Puerto San Carlos and Bahia Magdalena
March 7-16, 2008

Introduction: The Drive/The Town

Adventure 1: Whale Watching and the Fetid Beaches

Adventure 2: Mangrove Fun and Isla Magdalena

Adventure 3: Dune Camping and a Friendly

Adventure 4: Snorkeling in the Mangroves

Adventure 5: Fishing in the Bay

Loreto/Mag Bay Tours

sea lions
Gang of California sea lions  

Please click on photos for enlargements

Adventure 1: Whale Watching and the Fetid Beaches
We’d agreed to meet Esteban at the hotel cafeteria (which serves breakfast) at eight the first morning for a whale watching tour (he suggested we leave early in an attempt to beat the sea breeze).  At seven I was just thinking about piergetting out of bed when we heard a knock at the door.  Still in shambles I opened it up to find Esteban standing there, wondering where we were….it turns out that somehow we’d missed the time zone change and it was really 8:00.  We scrambled around, grabbed some snacks, and took off downstairs in a hurry.  Once we found Esteban he led us through a maze of streets to “El Muelle Turistica.”  Apparently tourism is important enough to the economy that the city built a brand new pier, launch ramp and docks a few years ago connected to a concrete square and offices.  We met our captain, Carlos, and strolled down the pier to our panga.  These pangas are standard throughout Baja for both tourists and fishermen, twenty-some foot long heavy weight fiberglass skiffs with several benches and an outboard.  The one we used on our first day had a sun canopy set up, but I still managed to get badly burned (for some reason I never applied sunscreen).  They’re pleasant in the sun, but offer no protection from the chill wind when traveling at speed.

tailboatThe tourist dock is set inside a shallow inlet and we took a circuitous and unintuitive route over the deep channel and into the bay proper.  From there we ran toward the mouth of the bay between Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita.  The sky was blue and bright but a brown haze lingered at the horizon—we found out later that it was smog generated by the diesel power plant.  This day yielded mediocre whale activity and I admit that I wondered if I was irrevocably jaded.  Blows surrounded us and a huge gang of California sea lions swam by, but no whales appeared interested in our presence.  We watched a number of whale trios rolling around on the surface together, the combination typical of breeding lagoons (usually one female and two males, as the males apparently need another male to successfully mate).  One young whale lingered near another boat doing headstands in the water, raising her tail above the surface and keeping it there for several seconds before sinking down.  Her dark tail glistened and flashed in the sun and she splashed the other boats but we didn’t linger long.  As we headed back toward town several other whales passed close by and once I nearly could have touched a tail as a whale fluked next to the bow, headtailbut decided not to push my luck by making unsolicited contact. 

Back at the dock, Carlos escorted us to his recommended restaurant (where the chicken incident occurred) and then we returned to the hotel to rest.  Determined to maintain our exercise regimen, my mother and I eventually pulled our tired bodies together for a run.  We drove along the beach (careful to memorize our way back) until we found a good discrete pullout.  The beach we encountered was…well….it was functional...  The glowing sun low on the horizon and the perfection of the breeze battled for dominance over the fetid piles of squelchy debris littering the ground.  I took off for a run, attempting to stay on the hard packed sand and avoid the black mud and seaweed and suspicious decaying matter.  Around the first point of land I passed beneath the high concrete wall of a fish processing facility which I mistook for a sewage treatment plant based on the smell.  I startled a mob of gulls lurking around a suspicious trickle of water that I was forced to leap, holding my breath as long as I could.  Just when I’d escaped that sheadmell something even more foul greeted me—piles of scallop shells dumped on the beach, rotting.  This time I nearly gagged, surrounded by hot decay, but managed to pass through the rot and run until I hit the 10 minute mark and allowed myself to turn around.  The bracing wind in my face clarified why the rotting scallop smell had followed me down the beach and I fought against it all the way back.  By then the sun had nearly set and my mother and I cooled off and watched great blue and little green herons feeding in a shallow bay nearby.


Walking downtown for dinner later we stumbled across the Hotel Alcatraz—the other hotel in town—and walked into a pleasant tiled courtyard restaurant with large vine-laden trees.  This menu had a more typical variety of foods and we both ordered Pacificos, beans, rice, tortillas, and guacamole.  Heaven.  Before retiring we stopped by the super mini “Daisy” (all the super minis have names) to pick up lunch and snacks for the next day.  We gazed at a mostly unidentifiable selection of cheeses behind the counter until the shopkeeper came over to help us.  I admit we were leaning toward some pre-sliced American looking cheese to be safe, but when I asked for queso he came back with an entirely unidentifiable slough of words—I don’t know whether he was asking what type of cheese, how much we wanted, or what!  I shrugged helplessly so he cut us a wedge of cheese from a round hidden out of sight and raised his eyebrows, and I nodded.  It’s an adventure, right?  I asked for tortillas and he showed us bundles of fresh tortillas in a cooler and we picked up a half size can of refried beans with a pop-top.  This would supplement the luscious oranges we’d picked up at a fruit market earlier in the day.

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