Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Whale of a Tale!

This week finds me back in Canada visiting family and friends, I guess it is sort of my version of Spring Break - in reverse!  But actually my timing has been very fortunate, just a couple of days before I arrived here there was one of the worst storms and cold snaps of this winter and while I arrived to chilly -5 degree temps and a fresh layer of snow, since then things have become quite mild and "spring" like - relatively speaking! 

But I am looking forward to getting back to my home in Loreto later this week and one advantage of this return to a northern climate is a renewed appreciation of how ideal the climate is in the Baja at this time of year as the temperatures start to climb and the winds shift from the north to the south, bringing warmer gentler evenings and early mornings.

Because I am away this weekend it gives me an opportunity to provide you, my loyal readers, with a special Guest Blog, written by a friend and fellow Homeowner who just returned north after a 3 week stay in Loreto Bay.  Speaking with them just before they left, they told me of an amazing experience they had just had whale watching in Magdalena Bay on the west coast of the penninsula.  When I heard their story my reaction was "that would make a great Guest Blog" - and, much to my delight, they agreed that they would put their story down to share with all of you.

So here is a wonderful story about one of the iconic experiences of this magical part of the world - this season has been remarkable for the number and frequency of whale contacts on the west coast in particular, and this story is a great description of a day the author will never forget:

Serendipity is such a cool word, it means "pleasant surprise", or "happy accident" and that is exactly what happened on our latest Loreto adventure.

You hear people talk about whale "watching" a lot, you know, "let's go see the whales" but you don't hear many people say they have "played" with the whales, but that's what fantastically happened to us on our trip to Puerto Lopez Mateo 2 weeks ago.

But first the serendipity part, because that is what led to this unbelievable experience. I wanted an oil change and a check of the other fluids before I drove my family through the mountains to the Magdalena Bay area to see the whales. "No problem señor, 1 hour" I was told. I waited for it; it would only be an hour. Then: "Oh señor, your transmission fluid is very dirty", "its dangerous señor", OK I said, let's change it. "No problem señor." Well there was a problem. It took 3 hours because even though he assured me he had a gasket to replace the one in my transmission pan, he didn't. It took all day to replace the fluid. At one time there must have been 6 guys “working” on my car but that meant a lot of standing around watching one other guy do most of the work.

I knew my brakes were not great because the pedal would go all the way to the floor before grabbing, so I mentioned this to the mechanic as well because I had to drive through the curves in the mountains which would be nuts without decent brakes. He pulled the rear wheels and sure enough the pads we very low, "dangerous señor." OK, can you fix them, I asked naively? You guessed it, "1 hour señor." Well through a series of miscommunications, mistakes, mishaps and general mayhem the car was in the "shop" for 3 days. The lack of a vehicle threatened to scuttle our planned whale "watching" trip.

Frustrated, I made a last minute evening call to Raffa at Vive Loreto to see if he could take the 4 of us on an unscheduled trip in his van to Lopez Mateo. I was anxious to go because our daughter and her boyfriend from Canada were visiting and this was certainly a "must see" for them. Raffa (actually his wife Maria) agreed and off we went at 7 the next morning.

The ride up there was a revelation for me.  I am always behind the wheel when we drive that stretch of road which means that I don't get to look around very much. About the only scenery the driver gets to see are the unnerving roadside shrines and the odd stray cow. That's it! Focus! Focus! But in the van I could look around and take in the fantastic landscape, the rock formations and the striking beauty of the valleys. The way the low cloud plays with the mountain tops. I had not appreciated any of this before.

But we got so lucky when we arrived in Lopez Mateo.

We went whale watching at about this time of year last year; the wind was blowing, it was cold and there were choppy waves to fight through. Our boat chased every sighting of a whale, usually followed by a half dozen other blue boats. Our little flotilla was in the north end of the channel; very near the entrance to the Pacific, because that’s where everyone thought the most whales would be. We came close to some whales and we were thrilled with the outing. Cold but thrilled nonetheless.

But this day was ideal. Warm, sunny, flat water, no wind. Perfect.

Once we were aboard our panga, Raffa and the captain decided to head south and not take the usual route north of the jetty. They thought, correctly, that the water was warmer and calmer than anywhere else. We were alone down there, no other boats on flat water. We quickly spotted a gray whale and sped over there. When we got close we stopped the boat and just bobbed along, and that's when the fun really began.

A mother whale swooped under the boat just inches from us followed by her baby. That was thrilling enough, but then Mom literally lifted the baby whale on her nose out of the water and pushed it toward the boat. She was showing us her baby! That started 20 minutes of unbelievable contact with these wild creatures. The baby would put her body right alongside the boat, we would reach out at touch it, stroke its nose and head, and we even got sprayed by a fishy smelling mist of wet breath as it came alongside. We were in awe at being so close to these magnificent animals.

We drifted away from these two only to encounter another pair right away. This Mom had a different personality, she wouldn't push her calf at us, she waited patiently while her little (!?) one became gradually more confident and cautiously at first approached our boat. Once the baby realized we were friendly, it repeatedly came to our boat. It pushed its head out of the water so we could rub its face and body; it loved the contact and so did we. Over and over this huge gray baby whale played with us. Around and under the boat, poking its head up to our gunwales, allowing us to touch its rubbery skin, while Mom stayed close by. It was eerie that we could look directly into the eye of the whale as it floated next to us.

You had to wonder what it was thinking as it looked at these black eyed (sunglasses) beings that floated on the surface. People travel the world to see iconic species, whether its lions and elephants in Africa or polar bears in the Arctic, but here we were, literally face to face with this ancient species in our own back yard. We were petting wild animals in the sea. We felt humbled by their attention, and absolutely exalted by the once in a lifetime experience. You can see a video of our fun with the whales put together by my daughter’s boyfriend Ashley on YouTube titled “Whale Watching in Mexico.”

I also think we might have invented a new drinking game. Take a swig every time someone in the group says "unbelievable", you won’t stay on your feet for long!

To cap off this incredible day, we beached the boat on the sand of the island and ran barefoot through the warm sand dunes to the top of the ridge. We could see the Pacific across the island, another amazing landscape to add to our mental library of unforgettable sights. 

The drive home was quiet, everyone I’m sure reflecting on the special day and our unique place in this world.

So I guess I have to thank that “no problem senor” mechanic for taking so long with my car, if he hadn't we might not have had a chance to “play” with the whales.

As the van entered cell phone range just outside Nopolo, I noticed a message on my phone. It was from the mechanic.

“Your car is ready senor.”


You gotta love this place.

Amen to that!  Below is a link to the video that was referred to above, be patient, its over 10 minutes long and takes a little while to load - but I assure you it is well worth it!  Thanks again to Dave, my Guest Blogger, (many are asked, but few deliver!) and his story about how an oil change changed his life - another unexpected aspect of "Living Loreto"!  

Click on this link below to watch an amazing video about this adventure!