In the Sea of Cortez, a few anchorages have built loyal fan bases; seasoned cruisers praise their beauty and protection, and pass the word on to future visitors that places such as Isla San Francisco and Agua Verde are must-sees destinations. Consequently these places are always crowded, and although they make good rendezvous points to meet up with old friends or share some stories with new acquaintances, the feeling of desolate beauty that the sea is best loved for is lost. Not so for Bahia El Gato, so named for a family of mountain lions that had taken up residence in the canyon decades ago and could be seen coming down to the water to fish. Not many boats come to visit, and those that do, do not stay for long.
Emerging from its dry and mountainous surroundings, Cat Bay astounds the eye as a splash of color among the beige backdrop. Curvaceous, bright red sandstone frames the anchorage, luscious as a chocolate lava cake. Colorful mountains extend toward the horizon, with an array of desert plants splayed out before them in the valley. Despite the legend of mountain lions prowling the area, cattle are brought to graze in the valley from neighboring villages; the south side of the bay is named Bahia El Toro, or bull bay.
Hiking over the sandstone, we peered into tide pool crevices carved out by seawater. The lapping of each wave created satisfying crashes and gurgles as hand sized crabs leaped out of the way at our approach. It was amazing to see the amount of life crammed into each tiny microcosm; the longer we stared, the more we could see starting to move. My favorite inhabitants were the gigantic spiny lobsters that huddle under rocky overhangs in the daytime. With their bright blue shells and orange tipped spikes, the word ‘aquarium’ comes to mind, but their sharp appendages warn hands away. At night, local fishermen can be heard diving for octopus using underwater hookah breathing systems, although they cannot be seen as they work in total darkness. How many people can say that they have a job as scary as that?
With scenery as beautiful as this, we did not mind staying in El Gato for an entire week, painting, fishing and enjoying the stars at night. One afternoon, a ship pulled into harbor disgorging dinghies full of camera toting tourists, bright yellow kayaks and beach chairs. A National Geographic tour group had arrived. In just 3 hours, the swarm of visitors were brought on a snorkeling, kayaking and hiking frenzy along the sandstone water’s edge. Rowing to shore, we talked to a few of them and found out that they were from all over the US and had flown in to La Paz for the cruise. As tourists congregated around Clementine to take pictures of her, we also found out that within 10 days, they would be hauled all over the Sea of Cortez, before peeking out into the Pacific to look for whales. The people we talked to could not be specific about where they were going to be stopping; they weren’t familiar with any of the names, nor indeed could they remember any of the stops they had been to previously.
Leaving the tourists to their own devices, we continued hiking up a nearby hill to a cross overlooking the anchorage. The sun was setting over a beautiful panorama of crashing waves on one side and a peaceful desert oasis on the other. On the beach, tour guides were herding up their charges, busily talking to each other on radios to get everything organized. The beach chairs they had set up remained unused.
Back on the beach, we let Rowan out of his baby backpack to run off some energy before bedtime. I found some hermit crabs and showed them to him, fascinated by how neatly they could fold into their adopted shells. Rowan picked them up and proudly carried them around with him, bringing me back to holiday memories of my sisters and I and keeping hermit crabs in our hotel room, watching them crawl around a little container overnight and setting them free the next morning. I wondered what fond memories Rowan would make of growing up as a cruiser baby. Maybe he is too young to remember the specifics of our travels, but I hope that the feeling of freedom, awe and happiness is something that stays with him for a lifetime.