Authors: Sarah Collins
Copyright © 201
All Rights Reserved
Her stomach a jumble of knots, Cassie left her office at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, slamming the door behind her. It had taken all the restraint she had to maintain her composure when her research project manager said what he had been avoiding for at least half an hour.
“How’s your research going on the
vaquita porpoise?” Daniel had asked, finally getting to the point. They had been working together for several years, searching for solutions to save the endangered porpoise living only in Baja California, and she knew him well enough to know he was struggling with something.
“You know exactly how things are going,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “We start construction on the breeding sanctuary next week. What’s up?”
“I may as well just come out and say it. Please try to stay calm, Cassie. We can make a plan.”
She moved to the edge of her seat, grabbing her long blond hair into a ponytail at the back of her neck, her green eyes flashing. “Please, just tell me. You’re making whatever it is worse.”
Leaning back in his chair, Daniel rubbed his eyes with both thumbs. “The resort has declined our request for delay and assessment. They’re going forward.”
She jumped up, leaning over his desk, unable to stop
herself. “Are you kidding me? When did that happen? Why? How could they?” Her voice shook with fury, and she sat back down with a thud.
“My thought is the ow
ners of this particular resort are further up the food chain than we thought. And there’s more.”
Shaking her head, she stared at Daniel.
She had to be dreaming. Her heart ached as she thought of her life’s work going up in flames, or drowning in the ocean. Neither one was good. “More?” she said.
“The owners have rescinded their offer of water rights for the sanctuary.”
It wasn’t often Cassie Lewis was speechless. Her reputation for fiery indignation was legendary at the Institute. Even with such a passionate group of researchers, her efforts on behalf of Baja sea creatures had gotten her in more fixes than she could count.
She found her voice, riddling Daniel with questions. “Don’t they know the
vaquita are almost extinct after all these decades of overfishing?
“Our report asking for a delay was complete and explicit, Cassie. You did a great job on it, all 150 pages.”
He dropped the report on the desk with a thud. All those long nights in the library, and days on the water in Mexico, researching what was in those pages, worthless. Even now, though, losing the vaquita to their imminent extinction was not an option she was willing to consider. “What can I do, Daniel? Who can I talk to? Who made this decision? Why don’t they want to do what’s right?”
Daniel sighed deeply. “I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, Cassie.
You’re the best marine biologist I know, but that may not be enough. All I know is what I received from the Mexican government, and from the resort owners. We’re out, they’re in.”
Cassie put her head down on Daniel’s desk, fighting back tears. She had hoped, like most projects in Baja California, the five-star resort planned at Rancho Del Sol was just a pie-in-the-sky idea of some wealthy investors from Mexico City.
Her mind grappled with this new information and she thought of the South Campos, home of the endangered vaquita porpoise she had spent her professional life researching and protecting. Her love of the vaquita knew no bounds, and these endangered sea creatures had occupied most of her time and her thinking for the past several years.
Now, her mentor dropped this bombshell on her and she knew it would be the end for her beloved
vaquita if she didn’t do something, quickly.
interrupted her thoughts, her heart still pounding. “They did invite us to a ground-breaking celebration there in two days, if you can call it a celebration.” He winced, handing her the invitation he had received.
had committed herself to saving the vaquita from extinction and she wasn’t about to give up easily. After convincing Daniel to agree, she knew she had to try to do anything in her power to keep the breeding sanctuary. It was her only hope.
She reached her car, grabbed her phone from her purse and dialed her best friend, Taylor. Their pa
rents traveled to Playa Luna together regularly, and they frequently joked Cassie and Taylor had been friends since before they were born.
“Hey, Cassie, what’s up,” Taylor said, her usual cheery greeting.
Cassie plunked herself down on the curb of the Institute’s parking lot. Hot tears burning her eyes, she gave her friend the bad news.
“Oh, Cassie, you’re flipping kidding me? That’s awful,” Taylor
said, her voice low.
“I need to go down and be there at the new conference.
I have to find a way to stop this,” the back of her hand wiping her wet cheeks.
“I’ve got vacation time saved, and we’re pretty quiet right now.
Want a wing-man? Might as well make a trip out of it,” Taylor said. “I know you’ll figure something out, Cassie. You always do.”
