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.

Loreto and the Start of the Camino Real

After yet another beautiful drive along the shores of Bahia Concepcion and across more beautiful desert scenery, we reached lovely Loreto and the start of the Camino Real. Loreto is one of the Mexican towns that has been designated as a Pueblo Mágico.

Pueblos Mágicos offer visitors a “magical” experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions, folklore, historical relevance, cuisine, art, crafts and great hospitality.

Set alongside the stunning Sea of Cortez, Loreto has much going for it. A beautiful plaza where the first mission in Baja California was founded. Other lovely colonial structures. Lots of fine restaurants and shops.

There are beautiful lanes with trees manicured into archways. In fact, this town was the capital of the Californias (Baja and Alta) from 1697 to 1777.

Our first visit was to the mission church, Misión Nuestra Senora de Loreto Conchó, founded as a simple structure in 1697. This was the first mission in California.

 

The stone structure that stands today was built from stone and mortar in 1740. Its bells resonate through the town every hour. It was also the first of what would be an astonishing collection of missions along the second Camino Real (the first went from Mexico City to Santa Fe) that extended beyond San Francisco in present day California.

 

Next to the church is the Museo de los Misiones, with many beautiful artifacts depicting the history of the mission, the town, and the missionary efforts across the Californias. It was beautifully presented with excellent interpretive panels, the nicest museum that we’ve visited in Baja.

The community’s pride in the town was evident as we drove around and saw people constantly painting and repairing structures and cleaning the streets.

During our visit, there was a small farmers market in the morning where we bought quite a lot of produce for almost nothing.

And there was an arts and crafts fair in the evening with live music and performers.

That night we enjoyed walking along the beautiful malecón, with its many pangas ready to take tourists out on the water.

We enjoyed watching an interesting phenomenon the locals call the picazón both from our campground and along the malecón. When the sardines are running, pelicans are drawn to the area for feeding.


We’ve never seen so many pelicans, and they all are participating in a feeding frenzy. It was crazy.

We also had the finest meals to date in Baja. One was in a lovely restaurant called Mi Loreto, right by the plaza where we had a fabulous mushroom ceviche.

To our surprise we were asked if we had reservations when we arrived.  Since we didn’t we were turned away as they were full for the night!  And moments later there was a last minute cancellation.  Lucky for us!

There is a Uruguayan place in town called Mezzaluna where we were treated to a lovely performance by an Argentinean traveler and musician, Martin Bevacua.  A charming fellow with a beautiful voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed some awesome tacos at the famous “El Rey del Taco”. Cheap and fun!

Another great meal was in an enterprising restaurant just outside of town that adopted the name La Picazón as it is on the water in full view of the pelicans. We headed out there on a long bumpy road to what we thought was a casual little place only to find a beautiful restaurant, off grid, but with delicious gourmet dishes including octopus in a tequila reduction.

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That same evening as an extra treat we watched the beautiful full super moon come up over the water.

We stayed pretty close to the center of town at Loreto Shores RV park, steps from the Sea of Cortez. An urban park with pretty tight spaces, it did have an amazing view. Check out our review of the park here.

We’d planned to paddle a couple of times, but one day we’d planned to I woke up feeling under the weather (I felt better later) and another day weather did not cooperate. The famous north winds blew most of the time we were there.

On the last day we were determined to get out on the water and there was a brief period of calm so we did take our kayaks out but the wind kicked up shortly thereafter. But we did see some dolphins and as we returned to our campground were treated to the pelicans and their amazing feeding frenzy once more.

Loreto is magical indeed.

 

Back on the Sea of Cortez

Heading back to the Sea of Cortez, we are awestruck every time we get a glimpse of its beautiful turquoise waters during our drive.

The sea’s glittering waters hide behind mountains for a bit and then captivate us again and again.

We drove to the lovely Playa Santispac, one of the first coves you come to as you head south in Bahia Concepción. Check out our review of the campground here.

