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

dune sunset
Sunset over the dunes  

Please click on photos for enlargements

Adventure 3: Dune Camping and a Friendly
Dragging our tired bodies out of bed the next morning for an 8:00 am departure we began to realize that relaxation and rest were not to be won from this vacation!  But who wants that when adventures are to be had!?  We made our way down to the café and this time I ordered “hot cakes”—heavenly!  Thick and rich and moist and flavorful….my mother had a sort of papaya milkshake which also looked rather good.  Esteban met up with us and confessed that all the company’s camping equipment was stored out at its distant surf camp rather than in town; the good news was that he just happened to be taking a prospective client there that morning and could pick it up for us and would we like some fire wood as well? 

whale and boatSo we made our way down to the dock and met up with Carlos again for whale watching while Esteban headed out to camp.  The water was flat calm and ghostly with the rising mist.  We sped our way toward the mouth of the bay, stopping briefly for a couple of whale calves.  Carlos was careful to ask whether we’d like to stay with a whale or move on to see if others were more friendly.  Clearly more knowledgeable than I, we mostly took his advice, though I admit I wondered if it would be wise to stay with the youngsters (who tend to be more friendly than adults).  I’m glad we followed his advice.  For an hour or so we were the only boat on the water, surrounded by whale blows.  After following behind one whale for a few minutes, it suddenly rose to the surface and halted, apparently falling asleep.  We crept up behind it, Carlos shutting off the engine and paddling us closer to watch it doze.  It was very cool to see the great flukes below the surface, apparently holding the whale in position as our boat was carried away by the tide.  It made me realize how little the whales’ activities are affected by the presence of boats, at least at times.

I don’t recall exactly how it began, but a little later we were watching a few groups of whales when one individual began to approach the boat.  A large animal, I initially assumed it wasfriendly whale an accident that she passed so close, but Carlos insisted that she would return.  One time she came rapidly toward the back of the boat, passing but a few feet from the motor, her pale body disappearing into the depths just off the port side.  Sure enough, a minute later she reappeared on the other side, rising up slowly toward the boat.  Suddenly the tip of her mouth broke the surface and there were my mother and I with our hands on the whale’s face, touching the smooth gray skin and knarly barnacles.  Before she dove again, she raised her head about four feet out of the water—maybe enough for her eyes to break the surface.  What a trip!

Unfortunately, two other boats showed up at that time.  The whale visited at least one of them and while we were waiting for her to return, I dug out my dive mask with the intent to lean over the side of the boat and check her out underwater.  Carlos asked if I was going to jump in.  Initially I laughed (because I didn’t think it was legal), but he seemed to be asking a genuine question so I pressed him until he assured me it was fine and that the whale would have no problem with it.  So I hastily stripped off my pants and socks and slid over the side of the boat into the bay.  Unfortunately, the visibility was fairly poor and, although our whale showed up about 20 feet away, I didn’t get a look.  One of the other boats had harassed her and she was slipping away from us.  I clambered back aboard while Carlos cursed at the other captain.  We slowly followed the whale and shut down again when she showed interest.  My mother saw her passing by underwater and gently splashed the surface with her hands, watching the whale change direction and come straight to the surface, rising up under her fingers.  I didn’t manage to get a photo of the actual petting, but I did snap one as she rolled on her side to breathe afterwards.  Marvelous.

And so we had our friendly whale, a full grown animal on a calm morning.  I can offer no explanation for the behavior except that she and the other friendlies are entertained and interested by the interaction with humans…and that’s what makes the experience so amazing.  We saw her several more times; once I gazed at her eye watching us from under the water as she slid beneath the boat and I even glimpsed her from underwater with my dive mask on several times while leaning over the side of the boat (Carlos hung onto my legs so I wouldn’t fall in).  Chilled and happy we returned to the dock and got busy prepping for the camping trip.  Esteban had procured camping supplies but we needed to find food.  We stopped by the fruit market for limes, avocados and oranges, then went to the largest mini super for jack cheese, flour tortillas, tomato juice, and pop-top cans of refried beans.  We ordered a quick lunch at the Hotel Alcatraz and I hustled down to a corner liquor store for some Pacificos while they prepared it.  When the shopkeeper asked how many I wanted I shrugged and said “seis?”  She looked back and said “ocho”?  It turns out that beer cans come in eight-packs!  Who knew?

