Added 5 May 2007
Sunday, 18 March 2007, Laguna San Ignacio to Bahía Tortugas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
We got somewhat of a slow start in the morning, but we did nearly get all of our gear loaded up before heading out on our whale watching tour that morning, and more importantly, we headed out on our whale watching tour before anyone arrived from town, so our group had the panga all to ourselves. Our boat driver was Antonio himself, which was pretty cool. We shoved off a little before nine o'clock for our roughly 2.5 hour whale watching trip. The wind had been blowing all night, so the sea was pretty choppy, making the fast ride out to the whales fun and interesting. We went a few miles before we saw our first whales off in the distance. In the distance, we even saw one whale do a sky-hop and another do a full breach, raising our excitement levels. Unfortunately, those ended up being the only aerial maneuvers we saw, but we didn't leave disappointed.
Antonio kept passing boat after boat, some of which were local fisherman, while others were other whale watchers. Antonio didn't seem interested in putting us anywhere near other whale watchers, which I was happy about, yet nervous about too, as I didn't want to end up with a private moment in the ocean with no whales. I need not have feared.
When we reached a location that seemed no different from any other place to me, but at which we had seen a few whale backs emerging from the water, Antonio slowed the boat and started moving around slowly. Before long, we were joined by a mother and baby Grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus). They approached extremely close to the boat, making us all really happy. They soon grew even more bold and came right up to the boat, allowing us to reach down and touch them. They felt slick, rubbery and/or spongy at the same time.
After some time had passed, another mother and baby arrived and vied for our attention. They were both hanging around our panga for a while, then one set left. In all, we spent time with 3-4 sets of mothers and babies. It was amazing to see them all so close, and to watch them move their enormous bodies so gracefully in the water. They could move their enormous bulk within inches of the boat, do a barrel roll, and scarcely disturb the water or touch the panga.
That's not to say that they didn't bump the panga from time to time, perhaps getting a little back rub in the process. The mothers seemed keen on getting the babies close to the panga, and would sometimes push the babies up to the surface near the panga.
Their behavior got me wondering whether the whales somehow know that we were, in a broad sense, their salvation, their protectors. I'm sure that whale watchers showed up just as whaling started to decline. I strongly suspect that the whales can sense the difference, and understand that the laughing people in the small boats are interested in interacting with them instead of killing them.
All too soon, it was time to head back to camp, which we did at break-neck speed. This time we were traveling more against the wind, making the ride much rougher, yet more fun. At one point, I think I became separated from my seat by about six inches as we crested a wave before slamming back down on it as we hit the next wave.
Once back at camp, it wasn't long before we hit the road for the town of San Ignacio, 90 minutes of rough road away. Marisa rode with me again today, and we enjoyed the scenery and talked of the whales on the way to town. At the town of San Ignacio, we parted with Rob and Kat, as they had already explored the town and had a different destination for the evening than we did.
San Ignacio was a nice town with a pretty good sized church in classic latin style on one end of the town square. I wasn't sure if we would be able to go in to the church since it was Sunday, but they weren't having mass when we got there, so we were able to go inside and enjoy the beautiful interior. After wandering around the church, we each got a quesadilla from a street vendor in the town square before hitting the road and heading north to Malarrimo, many miles away on a peninsula sticking out into the Pacific, a peninsula on a peninsula. Making it there before dark would be a task.
We took Highway 1 to Vizcaíno, then headed west, first on a pretty decent paved road, which turned into a brutally rough dirt road. The desert here was largely very dry and sparsely vegetated, but the geologic features more than made up for the paltry plant life. I found the whole peninsula enchanting as I rolled through it with rattling eyeballs. As we continued further on, we occasionally passed lone ranch houses that were extremely remote, or passed roads to ranch houses that must have been home to some of the most remote living in all of the Americas.
Somewhere along the way, the intense rattling broke some of my stereo mounts and for the rest of the trip my radio listed strongly to the right.
We had been traveling at gas-guzzling speeds, so as we neared the turn-off for Malarrimo, Chuck felt like we should head to Bahía Tortugas for gas. It was already apparent that we weren't going to be able to make it all the way out to Malarrimo, so we inquired in town about nearby places to camp. The folks we talked to were really friendly and helpful as we muddled through in Spanish. Bahía Tortugas seemed a bit more run-down than many of the other towns we had encountered in Baja Sur, but it occupied a beautiful area.
We headed out of town and, after a little confusion, found one of the places we were advised to go for camping, in Bahía Clambrey (Bahía Thurloe), on the south side of the peninsula. Unfortunately, it appeared that the entire beach was subject to tidal flooding, so we had to camp in the scruffy looking desert behind a tidal berm. It was the first camp we had in which we didn't have a more or less immediate view of and access to the water, and for that it seemed somewhat lacking, but we made the best of it.
It was chilly and windy again, conditions we had been dealing with since our arrival on the Pacific side of Baja. We were all growing a bit weary of the Pacific weather, so even though our original plan called for two nights in the area, our plan for Monday included the option to start heading back to the Sea of Cortez a day ahead of schedule.