A Blog from the Sea of Cortez – Part 5

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Isla del CarmenDay 9, June 8th (Isla del Carmen)

Isla Carmen has been called the most scenic of the bay of Loreto’s islands and we could see why. The island shines in the National Park of the Bay of Loreto. The marine park was created in 1996. There are five islands in the park—Isla del Carmen, Isla Catalina, Isla Coronado, Isla Danzante and Isla Montserrat.

Before the park was created there were no restrictions on commercial fishing companies and shrimp trawlers – both are now illegal in the park, but sport fishing is still allowed.

Balandra Bay at Isla del CarmenOne of the places I hadn’t been to before, Balandra Bay, is so beautiful. It’s very healthy in marine life. Not many boats stop here, so there’s not as much sun block in the water. The starfish don’t get so stressed from the chemicals in those lotions.

People don’t realize that most commercial sun block cream is toxic to sea life. It’s important to protect your skin with sun block, but make sure it’s the reef-safe eco-friendly kind.

On the land, it’s desert, but it’s full of life. It’s alive! How do plants and animals survive with no water? But they do!

Day 10, June 9th (Danzante Island)

What’s so great about our Zodiac boats is that they can get into places that big boats can’t go, like coves and caves. Some caves have roofs studded with fossils. It makes you wonder “what happened here?” The boats with their twin four-stroke 115-horsepower engines are quiet and don’t leave an oil sheen on the water.

High-speed ZodiacsJose is a very good driver and has an eagle eye for wildlife. He’s quick to spot anything moving in the water. He always points out whales, a manta, or a fish jumping out of the water.

So many people think Baja is just dusty rough desert roads – they’re surprised to see hundreds of whales of all sizes and species patrol these plankton-rich waters in what some people call “Mexico’s Secret Ocean” – the Sea of Cortez.

Danzante Island’s Honeymoon Cove is one of the highlights of our trip. Danzante Island was the meeting place for the three indigenous cultures of Baja California Sur—the Cochimi, Pericú, and Guaycura tribes. They would travel long distances to come together here where they danced for days and days.

Danzante IslandThey would be praying to their gods to supply water for their communities. They used peyote, a cactus containing the hallucinogen mescaline to get into a trance. In their hallucination they would ask for the most precious thing—water.

Day 11, June 10th (Agua Verde)

Here is a community of 300 people, with two churches and now two little stores. When you spend a little time with the locals, the fishermen, you learn a lot from these people. There are things that they can teach you. They see things that you don’t see.

Once we met two brothers there. One came to Cabo San Lucas, but he couldn’t get used to the urban energy of Cabo! Now he lives in a little ranch with four adults and three children – that’s the whole town. He taught me how to hike, how first you got to be sure you’re not going to fall.

The next day’s hike would reveal the mystery of one of Baja California’s unique and rugged survivors.

To be continued…

A Blog from the Sea of Cortez – Part 3

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Chilling out on the islandDay 3, June 2nd (San Jose Island)

“Cafe Grande please!” That’s Michael. He’s a late riser and a big person. By this time, Tio Guero knew he would have to prepare enough coffee and food for Michael. Michael always starts his morning begging for a grande coffee.

Luis, who was showing off his very nice-looking Puma sneakers for hiking, was put out when the soles fell off yesterday. “Now I realize why they were selling it two-for-one!” They look more like boxing shoes today.

Pod of common dolphins in the Sea of CortezAfter breakfast, we gathered our things so we could move to the next point, which was San Jose Island. We became more efficient in what we did through the course of the journey.

It’s not just about arriving to the island, but also getting there. You see a lot of marine life along the way. The vast sea seems as empty as the desert until suddenly a dark beast bursts through the surface. We were laughing with excitement at a big school of common dolphins herding us along on the way to El Pardito, where we made a quick stop.

El ParditoThe guests said El Pardito was an impressive little island. The family (and three previous generations) who lives there is very warm and hospitable; they always invite people in to their home. Some of us asked, “How can people live with so little and be so happy?”

In 1916, a fifteen-year-old seeking the life of Robinson Crusoe on his own desert island settled here. Don Juan Cuevas Ramirez died at age 75, but not before he had sired three generations closely linked to the sea.

El Pardito VillageEl Pardito is about 150 km northwest of La Paz, between the islands of San Francisquito and San Jose. Its little chapel, school, solar-driven desalinization plant and radio help the isolated, tiny family community survive in this remote outpost on the Sea of Cortez.

These days overfishing by big international entities and illegal poachers threaten their modest livelihood. The need for national and international conservation pressure is great to preserve our Baja legacy.

The tiniest fishing village in the Sea of CortezThe younger generation has turned to music to supplement the islet economy – three of them have formed a ranchera band. The songs of Los Grandes Del Pardito celebrate the life of the island family.

We left the little island fishing village and headed to the mangroves of San Jose Island. First it was ocean and desert, and then suddenly you come into an area that is so green that the contrast between the colors is hard to comprehend.

Palma Sola BeachOn the way to the beach Palma Sola Island we saw another school of common dolphins churning up the blue. Palma Sola is called “lonely palm tree” because there is one sole palm tree on the beach, making you feel like you came across an oasis in the middle of the desert. But we couldn’t feel alone in the wilderness with that friendly squad of dolphins racing alongside.

We camped on this island beach for the night. First we anchored and then immediately provided shade and fresh water to everyone. This time people were more energetic and knew what to do.

Agua VerdeDay 4, June 3rd (Agua Verde Island)

Agua Verde is a beautiful place. The water is greener here because the type of sea bottom, the color of the rocks and sand there is lighter.

Oscar Ramirez, the other Oscar on the journey, expressed amazement at the beauty of his land. He feels prouder than ever to be a native of Baja California Sur and share his Baja heritage with us.

Ricky Ricky et alWe saw Don Jose, a person whom we met on our first islands trip back in 2009, during the flu outbreak.

Ricky Ricky is Mr. Everything. He cooks and helps out with everything. With his positive attitude, nothing is too difficult for him. Cabo Expeditions is lucky to have him on our team!

As we prepared for sleep tonight, we drank in the beauty of the stars so close and bright. The next day we would discover stars of many colors at the place we were to name “Stars under the Sea.”

To be continued…

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.