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Sea Kayaking Baja

Sea Kayaking: Transportation for Eco-Tourists

Estates West | March, 2012

"Like a blank canvass, blue cloudless skies floated in front of the kayak. Off in the distance, a white sandy beach came into view. Nope, not the legendary Coronado Island. With the bow pointed toward Carmen Island, I chased away the hunger pangs with a handful of trail mix. Soon our fleet of 12 kayaks descended at the lunchtime paradise. Freshly prepared Ceviche atop crispy tostadas satisfied my clock-like appetite. Soft adventure travel like this boosts the fun factor with a tab bit of challenge."

Sea Kayaking: Transportation for Eco-tourists October 2011

Sea Kayaking: Transportation for Eco-tourists October 2011

Estates West Magazine 2011 | October, 2011

Written by Elise Oberliesen for Estates West Magazine 2011 Like a blank canvass, blue cloudless skies floated in front of the kayak. Off in the distance, a white sandy beach came into view. Nope, not the legendary Coronado Island. With the bow pointed toward Carmen Island, I chased away the hunger pangs with a handful of trail mix. Soon our fleet of 12 kayaks descended at the lunchtime paradise. Freshly prepared Ceviche atop crispy tostadas satisfied my clock-like appetite. Soft adventure travel like this boosts the fun factor with a tab bit of challenge. After the quick geology lesson and lunchtime clean up, we plunged into the sea, like kids released at recess. The reef bloomed with sergeant majors, torpedo fish and moray eels. Snorkeling among schools of fish had me wondering when the Discovery Channel’s Blue Planet film crew would show up. In flash speed, silver fish darted in any direction. Once overfished, the now protected waters of Loreto Bay National Park, in the Sea of Cortez boast crystal clear waters, secluded beaches and rare seashells that tempt any beachcomber’s heart. Located in the Baja California Sur, Mexico just 700 miles from the U.S. border, Loreto, is home to some of the best eco-adventures, from snorkeling and whale watching to hiking. How to fly-in? Alaska Airlines is the only carrier. Next stop, Honeymoon Cove. Brilliant turquoise waters cast against cobalt skies offered picturesque hikes. Avocado and cheese sandwiches always taste better with a hit of hot sauce and a million dollar view. Running Sea Kayak Adventures Inc, a fully licensed guide service since 1993, owner Terry Prichard, who doubles as a geologist, knows this landscape better than most. Whether he’s giving a quick geology lesson, sharing historical facts or eyeballing flora and fauna, guests take away more than pretty pictures and fond memories. Grab the camera, Prichard and his local guides point out endangered blue footed boobies and brown pelicans perched atop cliffs. Entertainment includes watching the birds dive-bomb from hundreds of feet in the air. Incepted into UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2005, the region attracts tourists and scientists. Often referred to as the Galapagos of North America, the magical waters give birth to 890 fish species while one third of the whale species harbor here along with 696 plant species.” Go with guides. On the four day excursion, we meandered along island coastlines with unforgettable views. From equipment, safety, food prep to expert navigation, the guides managed all the details. Did someone mention happy hour? Even night caps showed up with smiles. At dinner time, our hungry bellies filled up on authentic dishes like Mexican rice and sautéed chicken dripping in mole sauce; chocolate cake stacked as high as a YellowPages book. With tent in tow, resting our heads on new ground each night made me feel like Goldilocks—because some beaches feel softer than others. By midnight, an eye-popping spectacle dropped millions of stars right inside my tent. Next time adventure calls, consider sea kayaking and leave civilization behind. With a paddle in one hand, camera in the other, spectacular images will etch themselves into your mind. Then a longing to re-visit this enchanted place where the mountains look like sand castles and Hershey Kisses will have you obsessively searching for the quickest flight. Whale watching tours take place from January through mid-March.

Kayaking Sea of Cortez Baja, Overland Traveller

Sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez

Overland Traveller | June, 2010

"The blow-your-mind sea to mountainous desert views; the whopping array of wildlife; that oh-so-close to nature feel; the health benefits of propelling yourself across ocean waters beneath soaring sea cliffs; access to white-sand coves; the possibility of sighting blue whales. I could go on...so I will. I travelled with Sea Kayak Adventures who took me and eleven others paddling through Loreto Bay National Bay Marine Park for four days..."

