In Search of Whale Sharks

We rolled into the Buena Ventura Resort & Restaurant on the Bay of Conception in early evening. We were looking forward to a warm meal and better still, a warm shower. The Bay of Conception is on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. This meant that the temperatures would be a little warmer and hopefully there would be some relief from the winds. The bay is huge and we had a stunning beach front view of it.

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Campsite at Buena Ventura Resort & Restaurant

We had some chips and salsa at the Restaurant since we arrived too late to put in our request for the fish dinner. There were about 7 customers there that evening. We chatted with Jentra about her adventures earlier that day. She was out on Coyote Bay, which is an inlet just north of where we were, with her husband and another friend. Their friend Kenny took them out on his boat to try and find the whale sharks that were hanging out there. He spotted the whale shark quickly and they saw that it was tagged. They were able to contact the marine biologist who tagged the whale shark in Australia!

Darryl and I have a few items on our bucket list for this trip and seeing a whale shark is one of them. So the next morning we rented kayaks out of Coyote Bay at Playa Enseñada el Burro. When we embarked on our journey, the water was very calm with very few waves. We stayed near the coast since we heard that whale sharks like to stay in shallow waters. We have never seen them except for in photos but Jentra said that we would be able to see their dorsal fin sticking out of the water. Once out on the water, I quickly realized that if I am to become proficient at all in kayaking then I will need to invest in some lessons. It was just a little windy out on the water and I was tossed around by the wind and the currents with no real control over my direction for more than a couple of minutes. Darryl was far ahead of me. I am sure that I was scaring off any whale shark within a mile of us with all of the noise I was making with the paddles. With every paddle stroke I hit the side of the boat  All of this aside, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and the view was worth all of the challenges.

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Happily searching for whale sharks but no luck on this day.

Pretty soon we noted that that the winds were picking up and the waves were getting choppier so we decided to head back. I wasn’t having so much fun at this point since our way back meant heading into the wind. I had the paddles in a death clench and with all of the tension in my hands and my arms, I was getting tired pretty quickly. Fortunately, we didn’t have far to go and we were always close to shore. I managed to relax a little to take a photo of Darryl as he cruised along ahead of me.

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Uh oh, time to head in. The wind kicked up and created a little challenge for us on our return.
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180º view of Playa Enseñada.
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Another view of Conception Bay. It was dotted with islands making it very picturesque.

You can see that we weren’t in any danger. It was just my first time paddling in anything resembling choppy water. We didn’t see any whale sharks on this day but we knew that we would have a very good chance of seeing them in La Paz. We were headed there in the next few days but first, we would be stopping in Loreto which is one of the Pueblas Magicas (Magical Towns). These are towns that are being promoted by the Mexican Tourism Agency as places to visit which have a uniquely Mexican flavor to them. We arrived in Loreto by early afternoon and had a wonderful lunch at Mexico Lindo y Que Rico.

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I had the Enchiladas Susana which were delicious!!

After lunch we found our next campsite, Rivera Del Mar in Loreto. It’s a small RV resort with a charming feel to it and within walking distance of the town center. They have clean bathrooms with showers for about 240 pesos per night. After setting up our tent, we said a quick hello to our Canadian neighbor. We saw a familiar rig in the lot and were pleased to see that John and Jimmy, who we met a week earlier in Mulege, were staying there also. What a small world! Their ATV’s weren’t there so we assumed they were out exploring the town somewhere. We walked to the town center which has a small pedestrian only section where there are tourist shops and the Loreto Mission. Unfortunately the mission was closed so we only have some photos of the outside.

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Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto
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View of the Loreto mission’s bell tower.
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Sea shells chime at one of the vendor stalls.

It was getting late so we started back to our campsite. We were talking about what we had prepared for dinner and I realized that we only had rice and beans left. There was plenty for a meal but we had been eating it along with a chicken dish I made for the past three nights. Darryl was a good sport about it and we agreed that we’d finish it off rather than eating out. Once we arrived at camp we stopped to talk with Linda and Al, our Canadian neighbors, for awhile. John and Jimmy had returned from their adventures so we were able to catch up with them also. John was busy at the BBQ and when we walked by him to say hello he told us we just HAD to try this yellow fin that they caught earlier that day. They caught four yellow fin, two of them weighed about 30 pounds and the other two were about 25 pounds. He had a full cooler of them and another 40 pounds that were getting packed on ice to be shipped back to California. Earlier that day John got a great deal on a few pounds of lobster tails so he was grilling them up also. Darryl and I had a bite of the tuna and John kept putting more tuna on the grill and offering more to us. We went from a potential meal of rice and beans to a meal of yellow fin and lobster tail! What a turn of fortune!! And on top of this, we were able to hear about Jim and John’s latest adventures. It turned into a really nice evening.

