Monday, March 21, 2011

Baja Day 3! - "Ballena Gris" or "Yeah, we got your whales here ..."

Saturday, Day Three - Loreto-to-Adolfo Lopez Mateos-to-Mulege. Today was the scheduled clinic day - everyone was to work there save the 4 of us going whale watching. By late afternoon, we were to return to Mulege, relax by the pool and take part in the 30-year traditional Saturday pig roast at La Serenidad.

We needed an early start to get back to the west coast by mid morning. The continental breakfast didn't start till 8am, so the 4 of us went down the street for a Mex flavored breakfast. I had a ham and cheese omelet. All the dishes served an interesting carb equivalent of hash browns, except they were tortilla chips in some sort of mild chili sauce. It was different, but good! We returned to check out - the remainder of the crew were up near the pool at the continental breakfast. Some nice early-morning lighting to shoot from the top floor, then it was time to pile in the taxi again for the airport. Another trip over the mountains to our most southerly site - 25 degrees north latitude, and interestingly, the same longitude as Tucson, so about 350 miles due south of home (rule of thumb is about 70 miles per degree of latitude).

Another dirt strip this time adjacent to a clinic building on the beach. It was next to a cannery which I heard works everything from veggies to seafood depending on time of the year. The whale watchers needed to walk downwind of it to get to the public boat ramps and the smell just about brought tears to your eyes! We got past it and found our way the 3/4 mile to the seasonal whale festival. Besides the choice of several excursion companies, there were souvenirs (from shirts to jewelry), and food too. We pretty much stopped at the first tour company (Union de Launcheros Turisticos de Lopez Mateos S.C. de R.L.)and got prices. It was $70 per hour for a boat carrying up to 6 people. Melinda went for the final negotiations and laid down the law - "we want to pet whales or no money!" was her demand. The company man backed down a bit, saying it depended on luck if we could get up to them. We settled on a 2 hour excursion, which was a good idea with travel time to where the whales were located. After distribution of life preservers and the purchase of a couple liters of water, we were introduced to our boatman Aaron and off we went!

It was a little over 5 miles up the inside of the shelter islands to the mouth of the estuary where the whales hung out. Just a mile or two out of the dock we saw our first whale. Spouts of exhaled air and water, as well as some breaching the surface were seen from quite a distance. And of course, any whale activity attracted boatloads of watchers. Particularly in the narrow channel between the mainland and the shelter island (less than .5 mile), the whales were mobbed - I saw up to 8 boats around them, bordering on harassment!

We continued up to the mouth up near the Pacific waters. I think we were smart to schedule 2 hours - more time allowed further away from the masses, increasing our chances of interaction. Sure enough, there was lots of gray whale traffic and no other boats, though as we neared the Pacific, the water moved from calm to 2 to 3 foot swells.

And finally we got our own personal whales! The same mom and baby kept returning to us - we named them Polly and Boo! Aaron (who didn't speak English) somehow got across to us that they (or at least the babies and yearlings) are attracted by our splashing off the sides of the boat. Eventually a couple other boats joined us and it actually provided a few photo-ops with a little different perspective. The moms mostly tolerated us, but the lil' ones came by for petting. One or two of the moms came under the boat and might have rubbed against us, and at least once exhaled heavily surrounding us in a swarm of bubbles. Joey told me later that the barnacles are itchy and they like being rubbed, either by hands or against boat bottoms. The little ones we were able to pet all had barnacles, so were likely not newborns. The grays have about a 1 year gestation period, and alternate years for breeding, so the little ones can be up to a year old. We did spot one newborn that was a smooth gray - no barnacles, but mom kept her a safe distance from us. We spent a good hour "In The Zone", spending time with them, tracking some till they dove deeply, finding others. Aaron did a great job going where we wanted, following or intercepting whale pairs. We also found a pod of Bottle Nose dolphins that followed us for a while. About 100 minutes into the excursion, we knew it was time to return, but we were all overjoyed with the experience. We tipped well, bringing the cost up to $45 each - still a good deal.

We stopped for t-shirts and on the walk back stopped at a restaurant for a late lunch. Of course, as soon as we sat down, about 50 people from 2 buses also stopped and there suddenly wasn't an empty seat in the place! 3 of us got shrimp tacos, I had the carne asada, and despite the crowd, the food came pretty promptly. Unfortunately, as we walked back, the wind had changed, and we had to walk through the cannery fumes for a good 200 yards - the toughest thing we had to do this trip! Back at clinic, former Nurse Carolyn, and Melinda got a tour of the facility. We hung out for about 30 minutes, before Chuck declared he was ready to go. We had heard there was a seal colony up the coast, and it was on our way back to Mulege. Sure enough, a few miles past the same mouth we hung with the Grays, we saw 2 different seal colonys. Took some snapshots, which provide a better view than the visual appearance (finally learned to set to sports mode to freeze plane motion!). We flew at low altitude following the coast for about 40 miles before heading inland to cross the mountains of Baja one more time. As we approached Mulege, Chuck brought us down into Bahia Concepcion - a beautiful bay 20 miles long, Mulege near the mouth. There were numerous islands in the bay, Chuck flew us over one tiny rocky chunk that had a beautiful white-sand 200 yard long beach. I think he'd like to be marooned there for an afternoon sometime... We landed shortly afterwards and checked into our rooms again. Now that it was the weekend, the place was hopping and there were few rooms left. The 4 of us ended up sharing a "house" that had 2 bedrooms and bathrooms, though it was in much poorer repair than the room we had on Thursday. The sink in our bathroom was tilted so much (falling off the wall) that nothing could be set above the sink. And for the second night, we had cold showers - apparently Maj had the last of the warm water - an advantage of rising early!

The Tucson Nine ended up bypassing the pig roast, heading instead to Sènor Grekos a mile down the road. Another taxi ride got us there just in time for a pass of the International Space Station right overhead. Just as we entered a Beatles tribute band started and we couldn't hear ourselves think. About the time we were thinking of paying them to not play, some of the crowd started dancing, so someone got the idea to move out to a cement slab on the north side of the building. With the windows closed to keep out the band and moderate temperatures it was quite pleasant. And the owner came out to take our picture for being first to use his "patio"! it was also nice because 30 minutes later, a -8 Iridium flare occurred to the north, outshining even the crescent moon! Even among my learned compatriots, seeing the ISS and the flare was amazing to them. They claimed that I could get free beers with that sort of information! Chuck pointed out that long ago, people with that sort of information would either be considered gods or demons, to be glorified or attacked... After another pleasant dinner, we retired to Serenidad and the leftover partiers from the pig roast. There were more Flying Sams from other weekend clinics, as well as locals and gringos that spend the winters there, so a good mixed crowd. I turned in early, the girls continued drinking with the doctor types. So ended another good day! WE SAW WHALES!

1 comment:

Astroweis said...

WOW! That´s all I can say...
Nice report, Melinda and Dean!