After our whale watching tour I practiced my photography at the Misión San Ignacio Loyola, which is in the sleepy little town of San Ignacio. Juan Bautista de Luyando founded the missionary in 1728 on the Cochimí oasis of Kadakaamán. It is truly a little oasis in the middle of Baja, sitting on one of only two rivers throughout the peninsula. In 1786, Juan Gómez, a Dominican missionary, built this beautiful little mission. This mission was very productive agriculturally due to its location on the river; producing date palms, and various citrus. The residents of San Ignacio continue to harvest fruit from the same orchards planted by the missionaries. I enjoyed some date empanadas sold out of one of the homes. The town of San Ignacio is quiet place with a population of about 2,000. After taking our photos, we hung out in the little town square and enjoyed the empanadas and planned our next route.
I’m pretty unsteady here but you can get a sense of how calmly these whales approach our panga. The calf is on one side of the panga and then swims to the other side while the mom slowly approaches us and hangs out while we pet her.
After we finished eating and saying good-bye to Lynn & Ed in Guerrero Negro we headed on down to San Ignacio. We arrived late at our next campsite, Rice & Beans. While setting up camp, we saw a couple of men come in on their quad runners. They stopped by to take a look at our cool set-up and we chatted with them about their experience in Baja. It was Jimmy’s first trip to Baja but Jon has been coming down this way for years seeing the whales at San Ignacio and riding his quad runner throughout the back country. Given our incredible experience at Guerrero Negro, Darryl and I weren’t 100% sure that we’d go whale watching again. We couldn’t imagine that it could get any better. After talking with John, his enthusiasm convinced us that we should go again the next day in San Ignacio. Probably the best advice that we’ve received this trip…thanks John!!
Our experience at San Ignacio was amazing. We went with Ecoturisma Kuyima. It’s hard to describe how incredible these intelligent and sensitive giants are and what it is like to have them reach out to us. We had four to five mother and calf pairs come to us. At one point, there was a mother with her calf that stayed with us and another boat for almost 15 minutes! They kept swimming back and forth between the two boats, coming up to us so we could pet them, scratch their bodies and kiss them! I couldn’t resist the calf and had to give him a big smooch! They were rolling over on their sides next to the boat so we could get their bellies, under their chins, and then on top of their heads!! Enough chatter here, I’ll just share the photos now since I can’t find the words to adequately describe the experience.
After our visit with Jenaro at Mission San Borja we continued along the dirt road out to Rosarito. There was even a big official looking sign pointing the way for us!
From there we headed south into the state of Baja Sur at Guerrero Negro. The whale watching was our destination! We came to Baja specifically for the whale watching during the months of January through March. This is the time when the gray whales breed and have their young at the lagoons from Scammonds in Guerrero Negro down to Magdalena Bay. We were really excited about this leg of our trip.
As we approached the state border crossing, there was a military checkpoint, an agricultural checkpoint and then another to check our papers. The first checkpoint was only interested in where we came from and where we were going. The next was the agricultural inspection. I fessed up to having a mango and an apple but they didn’t seem to care about such trivial things. We paid our 20 pesos for the fumigation. This process required us to drive our FJ over a grate with vapor rising out of it. We didn’t ask what was in the vapor and I’m not sure that I really want to know the answer. We heard that if we didn’t have our papers in order for the next check point then we might be turned away back to the border. We didn’t see anyone when we arrived so we kept on driving. Now to see the whales!
Our campground in Guerrero Negro was the Malarrimo RV Park. They also had a restaurant so we splurged on dinner. We had an ok meal for USD$35 total, which is relatively expensive for Baja. Our campsite was in the parking lot behind the restaurant. It looked like they didn’t bother to open the main camping lot this year due to the lack of tourists. We were hoping to go on a whale watching tour the following day but when we arrived we were told that they wouldn’t be going out because of the wind. We were hopeful that the wind might die down the next day so we stayed and completed a few errands while we waited. With laundry and grocery shopping done we took a walk along the bird sanctuary.
The pelicans put on an excellent diving show for us. About 10 pelicans showed up from all different directions as if on queue. They started dive-bombing into the waters one after the other, practically on top of each other, then they would fly a few feet down the estuary and do the same thing. They continued in this manner for about 15 minutes making their way to the end of the estuary.
That evening, the wind died down a bit so we were hopeful that the pangas would go out to the lagoons the next day. When we got up I headed straight over to the Malarrimo Whale Watching tour office and we received the good news! They would take us out onto the lagoons in about an hour!!!
There would be only one other couple on the tour, Lynn & Ed. This was great news since we wouldn’t have to look over a bunch of people to see the whales. Lucien was our tour guide who was with us only during the ride from the office out to the lagoons. He gave us a history of the town and its number one employer, the salt company, along with some information about the whales and migratory birds. Our awesome boat captain was Manan. He was an expert in finding the whales and putting us in a position where they would swim near us. The lagoons here are huge and hold the largest number of migrating whales. There were as many as 2,300 whales this season. They have had as many as 3,000 whales at these lagoons in the past.
