Friday, January 16, 2009

Wind and Tide

It’s 5am in my tent at Rattlesnake Beach. I am lightly breaded and ready to be fried. All night the wind blew, and this cheap tent filtered the sand into a fine mist that has dusted everything in here. Clothes, books, the computer somehow even in its case, my pillow, Moose. Me.

It’s a zen practice of acceptance, sleeping in a light rain of sand. Hear the wind stirring the bushes, the blowing particles hitting the tent, then brace yourself. Feel the lightest sprinkling on your face. It doesn’t hurt, but does make you want to stop inhaling for the duration. Relax. Accept what you cannot change, or what you choose not to do the work involved in changing. Eventually through the fairy dust and the flapping of the tent, the intimate nylon clutching alternately at your head and feet, you drift into sleep.

“Sand is my friend,” in the memorable words of Tulio, a guide and student on my last course. “Sand is my friend. I am going to bed with my friend.”

Relax. Accept. You are one with sand. In the Big Geological picture, you and it are made of much the same elements. What makes you different in this moment, is that your sand-dust has the capacity to become grumpy about it, or to cultivate a sense of humor.

It was wind that inspired our moonlight crossing back from Isla Espiritu Santo to a beach near La Paz last week. Three guides Manuel, Rafa and Tulio, plus Ben the owner of the company, and I took a ride in a panga motorboat out to the island with kayaks strapped to the overhead rack. There we met up with guide Leah, who was finishing up a commercial trip. Together we discovered the nuances of kayak maneuvering and discussed risk management for 3 days while traveling down the island.

What a spirited, talented, fun group of people! And they pay me to do this! Or, more accurately, they cover the expenses I incur in becoming able to do this. Certification, insurance, permits, travel, food. They way I am reimbursed is in the way it fills my soul to be with them. The accounts that really matter are filled with laughter, with getting salty and cold and then huddling over cups of hot chocolate together. When Manuel edges his kayak well and plants the paddle just right, making his boat spin… and his smile shows his satisfaction. When I hear Rafa say to his friends after working on a new exercise “Que padre!” When Leah ignores sunset to continue working on her balance brace. When Tulio giggles and declares his friendship with the elements as he crawls into his sandy tent.

Yes, this is why I live. Sure it takes energy, sometimes more than I think I have. It takes preparation in big and little ways. It involves struggle and sometimes feeling like I’m failing, and rethinking my approach. It takes all my heart, but the way it fills me there aren’t words to measure.

But back to the wind, the connector of things, the breath that gives us weather, and rain, and life on this planet. The forecast involved a bit much of it for our plans of crossing back to La Paz by motorboat the morning following our course, so we preemptively paddled the 5 miles back under moonlight over gentle swells. Stealthy silhouettes sliding across moon sparkles. Voices over the water talking, singing. Or silence and a close unity of travelers on a big sea. We camped late on a protected beach outside of La Paz, burned a fire, and crawled into our sleeping bags on the small ledge of beach. Except for Ben, who set his camp way up on the big dune. This should have been a clue to the rest of us.

It was 5am in my sleeping bag on the little sandy beach when something in the sound of the water woke me up. I leaned up on my elbows and looked over the ledge down the slope to the breaking waves. Swell had increased due to wind on the open water. Tide had risen because that’s what it does. Between the two, surges of water were approaching the lip of the ledge we camped on. But not close enough to actually move. I lay my head back down and left one ear open. Some minutes later somebody was moving my feet. I sat up. Water hissed its way into the sand and back down the slope. A wave had floated the foot of my mattress. Salt water was on my tarp, percolating slowly down through the many holes. Awake! I stood up, sleeping bag around my waist. Hopping, I pulled the tarp and everything on it back 20ft to the base of the dune. Then woke the people in the 2 tents closest to the water so they could retreat.

When was high tide? How much higher would it come? I studied Rafa’s tent on a high spot for several minutes, and decided to let him sleep. He seemed to prefer a later start in the mornings. I crawled back into my sleeping bag as the big moon slipped behind the point that protected us from the wind. Shortly Rafa’s light came on in his tent. Figuring it was a sign of more water to come, I relented and got up.

By the time Ben poked his head over the big dune, the sun was well up, and so were we. Leah and I were preparing breakfast as surges of water swept past our ankles. My kitchen at home doesn’t even have running water—what a luxury! “Wave!” someone called out, and we grabbed the table so it wouldn’t wash away with our food on it.

As Leah would point out to her clients at the pre-trip meeting that night with the forecast of a windy week, “We put the adventure in Adventure Travel. Adventure Kayaking, Adventure Snorkeling...” So well prepared is she as a guide that she that very morning practiced Adventure Cooking, and even Adventure Sleeping.