Cassie breathed a bit better having made the arrangements to go. The relief was short-lived, though, a
nd that night sleep didn’t come. She played different scenarios over in her mind, trying to convince the developers the sanctuary was a necessary part of the future of Baja.
She thought of Playa Luna, and felt
a shiver of dread, wondering if she’d be able to help the vaquita. As the sun peeked through the windows, she gave up all hope of sleep. She packed a quick bag and was ready at the door at 6:00 a.m. when Taylor arrived.
“I’ve got all the supplies, Cass. All the road trip prerequisites,” Taylor said as Cassie got into the car, pointing to the ice chest in the back. “All the stuff our parents always brought for Baja only. Remember? The stuff they wouldn’t ever let us eat at home.”
Cassie laughed as she opened the ice chest and saw the Red Bulls, Cokes and various chips. Nacho Cheese Doritos, Cheetos…and Taylor’s favorite, Slim Jim’s. “Oh, my God, when was the last time you ate a Slim Jim,” Cassie said, shoving her friend’s shoulder. “Your mom would kill you.”
“Hey, I’m 25 and she doesn’t know what I eat anymore.
At least not when she’s in England. But you know as well as I do she’d do the same for a road trip to Baja,” Taylor said, pulling onto Highway 8 toward the border, out of San Diego. “What happens in Mexico…” she said with a laugh.
Passing through the California desert and over the border to Mexico, they navigated the busy streets of Mexicali. Back in the desert for the desolate drive to San Felipe, the closest town to Playa Luna, Taylor broached the subject they had been avoiding.
“So, what are your plans, Cassie? How are you going to change this? It’s a giant corporation, from what I read on the internet. Insanely rich Mexican family with ties to the government. They’ve even gotten family investors from Spain in on this one,“ Taylor said with a quizzical glance toward her passenger.
Still groggy from napping through the desert, Cassie’s eyes hardened as the memory of her predicament returned. “I don’t know, friend. I keep hoping for an idea, but it hasn’t come to me yet. I know enough to know I can’t just barge in there and demand they see the
vaquita the way I do. I’m hoping to come up with something a little more…”
“Subtle?” Taylor chuckled.
With a smile, Cassie’s eyes sparkled. “I’ve not been known to be exactly subtle.”
“You think?” Taylor responded, laughing loudly. “I have faith you will come up with the perfect thing, Cassie,” Taylor said, her voice softening.
They both fell silent as they came into San Felipe and drove down its malecon, the main drag along the water, just for old time’s sake. It hadn’t changed much, Cassie noted, and they stopped at the mercado and stocked up on supplies. “Want to stop for a taco?” Taylor asked, cruising by the restaurants and vendors on the main drag, across from the sea.
Colorful blankets, hats, shirts and cover-ups billowed in the breeze. Street carts full of shrimp and fish dotted every empty space. Laughter was everywhere, and Cassie sighed as the sun shone warm on her face, her tense muscles relaxing in the warm breeze.
“I’m okay if we just head down,” Cassie said, eyes turning south. The sand and sea beckoned, her thoughts drawn again to the vaquita.
yourself, crazy woman,” Taylor said, turning down the highway that was the last leg of the trip.
The last 20 miles of road meandered close to the water and again out into the desert. They passed the Valle de
Gigantes, the strange and singular spot in northern Baja filled with Saguaro cactuses over 40 feet tall. “Remember when we went there when we were little and you decided to hug the Saguaro, like a Redwood, and wanted me to take a picture?” Cassie said. “Not your finest moment.”
Taylor groaned and rolled her eyes.
“Yeah. Thanks for helping me pick all the needles out the entire trip,” She rubbed her hand over her arm at the memory.
Small dots of houses appeared as they drove further toward Playa Luna. The motley group of communities stretched for over 30 miles along the coast of the Sea of Cortez, solar panels glinting in the sun. Halfway toward their camp, they passed Shell Beach and Rancho Del Sol, its mile-long dirt road leading to a small resort with cabanas and
palapas covered in palm fronds. At its center was a lagoon full, most of the time, of treacherous mud.
“Remember when we rode up there on the quads and got stuck?” Cassie asked Taylor, her head out the window and the wind blowing through her blond hair. She even loved the smell here.