Islands of Loreto Bay Kayak Tour
Yoga Trips in Baja

Rolling Out the Yoga Mat

New York Times | February, 2010

"'We are continuing to see strong interest in the yoga component, even through the bad economy,' said Nancy Mertz, co-owner of Sea Kayak Adventures in Loreto on the Baja Peninsula. Sea Kayak has a $1,095 Yoga, Whales and Kayaks tour, in which each day begins with yoga on the beach, followed by whale-watching and kayaking outings with naturalist guides. The outfit, which started with one yoga and kayak trip with 13 guests in 2006, is now up to three trips a year, one of which is already sold out for 2010."

Yoga Adventure & Kayak Tour

A Pocket Full of Adventure, by Dennis Arp 2009

| February, 2010

By Dennis Arp, travel contributor for Veterinary Practice News And on the fifth day in God’s Pocket, we rested. But just long enough to add a big hairy legend to our already rich Canadian adventure. Our intrepid group of 10 was hiking in the misty rainforest of Hurst Island, in British Columbia’s God’s Pocket Provincial Marine Park, which in less than a week had come to feel like the perfect home base for outdoor exploration. On previous days, we had kayaked with porpoises, otters and whales, combed shorelines rich with native history and watched bald eagles tumble through the sky in their mating embrace. Now, sitting cross-legged in eerie sunlight filtered by the dense canopy of fir and pine tree branches, the plot thickened. Serina, one of our two guides from Sea Kayak Adventures, the outdoor company that had organized our six-day trip, shared stories of how for years sailors plying these waters had shunned the east side of Hurst Island for fear of encountering “a wild, hairy man.” Later, a little research revealed this excerpt from “Cruising Beyond Desolation Sound,” John Chappell’s book on sailing the Northwest:  “Strong evidence points to the existence of a Sasquatch family on the island. … Indian residents of nearby Balaklava Island have had similar experiences and now refuse to go to (Meeson Cove or Harlequin Bay).” So of course we had to go looking for evidence. Alas, we didn’t find any footprints or other indications of a Sasquatch; the only furry creature around was a chocolate Lab named Lewis. But we still enjoyed entertaining the notion that of all the wild places in all the world, God’s Pocket might be where a Sasquatch had chosen to settle down and raise a family. During the hike back to the God’s Pocket Resort, I couldn’t help thinking: Boy, did that Sasquatch pick the wrong side of the island to call home.  Waiting for us on the island’s western shore were hot showers, wine and hors d’oeuvres. Now this is the way to spend a week in the wild. Many of the guide-led trips offered by Sea Kayak Adventures feature tent camping in British Columbia or along the coast of Baja California – which, of course, is a great way to sample all that a place of natural wonders has to offer. But there’s also something to be said for a daily adventure that ends with a gourmet meal and the warmth of a comfortable bed. Hence, the allure of the God’s Pocket trip, which combines daily guided trips to the islands and along the shorelines of B.C. with the comfort of evenings at the God’s Pocket Resort owned and operated by Bill Weeks and Annie Ceschi. It was Bill and our two guides, Serina and Ellie, who greeted us at the outset of our adventure, on the boat dock in Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island. There were eight of us signed up for the trip, and we quickly got acquainted during the 20-minute ride on Bill’s water taxi and scuba dive boat to God’s Pocket. The seven others on