Despite my relaxed pleasure in conversation with Eduardo at the north end of Cedros Island, when Chris and I stepped out of the dinghy onto Cedros Island’s only town, I felt distinctly and awkwardly…female. We scrambled up the slimy, barnacled rocks under shacks on the short cliffs at shore and made our way into the hot, dusty town. Smiles were few and far between as we attracted stares from the population—which seemed to be almost entirely male. I felt even more conspicuous than normal. (A tall, blue-eyed woman with a mop of blonde can be a rarity in Mexican towns.) We walked up the sloping dirt main street under the sun glaring as ambivalent as the locals and made our way to the hill at the top of the tiny town, where we found a cemetery and a couple sitting behind the windshield of their maroon Ford Ranger, drinking huge soft drinks. I chatted with Montserrat (the first woman I had seen; we both genuinely liked each other’s names,) and her boyfriend about life here. Montserrat scoffed when I asked if she lived there, and she only said that she was from somewhere else. But she was intrigued by the sailboat (in view from the cemetery,) and her eyes grew wide when I told her I was the captain. (I share boat captain duties with Josh—and to be clear, Josh gets the final word in a gale and serves as captain of the ship.)
We wandered through streets held up with rows of stacked tires, and the occasional dilapidated car holding up a hillside. Two little kids shrieked in fear and fascination when they saw Uly, and after some coaxing I got them to come and gingerly pat his head. Their eyes were huge and their faces tinted with mirth.
After we rowed back out to the boat, Chris decided he couldn’t continue to float along in the Pacific—it was time for him to step back into his daily affairs to sell his house. We departed the next day for Bahía Tortugas. The sail was uneventful except for our usher into Turtle Bay—our first turtle.
This was our first stop for diesel, and the dock came ominously into view—the fuel pump towered 15 feet above the water on the rickety dock. We read in our guidebooks that we should pull our stern into the gnarled, rusty fingertips of the dock to receive fuel, and Josh slowly and expertly maneuvered Far against the dock in around nine feet of water (we draw almost seven.) A young guy with a crisp white truckers hat with a flat brim and skater style shoes hopped into his panga and pulled up alongside, and I realized that we had created this extra hassle for ourselves at the dock, since his boat was equipped with giant plastic tanks to bring diesel out to the anchorage. Llena, por favor, I requested, and two older men on the dock took a short pause from their banter to hand the fuel nozzle down over the edge of the dock. His panga bobbed and banged into our boat.
As the fuel started to flow from the nozzle, Josh jumped up in alarm, waving for the men to stop pumping.
This smells like gasoline! he said urgently, and he scrambled down below for a clear jar. Sure enough, the fuel was clear. Diesel should be yellow (red if you’re putting it in your car.)
But this is diesel, right? I asked the men.
Yes, of course! they all replied, amid other very rapid Spanish expressions that flew over my head and out into the Bay.
Chris and Josh smelled the fuel. It just didn’t smell like diesel. I frantically mediated between the Spanish-speaking men and the sailors on my boat.
It’s just that it’s clear, I replied to the men looking down from the dock. Marine diesel in the US is yellow!
They’re insisting it’s diesel, I said as I turned to Josh and Chris. The man on the dock chimed in. It’s NEW diesel, special diesel. From La Paz!
The mention of our adopted hometown somehow put Josh at ease. With still-trepidant fingers, Josh pulled the trigger on the nozzle, and we filled our tank with the clear fuel.
The engine has been running fine ever since. Phew.
(Once again, I do not have any photos from this ridiculous exchange, but the snarky comments and eye-rolling exchanged between the older man on the dock and the kid in the panga will leave me forever wondering what exactly was going on.)
Surely there are people out there who, as each of the guidebooks warn, overcharge for fuel or do not reset the meter to recalculate the diesel or gas. But I have yet to encounter this in over 4,000 miles by both boat and car in Baja. I still check to be vigilant, but I wanted to note here that we have been nothing but graciously received—even when we are freaking out about the color of the fuel (because no kidding it’s a different color, we’re in a different country.)
After the chaos at the dock, we moved out into the anchorage and rowed back in to the dock with Chris and his compact collection of belongings, climbing the rusted metal stairs to the blue, wooden dock. A pink and blue door, like a whimsical portal, separated the end of the dock from the long, straight, azure-and-wood walk in to the shore. For Chris, it was his door to a life rapidly and willfully changing. For us, it opened up our adventure into Baja California Sur as the two explorers who set out bound together on the journey.
We made our way to town and found the only open restaurant. The interior was gloriously cool and dark. Memorabilia from fishing tournaments was mixed with town beauty pageants and dusty maps on the walls. Three women sat around a table in the rear, gossiping and drinking Coca-Cola, and we occasionally pestered them for food and drink. Chris stepped outside and managed to arrange a 3am taxi ride to the next town, and with a hug we three became two and one, with only two destined to sail the rest of the coast. Chris carried his bags off into the swirling dust of the narrow street and disappeared.
Now it is just the two of us, the two who have created and will complete our voyage. It feels naked, electric, and empowering. It means now I will be doing all of my night watches solo, and there are only the two of us for any emergency. But we prepared with many collective years of experience making good decisions in all conditions, and we have eased ourselves and our boat (and our dog, kind of), into this adventure. Poco a poco, the Mexicans always say with a smile. Little by little, we have rebuilt a boat, divided and conquered the tasks of sailing (Josh) and research (Jess), and now we have stepped through into the life we created of climate research, sailing, and writing. By losing one, to our surprise we gained a vision of our goal.