Isla Espíritu Santo

The tour from La Paz to Isla Espíritu Santo is one of the boat tours that we’d read about and signed up for. It’s about six hours long and takes you across to the beautiful island that is rich with marine life.

It took a long time to cruise over to the island and the anticipation was high. After a long boat ride, we finally reached the largest sea lion colony in the Sea of Cortez, Los Islotes, an island inlet at the north end of the island.

When we reached the colony, one of the the park rangers was leading a rescue of a sea lion that had been caught in a net. They didn’t allow us to stick around so we continued.

There was an area on the island closed to snorkeling they called the “kindergarden” where there were lots of sea lion cubs laying around on rocks including juveniles, adults and huge males.

Super cute.

I had snorkeled with sea lions before, and they can be quite curious and cute, in some cases swimming right up to people, so I was excited.

We bought new wetsuits and snorkel gear last year just for the Sea of Cortez but I was still worried about jumping into the cold (68 degree) water. But my new 3mm wetsuit did its job and I was comfortable.

We snorkeled for about half an hour and during that time only a few sea lions decided they wanted to be in the water with the humans. It wasn’t quite the sea lion experience that I had hoped but a few swam near us in the water and one swam between Hector’s legs.

There were lots of tropical fish in the water, a beautiful reminder of our scuba diving days. We look forward to returning to some diving sometime soon.

Next we cruised to the center of the island to a campground that’s run by our tour’s organization. On the way we saw lots of impressive rock formations. As we passed through an opening in one, the guide pointed out a part of the rock that was shaped just like the Baja Peninsula. Very cool!

Then we watched a pod of dolphins as they frolicked in the water.

The campground was on a pretty beach with some tents and a compost toilet. This time of year is too cold at night for me to tent camp, but it looked like a sweet place to spend a few days.

We spent a couple of hours on the beach. The guides served a nice lunch of ceviche, bean burritos, guacamole and tostadas and we took it easy for a bit.

They had kayaks and SUPs available so we took two kayaks out. Unfortunately, they were old kayaks with seats whose back was really loose. They were uncomfortable so we didn’t take them out as far as we had hoped to which was a disappointment. But we did get to a couple of rock outcrops nearby where there were lots of birds, including Hector’s favorites, the pelicans.

Back on the beach, we walked around for a bit along with some others. The water was crystal clear and some ladies spotted a huge sea star that we ran over to look at. So beautiful!

The island was covered in beautiful desert vegetation. It looked like a great place to hike.

After our time on the beach, we headed back out towards the other end of the island where there is a frigate bird colony. We’d never seen frigate birds on the ground, apparently they can’t walk, they can only perch and fly.

They also can’t land of the water, so they have to pluck their fish out of the water. Some of the males were in full display and there were lots of juveniles with their white heads.  This area also had the ruins of a pearl farm that’s part of the history of La Paz. Very cool.

I told the guide that I was interested in seeing blue footed boobies and he said they were not normally on the tour. But he asked the captain to go by a smaller island where they sometimes perch, alas there were none there.

On the last leg of our trip the captain spotted some whale sharks. They were moving really slowly through the water while feeding so we got a really good look at their dorsal fin and their tails on top of the water. The captain got a bit closer and one of the whale sharks swam up to and right under our boat.

A beautiful sight! That made up for not seeing the blue footed boobies.

All in all a pretty good day on the water.

 

 

Carnaval in La Paz

Hector and I have never been to a Carnival celebration. Our original schedule put us in La Paz around the end of February so we slowed down our southbound journey to experience Carnaval in La Paz in early March.

There are three parades during Carnaval and the final one takes place on what we know as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras day.

The parades take place on the malecón, a beautiful three mile esplanade along the La Paz waterfront.

We learned, to our amusement, that the three parades are all exactly the same. The first one begins on one side of the malecón and ends in the other. The second starts on the other side and ends on the first. The last one returns to the original route. Okay.

We decided to check it out from the street on the first day to make sure the photography angle would work. We found a prime spot along the street right alongside the spot where the parade was to begin. Of course, once there we had to stay for the entire parade.

Carnaval parades in Mexico are a family affair and this one began around 5:45. To our surprise, the queen’s float opened the parade. I thought she might be the last float.


The theme of this year’s parade was “Grandes Navigantes” loosely translated to Great Explorers.

One of the first things we noticed were people carrying signs saying “no lanzar objetos al desfile” (do not throw objects towards the parade). The signs showed a drawing of an egg with a red circle with a line across it on top. Interesting.

The main focus was seafaring Vikings, pirates and Egyptians but the floats also featured space exploration, airplanes and even characters from an animated film about penguins exploring New York.

The next few floats represented dance schools in the area including Middle Eastern dance, modern dance and others.

Every few floats a person would go by with the signs asking people not to throw objects. Huh.

Then there were a number of non-profit organizations each in their float.

Another organization had a huge banner – Desplastificate – a made-up word referring to reducing use of and recycling plastic.

Of course, there was lots of music, There were many children participating in the parade, some riding floats and others dancing or walking along the route. It was definitely a family affair.

