By Justin Porter Biel
I leave my friends with the gear. Two ratty fold out chairs, paddleboards, beach bags, and a massive cooler. I drive through the crowded parking lot, making a three-point turn at the far end before heading out, my eyes scanning a long row of cars for an empty spot. The road leading away from the beach is a strip of black concrete, situated beside a mountain of sand. I park at the end of the line, my tires hanging dangerously close to the drop off below. I hop out, lock the car and begin the long walk back.
I take a heaving breath of dry, desert air, allowing my eyes to close for a moment. Exhaling, I do my best to release the anxieties from the long trip. When I open my eyes again the sky is cloudless and there’s a light breeze. My breathing has slowed. I check the time on my phone, 2PM. It’s late, but better late than never.
Closer to the bay I smell salt in the air. I catch a glimpse of blue green water over beige palapa roofs. Across the cove, ivory sand sits on a deserted beach against a backdrop of pristinely carved mountains.
I’ve arrived at Puerto Balandra, and not a moment too soon. I head to the waters edge, my feet sinking into the damp sand, and stroll towards the far end of the cove where our camp has been setup. I gaze out as I walk, mouth slack, eyes searching the landscape, processing every little detail; the mirror-like appearance of the water, glints of sunlight catching thousands of small ripples, red rocks, cobalt sky, and an emerald ocean. In the shallows, metallic scales reflect from schools of darting minnows.
By the time I reach the group the journey to get here is no longer real. My exhaustion from the night before has ceased. The essence of this land has replaced all busy thoughts; the here and now is all that matters.
Everywhere I look, people are enjoying the day. They lie in the shallows and in the sand, sipping cold drinks, eating mangoes and coconuts. Kayakers, boats and paddleboards drift across the horizon all sharing in the casual, unconcerned pace. In the middle of the bay, walkers move through the water in groups of two or three. A man selling ice cream passes in front of us. He is knee deep in the ocean, the portable freezer behind him, halfway submerged.
After some time on the beach, three young men approach us.
“¿Podemos refrescar cerveza en su enfriador?”
The man who speaks is holding a six-pack of beer. He motions towards our cooler full of ice.
“Si, para dos cervezas,” I say.
I stay serious as long as possible, but laughter soon follows, and then a smile overtakes my face.
Our new friends are laughing too, and with the ice broken, they sit down and join us. We engage the best we can, and with a Spanish-English merry-go-round, we learn they are engineers working at a job site in La Paz. Four months of flashcards, Spanish class, and countless nights of practice are finally paying off – sort of. I understand some of what they’re saying. The realization fills me with unfounded pride. Over the next hour much is lost in translation, but we always have our universal language – kindness and laughter.
Up the beach there’s a woman with a wrinkled face and soft, almond eyes. On her head she carries a tray of golden, sugar-covered pastries. Our new friends buy some and pass them around for us to try. The woman stays with us for a moment and we talk. She radiates wisdom and she never once stops smiling.
Seeking reflection, I leave the group behind and head to the shallows. My back touching the sand, toes bobbing like oddly shaped corks, my body is light and free. Staring upwards I witness a rare, fleeting cloud, as it stretches and morphs across the sky. I continue to watch it, immersed in a state of oneness with these people and their land. My heart is pumping with strength; the beats are steady, in perfect rhythm with the natural surroundings. Lying in the bay, hours pass by in a blur of heightened awareness.
Something hits my arm and breaks the spell. I look up to see my fiancé standing above me. Her brown skin is covered by a black bathing suit, and a cream-colored Havana hat sits upon her head. Water is dripping off her and coolness sets in under the shade of her silhouette. She’s holding two paddles and beside her in the sand, lays a massive board.
We venture outwards over the water, taking turns falling, until we find a rhythm. Explorers with nowhere to go, our pace is leisurely, the world around us sublime. Wherever we look, beauty.
A school of fish swims towards the board. They split around the nose, passing underneath at an even pace. A gentle, gliding stingray, black and spotted, joins beside us. We follow his path toward a distant cove and dock upon and a deserted beach. For the next hour, there isn’t another human in sight, just lizards, birds and sand.
Article Location: Puerto Balandra is a costal area outside of La Paz (Baja California Sur). It has eight separate beaches, an interior salt lagoon and is home to the rock formation called ™El Hongo∫ (the mushroom). Directions to Puerto Balandra: From La Paz, take State Highway 11 towards Tecolote for about 25 km.