A Blog from the Sea of Cortez – Part 6

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human cardon cactusDay 12, June 11th (Catalina Island, where we did some hiking, and Puerto Gato, where we spent the night)

I love the hiking. It’s a form of meditation for me. This is what happens: When you’re hiking, you’re not always watching the summit. When you are concentrating on the path, that’s when you’re truly happy. When your mind is where your steps are, when your mind is just on your breathing, your mission is to just keep going.

resting after a hikeYou have to be prepared and take care of yourself. I hike with my back pack, my cameras, and everything. Sometimes you have to go down to take a better road, but if you are taking one step at a time, not going off into the past or the future, you’ll be in the present—where there is more serenity.

If you’re hiking, you leave your cultured self. You just see the panorama and say “Wow! I’m so happy.” As with life, you don’t want to carry too much weight on your shoulders. It’s always good to travel light.

giant barrel cactusOne of the amazing plants on uninhabited Catalina Island is the giant barrel cactus that lives just here, nowhere else. We found some between six feet and almost nine feet. Last time we found a huge cactus that was the height of two persons.

We were puzzled how plants could grow so large in this dry and withering climate. We discovered the answer: when you cross the island, in the middle there are clouds. For fifteen minutes we were cold. But that’s why the plants here are so healthy, even though it rarely rains – they get water from the mist of these clouds.

Day 13, June 12th (Las Animas and San Francisquito, where we spent the night)

Tio Guero and his freshly caught fishWe did some free diving here. Las Animas is one of the best places in the Sea of Cortez to go spear fishing. We didn’t have any spears – I don’t like the killing part, just the eating part! Our chef Tio Guero has a lot of knowledge of the area. He caught three fish – a snapper, a grouper and a triggerfish.

Tio Guero is always laughing and telling tall tales about his experiences, then says “I’ve got the pictures to prove it.” He’s a man of the sea; he likes what he does and knows what he’s doing. He’s very good at reading people and anticipating their needs. A great asset for Cabo Expeditions.

Day 14, June 13th (Los Islotes, Espiritu Santo, El Tecolote beach–where we had carne asada again, then La Paz)

We gave thanks to God that we all arrived safely and had a great time. While we were making the carne asada to celebrate we saw four fin whales! These giants are second only to blue whales in size! Their long bodies are really streamlined. What a great way to end our journey.

Beto without his expensive sandalsWe learned to look around at the smallest creatures, the geology, not just the big animals. The smallest ones are just as important as the bigger ones. The rugged geology of this region makes you wonder “what happened here?!”

Today Beto admitted (eleven days later) that he left his very expensive hiking sandals behind on Espiritu Santo. He mentioned it to a crew member from another company, who told him that he saw the sandals on the beach, but thought they belonged to one of the guests who were snorkeling close by at the time. These sandals come with a lifetime guarantee, but the guarantee doesn’t cover lost pairs!

Lessons learned for Cabo Expeditions:

1. We had to hone our skills – how to set up the tents, in what direction, how to anchor, how to set up the sleeping pads and equipment, etc. in order to be efficient.

2. We had fresh food and ice water on the first couple of days because we came from the mainland, but we realized in the coming days that those were a luxury that we wouldn’t have until we reached Loreto. (Fresh fish we could catch, but not ice water…)

3. When we travel, our true selves shine. I like to observe people because it tells me a lot (in the way the person sets up the tent, sleeping pad, etc.).

4. It’s a time to let go, knowing that the next day is going to be different. Don’t think about things that are going to happen when you come back.

5. We had to learn patience. We like things to be a certain way, but each person is different.

6. This is not just a trip, but an experience. It’s a trip within yourself; an opportunity to know yourself and get out of your comfort zone.

7. You realize how much water you use on little things such as washing the dishes.

8. You learn to conserve your energy by staying in the shade, because the sun saps your energy even when you’re not doing anything!

watching the movie Titanic on the islandOne night when we were on Palma Sola Island, we pretended we were in a drive-in, watching a movie projected on the huge rock wall that borders the beach.

It turns out that Oscar Ramirez made a composite photo of us that he presented to us at the end of the journey. In it we are sitting on the beach facing the wall, where he added a scene from the movie “Titanic.”

Unlike that ill-fated ship, the only mishaps on our happy voyage were the loss of two pairs of sandals!

We headed back to Cabo San Lucas with a contented spirit, eager to share our adventures with our friends.

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.

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.