Interspersed among different floats were members of the royal court in their glittery costumes.

 

A group that stood out were the rocking senior ladies. They were shaking and shimmying along as they say to beat the band. A family affair that definitely included all ages.


And there was a float with drag queens promoting a show in town that they are featured in.

Our plan for Fat Tuesday was perfect. After seeing the parade from the ground we were going to have a “bird’s eye view” from above, while having a slow dinner and drinks.

We watched the crowd assemble and the vendors sell their wares.

On Fat Tuesday vendors were selling painted egg shells that were broken on one end and taped up with painted tissue paper. We found out that the eggs were filled with confetti. Hector bought a couple of bags and we waited to see what people would do with them.

But when the parade began there were more people carrying the signs about not throwing objects. Oh well. Anyway, we saw the parade again from our upstairs vantage point.  And being the Tuesday before lent we thought the parade participants were more energetic.  As if the prior parades were a warm up to this night.

The dance groups, the beauty queens, the floats all seemed brighter and more beautiful from our perch.

One group called Il Principito we called the “school of rock”. They had about a hundred kids playing rock music on a long trailer.  Very cool!

The senior ladies danced even more. The vikings paraded by.

 

The plastic eating whale shark came by …The kids danced and the parade continued on a beautiful night.

And of course, the drag queens who pulled up the rear of the parade were even more fabulous.



And about the eggs … we waited until the end of the parade and…nothing.

So what did people do with their eggs. Well, the table next to us which was full of children threw them back and forth at each other. So Hector and I threw a couple of eggs at each other.

Confetti is not something you want all over, and tons of confetti is definitely not something you want to throw in the sea, which just happens to be right next to where the parade took place. So that is why we think they have stopped this practice. Good for them!

We were glad to have seen the parade twice as it was quite different from the ground than from above.

The Carnaval Parade in La Paz was a little bit of song, a little bit of dance, a little sweet, a little hoaky, a little activist and a lot community and family. We loved it.

 

 

 

 

The Coronation of the Royal Court

We planned our Baja schedule to include Carnaval in La Paz. When we arrived in town there was a flurry of activity hanging banners and erecting tents, booths and stages all along the Malecón. On the day prior to the three parade days, we had dinner at a restaurant right across from the action and took a walk around to check out the vendors. That’s how we accidentally happened upon the coronation of the royal court.

This year’s theme was “Grandes Navegantes” or Great Navigators.

There were lots of games set up where you could win stuffed animals by hitting a target with various devices, little pop-up restaurants and lots of other food vendors, musical performances and of course, the selling of various items.

Typical carnival food and lots of sweets. Hector called it a riot of color, grease and sugar.


There was live music on multiple stages along the water front.  Of course there were the ever present Tecate ladies in yellow.

The most surprising booth was a housewares store with all items intricately arranged on the ground. Wow! An amazing display. Hector was determined to find something we needed but alas we didn’t find a thing.  He really wanted to buy this giant spoon but I wouldn’t let him. For you RVers, it kind of reminded me of Quartzsite.

As we walked around that evening we were in a big crowd and suddenly there was some hubbub. All these elaborately dressed people accompanied by military guys in their dress whites appeared right next to us.

We weren’t sure at first but it turns out we stumbled into the path of the Royal Court as it made its way to the main stage for the coronation of the Carnaval royal court. Lots of music, pomp and circumstance.

The members of the court waited in the middle of the crowd and as each was announced they marched to the stage. The mayor and his wife presented crowns, certificates etc.

There were many members of the royal court: queen, of course, emperor, several princes that were already on stage when we arrived, youth queen, youth princess, queen of poetry, king and queen “of the third age” (senior), king of happiness (our favorite!) and others.

All of course wore beautiful costumes and capes and did their best to walk their “regal walk” to the stage.

There were solemn descriptions of their duties and much ado about not much at all. But it was a good show.

Each member of the court strutted about the stage waving to the adoring crowd.

Finally the Emperor and the Queen received their crowns and the climax of the celebration.  Followed by fireworks and confetti canons!

A fun surprise for us that made us really look forward to the upcoming parades.

 

 

Chilling at Playa El Tecolote

Our next stop was north of the city of La Paz, written up as the best boondocking spot in all of Baja California! Back to the Sea of Cortez, which is now one of our favorite bodies of water. It was time for chilling at Playa El Tecolote. Check out my review of  the  beach here.
This was another wide beautiful beach but with several beachfront restaurants in the middle. There were quite a few RVs parked on the east end of the beach but there was lots of open space. We parked about 100 yards away from the next RV in a nice private spot.

We took a walk on the beach and decided to have an early dinner. As we returned, the RV looked so close to the water that Hector kept checking to make sure that high tide wouldn’t reach us.

That evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset. And the next morning we awoke to a commanding view of the south end of the island of Espíritu Santo amidst beautiful turquoise water.

We hadn’t had much downtime and had covered many many miles so we decided to take it easy and relax and read for a couple of days.

