Sunday, October 14, 2012

In the swim - Picazon to Coronado II

Returning to live in Loreto means the beginning of a new season of anniversaries – this week it was the Second Annual Picazon Coronado Swim Crossing, (I posted on the inaugural event “Water, water everywhere . . .  Oct. 23, 2011).  Since last year’s event I have learned that there is a “cult” interest in this sort of open water swim competition, which is supported by the dramatic increase in participation in this year’s event.

Last year there were 26 swimmers who took part in the 5.5 km swim from La Picazon Restaurant across the channel to Coronado Island.  This year there were 132 swimmers and a correspondingly larger support crew including 36 kayaks escorting the swimmers, 5 pangas circulating between the shore and the island providing return transportation as well as several other official boats supervising safety and other concerns with such a large group.

I left Loreto Bay after 7:30 in the morning to drive to the event, understanding that the swim was to begin at 8:30.  By 8:00 I was getting close to La Picazon restaurant, which is about 8 km north of town but, due to the limited parking available along the primitive road, I was stopped behind several other cars about half a mile away so I just pulled off the road into a space between cacti and walked from there.

Upon arriving at La Picazon I realized that the swim had already started at 8:00, half an hour earlier than had been publicized and I could just make out the kayaks and some of the closest swimmers already a couple of hundred yards from shore.  Along with more swimmers there were more friends, family and supporters than last year and I joined about 50 observers on the beach under shade tents to enjoy the view.

While the conditions for last year’s swim were almost dead calm, this year there was a strong 20 knot breeze from the northeast and strong swells of 3-5 feet making for a much more challenging open water experience.  There were other changes from last year, several fluorescent flag buoys had been placed across the channel marking the course and as I mentioned before many more kayaks in the water supporting the swimmers.

It was expected that the fastest swimmers would finish the crossing in about an hour and a half and the rest would finish within an hour or so of that time.  About 11:30 the first panga full of swimmers arrived back on shore from Coronado and several of these open fishing boats continued to shuttle back and forth for over an hour bring the participants back.

As a “determined” non-swimmer myself, I remain in awe of the stamina and determination (let alone buoyancy!) that is required to complete such a challenging open water distance swim, and this year again, I was struck by the age range – from 11 to over 70 years, and over half of the swimmers were women.  But one of the big differences this year was the surprisingly small number from in and around Loreto itself, with more than half of the swimmers from the Mainland, mainly around Mexico City, another 20% from La Paz and other places in the Baja, a smaller number from the US, and two participants came from as far away as Venezuela and Easter Island – an indication of the popularity of this endurance sport drawing people to Loreto from those distances!  As the word-of-mouth and popularity of this event grows, it is bringing more people to visit our chosen paradise and spreads the good word about Loreto further and further!

However, combining the windy rough conditions and over a hundred more swimmers than last year, made managing the event much more challenging for the organizing volunteers.  An example I found out about after the event was that one swimmer had not been accounted for arriving at Coronado, which caused an extensive search for her to be launched, which had almost escalated to a full air/sea operation when she was finally located, safe and sound, on an isolated beach on the far side of the Island – a thankfully happy ending that highlights the inherent risks involved in this sport.

Talking to people before and during the event, and given the almost fivefold increase from the first year’s participation, I can see this continuing to grow and attract people to Loreto from even further afield (awash?) in the years to come.  With the initial success of the first two years now history, there is a great opportunity for this to become a signature event for this area – highlighting the natural beauty of the area and the pristine environment we are so lucky to live within.   

After enjoying some of Picazon’s delicious food (a fresh shrimp wrap, yumm!) from the abbreviated menu they had prepared for the over 200 people in attendance, and chatting with a number of friends and familiar faces from town and Loreto Bay, I had to leave by early afternoon, before the awards ceremony began with the presentation of medals and acknowledgements, in part to compose these words for your enjoyment.

Returning to La Picazon reminded me why this is one of my favorite places here, not just because of the spectacular beauty of the location, miles from the next closest habitation, and the Sea of Cortez just a few feet from the open air dining and the view of Ilsa Coranado in the distance, not just because of the delicious ocean-fresh seafood they serve during the long indulgent afternoons I have spent there – but, in addition to that – the warm and genuine hospitality of Imelda and Alejandro the charming proprietors of this special spot!  I truly believe no visit to Loreto is complete without a meal to celebrate at La Picazon!

Sharing a beautiful day on the Beach with over 200 visitors, some travelling thousands of kilometers for the chance to spend a few days here, is a great way to remind myself of how fortunate I am to be able to be “Living Loreto”!

(P.S. If you are amphibious and feel like adding the Picazon Coronado Swim to your bucket list, visit the website and bookmark it to watch for information on next year’s swim!)