Monday, January 21, 2008

Whales! 1.21.08

Today was completely indescribable…the most wonderful, magnificient, cool, muy bitchin', fantastic, and what ever word you can use to describe incredible. We started out the trip on a panga headed to the lagoon - it was supposed to take 1 hour or so. Our panga driver, Ramon, drove and drove, saw a ton of breakers, drove some more, stopped, turned around, drove some more, turned around, drove some more…hahaha…we were LOST!! Finally, Ramon hailed the other panga we were meeting up with and was given
the GPS coordinates they were supposed to meet and we found it - only two hours later! We rafted up (the boats were side by side), were given life vests, and transferred from one panga to the other - in the middle of the bay! No problem… The 2nd panga was from Coturisma Kuyima, and was one of the authorized companies that can operate in the lagoon.

A little history of San Ignacio Lagoon - "In one of the most remarkable annual migrations nature offers, Pacific gray whales make the 5,000 mile trip from the chilly feeding grounds of the Arctic to the safety of the warm, shallow waters of the Baja Peninsula for their breeding and calving season (the calves are about 15 feet long and weigh 1,500 pounds at birth). Several thousand whales may visit San Ignacio every winter, and there are sometimes up to 400 in the lagoon at one time. Las amistosas
(the friendly ones) is the local nickname of the whales, which regularly approach the small panga fishing boats to be stroked & touched by awed whale-watchers, in a genial gesture that has stumped scientists for more than twenty years, since it was first recorded." - from the '1001 places to see before you die' book from Patricia Schultz. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed inside the lagoon at a time. You get a guide & enter the lagoon in a small panga, explore and watch the whales for
a couple hours, then leave. Adult whales are courting & mating or training the yearlings. You're told to look for spouts, spy-hopping, fluke flapping, and eye-balling the touristas, and you might be lucky enough to pet a wild whale. They only let 3 pangas a day in during January, and 15 a day in February & March.

So what did we see? It was FANTASTIC!! Maybe I mentioned that already… When we just entered the lagoon, we saw a whale spy-hop (which means they pop their head way out of the water & look around). We saw a ton of dolphins as well. Further into the lagoon, we had whales about 5 feet from the boat - a mother & baby. The baby was only about 15 feet or so but was incredibly cute. And it only got better from there. We followed them for quite a while and they were scared away when another panga
zoomed by so we decided to go further into the lagoon to look for more. All during the trip, you could look around the lagoon and see a couple each way you looked. We found another mom & baby and tried to visit with them, but they were much shier than the previous group.

We happened upon another mother & baby - and spend probably an hour playing with them. The baby was exceptionally friendly and everyone on the boat was able to pet it!! The boat operator, Noe (pronounced No-Eah), pet it first, and showed us how to call it's attention - by swishing your hand in the water. And one by one, during the hour, each of us had a chance to pet the baby whale. It was…spongy! So soft & a very smooth, but spongy feeling! The mother whale was standing by, either just under,
or just around the baby, occasionally nudging the baby to move along. We kept moving along with them and the baby whale seemed to beckon us to come play! We never had the chance to pet the mama whale as she was so large, her nose didn't come close enough. We have some fabulous pictures between Chad & I - and Michael has video of the entire day as well. Several with the baby & mom, several spouts (them breathing, spraying/misting water) even occasionally spraying each of us with the blow hole!
It was just amazing to have these monstrous creatures literally inches from the boat, but them being so amazingly gentle at the same time. At the end, the mom was right under the panga, literally touching or holding onto it, for not just a moment, but for several minutes, and all the while, the baby was playing all around her and getting oh so close enough for us to touch it.

It was by far one of the coolest days we've had on the trip - just incredible. We're so lucky to have been able to experience it! We convinced Noe to take us back out of the lagoon, past the breakers as we weren't so convinced that our first panga driver could do it and keep us dry! Just outside the surf line, we transferred to our other panga, handed back the life preservers and amazingly, made it back to the boats in about 45 minutes! Amazing how quickly you can get back when you know the way!
Hahaha. We saw about 12 whales during the day. We were only gone for about 6 hours in total. We came back to the boat and looked at the pictures and will watch the videos in a bit. So incredibly cool, I can't wait to upload them to have you see them! I'd highly recommend this excursion to anyone coming this way, if you have a chance. Any of you reading that are on your way down the Baja, don't miss this stop - take the time & experience this. We waited several days for the weather to be right
and it was all worth it.

Tomorrow, we're heading out at approx 4am headed to Bahia San Juanico, which is just past Punta Pequena (pronounced pay-KAYN-yah), and should arrive in the early afternoon. We are planning to meet some mutual acquaintenances & stock up on a few groceries. I'll write more later & will upload the photos & video just as soon as I can!

More to follow…


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