Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stranded on a deserted island

We have seen this question in a lot of forums: what would you do (or take) if you were stranded on a deserted island? Well, now I can say I really was.

It all started with Germanman wanting to visit Isla del Tiburon, the biggest island of Mexico. Located in the Sea of Cortez and just a few hours from my hometown. The island is part of the Seri country, a native tribe within my state. So, you need permission from them to have access to it. One of my friends contacted me with a Seri guy and we started making the arrangements. Two friends of us agreed to go too and we left Tucson on May 28th at the crack of dawn on our adventure.

The first mishap happened 2 hours into our trip. I thought that the turn towards the coast of the state was in the town of Magdalena but it actually was in Santa Ana. Mexico is not well known for its highway signs. A brief stop in Santa Ana to have some scolding hot coffee and ask for directions and we were on our way again. The next stop was Caborca to get cash and groceries for the island. I had never been to Caborca so, of course, we got lost but nothing that couldn't been solved by asking for directions again. We wanted to have lunch by the sea so we decided to wait to eat until we reached Puerto Libertad. After a couple more hours, we finally reached Puerto Libertad, only to find out it's a very small town with no restaurant in sight. We pulled out a couple of bagels from our stock and eat them at the beach. The final part of the trip was kinda tricky because we had to find a secondary road that would lead us to the Seri town of Desemboque. After we had been driving for 30min or so, I remember that fact and asked Germanman if he had seen any sign for said town. I started to look at the map and had the feeling that the turn was coming very very soon or else, we had passed it. We took the decision to keep driving for another half an hour and if the sign didn't come to turn around.

Exactly half an hour later we reached the entrance to a ranch and it had people there! so I asked them if they new the other road. A very old man told me we had passed it long ago, he said to go back and pass all the hills we had seen on the road and then we would find the sign. It turned out that the famous sign was only visible going North and we had been driving South. Anywho, we found it and 18 miles later we reached Desemboque. I asked around for the Seri guy I had contacted and he was there waiting for us. After a few minutes of buying the Seri's sculptures (made of ironwood) and other crafts we were on our way to the panga (small boat used to fish or for transport). Traveling on the panga to the island is one of the most scary experiences I've ever had, the sea was not calmed and we didn't have lifesavers, top that off with me not being a good swimmer and Germanman making jokes about the lack of safety. He realized I was terrified and started asking if I was OK every 3 minutes until I told him to stop because he was making me more nervous. My hands were completely white because of how hard I was grabbing the edge of my seat and I'm pretty sure I had a few brushes on my, ahem, lower back.

On our way to the main island we went around another, very small, island call "Isla de Patos or Duck Island". It is a protected island because of its great sea-bird population, the island actually looks white because of all he bird poo on it :-P. That island is also home to a sea-lion colony. Germanman said it is the biggest he has seen. There were over 200 sea-lions on and around the island. After an hour and a half of a bumpy ride worse than any roller-coaster I have been on we finally reached Isla del Tiburon. The Seris first wanted to drop us off at a small bay that had a sandy beach on one side and a rocky one on the other side, we had requested that because Germanman wanted to scuba dive and snorkel and sandy bottoms are not good for that. The bay was perfect, however, the Seris noticed there was a fishnet very nearby. Fishnets are a big danger for scuba divers, it is very risky to dive near one so Germanman asked the Seris to drop us off at another location that didn't have fi around. Another 10 minutes on the boat and we got to another bay with no sand whatsoever but we took it.

By the time we got to "our" bay it was getting dark very fast so we had to set up camp quickly. The 20y old girl that was with us didn't want to sleep close to the water because there were some rather annoying isopods that could crawl on her at night. So, she set up her tent on higher ground. My friend K set her tent up near all the camping gear and Germanman and I set up our stuff nearby but in an enclosed little bay that was very sheltered. Now, you dirty-minded people, no, it wasn't because we wanted privacy, it was actually the best spot to have our tent :-P.

At night we enjoyed that rare show that is the night sky when no human light is around. It was a-fraking-mazing. We also had a private show courtesy of the ocean, bioluminescence. We started seeing green spots on the water every now and then and given that we were a group of nerds we immediately knew what it was. I had never seen it before and it was awesome! We went to bed early as we had had a long day and my butt was sore. With the new day we could actually appreciate the beautiful scenery we had around us. We went on a hike along a canyon (possibly a river bed) that was behind us. I was expecting to see some big-horn sheep, they are endemic of the island, but, we only saw a dead and eaten one.

This picture clearly shows how deserted is the island. We were very careful when walking because it was hot and the rattle snaked could be out. Fortunately (or unfortunately, according to Germanman) we didn't see one. We hiked one of those picks and walked along the ridge and back down to the beach. I must say, the terrain is nasty, everything is out to get you. I stepped on so many chollas, got scratches from the ocotillos and fell flat on my ass sliding down the hill on pointy, sharp rocks. Sounds fun, huh? It was!

