This whale watching captain is here to stay

The happy crew of Cabo ExpeditionsI am the second oldest person here. And I’m actually proud of that. Imagine, I’ve been with Cabo Expeditions for 16 years now!

I guess that makes me the happiest person here, too. If there’s one thing that makes Cabo Expeditions one of the best companies in Los Cabos, it’s the fact that they take their employees’ happiness seriously. I’ve known that the longest. In every day of my stay here.

Zodiac whale Watching AdventureCabo Expeditions whale watching tourToday, I set off to sea as boat captain of Cabo Expeditions’ whale watching tour. It’s what I’ve been doing since I left Acapulco to work here. And it never grows old. Not one tour is ever the same. Except that it always ends in happiness. Nothing compares to the genuine thrill of seeing mother whales and baby whales playing in the water. It’s always fulfilling to see how the guests enjoy watching them and telling me that they would love to come back.

David and Goliath: The small Zodiac boat and the massive cruise shipYou see, Cabo Expeditions does whale watching very differently. The tours are well-prepared, very organized. And conservation is indeed given top priority. Some whale watching tours in the bay use bigger boats and come closer than 260 feet (80 meters) to the whales. The roar of the big boats’ engines drives the whales away. That’s very disrespectful. But because our boats are smaller, we have better chances of seeing the whales up close–especially when they decide to come to us! It’s no wonder some of our most loyal guests have been coming back to Cabo Expeditions every year, for 10 years now.

Conoce BCS ConferenceAnother thing I like about Cabo Expeditions is that it keeps me inspired to learn. You’re never too old to learn. Up to now, I still read books and research on the internet about new information on humpback whales. In fact, after today’s tour, I’ll share what I’ve learned with my fellow captains. We like that. We do a course at the start of each season every year to share information with each other. In 1999/2000, we even went to a lecture on whales conducted by the Sea World of San Diego.

New knowledge, new experiences, new friends–there’s always a new reason for me to stay here at Cabo Expeditions. To me, it’s not work. It’s home. And that’s why this old boat captain is here for life.

I Swim With The Gentle Giants

Beto doing an orientation on the whale shark tourI’ve been told that I have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. I’m a Cabo Expeditions guide. And I swim with whale sharks.

Exciting? Yes. But dangerous? Not at all.

These whale sharks may look scary at 30-feet long, but they’re actually gentle giants. You see, every week I do online research on these beautiful creatures to prepare for a new tour. That’s how I learned that they’re filter feeders. So swimming near them poses no risk to divers or snorkelers.

whale shark coupleI remember once taking a young group on our Swimming with Whale Sharks tour. I was up by 6:00 a.m., like I usually am on a whale shark day. But they were up even earlier. They were too excited! Good thing we immediately saw two whale sharks when we reached the observation area. One was 9-feet long, the other was a full 20-footer. I jumped in and showed them how to approach these docile creatures. That moment for them was unforgettable. They said it was their first time to swim with anything that big and that peaceful!

An older woman on the tour said swimming with the whale sharks was on her bucket list. She was almost teary-eyed when she thanked me for finally making a huge dream come true.

underwater school busBut sometimes, things don’t work out as planner. On one tour, I readied the equipment the day before as always, we set sail at our usual time, but after circling for an hour —we still hadn’t spotted anything. That’s how it is when tours happen in the wild. Our tours are right in the whale sharks’ natural habitat. But, even during the best season, it’s still the whale sharks’ decision whether they want to make an appearance or not.

Everyone on the boat was starting to get frustrated. I was disappointed myself. As a guide, I always want my guests to come home with an amazing whale shark story to tell their friends and families. But it looked like that wasn’t happening that day.

peek-a-boo whale sharkAnd that was when three gigantic whale sharks popped out of the water! The captain immediately stopped the boat and we got ready to swim with them. Later on, the guests said those 40 minutes in the water —alongside the biggest fish in the world— had been absolutely magical. It’s true. I do this all the time and it still amazes me!

I guess that’s the exciting part about my job. Sharing my whale shark experience with the guests and seeing their own experience move them. I do what I love doing, and I love sharing it with others. Up to now, I keep in touch with some of them through Facebook or by email. As soon as they ask when the next whale shark tour is going to be, I know I’ve done a good job.

My Exhilarating Exploration Around The Sea Of Cortez, Told In 8 Days

Cabo Expeditions crew departing Cabo San Lucas for La PazOne thing I like about working at Cabo Expeditions—the never-ending thrill of discovery. Like this 2-week trip to the islands in the Sea of Cortez which Oscar organized for the group. It was an exploration mission. But to us, it was a field trip. And we were giddy like school kids.

We were northbound, from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz to Loreto. The ‘giddy school kids’ were me, Ana Maria Yarza, Adriana Siller, Oscar Ramirez, Luis Landeros, Michael Hull, Richard Hull, Richard Enrique Garcia, Aaron Rosas, Jose Alberto Haro Romero, Jesus Ramon Hernandez, Jose Calvario, Manuel Salvador, and Oscar himself.

Miguel helping a stranded mola mola back out to seaDay 1, May 31st in La Paz
We arrived in Costa Baja Marina in La Paz. We used inflatable skiffs with me driving the Expedition VII and Jose at the helm of the Expedition VIII. Not long after we set sail, Jose already got his first dose of excitement. He saw a Mola-Mola that looked like it got lost and got stranded in the harbor close to the rocks. Jose and I managed to help the sunfish back into the sea. From being disoriented, the huge fish then happily swam away.

Snorkeling and hiking on Cabo Expeditions' Islands ExpeditionDay 2, June 1st at Espiritu Santo Island
It was midday when we got to Espiritu Santo. Here, we camped at Candelero Bay. We spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling and hiking. I went diving in the pristine waters for which the island was known. We then spent the night in the camp we set up earlier. We were exhausted, but invigorated for the day ahead.

