Snorkeling with good friends in Baja California

A sunrise walk along the Malecón delights the senses with shades of pink, the scents of cooking, and the hustle of fisherman heading to sea. Roosters crow, chickens scratch and men along the seawall, young and old, toss single fishing lines into the water, weighted by a small metal shard and a hook. Slowly, they drag the line back to shore, some with success, others with none. One young man has a pile of maybe 12 fish as I walk past. I wonder if this is his work for the day.

Val Iverson Wilkerson, my lifelong friend and an old Laguna resident, has retired to Loreto with her husband Barry. Val's father owned the Unocal gas station on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Crescent Bay Drive when we were kids. I've come to Loreto for a visit, along with Sue Klassen Jones, another Laguna friend and LBHS graduate.

Val and Barry live on the north end of town where the pavement ends. They have recently finished construction of their dream home, a beautiful retreat from the hustle of the States, and are fat with the joys of fishing, snorkeling, Spanish lessons and friends.

Their neighborhood is an eclectic mixture of relocated gringos, some well-to-do locals and old-time residents. Newly built homes stand in stark contrast to older plywood and plaster construction with dirt or concrete floors. Dogs wander the dusty streets and pangas, small fishing boats, fill side yards. As always in Mexico, the balance of wealth and poverty seems out of scale.

Barry, after suggesting a day of snorkeling, trailers Rocket, his 23-foot Parker, down the marina ramp. With a 224-horsepower engine, she flies across the water. We make for Coronado Island and drop anchor in a small cove. The water is 83 degrees and filled with fish of nearly every shape, size and color. We snorkel until we are waterlogged and tired of jellyfish stings. I help Val pull up anchor, and we round the island to lunch while sitting on white sands nestled in a turquoise bay.

Val, Sue and I walk the beach and reminisce about our high school shenanigans.

I am fortunate to have such good life-long friends. Laguna has always provided a foundation for strong relationships.

As a high school student, I knew nearly every one of my classmates, as well as their parents, who for the most part owned the local businesses.

Intimacy and size of the town are part of the reason that Val and Barry were drawn to Loreto. Well, fish would probably be the first reason, but the sweetness of the town and its people fueled their decision.

I attend two Spanish classes with Val in hopes of reviving my conversational skills. On the way to class, we stop and pick up the instructor, Enrigue, to save him the walk. He invites us into his home and introduces me to his aunt, Marta, and five-month-old cousin, Manuel Angel. We talk about vitamins, the visit by the governor and, of course, the weather.

On a different day, Val and I volunteer to play tourists at the university for a class of students who are learning English. I am struck by an innocence in their approach to life that I seldom see in the States. There is much to be said for small towns and close-knit families.

Good times. Good girlfriends. I drink in the air, the scent and colors from this town on the edge of the Sea of Cortez. I listen to the roosters, the dogs and the soft hum of the panga engines as they head out for a day of fishing. I pause with my breath, thrilled to be alive, and wait for the next adventure.

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