Tuesday, December 3, 1985

Baja Journal, Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez at Cabo San Lucas, 12/4-5/1985

Sea of Cortez at Cabo San Lucas

At Playa del Amor, a beach that goes through the peninsula on the west, the Pacific scoops huge crescents of coarse granite sand on the beach. Light passes through the curl of a wave, an indescribable turquoise.

On the Sea of Cortez side of Cabo, the calm water is a little greener, more aquamarine. And we snorkel amid the rocks and drift over the great depths, following the fish. This was John's third dive, the first one at Mulegé wasn't spectacular, but he learned the basic principles. I was a cautious teacher, as John was not a confident swimmer, whereas I was like a dolphin. We didn't go out past the edge of the reef, as it was very shallow and murky do this due to the suspended coral bloom so there were no colorful fish to tantalize the eye.

On our second dive at the wreck of the tuna boat in the harbor, John was still far too nervous to go out more than a few feet, so I explored the boat alone. The rocks and submerged islands offered a wealth of fish and he was hooked on snorkeling.

The fish were the wildflowers of the sea, blooming from rock to rock, capricious flores. The dive at Playa del Amor was like less spectacular in terms of fish, through the fish that were present, were much larger. I was too tired to go out around the point and I had no flippers so I didn't get a chance to see that if there was any better snorkeling. Later, there many divers were in the area.

I think the tuna boat wreck in the harbor had much better diving. Our last day at Cabo, we went back to the tuna wreck and John explored the rocks and the boat. Not as many fish at the boat as compared to yesterday.

I caught the tail of a porcupine puffer fish between my toes after a short chase, and gently tugged on him to make him inflate. He was a slow swimmer and was not used to being molested. Because of his thorny body, I'm sure few creatures find him appetizing.

By comparison, Caribbean pufferfish have iridescent peacock blue eyes. This one had brownish eyes. The little blimp eyed me remorsefully!

I point out a yellow and white and black angelfish, not a Moorish idol, and colorful groupers, and rust-brown gobies with those ridiculous eyes on the tops of their heads, clinging to the sides of the boat like limpets. They watched us pass baleful stares, their little fins like hands, on the rocks.

We are surrounded by many types of butterfly fish, one needlenosed yellow and black one. And schools of surgeonfish. Blues and yellows, striped schools of silvery cowfish along th esandy bottom. I point out grunts, boxfish, neons, tetras, wrasse, pipefish, trumpetfish, parrotfish, a unicornfish and barbed bass.

A pair of pale blue fish, like jacks or mackerels with long dorsal fins, looking very much like angelfish cruise me. A surprisingly orange fish, similar to a butterfly fish, but larger, with its fins outlined in neon blue, carefully checks me out. A garibaldi of sorts?

A school of tiny neon blue and black fish like a cloud of dust motes. A colorful male boxfish sculls with his drab black-and-white mate. They have transparent fins that look like twirling shawls of flamenco dancers, to propel themselves forward, which makes them look a little like hovering gnats, or helicopters.

Schools of pale green coronet fish or pipefish hover at the surface and trumpetfish with blue plaid coats and spatula mouths rest on the bottom. Both species have long mouths and thin bodies, with eyes an somewhere forward of the middle, and they're funny looking like cartoons. The pipefish with its slender narrow mouth and teeth, is like a beak of a hummingbird.

And there are as many varieties of fish in the sea as there are birds in the air
Try and describe the differences between an ostrich, a kiwi, a parrot, a swallow, a hummingbird or a penguin to someone who is blind. This is what it was like to describe the fish of the sea to someone who has never before snorkeled, to see them in books, or in aquariums is not enough. John is amazed. He had no idea such richness lay beneath the skin of the sea.

People tend not to see the creatures, and even dismiss them when they're in a man-made environment. When you're swimming among the fish, as guests in their world, you gain a whole new perspective of them.

It seems I can never get enough of seeing them. I no sooner memorize shapes and colors of one species, and another equally interesting one comes along and I've totally forgotten what markings and what fish I was memorizing the details of. Multiply this by 20 to 30 species and the results is chaos, pure chaos, a glut of color and shape and form.

There are very few books with decent pictures of tropical fish—most are downright lousy.
I'd like to see a delux coffee-table book of tropical fish in natural clusters because the different species cohabitate together in riotous color.

Most photos are taken with flash which changes the colors of the fish. And many fish also change colors at night too. Or when they're frightened. Or according to mood. Like the poor dorado, or dolphinfish that flashed all the colors of the rainbow and the northern lights as he was strung up by the tail on the dock hoist for the obligatory big game photo.

Cabo San Lucas, Baja

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