Rmo Mulegi

Kayaking the Sea of Cortez
By Andromeda Romano-Lax
  |  Gorp.com

A paddle up the Rmo Mulegi requires few instructions or warnings. It is a sightseeing paddle, a sunset or moonlight paddle, and a good place to learn basic skills or to get accustomed to a new kayak before heading to other routes.

The Rmo Mulegi, also called the Rmo Rosalma, is actually a saltwater estuary, not a river, although a small trickle of fresh water does enter it before the overpass near town. Great floods generated by chubascos swelled the estuary and nearly wiped out the town in 1770 and again in 1959. A different kind of deluge occurred at the estuary's mouth in 1847, when the U.S. Navy invaded and occupied Mulegi during the Mexican-American War.

Launching next to the sailboats and pangas moored by the lighthouse, you begin paddling up the estuary. Thick stands of mangroves immediately divide the river into two ribbonlike passages. The southern of these has a more developed, almost suburban shore. Beyond a boat launch is the Hotel Serenidad. About half a mile farther up the estuary are three RV parks. Numerous ranch-style houses have been built along the shore with small piers and boats moored in front; most of these are owned or rented by Americans. A curious sight on the Fourth of July is the incredible number of barbecues and lawn parties held on the banks of this unusual Mexican"river"; obviously, the invasion that took place in 1847 has in many ways continued into the present.

A few of these residents own kayaks. You may encounter someone like Esther, an American woman who can be seen paddling steadily to El Sombrerito and back in her open-top just as dusk is falling.

The mangroves break up and peter out as the estuary narrows. Great blue herons stand among the gnarled roots, squawking like cranky pterodactyls and flapping to the far bank when a stealthy kayaker gets too close.

The date palms, dusty lanes, and tropical ambience of Mulegi now seem pleasantly exotic, but this same environment once provided a breeding ground for the anopheles mosquito, the carrier of malaria. Even after the disease was eradicated, the reputation remained. In The Log from the Sea of Cortez Steinbeck jokes about deciding to pass up Mulegi, due in part to its malarial reputation and even more to avoid its port fees, but then looks back with regret. "We passed up Mulegi . . . and it looked gay against the mountains, red-roofed and white-walled."

Just over two miles from the lighthouse, the estuary narrows even more and gets mucky, and the tangle of vegetation chokes any further passage. Overhead, one can see the bridge over which Highway 1 continues south. Considering the number of local postcards that proudly boast pictures of this bridge, one gets the idea that it is a source of civic pride. Landing in the brush on the north bank, one can meander through a few backyards and walk to the square for ice cream or a taco, or turn around and paddle back to the beach.


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