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Isla Espiritu Santo, Baja

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Isla Espiritu Santo, Baja
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Isla Espiritu Santo
   ...from the journals of CW Bryant (age 14)


March 18...
 
    Whales, dolphins, and seals... kayaking, camping, and snorkeling... sun, surf, and scenery...  my spring breaks just get better and better!
    Mom and I are headed for Baja California south of the U.S. border!  We’re flying into La Paz to join my Uncle Brad for a week of camping and kayaking on Isla Espiritu Santo, an island reserve in the Sea of Cortez.  But first Mom and I will spend a couple days in Magdalena Bay searching for California Gray whales.
    We got into La Paz early enough to walk the pier of artists, catch an early dinner, and then take a dip Bahia de La Paz--our view from the hotel. The promenade below  is a fun place to be at night.in the pool under the stars at our hotel. We stayed in the Los Arcos Cabanas overlooking the gardens.  It was a warm night–I looked forward to a good night’s sleep.
    Bahia de La Paz (Bay of Peace) is the largest bay on the Sea of Cortez.  In 1535 Cortes attempted to settle the area inhabited by the Guaicura and Pericu Indians.  After 3 years it was abandoned due to lack of supplies. Pirates then used the coves of the bay to raid Spanish ships returning from China.  A mission was established to protect the ships, only to be abandoned because of Indian uprisings.  In 1811, Mexican ranchers living in the area started their own town, called La Paz.  Today, besides being the capital of Baja California, it’s a resort city.  Visitors can view the bay from the town’s palm-lined promenade and from its many white, sandy beaches.  Boating, fishing, kayaking,and diving are a few popular activities offered there.

March 19...
 
    After breakfast, Luis met us for our guided van excursion to  Bahia Magdalena, near Puerto San Carlos.  It’s a 4 hour trip through some pretty amazing desert terrain to the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the Baja peninsula.  Luis is funny.  He’s guided many whale excursions.  Maya, Luis’s girlfriend, is visiting him during college break and Manuel is our driver; he’s really nice and has been This desert is amazing and the cacti love it here!  Guess how many years this tall cactus can live?with Baja Expeditions for quite a while.
    The Baja desert at first appearance seems void of life, but it is estimated that there are some 120 species of cacti, with 90 found only in Baja.  The cardòn cacti, cousin of the smaller saguaro reaches a height of 65 feet and can live up to 400 years.  There are several species of barrel cactus, which the native indians would hollow out and use as a dutch oven. Coyotes, desert big horn, burros, desert cottontail, cactus mouse, kangaroo rat, and the rattlesnake are a few species that make their home in the desert.
    The village of Puerto San Carlos is small, just a few sandy roads!  Hotel Alcatraz has an outdoor cafe just outside our room.  We had a quick lunch and met back up with Luis and Maya for a panga ride out on the bay to look for California Gray whales.
    The coastal area of the fertile Magdalena plains sank below sea level, allowing the Pacific Ocean to flood in and create shallow (60 ft.) Magdalena Bay with several barrier islands.  Its coastal salt marshes and mangrove forests are home to a variety of wildlife.  California Gray whales migrate from There are some 120 species of cacti in Baja.the Bering Sea, some 6000 miles to Magdalena Bay, one of three favorite calving grounds along the peninsula.  From January to March pregnant Grays give birth and nurture their young before returning to the rich Arctic feeding grounds. Pangas, small motorized fishing boats can be hired for whale watching trips.  Panga operators are licensed and are required to follow rules that ensure the whale’s safety.  Of all whales, the Gray is the easiest to spot because it seeks the shallows.  Those whales that come in for a closer look are called “friendlies.”  
    The wind had picked up in the afternoon and the shallow bay got choppy.
    “Look, there’s a whale,” Luis pointed off in the distance. 

    We saw several whales, but they were far away.  I wanted a closer look and so did Mom.  We returned to shore hoping tomorrow morning would bring our close encounter.
    During dinner of fresh fish--Baja style, Luis shared with us his acting debut with National Geographic.
    “They were filming a whale watching expedition and I leaped from the panga and threw my arms around a gray whale in a big hug for the camera,” Luis said smiling.  “See, this is where the barnacles scratched me.”
    
March 20...
 
    The bay was calm with no wind and we all were excited about seeing Gray whales.  
    Then, it was so awesome... a momma Gray whale surfaced right next to our panga.  She first poked her head out of the water to get a look at us.  Then she made her way closer.  I think she was as curious as we were!
Magdalena Bay is the place to see California Gray whales.
    “Look, there’s another one.” Mom pointed to the other side of the panga.
     The whale gently disappeared below the water for a few minutes, then resurfaced and blew a hearty blast of air from her blowhole, spraying water high above us.  Awesome!
    “There’s a calf, the smaller, dark gray one.” Luis pointed out.  
    Luis added, “Whales really like it when kids are aboard, even pregnant ladies.  Somehow they just know.”
    Luis also found that gently tapping the bottom of the panga attracts the whales.
    It all worked, between the two pangas in the bay that morning the whales and their calves hung out around our panga.  I was kept busy guessing which side of the boat they’d surface on; when they’d suddenly breach water; where their heads would pop up to peek at me; or whe
The Grays that approach the pangas are called Friendlies.n they’d blow a spout-full of spray in my face.  The whales seemed to enjoy the game just as much as Mom and I were!  And in between the antics, they rested, floating along side the panga.  I could even count barnacles on their backs!  
    “When you see the fluke rise out of the water, the whale is diving,” said Luis. “ The fluke always leaves a footprint, see the smooth, glossy area on the water?” 

    The Gray surfaced a distance away starting a new game.... this time it was Follow-the-Leader.  
    I had the best time.  I’ll always remember my friends from Mag Bay.  Maybe I’ll see them again on their migration north in Oregon.  
    We took our time driving back to La Paz, stopping to sample the Choya cactus.  
    “The fruit is a favorite among cows,” said Manuel.
    And it’s quite tasty if it weren’t for all the tiny prickly needles that  stick in our hands, lips, and what    ever they touch.                  
    Manuel showed us how to roll the balls of fruit in the fine dirt, which removes the pesky needles. Then how to cut the thick casing and pull out the sweet/sour pulp--yum!  The cows don’t give a hoot about the  needles--they chow them down.
     A ways out of Puerto San Carlos, we stopped for lunch at a streetside taco stand in Ciudad Constitucion.
    “This stand has great tacos--beef, chicken and brain.” said Luis.  “Cody, are you going to have brain?” he asked with a big grin.
    Then we stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand where Mom and I bought some huge guava, yum, my favorite!
    Back in La Paz, we had dinner at an outdoor cafe, where the owner’s kids sang and danced for the customers.  After another swim in the pool, Mom and I headed for bed. Uncle Brad was  arriving later that night.  He came in around midnight–his plane had been delayed in Hermosillo.



 

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