Botanical Field Study at the Sea of Cortéz
Led by herbalist & forager, John Slattery, this excursion will take us to the upper Sea of Cortéz where the Seri, or Comcáac, have lived as hunters, fishers, and gatherers for centuries, if not millennia. Here we will visit with a family of multi-generational herbalists who are accustomed to sharing their knowledge of their homeland with visitors. John has been leading groups to this area, and to meet and learn with this family for plant-based, cultural exchanges since 2011.
This trip is focused on the study of local flora at a convergence of various habitats (estuarine, mangrove, beach, coastal thornscrub, desert riparian) in the Sonoran desert at the upper Sea of Cortéz. Here we will observe a variety of plants in their natural habitats, learn to identify them based on their botanical features, and learn about their applications, both food & medicine, from the traditional Seri perspective as well as additional insights from the trip instructor, herbalist & forager, John Slattery.
The goal of this type of trip is to introduce the participants to this place through exploration of the plants while gaining cultural insights from our local Seri friends and teachers. John serves as a logistical guide, cultural liaison, translator (both cultural and linguistic), and herbal and botanical instructor.
Accommodations & Other Logistics
This is a camping trip. The time of year is quite favorable for camping. Nights are cool (usually around 50-60F), days are warm and sunny (around 70-85F), and the mornings provide a moist misting off the ocean. Rain is possible this time of year, but there should be no mosquitos or other pesky insects. The windy season usually doesn't begin until mid-March.
Our campsite will be where coastal thornscrub vegetation meets the sandy beach (pictured below). You can choose a campsite on the sand within the low shelter of coastal thornscrub, or just behind the vegetation in an open sandy area away from the exposure of the beach (where the photo below was taken from). This is primitive camping. There are no toilet facilities or running water. We will use temporary, rudimentary outhouses our hosts help set up for us, and pack in all of our drinking and washing water for the 4 nights we are camped there. We will be located about 30-40 minutes drive from the nearest town (Kino Bay/Bahia de Kino). Counting 3 meals a day, there will be 12 meals while we're at camp. I am planning to have our Seri hosts provide 3 of these meals for us (either breakfast, lunch, or dinner) as a means of showcasing some of their traditional cuisine. Meals from past trips have included scallop ceviche, green sea turtle stew, pan-fried fish, crab tostadas, mesquite empanadas with pitaya marmalade, or other traditional wild foods we happen to find. So each participant should plan to have food for approximately 9 meals while at camp.
Seeing that we will conclude our last day (Friday, 2/17) around 4p, I suggest that everyone stay in nearby Kino Nuevo for the night. There are several wonderful options which are within several steps, or one block, from the beach. Some of them include the Prescott College Field Research Station (for inexpensive dormitory housing), Posada del Mar, Posada los Aves, Playa Azul, or Eco Bay. All have functional internet services... most of the time. It's hit or miss in Kino some days.
There are restaurants and small grocery stores along the strip as well. I can go over these locations when we're there.
How we'll Spend our Days
Each day will be spent in exploration and discussion of the local plants, either at our camp or out on a walk. We will drive to areas which are within 20 minutes of our camp, as well as walk to areas adjacent to the camp. Each day will be comprised of about 6-8 hours of directed and focused study with the remaining time allotted for personal needs, eating, and exploration of the nearby terrain (about 11.5 hours of daylight available). The study sessions will be broken down into roughly 2-4 hour segments depending on their level of intensity. Lecture-focused sessions will be shorter, whereas walks which engage the senses more generally can be allowed more time. In between these sessions, we'll have our meals or short breaks to disengage as well as digest and assimilate the new information.
John's expertise in this area involves firsthand experience with the people, plants, and place. The environment is also relatively similar to his home in Tucson, AZ. His knowledge of the ethnobotany of the Seri, Sonora, and the Sonoran desert, in general, is extensive. His ability to weave together a story about plants and place which includes information from diverse subjects such as botany, creation myths, plant energetics, and clinical applications, for example, are what make these journeys particularly unique. Adding to that the expansive beauty of the place, and the warmth, kindness, and deep knowledge of our hosts, this proves to be a magical, enriching, and rewarding experience for all.
What to Bring
- passport or passport Card (birth certificate & ID alone are no longer permissible upon re-entry without a great deal of hassle)
- 4 gallons of water per person
- Enough food for 9 meals (everyone always brings more than enough! Consider foods which don't require refrigeration for the last couple days' meals)
- Sleeping gear: tent or vehicle, sleeping mat, sleeping bag or blanket/s
- Basic personal camping gear: headlamp/flashlight, knife
- Comfortable shoes for light hiking (we will be in open desert, in rocky areas, through sandy areas, as well as near spiny plants growing near the ground)
- Hat or other necessary protection from sun
- Towel, toiletries *(we have 4 nights of primitive camping on the beach, i.e. no running water)
- Chair/stool/mat for sitting; blanket for placing items on the ground; we will be camping near a beach so it will be sandy
- Personal kitchen items (some items can be shared): plate/bowl, utensils, cup/mug, pot/pan, tea pot/kettle, stove, cooking fuel, sponge/pad for cleaning, hand towel, dish soap
- Cooler for food storage (I suggest freezing water in containers - or packing frozen food - to reduce water in your cooler. Weather conditions may permit 1-3 days of keeping food fresh.)
- Field Study & Medicine Making items: notebook, pen/pencil, camera, canvas/paper bags, hand pruners, cutting board, large bowl, old sheet, scale, measuring cup, half pint & pint canning jars
The total trip fee is $650
Early bird discount - $500 received by January 4, 2017
*Deposit to reserve your spot - **$250 **Remaining Amount ($400) is due by February 1, 2017 (*Non-refundable after Jan. 1)
Upon registration, I will send out a bit more information with specific details relevant to traveling in Sonora, along with a brief itinerary of what each day may look like.
Be sure to reserve you place on the trip by making a deposit today.
The remainder is due by February 1.
If intending to receive the early bird discount, full payment is due by Jan. 1.
**Deposits are non-refundable after January 1, 2017**
*View a video below of Hortensia performing a traditional method of toasting honey mesquite pods in preparation for grinding by hand.