“Okay, another of my worst moments. Thanks for reminding me,” Taylor said with a smile.
They had been about 16 and decided to tackle the dangerous bog on their quads along the beach just to see what was on the other side. They’d been warned for years by their parents not to try it along the beach, but they hadn’t listened. It started out okay, as they made it without getting stuck
, excited to get to the restaurant.
Once, inside, t
hey snuck one of those big scorpion drinks with paper umbrellas in it and about 10 different kinds of alcohol, splashed with some kind of punch. They convinced the bartender they were 18, the legal drinking age in Mexico. High-fiving, they celebrated their victory and their mothers would be none the wiser.
Heading back south, the tide had gone out and the bog and its’ knee-deep mud was waiting for them. Their brilliant attempt at a short-cut closer to the water got them stuck almost immediately, requiring a weaving walk back to the restaurant for help.
When they arrived home several hours later, it was dark. They were covered in mud with a strange boy in tow (who had dug them out and guided them home), and their parents were furious. Unfortunately, it set the tone for the remainder of the trip and several after, and they weren’t allowed to venture far for quite awhile.
Older and wiser now, they were on another adventure. Turning down the dirt road to their camp, they rolled into the dirt drive.
“Woo-hoo,” they said together, throwing the bags out of the car. They opened up the house Taylor’s mom, Jen, bought almost 25 years ago, when Cassie and Taylor were babies.
“God, it’s good to be here.
Too bad Mom’s in England this trip,” Taylor said.
Cassie threw her suitcase on the bed and opened up the windows, letting in the warm sea breeze.
“If she were here, my mom would be, too.” Cassie and Taylor’s mothers were best friends, and had been since before they were born.
“I’m just glad you wanted me to come with you.
I’ve worked so hard these past couple of years, and going right into an MBA program is going to keep me at high rpm’s for another two,” Taylor said. “I sure needed a vacation, and you needed to get out of town, too. You doing okay about Butthead? Do you ever run into him anymore?”
Cassie sighed and moved to set her clothes in the dresser.
She couldn’t remember who had first named him Butthead, but it was shortly after they ran into him at the beach with a girl that wasn’t Cassie, arms all over each other. “I haven’t for awhile, and I hope I don’t.”
“Good riddance on that one, but I know he broke your heart.”
“At least I found out before any longer. What an ass,” Cassie said, trying to forget the shock of that meeting.
“I know you’re here on business, but you never know,” Taylor said with a wink.
Their focus turned to the house, and the task at hand. A beautiful brick house situated on a cliff overlooking the sea, it had been a place of respite for the two of them since they were children. They always thought of themselves as girl adventurers when they went alone, without their parents, as they had to remember how to “open” an all-solar house.
Living off the grid as everyone did in the South Campos, there was a bit to do before they could relax. As usual, however, they had stopped in town before they headed the additional 20 miles south and had stocked up.
“Let’s have a beer and relax before we start everything on the house,” Taylor said, handing Cassie an ice-cold Corona, fresh out of the ice chest. Cassie grasped the icy bottle, taking a big gulp, and felt the cool, bitter liquid cascade down her throat, a flood of memories coming with it. She wasn’t much of a drinker, but a beer on the beach? Oh, yeah. She wasn’t going to pass that up.
Ahh, Mexico,” she said to Taylor, who wore the same contented smile Cassie did as they sat on the cliff and looked out to their beloved waters.
Cassie and Taylor made quick work of igniting the water heater, lighting the old
Servel propane refrigerator and making sure the water was flowing. They worked as a team on auto-pilot as they had many times before, completing the checklist with a fully operational house. Grabbing another beer, they plunked onto their beach chairs, pleased with their work.
Pointing her thumb to the short road that would lead them there, Cassie asked, “Want to head down to the beach?”
“I know you want to check if you can see any vaquitas, Cass, but I think a short siesta is in order for me. I drove, remember? You napped,” Taylor said with a roll of her eyes.
Cassie smiled as her friend pulled out the hammock and set it up outside on the patio. Grabbing a chair and an umbrella, she said, “Suit
yourself. I’m going to change and head down. I’ll see you later.”