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.

An Unforgettable Birthday at Espiritu Santo Island

“We went on the Espiritu Santo Island Expedition to celebrate my birthday and I will cherish the memories.”

It’s a full day but everything is taken care of for you. We were picked up at 6am for the 2 hr trip to La Paz. Along the way we stopped for an authentic Mexican breakfast which was the perfect way to break up the ride. The roads are new and our driver was awesome covering the miles at a safe but quick pace to get us to La Paz.

The highlight of course was snorkeling with the sea lions. Alberto snorkeled with us. There were 12 of us on the boat which worked out well. After having lunch on the most beautiful beach and relaxing we stopped at another snorkel site and saw beautifully colored fish.

The day was long but completely worth it and an experience I highly recommend. We found many of the locals where we were staying haven’t been to La Paz and Espiritu Santo Island and were asking questions. Special thanks to our guide Alberto, boat captain Javier and our van driver whose name escapes me. They were all super professional and well versed for this expedition.

A guest celebrates her birthday with Cabo Expeditions at Espiritu Santo Island. Please follow this link to read the full review on TripAdvisor.

Biodiversity: Mexico’s Way of Life

Danzante Island, Baja California SurMexico is no stranger to biodiversity. Conservation, preservation, and awareness of the importance of safeguarding the environment have long been championed in this region even before biodiversity became a byword for every nature protection cause.

It is more than an advocacy. For Mexico, it is a way of life. After all, Mexico has always been one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Between 10 to 12% of the planet’s species are found in its territory, totaling to more than 200 thousand species. It has always lived to share its wealth with flora and fauna.

With this bountiful gift of nature, it’s only natural for Mexico to take the responsibility of biodiversity quite seriously. In fact, it has 17 million hectares of natural protected areas.

Humpback whales blowing in the sunsetCabo San Lucas Bay – One of the world’s deepest bays has one of the richest ecological communities. The reef fish and marine flora is joined by the majestic sighting of the humpback and gray whales from December to early April each year. This, on top of frequent encounters with orcas, dolphins and pilot whales. This, over and above witnessing marlins, sailfish, swordfish, dorados, roosterfish, and tarpons co-existing in perfect harmony.

Flight of the vultureSierra de la Laguna – Between the municipalities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there’s a mountain range in the middle of the desert where you can find the only dry jungle of the entire peninsula. The only pine-oak forest throughout the peninsula’s southern half. The only forest with around 70 plant species –15% of which are endemic.

Among the glory of fauna, the reserve is also home to woodpeckers, quails, hummingbirds, white-winged doves, hawks, owls, deer, coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, gray foxes, over 40 species of reptiles and almost 100 different insects.

Night dive in the Sea of CortezCabo Pulmo Marine National Park – The 25-thousand year old, 3-kilometer long and 2-kilometer wide only living coral reef in the Americas resides here. It is earth’s most valuable underwater treasure. Its 7,000-hectare stretch serves as the natural habitat for 100 species of fish, 40 species of algae and sea fans, as well as pelagic species like the bull, tiger, blacktip sharks.

“Friends of Cabo Pulmo,” an assocoation here, promotes ecotourism in order to keep the park’s flora and fauna safe.

Whale shark in La PazBay of La Paz – One of the most biodiverse marine areas in the state and all throughout Latin America, the Bay of La Paz looks after its whale sharks. Nearby, in the island archipelago of Espiritu Santo, a sea lion rookery is also given much attention.

Likewise, the undersea wrecks “Salvatierra,” “Lapas 03,” and “Fang Ming” —fully covered in corals and other wonderful, colorful organisms— are kept safe.

Blue whale in LoretoLoreto Marine National Park – Within Loreto Marine National Park’s 200-hectare boundaries live 30 species of marine mammals, a host of endemic reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In the sea below, the marine life is even more overwhelming. Sportfish such as the dorado, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, roosterfish, grouper, sea bass, and snappers. Bivalves and crustaceans such as oysters, octopus, chocolate clams, scallops, shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

Even the guests that drop by a few times a year —manta rays, dolphins, sharks, killer whales, pilot whales and even blue whales— make this natural protected area worth protecting.

