Dances with Whales (Feb 9 2016)

It’s sunny! It’s Fat Tuesday! And it’s our day for Dances with Whales!

We are both up by 7:30. Elmer said that there was already a reservation for the first whale boat so I thought the second or third one might be less crowded but Big Dog is eager to pack up and get going. Plus, he does not want coffee until after the whale watch – it’s bad enough thinking about having to pee on a panga full of strangers without exacerbating the situation with a diuretic.

As we leave the camp site, fish eagle dad flies over to a nearby pole to say goodbye with a giant poop squirt.

It’s only 8am or so when we get to the office, but people are already there: the German couple from the giant Mercedes camper.

DSC05425“We all went yesterday and it was so good, I have to go again to take more photos,” the woman explains. “He’s staying behind to clean the truck.”

“Hey, while you’re at it, clean mine,” laughs Big Dog.

Oh, boy, only three people, I think, but after we pay the US$45 each for the panga, they make us wait forever and by the time we are ready to go, there are NINE passengers: a Swiss couple, another German couple, an American couple and the original three. Fortunately, Big Dog had poo’d and pee’d numerous time during the wait – hopefully enough so he has nothing left inside.

DSC05433DSC05472The boat, piloted by Leopoldo whom we met the day before, goes out towards the middle of the lagoon. The whales are everywhere – we watched many frolicking while we waited – but Leopoldo must know where the main action is. He steers the boat towards the mouth of the lagoon, just past our campsite.

This is where the “nursery” must be. There are dozens of mothers with calves, swimming side by side. The maternal bond of these marine creatures is quite moving – mammals are so different from fish. We see plenty of whales coming out of the water and “blowing.” It’s an event when one spy hops (and many do!) or a tail or fin comes out as they roll. It’s an awesome event when it happens up close.

DSC05445DSC05464DSC05471When Leopoldo follows a mother and calf unit too closely, it makes me feel a bit guilty, like we are seriously disturbing them, but they actually don’t seem to mind and when we stop, they come cruising towards us – so close you could almost touch them. (We have heard of other whale watch boats that encourage passengers to touch the whales but Leopoldo does not.) Do they like the vibrations the outboard motor makes? Is it like Magic Fingers for them?

The whales are just spellbinding – so big and yet so graceful. (Seriously obese humans might do quite well in an aquatic life!) Their behavior is so sophisticated you can’t help but feel a strong kinship with them and can understand those who believe they have a higher consciousness than us humans.

DSC05486It’s difficult to shoot photos and especially hard with a camera that has no viewfinder but Big Dog gets a few beauties. What an incredible experience!

DSC05489On shore, there is a whale skeleton. When you look at it, you realize how “mammalian” it is. Their skeleton resembles land animals far more than fish. Fins have bones like our hands. There is a spine and rib cage. Because of the design of their spine, they move up and down (like we do, back and forth) rather than side to side like fish. Whale calves drink their mother’s milk, a super fatty milk designed to put on pounds fast! Without lips to suckle, how do the babies drink the milk, you wonder. Well, the mother’s nipples are indented until the baby nudges her and then they come out. The milk squirts out in a stream, right into baby’s mouth.

Not knowing when there will another opportunity to shower, we shower again before leaving the whale camp, saying goodbye to Elmer and passing the dunes, the salt flats with crystals glittering in the sun. I want to buy a hunk of salt from the gate guard but Big Dog nixes that idea. Bye bye, whales! Bye bye Ojo de Liebre, Eye of the Jackrabbit!

DSC05495DSC05497South of this area, the landscape is just like the Mojave Desert, circa 1950.

“Yeah, just like Antelope Valley when I was growing up,” says Big Dog.

Here and there, a funky house (in Antelope Valley it would be a mobile home) with a few trees for windbreak. There’s an actual town – Los Laguneros (“The Lagooners!” “The Goonies!”) – which looks a lot like a scruffy desert town.

There are many elevation changes and lots of wind so you would have to be a pretty hardcore cyclist to be riding in Baja but we see more than a few cyclists. Some are in organized groups, with a support vehicle, but many are on their own, in small groups or riding solo. What a tough road trip! Long stretches with no towns or anythng, no shoulders, big rig trucks and so much wind.