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John grilling up the most perfect dinner! Thank you again!!!

We did a day trip out to San Javier Mission just outside of Loreto. The drive out to the mission is through beautiful country on a paved road that was being repaired after a storm washed out half the road last year. Apparently 36″ of rain dumped on the area last fall. I can’t imagine what that would be like!

 

We stopped to photograph this small chapel along the way. It was built as a respite for pilgrims traveling to San Javier Mission during the Feast of San Javier.

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Chapel at Rancho Las Parras

The Mission was one of our favorites with a mountain backdrop and a small field of corn and grass fields with horses and a few cattle. Click on the image below to enlarge them.

At the Mission, we saw this awesome bike set-up. The couple riding this has been traveling the world on their motorcycle for the past four years.

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This beefed up bike has taken its riders through all weather and climates.

We saw horses and burros throughout Baja. This horse was gorgeous! He was galloping along the road as we drove by and I had to take his photo.

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In addition to the road work, Darryl had to avoid the animals along the road. This is why they say you shouldn’t drive at night given all of the obstacles. There are also ‘topes’, a.k.a. speed bumps, that are sometimes very big and in many unexpected places.

Road obstacles
Road obstacles
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Why did the burro family cross the road?

We enjoyed strolling along the malecon on our last day. I loved watching the bird and we enjoyed the beauty of the sea. Loreto is a lovely town and we met some very special people while we were there. I hope that the town doesn’t lose its appeal but I fear that the Mexican tourist agency has plans to make Loreto into another tourist destination similar to Cabo San Lucas. They are building some resort areas just outside of town with golf courses and marinas. If they turn it into another Cabo it would be a real shame. At least we were able to enjoy it while it is still charming. Here are some of the photos we took along our walk. These great blue herons look like old men to me with their hunched back and serious look about them.

The observer.
The observer.
Enjoying the malecon.
Enjoying the malecon.

Before we left Loreto, we made one last attempt to eat at Ray’s tacos. Our Canadian neighbors, Ed & Linda, recommended the place as the best tacos in town. We were there for three days yet it was never open. We stopped through Loreto on our way back north on our return to the US and it wasn’t open then either! These uncommon business hours were a common theme throughout Baja.

We were looking forward to our next stop, La Paz, because we heard that it was a popular migrating stop for whale sharks. During our time in La Paz, we camped at Campestre Marinatha which is a Christian Ministries camp just on the outskirts of town. It is a large campsite with clean bathrooms and showers for 200 pesos / night.

We spent our first day in La Paz doing laundry and then a little exploring around the area. There was a spit of sand that we were able to drive along where the beaches went on forever with nobody in sight. At one part along the spit it was so narrow that we could see the water on both sides. It was stunning, except for the little pockets of trash left on the beach by other campers. It’s so sad to see these beautiful spots tarnished with the trash left behind by people that don’t seem to really appreciate the beauty around them.

We had the beach all to ourselves this day.
We had the beach all to ourselves this day.

There are some free campsites out at Playa Tecolote and Playa Balandra so we headed out there to see what they were like. Playa Tecolote was packed with families enjoying the day together. This is one thing that Darryl and I have noticed about the Mexican families. They really seem to enjoy their time together while out on the beaches. They will be out with their children, their parents and their grandparents, with lots of laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves. We had lunch at the beach and enjoyed the views.

The food was ok but the view was spectacular.
The food was ok but the view was spectacular.
Looking from our table onto Playa Tecolote.
Looking from our table onto Playa Tecolote.

We went further along the coast and stopped at Playa Balandra. This was a very shallow inlet and a few palapas along the beach. It was much quieter than Playa Tecolote. I went for a walk out into the waters. I think that I could have walked all the way to the other side!