It was truly an amazing experience to see these giants as they observed us by telescoping. This is when they bring their head straight up out of the water as if to watch us.
At one point, the baby came sweeping by and lifted his tail up just enough for me to touch it!
The baby knocked his back up against the bottom of the boat so gently as if saying hello! (I have a very good imagination.) It’s amazing to think how gentle these creatures are considering that the 3 month old calf could easily toss us over with very little effort. Its tail was velvety smooth and felt like soft rubber. When they are born, they weigh between 1,200 – 1,500 pounds and are over 16 feet long.
It was fascinating to watch their behavior. The mother would come up under its baby to help prop it up so it could see us and get closer to the boat. If you look closely in this photo, you’ll see the mother underneath and the darker shape is the baby on top of its mama.
Here you can get a sense of the size of the baby relative to its mother. They swam next to each other with the baby coming up for air more frequently and the mother at its side. When the whales are first born, they stay in the more shallow waters of the lagoons where there is little current and the babies can learn to breath and how to dive. The mother introduces the baby to the stronger currents at the mouth of the lagoons at 2 or 3 months of age. Here they spend a few weeks getting bigger, stronger and more skilled at navigating the currents. They must learn a lot in these first few months because once they head out into the ocean, away from the safety of the lagoon, there will be orcas awaiting them.
After returning from the whale watching tour we spent the afternoon chatting with Ed and Lynn about the experience and spending a wonderful afternoon sharing stories of our travels through Baja. It was a spectacular day sharing the whale experience with this really nice couple.
Here are a few of the many photos we took of the experience.
Continuing south toward the Bahia de los Angeles we passed through Coco’s Corner. This is a must see for fans of the Baja off road races. The roads out to Coco’s Corner were all dirt, rutted and potholed. Darryl was in charge of driving at this point and I was free to enjoy the beautiful desert landscape. Coco is a legend in the off road racing scene and a jovial host. Everyone who says hello to him has to sign his guest book, which is massive, with their name and birth place. He is very particular about this point of birth place.
At Coco’s we met Raul who told us about Campo Archelon in Bahia de los Angeles. He’s been staying there for years and was very enthusiastic about the location. After sketching a rough map to Campo Archelon in the dirt he told us about Antonio, the owner, who was a turtle researcher in a previous life.
After meeting Coco, signing our names and birth place to the guest book, taking photos of the panties hanging from Coco’s ceiling and cool “bad ass” vehicles in the lot we headed back down the road.
After a day’s drive through the desert, the view coming into Bahia de los Angeles was absolutely stunning with its aquamarine colored waters dotted with islands.
We referenced our mental notes of the map to Campo Archelon and arrived at a neatly kept campground originally established as a turtle research center. Our hosts, Antonio and his wife Bety Resendiz, were the first to establish the migratory path of loggerhead turtles in 1995 when a 213 pound turtle they tagged was found off the coast of Japan by local fishermen.
The next day I awoke just before sunrise and enjoyed the changing palette of purples and pinks across the horizon. I’m not a morning person but this beauty is worthy of seriously considering a change in routine.
After breakfast, we spoke with Antonio about scheduling a boat trip out on the bay with his neighbor’s son Angel. Within 30 minutes Angel was ready to take us out in his boat for a little fishing.
We were told by Angel that they fish for ahi, mahi, barracuda, grouper and sea bass among other fish. We trolled for bait by dragging this six inch lure behind the boat at speed. With no luck at trolling for bait fish, Angel decided to stop and fish a couple of spots until we got lucky and caught a small grouper. He cut it up for bait and I fed the head and spine to the pelican that was begging for a little taste.
Darryl was given a pole with two hooks on it. No sooner had he dropped the baited hooks into the water then he was pulling up TWO fish, one on each hook! Wow! After maybe 10 minutes, Darryl was pulling up another! All grouper, but we were having fun pulling them out of the water!
Angel had a bit of Ahab in him so we went in search of another fishing spot to find something larger. Darryl eventually hooked something large enough to bite off the bait and the 6-inch lure! I wonder how that fish is feeling now with all of that metal in his belly. We didn’t hook anything else but Darryl’s catch made for a nice dinner. The wind picked up and we headed back. We were in for another windy night in the tent.
The next day Darryl asked Antonio for advice on what to see on our way toward Guerrero Negro. Antonio drew us a map to Mission San Borja with a side trip to a “magical forest”. The path was along mostly unmarked dirt roads that were not on our map but we had a full tank of gas, plenty of water and a sense of adventure so off we went with map in hand to find what we could find.
As we were driving along the road, we felt transported into a Dr. Seuss book. The forest was full of boojum trees, elephant trees and cardon cactus. Eventually we came to a sign indicating that there were ancient cave paintings in the area. We got out to take a look around but what we found were only a few drawings along one of the walls. They weren’t very impressive so we got back into our car and retraced our path to the start then continued on toward Mission San Borja. We later learned that we were just a few yards from some caves where the real masterpieces were located! If we make it back we’ll definitely make the trip again to see them.
