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 4

Read Part 3 →

Honeymoon CoveDays 5-6, June 4th-5th (Danzante Island)

I like the energy that this island has. It has so much intense, positive energy. There’s a labeled hiking trail that identifies the plants that you see along the way.

The Honeymoon Cove is the most beautiful cove in the Sea of Cortez. We snorkeled in a place outside the cove, which we decided to call “Stars Under the Sea” because the bottom was full of different kinds of sea stars. They looked so healthy, unlike in some places where people using a lot of sun block swim.

Another thing that I like about this island is when you’re hiking during sunset. Suddenly you see a flock of pelicans coming back from fishing to go to sleep. They sail in a long line low over the water.

Ana Maria always makes sure she has her own quiet time at sunset, when she meditates to find her inner peace.

Coronado IslandDay 7, June 6th (Coronado Island)

Coronado Island is famous for its colorful landscapes, and we can see why! White sand beach contrasts with green shrubs, black volcanic rocks, and the blues and greens of the sea.

During the night we realized that we always had to be conscious that on every island there could be dangerous wildlife, such as a rattlesnake—which Tio Guero discovered on his way to the bathroom! It was a reminder that these animals live here, this is their home and we need to show respect.

Tio Guero and his carne asadaTio Guero always surprises us with delicious dishes. This evening he made a delicious carne asada. Miguel always makes the best salsas, and tonight was no exception. His specialties are guacamole, pico de gallo, red salsa, and a killer chile habanero. He’s a great cook and always on top of everything.

Just before Loreto, we pulled up at beautiful Puerto Escondido just south to fill up with gas, and take a fresh shower. Then you really realize how easy you have it at home! And how much water we routinely waste.

It’s interesting to see different cultures and how they adapt to the place. The new people who came to this land, sometimes we don’t want to leave our customs, and we want the place to adapt to our needs. We sell ourselves short. The place has more to offer us than what we think we need.

Post-islands expedition meal in LoretoDay 7, June 7th (Loreto)

Everybody was tired when we arrived at Hotel Angra—a small and simple hotel in Loreto—in the morning. The first thing that people did was to take a fresh shower, turn on the air conditioning, and sleep. Back in the comforts of city life!

We had a delicious lunch of almeja chocolata—chocolate clams. The Sea of Cortez is well known for these large, tasty clams, their shells streaked with brown and the meat partly the color of caramel. Aaron was very skilled at opening and cleaning clams. He also makes a good arrachera, tender meat for tacos.

We restocked our supplies for the southbound exploration and waited for the next group to arrive.

Three new guests bring the manifest to eleven for the southbound journey. It’s no accident that people who love beauty, nature and photography predominate! This is the place to be with a camera.

Gabriel FonsecaGabriel Fonseca Verdugo is a local videographer. Hector Salgado, a filmmaker, joined Oscar on the first islands trip back in May 2009 as well as on other trips outside of Cabo Expeditions.

Don Hirschaut is the owner and president of Earth, Sea, and Sky Vacations. He shares Oscar’s passion about nature. You can read his bio here: www.cabovillas.com/staffbios.asp

The crew remained the same except for Miguel. His back’s acting up so he’s traveling tomorrow for Cabo San Lucas from Loreto by road. We had dinner with both groups.

On the next leg of the journey we were to witness the scene where indigenous people of Baja California Sur, now mostly vanished, reached out for the gods with dance… and sacred drugs from the cactus.

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.