Enjoying the waters at Playa Balandra.
Enjoying the waters at Playa Balandra.

The next day we went exploring again and found these wonderful beaches just beyond Playa Tecolote. There were signs all along the roads saying that we were on Private Property and we could see that they are being parceled for development. We’re thankful that we were able to enjoy them before the big build-outs. It will be a completely different place once this land is sold and developed for private housing. We spent a couple of hours just enjoying the solitude and the sounds of the waves breaking on the beach.

We went back into town and reserved a tour for the next day to see the whale sharks. We were told that they have had 100% success in finding whale sharks this season!

We stopped at the Archeological Museum and found that although it was still under construction it was open to the public. All of the descriptions were in Spanish, when there were descriptions. The woman who admitted us was kind enough to take us through the exhibit, essentially giving us a private tour, all in Spanish. Although we didn’t understand 100% of what we were told, the photographs of the petroglyphs were impressive and they had interesting exhibits depicting the lives of the early Indians of the area. There were actual artifacts included in the exhibits. One of the exhibits showed the ceremonial burials with the bones still wrapped in their original leather bindings.

The next day we were ready for our big event, snorkeling with the whale sharks! There were four others on the tour with us and we were split into two groups of three. Once the captain of the boat spotted the whale shark he would stop the boat and we would get prepared to jump into the water. Once in the water, we could no longer see the whale shark which was perhaps 10-20 yards away. Their coloring is a dark grey with small spots, allowing it to blend perfectly in the waters. We would have to look back at the others on the boat who would point us in the direction that we should swim. The whale sharks would just kind of hang out in the waters, slowly swimming along, which allowed us time to swim toward them. It was incredible to see this huge fish appear suddenly in front of you! The first one that I encountered was a juvenile whale shark, only about 20 feet long with a head (and mouth) that was about 8 feet wide. They grow to be about twice this size! They are gentle creatures, neither whales nor sharks but rather very large fish. Once they got tired of us hanging out with them they would just flick their tail and vanish with surprising speed.

Darryl and I got to swim with four whale sharks and we saw many more from the boat. It was a perfect day and an unforgettable experience.

My hand as I'm trying to swim with this giant.
My hand as I’m trying to swim with this giant.
Trying to show some perspective with the side of the boat included here.
Trying to show some perspective with the side of the boat included here.
This is another juvenile. We didn't see any of the fully grown adults.
This is another juvenile. We didn’t see any of the fully grown adults.
This whale shark is feeding on plankton.
This whale shark is feeding on plankton.

Our time in La Paz was coming to a close. While strolling through the back streets we came across a beautiful mural. After our time earlier with whale sharks, it felt like a perfect tribute to our day. The message to the casual observer was to stop destroying our waters with pollution and poisons. DSCN1905We stopped for our final dinner and enjoyed the beautiful weather while people watching at El Rancho Viejo. A nice ending to our whale shark quest.

Fresh orange / carrot juice that tastes as good as it looks!
Fresh orange / carrot juice that tastes as good as it looks!

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “In Search of Whale Sharks”

    1. I just reloaded the video and updated the post. Hopefully that worked?!

      La Paz was great and we loved the snorkeling with the whale sharks. It’s a much larger city than the others we visited since we prefer the smaller pueblos but if you were going to visit Mexico, La Paz is a perfect place to base yourself. From La Paz, you can do the snorkeling with whale sharks, hang out on beautiful beaches, take a ferry over to the mainland for a day or two, go south about an hour to La Ventana or El Sargento and there is artsy Todos Santos (too touristy in our opinion) which is just an hour to the west. In La Ventana, you can wind surf, there are a lot of places that offer lessons, and there are some marine sanctuaries that are supposed to be nice for snorkeling and diving.

      Although we really enjoyed our time in Loreto, I’m not sure that I’d recommend it as a destination for a week. There is a lot to do though if you’re into kayaking and fishing. There are also tours to see the whale migrations for blue whales, fin whales, grey whales or humpback whales.

      If we were to recommend one place / area to visit in Baja, we would recommend seeing the grey whales at San Ignacio and then also go over to Bahia Los Angeles and take a day trip out to the magical forest area that I wrote about. You could even add the Scammon’s Lagoon grey whales to the itinerary. This was definitely the highlight of our trip in Baja.

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