the trip included two physicians, a college professor, a research physicist and a hotelier, with the group ranging in age from mid-30s to early-70s. All of us had sea kayaked before, but for several this would be the first multi-day experience, and the 70-year-old worried about keeping up. However, as the week progressed, we learned to trust the efficiencies of tandem kayaks as well as the good planning and good pairing of our attentive guides. Ultimately, we all seemed to get the level of outdoor adventure we sought. As soon as the cabins of God’s Pocket came into view, we knew this would be a special week. Tucked snug against a hillside and into a sheltered cove, the resort projects a homey charm that became more evident once we unloaded our gear and assembled around the fire ring built into the long deck that connects a row of wood-paneled rooms. After meeting the only other permanent residents of the island – Annie, our chef Shona and the exuberantly affectionate Lewis – we took a quick tour of the lodge. The cabins are comfortable, cozy, devoid of ostentation – perfect for a place that exudes a wilderness feel. The isolation of God’s Pocket remains its most enticing feature. Often the only sounds to be heard are the calls of eagles and ravens overhead and the Pacific lapping at the pilings below. Our breakfasts and dinners were served family style in a dining room just below Bill and Annie’s quarters, as we planned the day’s excursion in the morning and then deconstructed it later that evening. The food was never short of outstanding, emphasizing local favorites such as salmon and halibut as well as desserts such as lemon cake with fresh strawberries and pecan pie. The only other guests we saw during the week were a pair of scuba enthusiasts from England who had come to dive in nearby Browning Pass, an area known for offering some of the best cold-water diving in the world. All of our exploring would be at surface level, but we felt as if our experience was just as deep. Our pattern was to paddle several hours in the morning, enjoying the scenery and each other’s company en route to a secluded spot, at which we would nosh on a lunch prepared by Shona and packed by Ellie and Serina. One of the joys of lodge-based exploring is not having to pack and unpack loads of camping gear each day. After lunch, we would paddle home in our sleek fiberglass boats, stopping to see petroglyphs or natural wonders along the way and arriving just in time for wine and cheese around the hot tub each evening. Our day trips yielded many highlights. One morning we paddled through waters teeming with moon jellies, whose fluid movements seemed choreographed to unheard music. On another, a pocket of fog accentuated the playful streak in an otter, who popped up where we least expected, clearly winning a game of aquatic hide and seek. And always there were the bald eagles, soaring majestically in numbers none of us had expected. During an afternoon paddle, we reached 67 before giving up on our quest to count all that we saw. It felt like they were our constant aerial companions, eager to join us on each of our journeys. By the time departure day arrived, we decided the only thing our adventure lacked was the ultimate hair-raising tale – an encounter that would have taken a bigfoot and family from myth to reality.  No matter.  We had dipped a paddle into the wild Northwest and enjoyed more than a few flavorful moments and mysteries. Besides, who knows how a Sasquatch might react when he finds out there’s wine and a hot tub on the other side of the island. In the end, maybe some things should remain hidden in God’s Pocket.

