Monday, May 24, 2010

Seeing La Paz through a hunter's eyes

I love Baja California - with the exception of one work trip to Estonia in 1994, Baja is the only place I've traveled abroad.

I've stocked up on jewelry in Rosarito (nice, but too many tourists), I've camped on the beaches of San Quintin and Todos Santos on the Pacific side (peaceful and beautiful beyond description), I've traveled through Cabo San Lucas (gag me with a frat boy!).

But by far my favorite place to visit is La Paz, which is about three hours north of Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. It's a real city, population 225,000, the capital of Baja California Sur. It's a destination for Mexican travelers, NOT the kind of place where you'll see the kind of Spring Break scenes that make me embarrassed to be an American.

I'd been there twice already when I learned that the Outdoor Writers Association of California would be holding its spring conference there this year. It took Boyfriend and I about three seconds to say, "Hell yes!"

It was my first trip back since becoming a hunter, and I found myself seeing the place through different eyes. I always enjoy the extreme volcanic desert landscape on the drive from Cabo to La Paz, but this time I scrutinized it differently: What kind of habitat was it? Austere, and heavily grazed by the ubiquitous skinny cows. What would I find there? Dove, quail and mule deer - not that any mule deer were hanging out with the cows along the road. What would it take to hunt there? Read more...
Well, that's the difficult question.

You see, most Americans of the hook-and-bullet persuasion think of fishing when they think of La Paz, and the fishing is indeed amazing.

OWAC always arranges lots of activities for members who attend its conferences, and fishing trips were among the most coveted activities for this one. Boyfriend and I got in on one of those trips and went out with the Mosquito Fleet to fish around the island of Espiritu Santo:

Hank's first West Coast dorado (a.k.a. mahi mahi)

My first tuna - a bonito!

Back at the dock, Pelicans descend on the live well to feast on the bait sardines we hadn't used.

OK, but you know how I am about fishing. It's fun. I'll do it. Sometimes I'll even love it, like my trip to the Trinity River last year to fish for spring-run salmon.

But after I caught that bonito on the Sea of Cortez, I was content to nap in the shady spot on our panga and let the boys sit in the sun waiting to hear that ZEEEEEEEEE! that signaled a fish was on the line (at which point I would pull myself up and snap a photo or two).

Me, I've got a one-track mind to rival a 16-year-old boy's. I want to hunt!

When I got a few minutes to talk to our host, the handsome Ricardo Garcia Castro, the subdirector of tourism and international relations for La Paz, I asked him about hunting opportunities.

Here's the deal: There is no infrastructure for foreign tourist hunting in La Paz, which is an issue, because you really need to work with an outfit that's set up to help with the licensing, the firearms and the transport of your game.

Ricardo, himself a hunter, told me the gun laws are so strict in Mexico that getting caught with a single .22 cartridge in your car without the proper permits would get you in a heap of trouble. Bringing guns in is pretty much out of the question; you need an outfitter who has a good supply of guns to let you use while you're in the field. (And you know how I am about my guns: My shotgun has got to be cast for left-handed shooting and fit to accommodate my stupid giraffe neck.)

But, Ricardo said, maybe he could work something out.

This is not much to cling to, but I found myself clinging to it anyway. Boyfriend kept looking at me like I was nuts. Why worry about hunting when the fishing is so good? And why was I so bonkers about hunting in La Paz when I'd already turned down two opportunities to hunt ducks with him in Canada?

Hmmm. Well... Let me try to explain:

Hunting has completely changed my relationship with the land; it has engendered an intimacy that nothing else can match. Whenever I return to places I used to frequent before I began hunting, I look at them through the hunter's eyes, and I want to consummate my relationship with that land by committing the most fundamental act a denizen of this planet can commit: Seeking and killing game so that I may feed myself, and take nourishment from the land.

Hokey, but true.

It's not that I wasn't plenty nourished by local stuff on this trip: I ate lots of beef and fish, and drank lots of margaritas with the locally made Damiana liqueur. But that's not the same thing. I want a more personal connection to a land I already love.

We're definitely going back to La Paz - I won a three-night stay at a bungalow in the area in a raffle at one of our dinners. We'll definitely fish - Boyfriend will see to that. And we'll spend time wandering the streets of the city I love, visiting our favorite places and people.

But will I hunt there? We'll see.

To read the version of this story from a real afishionado, check out Boyfriend's first of two posts on the fishing.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


hodgeman said...

I know how you feel. I'm completely ambivalent about fishing. I'll do it for a few kicks and I like to dipnet to bring in some reds but I don't LOVE fishing the way I do hunting.

I'll take rifles and shotguns over fly rods and spinning reels any day of the week.

SimplyOutdoors said...


I can totally relate. For one, being a hunter, I always feel that any piece of land I cross, or even look at for that matter, I tend to look at differently than the average Joe.

Second, I do love fishing, and I do it whenever I can, but it still comes in a distant second to hunting; the activities are completely different, and I don't think fishing gives me as much gratification.

Have a great time when get back there, though - if you get to hunt or not.

Steve said...

there use to be a place in Cabo that would set up dove hunts. That was about 5 years ago. I think it was redrum fishing charters. Not sure if they are still around.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Nice post, Holly.

Returning to fishing after years away from the pursuit definitely affected how I looked at water. And getting into hunting affected how I looked at land.

Josh said...

I don't know whether to be really excited and happy for you two, or just so jealous that I literally spit venom and bare my teeth at the computer.

After wiping the computer, I'll be happy for you two.

What a great trip!

The Hunter's Wife said...

Holly, Hopefully you will get your chance to hunt there. I'd rather fish there. ;) And sunbathe.