Our campsite was by one of the palapas right on the beach. Hammocks set up, kayaks sitting at the shore, a dream scene.

Our plan had been to stay a few nights and hopscotch to a couple of other beaches that also allow camping, but we scouted them and decided we liked this one best and wound up staying.

The empanada lady and her dutiful husband

Vendors came by selling homemade empanadas, tamales, shrimp cocktail, ceviche, fresh fish for cooking, fresh produce and more. They even bring water to fill tanks. What could be better!

Well, there were also two little beach shack restaurants, one with rural wifi that actually worked at times and the other with live music some nights.

But the best part is the beautiful bay. Although also susceptible to high winds in winter, we were fortunate once again to have calm winds and seas on multiple days.

A big difference between Bahia Concepción and Bahia de los Angeles is that there are multiple islands much closer to shore, only one or two miles away.

And there are others further out as well. Many more accessible places to explore and we did.

Playa Santispac also has an estuary behind the south side of the beach that can be accessed easily during high tide, or by portaging across a sandbar during low tide. One day we paddled over to the estuary.

There was tons of birdlife back there, including blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron, white ibis, reddish egrets as well as lots of duckies (we’re terrible at identifying ducks). The mangroves always make me think of the Everglades, a national park that I love.


On another day of paddling, we crossed over to a little island just across from our beach where there were lots and lots of osprey, pelicans and gulls.


While Hector was taking photographs, I turned the corner heading across to the opposite edge of our beach and heard water splashing next to me – a dolphin! Then another and another.

I tried to paddle to them but they were moving pretty fast. They were jumping out of the water, sometimes even showing their tails as they submerged. So I just stopped and watched for awhile. Dolphins make me happy. Not many photos as Hector was not close enough, but the memory will remain.

Every morning we were greeted with a different light show as the colors changed and the light returned.  The still water reflecting the light.

On other paddling days we visited some more nearby islands. The marine  and bird life were wonderful.

One day Hector spotted a huge sea lion, obviously a male, who raised his head out of the water briefly and swam away. But we were able to see his body arching down into the water and he was like a little whale.

Another nearby feature was a reef that when not submerged was teeming with pelicans, cormorants and other birds. We paddled softly pretty close to them but they didn’t seem bothered at all. Very cool.


Back on another island, we saw lots of little fish in the water and small sting rays.  I love seeing them with their undulating “wings”, they look like they’re flying instead of swimming. The waters around that island also had many pretty sea stars scattered about.

The day of our last paddle was glorious! It was Valentine’s Day and the sea was calm and soft. Hector drew a Valentine’s card in the sand.

So we paddled lazily further out and for a much longer time, taking in all of the beauty of the sea and the life within it. Usually the breeze kicks up mid day but not today.  The water was like glass until well after noon.

We wound up visiting all four islands that day, while Hector attempted to get to a fifth but it was further than it looked. Distances on the water can be really hard to judge. So he bailed out and met me by a pretty little beach on one of the islets.

Hector hoped that by heading out further into the bay that we would see more wildlife. As we were heading back we looked over and saw a pod of dolphins with a motor boat nearby watching them along with some paddle boarders.

The dolphins were swimming in my direction and I followed them when they swam past me. They swam around me for a bit, then Hector joined me and they swam off.

Hector paddled after them this time and I tried to photograph but they got too far too fast. He was able to get up close to them and they swam all around his kayak.

After our spectacular paddle, we had a wonderful lunch of shrimp ceviche and shrimp cocktail. Then it was hammock time in our palapa!

That evening Hector prepared a marvelous dinner of steak, lobster and hash browns. He set up a table on the beach in front of our palapa with some borrowed candles from our neighbors who were spending Valentine’s at a nearby hotel. It was a lovely and romantic dinner.

A wonderful ending to our time at Bahia Concepción!

 

 

 

The Whales of Laguna Ojo de Liebre

At one of my first jobs in a travel agency in Miami I saw a photo of someone in a kayak next to a whale. I love wildlife and whales are one of my favorites and I thought then how sweet it would be to get that close to a whale.