The next afternoon a couple that we’d met at the RV park in Bahia de los Angeles drove in to spend the night.

We hung out with Chuck and Teri and their cute dog, Kokanee. They brought a little firepit and lit a nice fire that evening and we enjoyed another fabulous sunset.

Later that night Hector and I came back out to watch the stars which were beautiful.

The next day we walked over to one end of the beach where there’s a little trail up a hill and hiked up to a road that took us around the bend. And what was over the bend? Another beautiful little beach cove of course. That was the extent of our activity for the day.Some may have noticed that we’ve been wearing hoodies and coats. It’s been unusually cold in Baja but seeing the weather in the States we haven’t dared to complain. Here we finally found the warm weather! On a nice, calm and warm day we went for a paddle. 


There were fish jumping out of the water and of course pelicans and gulls. There were also a lot of frigate birds flying above us which are so interesting with their forked tails.

The water was a beautiful turquoise and swimming pool clear. Just like the pictures we’ve seen that made us want to come to Baja in the first place.

It was a relaxing paddle and a great way to end our restful stay at this lovely beach but  the time had come to hit the big city and their Carnaval celebration.

 

Pueblos Históricos

Our base for exploring the whale watching sites in the Bahía Magdalena was Ciudad Constitución. A burgeoning farm town of 45,000 and a great supply outpost for the area as well as RVers that are passing through. The town was also a convenient base for exploring the nearby Pueblos Históricos.

We stayed at Misiones Trailer Park, a nice little campground. Check out our review of the campground here.

While there, Island Girl arrived! Well, we thought it was Island Girl as we’d never seen an identical 2004 National Tropical before. But this was her identical twin. We had to look really closely to make sure it was not her.  It brought back so many great memories.

Ciudad Constitución, though not considered a tourist town, had quite a few restaurants and stores. We had some good meals there including one of Hector’s favorites, which he refers to as “road chicken”. A whole chicken is spatchcocked then grilled, then cut up and served or packaged to go with some macaroni salad, rice, tortillas and hot sauce. Yummy and also almost free!

The entire area is known as El Valle Comondú, named after the valley villages of San Miguel de Comondú and San José de Comondú, known collectively as Comondú. Both villages are designated as Pueblos Históricos.

We read a description of a visit to Comondú as stepping back in time and were intrigued. There are two roads to the towns, one rough four-wheel drive track from near Misión San Javier, the other a nice recently mostly paved road from Cuidad Insurgentes which happens to be adjacent to Cuidad Constitución.

The two villages, located in a fertile ravine in the Sierra de La Giganta, were agricultural centers fueled by spring fed orchards and fields and a smart cultivation project devised by the missionaries.

Since missions had to be self-sustaining, in the early 1700s Padre Juan de Ugarte filled in the Aranjuez Canyon with an astounding 160,000 mule loads of earth so they could plant sugarcane and vineyards.  The vineyards were one of the earliest in all the Californias.

The villages faltered in the mid-1800s until a group of Mestizo Indians from the mainland resettled it and began planting again. The Pueblos Históricos designation has revitalized the villages and opened them up to tourism. The townspeople now sell products made with local dates, oranges, sugarcane and figs as well as Mission wine from the local vineyards.

The road to Comondú started out as flat desert with lots of raptors. Hector read that there were crested cara caras in this desert area and we saw many more than we expected! Beautiful with bright beaks, we’d previously only seen them in Africa when we visited years ago.

Dust devil!

We also spotted osprey, red tailed hawks and a road runner.  Of course, Hector was out there with his gear chasing them around.

As the road continued, it became mountainous with spectacular views. Another beautiful drive in Baja California. As we got closer to the villages, an oasis with lush fields and palms appeared.

We arrived first at San Miguel de Comondú, a charming town with cobblestone streets and freshly painted colonial buildings. The church was originally a visita, something like a secondary outpost, of the Misión de San Javier.

There is a nice hotel in the plaza whose entrance consists of two rooms with many interesting antiques including a sweet little dollhouse.

It was a Sunday and much of the village was quite sleepy but one of the vintners, Don Alegario, was open for business. He sells his wine inside his home and gave us a sample, it tasted like a sweet dessert wine. He was proud that this Mission wine is grown from vines descended from the earliest vines in California brought in by the missionaries.

After walking around the sleepy village a bit, we continued our drive to San José de Comondú. The three-kilometer road between the towns is a very narrow dirt road bordered on one side by homes and another by lush fields.

The fifth mission built in California was the Misión San José de Comondú founded by the Jesuit Padre Julian de Mayorga in 1716. All that remains of the mission is the side chapel. The materials from original mission were used to build a school in neighboring San Miguel de Comondú which still stands today. San José is much smaller than its neighboring village but has a lovely little plaza adjacent to the chapel.

When you reach the end of San José is the rough road that links the Misión de San Javier on the other side of the mountains to these two villages. This road was built to link both missions and San Javier’s visita in San José de Comondú.

Both of these lovely villages exceeded our expectations. But all too soon the time came to head back down the mountain and forward in time.

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.