In Baja, Happy Campers
Each morning and afternoon, we hopped into the launch to see a different part of the island. One morning we found a pod of dolphins playing right in front of our boat. First we spotted two fins splitting the water, then four, then 10, then a dozen. They dove beneath the boat and came up on the other side, and we followed them until they finally swam off into deeper water. The look on the kids' faces was magical.
Barking Sea Lions, Flipping Rays
Our favorite excursion was to Los Islotes, a group of small rocky islands off the northern tip of Isla La Partida, which is separated from Espiritu Santo by a narrow channel. There, hundreds of sea lions bark and play and sun themselves on the rocks. We anchored in the deep green water 25 yards off the biggest island. Hugh and I hopped in, towing our 7-year-old sons on their boogie boards. We paddled in close enough to the sea lions to hear them bark at us -- playfully, we hoped -- and a couple swam out to swish below us with remarkable grace.
On the way back to the camp, we stopped at a little fishermen's camp on the beach at El Rincon, in the channel between Espiritu Santo and La Partida, where we bought a fat yellow snapper out of an ice-filled cooler. After a few photos with the kids and the biggest fish they'd ever seen, we motored back to camp past soaring cliffs and rocky hills, while black-and-white manta rays jumped out of the water and looked like so many magpies flipping through the warm spring air.
The next morning we took a half-hour boat trip to Bonanza Beach, a nearly three-mile stretch of perfect white sand on the southeastern side of Espiritu Santo. Tamagnini and one of his guys set up umbrellas for us on the beach to provide a little shade from the searing sun, and we sat and read and tried to count the number of different colors of green and blue in the water. The beach was also covered with the most majestic array of shells any of us had ever seen. We picked up a few, careful to follow regulations about not taking too many. We swam and dozed and swam some more.
By lunchtime we were back in camp. We made sure of it. Only a fool would miss a meal at Baja Camp, where Italy meets the ocean, with Mexico adding its own special flavors. Lunches of homemade pizza thick with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes waited for the kids, while we feasted on a huge bowl of chilled salad -- some days just a simple lettuce and carrot mix, other days something fancier, like Tamagnini's concoction of lettuce, diced potato, corn, guacamole, carrots, tuna, parsley, balsamic vinegar and his family's elegant olive oil. One day he served a carpaccio of fresh shrimp with lime and onion, which we heaped on thick, warm fresh-baked foccacia just out of the oven.
Tamagnini will prepare whatever his guests request, and there have been plenty of steaks fired on the mesquite grill. But the specialty here is anything from the sea. The snapper we bought from the local fishermen was done on the grill, with a light sauce of olive oil, parsley and lime. The octopus ceviche was crisp and cool, served with guacamole and chips. We brought wine with us, but realized that the California chardonnay and pinot grigio sold at the camp for $15 a bottle was a better value than the bottles we had lugged with us.
For each of our three nights in the camp, we set out canvas chairs under the stars after the kids went to bed. We reclined them as far as they would go and looked up at the breathtaking, star-dappled sky, miles from the nearest electric light.
The afternoon we left, the launch slipped slowly off the beach and cut through the shallows into deeper and deeper water. We measured our goodbyes in deepening shades of green, as relaxed as any of us had ever been.
Kevin Sullivan and his wife, Mary Jordan, are The Post's Mexico City bureau chiefs.
Details: Baja Camp, Isla Espiritu Santo
Baja Camp is on Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez, off La Paz, Baja California, Mexico. The camp is open from May 1 to Oct. 15. For more information, check the Web site at www.bajacamp.com, or e-mail camp operator Andrea Tamagnini at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GETTING THERE: The camp arranges boat rides to the island from the marina at La Paz, in Mexico's Baja California, which is a 15-minute ride from the La Paz airport. Many major carriers, such as America West, United and American airlines, offer service to La Paz, with connections from Los Angeles on Aero California. Summer rates from D.C. start at around $588 round trip.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Baja Camp has up to five tents with two single beds each, plus hurricane lanterns. Each tent has an outdoor shower and environment-friendly toilet. Nightly rates are $170 per adult, or $100 for children ages 7 to 12 (no kids under 7 allowed). Price includes transfer from the La Paz airport to the island (taxi to the marina, plus about an hour or two boat ride to the island, depending on sea conditions); three meals per day, plus soft drinks (wine, beer and cocktails are available for cost); use of the camp's four sea kayaks; one trip per day on the camp's boats (a 26-foot launch and two smaller boats); and trekking into the island's interior.
• Scuba diving. $135 for a two-dive trip with a local diving company, at various locations within a short boat ride of the island. July, August and September have the best underwater visibility. There is wreck diving close to the camp.
• Fishing. All-day trips run from $200 to $500, depending on boat size and number of people.
-- Kevin Sullivan
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
At Baja Camp, on Mexico's Isla Espiritu Santo, roughing it isn't so tough, with gourmet meals, relaxing tent living rooms (above) and water views.
(© Luca Tamagnini)