and Bahia Magdalena
March 7-16, 2008
Please click on photos for enlargements
Triumph. It was the 8th
of March and I stood on a low stone fence taking
deep blue of the Sea of Cortez,
my tiny red car baking on the dust of the pullout behind me. My mother and I had left Juneau
about 24 hours earlier and had a whole week of freedom and adventure in
of us a little farther south on the Baja
It was my first proper vacation in two years
and I was ready for it!
So what was the point of our
arrival in this out-of-the-way
corner of Baja? Friendly
whales! A bizarre and marvelous
whales in the lagoons of the Baja
have a reputation for seeking physical interaction with humans and Magdalena
Bay is their southernmost
enclave. Certain individuals consistently
vessels, lifting their great rostrums above the water for pats; others
in the company of boats, performing antics or people-watching. In 2001, my parents took me on a trip to
Laguna San Ignacio where we spent three days watching spectacular
activity but never had a friendly encounter.
We tried to hide
the fact that we were bitterly disappointed,
think my mother was particularly frustrated.
Several years later she visited Baja again and spent one day in Magdalena
Bay, again with skittish
no friendlies (though she did have spectacular orca and blue whale
in the Sea of Cortez). Ever since San Ignacio I’ve had it in my head
to go back to Baja with my mother and stay there until we found a
whale. I myself had returned
in 2003 and
was fortunate enough to have a friendly calf linger with my boat. So I decided this winter was it.
I had a companion fare ticket burning a hole
in my pocket and badly needed a vacation.
the real fun started we needed to execute a long drive
across and down the
Baja Peninsula, cutting through red mountains and dramatic mesas
palo verde trees,
scrub brush, ocotillo, and armies of saguaro cactus.
sections of cliffs appeared to be
covered in pale green lichen and vultures circled everywhere and I was
completely delighted to be driving it on my own with hardly any
After an hour or so of twisting
mountains we were launched unceremoniously onto the level plains of
We amused ourselves
playing “guess the animal” (a variation on 20 questions)—I managed to
mother with “flamingo” and she stumped me with “rabbit.”
In the center of the peninsula we passed
through farm country around Villa Insurgentes and Ciudad
fields, dry corn, and orange trees hung with brilliant fruit.
Close to three hours after leaving Loreto we
began to pass rows of defunct power lines crowned with osprey nests and
were approaching Puerto San Carlos and Bahia Magdalena.
Soon mangroves appeared around us, a hotel
with a whale skeleton in front, and signs to Hotel Brennan—our home for
next five days.
We found the hotel a
minutes later, a charming little building at the edge of a wide dirt
the fringe of main street (see photos below).
After our arrival at the hotel our
local guide Esteban sent
us to a restaurant called Los Arcos
We found it easily enough on the main drive and settled into one
tables, enjoying the fresh air and the novelty of eating in an open air
restaurant. Over our Mexican beers we
perused the menu and were somewhat disappointed to find that seafood
only option. Looking forward to “Mexican”
food we were instead faced with endless variations on fish, lobster,
and shrimp. I guess this shouldn’t be
surprising for a port town. My mother
went for fish tacos and I had a fish fillet—without other choices, I
well take part in the local fare, right?
I have no idea what kind of fish wound up on my plate (this is
conversation I thought would be fruitless in English or
Spanish). It was
enormous, about six inches square, white, half an inch thick, and quite
chewy. Tuna? It
also wasn’t very good, fishy, and I didn’t finish it.
We had more beer and then stopped by a corner
“mini super” for a jug of water.
turned out not to be the sleepy fishing village I’d imagined.
While local fishermen do ply the waters of
the bay and the Pacific Ocean
, the town was
support a commercial port as well as a diesel power plant that
electricity to the peninsula.
8,000 inhabitants, the town is spread along the shore of the bay with
main street near our hotel surrounded by sprawling houses
soft dirt roads. San
is not a prime tourist destination and
only a handful of hotels and touristy restaurants and no tourist shops
Unlike Loreto or other more
destinations most of the waiters and store owners do not speak English.
I had a delightful time dredging up my
Spanish (amazingly intact) to communicate my way through all kinds of
situations from ordering unusual items in restaurants, buying beer,
where certain items were in stores, to buying tours, chatting with
asking directions in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
began a struggle for good
food in San Carlos. Every
restaurant (I think we found three) advertised fish and “mariscos” and
both reluctant to repeat our first experience. Most of the streetside
didn’t look very promising either. For
lunch the next day we were escorted to a simple restaurant off the
by our panga captain. Sitting down with
fresh ceviche (which was admittedly rather good as far ceviche goes) we
once again faced with an endless variety of seafood.
Oh, and chicken. After the previous
day’s experience, I went
for the chicken but vowed to avoid flesh after that for a while.
My mother and I both found the
prevalence of the “mini
super” (short for supermercado, or supermarket) rather hilarious. There was one slightly larger market in town
and a “mini-super” every block or so—and they were tiny!
We speculated that each one might specialize
is particular items, but it was a bit puzzling to see what bizarre
of goods we found in each of the teeny stores.
We ate many of our San Carlos
meals from these little markets and from the local fruit vender.