In the afternoon I went snorkeling for the first time ever. I was very scared and asked Germanman to use a floaty thingy that he could grab from one side and I grabbed from the other. Despite the fact that I was very scared I enjoyed the experience. Life underwater is so beautiful. We saw about 12 different species of fish, some mantarays (small ones, not the ones you see featured in scuba-diving videos), starfishes, crabs, etc. It was great! The water was too cold though so we didn't stay long.

That afternoon the weather changed and the wind started blowing up really hard. The sea started getting rough and the waves were 6-7 foot high. We couldn't hear the waves crashing anymore, it was a constant roar. It was a little bit scary, mostly because it meant that the Seris would probably not be able to get us off the island the next day. It was hard to fall asleep that night, I was nervous and the sea was really loud. We finally went to sleep and we were woken up at 3am by the Greek, she had a panic attack. She was very worried that her family in Greece would be worried about her if she didn't come back to the US the next day. After we calmed her down and she went back to sleep, Germanman and I couldn't fall back asleep. We were talking and discussing our options. We knew there was a chance we wouldn't get off the island in a few days if the wind didn't calm down. We had enough food for 2 maybe 3 days and water for a little longer than that, we were very careful with our water. So, in that sense we were not too worried. Also, the Seris had told us that in the case they couldn't get us off the island in a couple of days by sea, then they would come by land, from the other side of the island. Our last course of action was a Spot, a little gadget that can send an SOS signal, via satellite. We had used it a couple of times already to send OK messages, it has a GPS so we would know exactly were we where (our bay and while hiking) when we came back.

The sun was coming out and Germanaman noticed that the tide had gone very low, more than any other day. That meant the tide was going to come up a lot higher than it had been before too. What that meant was, we needed to move our camp to higher ground. We started doing so and discovered that we had had some visitors at night, our garbage was all over the place and whatever food we left uncovered was gone! Fortunately we had been careful the night before and had put most of the food in a hard box with rocks on top. We didn't know what animal had done the damage but we didn't worry, our main concern right then was to move all our stuff as quickly as possible. After we moved all the scuba gear, the food and the water we decided to move out tent without taking it down. We were putting the tent down in its new location when I felt like something had whipped me straight in the face. The pain was incredible and I tasted the familiar irony taste of blood inside my mouth. It turned out that one of the sticks of the tent came off and hit me on my lower lip. I immediately started crying and, of course, Germanman didn't know what to do. He just kept asking if I was OK, I wasn't damn it, it hurt! We were out of ice so there was not much we could do to reduce the inflammation.

After that incident I was emotionally drained and just wanted to sleep. I think I slept for 3 hours or something cra-ha-zy like that. I woke up feeling light-headed and headachy, not good signs when you have been under the sun for so long. The Greek had the same symptoms and we were worried that the 2 of us could have the beginning of heat-stroke. Two people vomiting would pretty much guarantee that we would run out of water quickly. We took some anti-emetic medication and I took something for my headache. I was very positive that my case was just that I had slept too much. I started feeling better early in the afternoon, specially after we played in the waves for a while to cool us down.

We walked (climbed) along the beach for a while and found some cool tide-ponds with tiny little crabs and fishes in them. We also found some interesting rock formations with quartz embedded in them. Our biggest discovery though, were some whale bones. We found a few ribs, vertebrae and teeth. Of course we collected them (not the ribs) to ask the Seris if we could take them with us. When we were walking back to our bay we saw a boat in the distance. Germanman immediately went to get his signaling mirror. It was the Seris. They came close to the beach but the sea was still very rough and they couldn't come closer. They signaled with their arms that they were going to wait for a while for the sea to calm down to approach the bay and get us. In the mean time we lifted the camp, except for the 20y old's tent, she refused to get her tent down arguing that the sea was not going to calm down enough for the panga to get to the shore. I was annoyed by her behavior but didn't say anything. It turned out she was right, after an hour and with the night fast approaching it was clear that the sea was not going to let us leave that day. The Seri signaled again that they were going to return the next day. We had to set up the tent again, no injuries this time.

The sea did calm down overnight so we were sure the Seris would get us that day. In the mean time Germanman and I went snorkeling again, it wasn't as good as the first time because the visibility was very bad. I still saw a few interesting fishes and a rare starfish. The Seris came mid-morning and had no problem getting to shore that time. We got more treats on our way back to the Seri town. A school of dolphins was swimming very close to us (unfortunately I had put my camera away). We went back to Isla de Patos and the young sea-lions were all excited and curious about us. The big bulls were not happy at all and were trying to shoo us out of there. We also saw some other birds that we (or at least I) thought they were ducks, but they were actually Cormorants.

We finally got to the Seri town again. We bought more crafts and the Seri women gave us some necklaces made with fish scales, as presents, for good luck. No other major incident happened on our way back and we finally made it back to Tucson around midnight. Despite all the problems and the scary part of being stranded on the island, and the bug bites, and the sunburn, it was one of the best weekends of my life.