths—or were they vampire bats—ensnarled themselves in my hair and batted their wings over my ears, fighting for a turn at my eyes and nose. Try as I might to ward them off with both hands swinging madly in front of my face, they refused to surrender. I was cussing up a storm when Jeff calmly suggested I turn off the headlamp.
Fine. I would have thought of that, eventually. I was in panic mode, mind you.
Eventually we made it to our escape vehicle, and cast off into the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez. Safely away from shore, I turned my light back on, and presto-bingo, no bugs.
As we paddled along, I shined my light into the water and was taken-aback at the sight of green, glowing needlefish surrounding us in every direction. They were only about 6-8” long, but they practically blanketed the water. As I leaned-in for a closer look, several of them flew out of the water, one crossing right over the bow of our kayak, not two feet from my face! I let out a girly-girl scream, jerked my head back and began paddling like hell toward El Gato. But the more we paddled, the more they jumped. Towards us. We could hear them hitting the side of the plastic kayak, attracted, I guessed, to the light on my head, yet again. One even had the audacity to hit me in the arm! I’m lucky a vein wasn’t severed, or that I wasn’t gored to death… these fish have been known to cause severe injury or even DEATH!!! They’ve got a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth and a bill like a, well, like a needle, but bigger. Is this why this is bay is called Muertos?? I’d had my fill of flying assassins for one night, so I once again turned off the headlamp, and just as suddenly as they had overwhelmed me, they settled down.
We continued to paddle in the darkness, trying to quiet my mind. But the darkness brought about yet another oddity… bioluminescence. While not really an oddity, to see and be able to actually create bioluminescence through the manipulation of the water is, well, pretty amazing. What looks like tracers of light forming off the end of the paddles was actually “a natural chemical reaction that occurs when a micro-organism in the water is disturbed by oxygen.” (I believe I had similar chemical reactions back in the 70’s, but we didn’t call it bioluminescence). Anyway, we drug our hands through the water, creating various patterns of light for quite a while, until I remembered the flying murderers that lurked just beneath the surface.
Arriving back on El Gato, we greeted the pups and laid on the bow, watching the night sky, and feeling lucky to have experienced the wonders of nature out here on the Sea. (And to having not been pummeled by flying insects and needlefish.)