I’ve dropped my anchor for most of my life in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where rain and overcast is a mainstay for the better part of the year. Shameless optimist that I am, my sunny disposition typically sees the silver about the omnipresent clouds. But when that big ball of fire in the sky makes a show- even just a cursory peek, my disposition can be positively luminous. So, in the midst of a wet Oregon spring, I went in search of a break from the grey skies, taking a solo trip to one of my favorite sunny destinations: Cabo San Lucas. And after a day spent in the sun, lackadaisically playing in the clear water’s of the Sea of Cortez in La Paz, Baja California Sur, that disposition of mine is positvely shining. And I have a certain ‘Cat’ to thank for it.
The evening after I arrived in Cabo I sat alone at Tiki Bar nursing my Modelo, inadvertantly eavesdropping on a table of four nearby as they chatted about what they referred to as the most amazing experience they had ever had when vacationing in Cabo. As a would-be connoisseur of the area after several previous trips to town, I was curious to know what it was they were discussing, and so I covertly – if not audaciously, moved to a seat nearer to their table.
Their words may well have been poetry, imbued with synonyms of “beautiful” and “incredible” and every word possible for “love” as the members of the table took turns gushing over their time on the catamaran called Island Cat, moored in La Paz. Hearing the name, it was all I could do to not rush into their conversation, and I found myself suppressing the inherent desire to chime in with some of those same synonyms they were so freely tossing about. I had been out on an Island Cat excursion before, and charmed by so many things – not the least of which being their attention to me as a Guest, had returned twice in as many years, resulting in an almost visceral response upon hearing the name mentioned. Rather than dive into their conversation, I picked up the phone and immediately booked an outing with them.
My previous trips on Island Cat had seen me swimming with the biggest fish in the ocean, the Whale Shark. The experience of being in the water just feet away from a fish as large as a school bus as it fed on plankton with a mouth the size of a car, cannot be understated. It was a spiritual experience almost. The raves of table five at Tiki Bar, however, were about an excursion I had not yet taken, to the remote, paradisiacal beaches of the Sea of Cortez, and I was just lucky enough to get on board with eight others the following day.
At a brisk 6:45 am the next morning, I was picked up at my door by Juan, who would be our shuttle driver to and from La Paz, about an hour and a half away. The shuttle, which seats 18, is spacious and comfortable – allowing the tallest of us to actually stand upright, were they so inclined. As Juan, who is aptly nicknamed “Juantastic”, picks up Juan, who is aptly nicknamed “Juantastic”, picks up each guest, he helps them into the back and offers them water, giving the immediate impression that service to customers is first and foremost – something I’d surely experienced in my previous outings with Island Cat.
As it seems to be with each trip I’ve taken, the drive became a time of getting to know one another, and by the time our party of nine landed at the dock, we were laughing together as old friends. Captain Scott met us there, introducing himself and welcoming us before we walked down the ramp to the waiting boat.
I’m known to be a bit of a sap – admittedly, I can be a crybaby at the silliest of things, and seeing Island Cat again nudged that tendency in an unexpected way. Her tall mast stood stoic and strong, her rolled up sail spoke of flexibility and independence, and her double hull shouted balance and stability. I resonated with her, and as I boarded the boat with help from Crew Member Leo, I was covered with goosebumps in my excitement at spending the day with her once again.
A breakfast spread, fresh coffee, and open bar were waiting for us, and after a brief visit with the Captain, we were underway, motoring out of the harbor as we happily chatted and settled in. I found a spot on the bow of the boat, where the crew had laid a row of lounging cushions up against the angled windows, offering guests both a comfortable space to lie in the sun and a perfect view as we sailed. I closed my eyes and swallowed it all – the sun on my face, the light wind blowing through my hair, the pure relaxation I felt, and hailed a small inaudible thank you to table five at Tiki Bar.
After less than an hour of cruising the briny Sea of Cortez, the sap within me emerged again as we came to a shallow cove and dropped anchor. The color shifted from the dark blue of a deep sea to strikingly clear water with a bright turquoise hue. The white sands beneath led to a small, crescent- shaped beach, vacant of any visitors at all – our very own playground for the day. I held my breath in some sort of reverence, in awe of the beauty in front of me that seemed to be pulled directly from a travel magazine.
Leo offered to take us snorkeling and swimming with a small colony of sea lions a few minutes ride away, and along with a few others, I jumped on board the Island Kitty, the 22′ dive boat dragged by the Cat. After all, considering the sea lion is known to be the “dog of the sea” in their playfulness and affability, who was I to say no? I love dogs!
As all the crew members have been during my previous times on Island Cat, Leo knew his stuff, offering information and answering questions as we puttered around the small rock that jutted from the sea, home to a colony of about 50 sea lions. Soon we were in the water, tooling around the base of the rock. Leo surprised us all by free diving about 45 feet to the bottom of the rock to retrieve a bright red starfish for a quick show and tell. He did this several times, with each pass bringing something new and unique, offering us an up- close view of a world we otherwise would not see. A few of the younger sea puppies, playful and excitable, engaged with us, expertly twisting and rolling in the waters around us as we hilariously mimicked them.
After about an hour we started back to the Island Cat, where a pristine beach, water activities, and a delicious tortilla soup made by the boat’s chef waited for us (of which I ate two bowls).
The next two hours were spent kayaking, paddleboarding, and swimming in the warm, transparent water, sunning on the boat or beach, and being waited on mercilessly by the Crew before heading back to port. I found myself wishing this day would not come to an end – that I might stay in that cove forever with Island Cat and all of the exciting accruments she has to offer. And, if I’m being honest, I’m tearing up as I write this.
I’ve pondered what it is that gives me such a connection to Island Cat – why I tear up at the mere memory of my experiences aboard her, why I feel peace when recalling, why I feel such intense joy. I’ve been on other excursions – none that caused me to feel anything of the sort as I dug back into them. Fun? Sure. But peace? Joy?
It is true, from the moment I was picked up until the moment I was dropped at my door, I was treated like royalty by any and all Island Cat Crew – ask and ye shall receive and so on. And I won’t deny that I could probably get used to being waited on (and of course, I was grateful, smiled wide, and tipped appropriately). But, while the service wasn’t to give me a day-in-life that I was somehow missing by being on the wrong end of the 1%, it was indeed intended to offer me a day of freedom. From the moment Juantastic held the door open for me with a bottled water and a smile, I felt it; I was free to let go of whatever happened to be pecking about my brain incessantly, free to connect with incredibly vibrant and colorful natural surroundings- pure and unblemished, free to observe footloose and fancy-free animals in their own habitat rather than through 12 inches of glass. And, yes, free to lounge about while others catered to my every need.
It is within that sense of freedom where my connection to Island Cat resides, and each excursion I take attends to that sense of peace and joy. She is similar to a good friend who knows when I need a break, akin to an old pillow to pull over my ears for a few hours, and very much indeed like a good old dose of therapy. And, hey, couldn’t we could all use a bit of therapy from time-to-time?