God's Pocket Wilderness Resort Kayak Tour
Rudderless Bliss in Baja, Ingrig Hart

Rudderless Bliss in Baja: A Novice Kayak Tourer Revels in the Rhythms of Life on the Sea of Cortez

Adventure Sports Journal | October, 2009

"We will paddle double kayaks into Loreto Bay National Marine Park, and visit Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen, both uninhabited wildlife sanctuaries declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We will be off the grid—no email, cell phones, hot showers or flush toilets. Instead, we’ll reset our priorities to paddling, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, and, at the end of each day, reward our burdensome diligence with happy hour.... ... We look out over the sea. Three pelicans fly overhead. The distant echo of dolphins and whales leave an imprint on my heart. Slowly, we make our way back to the laughter of the group—another day in this unforgettable Baja paradise."

Islands of Loreto Bay Kayak Tour

An Orca Odyssey off Vancouver Island, Edmonton Journal June 2009

| July, 2009

By Donald Mallon, regarding Johnstone Strait BC, Edmonton Journal, June 27, 2009 "Orcas!" I said. Lexie and Caleb, our Sea Kayak Adventures guides, were asking me and seven others about our overall objective for a six-day kayaking trip. My co-paddlers and I were attending a night-before, planning-and-get-to-know-each-other session at the Haida-Way Inn in Port McNeill on the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island. The group included Hilary, a Scottish doctor, lawyer John and his daughter Pierce from Sonoma, Calif., Lisa, a New York environmental scientist, our friends Elo and Judy from Kelowna, and my wife Cathy and me. Our intrepid guides - who looked entirely too healthy and well adjusted - discussed the rules and logistics of our proposed excursion into Johnstone Strait, known for its concentrations of killer whales. Some of my new paddling friends were interested in observing intertidal flora and fauna. Others were in it for the whole camping/kayaking outdoors experience. Not me -been there, done that. I wanted to see killer whales; the more the better. To get to Port McNeill we had flown from Vancouver to Port Hardy via a 30-seat, twin-turboprop plane. From there, local taxi legend Reggie and his daughter Barbara drove us in two of Port McNeill's three running taxis. As we rode along getting the lowdown on local activities, I couldn't help but be impressed by the dense northern rainforest through which the highway is carved. The wilderness here is real. By the time we arrived in Port McNeill, the fog had burned off and the town was celebrating its annual Orcafest. Despite the sunny and pleasant afternoon, we could see the fog bank ebb and flow in the distance. I caught first glimpses of marine life in the harbour - a seal feasting on salmon scraps and a river otter heading home after a similar meal. After meeting with our guides, we settled down to homework: packing the prescribed clothes into dry-bags that would be stuffed into the bow and stern of our double kayaks. This was no mean feat. We expected to occasionally get wet over the next several days and it was essential that we have sufficient spare dry clothing. However, space in a kayak is limited. Packing many things into small spaces is practised skill and it took a couple of tries to get the bags closed. The following morning Reggie ferried us to Telegraph Cove regaling us along the way with stories of old logging camps and extolling the virtues of the local fish entrails composting facility. A picturesque sheltered harbour and boat launch, Telegraph Cove originated as a logging centre, but its current economy is based exclusively on tourism. It boasts a whale museum that includes the whole skeleton of a fin whale. Telegraph Cove also has two spots that serve tasty cafe lattes - the last we would enjoy for several days. There are several kayak outfitters who launch out of Telegraph Cove and at least three of them start trips on Sundays. As we loaded our boats it looked like we might be at the back of a kayak traffic jam. However, things proceeded smoothly and orderly and we were soon out of the harbour and into Johnstone Strait. While the guests plied the waters in long, broad and extremely stable double kayaks, our guides navigated in nimble singles. We paddled east along the Vancouver Island side of Johnstone Strait for a while until it was time to cross. Lexie and Caleb exhorted us to stay close to each other as we paddled across what is a busy shipping lane. Their job is a bit like herding cats. We crossed without incident or whale sighting and stopped for lunch at Flower Island, named for its diversity of rare plant species. As we were eating and sunning ourselves on a beach a deer swam right out of the ocean and onto the island. Evidently, he was also aware of the diverse plant population and like us was there for lunch. After some further paddling, we landed at Deep Cove on Hansen Island. It's a tiny, sheltered bay with a few tent spots and a rudimentary kitchen and communal area under the forest canopy. We shared the water's edge with scavenging minks and seals who slapped their fins on the water just to make noise. As we set up our tents and combed the beach, Lexie and Caleb set out wine, brie, crackers and grapes for happy hour and then prepared the first of many scrumptious meals. Over the next few days we moved camp a couple of times. Each day took on a pleasant predictability. Gourmet breakfasts followed by exploration of islands and coves via kayak followed by gourmet lunches on forgotten beaches, followed by more paddling, more gourmet dinners and evening fireside stories of Indian legends or orca science. According to the biblical story of creation, it wasn't until Day 5 that creatures of the sea appeared. So it was for our whales. Our fifth day out was gloriously sunny with no wind and glassy waters. As we approached Johnstone Strait for our final crossing, Caleb spotted them. He knew to listen first and then look. A group of males and females was across the strait from us, but we could clearly hear their blows and see their dorsal fins as they broke the water's surface. We had learned from Lexie and Caleb that those with the massive straight triangular dorsals were males, and even from a distance they were impressive. Having had this first taste, I wanted more. I was not to be disappointed. We crossed the strait and were headed east towards Kaikash beach when Cathy got the first glimpse. A small group was headed right for us! We dashed to the kelp line and rafted together as they glided past a mere 15 metres away. I'd been thinking that when I saw one up close, I would utter something erudite like "Thar she blows." However, the best I could do, along with several of my companions, was "Wow!" The grace and ease with which these creatures move through water defies description. The experience was truly awesome. That evening as we ate our last supper at our campsite on Kaikash beach, an entire pod swam past for our viewing pleasure. Using binoculars, I could see two small calves frolicking in the waves. Objective achieved. The following afternoon, back at Telegraph Cove we wandered the docks and shops, sipping lattes. It would soon be time to say goodbye and, like the orcas, migrate home.