packingHustling back to the dock, we met up with Esteban, Isak, and two other youngsters.  The boat was loaded with camping gear, wood, and rocks to hold down our tent.  We sped away toward the mangroves, looking forward to relaxing for the rest of the day.  But, the tide was against us and we had to work for our rest!  Around the corner and about 100 yards from the end of the channel our panga went aground and would go no further.  All six of us jumped overboard into the squishy mud and began hauling gear to the beach (see photo).  When it was all ashore, Esteban apologized for not staying to help set up the tent, then hastened back to the panga to escape home before the tide dropped farther.  He assured his crew that we knew what we were doing and took off.  My mother and I found a hollow of hard sand between the dunes nearby and schlepped the gear over a little at a time, broiling in the sun.  I took my shoes and socks off and relished the feel of the hot sand on my feet…like stepping into a perfectlytent hot bath over and over again…!  I loved it.

The tent itself was huge and I was hot and cranky by the time we started to put it together.  There was no shade and I was sweltering.  To make matters worse, the tent, poles, sleeping bags, pads—in short, everything—were secured with tightly drawn black string tied in impossibly tight knots.  How I wished then for my leatherman!!  I’m sure they were meant to be simply cut, but we had nothing.  Grumpy and hot, we managed to pull them off everything and threw the tent up.  It was a large tent with strange extensions on either side that were not intuitive to set up properly…although they were flopping around annoyingly, I was totally spent and laid down to rest inside.  It was still hot, but at least I was in the shade a little!  I drifted off and when I woke, my mother had fixed the tent to perfection.  I don’t know how she found the stamina. 

Then we decided to go snorkeling in the mangroves.  Unfortunately, the tide had continued to fall and we walked and walked and walked over the squelchy mud of the mangroves searching for deep channels.  I found a blue colored crab in about a foot of water and reached in to pick him up, just like I would a dungeness or king crab back home (although this little guy only had about a six inch shell).  He lunged up and snapped at me most unexpectedly!  I admit I shrieked just a little and was very wary of future encounters.  After a few hundred yards I finally flopped down in the channel (still with only a foot of water in it) and clawed my way downstream.  Not surprisingly the visibility was poor dunes in the sundune flowerfire placeholder(my stirring up the mud certainly didn’t help) and the most I saw were bits of mangrove leaves floating around (thankfully no crabs).  My mother wasn’t foolish enough to try snorkeling, but we both cooled down in the water. We came back, made ourselves comfortable against the shady side of a dune, and read for a while.

We soon discovered that we'd worked up an appetite, and so feasted...refried beans on luscious flour tortillas with jack cheese (cut with pieces of sea shell), oranges, and guacamole.  My Spanish professor once described making guacamole somewhere in South America and I tried out his method, cutting the avocado in half, mashing it up, and stirring in the juice of a fresh lime.  No better guacamole in the world, wow! 

A little later we went for a walk through the dunes in the setting sun, gathering the twigs of some dead mangroves for kindling.  It was clear that the dunes were slowly enveloping the mangroves, the dead branches and trunks poking up from the sand.  We built a fire at the edge of a dune near the tent, struggling to light it in the incessant wind.  My mother had to make a second trip for kindling and I built up a sand wall around the wood to protect it from the wind.  We eventually had a bright fire going and we reclined against the dunes to enjoy it, drinking beer and eating chocolate.  Actually, I was quite irritated by the inescapable smoke swirled around by the constant breeze, but it was great to have a fire anyway!  The stars came out in abundance, but we opted to put the rain fly up to avoid the dew rather than enjoy it from inside the tent.  After all the adventuring we’d done, we turned in early.

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