Day 3, June 2nd at San Jose Island
Normally, we stay on the northwest side of this island. But the winds had us camping on the northeast side instead. We stayed right Palma Sola beach or ‘lonely palm tree’ —so named because of the lone palm tree guarding the beach. Staying here feels like being in an oasis in the middle of the desert. Except for the fact that we snorkeled, hiked, and kayaked. This trip was really becoming less of a job each day.

Camping on Agua Verde IslandDay 4, June 3rd at Agua Verde Island
This time, it was my turn to witness an extraordinary scene at sea. One mile before reaching Agua Verde Island, I saw 2 groups of orcas! One group was made up of 2 adults and a calf. The other was a pair of adults that swam around the first group. It looked as though the four adults were teaching the little calf to hunt! What an amazing sight. It made us all think of that adage, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child…’

Later in the day, the fun continued. More snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and collecting almeja chocolata. Yup, chocolate clams!

Sunrise at Honeymoon Cove at Danzante IslandDay 5, June 4th at Danzante Island
We were feeling adventurous today so we tried our hand at fishing. And learned the hard way that we weren’t good at it at all. After hours of repetitive casting and waiting, we finally caught a single small bonito. We gave it to the seagulls for breakfast. Then we went back to activities we were better at: snorkeling, hiking, kayaking…

Hiking and camping on Danzante IslandDay 6, June 5th at Danzante Island
We were still at Danzante Island when our adventurous streak struck again. We hiked up the mountain! I’ve always loved hiking because it reminds me of life—sometimes you have to take two steps back and find another way to reach your destination. This hike, however, proved to be more challenging than we thought. There was no visible hospitable path to trek on. It was a climb worthy of seasoned hikers. And we were way too out-of-shape to be considered that! Haha! We failed to reach the summit but still, the experience was guaranteed unforgettable.

Come sunset, I saw two more orcas, which made me realize that orcas are indeed social animals. They rarely travel alone. Just like us.

Chilling out and reading a bookDay 7, June 6th at Coronado Island
Just like the previous nights, everybody—except for a couple of us—slept on the beach. I waded back to the skiff and readied myself for bed. Once in the skiff, however, I simply ended up reading a book.

It was peaceful, until I heard splashes in the distance. It sounded like a humpback whale, breaching. But the water was already pitch black that I couldn’t see even a shadow of the mighty breacher. The splashes sounded again, piercing through the night. It went on for a good 45 minutes! The whale must have been at least 200 meters away but the sounds it made resonated. It could have just been the acoustics of the bay we were moored in. Still, the possibility of a whale right out there got me so keyed up that I had to rouse the others. I told them what I heard, I told them what I thought. I was completely animated! And… they went right back to sleep. Didn’t they believe me? Sigh. It was the highlight of the whole trip for me, nonetheless.

Relaxing in Loreto after 6 nights of campingDay 8, June 7th in Loreto
It was our last night in the north. We were now due south for the next leg of the trip that would take us from Loreto to La Paz to Cabo San Lucas for another 7 days of exploration and escapades. Again, my adrenaline brimmed. Unfortunately though, my back wasn’t cooperating. The pain had become a constant discomfort that I was forced to simply come back home to Cabo San Lucas by road the next day.

Compared to the past 8 days, that trip, of course, had been uneventful. So I simply spent it dreaming about my mysterious night time whale. And smiled contentedly.

Espiritu Santo Island Expedition: Your Adventure Is My Adventure

Espiritu Santo Island Expedition van of Cabo ExpeditionsAs usual, I was up early, and perky. Today, I was taking a couple to Espiritu Santo for their honeymoon. I’ve done this countless times. But the thrill of taking people to the wonderful ‘jewel of the Sea of Cortez’ never grows old.

The lovebirds will start their trip in Cabo San Lucas. From there, a van will take them to La Paz. Then, together, we’ll ride a boat to the protected reserve that is Espiritu Santo. That gives me plenty of time to prepare. Not that I need to. I know Espiritu Santo’s inspiring history by heart. How it was once privately owned until a coalition of leaders persuaded the government to purchase it in 2003. How this makes the island the first conservation purchase of the Mexican government. How since then, its riches and untouched beauty have affected people in many different ways. The pristine beaches can make them gasp with awe. The rich and diverse ecosystem can make them giddy like children. The stunning natural scenery can almost make them cry.

David and Tracy Cherkis, Cabo Expeditions guestsAs I sit here waiting for the couple’s arrival, memories of past Espiritu Santo Island Expeditions flash through my mind. Not one story is ever the same. Not one experience is ever forgettable.

I remember once taking a knowledgeable geologist on this journey. Not only did he help me impart information to the other guests, but I also learned a lot from him.

One Christmas, there was a couple who brought Santa hats with them and took photos of themselves with Los Islotes in the background. As soon as they got home, they sent me a copy of those festive photos via email. We’ve kept in touch as good friends.

three sea lions and a seagull at Espiritu SantoAlso, one of my favorites was when a group of young guests ventured into Los Islotes to visit its important reproductive colony for over 300 sea lions. This spectacle can be observed all year round. But we were lucky to be there in the spring when the female sea lions give birth to spritely little pups. You can imagine how exciting snorkeling with these adorable social animals is. They’re curious and playful, nibbling on the guests’ snorkels and fins – much to the guests’ (and sea lions’) delight.

On this island, guests realize that nature and man can co-exist without man having to harm the natural balance of life around him. Just as conservation protects the island, the eco-adventures open the mind.

And now, I just heard the van stop up front. That’s my cue to relive the Espiritu Santo experience with wonderful people all over again. I can never be more thankful that I get to do this everyday.