God's Pocket Resort, by Rebecca Agiewich July 2009

God's Pocket Resort, by Rebecca Agiewich July 2009

| July, 2009

By Rebecca Agiewich, Writer, Editor, Blog Consultant Photos courtesy of Paul Malboeuf Day 1: We arrived at God's Pocket Resort after a bracing boat cruise through the Queen Charlotte Strait, on a tour organized by Sea Kayak Adventures, which has exclusive use of the resort for lodge-based sea kayak tours. I've been curious to see the God's Pocket Resort because my boyfriend Dave used to stop here with his father in their boat enroute to Alaska from Seattle. He raves about how friendly and quirky it is, and how beautiful - set in a little pocket cove that's protected from the elements in the strait (hence the name God's Pocket). The islands off Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island are now included in God's Pocket Provincial Park, in part created at the urging of Jacques Cousteau due to its incredible underwater diversity. The lodge doesn't disappoint. It's funky and comfortable. Flowers line the wooden walkway and deck that looks out at the water. Colorful kayaks sit waiting for us at the dock and a robust chocolate lab comes bounding out to greet us when we arrive. We take our first paddle in cool (but not cold) gray weather, exploring the shoreline of Hurst Island. Bald eagles are everywhere! We also see Harlequin ducks and a variety of other birdlife - all of which our guides Hillary and Terry can easily identify (and expound upon). I'll have to do a lot of paddling here to work off all the delicious food that they're feeding us. Tonight's dinner: pork chops, pakoras, stir fried vegetables, salad, and cheesecake - all of it fresh and delicious. Terry giving nature talk Already I feel so far away from everything out here and don't want to go back. Days 2: After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, fruit salad, and granola, we paddle around nearby Balaclava Island. It's foggy when we start out, which gives everything a dreamy, mysterious air. We see the spray of a humpback whale; the head of a porpoise; and many bright-colored starfish and anemones: orange, purple, and blue. The fog eventually burns off and by the time we're all gathered for happy hour on the deck of the lodge, the sun has come out. Everyone is smiling, laughing, and relaxed. How could you not be here? Day 3: Dinner last night was the best pasta I've ever had, plus Caesar salad, chocolate mousse and chocolate crinkle cookies. Cooking for yourself is definitely overrated. Today's paddle takes us to Nigei island in calm sunny waters, where we hike across the island through mossy forest to a place called Clam Cove. Our animal sightings today include harbor seals, deer, bald eagles, rhinocerous auklets, Harlequin ducks, and numerous other birds whose names I can't remember. I especially like today's paddle because it takes us through so many small islands and along sheer rock faces. In the morning, especially, the water is so calm and glassy it's as if we were paddling on an alpine like. By the time we're ready to go back, the wind picks up. On our last crossing of the day, from Balaclava to Hurst Island, we make sure to stay together. It's a little challenging in the wind, but I feel safe with everyone else around. After dinner, Dave and I hike to a viewpoint high on the Hurst Island. Louis the chocolate lab joins us there. It's nice to see the water from this birds-eye view after being right on it. We don't linger too long, having heard just today that the native tribes in this area believe that Sasquatch roams Hurst Island. Beachside LunchDay 4 & 5: Today is an amazing day for wildlife sightings. First we saw orcas passing through the strait this morning right from our deck. Then, right after we'd gotten in our kayaks for the day's paddle, all sorts of birds started dive-bombing the water nearby, including at least 9 or 10 bald eagles. Turns out there was a herring ball that they were after - a silvery churning mass in the water that occurs when a school of herring gets attacked from below and they "ball" up to protect themselves. It also turns into a feeding frenzy from above as birds try to get the fish on the outside of the ball. It was a powerful and exhilarating experience to see that - especially with all those bald eagles. Apparently some herring balls can get to be as big as several football fields put together! Anyway, that was all before we'd even started paddling. Our other adventures included paddling to the Scarlett Point Lighthouse, where we got a tour from the lighthouse keeper. It's a breathtakingly beautiful place. We also paddled around a nearby "lagoon" and took a hike to Harlequin Bay on the north side of Hurst Island. During yesterday's paddle to Bell Island, we saw both sea lions and seals - a mother and a baby. Hard to believe the trip is almost over. This has been one of the most relaxing vacations ever. The scenery has been great, the weather cooperative, the food delicious. And you can't beat happy hour every afternoon on the deck of the God's Pocket Resort! We have one more little adventure to do, and that's a night paddle this evening after dinner to check out the bioluminescence in the water, which is apparently quite spectacular… The bioluminescence was indeed something to behold! Every stroke of our paddles caused the water to "light up." My favorite part was seeing the fish jump and their outline be all sparkly. The whole experience had a magical, otherworldly quality to it, paddling along in the dark light that, with the water glowing all around us. What a way to end the trip! Day 6: Today held still more adventure though. After leaving God's Pocket (definitely a sad moment) we really wanted to do some more whale watching. The Sea Kayak Adventures folks recommended Mackay Orca Whale Watching in Port McNeill - and they did not disappoint! I saw more orcas than I could ever have dreamed of - jumping, swimming, slapping their tails. There were humpbacks too, obligingly flipping their tails out of the water in a most photogenic manner. Let's just say it was "whale-tastic!" A great ending to one of the best vacations in recent memory. Rebecca Agiewich is an author and freelance writer based in Seattle. (www.RebeccaAgiewich.com)