Eschtrichtius Robustus – robust indeed!

Hector and I have been on whale watching tours about 20 times in three U.S. States and three Canadian provinces. In kayaks, small fishing boats, zodiac boats and big boats. We’ve been fortunate enough to see about nine different types of whales, some pretty close up.

But not long ago, I read about the gray whales who migrate to Baja California from the Bering Sea in the winter. While they’re up north, they spend their time feeding and gorging, preparing their bodies for the long migration south.  It is one of the longest migrations of any animal on earth.

Once they reach Baja California, they congregate in three lagoons on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Whales that mated the previous year will give birth to their calves (their gestation period is about 13 months ) and others will mate. In these lagoons the calves are protected from their two predators: sharks and killer whales.

We set off in the morning on our tour to see the whales. I tried to set realistic expectations and told myself that seeing the whales would be enough but had my hopes up for more.

There were eight of us in the boat, from France, Belgium, Australia and us.  A second boat from our tour company had a group of Mexicans. Excitement was high.

The boat headed out to the middle of the lagoon and stopped. We immediately saw our first whale, then another and another. The boat inched a bit closer. They have rules that restrict them from getting too close to the whales, approaching them from behind or too directly.

The whales did not approach the boat and we moved on. There were lots of whales around and we could see spouts in the distance. Everyone was enjoying seeing so many whales. There are about 800 in the lagoon at this point, but in other years there have been as many as 2500. Apparently, El Niño changes their migration patterns.

Each cow has one calf and trains them for about five months prior to their migration north. One of the things the cows do to build the calves’ strength for the journey north is to have them swim against the strong tidal current at the entrance to the lagoon.

Momma with her calf

For some unknown reason, even though humans slaughtered them to near extinction, the whales now seem to enjoy human contact while in these lagoons. They will swim up to the small boats that go out into the lagoons to get “petted”.

When the calves are a bit grown they will also bring their babies and lift them up at the side of tour boats, presumably to get petted also. The lagoons of Baja are the only place in the world where they do this.

The captain said that a whale was coming towards us from the right side (my side). He had an uncanny way of knowing when they were approaching even though they were underwater. Once they were pretty close, we could all see them underwater.

The whale came to the boat and then went under. Several times whales came to our boat and swam under it from one side to the other.

A little while later another whale swam over, this time coming right up to my side of the boat and surfacing. I barely reached it and gave it a light stroke but it kept swimming and went underwater.

It was a surreal moment, never did I think I would actually touch a whale.

Several other whales swam up to the boat on both sides, and several of the people on the boat got to touch them.

It was really moving.

One gentleman screamed so loudly when he touched this one whale that it immediately went underwater, I think he must have scared it. But everyone on the boat got a close up look and all were happy.

Hector and I just bought a GoPro and used it for the first time. We captured some of the whale encounters, as well as some shots of whales underwater, but our internet connectivity in this area is not good enough to post. However, the video allowed us to capture a few still photos. Hopefully we can post videos later.

On our way back to shore the boat cruised by a vast expanse of sand dunes that border the north of the lagoon. Spectacular!

And as a last treat we had a few more glimpses of marine life: some dolphins, sea lions and lots of marine birds.

We arrived back on land with big smiles on all of our faces from this magical experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Warrior

To get to the town of Guerrero Negro (Black Warrior), you have to cross the state line from Baja California to Baja California Sur. The state line is the 28th parallel (latitude).

The government does not allow produce across to Baja California Sur so we gave our remaining produce away before we left Bahia de los Angeles. Some people said that “they never check” but we like to do all we can to have nice easy border crossings. They did ask us if we had produce and Hector said “of course not, we heard you couldn’t bring any across”. The officer was pleased with that answer.

The other unique thing about this border crossing is that when you cross there is an automatic spray from the road to the underside of your vehicles and your tires. Presumably some sort of pesticide agent to kill off something or other (hopefully not us).