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Baja Stray Finds Herself a Home
A vacation in Mexico opens doors, and hearts, to a stray dog.
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Photograph by Traer Scott

My friends knew that kayaking the Sea of Cortez was a big entry on my bucket list, so when I turned 50, we planned a February trip to Baja California to do just that. Over the years, this group of women and I had hiked and kayaked in some adventurous places, but little did I know that this trip would change my life and the life of a street dog in ways I never imagined.

When we got off the plane in Loreto, Mexico, a wave of excitement went through me as I looked at the small airport terminal with its thatched roof and felt the warm sun on my face. We were picked up by a van sent by our hotel, a small eco-tourist establishment catering to kayakers. When we reached the hotel, I noticed an emaciated dog next to the entrance.

The dog sat quietly, almost as though she knew that if she were too eager, we might be put off and ignore her. I reached into my pack and pulled out crackers I had saved from the flight and held one out to her. She took it ever so gently. Most starving dogs would have lunged, but not this one. She sat there quietly and looked at me with beautiful brown eyes. I gave her another cracker and again, she gently took it from my hand. By this time, everyone was out of the van and the innkeeper was calling us to check in. The dog didn’t move; she sat there and watched me as I entered the courtyard and hotel office.

It had been a long day and we went to bed almost immediately. The next morning, after a light breakfast, we headed into town to explore before meeting our guides. As we left the hotel, I turned to see the dog trailing our group, close to me as I brought up the rear. She was very friendly and let me pet her; in fact, she rolled onto her back so that I could rub her belly. I assumed that with the tourists, this submissive posture won her friends easily. She was very dusty and I noticed that she had recently nursed puppies.

As we got to the eastern end of town, we came upon the Sea of Cortez. It was beautiful, and I was happy that we would be out on the water soon. As we took pictures along the sea wall, the dog stayed near, always keeping us in sight.

That night, we walked into town to a small café, again with our four-legged friend behind us. During dinner, she sat outside. It was clear to me that this was one smart dog. Partway through the meal, Rose handed me her napkin filled with chicken bits and tilted her head toward the dog. I smiled as I put the napkin in my pocket. Following dinner, we gave her the chicken bits and she once again took the food with a gentle mouth. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a small grocery and bought a package of bologna, which we shared with the dog before we turned in for the night.

We left the hotel early the next morning on our way 10 miles south to our starting point. As we loaded our bags into the van, I noticed the dog sitting in her usual spot at the hotel entrance. I stroked her head and said good-bye. It is hard to describe the sweetness in her face. She had the most expressive eyes, eyes that looked through to my soul. I have never seen a dog with such a gentle way about her. It drew me in.

As the van left the curb, Sally noticed that the dog was trotting behind us, following the van as we left town. As our speed increased, the dog began running. She ran for two miles before giving up. I sat silent in the front seat, tears streaming down my cheeks, touched deeply by this dog who was chasing me out of town. It would be hard to forget.

It was a wonderful week of kayaking. We explored islands and slept in tents on scenic sand beaches. Our guides spoiled us with delicious meals and serenaded us with flute music each night. One moonlit night after dinner, we paddled out and were mesmerized by the luminescent plankton excited by the movement in the water—the sea seemed to catch fire. Every day we explored new areas, snorkeling through blue water with fish and coral in colors hard to describe. However, the street dog was never far from my mind. Her look had penetrated my heart and soul.

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Laurie Priest, a retired college athletic director, teaches at Mount Holyoke College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is a trip guide for a women’s adventure travel company.

Photograph by Traer Scott

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