BC Sur seems to have slightly better roads, however. This stretch has fewer potholes, for one. The road climbs as we go inland, into scenery with yuccas, datilillos, cordón cacti, chollas… And it is getting hotter. we also see your first major roadkill – a white cow with ribs exposed being devoured by vultures. It is amazing how little roadkill we have actually seen. A couple of coyote, a bobcat or something… Maybe the “cleanup crew” works faster out here, with fewer vehicles to have to avoid.

Vizcaino is the first real town after Guerrero Negro. You know it’s a real town when there are stop signs instead of topes! We’ve noticed, though, that Baja has fewer topes in general but more stop signs and drivers tend to obey these signs. Well, to a certain extent, anyway.

Hungry after the long morning, we stop at a birria de res taco stand as we roll into town and buy water from the agua purificada place across the street. I can’t recall ever seeing these places on the mainland but they are all over Baja California. You walk in with a container, they fill it and bill you for however much water they fill. On the mainland, you buy water in those 5 gallon carboys from the vendor trucks that come around or regular bottled water in the shops, but here, you can buy any amount of purified water for not much money. We get 2 or 3 gallons for P6.

Back on the highway and across the peninsula towards the Sea of Cortez. The mountains in the distance make the place look a bit like Arizona. In the middle of the peninsula is the oasis town of San Ignacio, lush with palms. These are date palms but there are no roadside date vendors! (Maybe not the season?) Instead, there are many signs for hotels and RV parks. Like “Oasis Motel Rice and Beans.” Who names their hotel Rice and Beans? Other signs welcome “Bigs Rigs.”

Just outside of town, though, several signs announce a date vendor. (“Datil 200m” “Datil 100m” etc.) The shop advertises pan de datil. That must be the specialty.

DSC05499The road goes through a small pass near Volcan Las Tres Virgenes – the Three Virgins – with volcanic spew all around. Finally, down a very steep, curvy grade towards the coast, where there is a big mining operation just before the town of Santa Rosalía. They even have their own pier.

As you hit the coast, the road suddenly deteriorates to the worst kind of Pot Holy Land. You’d have thought the mining operation would have enough money to fix it.

Santa Rosalía was the company town for the mining operation, founded by the French in 1884. They mined copper there until the mid-50’s. In guidebooks, they talk about the French influence, but the buildings remind us more of Wild West towns than anything French. However, Gustave Eiffel (of the famous Eiffel Tower) was said to have designed the main church.

DSC05500Iglesia de Santa Barbara is much smaller than I had anticipated, but just as we had read, the ceiling is canopied with ironwork.

DSC05501DSC05502We had also read blogs raving about their famous bakery, El Boleo, and how the baguettes are the best in Mexico, so we ask a lady outside the church where the Panaderia El Boleo is and she tells us it’s just down the street a few blocks. She is beautiful and friendly, with a great smile. In fact, most of the people here are quite good looking. Could that be the French influence, too? Or maybe it is because they are so quick to smile.

On the way to the bakery, we stroll through the Casa de Cultura to look at old photos of the mining days. It’s a big room that looks like a high school gymnasium and an older man is giving a boy guitar lessons in the middle of it. Their classical guitar music is the perfect accompaniment to the old photos.

DSC05507We pick up a baguette and some pastries at the “world famous” panaderia and then walk to the city hall where we chat briefly with a local man who welcomes us to Santa Rosalía.

Up the hill, there’s stop at a Ley Supermarket. Ley is a popular supermarket chain which started out as Casa Ley, founded by Juan Ley Fong in 1954. Juan Ley Fong was born Lee Fong in China. He left the Guangdong province by boat to come to Mexico in 1910 and had a village store in a mining town on the mainland in the 40’s. We will be shopping at Ley a LOT during our time in Baja.

After groceries, water at Pemex (for washing dishes and such) and beer at a deposito, we’re back on the road to San Lucas.

DSC05515We turn onto a dirt road near Km 182. (Every highway in Mexico posts kilometer signs along its route and it is a very convenient way to give/get directions.) Up ahead is the first “real” RV park Sprockets has ever been in. This one is divided into two sections and we wind up at the north section which is more vacant but also more barren. Maybe this one is the overflow section?

One of the seasonal residents talks to Big Dog, telling him about the toilets (flush!) and showers (hot water between 8 and 10am!) while I make dinner. It is P100 to stay here overnight. Not a bad deal at all!

End of Day Miles: 766 mi.

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Author: ontheroadwithsprockets

I've been traveling since I was born -- the first big trip was before I was two, across the Pacific, from my native Japan to Los Angeles on a cargo ship. There have been many journeys since then, through many continents and cultures.

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