The road to the mission was pretty rough and there were some steep sections that required 4WD. Atfter 20 miles of all dirt roads with no signs indicating whether we were on the right path we finally started to see some small hand-painted signs telling us that the mission was up ahead. This made me feel more comfortable.
Antonio told us that there is a couple that lives at the mission, Jose & Alicia, with their children and grandchildren. We were greeted by Jenaro, one of their children, when we arrived. The family is descended from the Indians that worked there when it was first founded in the 1500’s and have worked the land for generations. Jenaro gave us a tour of the mission and the surrounding spring fed garden. The garden, first planted by the missionaries, still yields figs, lemons, limes, pomegranates and grapes descended from those planted in earlier times. The family also has small herds of sheep, goats and cattle that roam the mountains and they have a few horses used for rounding up the small herd of cattle.
Jenaro was generous with his time sharing with us what life is like living in this paradise. He was home schooled for most of his primary and secondary education and is now in his 4th year of University studying archelology. Given the oral history of his family and a lifetime of exploring the caves full of ancient cave paintings, he has a wealth of practical knowledge that is supplemented now by the University. We hope to return for another visit later in the year to stay for a few days exploring the area with him.
Our border crossing into Mexicali was uneventful. We went through the eastern-most border crossing after reading that there would be less traffic. The US border patrol seemed to be more interested in why we were going into Mexico than the Mexican border patrol who just waved us along. Once through we stopped to get our tourist visa and then we were on our way!
Our first stop was San Felipe, 125 miles south of Mexicali on Mex 1. The roads were easy to navigate and I faithfully followed the speed limits while all of Mexico sped past me. I didn’t want to encourage a meeting with the Mexican police.
We arrived at San Felipe in the late afternoon and chose Playa Bonita RV campground after visiting the four available campgrounds along the beach just north of town. After setting up camp, Poncho, the camp manager, drove us down to the main strip and gave us a little tour of the place along the way. It’s a tiny town with only two main streets so the tour was very short.
We found a really tasty taco stand at the south end of town. If you’re in San Felipe, stop by. It’s the only stand where they were cooking the food along the sidewalk with tables and a bar set inside the building. They had amazing grilled chicken and pork al pastor (roasted on a vertical rotisserie). We don’t remember the name but you can’t miss it.
Given all of the driving to this point, we decided to stay another day in San Felipe. It was a pretty little town and our first place along the Sea of Cortez. We walked to the Centro to get something for lunch and decided on another popular looking restaurant. When choosing our restaurants, we favor the ones that have more local patrons. Given our waiter’s limited English, I was forced to try out my broken Spanish with mixed results. I thought that I ordered 4 items but we ended up with two additional items and potentially more on the way when I finally told him…basta! enough! Nada mas!
The next day we continued south along the Sea of Cortez toward Puertocitos. We stopped at the Valley of the Giants to see the Giant Saguaros. In 1992, Mexico sent one to Spain as a gift in commemoration of the 500 year anniversary of the discovery of Mexico. These giants grow to over 10 tons and live to be more than 2,000 years old. They don’t sprout their first arm until they are around 75 years old. Of the more than 40 million seeds it produced in its lifetime, maybe one will survive to maturity.
When we arrived at the Valley of the Giants, we were met by an engaging gentleman who was busy lassoing a cow skull. We paid him the entrance fee of USD$10 and he pointed us in the direction of the giants. We drove along until the sandy road became too deep for our comfort then headed back out to continue our journey to Puertecitos.
On our way into Puertecitos, we noticed a little shack on the side of the road named Cowpatty.
We made a mental note of the restaurant but went to Puertecitos first, hoping for some other options. We asked the hostess of the campsite in Puertecitos about other food options and the prices for camping and soaking in the hot springs. There was no food to be had and the prices for camping and the hot springs were more than we wanted to pay. We were pretty hungry so we decided to go back to Cowpatty and figure out our next move. For once, I held my expectations in check. With a name like Cowpatty, who knows what could be in store! Well, they only had hot dogs, chips and soda or beer on the menu. I think this was my first hot dog in over 5 years!
After we finished eating one of the customers told us that there was a good restaurant down the road just past Puertecitos called Christina’s. Great timing! If only he had mentioned that about 5 minutes earlier. 🙂 So Darryl and I got back in the car with fingers crossed, hoping that the restaurant would be open. When we arrived, we saw that the three motorcyclists that passed us earlier and were also at the Puertecitos campsite were there as well. They invited us to sit with them and we had a wonderful dinner sharing stories about our travels, the planning and where we were headed. They are also on their way to the southern tip of Argentina. Check them out at www.3upcollective.com.
After dinner, we decided to stay at the beach in front of Christina’s restaurant. Check out our penthouse view! We thought we had the place all to ourselves until a litter of coyote pups woke us up at about 3 am. What a rough life but I’ll take it!!