God's Pocket Wilderness Resort Kayak Tour

Carbon-free Kayaking in God's Pocket, Calgary Herald April 2009

| June, 2009

By Lisa Monforton, Calgary Herald April 22, 2009 Kayaking British Columbia Adventurers have punished their minds and bodies on human-powered odysseys for centuries. Every week, it seems another modern-day Thor Heyerdahl embarks on a feat that most of us can't even fathom, and often for the fame that comes with success. Paddle alongside whales, sea otters, seals and porpoises while kayaking and camping around some of Canada's most stunningly beautiful and remote waters and islands in the Queen Charlotte Strait. Outfitter Sea Kayak Adventures is offering two six-day kayaking trips in August into God's Pocket Provincial Park, Canada's newest marine park, founded in 1995. Unlike many of the other kayaking adventures in the area, outfitter Terry Prichard swears that in this remote island archipelago" you won't see anybody else"--except, of course, your fellow paddlers, abundant marine life and secluded landscapes. The trip starts in the town of Port Hardy on North Vancouver Island where guests will be taken by water-taxi into the park wilderness. Camp will be set up on secluded pebble beaches and, during the week, guests will be treated to days of paddling around the islands, steeped in aboriginal history and culture, exploring tide pools animated with sea stars and anemones as well as some trekking into the lush rainforests. All gear and the kayaks, which are made in Ladysmith, B.C., will be waiting at the drop-off point. "We are carbon neutral," says Nancy Mertz, Prichard's wife and business partner. Though the outfitter is keen "to turn people on to non-motorized travel," says Mertz, the company realized the irony in that their guests usually have to travel quite a distance by car or air to get there. So when you log on to seakayakadventures.com,you can offset the carbon cost of getting there by donating to one of several projects, says Mertz, which includes native energy projects. Can't make it this summer? Sea Kayak Adventures also offers trips to sunny Baja in winter.