Gray Whale underwaterLagoons of Magdalena Bay – Magdalena Bay is preserved for its complex natural architecture. In this bay, two big currents converge: cold water that comes from Alaska, and warm, tropical water from the south. Together, these streams generate large amounts of nutrients that attract species such as squid, crab, shrimp, sea bass, red snapper, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, sardines and others like flounder as well as several species of birds, turtles, sharks of various kinds, rays and, of course, gray, blue and finback whales.

El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve – With over 2.5 million hectares, El Vizcaino ranks as one of the largest biospehere reserves in the world. It has a vast collection of ecosystems —from extremely arid land to mangroves, lagoons and wetlands of high ecological value. It has gray whale sanctuaries. It cares for a wide variety of birds: the osprey, the collared goose, the northern pintail, the red heron, and the swallow, to name a few. Even endangered species have found a haven here: the golden eagle, the white-headed eagle, the peregrine falcon, the white-tailed deer, and the bighorn sheep.

MangrovesIt’s good to know that more and more organizations and nations are taking notice of the significance of biodiversity. It’s better to know that before everyone else, Mexico has started the quest. And continues to live the quest as a natural way of life. With its experience and expertise, the world is assured that biodiversity is here to stay.

A Blog from the Sea of Cortez – Part 2

Read Part 1 →

The Cabo Expeditions crew at Costa BajaDay 1, May 31st (La Paz)

We arrived in La Paz and checked in to Pension Baja Paradise, a small and simple pension house. Everyone was very excited.

We had a meeting on the rules and regulations for the trip, plus a safety briefing. People didn’t ask too many questions yet as they were still shy.

We went to the marina to check out everything, prepare our luggage, and make sure that we had all the supplies that we needed.

Day 2, June 1st (Espiritu Santo Island)

We set off in the Expedition VII and Expedition VIII, with guests in one boat and most of the crew following in the other.

Serenity in the Sea of CortezThe first thing you notice out on the Sea is something you hear, or don’t hear. It’s a sound that can’t be recorded, bottled or sold. Silence. Quiet. Peace.

Maybe that’s where the name La Paz came from. The quiet is as close and immense a presence as the sky and the water. You can’t see it in a photo.

When we grew close to the long, rugged island of Espiritu Santo, we couldn’t stop remarking on the sugar-white sand and utterly clear turquoise water. It was the first time for everyone who was not part of the crew and their first impression was “WOW!” It was great to see the reaction of guests and how the team conducted themselves during the trip.

Arrival at Espiritu SantoWe pulled up on the sand, formed a human chain, and unloaded the equipment. The first order of business is always shade and water. I reiterated to the group how important under the sun it is to conserve our energy and keep ourselves hydrated throughout the trip. We set up the tents. Anchoring the Zodiacs out from shore, we used the kayaks to go back.

When it was time to go in the water, we supplied each one with his or her own gear. “You’re each responsible for your own equipment.”

We gazed in wonder at the fish, corals and scenery for hours. When we came out of the water, we listened to the sounds of nature. When you don’t have too much noise in your head you can turn around and find the source of the sound.

Sunset kayaking at Espiritu SantoWe realized an important thing: going to the bathroom is an intimate ritual; when you don’t have those comforts, it’s hard to concentrate. We set up a portable bathroom with shade and made sure that it was always clean for the next user.

We did a little bit of kayaking. Some people were shy at first, but as they saw others doing it, they joined in. People just needed a little push.

Sunset… It’s amazing how we’re used to checking the time every so often and keeping a running commentary of events. People would say, “Wow, it’s still early, but we already did a lot of things!” This trip was the time to put away our watches. We were not going anywhere.

Each sunset is different. There is a short window during the day when it’s not daytime, nor is it nighttime.

Fifteen minutes before and after the sunset is when the colors are the most beautiful – the colors of the rocks change and the water takes on a fiery glow.

Little cave at Espiritu SantoAt dinner we provided lamps for everyone. All of a sudden we could see how many stars there are. It’s so nice to watch the stars without the bright lights of the city; you could actually see shooting stars (and satellites?) pass by. The stars seem big and soft and almost within reach out here.

It was difficult for some people to sleep on the first night even though they were tired, because they were still excited.

We had to learn that it’s a time to let go, knowing that the next day is going to be different. We reminded ourselves not to think about things that are going to happen when we come back.

The next day would be a revelation for us all. On the faraway island of El Pardito in the Sea of Cortez, we found ourselves asking “how can people live with so little and be so happy?”

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.

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.