The Frolicking Whales of Bahia Magdalena

There are three lagoons in Baja where gray whales converge to mate and deliver their babies. The southernmost lagoon, Bahía Magdalena, has two well-known ports that tourists can access. But we learned about a third port from someone we met along the way. Puerto Chale, where we would later find the frolicking whales of Bahia Magdalena.

But first we had to once again cross the peninsula to the Pacific side.  We left beautiful Loreto on a moody day and stopped at a waterfront shack for yet another great meal (clams!) with a killer view.  Then we climbed the very steep and winding Sierra La Giganta.

Next we devoted one day to an exploratory outing to each of the three ports to check them all out. That also allowed us to enjoy the scenery on the way to each port, since we were in no hurry to get there at a particular time.

The northernmost port is Puerto Lopez Mateos. It’s a well-oiled machine with a well built dock, viewing platform and other infrastructure to support tourism. The four tour companies each have an office on the dock (all next to each other) and many large pangas. There is also space for RVers in their huge parking area. Nice.

The middle port, Puerto San Carlos, is a large town that has a cannery and facilities to export farm products of the Magdalena plain. Some hotels in town book whale tours as do a couple of other companies around town. But it is clearly not their main focus. We did enjoy a very beautiful sunset there though.

Puerto Chale is the southernmost port and the least known. Although they’ve been taking people out informally on the lagoon for years they had never had marketing support from the government until now.

This is their “official” first season as a whale-watching tour base. The beautiful new road leading to the town may well be part of this support.

As we reached the town, the paved road ended. The entire town is on dirt roads. It’s a humble looking town that has subsisted mostly on fishing. Now the community is focused on whale-watching tours in the winter. There is no infrastructure whatsoever just a big dirt lot with a little shack and many pangas.

There was a group of people lined up for the pangas on the Sunday we went there, and it seemed the entire local police force (three officers) was out there watching and enjoying the activity. Their rates are currently cheaper than all of the others, but we don’t know how long that will last.

Puerto Chale won our hearts. Along with the fact that it was a much quieter place, we liked the idea of supporting this small community. We headed out there on Monday morning only to find that we were the only tourists there. We could charter a private boat for a tiny bit more than we’d pay at the other places to share with four others.

But we waited a while just in case someone else showed up. And in a little while three Canadian tourists arrived.

Off we went with our party of five and our captain in his little panga. In about ten minutes we started to see whales.

Lots and lots of whales.And many of them were spy-hopping, one of several surfacing behaviors. The whales rise and hold a vertical position often exposing their entire heads, thus “spying” on what’s happening above water.

They often do this to look for boats which they then can approach but can also do it to look for prey. They are able to hold this position for minutes, and many of them were. Sometimes we could see various whales spy hopping at the same time.

There were lots and lots of spouts both near and far. This area of the lagoon was full of whales. Although we were surrounded by whales, they did not come right up us yet. Instead they “teased” us by swimming over then going under the boat. Still super fun.

Baby whale!

You can spot the babies because unlike the adults often covered with barnacles and other skin blemishes their skin is black and smooth. As the babies get older the moms will actually push them to the boats to be petted as well.  We haven’t been so fortunate as that yet but hope springs eternal!

We cruised along several parts of the lagoon and saw so many whales spy-hopping and a few actually jumping out of the water. We didn’t know which way to look. It was like a whale party!

Then our captain informed us that only ten minutes were left on our 2 hour tour. We weren’t ready to go, so I asked the others if they’d consider extending one more hour. We made an offer to our captain and he happily accepted.

That last hour was fabulous. We had close encounters with a several whales. One of them turned over so we could scratch its belly! It was truly special to interact with these beautiful creatures.

We found out from our captain that certain whales are more “amistosas” (friendly) and the captains recognize them by their markings. Wow!

We all “petted” whales. Even the captain got in on the petting action. It was overwhelming.

The five of us happy whale petters cruised back to the dock and the others headed back to La Paz while Hector and I decided to stay and have lunch.

There are two restaurants one of which our captain said was all seafood. It is run from the front porch of a family’s house. As we approached a young woman and two of her daughters were sitting at one of the tables making jewelry.

We asked if it was open and she stood up and pointed to a handwritten sign with the four dishes they offered, three preparations of fish and one cocktail.

We ordered a cocktail and one of the fish dishes that we had not heard of before, sarandeado (all were one kilo or 2.2 pounds). After a little while the woman served our cocktail (awesome) and came out of the house with a large knife. We watched her walk out to the dock across the way and Hector decided to follow.

She had picked out a fish from a live well and by the time Hector arrived she’d “butterflied” it into three sections. Hector, who is the cook, was fascinated.

She folded it back together, took it back to the kitchen and laid it out flat again to grill. After topping it with some sauce and vegetables, she brought it to us. A little while later one of her daughters asked if we wanted rice. We said yes and she brought some out. Simple yummy lunch.

The ladies went back to their jewelry making. They were threading and hooking lots of little shells. I asked the woman for the price of a pair of earrings and she turned to the older daughter. The daughter thought a bit and gave me a price.

When we finished the woman again asked her daughter to tally up our lunch costs for the cocktail, one beer and the fish. These were teaching moments for the daughter.

Puerto Chale was such a great experience that we decided we will return on our way north in several weeks. Perhaps a whale baby experience we hope.

The captain and a couple of the guys told us we could park the RV in their parking lot overnight, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Now that is a totally awesome day highlighting some of the best on the ‘Fun Side of the Wall’. The fish does not get any fresher, not even if you catch it yourself. Certainly a day to remember, thanks for sharing

  2. FABULOUS!

    I have only been on one whale watching tour. It was out of Monterey and the water was SO CHOPPY, it was not enjoyable for me. I LOVE whales. I considered making studying them my livelihood. But my first chance to see them in the wild just left me desperately searching for the harbor (and I had premedicated with dramamine!). It was a disappointing “once in a lifetime” event.

    You have given me a new experience to put on my bucketlist! I am SO excited about that opportunity.

    • In Cali they tend to be on the move so even if you see them it can be fleeting. Top spots 1) Tadoussac, Quebec – a virtual riot of whales. See our posts on that! 2) Alaska – the humpbacks put on a hell of a show as they feed and of course 3) Baja – where the experience is so intimate and unique, only place in the world that I know of where this happens. Get out there! Thanks for following!

  3. What an amazing experience! I am so jealous watching all the fun and unique opportunities you are having with the whales. A life time of memories:) Thanks for sharing them with us:)

  4. Hector @ Brenda, I am so glad you are back on the road again!!!! I live vicariously through your fantastic pictures and ability to ferret out some fantastic places to photograph- I am in the middle of a knee replacement and can’t wait to be out thumping around!!!
    Be well my friends,
    Bob

    • Dave told me about you joining the bionic club. Hope your recovery is quick and that you are back in biz soon!

  5. Remarkably, I have never frolicked with whales, though I have ogled them!!
    Great pics and so very adventurous. I again am so jealous of how you two travel. Thanks for sharing!

  6. That would definitely be something we would like to do but Kathy is scared of going south of the border. Really liked the Spy Hopping and then to top it off with Petting them Unbelievable. At least we can see it through your blog.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It’s about time.

    • Safe easy and friendly … and very inexpensive as an added cherry on top. Don’t miss out on the incredible treasure just south of the border. Mexico is old school family friendly. The US press does it a huge injustice.