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After a particularly dark winter, (2000-2001) I decided that a little vacation over spring break might not be bad a idea, particularly one that involved sunshine and warmish water full of exotic life. We initially contemplated returning to Catalina Island but decided that flying to Mexico would be only slightly more expensive than flying to L.A. and would reward us with warmer weather, warmer water, new sea life, cheaper housing, and better food. We did some research and discovered Loreto, a small town on the east coast of Baja California that is home to a large underwater park. It is highly recommended for diving but lacks the hordes of tourists found in other parts of the peninsula. Located at the edge of the downtown area and across the road from the Sea of Cortez is a family-run operation called Baja Outpost that provides both diving and whale watching. They have a few hotel-like rooms in their main structure but we decided to stay in one of the deluxe, private palapas. These are round, thatched structures that use bamboo-like poles for support and palm fronds for both the roof and the walls. Our palapa was charming with its raised bed beneath the conical roof and the full bathroom behind an adobe wall. Our only complaint was that the palm fronds, while making attractive walls, did little to inhibit sound. We were only fifteen feet from the beds in the palapas to either side of us with only two layers of thatch between; we were unfortunate enough to have two amorous couples stay in the palapa to our left, waking us several times during our stay.
Other than that, the trip was incredible. Our hosts took exceptionally good care of us and the diving was fantastic. Each morning we ate a buffet breakfast and then loaded our gear into the pangas (skiffs) which overnight on trailers right there at Baja Outpost. They had a large concrete tub for rinsing gear and a storage room nearby from which we could just hand our gear up to the panga drivers as the boats left in the morning. We either drove or strolled down the quiet ocean road and met the pangas at the harbor. From there we enjoyed a pleasant, sunny drive to one of the nearby islands, usually Isla Carmen or Isla Danzante. (Incidentally, the Sea of Cortez is a popular area for drug trafficking and León, our host, modeled his pangas after the super fast drug running boats!) Being the worst time of year for diving, there were few other divers and we had the panga to ourselves half the time; most of the others staying at Baja Outpost took advantage of the pristine white-sand beaches to relax while we explored beneath the waves. Our second dive still ranks as one of my best and most exciting. After being graciously helped into all our gear by our captain Kiki, Larry and I rolled backwards into the calm ocean and descended. The visibility wasn't great, but it looked like a good day in Juneau. The water temp. was only 58 degrees F, (chilly even for that time of the year), and we were grateful we'd brought our dry suites. I was enjoying the stunning tropical fish that were swimming near the point, (garibaldis being the only bright fish I'd ever seen in the wild), when I found a three foot shark lying in a crack! It was my first shark, covered in a fine layer of silt and laying so motionless that I thought perhaps it was dead. I was a little nervous, though, knowing nothing about this kind of shark, (it was tan with black spots), so I took a series of four or five pictures of him, each one coming just a little bit closer. Finally I was right on top of him and still he remained unfazed by my intrusion. It turns out that it was a Mexican horn shark, a harmless, attractive reef shark whose main threat are the thick spines forward of the dorsal fins. Soon after we left him a huge school of yellowtails swam by, making a wall of fish vaster than anything I ever imagined I would find myself in; there were so many of them that I just held my camera out in front of me and kept taking pictures, figuring that framing wouldn't make much of a difference when all I could see was fish, (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I'd never seen anything like it before). Moments after they left, an even larger school of Mexican barracuda literally swam circles around us, their slender silver bodies fading out above us and into the distance in every direction. After they left, we found a three foot bat ray laying on the sand just beneath. We were floored. Just when things were beginning to get quiet, we found some other interesting species like a bullseye electric ray and a scorpionfish.
Our other dives were not nearly as exciting, but most were good. I never got used to the sheer numbers of colorful, tropical-like fish swimming among sea fans, pink crown-of-thorns, Panamic sea stars, and many species of nudibranch. Our last dive was over a cluster of shallow boulders at Punto Lobos where I saw my first California sea lion underwater and Larry saw his first moray eels--both of them jewel morays. The dive was so shallow that we stayed down for almost an hour. After doing two dives in the morning, the pangas brought us each day to one of the nearby beaches found in isolated coves on the otherwise rocky islands. There the water turns aqua over the shallow, white sand bottom. They are the most beautiful warm beaches I've ever seen. There we ate the exceptionally good lunches that our hosts packed for us and strolled around the islands watching small lizards scitter around, desert birds flit from bush to bush, and looking at all the interesting shells and skeletons washed up. The islands are protected, home to a number of endemic species, (including a rattleless rattlesnake), and it usually felt like we were the only people who had ever been there. Reluctantly, we finally boarded the pangas again for the ride back to town. By this time the wind had usually picked up a little, so the water was a bit choppier. We returned to Baja Outpost around two or three in the afternoon and walked into town for dinner. Loreto is lovely and home to the oldest extant church in Baja California. While people have tried to promote it as a tourist destination, it still feels like a real Mexican town and we were amazed at the number of large hotels built on the shore that have apparently been abandoned or were never finished at all.
The visibility was never very good while we were there, spring being the poorest season for visibility, water temp., and the presence of the large pelagics for which the Sea of Cortez is famous, (whale sharks, manta rays, etc.). On one dive Larry and I lost one another in visibility that was, generously, five feet and I spent a few panicked moments on the surface waiting for him. Winter is the time for whales to be in the area, however, and we spent two days whale watching (visit Sea of Cortez Whales). Baja Outpost also offers snorkeling, kayaking, and transportation to and from those lovely beaches, all at quite reasonable prices. Below are some photos from the trip--the good ones speak to the accessibility of the Sea&Sea MX10 underwater camera with YS-40A strobe to inexperienced photographers. I'd only had the camera on a couple of dives in Juneau before taking it on this trip and really didn't know what I was doing. Photos were taken either with the standard lens or close up.
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Diving in Juneau, Alaska
Diving in the Islas de Revillagigedo
Diving in Bimini Bahamas
Diving in Cay Sal, Bahamas
Diving in Loreto, Mexico (2004)
Diving in Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
Diving in the Islas de Revillagigedo 2006