As some of you know, I’ve spent the last few months living and working from a quiet bay on Baja’s Sea of Cortez. (If doing your dissertation literature review looks a lot like solitary confinement, why not confine yourself somewhere you can paddleboard?) But it’s not been all quiet.
The Sierra La Giganta mountains rise at our backs, and a pristine group of islands sit on the close horizon – a designated marine preserve and UNESCO World Heritage site for their geology and ecology. A well-intended eco-development was started here about 10 years ago, but went belly-up during the recession. Barely crawling out about 18 months ago, the community includes an unlikely mix of the original nature loving residents (mostly Canadian), snowbirds and golf enthusiasts from the United States, and investors from Mexico City. People are feeling more secure now. The single hotel at the end of the beach has just been purchased by Mexico’s wealthiest man (5th wealthiest in the world, I hear).
Which brings me to my story
I’ve been flying back to the States once a month to meet with a group of leaders in a leadership development Hothouse I facilitate. We’ve been working on leading through conflict… And down here on this quiet beach I ran smack into a pinch.
Hothousers – and others intrigued with deepening their communication skills – help a paddleboarder out!
A Sunday morning surprise
It was Easter Sunday – a big go-camping-on-a-beach-with-your-family occasion in this part of Mexico – I went out for my morning paddle and saw something new. A yacht, with anchor dropped right in the center of our small bay. And I mean a YACHT: three decks, pulling a tricked out fishing skiff, you get the picture.
I was irritated. Except for the occasional clam diver floating in a little fishing panga out in the channel, I’ve never seen a boat here. Who gave this one permission to block my view of the islands?
My partner was amused by my frustration. “But I don’t want a bay overrun by motor boats,” I insisted hotly. “This isn’t Cabo. Next thing you know, there will be jet skis.” I hate jet skis. I think of them as leaf blowers on the water. Get a rake! You were going to go to the gym anyway, weren’t you? Anyway.
“Have you seen a jet ski yet?” she asked. I had to admit I hadn’t.
On our paddle that morning, I detoured casually by our visitors (if you can call paddleboarding across an otherwise empty bay straight to the giant yacht in the middle of it, “casual”). Two men in deck shoes and uniform polo shirts were standing at the stern on the lower deck.
“Hi there,” I said. “Whereabouts are you coming from?”
They waved south, vague. “La Paz area.”
“What brings you here?” I asked, fishing for an opportunity to comment on how beautiful the natural environment was here. I paddled a bit closer.
“Oh, just out and about,” one replied.
Then I saw it. A ginormous jet ski, tethered to the back.
The men were standing, watching me.
I had nothing.
“Well, enjoy this beautiful day,” I said. I turned my board and began to paddle. As I put distance between myself and the yacht, they thawed a bit. “You too,” one said. “Have a nice Easter,” said the other.
I fretted. Inside, I knew if I did nothing, I was chickening out on something I cared about. But what should I do? What could I say?
“I personally will not be able to concentrate on reading my journal articles unless you assure me no one is getting on that jet ski here”? Who cared? I’d tell me to just get over myself. Besides, I was just a renter. “You’ll spend the rest of your life rotting in a Mexican jail if you disturb the peace in this bay,” sounded ludicrous, even to me. “The community has a rule against jet skis”? Truth was, I had no idea what the community thought about them, let alone what formal rules or authority might exist. I’d barely talked to anyone with my nose buried in all those books.
“Have you seen anyone actually use the jetski?” my partner asked calmly as we paddled over the coral. She had a point.
An hour later, reading back on the beach, I heard it. A huge tail of water arced behind the jet ski as its rider sped across the bay. Doughnut after doughnut until the water roiled. Then, the jet ski came back toward the yacht and began carving another circle around it, again and again. It reminded me of a friend’s adolescent son years ago. His mother, my friend, told him if he was going to ride his snowmobile he needed to stay close, and he buzzed ferocious circles around the cabin for hours, much to her chagrin.
An older man I’d seen around was taking a walk down the beach. He stopped by me, and we watched for a moment. “We’ve never had a boat like that here,” he remarked, then turned to continue his walk.
Let’s pool our collective intelligence on this one. What would you do next? Respond by posting a comment with your best thinking below. I need some (other) perspective.
(In a few days, I’ll tell you what actually happened – and tuck your insights into my life jacket for next time.)