Archive for March, 2009

A Whale of A Time

Friday, March 6th, 2009

February, 2009, The Baja –  Well, I haven’t posted a single blog since our big trip, and it’s about time I start reporting on our more occasional trips. We’ve taken a few since last June, but we just got back from the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, and this is a trip worth a posting.

P1090781 For our February break, we booked a trip on the Sea Lion, a ship with Lindblad/National Geographic, and explored the bottom third of the Baja Peninsula. We flew down from Seattle to Los Angeles on Friday night, Feb. 13th, and then took the trip shuttle from LA to La Paz Mexico the next morning. We then got on our ship and departed.

P1100312 We had immediate great news on this trip. There were three other terrific families with children the ages of our two children. And all five of these kids were keenly interested in nature, so they formed quick bonds. During our travel year, we rarely encountered other kids and, all too often, they were video game addicts. When we went to the Galapagos, for example, the other children almost never went out on the explorations, choosing to stay in their room! And, equally amazing, their parents seemed happy to pay a good-sized amount for a very expensive seven day video-games-at-sea adventure.

DSCN6651 We started on the Gulf of California side, where there is a very dry desert. The Gulf of California is one of the most productive seas on the planet, supporting nearly 900 species of fish, including 90 found nowhere else.  But our focal point for the trip was whales, not fish, and we had immediate great luck. Our very first morning, we got great views of Blue Whales (the largest creature ever), Fin Whales, and Humpback Whales. We had seen all three in Antarctica a year ago, but got superb views on this particular day.

P1090768 The waters on the gulf were relatively calm, and we had a couple of other fun days there. On one day, we went snorkeling at Los Islotes, although the water was pretty darn brisk. We did see some California Sea Lions quite close up, as well as all sorts of tropical fish.

 

P1090977 A highlight of our first phase, though, was a great afternoon playing on the sand dunes of Isla Espiritu Santo. The dunes in Baja are spectacular and so inviting for kids that love to tumble. They did some of the most incredible running dives off the edge of the dunes, often ending up with sand covering every possible body part. The naturalist were great sports and came up with all sorts of contests, and several adults (not this one!) joined the fun.

P1090909 We headed around the tip of the Baja, stopping for a day in Cabo San Lucas. We went on a fun bird walk, and picked up two endemic species – the Xantu Hummingbird and the Belding Yellowthroat. We also got a glimpse of a snake with its head out of the water, although no positive identification has been made as of yet.

P1100172 As we rounded the cape and headed north in the Pacific, the seas got considerably rougher. We were fortunate that things were not too terrible, but we definitely noted the swells. But we knew we were headed north to Bahia Magdalena, home of the Grey Whales, and were looking forward to seeing these whales at close range. At times the whales come close enough to the zodiacs that they can be touched, but we weren’t counting our whale-touches before they hatched. As a family, we’ve had a long history of pretty dismal whale kharma, so we had no challenge managing our expectations down for the final phase of the trip.

P1100227 When we reached the bay, the Gray Whales, as promised, were everywhere. Local guides estimated that some 400 whales were hanging out in the bay. These whales weren’t feeding, but had come to the Baja to mate and to nurse along the young (in some cases, only a few weeks old). We were excited to go exploring!

 

P1100255 We went out into the Bay three different times, and the Gray Whales were all around us. We got some really good looks at many adults and baby calves. The highlight for us was a baby who came up to our Zodiac and ducked under it. We didn’t quite get to touch the baby, but came within a foot or so. While Grays aren’t the biggest whale by a longshot, it was really impressive to see these 60 ton animals at close range. They are big!  And hearing a whale blow air out its spout from less than ten feet is a sound we’ll never forget.

P1100197 While we got some really nice looks at the whales, our whale kharma survived the trip intact. More often than not, we felt we had our best views of other people on Zodiacs getting amazing views of these whales. On Thursday afternoon, we went out on the early shift and didn’t see a whole lot. The late shift, though, ran into two adults and a baby calf that were breaching on a regular basis for about an hour. It was like watching Fourth of July fireworks. Carol Greenspan sent this one picture to us, which gives you an idea of what it’s like to be five yards from a whale that lifts its body 2/3rds out of the water.

P1100291 On our last day, we spent several hours on what may well be the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been on, called Sand Dollar Beach. The dunes were gorgeous, there is no sign of people or buildings, and the water was at a comfortable temperature for swimming. We could have spent a few months on this beach, but just having a full afternoon was a great treat.

The trip had lots of great highlights, but one real lowlight. Our ship had 50 non-smoking passengers, and one bozo who chain-smoked foul cigars around the clock. The ship’s policy allowed smokers to smoke on deck as long as they stayed in the designated locations. On this small ship, the designated locations were a) at the back of the only area with chairs and exercise equipment, and b) a spot about five yards from our room. All too often, the cigar smoke filled our room, and was completely disgusting, and by the end of the trip, I had a headache from the second-hand smoke, and a real issue to take up with Lindblad.

P1100325 All in all, this was a fabulous way to spend a week.  The Baja is just gorgeous and undeveloped.  And the chance to see such amazing whales in close proximity is a real treat.