Shelter Masthead

Coyotes, Lobsters, and a Surfer Named Steve
by Lloyd Kahn

Steve/Isla Magdalena
© Lloyd Kahn, 1999

his is our second night out on the island and the five of us have dined on my three freeze-dried REI backpack meals. The wind has died down, the night is cool, and we’re sitting around a campfire on wooden boxes, out in Baja blackness, grateful for the warmth, with Baja-brilliant stars filling the night sky, Orion’s belt blazing in the southeast. Chamomile tea and chocolate chip cookies.

The talk turns to coyotes. “They’re out there watching us right now,” says Steve.

“Yeah,” I say, “‘Look at those 5 assholes around the fire.’”

“What do they look like?” asks Stine (pronounced Steena), 25 yrs old, from Copenhagen, and travelling with her boyfriend in Mexico. Stine is passionate about dogs. “What do they look like? Do they have bushy tails? How big are they?”

We are on a remote, arid island off the Pacific coast of Baja California — Isla Magdalena. Five complete strangers, camping together. We got there by boat from Puerto San Carlos, a small town 30 miles west of Ciudad Constitución. Our tents are set up on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

The only wildlife on the 70-mile-long island are rabbits and coyotes, says Steve. There is no known water on the island and no one knows where the animals drink. We describe coyotes to Stine.

Then I tell her about coyote the trickster in Native American mythology. Steve has had first-hand experience, and says he tells his campers (in the summer he runs a surf camp out here) never to leave shoes, wetsuits, towels lying around at night. They’re apt to disappear, some to be found lying nearby the next morning, others gone forever. Canine pranks.

Steve: “One afternoon we went surfing on the point and left our boards out there that night and walked back to camp. The next day we went back to go surfing and our leashes (the stretchy rubber surfboard leashes) had been cut into little bits, 2–3" long. Every one of them!”

“We tried to figure out who would do a thing like that . . . then we saw the tracks ,” Steve laughs.

Then he tells a story that chills me. Last year one of the island fisherman caught a coyote in a trap (it was after his chickens). He put the coyote in a cage and set his 3 dogs inside to kill it. “It’s called ‘blooding,’” says Steve. It’s done to give the dogs killer instinct.

“They tore him apart slowly — and you know what . . . he didn’t make a sound.”

have been going to the Los Cabos area, the southern end of Baja California for about ten years. I’ve spent most of my time in and around San José del Cabo, the old Spanish town on the east end of Los Cabos. But lately I have been venturing north to a fairly remote part of the Pacific coast, 150–200 miles north of Los Cabos.

Weary of the January rain in Bolinas, I had flown to San José, where I keep an ’83 Toyota 4x4 truck at a friend’s house. I have a pop-up tent on the roof (I sleep up in the air), and carry 2 surfboards and camping and diving gear.

I picked up my truck, got some groceries and water, and drove north along the Pacific Coast. I camped on a beach south of Todos Santos Sunday night. Checked the surf at La Pastora the next morning: glassy, 6" waves, but 20 surfers in the water, many of them doing floaters, making tough turns. Discouraging for the duffer surfer.

So I headed north and 5 hours later pulled into the dusty port town of Puerto San Carlos on an overcast Monday afternoon. I was looking for Steve Warren. I knew that Steve ran summer surfing camps on Isla Magdalena, an island 10 miles off the coast. On my last trip there in the summer, Steve had been out on the island with 8 surfers, so I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but I left him a copy of Shelter and a note.

Go to part 2.