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Monday, March 10, 2014

Christmas on the Baja Peninsula

I have been away from blogging recently due to a busy schedule and have honestly missed it. It has been
Family portrait on the island of Espiritu Santos, Baja Mexico
good therapy for me to write and I have learned a lot in the process. It is March as I write this but my thoughts have returned to our last family adventure: a Christmas trip to Mexico. We booked our tour through ROW Adventures and enjoyed every bit of it. We hiked, kayaked and snorkeled. We swam with sea lions and whale sharks. It was a true adventure! Five days and four nights of kayaking and camping were complimented with a few nights in a hotel and two nights at a lodge. Here are some of the highlights.

Christmas was on a Wednesday this year. That meant the public school vacation would extend 16 days. We decided to take advantage of that block of time and found a tour that advertised great activities and some interesting wildlife encounters. We left the unusually harsh NY winter on Christmas Eve and flew through Mexico City then connected on to La Paz, Mexico on the Baja Peninsula. That evening, we met our guides "Charo" and Damian, as well as the other family that was on the kayaking portion of the tour. We were fitted with wetsuits and snorkeling gear and given dry bags to pack our gear. We left early Christmas morning by motor boat for the island of Espiritu Santos and four nights of camping.
Laura and Danika, Christmas Day 2013
When we arrived on the island, we were given some additional instructions regarding kayak operation and how to pack it evenly. Each day we paddled only about four hours, giving us enough time to set up camp at each beach and explore the upland areas a bit. We saw rays jumping, dolphins swimming and everywhere there were birds. Gulls, pelicans and frigatebirds were the norm.
Magnificent Frigatebird, male
Baja, Mexico (12/13)

Picture the habitat of southern Arizona, but along the ocean. Once I turned from the ocean, I would swear I was in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson. The cardon cactus looked to me the same as the saguaro I had seen years ago in AZ. However, the fact that we were on an island with very little fresh water in the Sea of Cortez meant a very muted fauna. So although the bird life was abundant, we only saw one species of land mammal (Black-tailed Jackrabbit).

The morning of our final day on the island was spent taking a short motorboat trip to snorkel with sea lions at a small rock jutting up from the ocean. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The sea lions ranged from tolerant to outright social with us. If you watch the video here you will see that one of the sea lions even grabbed on to my arm for a moment or two. Warning: That video is about 11 minutes long. I just couldn't bring myself to edit it down any shorter. I won't be offended if you just watch a little :)
Still photo from GoPro camera
Baja, Mexico (12/13)
Whale shark photo with GoPro
After snorkeling, we headed back to camp to pack. Low tides forced us to shuttle our gear through shallow water to the motor boat that came to pick us up. We arrived back in La Paz with plenty of time to unpack, shower and get ready for our group dinner together. The next day, we were driven to the harbor and met Dr. Deni Remeriz for a morning of searching for whale sharks. We had never even seen a whale shark no less swam with one, so the entire Van Niel family was excited for this adventure. Deni was very free with her knowledge of all things whale shark and you can find out more about her and her organization here. For a video of our adventure on YouTube, click here.

Our final two days were spent in Todos Santos, a small town with plenty to offer. We went horseback riding on the beach, took a cooking class, hiked and even got to help release sea turtles. One of our guides (pictured here) was Citlali. Turns our that means "morning star" in Aztec. In turn, we taught her the name of our daughter "Danika" which is morning star in Danish :). Here is a photo from the cliff hike. We had numerous sightings of humpback whales while on this hike.

On our last evening, just before dinner, our guide and driver told us they had a surprise for us. They had talked to the man that coordinates a sea turtle rescue operation and he was confident that there would be freshly hatched sea turtles to release to the ocean. This story deserves an entire entry by itself. But the short version goes like this: The olive ridley sea turtles come to the beach in Todos Santos and lay their eggs. But vehicles are allowed on the beach and would crush the eggs if they were left in place, so volunteers dig them up and re-bury them in an enclosure on the beach. When they hatch, they are collected and brought to the ocean where they must fend for themselves. It takes about 10-15 years for them to reach sexual maturity. There were about a dozen of us there to witness the release and the gentleman in charge picked Danika to carry the turtles to the surf.

All told, this was one of our most memorable trips.
Sunset in Mexico

1 comment:

  1. The Baja was where I was SUPPOSED to go next week :( Great pics though!


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