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The Literal Landscape
by Simmons B. Buntin, Editor/Publisher, Terrain.org

Portrait of Fernando, Bahía de Loreto


The Mision de Nuestra Señora de Loreto.
The Mision de Nuestra Señora de Loreto.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Fernando is from Loreto, a quiet town nestled between Baja California Sur’s Sierra de la Giganta and the Sea of Cortés: where the mountains come to swim, legend says. Originally settled ten-thousand years ago by the Cochimi and Guaycura peoples, it houses Baja’s first mission, Nuestra Señora de Loreto, and for many years served as the first capital of the Californias. Today, Loreto is a small but growing fishing village, a site destined—developers and Mexican tourist authorities hope—for the fame and fortunes of ecotourism and sustainable development. For now, at least, it remains authentic.

Fernando steers our panga over the turquoise water, away from a beach-lined cove and away from El Don, the yacht our group chartered to take us to Isla Coronado and the Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto. He is of medium height, muscular but not overly so, tanned from his Mexican heritage and from working in the subtropical sun. He is perhaps twenty-five years old. Shirtless, Fernando wears only deep yellow swim trunks. Like us, he just finished snorkeling—serving as our guide—but unlike us, he is not already exhausted with delight from the day’s early events.

El Don, Loreto Bay, and Baja California Sur.
The view from El Don's starboard side, looking back across the bay toward the Baja mainland.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Our boat skips over small waves and into deeper water, where dozens of dolphins leap and splash, fin after flashing fin. I sit next to Clifflyn, the fifty-something educator and photographer from Seattle whose digital SLR snaps photos in rapid succession. (I’m envious; my camera froze back on the big boat and I miss the weight in my hands.) Behind us and next to Fernando is Echo, a magazine editor from Scottsdale who is thirty and thin and radiant. Echo can hardly sit on the bench for her excitement—a lifelong dream, she tells us over and over, to swim with dolphins.

That’s what we’re after, and before long we split the pod. There must be a hundred! The dolphins’ dark shapes torpedo through the clear water before they propel themselves into the sunlight and mark our memories just like that. Not even Clifflyn’s camera can capture the images now resonating in the lit projector of my mind.

Echo crawls over the edge of the boat, clinging to the lip. Fernando, black hair cropped and dark eyes friendly, watches with bemusement. He’s seen every kind of stunt from American tourists, no doubt. He has worked on El Don for two years, and likes it much more than the five years spent working on the Pacific side of Baja, and up and down North and South America, in a tuna fishing boat. That is work, hard work—and dangerous, too. Exhausting nights, angry storms, endless labor. Good pay, when it comes, but after a half-decade, he returned to Loreto.

He speaks little English but communicates well nonetheless. I get the overview of his life from Scott, a writer and garden designer from Tucson. This is our fourth trip into Mexico together, and perhaps the best. Scott speaks Spanish well considering it has been more than two decades since he lived briefly in Chihuahua. There’s an easy discourse between the two men, and I’m envious once again—though it’s incentive to learn the language that rolls from Fernando’s tongue like the swift wings of stingrays now slicing the water’s surface.

Though we split the pod once more, weaving through the dolphins again and again, Echo is never able to fully jump in, to swim with the dolphins as she had hoped. Fernando has done his best, but the dolphins are faster than our tiny boat, even as they delight in cruising its wake. No problem, says Echo, who is content nonetheless.

Dolphin in Loreto Bay.
One of dozens of dolphins that swam among us in Bahía de Loreto.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.

Fernando motors us back to the larger boat, where he ties up and we climb aboard. Without a word he rinses the snorkeling gear, stows the loose supplies, and disappears into the cabin to emerge at the top of the brig, where a chrome wheel directs El Don. He smiles as Echo waves in thanks, then turns to banter with the captain of the three-person crew. Soon the cook joins them. He is the only member of the crew who speaks English, though their rolling discourse is Spanish through and through.

The nose of the boat turns toward the mountains of the mainland, the dolphins peel away, and we slip through the water that curls like molten metal under a silver sun. Near the marina, Fernando leaps into the panga to take us ashore. He jumps lightly, lands with easy balance, and cranks the motor. The engine sings under his bronze hand.


Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.
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