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Monica Gazzo




"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes..." Néstor Agúndez Martínez

After four years of vacationing in Cabo San Lucas and using public transportation to go on day trips to Todos Santos and La Paz, I decided to expand the borders of my personal playground, rented a car and went on my first solo driving day trip to Cabo Pulmo. Thrilled by the fact that this year the waters of the Sea of Cortez are pleasantly warm, I ventured for a snorkeling adventure in the coral reef. I drove along the corridor towards San José and took Highway 1 towards La Paz. To my left I could see the last peaks of the Sierra La Laguna, before they end up in the Pacific Ocean. At its highest point, they reach up to 6000 ft. I stopped in Miraflores for a short and uneventful visit, then continued along the Transpeninsular until the "Trópico de Cancer" sign. Soon after, I turned right and followed the directions to "Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo". For a long while the road is paved. I passed La Ribera, went through the tiny town of Santa Cruz and surpassed Punta Colorada. Then suddenly the road becomes dirt and rough. My automatic Renault Clio, color "dulce de leche", didn't like it very much, but I was not going to turn back. Except for a few small developments, the road is empty, with signs of recent and past hurricanes still visible: destroyed signs, buildings with no roofs, impoverished ranchos, with dogs barking and playfully running after my car. The emerald blue waters of the gulf framed the view to my left and to my right, the hot and dry desert, with thousands of saguaros and torote trees. All over there were bushes of some sort with bright yellow flowers, probably due to the recent summer rains.

Approximately two and a half hours after I left Cabo San Lucas, I arrived to Cabo Pulmo. A small fleet of "lanchas" quietly waited to be rented by visitors and sat next to brown pelicans and "tijeretas" feasting on a dead fish. Snorkeling equipment can be rented from the tour operators that charge $40US per person for an hour and a half boat tour. The admission to the park, a legally protected area since 1995, is 42 pesos. I decided not to join the 8 people party that went on the boat tour and strolled instead towards the palapas on the beach. A few of them were occupied, but several were unclaimed. The recently opened Wal Mart, situated in Plaza San Lucas, next to Sam's Club just outside Cabo San Lucas, had provided me with the necessary snorkeling gear and I was ready for my first look beneath the Sea of Cortez.

Looking is a most rewarding experience in Baja California. Despite the aridity of the landscape, there's something exciting every time you set your eyes onto it: a tiny hummingbird hovers over the yellow flowers of a saguaro, a brown and white rabbit makes its way across the road you're driving on, two California quails run amidst the desert brush, tilting forward the dark plumes on their heads, yellow and black butterflies are everywhere. The same happens underwater. At first, I only noticed schools of tiny indigo blue fish. Then the variety of details sets in: yellow stripes on the backs of slowly moving fish, cerulean scales on thin bodies, their mimetic qualities that simulate the rocks I can touch with my hands. Suddenly, under the sand, I noticed a lazy stingray... I stared into her bulgy dark eyes, knowing that she couldn't see me and hoped that she would smell me or use her electro receptors to detect me, feel threatened and swim away. Instead, she didn't move an inch... She was probably happy where she was, feeding from the coral reef, her favorite feeding ground. I felt like an intruder, stepping into someone else's garden. Knowing that stings are equipped with a razor-sharp stinger that contains venom, I decided not to find out if she would attack me or move away, so I turned around, enjoyed other colorful fishes and went back to the beach. This decision was determined by the fact that I was alone in my swimming exploration. Had I been in a group situation, probably I would have dared to be more playful. However, even if rare, stings have proven to even be fatal. I was just happy to have witnessed that sting rays are doing well in the Sea of Cortez, despite the fact that some types are considered endangered.

In his 1941 "The Log From the Sea Of Cortez" John Steinbeck writes: "Pulmo is a coral reef... The complexity of the life-pattern on Pulmo Reef was even greater than at Cape San Lucas. Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it, was a teeming fauna. Every piece of the soft material broken off skittered and pulsed with life -little crabs and worms and snails. One small piece of coral might conceal thirty or forty species, and the colors on the reef were electric... The reef was gradually exposed as the tide went down, and on its flat top the tide pools were beautiful... There were purple pendent gorgonians like lacy fans; a number of small spine-covered puffer fish which bloat themselves when they are attacked, erecting the spines; and many starfish, including some purple and gold cushion stars... Whereas at San Lucas speed and ferocity were the attributes of most animals, at Pulmo concealment and camouflage were largely employed. The little crabs wore masks of algae and bryozoa and even hydroids, and most animals had little tunnels or some protected place to run. The softness of the coral made this possible, where the hard smooth granite of San Lucas had forbidden it."

I walked south on the beach for 2 - 3 miles and felt reassured about the fact that there are still uncrowded and pristine beaches in Baja. On this one, the sand is coarse and covered with small white pieces of dead coral. I left Cabo Pulmo and drove towards Los Frailes. The road was unpaved and very bumpy. There was traffic, since it was a week day, but mostly trucks and four wheel drives. I encountered cattle standing on the unpaved road or on its edges, grazing the desert vegetation. The thin cows looked at me calmly and did not move. Here and there a few young horses. South of Los Frailes, the road got even bumpier, even though it's graded. At Boca de la Vinorrama I saw an American family returning to their home from a day at the beach and asked for directions. I had two choices: to continue on the same road along the coast towards Punta Gorda or to turn right and go west through Palo de Escopeta. I chose the mountain road, even though it was as rough as the coastal road. The sunset caught me on my way back, yet it provided me with a stunning view of the sea and the desert cloaked by thousand different blues, pinks, reds and yellows, until night set in. I drove more than an hour (about 22 miles) before seeing on the horizon the lights of civilization. I hit Highway 1 right at the airport, took the newly completed toll road and about three hours after leaving Cabo Pulmo, I was back in Cabo San Lucas.

In the XIXth and XXth centuries, the British used to travel to Italy in search of beauty, relaxation and inspiration. Likewise, in the XXIst century, Angelenos like me, gringos in general and canadians travel to Baja California for similar reasons. A thinner peninsula than Italy, Baja California is the 4th longest peninsula in the world and it is flanked to the east by the Sea of Cortez and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. In a similar way, Italy is flanked by the Tirrenean Sea to the East and the Mediterranean to the West. I wonder how would have Piero de la Francesca painted the Baja California desert and how many more pinks and blues would his palette have created. I have indeed seen with brand new eyes...

Monica Gazzo
Cabo San Lucas
November 2008

Brief Bio (for more detailed information, please refer to the Résumé page):
Monica Gazzo is a graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute (MFA). Her films have been shown at the Directors Guild of America, Hollywood, Los Angeles Filmforum, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood), Melnitz Theatre at University of California, Los Angeles, New Festival at NYU, New York City, Cleveland International Film Festival, Cleveland, Ohio, MadCat Women's International Film Festival, Angels Gate Cultural Center, Anais Nin Video & Film Diary Festival, Big Sur, California, 18th Street Arts Complex, Santa Monica, Society for Cinema Studies Conference, New Orleans, LA, State University at Binhampton (SUNY), Film Arts Festival, Roxie Cinema, San Francisco; UC Theater, Berkeley, Beaubourg Pompidou Center, Paris and the London Filmmaker's Coop, amongst other venues. She has received grants from the City of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs and Youth Services Department, Long Beach Museum of Art / Video Annex, the Ahmanson Foundation, the California Arts Council, the California Community Foundation, the Italian Cultural Institute and others. thers.

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