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.

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.