Adventure 2: Mangrove Fun and Isla Magdalena
Unfortunately, the whole area was covered in a
which made navigation on the water difficult.
We delayed the trip to the dock by an hour, then drove down with
and ventured out into the bay.
The agenda for this day was whale watching
by kayaking in the mangroves, but Esteban (our captain and guide that
be wiser to start with kayaking, given the visibility.
“I can always come back in the dark” he
said—easier from the whale watching grounds than from the mangroves.
We took with us two boys about 12 years old. Esteban explained that around that age a lot
of kids simply stop going to school; Mag Bay Tours employs a few of
them in an
offer them skills and more options. Isac
were adorable, happy to clamber over the two kayaks to the bow of the
steer us through deep water and around buoys.
On our first attempt we found the channel too foggy and were
forced to turn around. My mother and I sat
pier and ate corn tortillas and strange Mexican cheese while we waited
weather. The boys eventually came over
and were asking questions about the situation…alas, it was not the most
productive conversation I had in Spanish as I assumed they knew more
situation than I did and so struggled to interpret their concerns.
Eventually Esteban returned and we headed to the
under a rapidly clearing sky. We wove
our way through flotillas of plastic buoys and past the commercial
with large fishing vessels and alive with cormorants.
Herons clustered at the edge of the mangroves
as we made our way into the channel, quickly leaving all signs of
behind. Apparently the mangroves are
rarely visited except periodically by fishermen who string gillnets
channels and come away with most of the resident fish.
The water reminded me of the sloughs back
home, amber and calm, weaving in wide arcs but lined with the strange
of the mangroves. After about 15 minutes
we reached the end of the channel
and brought the boat onto a stretch
100 feet long at the edge of the dunes.
We took a quick look around for coyotes, then
decided to trek across
the dunes to
the Pacific side before kayaking.
The land there turned out to be a narrow isthmus
mountainous sections of Isla Magdalena (the southernmore
one edge of the mouth of the bay). It
was about 200 yards wide and covered in flawless white sand dunes, some
with blooming succulents. Mouse, lizard,
beetle, and coyote tracks (see photos of the former three below)
populated the sand everywhere and the whole
stunning. Rippled white dunes right out of
We played on the sand and enjoyed the view for a
before trekking our way back to the mangroves under the hot sun. The boys offloaded the kayaks and then took
off with Esteban in the panga, leaving us to glide our way silently
the outgoing tide. It was lovely. Sheltered from the wind, the mangroves were
quiet and relatively still and we made our way slowly through them,
little bays and watching birds. We snuck
up on a flock of sandpipers, saw numerous yellowlegs, and diving grebes
bright red eyes. Despite ample sunblock,
my arms were bright red in half an hour.
The water seeping into the sit-on-top kayaks (the same type I
the homestead) forced us to sit in puddles of water
and that cooled us a little. About half way back to the bay I spotted an osprey flying straight up the channel about 20 feet up. Just as he approached the bow of my boat he turned and flew off over the mangroves, a striped fish clutched in his talons, facing the same direction he was flying—a classic osprey moment!! Although I think I could have taken a stunning photo, I deliberately opted to enjoy the image with no distraction.
All too soon the mangroves widened and
was the panga, Esteban and the boys shirtlessly fishing.
They claimed to be catching a fish on nearly every
cast and showed us the striped sea bass (if I remember correctly) that
gasping in the cooler. We kayaked to a
little beach and loaded up the boats, watching more herons hunt
before heading back to the dock.
the mangroves and the sand dunes completely won
us over. Esteban, evidently surprised and
our appreciation, mentioned the possibility of camping out
there. With no more activities scheduled
for the week, we took him up on the offer and arranged to return the
our adventures that day weren’t over. We
still had a whale watching trip to make
good on. After dropping the kayaks off
at the muelle we headed out into the bay and I managed to change pants
bottom of the boat while underway (an awkward endeavor).
Being late in the afternoon the wind had come up and we hugged
shoreline of Isla Magdalena instead of cutting straight across to the
mouth. We passed along the edge of more
beaches and sand dunes on the isthmus before turning south along the
the mountainous region. We soon came in
site of Puerto Isla Magdalena, a fishing village of about 400 people,
decided to make a stop. We pulled on to
the gravel beach among all the fishing pangas and jumped out. The tidiness and cleanliness of the village
was in stark contrast to
We soon continued our way along the coast, gazing
up at the
scrub desert vegetation covering the reddish mountainsides. We passed the foundation of an unfinished
fish processing plant abandoned in an economic downturn and now
occupied by a
few fishermen. Eventually we reached the
mouth of the bay and the end of Isla Magdalena, spotting half a dozen
whale blows around us. But the wind was
kicking up a bit, the whales didn’t appear friendly, and when Esteban
out a few fishing huts on the beach and talked warmly of a hike to the
the ridge behind them we took him up on that instead.
riding the swells onto the gravel beach,
Isac and Edgar in charge of the panga and we wandered past the lobsters
tide line and the half
huts and scattered lobster pots of the little enclave before starting
up the hill behind. Coming from a lush
where going off trail means scrabbling over fallen trees and hacking
your way through
devil’s club, walking in the scrub desert is heavenly!
We wound our way
between ocotillo trees,
clumps of grass, and small cacti, following ridge lines and making our
higher and higher until we reached the top of the highest mountain
a precipitous drop to the Pacific side.
A gang of sea lions played in the surf crashing over the reefs
pairs of whales facing north blew in the open ocean—heading back to
Esteban left us up there and trekked back to the boat alone. We reluctantly followed a few minutes later to find that the panga was high and dry on the gravel. A mounting southerly swell had washed it up the beach and I admit I had my doubts about getting it off again! But, the swells kept coming and Esteban and the boys were able to take advantage of a big one to push it out into deep water. In the meantime, my mother and I admired the subtle gray feathers and bright red bill of a Heermann’s gull (see photo below). By then the light was fading and we faced a long ride home so forewent any whale watching for the day. Half way back we lost daylight altogether and my mother and I shivered as the Milky Way came out. Esteban made good on his comment about returning in the dark, following the lighted channel markers back to the dock.
I admit to feeling some relief at arriving back in town, thoroughly chilled and ready for dinner. I felt sorry for Esteban who still needed to take care of the boat and prepare for the next day’s adventures. We set up a morning whale watch followed by camping on the dunes. Since Esteban was busy, we were forced to find our way back to the hotel without a guide, my mother and I flailing in the dark and quickly becoming lost. Identical dusty streets seemed to reach in every direction, poorly lit, with no indication of where “downtown” might be located. I was beginning to get a little unnerved (and cranky) when my mother happened to notice the back side of a playground and we realized we were driving parallel and one block over from the main drag—and had no idea! We gratefully made our way home and, thoroughly exhausted, decided to have a picnic dinner in our room. Our hotel had a cooler of beer and a selection of wines downstairs so we bought a bottle of red wine for 100 pesos, had the receptionist open it for us, and locked ourselves in our room. We feasted on cold refried beans, Mexican cheese, cold corn tortillas, and red wine; it was fabulous.