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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Powell

Lake Powell-19Lake Powell-1Many years ago, we spent several nights in a houseboat in Lake Powell and fell in love with its multi-colored rock formations and the beautiful light reflecting from the sun into the canyon. So on this visit we were hoping to spend some time on the water once again, kayaking or renting a boat, or hopefully both.

Lake Powell-4Lake Powell-9We read about a beach that allowed camping right by the water, Lone Rock Beach. We also read that it had several areas with soft sand so we carefully scouted the beach in our car. And we found a lovely site on hard packed sand and gravel. Check out my review of the campground here.

Lake Powell-7

Continue reading

From Oregon and Down the Length of California

We have been on a pretty long break from blogging, so here is our very late post about our adventures and misadventures during our drive from Oregon and down the length of California.

Cali 2015-9ycogqd4ziWe usually don’t drive Island Girl in the rain, but when it rains every day it is impossible to avoid. Since the rain seemed endless, we decided to drive out of Oregon during very wet weather.floods_2023625

We knew some roads were flooded to the north of us but happily no flooding was reported on our route going south. As we continued however, we passed by areas where the waters were rising and with the continuing rain were likely to flood the roads. We also drove by a small flooded farmhouse, hoping that everyone was safe.

best-sunscreenWinchester Bay-6Next we spotted some official vehicles with their lights flashing as we drove by a bridge, Police officers scanned the waters below. But we got through safely and it was good to know that roads were being monitored this closely. We are thankful to all of those who serve to protect us.

Our destination was the Lucky Seven Casino for a quick overnight stop. We stopped for a pizza and I ran out in the rain to pick it up. Then we settled in for the night in the back parking lot of the casino. Hector ran out for a quick walk with Angel, fortunately there was a covered walkway with a grassy patch, so they had a bit or protection from the rain.

il_570xN.521909692_o359Though we usually like to patronize the places where we overnight for free, we never even entered the casino, it was just raining too hard to venture out. Check out my review of the casino here.

The following morning it was still raining quite hard, but as we drove south the rain abated. We reached Crescent City during a lull in the rain and decided to go for a long walk along the shore.

Continue reading

To the Arctic Circle and Back in 2015

What a year!  We travelled to the Arctic Circle and back in 2015.

cartoon529-2Be warned, this is a looooong post.  But we hope you enjoy a quick tour back through this most wonderful year with some of Hector’s favorite images.

Island Girl traveled a total of 12,345 miles.

We stayed in 88 campsites (29 of them were overnights and 61 were dry camping).

Visited 10 States, 2 Canadian Provinces and 1 Canadian Territory. And 6 veterinarians in 5 states and 1 Canadian Territory.

Continue reading

Stormwatching

Winchester Bay-2Winchester Bay-32There are so many great choices of places to visit on the Southern Oregon Coast that we had a tough time picking a “home base” from which to explore. The forecast was for stormy weather, so we were focused on finding a good spot from where we could do some stormwatching.

Winchester Bay-33We chose Winchester Bay because it was right around the corner from the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which we missed seeing last year, near beautiful sand dunes, and within day trip distance to the charming town of Bandon.

Continue reading

The Central Coast of Oregon

Newport-208
Newport-1Our next stop was along the central coast of Oregon, not too long of a drive but longer than our last one. The coast of Oregon has an endless amount of rocky beaches and coast and many interesting lighthouses and the town of Newport is a great location from which to explore some of those.Newport-6

The last time we stayed in this area we stayed in a marina in the town of Waldport a little further north and really enjoyed it. This time we decided to try the marina in Newport. Both of these marinas offer dry camping at cheaper rates than the Oregon State Parks.

The marina is also walking distance from the Rogue Brewery, so good beer was in our future. And we were the only RV in the dry camping area of with a lovely view of the small boat harbor and the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Check out my review of the Port of Newport RV Park and Marina here.Newport-34 Continue reading

The Mouth of the Columbia River

Astoria-56Astoria-1Last year we paid a brief visit to Astoria, a funky town at the mouth of the Columbia River, and really liked it so we were determined to spend a little time there this year. As Thanksgiving approached, we knew it was time to get to the coast and begin our (slow) drive south, but instead we made a slight detour north to Astoria.

Astoria-33Astoria-32We stayed at Fort Stevens State Park, a beautiful park just outside the town. The campground was pretty empty, so we found a cozy, private spot. Check out my review of the campground here.Astoria-7

Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor who founded Fort Astoria as a fur-trading port for his American Fur Company in 1811. During its early history, Astoria’s primary industries were fishing, fish processing and lumber.Astoria-19Astoria-20

Astoria’s deepwater port still serves as port of entry and trading center for the Columbia basin. But both the fishery and timber industries declined, forcing the town to reinvent itself. And it did so by supporting a burgeoning art scene and bringing light manufacturing into its fold.Astoria-17Astoria-18
Astoria-52

It also succeeded in growing a tourism industry. With its location on the Columbia River, Victorian architecture poised amongst hills, proximity to the Pacific, surrounding lush forest and fascinating maritime history, it gained the nickname of “little San Francisco”. Astoria’s deepwater port now welcomes several major cruise lines.

Astoria-37 Continue reading

A Tale of Two Cities

portland-114
Our arrival in Portland was the start of a flurry of activity: cleaning out Island Girl inside and out, vet visits, shopping, visits and outings with friends and a flight to Miami and back.  So here comes a tale of two cities.

portand-100-3On our way to Portland, we stopped by the Blue Beacon to have Island Girl and the Coquí washed. Though we were planning to do further cleaning, this initial wash was a way of getting some of the excess Canadian and Alaskan grime off both vehicles.

portland-118We also replaced a damaged wheel cover on Island Girl and while we were at it removed the valve extenders on our back tires as a precaution (we have heard of many problems with these).  We went with some simpler valve extenders, a little harder to use but more durable.

portand-100And we stopped at the auto glass repair place to get the windshield and sunroof on the car replaced. We finally had a clear windshield, after months of staring at a bullseye! And the tarp and duct tape sunroof is gone!portand-100-2

portand-4portland-117portland-116Our friends Tim and Becky generously allowed us to park Island Girl on their property near Portland.  We spent the next several days emptying out Island Girl’s basement compartments and generally cleaning out all the nooks and crannies inside and outside, removing much of the dust that had accumulated there from driving on all of those gravel roads in Alaska and Canada. What a summer!

Best of all this gave us the chance to hang out with Tim and Becky. We enjoyed several get togethers to catch up on our lives since we saw each other last winter in San Diego.

Continue reading