Baja Beauty, The Globe and Mail March 2009

| March, 2009

By Darryl Leniuk Special to The Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper) March 28, 2009 With each paddle stroke, sea spray pelts my face like driving rain. In the past five minutes, I've barely moved along the limestone cliffs of the shore. My guide Terry Prichard - my partner in this two-man kayak - yells at the nearby boats, "Paddle back to shore!" We've taken too long a lunch break and the wind has picked up: we're fighting a strong headwind. But I don't mind; the sky above is a sharp blue, and this morning three bottlenose dolphins passed close by our beachfront camp. We're heading for our campsite on a cactus-covered island in the Sea of Cortez, along the Baja California peninsula. I've come here to explore the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park's 2,000 square kilometres of water and land are home to blue whales and 891 species of fish, including many that appear nowhere else on earth. With cloudless skies and temperate weather, it seemed the perfect escape from a still-cold Canadian winter. Our trip began the day before in Loreto, a laid-back town of 15,000 on the east coast of Baja. After divvying up supplies for a week of kayaking, our group of five Canadians sets off with our guides to one of the five uninhabited Sea of Cortez Islands: Danzante Island, a narrow, rocky land mass peppered with soaring sea birds and cardon cactus. Prichard, a lanky 54-year-old who started outfitter Sea Kayak Adventures in the early 1990s with his wife Nancy, offered tips on technique: If I was going to be able to paddle all week, I would have to break the beginner's habit of using my arms and work the larger muscles of my back and abdomen. Despite the coaching, my arms were soon aching, and I let Prichard do most of the work. After a lunch stop on a bone-covered gravel beach, we made the three-kilometre crossing to Carmen Island, the largest island in the park and our base for the night. Boats were hauled up, tents erected and the group was soon devouring a dinner of fish Veracruz on rice, washed down with tequila sunrise. Then Prichard gave us the bad news. "Baja has one of the highest concentrations of scorpions in the world," he said. If we ventured out to pee at night, we'd best not be barefoot. And as I was about to go to bed, I got a direct introduction to the local fauna. Manuel, one of the guides, held a saucer-sized tarantula in his hand. He didn't flinch as it crawled up his arm and across his chest before he placed it back on the ground. I knew I would be having nightmares. I retired to my tent, searched carefully with my headlamp for any intruders, and zipped it tight. Angel Fish Today, we've been paddling south, with the wind mostly at our backs. Now, we struggle through the wind to the lee of the island, relax and hug the coast. Suddenly, my paddle strokes get me distance. Pelicans perch on guano-stained rocks and blue-footed boobies soar overhead. Sandy coves and turquoise bays line the squat wall of cliffs. This idyllic landscape has caught the eye of developers. Long known for sport fishing and adventure travel - and as an escape from the tequila bars and tourist resorts of Cabo San Lucas, further south at the tip of Baja - Loreto is now in the sights of resort builders, including the Trust For Sustainable Development, a Canadian company that launched a $3-billion project here. (It has been stalled by the credit crunch.) In Mexico, "All sun and sand development [sites have] been taken," Laura Escobosa, an articulate marine biologist who manages an environmental NGO in Loreto, tells me later. So far, a lack of fresh water has prevented Loreto from becoming a major tourist destination. But the Mexican government has targeted the area for expansion, with 400-room resorts and at least two golf courses. While no building is permitted on the islands, coastal development will require massive amounts of fresh water and expensive desalination plants, with effluent that could damage the park. Most people in Loreto want the jobs tourists will bring, but they worry about the future. Years of overfishing and lax environmental standards nearly destroyed fishing grounds in the 1990s. Locals campaigned for protection, and the marine park was formed in 1996. "It was the first time in Mexico that a marine protected area was made by local people," Escobosa says. "People want sustainable development." Since then, tour operators have noticed a dramatic improvement. "We now see a lot more wildlife in the park," Prichard says. "Things are a lot better now." To keep it up, visitors must practice no-trace camping: Campfires are forbidden and everything that comes in must be brought out. And as it turns out, our kayaking trip includes some trekking. On Carmen Island, the powerful norte keeps us from paddling very far. So instead, we hike into the rocky desert past organ-pipe cactus and creosote bush. In the afternoon, the group paddles to a sheltered cove north of the campsite, a spot Prichard says is great for snorkelling. The water is cool, but I am soon duck-diving down among king angelfish, pufferfish and small gorgonian fans. The rocky reefs here are too far north for coral, but the multitude of colourful fish makes up for it. On the final day, I hike up a bluff on Danzante Island for sunrise. It's a short, steep climb, and my legs are burning by the time I reach the rocky lookout. I spot the strip of white coastline on Carmen Island that has been our home for the week. Looking west to the mainland, the 1,500-metre peaks of the Sierra Gigantas resemble crumbling pyramids. On the paddle out, the norte has subsided and the sea is glassy calm. Frigate birds fly overhead. Then there's a splash, and a head pokes up to look at us. It's a California sea lion, out hunting for fish - a good sign that the park can support all those who depend on it. Our kayaks, no longer weighed down by our provisions, slice through the sea. And with each paddle stroke I feel my back and abdominal muscles, just like I should. Pack your bags Getting there Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair. com) flies between Los Angeles and Loreto. WHAT TO DO Sea Kayak Adventures 1-800-616-1943; http://www.seakayakadventures.com. Offers several kayaking trips to the Sea of Cortez Islands. A seven-day trip costs $1,540 including food and all gear. WHERE TO STAY Hacienda Suites Salvatierra 152, Loreto; http://www.haciendasuites.com. From $98.

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